Between the historical landmarks, majestic townscape and rich food culture, it’s possible to spend months in Lisbon and discover something new every day. However, if you only have a weekend, you can still walk away with a lasting impression of the city. Here’s how to best explore Portugal’s capital in 48 hours.
One of the must-do experiences in Lisbon is riding the bright yellow 28 tram. To enjoy it at its best, get up early to avoid the tourist and commuter crowds. These trams are operational antiques, carrying people up and down Lisbon’s hilly streets since the 1930s. Buy a weekend travel pass, catch the tram at Praça da Figueira and bounce between Lisbon’s coolest neighbourhoods. Passing more landmarks in one swoop than any other line, the 28 will take you past the Sé Cathedral (Lisbon’s oldest church) and the Estrela Basilica (a convent constructed on the orders of Portugal’s Queen Mary I). This ride takes only 40 minutes, so there is plenty of time left of your morning to explore.
Next, head to the Martim Moniz and Mouraria neighbourhoods to see a more convivial side of Lisbon. The green square at Martim Moniz is worth a browse for its live music and open-air vendors. Stroll through to Mouraria – where the streets date to Medieval times – and take a moment to appreciate the fado-inspired street art. Fado is a traditional style of music in Portugal that first became popular in Mouraria.
Make your way up to the 11th-century Castelo de São Jorge, built to protect the city from invaders. The castle sits atop Lisbon’s highest hill, but those with tired feet can catch the bus leaving from Praça da Figueira, which goes directly to the castle entrance. The entrance fee is €10 (£8.50) for adults and €5 (£4.25) for those between the ages of 13 and 25; other concessions are also available. From the castle walls, take in the magnificent views over Martim Moniz, Baixa and the Tagus River. After leaving the castle, walk down to Miradouro da Graça or Portas do Sol for a drink – a traditional ginja shot (cherry liqueur) is highly recommended.
Visit Alfama for shopping or dinner and a show. Lisbon’s oldest and most traditional neighbourhood is full of lovely souvenir shops where visitors can purchase products made of cork (one of Portugal’s largest exports), azulejo tiles, fabric fish (symbolising the city’s nautical history), clay dishes and other traditional items.
The tiny streets and alleyways are lined with restaurants decorated in traditional Portuguese style. Restaurant owners stand in doorways to try and entice passers-by into their venues. If you walk inside, you’ll likely find an authentic meal and traditional fado music. A visit to Lisbon isn’t complete without listening to at least one song.
Lisbon has a generous number of cafés, so finding the perfect place takes a little digging. Two spots downtown attract a lot of attention due to their decorative styles and histories. Café Nicola (opened in 1929) once attracted Lisbon’s scholars for drinks and conversation, while Confeitaria Nacional (opened in the early 1800s) is one of the most beautiful cafés in the city. Alternatively, follow the lead of Lisboetas and visit A Padaria Portuguesa, a French-style chain with stores practically in every neighbourhood. Here, order a coffee and a moist, coconut-covered pão de deus (God’s bread).
Hop on the tram or bus from Cais do Sodré, and head to Belém to experience a few of Lisbon’s most popular landmarks. Visit the grand Jerónimos Monastery first. Remarkable inside and out, it has played important roles throughout Portugal’s history. It is the place where explorers (including Vasco da Gama) stayed before voyages, where several prominent figures (like author Fernando Pessoa) are buried and where the famous recipe for pastéis de Belém or pastéis de nata (custard tarts) was developed.
The original Pastéis de Belém shop is a short five-minute walk from the monastery. Order a few to go or wait for a seat (though you’ll have scoffed them long before one becomes available). These amazing egg-cream custards topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar are some of the best pastéis in the city.
Take a stroll along the riverbank to see the Belém Tower, a Manueline (late-Gothic-style) fort built in the 16th century, and the nearby Padrão dos Descobrimentos. Both monuments symbolise Portugal’s role during the Age of Discoveries.
Tone things down after a busy morning and return to Baixa for a closer look at one of Lisbon’s most beautiful historical neighbourhoods. There are plenty of shops, cafés and restaurants to wander in and out of, but history buffs will enjoy browsing the Livraria Bertrand (the oldest continuously running bookshop in the world), the Café A Brasileira (a beautiful Art Deco-style café running since 1905) and the wrought-iron Elevador de Santa Justa (which has been giving people lifts since 1902).
Wine lovers will adore the BA Wine Bar in Bairro Alto; it’s home to around 200 different types of wine, perfectly paired with delicious appetisers. Wind down with a relaxing drink, good food and more gorgeous views from one of the city’s rooftop restaurants.
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