Young Thais are drawn by the big city lifestyle
Lisbon is something of a rarity among European capitals – a laid-back city that exudes a decidedly old-fashioned charm, with clattering trams, café-lined boulevards and grandiose monuments to its famous seafaring sons.
The undisputed highlight of the waterfront Belém district is its 16th-century monastery, the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. It was commissioned to trumpet the discovery of a sea route to India by Vasco da Gama, now interred in the lower chancel (mosteirojeronimos.pt; Praça do Império; admission £6).
Jutting into the Tagus River and battered by waves, the Torre de Belém is a tower designed to defend the harbour. Elaborate stonework includes intricate cupolas – look closely and you’ll see a stone rhinoceros below the western tower (torrebelem.pt; Ave da Índia; admission £4).
Arrábida Natural Park stretches along the southeastern coast of the Setúbal Peninsula, an hour’s drive south of Lisbon. Don’t miss the pristine beach at Portinho da Arrábida, guarded by an imposing fort (portal.icnb.pt).
Of the king of Lisbon’s many clattering old yellow trams, number 28 takes in the best sites – from the neoclassical Basílica da Estrela to the Baixa district of grand boulevards. The 45-minute route also features some absurdly steep climbs (carris.pt; fares £1).
Housed in a 16th-century convent, the Museu Nacional do Azulejo covers the entire history of azulejos – Portgual’s famous decorated tiles. Examples on display include intricate Goan tiles (mnazulejo.imc-ip.pt; Rua da Madre de Deus; admission £4).
Eat and drink
Nova Pombalina invariably fills up around midday for its leitao – a suckling-pig sandwich, served at lightning-fast speed. Other popular fillings include prosciutto and roast chicken (00 351 218 874 360 Rua do Comércio 2; sandwiches from £3).
Stone walls, low lighting and twisting corridors are the hallmarks of Fabulas, a cavern-like café preparing imaginative salads, pasta, burritos and hamburgers. It’s a worthwhile place to linger with a coffee or bottle of wine (fabulas.pt; Calçada Nova de São Francisco 14; mains from £6).
Located near Teatro São Luiz, Café no Chiado is a laid-back café specialising in Portuguese classics, such as bacalhau à brás (cod, scrambled eggs and julienne potatoes) and arroz de pato (oven-cooked duck with rice). Tram 28 rattles past the terrace (cafenochiado.com; Largo do Picadeiro 10–12; mains from £11).
A lively bistro, Santo António de Alfama wins the award for Lisbon’s loveliest courtyard – all creeping vines, twittering budgies and fluttering laundry. The menu includes gorgonzola-stuffed mushrooms, and roasted aubergines with yoghurt (siteantonio.com; Beco de São Miguel 7; dishes from £12).
Olivier sees chef Olivier da Costa prepare French-inspired dishes amid gilded banquettes and low-hanging chandeliers. Favourites include duck magret with port-wine sauce, and fish, prawns and spinach in puff pastry (restaurante-olivier.com; Rua do Alecrim 23; mains from £15).
Set in a 200-year-old former convent and the birthplace of fado singer Amália Rodrigues, Lavra Guesthouse has basic quarters facing an inner courtyard and bright, stylish rooms with small balconies (lavra.pt; Calcada de Santana 182; from £50).
Overlooking São Domingos Square, Lisbon Story is a small, welcoming guesthouse where rooms have Portuguese themes: one celebrates azulejos, while another pays homage to the country’s greatest writers, and comes complete with a typewriter. The shoe-free lounge, with throw pillows and low tables, is a nice touch (lisbonstoryguesthouse.com; Largo de São Domingos; en suites from £75).
The family-run Casa de São Mamede is an 18th-century villa with stylish flourishes – a red carpet graces the stone staircase, while tinkling chandeliers crown the exquisitely tiled dining room. Large, serene rooms also sport period furnishings (casadesaomamede.com; Rua da Escola Politécnica 159; from £75).
Raising the ante in the city’s design stakes, the high-concept Internacional Design Hotel has four types of room, each with a radically different aesthetic: Zen is minimalist and clean, while Urban has irreverent, brightly coloured artwork hanging from the walls (idesignhotel.com; Rua da Betesga 3; from £145).