This whimsical city houses ornate palaces, gargantuan monasteries, and a patchwork of pastel hues in its cobbled streets, alleys and boulevards. Lemon, peach and pink renovated grand buildings sit side by side with crumbling hulks of dilapidated aristocratic housing. Trees and bushes sprout from decaying rooftops and modern boulevards intersect with uneven weathered cobbles. Frankly, 2 days in Lisbon will never be enough to see all this gorgeous city has to offer!
Only 2 days in Lisbon?
If that’s all you have, however, here are my top picks for a picture perfect weekend. Pack your trainers and a bottle of water and prepare to be wowed!
Jump on a hop on hop off bus for the chance to get your bearings and save your foot leather! There’s a selection of companies to choose from and each offers a number of routes so pick the one that best meets your needs. We took the Grey Line option and did the green line (historical) and the red line (Belém).
Start with the red line and jump off in Belém. First gaze in awe at the stunning UNESCO world heritage edifice of the Jerónimos Monastery (you can book a fast-track ticket if you want to jump the queues). The monastery was built in 1498 to celebrate Vasco Da Gama’s discovery of a sea route to India.
Previously it housed monks whose role was to comfort sailors and pray for the king. What a job! In more recent years it has served as both an orphanage and school. The exterior is utterly exquisite with towers of gleaming white stone and fairytale turrets.
Padrão dos Descobrimentos
Take the underpass or bridge over to the riverside and walk to the Discoveries Monument. This is another magnificent architectural display with 29 carvings of famous Portuguese explorers. The detailed stonework brings to life notorious characters such as Vasco Da Gama and Henry The Navigator.
After you have marvelled at the stunning monument, continue your walk along the riverside to the Tower of Belém.
Torres De Belém
The tower of Belém is another elaborate building with a touch of the fantastical. Perched on a stone promontory metres from shore, waves lap at its base. Children paddle in the shallow waters of the adjoining beach and adults can indulge in ‘wine with a view’. You can also book a fast-track ticket to this monument if you want to jump the queue.
From here jump back on the red line bus and head back into town. Jump off at Praça do Comércio. All that walking will surely have built up an appetite!
Saturday lunch – Praça do Comércio
A beautiful 18th-century arcade circles the rim of this grand riverfront square. Glistening white cobble tiles and lemon buildings make for the perfect lunch venue. Select from one of the many cafes lining the square, all reasonably priced considering the location.
There you can contemplate the square’s history. It witnessed the fall of the monarchy in 1908 when Dom Carlos I and his son were assassinated. These days it throngs with tourists jostling for a picture of the Arch of Rua Augusta. Enjoy people watching over lunch as rattling trams trundle through the square disgorging tourists.
We ate at Cantina, Ministerium and Nosola Italia. The service was shocking at the latter but all were reasonably priced. I had a particularly lush octopus salad and cod fishballs (see below) at Ministerium.
If you are a beer aficionado, head to the Museu De Cerveja. You can take your pick from a vast array of drinks delivered in a special beer glass. Note you definitely pay a premium for drinks and snacks at this establishment but it is so worth it.
Convento Do Carmo
From Praça do Comércio head up Rue De Aurea to the Convento Do Carmo. This skeletal structure would not be out of place in a horror movie with its large roofless arch looming above. It’s best seen from the Jardim Da Cerca Da Graça on the opposite hillside to appreciate how the very soul of the church was ripped out in the huge earthquake of 1755.
Anyone visiting Lisbon for more than a day will quickly realise the devastation this earthquake wrought on the city. 9.1 on the Richter scale, barely a building remained untouched by its devastation. Lisbon’s population was decimated with an estimated third of its inhabitants killed in the earthquakes and ensuing tsunamis.
To see the ruins, you can take the elevator from Rua De Santa Justa for a whopping €5.15 or slowly amble up the hillside as I did. The Bella Lisa restaurant next door is a great place to enjoy lunch or dinner with breathtaking views of the city and the Convento Do Carmo. Don’t miss a trip to the miradoura (viewing platform) on top of the lift. For €1.50 each you will see the city in all its glory.
Next head towards Rossio to gaze in awe at the intricate decoration on the station (I think) on the left as you head to Restauradores. This elaborate building now houses a Starbucks! Pretty impressive right?
Green line historical tour
On Restauradores you will find a stop for the green line. It’s over on the right by the fabulous Fabrica Da Nata (don’t miss a pastel De Nata and wine combo here!) and just below Hard Rock Café. If we had one complaint with these tour companies, it is that the signposts are not always very clearly marked so we struggled to find some stops.
Sit back, relax and let your lunch settle as you enjoy the sights of the city on this tour route.
Once you’ve finished that, it must be time for a sundowner! We recommend heading to the little square beneath the station (show map) to enjoy a drink at the Irish Pub (happy hour 6pm to 8pm) Wine & Pisco or one of the many little bars on the cobbled alleyway leading to the Barrio Alto.
Head to Barrio Alto for tapas, dinner or drinks. We highly recommend O Adriano which is just above the square. It looks underwhelming from the outside but our meal there was exquisite and ridiculously good value. We both had huge salmon steaks for €11. Even including a bottle of local wine, the bill was no more than £40?
Work off any hangovers by jumping on the green line (tickets are valid for 48 hours) and hopping off in Alfama. A good place to exit is by the Castle. There are fabulous views from this stop of the Alfama district and sea.
The labyrinth of the Alfama has picture perfect views on every corner. You can take tram number 28 which rumbles through weathered cobblestones carrying camera-laden tourists around the hilly streets of the city. Alternatively, simply wander the streets enjoying views of colourful houses and glimpses of the sea. Listen out for the tram to capture scintillating photos for your album.
Lisbon is a city that urges you to linger, to wander its picturesque streets and watch the world go by at one of its many street cafes. In Alfama, there’s no shortage of little bistros, cafes and bars to encourage you to part with your cash.
If you have had your fill of the old town and Alfama (which I seriously doubt) jump on the metro to Oriente. This is on the red line heading towards the airport and is a modern shopping centre and riverside complex with pleasant walks out to the Vasco Da Gama bridge.
Take note if you still feel drawn to the old town, spend your time there. Oriente is lovely but does not have the character or beauty of other areas in the city.
It does, however, have copious shopping, bars, restaurants and a cable car along the seafront and makes a pleasant stop if you are out of other options.
Lisbon weekend tips
If you only have a short weekend in Lisbon then time is the essence. You don’t want to spend ages figuring things out so here are some key tips to help you on your weekend away.
Getting from the airport
Take the metro from the airport. It’s quick and super inexpensive but be sure to book a hotel near a metro stop as Lisbon is incredibly hilly and the pavements are often cobbled and treacherous to navigate
The metro cards are flimsy but despite appearances, you can reload them. Each card costs €0.50 so it pays to remember this. Thereafter, each journey is €1.45 which is pretty remarkable for a capital city. Even the journey to the airport costs this same low fare although you may have to cart your bags up and down a few flights of stairs.
For a vast range of other incredible tips from a Portuguese resident, read this post on how to visit Lisbon for Less.
I’m sure a bunch of my lovely readers have already had the pleasure of visiting Lisbon. If so I’d love to hear any other tips you may have for first-time visitors.