If there’s anywhere that needs to get put at the top of your travel bucket list it is Portugal – and I’ll tell you why. It has all the charm, architecture and adventure of other major European hotspots like Italy and Spain but feels much more “undiscovered” and thus, authentic. It isn’t teeming with tourists everywhere or vendors trying to sell you random trinkets on every street. However… I don’t expect this to last much longer.
To get the most out of a trip, I highly recommend exploring throughout the country, with at least a weekend spent in the capital and largest city in Portugal: Lisbon. The city is big enough that there is tons to explore but small enough that within a few days you will have figured your way around. It also doesn’t hurt that the city is absolutely beautiful!
We bookended our trip in Lisbon so that we spent two days there before hitting the road to drive the Western and Southern coasts (posts coming soon!), and then had another day in the city before we flew home.
You could definitely spend more time in Lisbon but a weekend will treat you just fine and due to its central location, it acts as a great jumping off point to visit everywhere else in Portugal. So without further adieu, below are my recommendations for a weekend in Lisbon.
Neighborhoods to stroll
Bairro Alto – Our favorite district of them all, Bairro Alto has a young, gritty feel to it with some great bars and restaurants. It really comes alive once the sun goes down.
Chiado – Popular shopping and theatre district in the center of the city
Alfama – A maze of narrow and very steep streets, this is a fun area to get lost (trust me, you’ll get lost) and discover new gems around every corner.
Baixa – Located right in the heart of the city, this area contains many of Lisbon’s most notable plazas and avenues. Full of restaurants and shops, this primarily flat area is great for a break from all the hills.
Where to eat
Chapitô à Mesa: Located in the Alfama neighborhood, this spot is a must! With incredible views over the city, be sure to ask for a seat next to a window or on the edge of the patio. A reservation is highly recommended, otherwise you’ll need to get there 20-30 minutes before opening (that’s what we did and by the time it opened there were about ten other couples in line behind us).
Pastéis de Belém: You can’t visit Portugal without trying an infamous pastel de nata! This bakery still makes the country’s most beloved pastry using the original recipe and they are truly the best in the city. There is often a line, but it moves very quickly as they’ve got this down to a science.
Time Out Market: Part large-scale farmer’s market, part food hall, this is a fantastic option if you want to try a few different restaurants at once or if people are feeling different things. We found that multiple restaurants we had on our “to-try” list had booths here. It was a great way to try those restaurants without having to worry about making reservations and it opened up our schedule to discover other gems! [If you have ever been to Napa, this is similar to the Oxbow.]
Santini Gelado: With various locations throughout the city (including one in Time Out Market) you have no excuse not to try Santini! The lemon with raspberries is not to be missed (especially on a warm evening) and the nata flavor was delicious!
LX Factory: What used to be empty warehouses is now the revamped and trendy LX Factory, a few square blocks of unique restaurants and shops where you’ll find the streets lined with booths of artisans selling everything from vintage clothing to handmade cheese to jewelry. Some stores of note are Ler Devegar bookstore, Organii organic cosmetic shop, and Retroshop antique homegoods. Keep in mind that a lot of the shops and restaurants close fairly early.
Where to grab drinks
PARK Bar: Located in the Bairro Alto district, you’ll find this unconventional bar at the top of a parking garage. It is a little hard to find but 100% worth it with great drinks, a fantastic garden oasis atmosphere and the best view over the neighborhood and the bridge. It is so dreamy at sunset! For any of my fellow preggos, they even have multiple mocktail options on the menu (“sin alcohol”). Matt kept stealing sips of my drink it was so good!
Two things to note… 1) the bar is not open on Mondays and 2) the address on Google Maps is close but not actually correct. You will find PARK bar located directly on the corner of Tv. Andre Valente and Calçado do Combro. Take the parking garage elevator up to the 5th floor and then get off and walk up the ramp to the top floor. You will be greeted with a ramp leading to the bar.
A Ginjinha: When in Lisbon you obviously have to try the local ginjinha cherry-like liqueur and what better place than this historic open-front bar?!
Fábrica: If you find yourself in need of some coffee more similar to what you’re used to in the states, head here. I believe there are multiple locations throughout the city and the iced latte was delicious and just the pick-me-up we needed to combat the jet lag on our first day.
Attractions to visit
Castelo de São Jorge: This is one tourist spot that is definitely worth the entrance fee. The castle ruins are massive and you can walk all around them and up along the walls which is slightly terrifying but really cool. Best of all, the grounds have some of the best views over the city! I imagine watching the sunset from up here would be breathtaking.
Praça do Comércio: Located right on the water, this is one of the largest plazas in all of Europe. You’ll often find something going on down here. We visited during the World Cup, so the square had been transformed into a massive watch party area.
Museo Nacional do Azulejo: If you are as mesmerized by the tile (azulejo) all throughout the city, this museum might be an enjoyable visit for you. We didn’t make it here as it was closed the day we wanted to go, but I really wish we had!
Just when you think your legs might crumble from all the hills, the city rewards you with an incredible view. The one major perk of the uphill landscape. If you weren’t already breathless, these views will certainly do the trick to take your breath away. Below are my favorite viewpoints that we stumbled upon during our visit.
Castelo de Sao Jorge
Miraduoro de Santa Catalina
Miraduoro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara
Miraduoro de Santa Luiza
Miraduoro dos Terraços do Carmo
Note: The official viewpoint is that grassy area pictured above, but my favorite view was right above it looking over it as pictured here. There is an elevator you can take up, and then a short flight of stairs that brings you to this spot. It’s hard to explain but I think you’ll find it. Otherwise the official view is also really great, especially at sunset as the sun is casting a pink glow on all the buildings!
View from the other side of the 25 de abril bridge: As we were heading out of town over the bridge, the view looking back over the city was amazing! We planned to stop somewhere on our way back to the city at the end of the week but the day we came back was raining and overcast. I do not know of a specific viewpoint as we didn’t get around to this, but I would assume there is one and the views would be fantastic.
What to skip
Tram 28: Unless you get on at the very beginning of the line to secure a seat on the window, these infamous trams fill up so quickly that you won’t be able to see anything!
The one thing I did appreciate was that if you take the route towards Campo Ourique, it ends in a cute, more residential area that you probably wouldn’t find yourself exploring otherwise. Near the drop-off point were a few shops that caught my eye – namely, a specialty classic children’s clothes store called Mariadelina and a general store with a great curation of pottery, clothing, and other unique items called Seis General Store.
Jerónimos Monastery: If you are Catholic like we are then you might enjoy this, but otherwise we found it a little underwhelming, especially considering all the other religious sites we have visited. If you do still want to go, buy your ticket at the archeological museum nearby. This will allow you to skip the entire line – this trick saved us nearly an hour that we would have waited in line!
Lisbon is incredibly hilly. I honestly don’t think the photos I’ve included in this post even do it justice. I know most people workout hard before beach vacations rather than city vacations, but I’m telling you that you’re going to want to be in good shape for Lisbon.
Ubers are readily available and very inexpensive.
While I felt very safe in the city, I did have an incident where I caught a man trying to pickpocket me. Thankfully I was aware and turned around just in time but take this as a forewarning that you can never be too safe. Enjoy yourself but don’t get too comfortable.
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