1. Where to Stay
Find salvation at bargain prices at the York House (from $119), just minutes away from the Museum of Ancient Art. The 32-room former convent is outfitted for the lay visitor with plush velvet sofas.
Loiter on your balcony or gaze out the floor-to-ceiling windows at Fontana Park (from $135) before strolling over to see 6,000 pieces of ancient and international art at the nearby Museu Calouste Gulbenkian.
Hit the snooze button at the Heritage Av. Liberdade (from $244), a classic 40-room boutique hotel with a late breakfast available till noon.
2. Where to Eat
Book in advance to enjoy a home-style Portuguese entrée and a bottle of wine for less than $30 at the no-frills A Camponesa de Santa Catarina (Rua Marechal Saldanha 23/25, 213-464-791).
Stick to your budget at 100 Maneiras (Rua do Teixeira 35, 210-990-475) by ordering the prix fixe dinner. The restaurant, which opened this year, features a four-course menu of sautéed seafood paired with improbable vegetables for $52.
Take a break from salted cod (known here as bacalhau) by ordering the fresh fish at Aya. The cuisine spans dishes from the Pacific Ocean, the Sea of Japan, and the Japanese Alps.
3. What to Do
Try on a pair of au courant sunglasses at PorConceito: the ocular boutique opened in 2009 in the Bairro Alto district and offers fashionable frames reminiscent of Chanel and Dior for a mere $150. Next, redecorate your apartment with antique maps of the Iberian Peninsula, dramatic vintage fado posters and urbane fin de siècle magazine covers from Loja das Gravuras (Rua da Misericórdia 88, 213-423-261).
In Chiado, rediscover nearly extinct brands at A Vida Portuguesa, like Oprah’s favorite all-natural Claus Porto soap or whimsical Bordalo Pinheiro plates. Treat yourself to a proper pair of gloves at the tiny Luvaria Ulisses, open since 1925. Get your hands massaged and measured, then choose a pair (or, at $88, two!) among a selection of fine-leather styles.
Return to the present along the waterfront esplanade across from Santa Apolónia train station. Find mid-century furniture at the design store Loja Datalaia, or fill out your record collection at the revered Flur. Get a high-end snack of foie gras and top-notch Quinta do Portal wine at sleek food emporium DeliDelux, or cap the afternoon along the Tagus River with a cocktail at the John Malkovich–owned boîte Bica do Sapato.
4. Insider’s Tip
Cabs in Lisbon are quite reasonable by European standards—the ride from the airport to the town center should run you only $18—but some unscrupulous drivers overcharge tourists. Catch a metered taxi at the departures terminal, not the arrivals one, to avoid being a patsy.
5. Oddball Day
Stumble into your own Medieval Times in the Alfama district, beginning at Castelo de São Jorge, an awe-inspiring citadel whose oldest parts date from the sixth century. Take in the panoramic view of the city from one of the turrets before heading around back to check out Olissiponia, a multimedia exhibit on Lisbon’s history that simulates the devastating 1755 earthquake and tsunami. Wander through the intricate alleyways, stopping for a galão (a Portuguese-style latte) at the terrace café on the Miradouro de Santa Luzia. Later, head to the Casa dos Bicos (Rua dos Bacalhoeiros 10), or “House of Spikes,” an architecturally intriguing sixteenth-century palace that was one of the only buildings to survive the earthquake. You can’t go inside till spring, when the building will reopen as the José Saramago Foundation, home to the Nobel Prize-winning author’s extensive library. Down the street, pick up a snack of Old World sardines at Conserveira de Lisboa (Rua dos Bacalhoeiros 34, 218-864-009), a tiny shop where grande dame Regina Ferreira packages assorted fish into tiny tins, then affixes colorful vintage labels, just as her grandfather did when he opened the cannery in 1930. Finish the day at pois, café, a laid-back Austrian spot with homemade soups, salads, and strudels that also hosts rotating art exhibits.
The free bilingual Con Vida guides are excellent and include detailed maps. Pick up the versions for Bairro Alto & Príncipe Real and Baixa & Chiado in trendy businesses in those areas.
For filtered cultural stimuli with an indie feel, check out the weekly Le Cool newsletter.
The GoLisbon blog is an amazingly comprehensive English-language site covering most everything in Lisbon, with a focus on what’s new.
Time Out Lisboa has a firm grip on upcoming concerts.