48 Hours In | Lisbon
Brutal rooftops, Art Deco architecture and all-round energy
Lisbon is a wild warren of cobbled streets and wide boulevards, shady squares, unexpected rooftops and elegantly peeling buildings. It’s an exhilarating mixture of raw and refined and is one of the cheapest European capitals, which is why anyone who goes there for a weekend, comes back committed to moving there. Here’s where you should head for a flying trip.
Bairro Alto draws a young crowd of creatives who make sunset pilgrimages to Park, a rooftop bar found on the sixth floor of a car park, like a lush Frank’s in Peckham, but with Portuguese weather and plants to disguise the brutalism of the multi-storey. The vista offers views across the bay and the Santa Catarina church.
For gay bars head to the Rua da Barroca for pre-drinks, before hitting up the smaller gay clubs in the Principe Real neighbourhood (notably Trumps, which is effusively, brilliantly tacky). The Rua Nova de Carvalho, or the ‘Pink Street’, is strictly more of a corner in the former red light district of Cais de Sodre. Every bar is cheerfully boisterous, serving gin in deep goblets, garnished with tomato and basil. Linger over salty tinned fish at the kitsch plastic tables outside Sol e Pesca.
Cinco Lounge is regularly tipped as the best cocktail bar in the city and drinks come with juicy fresh fruits and spicy garnishes (go for the gin, lemonade and black pepper). Normally, an ‘English-style’ bar is a horrifying prospect, but Foxtrot on the Trevessa de Santa Teresa is an Art Deco drinking den that works better in Lisbon than it would in London.
Soothe headaches the next day in the cool expanse of A Vida Portuguesa, a glorified pharmacy, which sells stylised, upmarket Portuguese produce. Look for perfectly packaged soaps and elegant bottles of perfume in green glass. Tins of sardines are an odd treat, but they’re a delicacy in these parts and the kitsch colourful Tricana packaging turns elevates them to design object. Go to the Conserveira de Lisboa for the best.
Lisbon’s Praça do Comércio opens onto a busy bay: small ships pitching across the bay under the 25 de Abril bridge, an unshowy mimesis of the Golden Gate in San Francisco. If you’re at the port end of town, you can traverse the bay on a ferry to Cacilhas: it costs the price of a beer, takes under 10 minutes and offers a new perspective on the city. Head to the lounge at Gingal Terrasse or to Vale do Rio, which counters the image of the salacious portside restaurant. It’s huge, modern and cheerful, and the fish satisfyingly fresh.
The Berardo Museum in Belem presents contemporary European art in a colossal stone building. Belem is still part of the city, but the pastel houses and sun-drenched squares are emptier than those in the centre. Afterwards, have lunch under one of the shaded tables at Darwin’s Cafe.
If you’re in town to mix work and play, then try Village Underground in an old tram depot in the west of the city, it’s a collective of kaleidoscopic shipping containers and old buses that functions flexibly as a co-working space, a coffee shop, a bar and music venue. In warm evenings, head here for one euro beers and watch the sun bounce off the modular blocks.
Seek out the Teatro Eden: an imposing Art Deco theatre-turned-hotel in the Praca dos Restauradores square, which has a jungle of grasping vines carved out of its facade and friezes inscribed in the stone. The Santa Justa lift looks astonishing at night (modern lighting illuminating ancient buildings) and the Baixa’s plaza is head-spinning hustle and bustle.