OUTRAGEOUSLY neglected by tourists for decades, Portugal’s crumbling, azulejo-clad capital has seized Europe’s city break spotlight - and it shows no signs of letting go.

As numbers swell, new spaces are opening, often revitalising abandoned buildings whose walls still whisper fascinating tales. Artists tired of rising rents are shifting to new suburbs and entrepreneurs are capitalising on past glories by investing in innovative ideas.

Explore the past while imbibing Lisbon’s heady new energy by visiting the overlooked corners that have been given a loving refresh.

There’s new life lurking beneath the bridge

Lisbon’s answer to San Francisco’s Golden Gate, Ponte 25 de Abril boldly slices through the silky smooth River Tagus with mid-sixties industrial might.

Underneath the heavy girders in Alcantara, a new hub of restaurants, cafes and co-operative spaces has emerged, taking advantage of empty warehouses and neglected space.

Behind a graveyard of retired public transport at the Museu da Carris, a stack of 14 shipping containers host 35 artists, designers and musicians - and a double-decker bus functions as a cafe (with a good selection of vegan and veggie options).

Factories are now in the business of making fun

A few meters away, past the hollowed shells of defunct buttercup-yellow trams, an industrial block of sorrowful late-19th century textile warehouses has been resurrected from the dead to create LX Factory - a hipster village that’s (thankfully) not yet too hip. Escaping the marauding throng of tourists in Bairro Alto, Lisboetas come here to hang out and breathe.

Housed in a former print works, Ler Devagar is stacked floor to ceiling with books - and a bar to lubricate purse strings.

A giant bee made from rubbish climbs the wall of one complex; the city’s best chocolate cake is served at Landeau (it’s the only food on the menu), and at the top of a multistorey concrete stairwell plastered in graffiti and pouty lipstick prints, there’s Rio Maravilha - a comfortably cool bar/restaurant with just the right balance of edge and authenticity.

The sleepy south bank is waking up

It’s only a short 15-minute ferry ride from Cais do Sodre to Cacilhas, on the quieter south bank of the Tagus, where hilltop statue Cristo Rei (a copy of Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer) extends his embrace. So it’s no surprise impoverished artists priced out of the city centre are moving here in droves.

Turning right at the ferry terminal, a dockside path winds alongside a skeleton of frail warehouses with only trailing cables and political street art hanging from their bones.

Overlooking a small beach slapped by wriggling mackerel, two superb seafood restaurants deserve attention. Ponto Final has the edge on seating, with tables set on a jetty pointing a thin (and very exposed) finger at Ponte 25 de Abril and sunset.

Much shadier, is neighbouring Atira-te au Rio, where lemon cured sardines bathe in golden oil and teeth-sinking grilled octopus wraps the mouth in a warm embrace. The starters (around £9/10 euro each) are so good, it makes sense to order more and skip mains.

Further along the path, an elderly man sits with his lunchbox in a steel lift trundling up to to a viewing platform and cafe. He charges 90p/1 euro return for the Boca do Vento elevator (open 8am until midnight) - although that price can include a bite of his home-cooked food.

Below, boats billow their sails and drift towards the mouth of the Atlantic, following a route once navigated by Vasco da Gama in the Age of Discovery.

Something fishy is going on

Since Roman times, fishing has been an important industry in Portugal and at one point, there were more than 80 tinned fish companies in operation. Now only 18 remain, although all are represented at the Loja das Conservas store along Rua do Arsenal in Cais do Sodre.

Wrapped in illustrated paper packaging, gloriously attractive tins are displayed below placards detailing each company’s history. The choice of rosemary-infused, thyme-marinaded or even ginger-laced processed fish, can be overwhelming - but trained staff milling around the store are ready to advise.


Monarch (monarch.co.uk) operates year-round flights to Lisbon from Birmingham, London Gatwick and Manchester airports, with fares, including taxes, from £42 one way (£81 return).

Book a stay at Pousada de Lisboa with Small Luxury Hotels of the World (slh.com; 0800 0482 314) from 220 euro per night (two sharing) on a B&B basis.

For more information, visit Turismo de Lisboa at visitlisboa.com.