Tom Otley traverses the Portuguese capital by tram, discovering colonial treasures and devouring custard tarts.
1 - Mosteiro Sao Vicente de Fora
The centre of Lisbon isn’t large – even including its suburbs, the city’s population is only 600,000 – but it is hilly, and can get crowded with visitors. To make the most of your time, consider booking a guide – insidelisbon.com is good, with tours ranging from two hours to day trips outside the capital.
Use public transport to save your feet – the metro is excellent but the trams are best, taking you to Belem (your third stop), or from Baixa all the way to Campo de Ourique, passing through the historic districts of Graca and Alfama and making light of the hills (tram 28). If you are staying longer, the Lisbon card (€18.5 for 24 hours) offers discounts on attractions as well as covering your travel.
You can catch the 28 tram after your first stop, the Mosteiro Sao Vicente de Fora. Founded in 1147, this monastery houses the remains of several Portuguese kings, as well as beautiful frescoed rooms, chapels and galleries. It also has a rooftop with a stunning view over the Tagus river and the city. Largo de Sao Vicente; entry €5.
2 - Praco do Comercio
Every visitor to Lisbon heads for the Praco do Comercio (Commerce Square). Built after the earthquake and flood of 1755 that devastated the city, it has been renovated over the past decade so that the yellow stucco buildings and heroic statues can stand proud against the onslaught of tourists and selfie sticks. Running north is the shopping street of Rua Augusta.
You can pick up the metro here, but for a more scenic route take the 15E tram west to Belem – a 15-minute ride with good views to the Tagus and along the waterfront. Before you do, stop for a drink under the arcade at Martinho da Arcada (Praca do Comercio 3), dating from 1782 and once the favourite haunt of Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa. Depending on the time of day, or your constitution, have a coffee or a Ginjinha – the local cherry brandy, served chilled.
3 - Belem
You could spend four hours in Belem alone, taking in attractions such as the 16th-century Belem Tower, the outstanding UNESCO site of the Jeronimos Monastery, and the Discoveries Monument, built in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator, promotor of the Discoveries. Take time to check out the art in the Museu Colecao Berardo (open 10am-7pm; free entry; en.museuberardo.pt). Exhibitions change regularly, but the permanent collection includes works by Bacon, Duchamp, Miro, Mondrian, Picasso and Warhol.
Afterwards, make sure you try a pastel de nata (custard tart) at Pasteis de Belem pastry shop (Rua de Belem 84-92). There may well be a long queue, but it moves quickly, and the tarts are divine.
4 - Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga
Lisbon has more than 50 museums, but one of the best is the Nacional Museum, easily reached by hopping off one of the trams that run between Belem and the centre. Housed in a 17th-century palace overlooking the modern container harbour, its paintings, sculptures, gold and jewellery span the 12th to 19th centuries and include Portuguese, European, African and Oriental works.
Highlights are the Panels of Saint Vincent, by Nuno Goncalves, and the Belem Monstrance, made with the gold brought by explorer Vasco da Gama from India. There is also a beautiful garden with a restaurant. Open Tues-Sun 10am-6pm; €6 or free with Lisbon card. museudearteantiga.pt
5 - Mercado da Ribeira velha
Time to eat – and while Lisbon has thousands of great restaurants, you will be spoilt for choice at your final stop. Built in 1882, this market reopened as a foodie destination in 2014 with 24 restaurants, eight bars, shops and a music venue in the evening. The options go way beyond Portuguese cuisine, but make sure to try some local specialities – pasteis de bacalhau (salt cod fishcakes), Portuguese wines, serra de estrela (sheep’s milk) cheese and delicious desserts such as Fios de Ovos (angel hair).
There are also stores for buying gifts, including Arcadia for artisanal chocolates and Conserveira de Lisboa for colourful tins of sardines. Open 10am-12am (2am Thurs-Sat). timeoutmarket.com