Europe

Lisbon city break

With no time difference from the UK, Lisbon is a great destination for a short city break. Within a couple of hours you could be enjoying some sunny weather and delicious food in the vibrant city of Lisbon.

Lisbon is host to an abundance of street art, hipster bars and innovative restaurants. The flourishing art scene and cosmopolitan culture are testament to the youth of Portugal’s democracy, but as one of the oldest cities in the world there is also plenty of history to seek out.

What to do in Lisbon

Lisbon is known as the city of seven hills, so be prepared for steep climbs and narrow winding streets. To get your bearings it’s best to have a vague understanding of some of the different areas in Lisbon. Baixa is the most central district, running from the Praça do Comércio by the sea, all the way up to Rossio Square, with a lot of the shopping streets, museums and restaurants. Alfama is an old fishing neighbourhood winding up the hill towards the Castelo de São Jorge. Chiado and Bairro Alto are known as the more bohemian quarters and it’s here you can find lots of bars, nightlife and independent boutiques. Belém is a little further out of the centre but well worth a visit (see Day trips from Lisbon below).

The Elevador Santa Justa was designed to transport people from Baixo to Bairro Alto quickly, but unless you have a Lisboa card (see What you should know below) and can take the 20 second ride for free, save your money: admire this art deco lift from the outside and walk the few minutes up to the top level.

Praça do Comércio

The huge Praça do Comércio is the main square in Lisbon. Surrounded by grand, yellow-painted buildings and with a number of museums on or near the square, it is a must-visit. From the square you can walk up one of the main shopping streets or walk along the sea towards the area of Cais do Sodré.

Much of the joy of visiting Lisbon is getting lost wandering the steep streets, enjoying the views and beautifully tiled buildings, and picking up a pastel de nata along the way. One of my favourite days we spent in Lisbon was taking the old Tram 28 to the top of the Alfama quarter and then walking back down via numerous miradouros (viewpoints) along the way. Be aware that the tram can get very busy so you may need to walk down the line a bit or wait a while to be able to board.

Tram 28 squeezing through the narrow streets of Lisbon

The Castelo de São Jorge (St George castle) sitting at the top of Alfama can be seen from all over Lisbon and is well worth a trip for a walk around the outer walls of the fortification and the magnificent views. Go early or late to avoid the crowds.

Make sure to check out some of these beautiful viewpoints on your trip: the pretty Miradouro de Santa Luzia with its plant-covered pergola; nearby Miradouro das portas do sol with its views of Alfama; Miradouro da Graça with views of Castelo de São Jorge and the 25 de abril bridge; neighbouring Miradouro da Senora do Monte shaded by pine trees.

Miradouro de Santa Luzia

At São Vicente de Fora monastery there are great views of the city from the bougainvillea covered terrace.

LX Factory is an arty enclave half way between Baixa and Belém full of bars, galleries, street art, and shops. With a market on Sundays and live music it’s a lively place to while away a couple of hours.

LX Factory

Day trips from Lisbon

Take a tram out to Belém and make a pilgrimage to Pasteis de Belém for pasteis de nata (they have seats for over 400 so to avoid the long takeaway queues, get table service and eat in). Wonder at the symmetrical beauty of the Mosteiro do Jeronimos monastery (a World Heritage site – with a Lisboa card you can walk straight in and avoid any queues). Visit Torre Belém, walk along waterfront and stop for a drink at one of the bars or stalls on the sunny promenade with views of the 25 de Abril bridge. Marvel at the sheer size of the Monument to the Discoveries with its views over the water and the rest of Belém. 

Mosteiro do Jeronimos

For some beach time and a seafood lunch head to the seaside town of Cascais, 40 minutes from Cais do Sodré station by train. Explore the cobbled streets and tiled buildings of the pretty Old Town of Cascais and wander around the harbour. Pick up a gelado (ice-cream) and head to one of the sandy beaches.

Take a train from Rossio for a day trip to visit the historic palaces in Sintra.  If you can stay in the pretty town of Sintra for more than a day there is plenty to see and you’ll benefit from quieter evenings once the daytrippers leave but it is still very doable in a day from Lisbon.  The buses from the station up to the Pena Palace can get busy so if you don’t fancy a long uphill walk consider a taxi or Uber instead.  At Pena Palace unless you are early the queues for the interior can be very long but there is plenty to see without going inside.  Cool off with an ice-cream on the patio at Alba Gelato near the train station or enjoy some traditional Portuguese dishes at Tulhas restaurant.

Pena Palace in Sintra

To save time queuing, buy tickets online for the palaces – you can get combined tickets depending on how many you want to visit.  As we had limited time we stuck to Pena Palace, the Moorish Castle (20 minutes walk downhill through the woods from Pena Palace) and the Nacional Palace in the centre of Sintra.

Where to shop

You will find no shortage of places to buy azulejos (blue and white tiles), platters with sardine or cockerel motifs, and other ceramics.  For some quirky, modern designs pop into Soma Ideas on Rua dos Fanqueiros in Baixa.

Wander the streets in Chiado behind the Praça do Comércio and pop into Bertrand, the oldest running bookshop in the world, on Rua Garrett.

A Vida Portuguesa sells gifts and local products in an attractive old school apothecary style store on Rua Anchieta in Chiado.

Where to eat and drink

For traditional Portuguese petiscos (small sharing plates) try Antonia Petiscos in Bairro Alto or Taberna Portuguesa in Cais do Sodré.

At Palacio Chiado climb the grand staircase and have drinks under a winged golden lion suspended from the ceiling of the Junot room.

In the unlikely setting on top of a parking garage in Chiado is Park, a plant-filled and funky rooftop bar with great views for sunset.

Restaurant Belem 2a8 dishes up good, reasonably-priced Portuguese food with daily specials in Belem. Try their octopus arroz malandrinho at their shady pavement tables just down the road from the monastery.

100 Maneiras in Bairro Alto is a small, high end restaurant with innovative cooking served through tasting menus. The larger Bistro 100 Maneiras in Chiado has an international menu of equally high standard and a great cocktail bar.

Bar hop along the steep cobbled streets around Chiado and find your favourites – try long-standing Majong on Rua da Atalaia for some cocktails under cabbage shaped chandeliers!

Take a break from the hectic atmosphere around Rua Nova do Carvalho and grab some cocktails in the small apothecary style Bacchanal bar in Cais do Sodre (Rua do Corpo Santo 28).

Bacchanal bar

The Decadente in Bairro Alto oozes trendiness, offering their contemporary Portuguese menu and cocktails for weekend brunches as well as lunches and dinners, with a focus on sustainability, seasonal food and zero waste.

Clube de Jornalistas has a cosy, homely feel, housed as it is in an 18th century mansion. Diners are seated in various different rooms as well as the indoor garden and friendly staff serve generous portions of modern Portuguese and international dishes.

Bairro do Avillez in Chiado is one of seven restaurants in Lisbon owned by celeb chef Jose Avillez. It serves high quality food in either the relaxed Taberna or the more open space in the Patéo room.

At the top of Hotel Mundial on Rossio Square, Rooftop serves large G&Ts and cocktails with views of São Jorge castle.

Views to Castelo de São Jorge from Rooftop bar at sunset

O Purista next door is both hip barbershop and a bar, complete with pool table, chess boards as tables, murals and beer bottles as décor.

Mercado da Ribeira (Time Out Market) is a buzzy, large, covered market in Cais do Sodré. Find some central seating and share different dishes from various stalls, or head to one of the stand-alone bars and restaurants around the outer sections.

At the renovated Bairro Alto Hotel you can check out the views to the river from the beautifully decorated BAHR rooftop restaurant and bar with food from chef Nuno Mendes.

For the menu items you should definitely try while in Lisbon, check out my post on What to eat and drink in Lisbon.

A typical Lisbon tiled building

What you should know

If you’re planning to travel around to different areas and visit a few museums, consider a Lisboa card (€20/€34/€42 for 24/48/72 hours).  As well as free travel on trams, metros and trains to Cascais and Sintra, the card gives free entry to many places including Jeronimos Monastery, Torre de Belém and discounts in others.  It’s also handy in terms of not having to queue for train tickets etc.  More details of where to buy and the full list of discounts are here https://www.lisboacard.org/

Travel time from UK: flight from London ~2.5hrs, taxi to city centre ~20mins.  There can be a long taxi queue at the airport so consider booking an airport transfer – check out the Blacklane app.

Currency: Euro

Plug adaptors: Continental Europe (2 round pins)

Time difference: No time difference from UK

Language: we found even a stumbling attempt at a few words of Portuguese was both surprising and appreciated by locals. Check my blog post here for some basic phrases.

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