There’s so much to see and do in Portugal’s mesmerising capital that you could return over and over again and always discover something new. But that’s not to say that a weekend break to Lisbon isn’t perfectly long enough to fall in love with this vibrant city of fado music, gastronomic delights and stunning historic architecture.
It may be a tall order, but two days is plenty of time to scratch the surface of Lisbon and discover a thousand reasons to return.
A weekend break can sometimes turn into a race against time, and that is no way to really experience a city. So, my advice is to fill your two days with just a selection of the sights, scents, sounds and flavours of Lisbon – you won’t see everything but you will get a true sense of what makes this beautiful city’s heart beat.
Early morning, before the crowds have gathered and the day has really begun, is a great time to see a city. Instead of having breakfast in your hotel, head to Café Nicola on Praça Dom Pedro IV. Established in 1929, this elegant café was once a regular haunt for the city’s intellectuals and philosophers. Now it’s a great place on the Praça do Rossio (one of the city’s most impressive squares) to get coffee and a delicious Portuguese pastry.
After breakfast, for an authentic tour of the city, stroll over to the Praça da Figueira and catch the pretty, historic 28 tram. These rattling city trams have been running since the early 1930s; despite being modernised by some rather impressive graffiti in recent years, they still offer a great way to see some of the city’s most famous sights.
Jump off at Sé Cathedral, Portugal’s most important religious building. Tourists looking at the Cathedral are often struck by the fact that the twelfth-century building looks more like a fortification than a church. This is because it was actually built by the Crusaders following the ‘liberation’ of Lisbon from the Moors.
Inside the Gothic architecture is stunning, but make sure you make time to visit the cloisters where a partial excavation reveals the foundations of an ancient Mosque on which the church was built.
Next, take the tram to Estrela Basílica. Built for Queen Mary I of Portugal in 1761 to celebrate the birth of her son, this marble church is one of the most ornate Baroque and Neoclassical-style buildings in the city, with a Rococo interior well worth exploring.
Get back on the 28 tram and return to Praça da Figueira for lunch in one of the charming outdoor cafés which line the square. My personal favourite is Restaurante Figus, which serves stylish, contemporary Portuguese food and tapas in a friendly atmosphere and elegant surroundings.
After lunch take a stroll through the winding, narrow streets of the Medieval Mouraria district before heading up hill to the eleventh-century Castelo de São Jorge.
Built during the Moorish occupation, the castle was designed to protect the city’s elite from the nearby citadel in case of invasion. Eleven towers keep watch over the city below and make a great vantage point for some stunning views. Today the castle has its own interactive museum so you can learn more about its history and that of the local area.
Head to Lisbon’s oldest (and most vibrant) district, Alfama, for a drink in one of its authentic bars, followed by some of the great local cuisine the city has become famous for. I would recommend the elegant Moorish surroundings of the Casa do Alentejo.
If you enjoyed breakfast al fresco yesterday, then for your second morning why not join the well-heeled Lisboetas at the famous Confeitaria Café. Enjoy its wooden panels and Art Nouveau styling, delicious pastries and refined atmosphere over one of the best cups of coffee you’ll get in Lisbon.
After breakfast take a tram to the sixteenth-century Jerónimos Monastery. A feast of Manueline architecture, this is a UNESCO World Heritage site for good reason. The stunning façade and interior – begun in 1502 by architect Boytac and embellished after his death by the beautiful detailing of João de Castilho – houses many notable tombs, including the poet Luís de Camões and explorer Vasco da Gama.
Many of the best places to eat in Lisbon are to be found in the trendy, historic Baixa district. Take a break from all that sight-seeing with a lunch at Café A Brasileira, an elegant Art Deco café which has been serving Lisboetas since 1905.
After lunch, take your time wandering around the Livraria Bertrand (not just Lisbon’s oldest bookshop, but the oldest in the world!). Then, if you’re feeling brave, you could take a ride in the turn-of-the-last-century Elevador de Santa Justa.
Take a stroll down the river bank to the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, a bright yellow, seventeenth-century palace which houses some of Portugal’s most impressive historic art, including Dürer’s St Jerome, Nuno Gonçalves’ Panels of São Vicente and Lucas Cranach’s Salomé.
To reward yourself for fitting everything into 48 hours in the city, you deserve a truly authentic, delicious Portuguese dinner. Probably my favourite restaurant in the whole of Lisbon is A Travessa in Lapa. Enjoy the excellent mussels and chips in this beautifully converted convent alongside a crowd of elegant locals. But be warned, I’m not the only one who loves it here so booking in advance is seriously recommended.
How to Get to Lisbon
There are regular flights to Lisbon Airport from most UK cities, and flights take around two and a half hours. Don’t waste any of your precious time queuing for taxis at the airport – instead book a private airport transfer with Shuttle Direct before you leave home and a driver will be waiting for you when you land.
Where to Stay
Altis Avenida – Enjoy a touch of five-star luxury at the Altis Avenida. Set in the heart of Lisbon’s stylish shopping district, this is close to many of the city’s sights and restaurants. For a fabulous dinner with a view, try the fine-dining rooftop restaurant.
The Vintage Lisboa – Relax after a day’s sightseeing at the spa at the centrally-located The Vintage Lisboa. This five-star hotel has a beautiful rooftop bar so you can enjoy views of the city while enjoying a well-deserved glass of wine.
Hotel Avenida Palace – Set right in the centre of Lisbon with views over Castelo de São Jorge, the five-star Hotel Avenida Palace is an elegant, traditional city hotel.
About Shuttle Direct
Shuttle Direct is Europe’s leading provider of airport transfers. You can book your private transfer online and rest assured knowing it will be waiting for you when you arrive at your destination.