Lonely Planet editor, Brekke Fletcher, recently traveled to Lisbon, Portugal. Here, she shares some tips and insights for anyone planning a similar trip.

We landed in Lisbon a Friday for an April weekend jaunt to discover temperatures well above 26ºC (80ºF). It was HOT. My nephew, Fletcher, had flown in from London where he is studying, and I came from Dublin, where I was attending a work conference. Since he had never been to Lisbon, and I love to eat, our itinerary was chock-a-block with sites and tastes.

I haven't been to Lisbon since 2016, and all I can say is the word is out. It was so much more crowded than I remember! I mean, absolutely  jammed, and this is shoulder season. The summer-like temperatures might have been to blame, but there were lines everywhere, reservations were necessary (except at the sublime and legendary Gabrinus, where I walked in on Sunday night and ate at the bar). If you're looking for hidden or under-the-radar experiences, this itinerary is not for you, but it is pretty perfect for a first-timer. 

A table set next to a balcony with a view stretching over a city towards a river at dusk
The scene at SEEN, the rooftop restaurant at the at the Tivoli Avenida Liberdade Lisboa © Minor Hotels

Where did you stay? What was the vibe?

Our hotel was on Avenida da Liberdade, Lisbon's main thoroughfare, and the only straight, flat boulevard in town. Here's where you find all the big name designers, from Gucci to Louis Vuitton, as well as many fancy hotels, designer boutiques and upscale restaurants. We stayed at Hotel Avani Avenida Liberdade Lisbon, which shares amenities (an outdoor pool and an Anantara spa) with its ritzier next door neighbor, the Tivoli Avenida Liberdade Lisboa. It was like getting two hotels for the price of one!   

After checking into our lovely room at Avani, we made our way next door to have a snack in the Tivoli lobby before checking in for our pre-arranged massages at the Anantara Spa. The experience was so relaxing and satisfying, we both nearly fell asleep during our treatments – and we weren't even jet-lagged. Re-energized, we put on our party clothes.

A flat wide dish filled with thin slices of octopus
The octopus carpaccio at SEEN restaurant was delicious © Brekke Fletcher / Lonely Planet

The hotel set us up with reservations at the Tivoli's rooftop restaurant, SEEN, which was... a scene. On a Friday night the places was pumping, with a DJ spinning a great remix of '80s tunes (George Michael, Madonna), and the adjacent outdoor Skybar (with incredible views of Lisbon's tiled rooftops and the Tagus river in the distance), was packed with revelers. We ate some incredible octopus carpaccio, top-notch sushi, had a few drinks (including the best Moscow Mule I've ever tasted) and enjoyed the party atmosphere.

What was the most touristy thing you did? 

Let me be frank, we pretty much did only touristy things. Since this was Fletcher's first trip to Lisbon, he had a list of must-see landmarks, including the Torre de Belém, the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and the Castelo de São Jorge.

Left: a stone tower on a waterway. Right: a stone tomb inside a monastery
Our tourist highlights included visiting the Torre de Belém and the tomb of Vasco da Gama at Jerónimos Monastery © Brekke Fletcher / Lonely Planet

Since there's a ticket cost to visiting all of these sites, we decided to invest in two 24-hour Lisboa Cards. For €27 per person, the Lisboa Card provides access to all these locales (and many more), along with public transportation to get you hither and thither. Worth its weight in gold, we were able to skip long lines to get in everywhere, except the Monastery, where the line to enter the cloisters was at least 80 people deep. The adjacent church (officially named Igreja de Santa Maria de Belém) was easily accessed and extraordinarily beautiful with the sun shining through stained glass windows.

What is the best thing you ate or drank? 

The steak at Restaurante Brilhante was sublime. The texture, the flavor, the sauce! Savory yet not too salty, melt in your mouth. As described on the menu, "A tribute to the century-old Lisbon recipe for 'Bife à Marrare,' a speciality immortalized by the famous cafés of the 19th century. We have perfected the recipe, which will remain a well-kept secret." I detected butter, shallots, cream, but yeah, I couldn't recreate it. The dessert was a classic chocolate soufflé (order it early because it takes 25 minutes to prepare), served with hazelnuts and ice cream.   

Left: a man in a restaurant takes a sip from a wine glass. Right: a chocolate dessert topped with nuts
Restaurante Brilhante in Lisbon served a delectable steak and soufflé © Brekke Fletcher / Lonely Planet

I also want to shout out the charming, local chain Dear Breakfast with outposts in Alfama (where we ate), Bica, Chiado and Santos. Like Lisbon writ large, it gives off laid-back, dreamy California vibes. It even has breakfast tacos on the menu, which I highly recommend, alongside the divine pastries and a squishy banana bread.

Banana-covered banana bread at Dear Breakfast; a mirror selfie at bar Pavilhão Chinês © Brekke Fletcher/Lonely Planet

What was the most under-the-radar activity you enjoyed?

Not quite sure it's "under-the-radar," but since you have to ring a bell to get in, I'm saying it is. Pavilhão Chinês is a bar has been on my list for ages, and I knew my nephew would get a kick out of how kitschy and random it is. Think shelves up on shelves of figurines in glass cabinets lining the walls, red carpeting, dark lighting, and overpriced everything. But who cares! For a post-dinner drink, it was a great show. Was it the best cocktail ever? Probably not. 

Left: a woman stands next to a tuktuk. Middle: a close-up of green tiles. Right: a red tram
All the Ts: a TukTuk tour, tiles and a tram in the Alfama district of Lisbon © Brekke Fletcher / Lonely Planet

Favorite activity from the trip?

So last time I was in Lisbon, trudging through Alfama on foot in the scorching heat, I watched people in passing TukTuks looking much happier (and a lot less winded) than I. This time, especially with the heat, I booked a 90-minute Old Lisbon ride with electric Eco Tuk Tours. Our guide/driver Bruno shared so much good info with us, answered all our questions about Lisbon's history and shared a lot of insights on the way the earthquake of 1755 still impacts the city today. He showed us Roman ruins and vistas, stopped to let me admire some tiles and expertly navigated the narrow streets, dodging bikers, trams, pedestrians with aplomb.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I spent my final daylight hours basking in the sun by the pool at Tivoli, drinking white Portuguese wine, watching people dip in and out of the water. When you're bone tired from exploring, is there anything better than lounging at a hotel pool? Não!

Brekke Fletcher and her nephew were guests of the Avani and Tivoli hotels in Lisbon. Lonely Planet does not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.

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