Always ones for a getaway we couldn’t wait to book in a trip to Lisbon when Monarch announced the new addition to their destinations from Birmingham Airport. Monarch now fly to the Portuguese capital all year round and we’d been advised that September was a perfect time to visit. The flight time is just a little over 2 hours from the nearby airport and with Portugal sitting in the same time zone as the UK the travel disruption is about as minimal as can be.
Lisbon is a unique break that combines the best aspects of a city break with the added bonus of having a number of beaches within a very short distance for you to enjoy both the city and beach in one short trip. Obviously the summer months are as busy as you’d expect with tourists but come September the summer rush has died down and the temperature was still sitting at a glorious 28-31 degrees.
You can’t question Lisbon’s charm as far as capital cities go. The city combines lavish hotels and designer shopping whilst still maintaining its typical Portuguese ambience, the winding roads, the hidden gems, streets cafés and fantastically friendly locals.
Of course no trip to Lisbon could ever be complete without a trip on the number 28 tram. This vintage yellow tramway is just as you see on the postcards, in its original form and a stark contrast to the modern trams seen elsewhere in the city. Be warned that the queues to get on at the beginning of the route can be long, so we recommend either getting there early in the morning or jumping on the tram at a later stop. Or just being patient in a queue, there’s always that too, of course! So why is the tram so special? It gives you a true flavour of Lisbon. It takes you away from the main streets, the tourist traps and the easy routes and instead takes you into the more traditional districts where you’ll meet locals, find beautiful street cafés and stunning views.
Jump off the tram at the castle and you’ll be in the heart of the Alfama region, which soon became our favourite stop. The views from up by the castle are truly stunning as you sit high above Lisbon and on the winding streets back down to the city centre you’ll be drawn into the beautiful cathedral, the (not so tacky) street side shops and of course into the numerous cafés and pastelerias for drinks (and custard tarts, but we’ll come onto that later). Don’t worry about getting lost, that’s half the fun down these side streets, but whilst you may seem to be high up and far away it’s only a short walk to be back in the main centre of the town.
Where to stay? We stayed at the Lisboa Plaza Hotel, which is situated in a very central location, just a stones throw from the rows of designer shops (Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Gucci) and behind the city’s modern Sofitel, but provided a truly traditional flavour of Lisbon amongst the modern surroundings. The hotel (which has been in operation since 1953) is a real gem in the heart of the city, where modern meets traditional as the rooms come equipped with USB hubs for your charging needs, flat screen TVs with various English channels and a Mini Bar (which has 10 mini bottles of port in it). Also let’s give a special mention to the breakfast, which consisted of not only a selection of pastries, meats, eggs and more but also a range of cakes, a chocolate fountain, profiteroles filled with marshmallow and complimentary Prosecco. If that doesn’t make you want to book it immediately I’m not sure what will? Perhaps their 5th floor roof terrace, with sofas, loungers and “honesty bar” where guests are allowed to help themselves to refreshments and are trusted to fill in the forms of what they’ve had to add to their bar tab. With rates from €150/room per night it’s definitely worth checking out for your stay.
Lisbon is a little different to many European city breaks, because whilst there’s no denying its charm and prominence as a capital city you can also spend your day on the beach. From the Cais do Sodré station you can hop on a train to Cascais, which departs every 20 minutes and takes you along the coastline to Estoril with various destinations en route. Tickets are cheap too, with a return costing only €4 for the 25 minute journey. We opted for Carcavelos, which had been recommended to us as the best beach for a day trip due to its facilities.
The beach is a stretch of golden sand, overlooked at one end by a medieval fort and the water is awash with surfers. Whilst it’s not the secluded coves of Portugal’s Algarve region, it’s a perfect day trip with fantastic beach bars and restaurants all along the promenade. From gelateries and surf shops to the fantastic Capricciosa beach bar, which we spent a good couple of hours in, enjoying the views from the beds and the perfect beachside soundtrack. Travelling with children? This beach bar, which wouldn’t look out of place on Ibiza’s Playa d’en Bossa beach, even had a kids soft play area. The journey to Carcavelos by train couldn’t be easier and makes hiring a car unnecessary. Save the trouble and sit back and relax on the short journey.
Of course it wouldn’t be a Cool As write up without mention of the food, right? Well, this is Portugal so our first attention turned to the Pastel de Nata, or custard tarts as you and I may more commonly know them. They’re sold in almost every cafe and restaurant and no trip to Lisbon would be complete without trying one, or 5, or even bringing some back on the plane with you in our case. Breakfast, lunch or dinner, it doesn’t seem to matter in Lisbon they’re always on offer. Other foodie highlights included a stop off at Pastel de Bacalhau which sold the Portuguese speciality of codfish croquette, but this one has a twist as it was filled with oozing melted cheese. Plus when purchasing your croquette you’re encouraged to have this with a glass of red or white port, which will then be served to you on a specially designed paddle board.
Of course, it’s Portugal so port is served everywhere, as is Mateus rose (wahey) and you’re in a land where a small beer is cheaper than a Coke. The cafés and restaurants are very relaxed with many happy to serve their beers in plastic glasses for you to be able to take away as you continue your walk around the city. Take a stop off at Restauradores (near to the Lisbon Plaza Hotel) and you’ll be just a step away from the city’s theatre district which comes alive at night with restaurant after bar after restaurant after bar, spilling onto the pavements, musicians wandering in between and such a fabulous vibrant atmosphere. Food is served until late and whether you want steak, fresh lobster or crab (the crabs served here are enormous), pizza or just a pastry and a drink, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Check the menus at the restaurants before choosing where to dine as prices can vary vastly from restaurant to restaurant.
So Lisbon comes with a full recommendation. The short flight time makes it the perfect weekend getaway for exploring, enjoying the Portuguese culture, sampling the food & drink and, if you time it right with the weather, soaking up some sunshine. It’s a capital city with the feeling of a friendly local town and so much to explore.
Monarch fly to Lisbon from Birmingham airport 4 times a week with prices from £79 (£139 return). View the latest flight schedule on the Monarch website.
With thanks to the Visit Lisbon team who arranged our accommodation at Lisboa Plaza Hotel for the stay. All opinions are our own.