Where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

As you fly into Lisbon airport, two stadia come into view, no more than two miles apart. These are the homes of great city rivals Benfica and Sporting, in place for more than half a century. Both stadia were completely rebuilt for Euro 2004 and now would be the envy of most clubs over the border in Spain. Geographically, at least, the Lisbon giants have always been close.

In terms of achievements, it’s a different story. Benfica won four league titles in a row from 2014, Rui Vitória leading The Eagles to the double in 2017. Sporting were crowned champions in 2021 – for the first time in nearly two decades.

Benfica originally played on pitches around Campo Grande and the north of the city – exactly where Sporting were based. Benfica’s legendary Estádio da Luz, once the biggest stadium on continental Europe, might translate as ‘Stadium of Light’ – but ‘Light’ refers to the Luz district Benfica eventually settled in.

They were always known as the people’s team, their stadium originally financed almost entirely from supporters’ donations. Sporting named their stadium after Jose Alvalade, the viscount landowner who played a pivotal role in the club’s foundation. Today’s clubs represent neither specifically working class nor landowning nobility. They count some 350,000 members between them, spread all over the city, in the same districts and social classes.

But the perceptions and prejudices run deep – and the stadia in question remain less than two miles apart. 

Lisbon has traditionally had another club in the top flight, Belenenses, whose Estádio do Restelo sits in Belém, setting off point for Vasco da Gama and the great Portuguese explorers of the 15th century.  In 2018, the club split in two amid acrimony over the financial predicament it was facing. Having formed a public limited sports company, or SAD as the Portuguese acronym goes, the breakaway Belenenses SAD kept the club’s Primeira status but were forced to move out of Belém.

Os Belenenses, the 1946 league trophy still shining in the club offices, became an amateur operation, playing in the Lisbon local leagues. Along with the club badge, however, the original club retained the support of most fans. Four consecutive promotions later, Os Belenenses are in the third tier, only one level down from… B-SAD, as they are now unfortunately named, relegated from the Primeira to the Segunda after a disastrous 2021-22.

The ground B-SAD played out four mediocre campaigns in the top flight also merits a visit, however. In a city of curios, Lisbon also contains a national stadium like no other. Set deep in the woods of Oeiras, the Estádio Nacional is where Celtic won the European Cup in 1967. Still looking like something out of the radio era, the national stadium still hosts the Portuguese Cup final after nearly 70 years.

With B-SAD in the Segunda, the Estádio Nacional has welcomed another quirky Lisbon club, Casa Pia, for Primeira fixtures. Named after a children’s charity, and dating back a century when they provided several members of Portugal’s first full international XI, Casa Pia gained promotion in 2022 to reach the top flight for the first time since 1939. 

Their own Estádio Pina Manique way too small to stage Primeira football, the Casapianos duly moved into the Estádio Nacional. B-SAD, meanwhile, headed out of town to Mafra, north of Lisbon, and the Estádio das Seixas, home of AC Malveira.

Two historic if unsung Lisbon clubs currently play in the lower reaches of the Portuguese pyramid. Fourth-tier Atlético Clube de Portugal are based in Lisbon’s waterfront Alcântara, their glory days back in the 1940s. Now in the district league, Oriental in eastern Lisbon enjoyed campaigns in the Segunda not so long ago.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and timings

Lisbon’s Portela Airport is only 7km (4 miles) north-east of town, a short taxi journey to either stadium.

The airport is at the terminus of the red line of Lisbon’s four-line metro network, accessible with a viva viagem smartcard (€0.50). A single ticket is €1.65, a 24-hour pass €6.60 that also allows use of the city’s various transports of delight – buses, rickety trams and public lifts – all run by Carris.

There are also passes to use CP local trains (€9.70), such as the coastal line towards Belém and the Estádio Nacional, and Transtejo boat services (€10.70) across the Tagus.

A taxi (+351 21 811 1100) from the airport should cost about €10-€15 to town and take 15 minutes.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

Lisbon has pubs and sports bars aplenty – see here for a selection of the best. The traditional nightlife hub of the Bairro Alto has long been gentrified and better bar life has moved elsewhere, most notably to the area facing the Cais do Sodré, but this elevated neighbourhood is still worth a crawl. To access this tangle of steep, cobblestoned streets, take the Elevador da Glória, the funicular tram that scales the short climb from alongside the tourist office on Praça dos Restauradores. 

Cuban-run Atipico is one of the first spots you come to as you climb up from the Elevador da Glória. TV sport and Latin drink mixes come with a large helping of fun.

The best and certainly the biggest of the Bairro Alto pubs, Cheers divides into separate areas for match-watching on five large plasma screens, live music and drinking sessions. Below a beermat-filled ceiling, Cheers feels loved and lived-in, staffed by a crew who know how the keep the good times good.

Matches are also shown at trendier OITONove, at rua da Barroca 89, while fado music and football merge at A Tasca do Chico (Rua do Diário de Noticias 39), done out in teams’ scarves of many colours. 

There’s another Tasca nearby on Travessa da Queimada, a tequila tavern near the Elevador da Glória. Colourful and lively. it screens games and gets the party started. Next door, The Corner fills an old fado house with Irish cheer, live music and TV sport.

One not to miss is the Café Império, near Alameda metro, a Lisbon institution unveiled in 1955 as the lobby of the huge cinema of the same name. The huge mural by Luís Dourdil showing daily life in Lisbon still dominates the main dining room while the bar area above has its TV screens tuned to football. Also in this smarter area of upscale hotels, the Real Sports Bar attached to the Hotel Real Palacio attracts guests from other five-stars in the vicinity. Marrying a US-style sports bar concept with a comfortable country pub. 

On the way down towards Cais do Sodré, it’s worth popping into Spot Lisboa (Rua Nova do Almada 14), a sports bar with screens everywhere, close to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Pestana CR7 Lisboa hotel on Rua do Comércio, with its own sports bar and bistro. 

A block away on main Praça do Comércio, the Museu da Cerveja is literally that, a beer museum with a convivial bar/restaurant on the first floor and an expansive terrace looking over the river.

Authentic Irish pub O’Gilíns tucked across from Cais do Sodré is best known for its traditional live sounds. Celtic or Ireland games see the place packed, while Premier League matches are also shown before the music starts up at 10.30pm. Tables outside catch the evening sun.

Across Rua do Alecrim from there, the venerable British Bar proudly displays its foundation year of 1919 across its distinctive red awning. Once the Taverna Inglesa, it now shows TV football and stays open until 4am. Next door, the DoTe Cervejaria Moderna is a local chain of designer bar/restaurants with a brewbar feel even though the stuff in the copper vats is Super Bock. TV football shown.

In the same vicinity at Rua do Alecrim 21A, sports bar The Couch is filled with 32 LED TVs offering 800 (!) channels and seating for 100 usually lively guests. Cocktails are named if not themed after iconic sportsmen: George Best probably wouldn’t have appreciated vanilla-macerated tangerine in his Cointreau and Rémy Martin. Tap choices include Guinness and Hop House, the menu goes beyond the standard bar food and late-opening hours allow live music to start up after the final whistle goes.

Alongside, beneath the viaduct, the once seedy late-night scene of Pink Street gravitates around a few nightspots, including the themed Bar Liverpool.

You’ll probably find more of a Liverpool crowd at the pick of the pubs, The George near Baixa-Chiado metro. Attentive, friendly staff on first-name terms with regulars serve pints of Sagres, Erdinger and Guinness, and plates of Portuguese and pub favourites, as everyone transfixes on the match. Screens outside face the narrow sidestreet of Rua do Crucifixo.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the stadiums and city centre

Turismo de Lisboa has a hotel database. Hotels convenient for the two main stadium are also within easy reach of the airport.

You can gaze over the Estádio da Luz from the pool or skybar atop the high-design UPon Lisbon. Just over the footbridge from the stadium, a grand glass façade hides 129 stylish apartments. At the foot of the building, STAY combines cocktail spot, sports bar and burger joint in one. Also convenient for Benfica is the upscale Lisbon Marriott, with fine views from the balcony adjoining each room.

Nearer Sporting, on the other side of the ring road from Campo Grande you’ll find the Radisson Blu, Lisbon, with its 24-hour gym and cocktail bar. 

Jerónimos 8 was Lisbon’s first designer hotel – and only a short climb up the road to Belenenses.

Staying at the hotel hub around Marquês de Pombal allows quick, direct access to the metro stations nearest Benfica and Sporting. Several lodgings line Avenida Duque de Loulé, from the chic three-star Exe Liberdade to the foxy Moxy Lisbon City, with its rooftop pool and table football in the lobby.

In between you’ll find the old-school Alicante, the supremely comfortable LX51 Studio and the handy economy ibis Styles Liberdade alongside. Further round the Marquês de Pombal roundabout, the EPIC SANA Marquês offers a quality spa complex and sky pool lounge.

A little further north, closer to the equally well connected Parque and São Sebastião metro stations, the stately Real Palacio has its own in-house sports bar and concierge service. By Alameda metro on the red and green lines, the A.S. Lisboa is a reliable, mid-range choice.

Near main Praça do Comércio in town, the Lisbon branch of the upscale Ronaldo-themed hotels that now stretch from Madeira to New York, the Pestana CR7 Lisboa, features a CR7 sports bar, DJ, gym and restaurant, as well as CR7 rooms, either Rooftop or Superior Corner. A video screen in the lift shows the player in action, an audio backdrop in the corridors echoes with cheering fans. You half expect the quiffed wonder to walk into the room at any time.

In the same vicinity, the colourful Stay Centro Chiado is conveniently located, especially to catch the match at The George pub opposite. Near Baixa-Chiado metro, directly connected with both Benfica and Sporting, the four-star Hotel do Chiado offers panoramic views from its rooftop bar. 

Around central Rossio/Restauradores, the VIP Executive Éden Aparthotel fills a vast Art Deco cinema with apartment rooms, crowned by a rooftop pool. Across the square, the five-star Altis Avenida also exudes cinematic charm, with a panoramic gastrobar.

Close by, the Avenida Palace is glamour itself, with service to match. while the Rossio Plaza and Internacional Design Hotel go big on boutique at prime locations. The Lift is boutique to the nth degree, its name and design inspired by the nearby Elevador da Santa Justa next door.

Up in the Bairro Alto bar zone, the Pensão Londres is well priced and therefore quite often booked out. Nearby, the Independente Principe Real offers a mix of dorm beds and luxurious suites in a historic building, while the fashionable Lumiares provides discerning guests with a rooftop bar and spa.

By Lisbon’s other bar zone at the lower end of Rua do Alecrim, the LX Boutique is chic while the Alecrim ao Chiado feels like a country manor in the middle of the city.

Where to SHOP

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The Força Portugal chain of stores stocks those distinctive red shirts worn by the national team, their current alternative kits, and those of four key clubs, Benfica, Sporting, Porta and Boavista, home and away. Sundry CR7 merchandise completes the picture.

Aimed mainly at foreign tourists seeking to keep the kids happy – of the three dozen stores nationwide, two dozen are around the Algarve – the Força Portugal concept might just catch on in other holiday destinations such as Croatia and Greece.

In Lisbon, you’ll find a branch close to the CR7 hotel on Rua Augusta and on the main square of Praça da Figueira.

What to see

The best football attractions in town

It might be quite niche and old-school, but the National Sports Museum (Tue-Sat 10am-5pm) is free to see and housed in the historic Palácio Foz right on central Restauradores. 

Opened the year that Portugal was celebrating its centenary of Olympic participation in 2012, it focuses on athletics more than most other sporting disciplines but football does get a look-in, particularly in the early years. 

Documentation could be more English-friendly but the museum is an interesting enough distraction if you’re in the city centre and need to get out of the sun.