Essential guide to Lisbon

DAVID WHITLEY
Last updated 05:00 29/10/2010

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Tips on enjoying one of the oldest cities in the world.

STAY

Budget

Travellers House (89 Rua Augusta, 011 5922, www.travellershouse.com) is owned by keen travellers and it shows. There are four common rooms and an emphasis on keeping everything spotless; the downtown location and atmospheric old building is hard to beat. Dorm beds are priced from €18 (NZ$33) a night; private rooms start at €27. The Lisbon Lounge Hostel (41 Rua Sao Nicolao, 346 2061, www.lisbonloungehostel.com) has dorm beds from €18 and twins from €25. Bargain €80 rooms in a movie-themed design hotel are available at the Hotel Florida (34 Rua Duque de Palmela, 357 6145, www.sterlinghotels.com).

Mid-range

Hidden between the Santos and Lapa districts, York House (32 Rua das Janelas Verdes, 396 2435, www.yorkhouselisboa.com) is worth raving about. With stunning gardens, peaceful charm in spades, rooms with distinct personalities and prices from €80 a night, there's very little not to like. Hotel Lisboa Plaza (5 Travessa do Salitre, 321 8218, www.lisbonplazahotel.com) is a good four-star option, priced from €120 a night, although it can't decide whether it's heritage or contemporary. Aparthotel VIP Eden Executive offers spacious suites priced from €79 (24 Praca do Restauradores, 321 6600, www.edenaparthotelvip.com), in the impressive setting of an old art deco cinema; rather tired furniture is the trade-off.

Luxe

The Internacional Design Hotel (3 Rua de Betesga, 324 0990, www.internacionaldesignhotel.com) has themed rooms that vary from tribal to a pop scene. It's stylish, fun and brilliantly located — expect to pay about €180 for a large room. Solar do Castelo (2 Rua das Cozinhas, 880 6050, solardocastelo.com), from €150, is built into castle walls and its romantic rooms are matched by a courtyard that should win over the sternest heart. It's boutique with charm rather than attitude. Meanwhile, the Hotel Britania (17 Rua Rodrigues Sampaio, 315 5016, www.heritage.pt) combines art deco good looks with massive rooms — a good bet with superior doubles starting at €180.

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Lash out

The Hotel Bairro Alto (2 Praca Luis de Camoes, 120 0243, www.bairroaltohotel.com) has a swaggering hipness and to-die-for rooftop bar that pulls in the fashionable set. Priced from €230 a double, however, the rooms should probably knock your socks off rather than merely raise a smile. The Lapa Palace (4 Rua do Pau da Bandeira, 394 9494, www.lapapalace.com) revels in its old-school glamour — it's more fit for royalty than young celebs. Hotel Avenida Palace (Rua 1 Dezembro, 321 8100, www.hotelavenidapalace.pt) does attract the stars, however, and it's the only old palace in the downtown area. Suites from €240.

SHOP + PLAY

To market

Lisbon's main market is the Mercado da Ribeira (Avenida 24 de Julho), overlooking the river by the Cais do Sodre metro station. The market's good for seafood, including specialities such as octopus. Sizable modern extensions to the building rob the market of some old-world atmosphere. More engagingly frenetic is the fish market at nearby Cascais, which Lisbon has in effect co-opted as a beachside suburb. The fresh catch is auctioned Monday to Friday behind the Praia da Ribeira. Alternatively, the Feira da Ladra in Campo de Santa Clara, every Tuesday and Saturday, is the place to hunt for gems among the second-hand tat.

Go shop

Chiado is Lisbon's upmarket shopping district and there are big boutique names among the specialist — and often bohemian — stores. For souvenirs just off the most prestigious shopping street, Rua Garrett, try A Vida Portuguesa (11 Rua Achieta, 345 6073, www.avidaportuguesa.com). It's stuck in a Salazar dictatorship-era time warp, selling antiques as well as soaps, notebooks and old toys that ape what was available at that time. Otherwise, A Arte da Terra (40 Rua Agusto Rosa, 274 5975, www.aartedaterra.pt), behind the cathedral, offers smile-raising handmade handicrafts in a unique setting — it's an old stable and has been kept as the horses would remember it.

Live music

Fado — a uniquely Portuguese combination of blues, folk and soul — is the big thing in Lisbon. There are slick fado-and-dinner operations in Bairro Alto and Chiado but Alfama is the real heartland. Casa de Linhares (2 Beco dos Armazens do Linho, 886 5088, www.casadelinhares.com) is regarded by knowledgable locals to be the best place due to its performances, food and 18th-century setting. Meanwhile, Hot Clube de Portugal (36 Travessa da Gale, 361 9740, www.hotclubedeportugal.org) has a long-standing reputation for its almost-nightly live jazz concerts. For something distinctly more lively, join the sizeable African community for Angolan and Cape Verdean beats at B.Leza (50 Largo do Conde-Barao, 396 3735).

Nightclubs

A cluster of be-seen-in clubs can be found near the riverfront in Santos — although your face needs to fit and the "minimum consumption" charges can be outrageous. Kapital (68 Avenida 24 de Julho, 395 7101) and Kremlin (5 Rua das Escadinhas da Praia, 395 7101) are arguably the biggest magnets for the beautiful people. Bar Incognito (37 Rua Poiais de Sao Bento, 390 8755, www.incognitobar.com) also attracts serious clubbers, although the split-level design means the dance floor and more chilled loft bar space are kept neatly separated. The name isn't an accident — there's no sign above the door.

SEE + DO

Icons

Parque das Nacoes, built for Expo '98, is modern Lisbon's showpiece. The casino, a science exhibition and huge shopping mall are on offer but the highlights are the enormous Oceanario aquarium (Doca dos Olivais, 891 7002, www.oceanario.pt) and the views of the 17.2-kilometre Vasco da Gama Bridge. The Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (Praca do Imperio, 362 0034, www.mosteirojeronimos.pt) in Belem pulls in the tour buses and the enormous monastery's Manueline architecture is genuinely impressive. The real Lisbon icons, though, are the elevadores — three funiculars and one Eiffel Tower-esque lift that connect downtown Lisbon with the hilly districts as part of the public transport network.

Culture

Belem is the main exhibition hub, with individual museums given over to topics such as electricity, coaches and maritime history. Best of the bunch is the Museu Coleccao Berardo (Praca do Imperio, 361 2878, www.museuberardo.com). It hosts staggeringly good modern art from the likes of Gilbert and George, Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock. Two uniquely Portuguese forms of culture also have their own museums. Fado music is covered in the Museu do Fado (1 Largo do Chafariz de Dentro, 882 3470, museudofado.egeac.pt) in Alfama, while the ubiquitous azulejos — blue painted tiles — can be explored in east Lisbon at the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (4 Rua da Madre de Deus, 810 0340, mnazulejo.imc-ip.pt).

On foot

Parque das Nacoes has a series of gardens; its walking routes are interspersed with public artworks and even a selection of odd musical instruments to play. For something less green but more atmospheric, try a stroll through the Castelo and, in particular, Alfama districts. It's all cobblestone streets, secret courtyards and old ladies hanging out the washing. For guided walks, Lisbon Walker (886 1840, www.lisbonwalker.com) has themed strolls such as "City of Spies" and "Lisbon Legends and Mysteries" from €15 a person.

Follow the leader

For personalised overviews of the city, MouriscasTours (963 857 776*, www.mouriscastours.com) is excellent. The guides are extremely knowledgable and only one booking is taken per tour, so you can concentrate on what your group is interested in rather than compromise for the herd. Four-hour tours start at €200 for four people. If the walking's too much, Lisbon Segway Tours (425 4982, www.lisbonsegwaytours.com) offers outings on Segways with audio-guide commentary, for €60. The hypocritically named We Hate Tourism Tours (911 501 720*, www.wehatetourismtours.com) offers a nightlife Jeep tour, which stops at Lisbon's quirkiest bars, from €30.

EAT + DRINK

Cafe culture

A Brasileira (120 Rua Garrett, 346 9541) is a classic haunt for the creative crowd and is regarded as having the best coffee in Lisbon. The art nouveau interior, has more charm than the outdoor terrace and prices are cheaper indoors, too. For something a little different, Chapito (7 Costa do Castelo, 886 7334, www.chapito.org) offers decently priced tapas and coffees with great views at a circus school. Then there are the legendary pasteis de Belem (below) — custard-cream tarts that have been flying off the shelves at Antiga Confetaria de Belem (84-92 Rua de Belem, 363 7423, www.pasteisdebelem.pt) since 1837.

Snack attack

Forget Nando's or Oporto, the real deal can be found at Bonjardim (12 Travessa de Santo Antao, 342 7424). They'll bring you half a grilled chicken for €5.60. Be warned — the half-chicken is only on the Portuguese-language menu. It's also worth taking advantage of a new trend in Lisbon: big-name chefs who open affordable side projects. Jose Avillez of Tavares has weighed in with JA a Mesa (Patio Moreira Rato, 155 4945, www.jananet.pt) in Santos, selling almost canteen-style soups, sandwiches and pre-packed hot meals for less than €8. Bairro Alto in central Lisbon is good for tapas crawling.

Top of the town

Michelin-starred Tavares (35 Rua da Misericordia, 342 1112, www.restaurantetavares.pt) is thought to be the oldest restaurant in Portugal and does rich foods in the splendour of old-school surrounds. Think immaculate tablecloths, mirrors and chandeliers with your roasted pigeon and foie gras. Joining it on the one-star list is Eleven (Rua Marques de Fronteira, 386 2211, www.restauranteleven.com), a more contemporary affair with an emphasis on art and minimalist architecture as well as fine dining. Bocca (87 Rua Rodrigo da Fonseca, 380 8383, www.bocca.pt) is the latest place to get food critics purring, however. The menu is innovative and concentrates on seasonal ingredients.

By the glass

The Bairro Alto district is easily the best place for a night out, whether for cheap cocktails, old-man bars or upmarket style. There are hundreds of tiny bars fighting for attention. To single out one or two is missing the point entirely — it's about jumping between them until you find the right one for your mood. Slightly to the north of Bairro Alto is Pavilhao Chines (89 Rua Dom Pedro V, 342 4729), a wonderfully eccentric haunt full of antique furniture and slightly freaky dolls. To get a taste for the local drops, Vini Portugal has free tastings of Portuguese wines (Praca do Comercio, 342 0690, www.viniportugal.pt).

Hot tip

Tram No. 28 is an excellent way to get a drive-by tour of Lisbon's highlights on the cheap — although it's almost too popular for its own good. It's often standing room only. Tram 25 is less crowded and, as a bonus, passes through many of the most appealing parts of town.

Getting there

The cheapest option, avoiding the need to change airports in London, is to fly to Manchester with Etihad or Emirates (expect to pay upwards of $1750) and from there, budget airline BMIBaby has one-way tickets to Lisbon priced from about $90. A taxi from the airport into central Lisbon should cost €8 to €15, depending on the traffic.

Visas and currency

Unless you're staying for more than six months, no visa is required to visit Portugal. The currency in Portugal is the euro. €1 = NZ$1.85.

Calling Portugal

The Portugal country code is +351 and the Lisbon city code is 21. To phone Lisbon from abroad, add +35121 to all seven-digit numbers here. For those marked with an asterisk, just add +351.

Further information

Visit Lisboa: www.visitlisboa.com.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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