LISBON | Lisbon is a beautiful city. Whether you’re taken by its charms at first sight or not, one thing we can assure you is that the city grows on you. Lisbon is full of grace, with white-bleached limestone buildings, tiled walls, and red roofs creating an appealing look that matches its unpretentious charms.
Lisbon is endowed with a lot of beautiful sights and museums worth visiting. The city’s weather is pleasant all year ’round, with the peak summer period giving way to a quieter atmosphere during the winter month. From the old quarters of Alfama, where you can enjoy traditional experiences seemingly frozen in time, to the bustling nightlife of historic yet modern Bairro Alto, there’s something for everyone in Lisbon. Here’s our suggested itinerary if you’ve only got a day or two in the city and want to get the most out of your Lisbon short break.
With a short stay, and most likely some unavoidable tourist queues during peak times, it’s a good idea to start the day early and be selective in what you want to queue for. We recommend starting the day by taking Tram 15 to Belem district for breakfast at Pastéis de Belém, the famous long-standing bakery shop. Opened since 1837, the shop holds a secret recipe to the perfect Pastel de nata (Portuguese egg tart) – and we can guarantee you, nothing beats a warm egg tart that is fresh out of the oven, from the area where it was invented. If you’re in the mood for something savoury, we recommend ordering the Bolinhos de Bacalhau (Salt Cod Fish Cakes), perfect little satisfying bites of deliciousness. The store is reasonably large, and if you arrive early before tourist queues start building up, do take some time to walk around and marvel at the traditional setting and the charming tiles on the walls.
After breakfast, head straight to next door and visit Jerónimos Monastery, one of the most prominent examples of the Portuguese Late Gothic Manuelin style of architecture in Lisbon. Before you go in, snap a shot of this impressive looking building from the outside – the longer you leave it, the more crowded it will become, making it hard to get that “perfect shot”.
Next, take a short walk to Belém Tower. Again, this is a popular attraction and can get quite busy so the earlier the better. The stairs are steep and narrow, but the walk to the top of the tower is worth it, both for the view and the architecture.
After this, you can climb to the top of the nearby Monument to the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos) on the bank of the Tagus river, and enjoy another fantastic view of the monastery, and the river. When you’re in this area, take some time out to take in the beautiful river backdrop, and the river walkway, with locals going for a run, fishing, and having a coffee at one of the cafe shops. It’s a nice place to immerse yourself in.
For lunch, head to the Baixa district (the centre) for lunch at a traditional yet trendy restaurant/bar high up on a hill, called Chapitô à Mesa, which is part of Chapitô,Lisbon’s famed circus school and performing arts centre. Decent food, great cocktails and ambience combine for a great time. Whether you sit in the sun looking at the city views, or marvel at the art deco interior, you can’t go wrong. Chapitô à Mesa is popular place so booking in advance is recommended.
Properly fed and rested, keep walking up the hill, about two minutes, to São Jorge Castle, an 11th century Moorish castle. It’s a lovely, spacious place for a peaceful walk right in the city centre. There are plenty of trees to hide from the midday sun, beautiful panoramic views of the city, and even peacocks leisurely strutting around!
There are so many other spots to see during the day in Lisbon, as well as a varied choice of museums. You can visit Rossio Square and Carmo Convent, before having a coffee at the famous Café A Brasileira (where Fernando Pessoa, the Portuguese poet and philosopher, was a patron), or simply walk through one of the city’s many historic districts. Alfama district, the oldest part of Lisbon, is a lovely place for a leisurely stroll – get lost among the intimate alleyways, or ride the rustic Tram 28. If you’re in town on Tuesday or Saturday, Feira da Ladra, (Lisbon’s flea market), is also open. It’s like a large curiosity department store – where you can see traders laying out all sorts of bric-a-brac for sale.
One must-do thing before the day ends is to take the ferry from Cais de Sodre, across the water, to Cacilhas for an amazing sunset view over the The 25 de Abril Bridge, and to watch Lisbon lit up at night from the patio of a seafood restaurant called Ponto Final. Everything is so fresh – the food, the air, the whole ambience of life! Keep in mind, however, that you may need to be prepared to trace the pathway along the river back to the ferry port under the moonlight, as the street lighting can be temperamental.
As with many other cities, Lisbon takes on a different look and vibe at night. We’ve visited Santa Justa Elevador nor Elevador da Gloria (elevators) during the day and during the night, and think that if you can only visit once, that night time is a fantastic choice. Santa Justa Elevador is a huge lift, connecting downtown Baixa district and the trendy neighbourhood of Bairro Alto, while Elevador da Gloria, is a tram carriage that brings you uphill to the Sao Pedro de Alcantara belvedere for a beautiful higher view of the city at night. Worth a visit for the architecture alone, it’s a fun ride, with all the lights turned on, and fewer tourists.
You can finish your night back in the Alfama district (we recommend dinner at a Fado house (Portuguese folk music, a melancholy genre loosely translated as “longing)). If you fancy something simpler, Praça do Comércio, a public square by the water, is also a good spot to spend a warm evening with a beer or wine, watching the world go by. For a more vibrant night time experience, Barrio Alto is the place to be, with plenty of trendy bars, restaurants and cafe located down narrow laneways to keep you going into the early hours of the following morning.