Once upon a time, Lisbon was one of Europe’s most under-rated cities but the secret is well and truly out.
Tourists have clocked on to the fact that Portugal’s colourful capital has everything you could wish for in a European city break: incredible food, heaps of culture, a never-ending list of things to see and do… plus it’s one of the sunniest cities in Europe.
But don’t be put off by the hype – the city still has a wonderfully authentic vibe and is surprisingly affordable, compared to other European capitals.
I spent a blissful 48 hours in Lisbon in May and this was just enough time to get a taste for this charming city, its vibrant culture and cuisine.
Here’s a guide to help you plan the perfect weekend in Lisbon.
Getting to Lisbon:
Lisbon Airport is one of the largest airports in Southern Europe and serves destinations all over the world – from Europe to the USA and Brazil.
The flight time from the UK to Lisbon is just 2.5 hours, making this the perfect destination for a weekend break. If you’re flexible with dates, then you can pick up cheap flights to Lisbon with the likes of Easyjet, Ryanair or TAP Portgual. We visited in May and bagged return flights for just £99 each.
Another great thing about Lisbon is that the airport is located just 6 miles out of the city centre, making it easy peasy (and super cheap) to get in and out of the city by taxi or Aerobus.
Where to stay in Lisbon:
Lisbon is packed full of vibrant neighbourhoods and has a huge range of accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets.
We stayed in a charming Airbnb apartment in Alfama – Lisbon’s oldest district, famous for its cobblestone streets, pastel-coloured houses and steep hills (leave your heels at home, unless you have a death-wish!)
The location was perfect – central to the main attractions but with a truly authentic and sleepy vibe. From our apartment, we could even hear traditional Portuguese Fado music floating through the windows at night (sigh).
If you want something a bit more lively, Bairro Alto or the Chiado districts are very popular with tourists and central to all the action. Bairro Alto is known for its nightlife and trendy bar scene, whilst Chiado is famous for its upscale shops, hotels and bars and tends to be on the pricier side.
What to do in Lisbon:
Miradouro das Portas do Sol
Kick off your first day in Lisbon with the most iconic view of the city from Miradouro das Portas do Sol.
“Miradouro” means “viewpoint” in Portuguese and there are countless spots across the city, offering up incredible panoramic views. But this one might just be the best of the bunch, providing a picture-perfect view of Alfama’s colourful rooftops and the Tagus river beyond.
Located just below the main terrace is Portas do Sol, where you can enjoy the best views in town with a cold beer and some snacks. Honestly, we found the service to be a little slow… but there are worse places in the world to have to wait, right?!
Opening hours: 24 hours (Portas do Sol: 10am-12am daily)
Castelo de São Jorge
Just a short walk up-hill from Miradouro das Portas do Sol is the Moorish Castelo de São Jorge (Castle of St. George). Dating back to the 11th century, this is one of Portugal’s most iconic national monuments and is another must-see during your visit to Lisbon.
Guided tours of the castle are available, or you can wander at your own pace through the castle grounds and even up into the towers.
The views from the fortress are worth the entrance fee alone. You can see across the whole city from here, including the iconic 25 de Abril Bridge, which at a quick glance could be easily mistaken for San Francisco’s famous Golden Gate Bridge (the hilly streets and historic trams add to the confusion!)
Opening hours: Every day (Nov – Feb 9am-6pm / Mar – Oct 9am-9pm)
Cost: Adult €8.50 / Student €5 / Children – FREE
After your visit to the Castelo, head straight for the pretty streets of Alfama – Lisbon’s historic heart.
The cobbled streets are lined with colourful houses (many crumbling with age, but that just adds to their charm), white-washed churches, and hole-in-the-wall bars and restaurants. It really does feel like you’ve stepped back in time, as you wind your way through the maze of alleyways.
Keep your eyes peeled for the historic Lisbon Tram 28, which passes through Alfama and offers the perfect photo opportunity.
We visited Lisbon in May, just before the Festas Santos Populares (Popular Saints’ Festival) and were treated to a sneak peek of all the colourful decorations, which made the streets of Alfama even more dreamy!
Opening hours: N/A
‘Taste of Lisboa’ food tour
One of the best ways to get to grips with any new city is to take a walking food tour.
Taste of Lisboa is an excellent local company, offering a range of different food tours and cooking classes to introduce you to authentic Portuguese cuisine, whilst showing you the best bits of the city.
Tours typically last around 4 hours and will take you around some of Lisbon’s best secret restaurants and foodie hot-spots. You’ll get to try some of the local specialities, from traditional fish cakes and grilled sardines to ginjinha and green wine (you’ll have to join the tour to find out what THAT is!)
We opted for the ‘Downtown Mouraria‘ tour and discovered a completely different side to Lisbon, largely untouched by tourism.
Mouraria is one of the oldest and most diverse parts of the city, which makes the food scene all the more exciting. It’s also the birthplace of traditional Portuguese Fado music and now home to some of the most cutting edge street art in Lisbon. (You can read more about where to find the best street art in Lisbon here).
Opening hours: Monday – Saturday (3pm – all-year / and 3:45pm – May – Nov)
Cost: Starting from €70 for adults / €25 for children.
Relax at a rooftop bar
What better way to top off your first day in Lisbon, than with a cocktail with a view?
Hotel Mundial is home to one of the best rooftop bars in Lisbon. From the 9th floor terrace of this luxury hotel, you can feast your eyes on panoramic views of Rossio Square, Alfama, and the Castelo, illuminated against the night sky.
Opening hours: Every day 4pm-11pm
Cost: FREE to enter but you must purchase a drink.
Praça do Comércio
Start your morning at Lisbon’s main plaza – Praça do Comércio – located on the banks of the Tagus river. Here you’ll find the majestic Arca do Rua Augusta, leading on to one of Lisbon’s most famous shopping streets.
The plaza also serves as one of the main transport hubs of the city and from here you can catch the E15 Tram to the Belém district, where a number of Lisbon’s top attractions are based.
Tram tickets to Belém cost around €2.90 each way and can be purchased from ticket machines on-board. But I’d recommend buying a 24-hour transport card (Viva Viagem Card) from one of the Metro stations for just €6.30, which gives you unlimited travel, plus free entry to the Elevador de Santa Justa and historic Tram 28.
Opening hours: Every day
Take the E15 tram for 30 minutes to “Belém”. You will be dropped off outside the beautiful Jeronimos Monastery – a Gothic-inspired architectural wonder.
You can enter certain parts of the monastery with a ticket but it can get quite touristy and crowded. In my opinion, the views from the outside are just as good and you’re better off saving your €s for the custard tarts…
Opening hours: Oct-May 10am-5:30pm / May-Sept 10am-6:30pm (CLOSED every Monday)
Cost: €10 (or FREE for locals on Sundays and holidays between 10am-2pm)
Okay, now let’s talk about those custard tarts. Forget anything you’ve had in a box from Tesco – these flaky treats are one of the 7 wonders of Portuguese cuisine and are worth travelling to Lisbon for!
Just around the corner from the monastery is Pasteis de Belem (you’ll probably spot the queue first): home of the original Portuguese custard tart recipe, which remains top secret to this day.
Be sure to join the queue and order yourself a box of Lisbon’s best sugary treats. Skip the crowded café seating and head straight for the monastery gardens (Praça do Império) to enjoy your heavenly pastry with a view.
Opening hours: Every day – Oct-Jun 8am-11pm / July-Sept 8am-12am
Cost: Approx €6 for a box of 6.
Torre de Belém
Head towards the banks of the Tagus river and you’ll spot Torre de Belém (Belém Tower) standing tall against the blue skies.
Originally built as a fortress to protect the city of Lisbon, Belém Tower is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the top attractions in Portugal.
A small fee will grant you access to the tower – there’s not much to see inside but the views from the top are meant to be spectacular.
Opening hours: (Oct-May 10am-5:30pm / Jun-Sept 10am-6:30pm (CLOSED every Monday)
Cost: €6 (or FREE for locals on Sundays and holidays between 10am-2pm)
Wander along the river-front from Belém Tower, enjoying the live music and vibrant food stalls as you go.
Along the waterfront is a beautiful memorial – Padrão dos Descobrimentos – dedicated to the explorers of the ‘Age of Discovery’ in Portugal. This is a lovely place to sit and relax, taking in the views of the Tagus River, the 25 de Abril Bridge, and Cristo Rei in the distance (Lisbon’s answer to Christ the Redeemer).
Once you’ve had a bit of time to rest your feet, take the E15 tram back to Praça da Figueira, making a stop at “Calvário” to visit Lisbon’s coolest arts quarter: LX Factory.
Originally a disused industrial site, the newly regenerated LX Factory remains a bit of hidden gem in Lisbon, as most tourists whizz straight past on their way to and from Belém.
But this is the perfect place to pass an hour or two, with plenty of hipster cafes and coffee shops to choose from (WISH Slow Coffee House was a personal fave); quirky art galleries and clothes stores; and wall after wall of impressive street art to keep your camera content. (For more photos of the LX Factory, check out my article on the best street art in Lisbon)
Once you’ve had your fill of urban art and culture, jump back on the E15 tram and make your way to the end of the tram-line (Praça da Figueira).
Opening hours: Varies depending on each unit.
Santa Justa Lift
Once you hop off the tram, you’ll find yourself just around the corner from the 19th-century beaut that is the Santa Justa Lift (Elevador de Santa Justa).
Originally built to transport visitors up the back-achingly steep Carmo Hill, the lift is popular with tourists today who flock to the top to enjoy 360-degree views of the city.
I’m a huge claustrophobe, so you won’t get me going anywhere near a lift that was built in the 1800s… but I hear the views are GREAT!
Opening hours: Every day (7:30am – 11pm)
Cost: €5.15 return or FREE with a 24-hour transport card.
Finally, head to the bohemian district of Bairro Alto for dinner and drinks, stopping at one of Lisbon’s top photo spots along the way – Rua da Bica de Duarte Belo.
The view from the top of the street is one of the best in the city. This is where the tram chugs up and down the hill, so be patient and wait for its arrival – it’s worth it to snap that postcard pic!
Spend a bit of time exploring the historic streets and colourful street art of Bairro Alto, before heading to PARK – a car park-turned-rooftop bar with unbeatable views across the city, live DJ sets, and an ever-so-tempting cocktail menu. Time your visit for sunset, if possible, to watch the city light up before your eyes.
Finally head for dinner at one of the many buzzing restaurants around Bairro Alto. We had the most incredible meal at Grapes & Bites – a lovely little spot, if you like cheese-boards (tick), live music (tick) and hand-picked wines (tick, tick).
And thus concludes your perfect weekend in Lisbon! If you have an extra day to spare, I’d really recommend adding a day trip to the fairytale town of Sintra.