Travel: Give me a break - Lisbon on pounds 250

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The Independent Culture
Charing Cross, Friday. You have pounds 250 to spend on a weekend break from the centre of London. Simon Calder prescribes how to spend your time and money in the Portuguese capital, for some winter sunshine in advance of the crowds booked in for Expo '98.

Down payment

Get to Gatwick on Connex SouthCentral, pounds 15 return. AB Airlines (0345 464748) has a flight at 11.30am on Friday, returning on Sunday at 4.35pm, for pounds 140.80. This leaves pounds 94.20 for you to spend in the Portuguese capital - fortunately the continuing strength of sterling means you can enjoy a break 800 miles south of Britain well within budget.

Instant briefing

The Portuguese National Tourist Office in Britain (22 Sackville Street, London W1X 2LY; 0171-494 1441) is scarcely worth bothering with, since the tourist office at Lisbon airport is excellent - and dispenses a good, free map and will direct you to the 400-escudo (pounds 1.20) airport bus into town.

Rest assured

Whether you are a single traveller or a romantic couple, it is thankfully easy to find a good, clean room in the city centre. The Baixa (flat, central section) and the Bairro Alto ("high quarter", just to the west) both have plenty of places where you pay about pounds 16 per night including breakfast. In the former, try the Pensao Insulana at rua da Assuncao 52 (00 351 1 342 3131); on the latter, the Pensao Londres (rua Dom Pedro V 53, 00 351 1 346 2203). Cheap places in Alfama (the crumbling, crowded eastern quarter which began as an Arab settlement) have a higher incidence of unwanted wildlife.

Must see

Must buy

Must eat

Must drink

Night moves

Around midnight, the Bairro Alto metamorphoses into clubland. For a fresh perspective, though, go west to the Docas area beneath the piers of the 25 April bridge - night-life with a harder edge.

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