In under 2.5 hours, you can fly from London to Portugal’s capital city, Lisbon. With such a quick flight, it's easy to enjoy a weekend in this charming, hilly, coastal city with mild weather, colorful buildings, amazing food and welcoming people.
But don’t take my word for it though...The Portuguese love to throw around the odd superlative - some documented and some seemingly self-imposed. Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world and the oldest in Western Europe. This is Google verified. However, while I was there, I also walked by the oldest operating bookstore in the world, ate at the oldest hotel in the Iberian Peninsula, had a wine at a bar with the best view of Lisbon and ate the best ham in the world. I’m less convinced that some of the latter claims are verified. Regardless, it was a wonderful 48 hours!
Below are my recommendations for how to fill your time, should you find yourself in Lisbon for a weekend.
I stayed at the Sheraton Lisboa Hotel & Spa. It’s a beautiful and modern hotel with perhaps the best views of city from the bar at the top. It’s a little less central that I would have liked, but with Uber readily available, it’s easy and cheap enough to around town.
After checking into your hotel, head to Guilty by Olivier for some casual food (burgers, salads, pizza, etc.). Be sure to order the Guilty Roll. It will not disappoint. I am still salivating when I think about it.
Following dinner, head to the ‘Pink Street’ for some libations. You won’t find it on a map because it’s actually called Rua Nova do Carvalho. Here you will find an outdoor party on a street that is literally painted pink. I understand it used to be a seedy place, a former Red Light District, but has now been cleaned up and is frequented by young bar-goers most nights of the week.
A day trip to/around the magical town of Sintra (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is a must. Its fairy-tale-like feel comes from the vast surrounding forests, gardens, palaces and castles. A taxi/car will get you from there in about 25-30 minutes, from Lisbon. Alternatively, there is a train that takes about 40 minutes, followed by a bus which runs up the hill from the railway station. Be warned that the whole park is incredibly hilly. Buses are an option, but we opted to walk. If you plan to walk/hike, be prepared with sturdy, comfy shoes. Also, it gets chilly and windy at the top, so have additional layers with you.
While there, visit the trifecta of enchanted places, with lunch between, as detailed below:
Palacio da Pena – This colorful castle is situated on the top of a steep hill and looks like it’s straight out of a Disney film. You can go inside the actual palace if you buy the right ticket, otherwise you're limited to the grounds (which are still worth the trek).
Castelo dos Mouros – A few hundred meters away from Palacio da Pena, you will find this medieval Moorish Castle. It requires a separate entrance ticket (€6.50). From here, you’ll have beautiful views of the Pena Palace as well as Sintra.
Make your way down the steep hill (either by bus or on foot) to the town of Sintra and have lunch at the Restaurant Lawrence, in the oldest hotel in the Iberian Peninsula. Be sure to order the ‘green wine’ which is a grape that grows in the north of Portugal. Spoiler alert - it isn't actually green.
After lunch, head to Quinta da Regaleira, which is about a 5-10 minute walk from Sintra City Centre and is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. I didn’t actually have time to visit, but the palace has its own chapel, park, lakes, fountains, wells and tunnels that you can explore and is meant to be spectacular.
Make your way back into Lisbon and get ready for an exceptional dining experience at Jose Avillez’s Minibar (make a reservation in advance). As the menu states, nothing is what it seems, so show up with an empty stomach, an open mind and an adventurous appetite. I sat at the bar, which was really fun as the staff are super friendly and engaging.
In many European cities, most establishments are closed on Sundays. Lisbon is no exception. However, TimeOut Mercado da Ribeira is open and is a great way to spend your Sunday. Eat and drink, but be sure to save a bit of room for pastéis de nata at the famous Pastéis de Belém. If you're feeling a little full from the market, don't worry, you'll have plenty of time to digest whilst you wait in the long queue for these Portuguese egg tarts sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar.
Dinner time is around 8:30pm/9:00pm in Portugal; it’s not quite as late as the Spaniards eat.
Be prepared for smoking in bars and restaurants. That still exists.
Unless you have fancy dinner reservations, Lisbon is a pretty casual city. No need to be too dressed up.
Ladies – wearing heals is near impossible with the uneven stoned streets and hills. Don’t even bother.
There is a 5% discount for the sites in Sintra, if you book online.