Lisbon is a city of reinvention – no wonder both Madonna and newly-married Hollywood power couple Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander have moved here. It survived a devastating 18th century earthquake, a revolution and decades of dictatorship; today, Lisbon is packed full of museums, boutique hotels and bars, and is considered one of the best value city break destinations in Europe.

Lisbon-craving Londoners now have an extra incentive to visit, as TAP (Portugal’s national airline) has started offering direct flights from London City Airport. This means you can finish work in London, hop to the airport, have dinner on the plane and be in Lisbon for evening drinks and a relaxing long weekend ahead. Sounds good to us.

If you’d prefer to tackle two destinations for the price of one (we love a deal!), spend your first night or last in the seaside town of Cascais, where many Lisbon workers live. Check into the Cascais Mirage Hotel, watch the sun rise from your balcony and book a post-breakfast spa treatment to start your long weekend in style. Follow up with a Beetle tour of the area, where you’re driven around in a vintage Beetle car, taking in sights like Cabo da Roca: the most Westerly part of mainland Europe, or Sintra, a hilltop town where the rich have hung out for centuries.

In Lisbon, your hotel choices are equally chic: Alma Lusa, a restored 16th century building in the trendy Baixa/Chiado area, has quirky concierge offerings (a PT session? Yup) and individually designed rooms, including triples that are perfect for breaks with friends. If you’re travelling solo or as a couple, try the adults-only Memmo Alfama hotel, tucked on a side-street in Alfama district, with poolside views of the city and the Tagus river, and super-healthy breakfasts to fuel your sightseeing. You’re also in the right neighbourhood for the Feira da Ladra (Thieves’ Market), a flea market held every Tuesday and Saturday.

Catch one of Lisbon’s iconic elevators from ground level at Baixa towards the steeper Chiado districts and its shops, cafes and sights. The ruined Carmo Convent – left to show the effects of the 1755 earthquake – is just moments from high street stores and Portuguese boutiques, like the must-see A Vida Portuguesa, selling Portuguese-made homeware, cosmetics and food. Around the corner is A Brasileira, the café where literary types like Fernando Pessoa hung out. Grab a typical Portuguese espresso-style coffee, um bica, and raise your cup to him.

As Lisbon has mild to hot weather all year round, you might want to cool off on the water. Try a sunset river cruise, where you can sip wine as you pass underneath the 25 de Abril Bridge, which resembles San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, but also has a newly-opened museum tucked inside. The following day, wind your way back to Belem district, which will have caught your eye as you sailed past – you can either take a cycle tour or simply jump on the tram.

Make a beeline for the Jeronimos Monastery, a vast and elaborately carved 16th century building with an Game of Thrones feel, and a museum full of archaeological finds, including an Egyptian mummy. If you’re after a quicker culture fix, pop along the road to the home of Portugal’s famous pastéis de nata, custard tarts, at neighbouring Pasteis de Belem. This iconic Portuguese patisserie was invented by nuns with spare egg yolks (sorry, vegans) and time on their hands. Skip the long takeaway queues at the shop to enjoy your tarts inside, surrounded by azulejos: the blue and white tiles Portugal is also famous for.

Your next pit-stop is LX Factory: a hipster’s paradise of independent businesses and restaurants tucked inside old graffiti-covered warehouses. The street art is an attraction in itself, even if you’re not looking to buy any souvenirs here. On the way back to the city centre, stop at the shiny new MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology) or the trendy TimeOut Food Market, depending on whether you’re craving exhibitions or even more food – who are we to judge?!

Back in town, take a street art walking tour (bookable through Memmo Alfama) and see why there’s so much affection for Lisbon’s older districts, Alfama and Mouraria, which haven’t been hit by gentrification. Quirky independent businesses and community projects lurk round every corner, from the car park that’s an exhibition space, to the world’s smallest bookshop, Livraria do Simão, which holds one customer at a time.

Head to the Bairro Alto neighbourhood for distinctive restaurants and cafes. Bairro do Avillez, one of several restaurants by highly respected chef Jose Avillez, has a pisco bar (for Peruvian pisco sours), a fish restaurant, Páteo (which also caters brilliantly to vegetarians), and a hidden burlesque bar, Beco. Here, food is brought to your table as you watch the show in a former chapel, with cosy booths and a giant mural of Dita von Teese.


End the night down the hill in Pensão do Amor, if you like your evenings full-on (this place is a former brothel, with the decor to match, plus a shop for, erm, ‘souvenirs’), or stay uphill for tiny pubs and bars where locals perform fado music as you sit back with a beer or a glass of ginja – Portuguese sour cherry brandy. The next morning, tick off your remaining sightseeing wish list or just wander the cobbled streets and soak up the atmosphere before your flight home – that’s if you can tear yourself away from this irresistible city.

TAP flies to Lisbon from London City Airport, Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester, from £42 one way.