Easy Escapes: Lisbon

Justine Southall enjoys a short break in the Portuguese capital

Justine Southall enjoys a short break in the Portuguese capital

Why go? If you love city breaks and are looking for somewhere with a more undiscovered feel, then Lisbon is for you. The food and wine is great and good value, and there’s plenty to do, from sightseeing to mooching around the antiquated shopping districts which house both fashionable clothing and furniture stores through to haberdashers shops that look like they haven’t changed since the 1920s. The nearby coastal resorts of Estoril (estoril-portugal.com) and Cascais (cascais.net) are a very cheap hop on the train and approximately thirty minutes away. If you have a little more time a visit to Sintra, a World Heritage site, is also easy to get to by train.

Colourful streets: Alfama is one of Lisbon’s oldest and most atmospheric quarters

When? Anytime – July and August is the hot, holiday season, although the Atlantic breezes keep the air fresh. September and October is perfect, and winters are generally mild.

You really must… Lisbon is a city of hills and made for walking so wear comfortable footwear and just head out and explore. The different districts are within easy reach of each other and the views are great with a new one around every corner. On one of the hills you have the Castelo de São Jorge (castelodesaojorge.pt) which is worth a visit if only to look at the city from that height. Lisbon’s famous trams (eléctricos) are the main means of transport and rammed at rush hour by tourists and locals alike but definitely worth the crush to experience them – no.28 takes a scenic route. They are particularly handy if you get worn out from the walking, and there are also funicular railways (elevadores) which only travel the short distances up some of the super-steep slopes.

For a culture hit make for the city’s fashion and design museum, MUDE (mude.pt), the modern art-filled Museu Coleção Berardo (museuberardo.pt), and the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (museudoazulejo.pt) which has gorgeous ceramic tiles. These, and many other museums, are closed on Mondays.

Black and gold: a Chiado bedroom at the Mercy hotel

Stay at: The Mercy (doubles from £111, mercyhotel.com) is a five-star boutique hotel ideally located between the Chiado and Bairro Alto districts. Recently renovated and well appointed with helpful staff, its 47 rooms have a sleek contemporary style with those on the fifth floor offering the best views. A popular Asian restaurant on the ground floor called Umai offers dishes from Thailand, Japan and China, including a terrific tempura soft shell crab. Continental breakfast is also served here. Best of all, there’s a roof terrace where you can sit with a chilled glass of vinho verde looking out across the city.

Dine at: Eating and drinking in Lisbon is a joy! The food and wine is of a high standard and the prices remarkably good for a cosmopolitan city. You don’t need to book ahead, just wander into places that look interesting. The location of the Mercy means that within two minutes you’re in the heart of Bairro Alto, a former red light district which is now a very lively, hip and happening area. In the daytime it’s deserted but as evening descends the long narrow streets are lined with tiny bars and restaurants playing music and serving simple but fantastic food, often in spaces no larger than the average British kitchen. We enjoyed good simple food at Baralto (Rua Diário de Notícias 31) and Louro & Sal (louroesal.com), then popped into a couple of the bars playing live music.

Blue is the colour: Portuguese wall tiles in the Chiado district

For something more special, Gulli (gulli.pt) is just around the corner from the hotel and famous for fish. Another great little find is Oito Dezoito (oitodezoito.pt) whose delightful owner-patron, Nelson Pereira Afonso, serves imaginative Portuguese food with a twist. The local cuisine is similar to Spanish with a lot of fish along the coast, as you would expect, but the Portuguese are very proud of their distinct and unique heritage. Sardines, particularly the tinned variety, are a huge part of this, and tinned fish tapas bars are popular with many venues allowing you to choose a tin of sardines and enjoy it with a glass of wine.

All wrapped up: bring home some Claus Porto soaps

Bring home: gloves from Luvaria Ulisses (luvariaulisses.com), innovative cork jewellery from Cork & Co (corkandcompany.pt) and sardines in beautiful tins from Conserveira de Lisboa (conserveiradelisboa.pt).

Book now: TAP Portugal (flytap.com) has daily flights from Manchester, London Heathrow and Gatwick to Lisbon from £141 return in August. A taxi to the city centre costs around £12 or take the Aerobus.

Info: Pocket Rough Guide Lisbon (£7.99, Rough Guides) is a handy city break guide, and see visitlisboa.com. Get in the mood by watching Wim Wenders’ film Lisbon Story.

Lisbon city images © Turismo de Lisboa

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