If a vintage wooden tram rattles past your pavement cafe as you’re served coffee and a warm, cinnamon-dusted custard tart, you can only be in Lisbon – one of the sunniest cities in Europe and 2019’s go-to place for a perfect long weekend.
The Portuguese capital is a two-and-a-half-hour flight from the UK, it’s in the same time zone and the airport is only six miles (and a cheap taxi or bus ride) from the city centre.
It’s one of the oldest cities in the world – proudly pre-dating Paris, London and even Rome – and it’s raising its tourist game all the time. Watch the sun bounce off its gleaming marble streets and you’ll soon see why. Here’s how to make Lisbon the best city break of the year.
The Portuguese capital is a two-and-a-half-hour flight from the UK
MUST STAY: The big hotel chains are moving in to serve the city’s tourist boom, and there’s plenty of choice if you want an apartment, thanks to Airbnb. But for the perfect stay, try one of the new boutique hotels.
The elegant AlmaLusa (almalusahotels.com) is tucked away in the corner of a sunny square (ask for breakfast or evening drinks outside) and focuses on stylish local furnishings in oversized, glamorous rooms.
Rising to the top: The Elevador de Santa Justa, above
MUST SEE: Lisbon is built on seven hills (just like Rome), so wear sensible shoes and prepare to take in some fabulous views. Get to the best vantage points using elevators and funiculars that sprinkle the city.
The most beautiful is the wrought-iron Elevador de Santa Justa, where up to 30 people a time rise 135ft in wooden cabins that have barely changed in 100 years. Rides cost €5.30, and if there’s a queue, pass the time with an ice cream at nearby Santinis (santini.pt).
At the top of the lift there’s a viewing platform alongside a ruined convent and a great set of pavement cafes and bars.
Street art is another key attraction. Head to the Chao do Loureiro multi-storey car park on the edge of the Baixa area – each level is given over to a different artist.
MUST RIDE: The trams. The colourful carriages have been trundling through Lisbon since the 1930s – and the wooden seats and leather straps only add to the vintage feel. The most famous line is route 28, which twists through the most scenic streets. Queues are long in the summer, so it pays to travel early. You can buy single tickets on board for €3, but a €6.40 day pass is likely to be better value as it includes every other form of city transport too. If route 28 is too busy, route 25 is almost as good.
Trams have been trundling through Lisbon since the 1930s – the most famous line is route 28
Once you’ve tried the tram, there are plenty of other ways to get around. The cobbled streets are awash with people riding tuk-tuks and scooters. You can also take to the water (taguscruises.com) and sail under the city’s vast red suspension bridge.
MUST DO: Learn about the city’s extraordinary history. The Lisbon Story Centre (lisboastorycentre.pt – entry €7) has GPS-activated audio tours and takes you from Roman times through to the earthquake that almost destroyed the city in 1755 and to the present day.
Outside, you can climb the Rua Augusta Arch (€3) for more city views. The square in front of the arch is the starting point for most guided walks, including the espionage tour, which follows in the secret footsteps of spies who made neutral Lisbon their home during the Second World War (lisbonwalker.com).
For something faintly macabre, walk down Rua Augusta and go into St Domingo’s Church on the edge of Pedro IV Square. After a fire in the 1950s, the church was abandoned for nearly 40 years. Now it has a new roof and is open for worship, but most stones and columns are still scorched, scratched and sooty.
The city’s must-have custard tarts. Buy them from the new Time Out food market, says Neil Simpson
MUST EAT: Custard tarts, or pastel de nata, are everywhere, and the new Time Out food market (timeoutmarket.com) in an old waterside warehouse is an atmospheric place to buy them. As befits a city on the coast, there is seafood galore. Cod is a favourite and you can eat on wooden terraces at Monte Mar (mmlisboa.pt). For a quick meal, try Honorato, Lisbon’s artisan take on McDonald’s. At night, grab a table at the always-busy Bairro do Avillez in bustling Chiado (bairrodoavillez.pt).
MUST DRINK: It’s all about cherry liqueur, and a tiny kiosk, A Ginjinha, on the corner of Pedro IV Square, has been serving it since 1886. It comes with or without a pickled cherry.
MUST BUY: Sardines! The city has gone crazy for decorated tins which are now kitsch souvenirs. Shops are stuffed with jazzy displays. Mundo Fantastico da Sardinha Portuguesa on Rua de Pedro V is one of the brightest shops. There’s even an outlet at Lisbon airport.
TAP Air Portugal has one-way flights to Lisbon from Manchester, Heathrow, City and Gatwick from £49 (flytap.com). BA flies from Heathrow, and Wizz, easyJet and Ryanair also offer direct flights from UK airports. The AlmaLusa hotel offers double rooms from £95 a night (almalusahotels.com). Go to visitlisboa.com for more information, including details of the €20 daily Lisboa card that covers transport and entry to attractions.