72 Hours in Lisbon & Arrábida

Words by
Melanie Rickey

5th September 2023

Looking to spend a luxurious and fabulous 72 hours in Lisbon, and its neighbouring Arrábida Natural Park? Melanie Rickey offers the ultimate guide, taking in the local and cultural hotspots of the capital, with a day by the sea to relax afterwards. Let’s go!

If you’re planning 72 hours in Lisbon, we’ve got you. First of all, excellent choice. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll already know Portugal’s capital is Europe’s most desirable city to visit, and increasingly for many digital nomads, to live in. Just ask the 16,000 new inhabitants who’ve made Lisbon their home in the last few years.

While Lisbon’s weather is deliciously warm, cool Atlantic breezes along the west coast means it doesn’t suffer extreme heat. A city future proof to the worst impact of climate change? We’re in.

Factor in Lisbon’s lively bohemian vibe and Portugal’s famously low cost-of-living and it all adds up to more than a tourism checklist. Lisbon is easy, fun, relaxing and ideal for the cultured visitor seeking a perfect city break.

Oh, and let’s not forget its surrounding countryside and dramatic coastline. No visit to the Portuguese capital is complete without a quick detour to decompress in the the stunning Arrábida Natural Park. Now, let’s maximise those 72 precious hours.

72 Hours in Lisbon

72 Hours in Lisbon
The Palacio Ludovice

Day One

We stay at Palacio Ludovice, a luxury wine hotel with 61 rooms and suites which is ridiculously well positioned at the cross hairs of the Príncipe Real, Bairro Alto and Chiado, three of the six main districts of Lisbon. Though, consider yourself warned: bring flat walking shoes, Lisbon’s stone-cut calçada pavements can be perilously slippy, and in a city built on seven steep hills you’ll be glad of them.

Ten minutes walk away is Avenida Liberdade, Lisbon’s premier luxury shopping street. Dip into the fashion edit of the city with a visit to Portuguese fashion stores Fashion Clinic and Loja da Meias, which stock Dior, Lemaire and Prada, and for men, David Rosas boutique which majors in luxury watches.

72 Hours in Lisbon
Room with a view to Lisbon at Palacio Ludovice

An electric bike tour – don’t attempt those hills on two wheels without voltage -  through Graça will bring you to Miradouro da Senhora do Monte the most famous of the stunning viewpoints in Lisbon.

Obsessed with interiors? Visit the otherworldly Museu Nacional do Azulejo, a 16th century convent showcasing the history of Portugal’s famous decorative azulejo tiles which adorn so many of the buildings here.

72 Hours in Lisbon
Museu Nacional du Azulejo is a must visit for anyone visiting Lisbon. If you're an interiors buff, though, set aside a couple of hours for the full experience.

Bibliophiles will enjoy O Mundo Do Livro, a century old book shop off the Rua Misericordia, close to Largo do Camões, a friendly square fringed by Baroque churches and grand Portuguese architecture. It’s a minute’s walk from Lisbon’s most famous café, the lavishly decorated A Brasileira, which opened in 1905, and was one of the first coffee shops in the city.

72 Hours in Lisbon
The most famous cafe in Lisbon A Brasileira do Chiado, founded in 1905

The square was created as a monument to Luís de Camões (1524-1580) considered Portugal’s greatest poet. This, as with all – even the smallest - open spaces in Lisbon features a traditional kiosk serving coffee, beer and refreshments. On the sunny afternoon we passed through, Beto Black and young Brazilian singer Anna Barcelos were performing languid Astrud Gilberto covers as the day began to cool. Nothing for it, but to grab two ice-cold beers from the kiosk and soak up the vibes.    

72 Hours in Lisbon
Luis de Camões Square in Chiado was created for Portugal'smost celebrated poet, and is a perfect stop off and relax point on travels around the city.

Dinner at Palacio Ludovice’s Federico Restaurant is a must for residents and non-residents alike. Not only is the food, wine and service exceptional, it’s position within the hotel means there are views through all five storeys of the hotel to the vaulted glass roof.

72 Hours in Lisbon
Federico restaurant at Palacio Ludovice

On choices of food and wine we put ourselves in the hands of its knowledgeable staff. Highly recommended: the Casa di Santar 2016 Reserva Single Estate red, the Tornedó de Novilho (steak with foie gras and mushroom), and grilled sea bass.

72 Hours in Lisbon

Photography by Nelson Garrido

Palacio Ludovice's Federico restaurant offers fine dining with excellent wine

In Lisbon, dinner marks the beginning of an evening, so don’t miss the action directly across from the hotel at the Sâo Pedro de Alcantara viewpoint, which, by night becomes a social hub with bars and DJs attracting a diverse and fun party crowd.

Day Two

Turning left from Palacio Ludovice is akin to turning left on a plane, and doing so we’re immediately in the premium neighbourhood of Príncipe Real, with its eclectic array of independently run stores and restaurants.

Peep into modern furniture space Quarto Sala for a quick swoon over their Minotti and Poliform edit, and fall into Garrafina Imperial, a traditional-feeling loja da vinhos and wine tasting spot. After pausing to look at its menu, we wish we had more time to eat at Tapisco, the Michelin recommended Tapas restaurant run by Henrique Sá Pessoa. 

We’re headed for the organic Saturday market at the Jardim França Borges, Príncipe Real’s pretty main park. After ambling through the produce market we take in its famous – and gigantic - cedar tree, opposite which is a memorial to victims of homophobia, which honours the area’s “gaybourhood” status.

72 Hours in Lisbon
Jardim Franca Borges in Príncipe Real, moments from the hotel, has an organic market every Sunday, and is moments away from Portuguese culture hub EmbaiXada

Opposite the park is a gleaming white, domed and turreted building you can’t miss, the Moorish Ribeiro da Cunha Palace, now known as EmbaiXada, (or embassy) and it’s filled with a curated mix of Portuguese art, fashion, jewellery and craft and food stores. We linger over Boa Safra’s mix of hand-crafted Portuguese furniture, and admire the sustainable fashion by Benedita Formosinho, who creates crisp white shirts, apron dresses and light knits from locally grown cotton and linen.

If you’re not shopping, simply visit EmbaiXada for its fabulous interiors and sweeping staircase. Use it to head to the galleried first floor to view its latest art exhibition, and then onto the rooftop Gin Lovers Bar & Restaurant for a cocktail and food.

72 Hours in Lisbon
Put Taberna da Rua das Flores on your itinerary, it doesn't take bookings, but turn up in plenty of time and you'll be able to put your name down for a table.

Lunch was a long-awaited visit to one of Lisbon’s most celebrated restaurants, the iconic and tiny 24-cover restaurant Taberna da Rua Das Flores, run by chef, teacher, writer and forager André Magalhães. Widely regarded as the best place to eat in town by Lisboeta’s, Magalhães place is a first-come-first-served hole-in-the-wall restaurant tucked into a quiet side street in Chiado. Arrive at 11.45 to beat the queue to secure your lunchtime spot, and 5.30pm for an evening spot. Food changes daily, but majors on local fish. If they’re on the menu, order the scallops.

72 Hours in Lisbon
The pool at members club and work hub NINHO.

Digital nomads are so numerous within Lisbon, they have their own members club and working hub in the recently opened NINHO, housed in an 19th century palace which offers a pool, restaurant, yoga classes and working spaces throughout the building. The coffee is good too.

To properly do Lisbon, you’ll need to factor the outer borough of Belém into your visit. It takes 15 minutes to reach in a cab from the centre of town, a ride which whisks you along the Tagus.

Start at the MAAT Museum, the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, housed in a futuristic white building designed by British architect Amanda Levete. After taking in the exhibitions, walk up onto the roof of the museum for the best views of the magnificent 25 de Abril Bridge, an almost carbon copy of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge (except you can't walk across it), and the Christ The King Monument, a smaller version of Rio’s Christ The Redeemer.

72 Hours in Lisbon
The 25th April Bridge, spans the river Tagus with the Christ the King monument standing behind.

Turn on your heel from there, and pull up your Google Maps to take the 15 minute walk into the main event of Belém, the Jerónismos Monastery and Belém Tower, UNSECO world heritage sites since 1983. The former is the burial place of Louis de Gama and Luís de Camões.

The monks of Jerónismos are said to have created the original recipe of Portugal’s most famous sweet treat, the Pastel de Nata. Here they’re called Pastéis de Belém, and they have their own site of pilgrimage. If you have time and the queues are not too long, eat in, otherwise head to the quick-serve line to grab a box of six (still warm) tarts.

72 Hours in Lisbon
Pastéis de Belém, home of the original recipe for Pastel de Nata, Portugal's most famous sweet treat.

Our last evening in Lisbon saw us visit Decadente, on the ground floor of the two renovated palaces that house Independente Hostel and Suites, just a few doors from Palacio Ludovice; they're set to open in Comporta this month too. Try Decandente's yoghurt marinated fried chicken, and soak up the theatrics of the open kitchen, and if you've got time head to its rooftop bar Insolito, a late night hot spot for Lisobeta's.

We ended our 48 hours in Lisbon with a cocktail at the Lumiares, a glossy rooftop bar with reaching views also a few doors from the Palacio Ludovice, and, finally, very late night drinks at the incredible Pavalhão Chinês.

Housed in a 1901 building that was formerly a grocery store, the bar’s five rooms are packed to the rafters with the owner’s personal stash of vintage collectibles and oddities, amounting to a sprawling cabinet of curiosities. Look for the red door, and ring the bell for entry, and once inside do explore. It's a labyrinth, the room with the best vibe was tucked at the back, and had two pool tables.

72 Hours in Lisbon
Pavalhão Chinês is a late night bar in Principe Real, look for the red door, and ring the bell for entry, and don't forget to explore the many rooms, and the contents of the owner's collection of objects.

Day Three

72 Hours in Lisbon
The incredible coastline south of Lisbon on the Setúbal peninsula is home to the Arrábida Natural Park, and features in the Bond novels by Ian Fleming.

What is a city tour without a little countryside downtime? Just south of Lisbon across the 25 de Abril Bridge, and you’re on Setúbal peninsula with the Tagus Estuary to the north, the Atlantic to the west and the Sado Estuary to the south.

The Sado Estuary fringes the Arrábida Natural Park, a rugged and unspoilt stretch of coastline dotted with adorable fishing villages and beaches. The area was inspirational for Ian Fleming who set part of his book, Casino Royale, there. The 1969 Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was filmed in Arrábida, and the winding roads, and pine forests remain unchanged to this day.

To discover Arrábida, we base ourselves at Casa Palmela, a sustainable 5-star hotel housed in a 17th century mansion, itself within a vineyard, and all 72 hectares of the house and its grounds are situated in Palmela Estate within the natural park.

72 Hours in Lisbon
The 17th century mansion Casa Palmela is one of the few 5-star hotels inside the Arrábida Natural Park, and offers a full program of cultural activities in the Arrábida region from beach visits to watersports, wine and cheese tasting, to tile-making.

The hotel is charming, peaceful and luxurious, and the helpful team there – shout out to general manager Salvador Holstein – make it their business to offer guests an array of meaningful local experiences.

Go for an evening horse ride on the Palmela estate to unwind, and take in the vines and cork trees - bliss.  There’s also the option to make your own decorative azulejos at São Simão Arte studio who've made tiles for, among others, Elton John. Wine lovers can visit local producers, including José Maria da Fonseca or Bacalhôa Vinhos de PortugalCasa Palmela also offers tempting wellness retreats, and fine dining at its charming restaurant Zimbral.

72 Hours in Lisbon
A suite at Casa Palmela

Using the hotel’s Once Upon A Day service we took a guided trip to the beautiful, and carefully protected fishing village Portinho de Arrábida, and a long lunch at O Farol, the celebrated traditional fish taverna overlooking the bay.

72 Hours in Lisbon
Lunch at O Farol

Fish here is second to none thanks to Arrábida’s close proximity to Setubal’s award-winning Livramento fish market, recently named the world’s best. Ask for the coriander rice, pick from the catch of the day, and savour every magical moment.

72 Hours in Lisbon
The highest viewpoint in the Arrábida Natural Park looks down to the fishing village of Portinho, and fish taverna O Farol.

A road trip to the area’s highest point, overlooking Portinho, and still untouched locations used in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, rounded off a perfect voyage of discovery, which ended – as it should - with a toast to the movie Casablanca, if only because Paul Henreid and Ingrid Bergman finally got on that plane.

Palacio Ludovice, rooms from £220

Casa Palmela, rooms from £180