Things to do in Lisbon

Lisbon is an enchanting mix of old and new, sun and sea, ups and downs. Navigate your way round the hills and you will find traditional neighbourhoods, breathtaking views, cute cafes and boutiques, all within walking distance. When your feet do begin to ache the modes of transport are numerous: trains, trams, taxis and modern tuk-tuks! Aside from the typical tourist attractions, this capital has plenty of other ideas to explore, out of the ordinary, bizarre little places were my favourite discoveries of the weekend.

To eat
Belcanto: Jose Avillez is integrated completely in Lisbon life spreading his culinary expertise and creative ideas in shops, cafes and restaurants. His very own Belcanto is rightly awarded a Michelin star and I was utterly astounded by the beautiful precision and impressive flavourful creations.
The Decadente: almost impossible to get a table but well worth booking if you can. All the food is great but most rave about the chocolate trio dessert, simple but brilliantly tasty.
Casanova Pizza
: a hip pizza joint by the waterfront. Sit inside at the shared tables and switch on your floating lightbulb for service. The pizzas are insanely good with crispy crust, plenty of cheese and numerous topping options.

To snack
Pasteis de Belem: it is considered a sin to walk past this café without popping in for a Pasteis (custard tart). Sweet, warm, gooey and delicious, they are the very best Lisbon has to offer.
Santini: always expect queues at this wonderful Italian ice-cream shop. The recipe is top secret and undeniably delicious, try strawberry and coconut combination.
Pizza a Pezzi: A new way to eat pizza on the go, choose a piece, it will be weighed and costed accordingly, pay and you’re ready to go. Yum.

To drink
Cinco Lounge: Lisbon has definitely not caught on to the cocktail trend yet. But those in favour of a fruity concoction will be pleased to discover Cinco, which offers a menu of over 100 carefully designed recipes. We tried the Milly Vanilly (obviously)!
Kaffeehaus: a cool hang-out for coffee lovers and those needing a snack as a break from shopping in Chiado.

To see
Museu Calouste Gulbenkian: contains a collection of amazing ancient and modern art.
Museu-Escola de Artes Decorativas: a quaint collection of Portuguese artifacts and furniture.
Hospital de Bonecas: opened in 1930 this eerily spectacular array of dolls and broken toys. Unlike anything I have ever seen before, this longstanding building restores damaged dolls back to their former glory and offer visitors a chance to view the workshop.
Belem church: An epic building, overlooking the city. Stunning interiors and free entry.

To do
Oceanario: Europe’s largest aquarium is a must see when in Lisbon. Showcasing each of the oceans it houses a huge variety of exotic and exciting sealife, we particularly loved seeing the otters and penguins.
Feira da Ladra: locals love the flea market which is held every Tuesday and Saturday near tram stop Campo da Sta. Clara. We wandered up and had great fun checking out the second hand selections.
Santa Justa: travel up one of the city’s best-loved landmarks,also known as the “Elevator of Carmo,” this extraordinary structure was built at the turn of the century by the Portugal-born French architect Raoul de Mesnier du Ponsard (an apprentice of Gustave Eiffel). The top of the Neo-Gothic tower, reached via a spiral staircase, has a cafe with splendid views of the city, Rossio Square, the castle and the river.

To stay
Four Seasons Ritz: historic, beautiful and luxurious, this five star hotel cannot be beaten for its superior service and wonderful rooms. Check out the fabulous spa and rooftop running track.
The Independente: the trendiest hostel and suites accommodation in the city. This funky venue also offers a groovy bar and restaurant for guests and visitors. Cheap and cool.

To shop
Lisbon Lovers: stylish merchandise for tourists.
21PR: an expansive concept store on the Rua Dom Pedro. Colourful treats come in all varieties: jewellery, chocolates, clothes and other lovely bits and bobs to tempt you to part with your pennies.
Cyan: a small jewellery workshop in the midst of the flea market, founder Maria will pick out a handmade piece to suit your character. I left with a precious engraved silver ring, that she sold me despite wearing it herself.
SkinLife: simply put, Skinlife is the Portuguese version of SpaceNK… a collection of high end boutique make-up and fragrance brands housed under one roof. Rose wine is served to clients instore.
Nails’4’us: the top nail salon in Lisbon, experts in gel manicures with a colourful range of nail essentials.
Queijaria Nacional: a top foodie store to buy wonderful cheeses and meats.
Lavaria Ulisses: this glove shop was founded in 1925 by Joaquim Rodrigues Simões, an entrepreneur with a profound understanding of the habits of the people of Lisbon. This tiny little original shop is adorable and the lovely man behind the counter will inspect your hand for a second before returning with a box of suitable options. I chose bright pink, snug fitting leather gloves, a very special reminder of my Lisbon weekend.

If you have the luxury of more time, I’d recommend a trip to the nearby seaside town Cascais where you will find free bike hire perfect for trails along the coast.

Four Seasons Hotel Ritz, Lisbon

The Four Seasons in Portugal’s vibrant capital city was designed and built to attract a new clientele to Lisbon and put this destination on the international traveller’s map. Situated at the summit of Avenida de Liberdade (the Park Lane of Lisbon) overlooking the beautiful Parque Eduardo VII, it has long been considered Lisbon’s premier hotel.

The elegant ten storey building is spacious and grand inside. The divinely decorated interiors house 18th-century replica furnishings and an outstanding collection of contemporary Portuguese tapestries, paintings and sculptures. I was amazed too, by the impressive flower display in the lobby, beautiful blooms which are refreshed frequently add life and vibrancy to the communal area of the hotel.

The extensive meeting room facilities mean this venue is ideal for overseas and local business clients. The hotel was very busy, an impressive feat considering the off-peak season. While we were visiting, a senior Turkish delegation were also staying and the heightened security (gun-wielding police on the street and suited bodyguards in the lobby) was slightly disconcerting, especially since this hotel prides itself on being a family-friendly luxury hotel.

Of the 282 rooms and suites, 272 have private terraces looking out over central Lisbon and beyond. Our huge deluxe room included a large work desk and outdoor seating on the terrace. Simply arranged with attractive Portuguese decor and furnished in a timeless style. An offering of customary custard tarts and red wine was on the coffee table for us to munch on. It was easy to relax in our room with a big bouncy bed covered in the softest sheets and big warm dressing gowns and slippers to wear in the room.

An airy, light and spacious marble bathroom with large bath, separate rainforest and power shower, all supplied with L’Occitane toiletries, was a lovely place to revitalise and refresh. I was amazed by the special service too – when I needed nail varnish remover (as girls often do) the room service team swiftly brought me up some from the spa. And what a spa, the one at Four Seasons Lisbon is one of the very best I have seen, wonderful in every sense of the word. Located on the lower ground floor, there is plenty of room for all the luxurious facilities: a dazzlingly blue lap pool with an outdoor terrace, relaxation room, saunas and huge indulgent changing rooms. On the top floor guests should make use of the fitness rooms and amazing rooftop running track (which is a bit of a novelty), you can sprint round the Ritz whilst admiring the breathtaking views of the whole city below.

Every few months Lisbon Four Seasons invites a pair of guest therapists to the hotel from another Four Seasons branch. We were lucky to experience the wisdom and power of two Thai masseurs, who worked their magic on the Sunday morning. It was undoubtedly the best massage either of us have ever tried, two hours of absolute bliss, relaxation and tlc.

The lovely Varanda restaurant provides breakfast, lunch and dinner and those in need of a nightcap can visit the Ritz Bar for a cocktail. We enjoyed breakfast in the Varanda both mornings. It is hard to choose from the display of tempting dishes, fruits, pastries and hot treats. Just the juice, croissants and coffee were enough to satisfy me but on the second day I challenged the kitchen with my request for French toast. They rose to the test and presented me with a beautiful plate of warm sweet fried toast complete with strawberries and maple syrup; it was so divine I couldn’t help but finish the whole portion.

Lastly I must mention the incredible digital guide this hotel has produced. “Lisbon through Four Season’s eyes” is a city guide with a difference, outlining the very best currently on offer in every department and giving insider knowledge so you can see, do and eat the very best in this spectacular city. All activities can be organised by the hotel concierge so you can make the most of your time in Lisbon while the Four Seasons do all the hard work for you, promising the perfect stay and the perfect holiday.

More information and book here:

Belcanto, Lisbon

“By nature we are nonconformists. Every day we hope to learn and find answers to the questions that crop up and allow us to develop and move forward” – Jose Avillez.

The resounding success of Belcanto is testament to Lisbon’s favourite chef. Jose Avillez is a phenomenon and provides the Portuguese capital with unforgettable culinary delights.

This once classic gentleman’s club in Lisbon’s Chaido district has been transformed by Jose into a wonderful emporium of molecular gastronomy. Discreet and modest, we struggled to even find the entrance, but once inside we were seduced by the creative décor, the relaxed atmosphere and the welcoming staff. So often gourmet restaurants compromise on character in order to let the food have free reign, Belcanto offers both in harmony – it is the very best kind of fine dining.

Before the main meal commenced we were treated to a seemingly never-ending assortment of taster treats. A perfectly spherical frozen, non-alcoholic caipirinha ball served on a bed of crushed ice, a trio of olive inventions and a goldleaf coated nutty chickpea truffle. Crazy but great fun to try.

Every dish is a work of art. Jose keeps you guessing, presenting each of his eccentric dishes in a completely unique and unexpected style. One such dish was the magnificent Wave Breaking, a collection of seafood served in a specially designed and fabricated pottery plate, showing true imagination and innovation. This was a beautiful dish in every sense. The Hare with white beans was less extraordinary but still tasted delicious.

The mains were exquisite: Suckling pig revisited with fried potatoes, orange and salad; and Belcanto’s own-style steak with inimitable triple-cooked chips. Both meats were cooked to our exact specifications and served with indulgent sauces. The fat on the pork was so thin and crispy that no part needed to be left, even for fussy eaters like me. The vibrant citrus puree was an unexpected contrast and one that took a little getting used to. By far the most exciting part of this dish was the side portion of fried potatoes, presented in edible paper packaging and hung on a wire line – I’d never seen anything like it.

It was tricky to select just two desserts off the menu so our waiter advised us on his favourites. Mandarin, as it was simply named, was a study around this summery fruit. It was the most incredible glowing orange ball of sorbet. Refreshing and palate cleansing, it was great after the big meal. The Chocolate and hazelnut pudding was rather more rich and indulgent – a chaotic pile of chocolate and nut components.

Exemplary Portuguese wine was picked out for us at every stage of the meal.

Jose is a local celebrity and in my eyes a total hero. Our meal at Belcanto was exceptional and the highlight of our trip to Lisbon.

More information here.