Open any Portuguese magazine these days and there is sure to be an update on Lisbon‘s riverside Cais do Sodré. Its transformation from sleazy haunt frequented by hard-drinking sailors to one of the city’s coolest nightlife districts has been swift, and made the country sit up and take note. Elegant new bars jostle with contemporary restaurants and even the beautiful 19th-century fish market is set to unveil a new food court later this month, mixing gourmet fare with traditional petiscos.
1. Start the day on Avenida Ribeira das Naus, where many of the Portuguese explorers’ ships were built, and which opened last year as a new waterfront focus for the city. It has terracing with deckchairs where you can soak up the morning sun after picking up a breakfast of a bica(espresso) coffee and pastel de nata (custard tart) from a kiosk. A water garden will be finished here later this year.
2. Lisbon’s biggest food market, the lively Mercado da Ribeira(Avenida 24 de Julho, 6am-2pm, closed Sun), was built at the end of the 19th century and topped by a Moorish dome. Among the flowers and regional cheeses, varinas (fishwives), who once sold their wares from flat-bottomed baskets balanced on their heads, offer a selection of cuttlefish and clams, moray eels and sea bass. At weekends handicrafts and antiques are also on offer.
3. Wind your way to the beautiful Praça de São Paulo, a superb example of Pombaline architecture (the Marquês de Pombal helped to plan the rebuilding of Lisbon after the 1755 earthquake). It is dominated by the church of São Paulo, which is worth a look for its painted ceilings. The characteristic mosaic-style cobbles in the square date from 1849. The iron kiosk – another typical Lisbon sight – dates from the early 20th century. In summer, there are seats all around it where you can linger over a coffee.
4. Just across the road is Branco sobre Branco, an interior design shop where Vera Moreira and Paula Laranjo create unique pieces of furniture from cork and oak, drawing on Portuguese traditions in their designs. Look out for the eye-catching, latticed wooden topped boxes and the striking framed beetles.
5. Casa de Pasto restaurant recalls 19th-century Lisbon, with lace curtains at the windows and painted flowers on the ceilings, though Diogo Noronha’s delectable dishes marry modern methods withPortugal‘s culinary traditions. A classic, if heavy, choice would be kale soup with chorizo (€3.50) followed by the duck rice (€9).
6. Walk off lunch by heading up the long Rua do Alecrim towards Bairro Alto. There are several places worth stopping at, from the contemporaryAllarts Gallery, which holds exhibitions by renowned artists such as ceramicist Bela Silva (until 17 May) to d‘Orey & Cardosoa treasure trove of azulejos (antique tiles) that are part of many a Lisbon facade. Its range stretches from the 15th to the 20th century, with tiles from €5 to €900.
7. For the best chocolate cake in town, dip into the wonderfully atmospheric Landeau cafe around the corner.
8. As evening approaches, head to the bars on Rua do Alecrim. This is where you can see the new side of Cais do Sodré at play. O Bom, O Mau e O Vilão translates as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and sets the tone for this new cocktail bar. Its list of 21 gins makes it a good choice for a drink – or two – before dinner.
9. After your aperitif, move on down to the riverside, where an old salt warehouse on a wharf has been converted into a range of bars and restaurants. Ibo serves Mozambican food with a Portuguese twist, such as spicy octopus stew. Next door is Vestigius, a wine bar that runs art exhibitions and musical events.
10. End your day at Station a restaurant, bar and club over two floors where you can sit by the window and watch the Lisbon night sky punctuated by lights from the 25 de Abril Bridge – a Golden Gate lookalike, named after the revolution – 40 years ago last week– that ended the dictatorship . If it is a Thursday, Friday or Saturday, you can dance upstairs to DJs who play until the sun comes up over the water in front of you.
11. Local’s tip
Ana Rodrigues, , marketing director, Heritage Hotel Group Rough, ready and incredibly popular, Sol e Pescais a fishing tackle shop that now houses a bar selling and serving canned seafood, from sardines to octopus, accompanied by cornbread and local beer. This place buzzes until the early hours.
12. Where to stay
The beautifully blue LX Boutique Hotel has a welcoming feel and affordable prices. A taster dish of its not-to-be-missed Japanese food (and a glass of wine) is offered on the house to all guests every night and its distinctive decor draws on the capital’s cultural history, with a floor inspired by fado music and one named after famous Lisbon poet Fernando Pessoa