A weekend in Lisbon: travel guide, attractions and things to do

Everything you need to know for a city break in Portugal’s stunning capital

Lisbon old town from Miradouro da Graça viewpoint
Lisbon old town from Miradouro da Graça viewpoint
(Image credit: Michal Ludwiczak/Alamy Stock Photo)

Why you should visit Lisbon

When it comes to Lisbon it’s “safe to say the secret’s out”, said Condé Nast Traveller. Portugal’s coastal capital welcomes more than 4.5 million visitors each year, many of whom “flock” to the city for its “fado music, historic ruins, winding old town, trams”, and, “not to mention”, those pastéis de nata.

It’s not just the delicious egg custard tarts that visitors are coming here for though. There are seven “cinematic” hillsides which cradle Lisbon’s “postcard-perfect panorama of cobbled alleyways, ancient ruins and white-domed cathedrals”, said Lonely Planet. This is a “captivating scene” that’s been “crafted over centuries”.

Arguably western Europe’s “most underrated” capital city, Lisbon is also one of the continent’s oldest, said Katie Jackson on Travel + Leisure. Now home to many Michelin-starred restaurants and five-star hotels, today the city is “thriving” and really “checks all the boxes”.

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A tram in the Lapa area of Lisbon

A tram in the Lapa area of Lisbon
(Image credit: Peter Delius/Alamy Stock Photo)

Top attractions and things to do

There are enough “world-class” attractions to “keep you busy whether you’re here for the weekend or a longer holiday”, said Amanda Canning in The Times. You could stay in Lisbon for a month and “still find new things to do”.

Historical landmarks

The Lisbon region’s rich history and heritage are displayed in abundance through its architecture, monuments, Unesco World Heritage sites and museums. Must-visit landmarks include Jerónimos Monastery, the Belém Tower – an iconic symbol of Lisbon – and Castelo de São Jorge, which is perched on one of the city’s highest viewpoints. Places for a day trip include the National Palace at Mafra (17 miles from Lisbon) and the breathtaking town of Sintra (18 miles from Lisbon), which is known for its cultural landscape.

‘Fado’ houses

Deep-rooted in Lisbon’s culture is “fado”, part of Unesco’s intangible cultural heritage list and often referred to as the soul of Portuguese music. At the “fado houses” in Bairro Alto and Alfama, you can enjoy this music while tasting traditional Portuguese cuisine and wine. To learn more about it head to the Fado Museum. In the neighbourhood of Mouraria you will find the Fado Vadio, a street art mural created as a tribute to this traditional music.

Alfama is one of Lisbon’s oldest areas

Alfama is one of Lisbon’s oldest areas
(Image credit: visitlisboa.com)

Stunning views from a miradouro

Spread across seven hills, Lisbon is dotted with miradouros (viewpoints) that offer unforgettable vistas. Usually located at the highest points of each hill, the miradouros are a great place to sit back and take in the city below. Views of Alfama’s picturesque rooftops, towers and domes from the Miradouro das Portas do Sol are some of the most memorable in the city. The Miradouro da Senhora do Monte is another popular spot, famed as one of the city’s more romantic viewpoints and perfect for admiring the sun as it sets behind the striking Castelo de São Jorge.

Tagus River

For a different perspective on the city, the Tagus River offers plentiful options for visitors. A riverboat trip is the perfect way to take in the must-see views such as the stunning 25 de Abril bridge and the Cristo Rei monument which towers above the south bank. Romantics can enjoy a sunset cruise while exploring the city by river. Along the banks there are also many great areas to discover, such as the Parque das Nações district with its futuristic architecture, urban art and green spaces.

Rua Garrett in Chiado, Lisbon

Rua Garrett in Chiado, Lisbon
(Image credit: Pictures Colour Library/Alamy Stock Photo)

Bohemian neighbourhoods

Chiado and Bairro Alto represent Lisbon at its “most bohemian and alternative”, said Lisbon.net. Chiado is “frequently compared to Paris’ Montmartre district” and its most famous streets are Rua do Carmo and Rua Garrett. The square and its surrounding streets are “full of famous cafés, theatres, and museums”. The “rather alternative” area of Bairro Alto is “probably the best part of the city to find good fado restaurants”.

A day at the beach

The Lisbon region is famous for its stunning golden beaches, just 20 minutes from the city, with some of its most popular found along the Costa da Caparica and Linha de Cascais. However, for those wanting to soak up the sun without the crowds there are quieter options to be found. The secluded coves along Arrábida’s coast – such as Galapinhos, Galapos, Coelhos and Creiro – offer crystal-clear waters and tranquil surroundings. For real off-the-beaten-track exploration, travellers can head to Sintra to discover Ursa beach.

Arrábida Natural Park

With its deep blue seas, idyllic beaches and vibrant green hills, the Arrábida Natural Park is one of the most beautiful places to visit on a trip to Lisbon. Located 30 minutes south of the city by car, it offers an array of natural gems to discover including hundreds of species of butterfly, birds and mammals. Keen hikers will enjoy its many trails, with the steepest only suitable for the fittest and most adventurous travellers.

Memmo Príncipe Real

Memmo Príncipe Real
(Image credit: Memmo Hotels)

Places to stay: best hotels and accommodation

The city has been through a “major boom” in the last ten years, with travellers “shunning more classic European city breaks” in favour of staying somewhere that offers “beauty, culture and fun”, said Condé Nast Traveller. According to the magazine, The Ivens in Bairro Alto is “best for location”, Sublime Lisboa is “best for luxury”, Hotel 1908 is “best for an affordable stay”, and Corinthia Hotel is “best for families”.

Experts at The Telegraph have given 9/10 ratings to more than 30 hotels in Lisbon. Pick of the bunch is Memmo Príncipe Real. Located in the “fashionable” Príncipe Real district, this hotel offers 41 “sleek” rooms, an “elegant” restaurant and “panoramic views” across the capital. “Perfectly located” on the Praҁa dos Restauradores, boutique hotel Altis Avenida “faces the Avenida da Liberdade on one side and the neo-manueline, horseshoe-arched Rossio station on the other”.

Another Memmo hotel, the adult-only Memmo Alfama is “a study in calm”, said Amanda Canning in The Times. Here you can “start and end the day” on the rooftop terrace, with “stonking views” down to the Tagus River. At Palacio Ramalhete, in the neighbourhood of Lapa, “you’ll forget you’re in a city at all”.

Pastéis de nata is a Lisbon classic

Pastéis de nata is a Lisbon classic
(Image credit: visitlisboa.com)

Eating and drinking

No visit to Lisbon is complete without sampling a pastéis de nata, the delicious sweet egg custard tarts sold in pastelaria on virtually every street in the city. Since 1837 people have been “lining up” at Pasteis de Belem – a “beloved” Lisbon institution selling baked goods “faster than they can bake them”, said Katie Jackson on Travel + Leisure. There’s “usually a massive line”, but it’s “always worth the wait”.

There’s more to Lisbon’s culinary scene than these sweet treats. The region’s seafood is also not to be missed. Bacalhau (salted codfish) is the king of seafood in the region, grilled sardines are a Lisbon icon, and fried cuttlefish is also popular – all delicious when enjoyed alfresco with a glass of local wine.

Mercado da Ribeira in Lisbon

Mercado da Ribeira in Lisbon
(Image credit: visitlisboa.com)

Those wanting to explore Lisbon’s newest and hippest eateries should head to the waterfront Cais do Sodré district, home to the giant Mercado da Ribeira (Time Out Market). Alongside the traditional produce market is a vast selection of food stalls and pop-ups from some of Lisbon’s leading restaurants offering innovative street-food style cuisine. Around the corner is Rua Nova do Carvalho (known as “Pink Street”). Formerly the city’s red light district, it is now a lively nightlife area packed with trendy bars and restaurants.

Riverside bars and restaurants are great places to enjoy Lisbon’s food and drink; the Alcântara district is the place to find the trendy Santo Amaro Docks and the LxFactory, which houses more than 50 shops, restaurants and bars inside a renovated factory building.

In the Michelin Guide, Lisbon has two two-starred restaurants: Alma and Belcanto. If you’re keen to experience contemporary cuisine, Alma offers “a treat for all the senses”, said the Guide. And at Belcanto guests can go on a “journey of gastronomic discovery” in a dining room divided into different spaces. There are also 14 one-star restaurants and seven which have been awarded a Bib Gourmand.

The stunning 25 de Abril bridge in Lisbon

The stunning 25 de Abril bridge in Lisbon
(Image credit: visitlisboa.com)

Transport: how to get to Lisbon

There are direct flights to Lisbon from Bristol, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton and Manchester, according to Skyscanner. Lisbon Airport is located just 20 minutes away from the city centre. It has a Metro station and many bus services.

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