Lisbon is rough around the edges. Its streets are slippery and uneven and its walls are cracked and worn, but the atmosphere is infectious and the food is delicious. While it’s just as accessible as other European cities, Lisbon has a distinct vibe that is at once both welcoming and audacious. Even though it is enjoying a renaissance of sorts, with fancier nightclubs and restaurants popping up throughout the city’s neighborhoods, you can still find the best food at that unassuming hole in the wall down the street. Though it is gaining traction with tourists, the city still feels like a secret. So, here’s how I would do 48 hours in Lisbon…
Every café serves strong Portuguese coffee and one of the many pastries Lisbon is known for, breakfast in Lisbon is as easy as walking out your door and into the nearest café. I'd find one with crackly, colorful walls and a character behind the pastry counter who can give you the inside scoop about the neighborhood. One of the best of these is Botica do Café — you can’t go wrong.
Then, I’d pass by the Castelo de S. Jorge. Not only is the castle a beautiful, historical landmark, but the neighborhood surrounding it is brimming with activity and worth walking through. Even though the castle is a landmark, it is always crawling with locals who find it a nice respite from the city. There's also usually a woman singing fado nearby.
Next stop: the beach. Costa da Caparica is one of the most inviting beaches in Lisbon, serving fresh fish and perfect sangria right on the water. When you’re done with lunch, find your spot on the sand and relax — you'll be a Caparica convert in no time.
As you head back into town, make a pit stop at the famed and beloved Pastéis de Belém for a traditional Portuguese pastry. This bakery has been open since 1837 and has probably never seen a day pass by without serving a long line of hungry Lisboans and visitors. Order a pastel de nata (or two) — the custard tart is the perfect snapshot of Lisbon pastries. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/pedro prats)
Head to the rooftop of the Bairro Alto hotel as the sun is setting for a drink and one of the best views in the city. Then, I’d head home to change, but I wouldn’t linger long.
I could never be convinced to skip dinner at Café de Sao Bento. Open the door, pull back a red velvet curtain, and you'll see an old-school brasserie with red banquettes, low lighting, and a classic dark wood bar to the back. Don’t look over the menu; just order their signature dish — steak cooked in garlic and milk, served with some of the best French fries around. Ask for a red wine recommendation. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/nsfmc)
If you’re still feeling upwardly mobile, Lisbon's thriving nighlife scene has various speeds, from cruise control to full-throttle. Go for laidback drinks (again with a gorgeous view) at Chapitô or pull an all-nighter at multi-level club Incognito.
After strong coffee and a different pastry (live a little), I’d start by taking a taxi to Sintra. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is a wild and stunning place to explore — complete with a Moorish castle and the imposing Sintra National Mountain Range. I recommend abandoning any semblance of a healthy diet so you can try mosaic (or chocolate salami) while you're there. Called 'chocolate salami' because of its shape (and not its ingredients), this is one of those desserts you’ll try to replicate or find at any cost at home, but to no avail. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/alvarosant)
Then, I’d head back to the water for sunbathing and relaxing in Guincho. Officially located in Estoril (a stone’s throw from Lisbon), Guincho is a lively beach that’s also popular with kite surfers. Jet back up above the rocks for lunch at Mar do Inferno. Start with their amazing cheese and then go straight to the seafood. A bottle of white should do you well here, too.
In the evening, I’d go to the aquarium in the newly developed part of town called Parque das Naçöes. I know it sounds strange, but stick with me. First, this part of town has a number of great restaurants like Búfalo Grill, which serves Brazilian style churrascaria, and República da Cerveja. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/epeigne37)
Next, it’s time to hit Casino Lisboa, just around the corner. It is a touch of Vegas in Lisbon, with multiple restaurants and live entertainment throughout the casino. Gambling in extremely broken Portuguese with a drink in hand, though, proves a lasting (and hilarious) memory.