City Guide

Four Hours in Lisbon 2006

30 Sep 2006 by business traveller

Sarah Koya picks out a leisurely walking route of the seven hills and cobbled streets that comprise Portugal’s capital, taking in the best views, the tastiest cafes, and the city’s shops and cultural landmarks


1. Largo do Chiado

The fashionable district of Chiado is best discovered on foot so head down to the bustling main square and soak up the atmosphere. Once the heart of Lisbon’s intellectual scene and still frequented by the local literati, Largo do Chiado is brimming with cafes and boutiques. Take a quick walk around the square to get your bearings, do some people-watching, and glimpse the Tagus River in the distance.

2. Convento do Carmo

Walk down the Rua N da Trindade onto the Largo do Carmo, one of the city’s prettiest squares and home to the Convento do Carmo. You’ll pass uniformed guards on the way towards the ruins of this former landmark, which was devastated by an earthquake in 1755. Only the Gothic arches, walls and flying buttresses remain and are now used as an open-air theatre. the attraction is also home to Lisbon’s archaeological museum where you can inspect a 3,500-year-old mummy, Egyptian antiques and European curio. Open 10am-5pm, closed Sundays. Entrance is €2.50.

3. Museu do Chiado

Walk down the Travesso do Carmo and turn left onto Rua Serpa Pinto. This is the place to admire traditional Portuguese architecture with its signature yellows and blues, and the theme is reflected at the Museu do Chiado, where national works dominate its collections. This is a contemporary art museum, so the hip glass and brick warehouse-style building is home to modern exhibitions, photography and quirky sculptures. Open 10am-6pm Tuesday to Sunday. Admission is €3 (free on Sundays).

4. Tram 28

Step back in time with a nostalgic trip on the creaking Tram 28. From the Calcada de Sao Francisco, you can give your feet some light relief and descend the hill in style on board Lisbon’s most charming mode of transport, which groans its way from the Castelo do Sao Jorge through the narrow alleys of Alfama, with their crooning fado-singers, and down towards Baixa. But the best thing about Tram 28 is that it isn’t just used by tourists. Inside the wooden carriage you’ll find commuters heading down to the metro, and locals venturing back home with their bags overloaded with fresh market produce. Just E2.90 buys you a day ticket to hop on and off this wooden wonder.

5. Casa Chineza

Back on the cobbles, venture round to the Casa Chineza on Rua Aurea for an array of sweet delights. Choose from the biscuits rolled in coconut flakes and topped with cherries, candied orange peel dipped in chocolate or crunchy almond cookies. For a truly authentic experience, you can’t beat the natas: Portuguese custard tarts with a delicious smack of cinnamon. Take back boxes of natas for your family and colleagues, but be sure to indulge in a private tasting first.

6. Elevador de Santa Justa

Lisbon has many attractions, but one of the best-loved afternoon pursuits costs just E1.30. This meagre sum will buy you the best vista across Lisbon, courtesy of the Elevador de Santa Justa. This ageing wrought-iron elevator is one of the city’s most revered landmarks and it makes an ascension to the metal platform every five minutes. It’s no surprise that the lift looks like an Eiffel Tower-tribute – it was designed and built by an apprentice of Eiffel, Raul Mesnier de Ponsard. Remember to purchase your ticket at the small office on ground level, rather than on board where, as if by magic, the fare mysteriously doubles. Step into the spacious wooden lift and enjoy the graceful rise to the top. Work off those nata-induced calories by striding up the narrow spiral staircase to the cafe and marvel at the 360-degree panorama across the city’s seven hills. Snacks, beer, hot chocolate and soft drinks are all on offer to quench the thirst of the hundreds that venture up every day to gawp at the surrounding hills and the River Tagus, not to mention the rooftops with their hints of daily life – from barbecues to washing lines. You could stare for hours at the local houses with pretty facades in pinks, blues, yellows and beiges curving upwards towards the majestic Castelo de Sao Jorge in the distance. Open daily, 9am to 7pm.

7. Livraria Bertrand

Heading back towards the Largo do Chiado, you will pass the city’s oldest bookshop. Check out its foreign and Portuguese collections and pick up something suitably impressive to read in a cafe. From a compendium of facts on the favoured national dish of bacalhau, (salt cod) to volumes on the history of Lisbon pre-earthquake, this institution houses something for bookworms of all backgrounds. Whatever you choose, be aware that the local literati will be assessing your choice – you are in the intellectual quarter after all.

8. Cafe a brasileira

Make your way back up to the Largo do Chiado, stopping for a drink in the Cafe a Brasileira. Sip on a bica, a strong short shot of espresso, or try a galao, a tall milky coffee, at the bar once frequented by Portugal’s favourite poet Fernando Pessoa. Today you can sit under the sunny yellow parasols and gaze as a growing tide of tourists arrive to photograph the poet’s bronzed statue that watches over the square and serves as a meeting point for locals.

While the alfresco seats deliver great people-watching opportunities, don’t miss the interior with its carved wooden decor and cake counter that stretches across the bar. Open daily from 8am to 2am, this cafe kicks off with early birds and hardcore clubbers venturing home after a long night, then handles the lunchtime rush before rolling out the teatime cream puffs and local speciality bolos de arroz for Lisbon’s card-playing troops.

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