How to spend a perfect weekend in Lisbon, Europe’s coolest capital
If everyone you know is thinking about going to Lisbon, there’s plenty of reason for that. Its meteoric rise as a culture capital is just one part of the appeal. The city is also undergoing a luxury hotel boom, and the food scene is hot, hot, hot. But all that is amplified by Lisbon’s ease of access: It’s the closest European hub for Americans and offers a worlds-away feeling for travelers coming from within the Continent as well.
Whether you’re coming for a long layover or a long weekend, here’s what to squeeze into a three-day trip.
Check into Verride Palacio de Santa Catarina, a new, 18-room hotel overlooking the Tagus River. It has an old-meets-new vibe that’s in keeping with today’s best boutique hotels: lots of marble, vaulted ceilings, and parquet floors, all piled up with geometric patterned rugs and wicker-back chairs. From there, it’s a 10-minute taxi ride west to Belem to visit the country’s most talked about new cultural destination: the Museum for Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT). There, you can tour Portugal’s historic Tejo Power Station, which is part of the museum, and learn about the history of electricity. Or you can check out Portuguese artist Eduardo Batarda’s latest paintings as part of his exhibition, “Mistoqueros -- A Selection of T-Shirt Fronts,” on display until Feb. 27.
Lunch is at Espaco Espelho d’Agua, where the menu is inspired by the reach of Portugal’s historic empire; standouts include Brazilian moquecas and Japanese teriyaki sauce over vegetables. Sit in the back room, which is anchored by a colorful, wall-to-wall mural by Sol LeWitt.
Murals are a theme in downtown Lisbon. Some are made from centuries-old painted tiles called azulejos, while others are contemporary street works. Navigate the urban art scene with the help of Underdogs Gallery, a prominent artists collective that organizes official street art tours that include some of the city’s top talents.
Book well in advance -- we’re talking two months -- to get into Belcanto for dinner. It’s Lisbon’s only two-Michelin-starred restaurant, and superstar Portuguese chef Jose Avillez just gave it a total redo. His menu adds global touches to typical national recipes such as a modernist, compressed square of suckling pig that riffs on traditional leitao. A good alternative? Pateo, the seafood-centric dining room inside Bairro do Avillez, evokes the intimate feel of a small neighborhood plaza; it’s the perfect setting for grilled razor clams and crab-and-lobster rice.
Take a day trip to the Tejo wine country just over an hour away -- much closer than the more famous vino verde wineries in northern Portugal. The best way to get there is with the help of a Wi-Fi equipped Mercedes and a driver from Amiroad. Tejo wineries are beginning to export consistently to the American market; their popularity is growing, thanks to a handful of expressively juicy whites.
At Quinta do Casal Branco, focus on the winery’s premium Falcoaria label. It includes a fruity, mineral-packed bottle of Fernao Pires, which is one of Portugal’s oldest and most planted varietals. What’s more, the staff can whip up an impressive seafood lunch, so you can linger over your favorite pour.
A short distance away is Quinta da Alorna, a historic estate built in the 18th century, with a majestic fleet of Lusitano horses. Feel free to go for a ride before tasting the vineyard’s Marquesa de Alorna Grande Reserva, a silky red with a bit of spice. Want to know what grapes are used in these bottles? Sorry, it’s the winemaker’s secret.
Sober up while you watch the sun set, then make it back to Lisbon in time for a late dinner at Loco, where chef Alexandre Silva creates 14- to 18-course menus of cleverly updated Portuguese classics. The roster changes nightly, but we loved the smoked and slow-cooked salted duck breast, served with rhubarb compote and charred kale, when we last ate there.
Brunch at the Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon is a massive buffet with fresh sushi, cod dumplings, a live grill station, crispy samosas, and lots of local cheeses -- the perfect chance to catch up on traditional delicacies you haven’t yet tried. Then it’s time for a little retail therapy. Steer clear of azulejo tiles you might find in antique shops or flea markets; they were probably pried off building facades illegally. Instead, head to the residential neighborhood of Mouraria, where family-owned Cortiço & Netos sells thousands of discontinued tiles collected by the merchants’ grandfather.
A 10-minute taxi ride to Cais do Sodre will bring you to SAL, a concept store from design firm Branco Sobre Branco. It’s known for swivel armchairs upholstered in velvet and slender bronze table lamps that look more like supersized jewelry; more portable purchases include all-natural bergamot candles and handmade notebooks with beautiful local photographs.
Then it’s off to happy hour at Double9, which specializes in tea-based cocktails. You can’t go wrong with the bright crimson Clover T-Club, which blends gin, raspberries, and ginger with red-fruit tea. Follow it up with dinner at brand-new Leopold, the first restaurant in the exclusive Palacio Belmonte, with a dramatic setting at the foot of Castelo de Sao Jorge. Chef Tiago Feio obsesses on extracting the cleanest, sharpest flavors from each ingredient he uses. His plate of raw wild spinach, crunchy barley malt seeds, and sous-vide turnips is a study in minimalism and restraint, and it’s a great example of how far fine dining has come in this city.
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