OK. You’ve only one day in Lisbon. So, how do you cram the best of the Portuguese capital inside 12 hours?
Well you can start by having breakfast at one the cafés in downtown Rua Augusta, or on Praça Dom Pedro V, better know as Rossio. Relax over a bica – a beautifully rich short coffee – and a pastry or two, maybe at Café Nicloa, noted for its genuine Art Deco interior.
Suitably fuelled, it’s time to explore.
The elevated views from Castelo de São Jorge bring Lisbon into sharp focus. From this lofty landmark, the city’s dynamic riverfront perspective can really be appreciated. Don’t forget your camera.
The capital’s most fascinating area, Alfama, unwinds itself behind the castle. To wander this ancient Moorish quarter is to follow narrow streets, negotiate steep cobblestone terraces, shuffle through darkened passageways and stumble upon medieval squares and whitewashed churches. It’s certainly worth lingering here if you have the time, perhaps in one of the many tascas that lure with their friendly ambiance and yesteryear charm.
Heading west out of Alfama on foot, you’ll eventually pass the Sé, Lisbon’s 12th-century cathedral. It’s worth popping your head through the door to admire the beautiful rose window set high above the front portal. Otherwise, at this point you may want to consider giving your feet a rest and instead hop on the Tram 28, a quirky little streetcar that lurches and hisses its way across the city past some fine old buildings and picturesque neighbourhoods. In fact, the tram begins its journey near the Hotel Mundial; the cathedral is a few stops from the halfway point of the route. Jump onboard across from the hotel if you’d prefer to experience the entire trip. It’s certainly worth it. Meanwhile, from the cathedral it’s a downhill walk back into the Baixa district.
Hungry? You’re spoilt for choice in this area, with dozens of good value restaurants and snack bars vying for your attention. But follow our advice and take lunch at Terreiro do Paço. The owner of this colourful eatery is an hotelier who has travelled extensively. Look out for the world map mural on the wall designed using postcards. Inexpensive Portuguese and Mediterranean fare can be enjoyed under 18th-century vaulted ceilings or outside on the terrace which overlooks the sweeping Praça do Comércio.
Lisbon’s central square is also a major public transport hub, with all the options that entails.
From here you can catch the Tram 15 which goes all the way to Belém and visitor attractions like the renowned Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and the Museu Nacional dos Coches. Along the way, the tram passes one of the city’s newest museums, the fascinating and absorbing Museu do Oriente.
But if lunch has had the desired affect and you’re feeling less inclined to explore much further, we suggest you saunter up to Rua Garrett in Chiado. This fashionable thoroughfare is lined with several trendy boutiques and some beautiful older shops, notably Ourivesaria Aliança at number 50. The interior of this jewellery and silverware premises is in a Louis XV style and is quite unique. Nearby, on a side street, is A Vida Portuguesa crammed full of retro products and nostalgia and ideal for picking up that originally styled souvenir of your visit to Portugal. If you prefer all your retail therapy under one roof, seek out the Armazen do Chiado shopping mall. There are 54 shops here, complemented by 12 restaurants and even a hotel.
Culture vultures can amble down to Museu do Chiado where contemporary Portuguese art is showcased within a refurbished convent building. Alternatively, history buffs should head for one of Lisbon’s most poignant monuments, Convento do Carmo – a permanent reminder of the devastation caused by the great earthquake of 1755. The roof of this late 14th-century Carmalite church collapsed on worshippers as the city was literally shaken to its foundations, and the skeletal ruins of the surviving arches are an evocative testament to that fateful day.
Late afternoon very likely brings with it thoughts of a coffee break. Chiado is blessed with two classic options. Dating from 1905, Café Brasileira is recognised for its stunning Art Nouveau décor and the much-photographed bronze statue of Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa placed outside. A few doors away is Café Bernard. Opened in 1912, this is also celebrated for its original interior furnishings. Both places have outside terraces and the atmosphere is always convivial.
There’s one last thing you should do before the sun sets over the city and that is to visit the Elevador de Santa Justa. Gazing across the city from the top of this unusual wrought-iron elevator offers the same sense of place as the panorama afforded from the castle. You’ve come full circle, and now you’ll most likely be thinking about the evening and where to eat. But that’s another story.