Portugal - 48 hours in Lisbon

by rfield

Lisbon is a city famed for its sunshine, custard tarts, yellow trams and moustaches. Read on to find out how to make the most of 48 hours in the Portuguese capital


After arriving, head to the Elevador de Santa Justa in the central Baixa district (Rua de Santa Justa) to get your bearings - it's hard to miss the weird-looking wrought-iron contraption (see image no.6). Lisbon is built on seven shockingly steep hills, and there are various ways of getting up them besides walking – trams, funicular railways and this street-lift that takes you up to the Bairro Alto (the High Quarter). The platform at the top of the lift is a great place from which to peer at the streets below, while the café will offer you your first taste of Lisbon's magical custard tarts.

The streets around the Elevador de Santa Justa have been laid out in a grid pattern like many other European cities, although Lisbon claims to have pioneered the system after this area, known as the Baixa, was hit by a massive earthquake in 1755. The city has experienced earthquakes roughly every 200 years, and the next one is due pretty soon!

Saturday night

European giants Benfica have a stonking new stadium – the 65,000 all-seater Éstadio da Luz, which was built for Euro 2004 - just 20 minutes from the city centre on Lisbon's underground. As long as the visitors are neither the perennial champions, Porto, nor city rivals Sporting, getting a ticket is easy – just turn up at the ticket booths outside the stadium on the night of the match. As kick off approaches the home fans start to chant 'Ben-fiii-ca' – the cue for one of football's quirkiest sights. A huge eagle, the club's mascot, soars from the stadium roof and lands minutes later on a perch on the pitch, as the crowd go crazy. The standard of football in Portugal is not as high as in Europe's major leagues, but expect lots of showboating – and diving.

After the match, head back to the Baixa on the underground from where it's a ten-minute uphill walk to the Bairro Alto. Here the narrow streets are crammed with characterful bars no bigger than the average sitting room. One of Lisbon's strengths is the individuality of its shops and bars – don't expect to find too many chain stores or McDonald's here. Instead, get lost staggering from bar to bar safe in the knowledge that you'll never be able to find the same one again. In a city with the highest number of moustaches in Europe, Lisbon's nightlife is surprisingly cool.

Catacumbas (Travessa da Agua da Flor 43) has great live blues and jazz bands, if you can get a seat. If not, just grab a drink (you'll get a plastic glass) and stand in the streets of this party zone with hundreds of others.


Another way of getting up the city's hills is by tram, and the 1920's London-made number 18 takes you up past Lisbon's castle to the Graça district. This is the highest point in Lisbon, and a great place to stop for photographs of the River Tagus in the distance, before dawdling back down the hill through the cobbled streets to the riverside. For a measly €0.75, you can take the 15-minute ferry trip to Cacilhas on the other side of the river, running parallel to the impressive Golden Gate-like red suspension bridge. A good 20-minute uphill walk from the ferry terminal is Lisbon's very own copy of Rio's Statue of Christ the Redeemer, known here as Cristo-Rei. Yet another lift will take you to a viewing platform right next to his feet – well worth the €5 fee for those with a head for heights.

Round off a day of sightseeing by jumping on an open-top bus in the Baixa – top up your tan while seeing Lisbon's attractions which are slightly further afield, such as Belém. This riverside suburb is from where Portuguese explorers, such as Vasco da Gama, set sail to India, Africa and Brazil.

Sunday night

Fish features on every menu in Lisbon, and Rua das Portas de Santo Antão is packed like sardines in a tin with restaurants. A plate of local grilled sardines served with potatoes and salad costs €9 at the excellent Adega Santo Antão (Rua das Portas de Santo Antao 42), washed down with Sagres beer – if you're lucky, like us, you might be given a glass of port on the house to finish with. Before turning in for the night, it would be rude to leave Lisbon without trying a ginginha – a cherry brandy – at one of the bars in the Bairro Alto.


If you get tired of all the culture and custard tarts of the city, take the 40-minute train ride north up the coast to fishing village-cum-beach resort, Cascais. Popular with Portugal's jetset, Cascais has a civilised feel to it – more Nice than Newquay. Chill out on one of the three gorgeous sandy beaches, and dip your toes in the ice-cold Atlantic Ocean if you dare. Watch the fishermen return with their catches before strolling along the promenade with joggers, in-line skaters and Portuguese poseurs to the next resort, Estoril. Bigger and brasher, and home to Europe's largest casino, Estoril provided the inspiration for Ian Fleming's James Bond. Enjoy one final drink (shaken, not stirred) at a beach bar while watching the sun set and waiting for your train back to Lisbon.

Where to stay

The Sete Colinas hotel on Avenida Almirante Reis in the Alfama area (the name, meaning the aforementioned seven hills, gives you a clue that there will be a lot of walking up and down in your two days in Lisbon) is ideal - central and cheap at just €60 a double room. 


Like Bananaman, Richard Field leads an amazing double life - sober, grey-suited civil servant by day, but by night he becomes a travel writer extraordinaire. He asks you to rate his stories so he can earn the cash to entertain you with further tales from his travels.

As all travellers should, Richard likes to immerse himself in the food, drink and football of the destination. His favourite food from his travels is Bangkok street food, his favourite drink is a close call between Tsingtao in Hong Kong and Robola in Kefalonia, while he has a weakness for buying Italian and Spanish football shirts.

Read more of Richard's travel writing at www.abitofculture.net