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aerial view of Lisbon

Retreat to Lisbon: how to spend a weekend in the city, with wellness woven in

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L360 editor Mattie Lacey-Davidson heads to Lisbon in search of the best wellness activities and healthy food spots. Here’s her guide to a weekend in the Portuguese capital, with a few moments of indulgence, too.

Holidays are indulgent by nature, but they needn’t be unhealthy. I spent three days in Lisbon, not only enjoying myself, exploring the city and indulging in food and the many variations of Aperol cocktails I found (such as an Aperol mojito in the Praça Dom Pedro IV market), but also discovering the tourist-friendly wellness activities and best healthy eating spots in the city.

So if, like me, you’re keen for a bit of balance on your holiday, here’s where to stay, what to do, where to eat (for both health goals as well as utter indulgence) and some of the best wellness activities to try in the Portuguese capital.

The outside of the yellow building of Palacio Ludovice hotel is Lisbon, at sunset
Palacio Ludovice spa hotel is the perfect HQ in Lisbon
Where to stay in Lisbon: Palácio Ludovice spa hotel

Found within the popular Bairro Alto area, Palácio Ludovice faces the São Pedro De Alcântara viewpoint from which you can look down upon the city’s architecture, including the Castle of São Jorge. From here, you can also hop onto the famous yellow Glória Tram, inaugurated in 1885, which connects to Praça dos Restauradores — a square adorned with some of Lisbon’s most iconic buildings.

Palácio Ludovice is listed in Hotels.com’s ‘Perfect Somewheres’ — an awards list of the site’s top 1% of hotels, ranked (a little unusually) on how they treat guests rather than amenities offered. And treat us well they did, from vouchers for a welcome drink in the bar to surprise treats left in the room (including local delicacies like port and pastéis de nata) and even providing mini robes and slippers for my one-year-old.

Read more: 48-hours in a family-friendly wellness hotel
Inside one of the suite's at Palacio Ludovice hotel in Lisbon
Palacio Ludovice signature suite

Rest assured, the amenities live up to the top 1% rating, too. Inside the five-star hotel, you’ll find rooms designed by Miguel Câncio Martins, combining traditional Portuguese elements such as handpainted tiles (for which the country is known) with modern touches (such as a TV that lifts out of a marble table, if you’re in one of the suites). There’s a Caudalie spa adjoining the hotel, so you’ll find toiletries and skincare provided by the luxury brand in the bathroom, including minis of the Resveratrol-Lift Instant Firming serum, which happens to be a favourite of mine.

I’d highly recommend booking a treatment at the spa. For those interested in skincare, your facial will start with a high-tech skin analysis from which the therapist talks you through different elements of your skin (mine is both dry and dehydrated, with underlying redness showing sensitivity) and advise you on how to look after it going forward. Other treatments include a full body scrub, a sculpting massage and a pregnancy massage.

The best wellness activities in Lisbon

As well as the spa, Palácio Ludovice has a gym open to all guests, but if you want to to get out and about in the city and experience wellness in Lisbon, there are three activities I recommend.

Studiorise is an English-speaking spin studio where you ride in a dark, candlelit room — the only other lighting is a colour-changing spotlight on the coach. Speaking of which, all coaches are performers by trade, so they bring something special to their classes. Gigi, for example, who led my session, is a dancer and had us clapping, rolling our bodies and waving our towels in the air. She even got off the bike to dance and hype us up throughout. The studio’s motto is ‘fitness is boring’ and the class was anything but — I found myself smiling throughout and, despite pushing myself, somehow found it a little easier to get through.

Read more: Why Paris is an underrated spot for a wellness break
A wall of spin shoes
Studiorise, a spin studio in Lisbon, where shoes are provided

If yoga is more your vibe, Baraza is an English-speaking yoga studio in Santos offering a unique Power Flow that promises to be fun and get your heart rate up. The studio has different teachers who each add their own touch.

For runners, you can join the bi-weekly Rookie Run Club. Suitable for beginners and run-lovers alike, it’ll take you along the waterfront at 9am on Saturday mornings from Praça do Comércio plaza or Wednesday evenings at 7.30pm from the Cais do Sodre neighbourhood.

Other things to do in Lisbon

Get your steps in at the Feira da Ladra flea market, open Tuesdays and Saturdays from 9am. It stays open into the early evening, but get there in the morning for the best finds. There’s also the LX Factory, a street of derelict warehouses now converted into a somewhat trendy shopping hub. It’s a little out of the way, in Alcântara, but you’ll find a fantastic healthy eating spot there (see below) and it’s en route to some of the best beaches.

Talking of beaches, you can get the train or jump in a cab (for around £15) to Carcavelos — a soft sandy beach where you’re more likely to rub shoulders with locals than tourists. Here you can rent surfboards or join a surf lesson via one of the stalls and schools dotted along the promenade. There are also restaurants, as well as vendors selling drinks and snacks on the beach (treat yourself to a bolas de berlim, a ‘Berlin ball’, which is a local doughnut).

Read more: Five restorative breaks to book now
A wide lens shot of Carcavelos beach with surfers in the water and on the shore
Carcavelos beach near Lisbon
Healthy eating in Lisbon: The Therapist

The Therapist, found in both Alvalade and the LX Factory, is a health-focused hub with a restaurant, workshop space and food shop. The menu is curated with options shown in four different colours, indicating whether the food supports your mind, immunity, powers you up or helps you reset (admittedly, I’m slightly unclear on what the latter means).

The menu is vegan-heavy with the likes of dairy-free burrata, kimchi tofu tacos and lentil burgers or meatballs, but there are also salads with the option to add seared tuna fish (I recommend the protein salad) and a couple of non-vegan desserts (the blondie was the best I’ve ever had).

Read more: The foodie staycation that’ll teach you about fermentation
A table laid with many plates of different Indian dishes

Gunpowder restaurant in Lisbon, photo by Luis Ferraz

The best restaurants, cafes and bars to visit (that are not so healthy)

If you want something a little more indulgent  — you’re on holiday, after all — then head to Gunpowder. You may not be expecting an Indian restaurant recommended in a guide to Lisbon, but you’ll find Portuguese touches throughout the dishes, as well as the restaurant’s own sparkling wine to try.

The menu is made up of small tapas plates, like mustard malai broccoli and spicy lamb vermicelli doughnuts (two of the more popular dishes), but my favourite was the impeccably cooked ambedi grilled stone bass fish, which almost melted in the mouth.

Another favourite, this time from the section of sharing plates, was the grilled black tiger prawns in a Goan sauce — it was so good, I could have simply licked it off the shells and been satisfied. Both pair well with the Portuguese bread, which comes with burnt onion butter.

For dessert, combine an aged port wine with the old monk rum bread and butter pudding (an old Parsi favourite, apparently, made with Indian rum) or the chocolate cinnamon ganache served with olive oil ice cream (the latter was a revelation in flavour).

For local delicacies like pastéis de nata, head to a Manteigaria; there are branches dotted all around the city, including inside the Time Out Market. For ginja (a Lisboan sweet cherry liquer), Ginginha do Carmo is the best place to go to avoid other tourists.

Finally, if you have time, hop on a ferry across the river to Ponto Final — the number-one spot for looking back at Lisbon and eating dinner as the sun sets over the city. It books up months in advance, but you can arrive at 6.30pm and queue for a walk-in spot (there are other places around with good views if you don’t get a table).

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