Cool, laid-back, friendly are just some of the words I’d use to describe Portugal’s capital city Lisbon. It’s home to fantastic food, beautiful buildings and delightful views, and there’s loads of culture, both old and new, to soak up. As such, the hilly city is the perfect place for a long weekend.

I’d been dying to go to Lisbon for a long time, partly because I’d never really been to Portugal before (the day trip across the Galician border doesn’t count) and partly because I’d heard excellent things from friends and colleagues. Needless to say, I was very excited about my four-day city break.

After flying into the city from Bristol, I hopped on the metro and headed to my hotel, the Hotel Lisboa Plaza. Having checked in, I then set off exploring.

My hotel was just off the Avenida da Liberdade, the large tree-lined boulevard that cuts a swathe through the city centre, connecting the Parque Eduardo VII to the central Rossio district.

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I followed the avenue down to Rossio Square, the city’s most famous square, where I stopped to admire the large fountain and the enormously tall statue of Dom Pedro IV, after whom the square is officially named.

The square is surrounded by lots of grand cafés, as well as Rossio train station, and is a good place to orientate yourself.

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I then headed south towards the Baixa district. The area is laid out in a regimented grid pattern, the original district having been destroyed by the massive 1755 earthquake and subsequent tsunami, so it’s almost impossible to get lost.

The buildings are beautiful and I enjoyed walking around, getting my bearings and admiring the classical architecture. Bright yellow trams are everywhere in the streets around the Rossio and Baixa districts and I learned pretty quickly to keep an eye out for them when crossing the roads.

By now it was early evening, so I decided to walk up to the Bairro Alto district, up the hill to the right. The Bairro Alto district is home to lots of narrow winding streets – and I found myself getting a little lost here.

There are lots of unusual shops, as well as tons of bars and restaurants, and I ambled around soaking up the atmosphere and casing out possible places to eat.

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With my tummy rumbling, I decided on Petiscos no Bairro (above), a small hip-looking restaurant on the Rua da Atalaia, for dinner. The restaurant is teeny – it’s not the sort of place you could take a large group of people. But it had a cosy feel, the staff were really friendly and they had clams on the menu.

Clams are one of Lisbon’s speciality dishes and I was keen to try them. The clams, which came in a garlicky coriander sauce, were amazing. It was one of the best restaurant dishes I’ve ever eaten and I was so happy with my choice!

I had quite a large bread basket with my meal and I happily polished off the whole lot, using the bread to soak up every last drop of the delicious sauce.

For dessert, I had a Portuguese rice pudding, a cold rice pudding with cinnamon on top, which was nice, but didn’t quite match the perfection of my main. If you’re ever in Lisbon and like seafood, I can’t recommend Petiscos no Bairro highly enough.

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Feeling suitably full and happy, I wandered up the hill to the Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara, a small park high on the hill with great views of the city.

I then meandered back down to my hotel where I stopped off for a nightcap of dry port, along with tea and homemade biscuits (above), in the bar before bed.

Top tips

  • The easiest way to get from the airport to the city centre is to take the metro – it’s really easy to navigate (there are only four lines) and cheap!
  • Lots of the pavements around central Lisbon are polished cobblestones and they’re quite slippery. So wear shoes with a suitable grip as I kept sliding all over the place in my sandals.
  • I found Lisbon sunny but very windy, so I wore suntan lotion every day because the sun was strong enough to burn even though it didn’t feel particularly warm. The wind also meant I had a few ‘Marilyn’ moments in the summer dresses I’d packed – in hindsight, shorts would’ve been better!
  • I visited Lisbon as a solo traveller and found some bars and restaurants were unwilling to serve me because I was by myself. Some went out of their way to accommodate me and were fantastic and I’ll mention those as I write about my trip, but it’s the one place I’ve travelled in Europe where people were taken aback I was travelling alone. One bar I went to would only serve me the beer they had on tap because letting me have any other drink (eg a glass of wine) wasn’t worth the hassle for them as I was by myself. So if you’re travelling to Lisbon by yourself, be aware you may need to try a few bars or restaurants before you’ll find one that will serve you.

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