What to see in Lisbon? Our guide to A Weekend in Lisbon is a quick introduction to the Portuguese capital, its hills and its miradouro – viewpoints.
If I had to describe our weekend is Lisbon in only three words it would be: unexpected, laidback and charming. Maybe it is the rickety tram No 28 whizzeling up and down the hills, maybe the colourful azulejos-tiled facades, but this place is unlike any other European city. Walking up and down the narrow alleys of Alfama, dodging washing lines and crying our hearts out listening to Fado – traditional and melancholic Portuguese music – in an old bar, we discovered the real soul of the Portuguese capital.
What to see on a weekend in Lisbon
Let’s start saying that a weekend in Lisbon is not enough. The city and its laidback surroundings – Sintra, Cascais and more – would deserve at least 4/5 full days. Our 2-day visit to the Portuguese capital was definitely not enough to explore every corner, but it was enough to steal our hearts!
We started our visit in Bica, one of the city’s most traditional neighborhoods known for the iconic funicular that has been going up and down the hill since 1892. The Elevador da Bica runs through Lisbon’s most photographed street – Rua da Bica de Duarte Belo. The tiny neighborhood, dating back to 1597 and once home to fishermen and fishwives, still remains true to its past boasting charm from its steep streets and festive decorations.
June is the month of the Festas dos Santos Populares (Feast Days of the Popular Saints) in Lisbon and walking past its oldest neighbourhoods – from Castelo to Mouraria, Graça, Alfama, Ajuda and the Bairro Alto – we could feel the importance of these celebrations. In a blink of an eye we were part of traditional festivities with a lot of music and locals dancing to the rhythm of popular songs. Decorated with coloured globes and garlands, the streets are invaded by the smell of roasted sardines and sweet basil. Who were we celebrating? Santo António, Lisbon’s most popular Saint (12th – 13th June).
While in Bica we didn’t miss the chance to to stop by the Pharmácia Restaurant, in our opinion one of the best restaurants in Lisbon. Expect to be amazed by the taste of Portuguese-style meats, fish and dessert (try the white chocolate crème brûlée) to be enjoyed in the garden or indoor in a conceptual kind of pharmacy, styled like vintage medical practices.
Walking from Bica to Barrio Alto we arrived at the Miradouro Sao Pedro de Alcantara, near the Ascensor da Glória – another picturesque yellow funicular – were we stepped into food stands, live music and locals celebrating their favourite Saint. In 10 minutes walk, we reached the Chiado district with the stunning viewpoint of Santa Justa and the Carmo Convent. Built in 1389, the Convent was left in ruins after the earthquake in 1755. Its skeleton, made of imposing arches pointed towards a blue sky, is open to tourists. The entrance to the ruins and the Carmo archeological museum are from the small and charming Largo do Carmo and costs €4.
Open: Monday to Saturday Close: Sundays
10am to 6pm (Oct to May)
10am to 7pm (June to Sept)
After visiting the convent we had a panoramic glimpse of the city from the miradouro (viewpoint) of Santa Justa. The entrance costs €1.50 and can be purchased separately from the ticket of its famous lift. I would highly recommend a visit to the miradouro, but I would like to make a point on the Elevador de Santa Justa, the 19th century lift that transports passengers from Baixa to the ruins of the Carmo Convent. This thing is an art piece, adorned with neo-gothic arches and geometric patterns. But, this ride can take up to an hour in a cue compared to a 5 minute walk. The choice is yours.
Attracted by the famous Torre de Belém and the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos we hopped on tram n. E15 and we headed to the harbour of Belém (30’ ride). Built in 1514, the Belém Tower was the starting point for many of the voyages of discovery in the past and for the sailors it was the last sight of their homeland.
Open: Tuesday – Sunday. Close: Mondays
10am-5pm (Oct to April)
10am-6:30pm (May to Sept)
Entrance fee €6
But what really drove us to visit Belém was its Unesco-listed monastery. The madly gothic Mosteiro dos Jerónimos which was commissioned by King Manuel I to commemorate Vasco da Gama’s discovery of a sea route to India in 1498. The monastery was originally populated by monks whose spiritual job for 4 centuries was to comfort sailors and pray for the king’s soul.
Open: Tuesday – Sunday. Close: Mondays
10am-5:30pm (Oct to April)
10am-6:30pm (May to Sept)
Entrance fee €10 adult
The same afternoon we got lost in Alfama, a labyrinth of steep cobblestone streets and traditional houses with locals chit chatting while putting the laundry out to dry. Inhabited by the Romans, the Visigoths and lastly by the Moors, Alfama is a journey through time and architectural styles. The Moors gave the district its shape and its charming Arabic atmosphere, while it’s more recent fishing past gave birth to the beautiful Fado verses, often talking about the sea.
Many places are worth visiting in the district. The Sé Catedral, the many miradouros, and the 12th-century Castelo de São Jorge. Built to protect the city, the castle sits atop Lisbon’s highest hill and offers stunning views over the city.
Opening hours: Every day
9am-6pm (Nov to Feb)
9am-9pm (Mar to Oct)
Entrance fee €8.50 adults
As for the viewpoints, the choice is vast. There is the Miradouro da Nossa, Senhora do Monte, the Miradouro Portas do Sol and our favorite, the Miradouro de Santa Luzia with wonderful views over the tiled roofs of Alfama and out across the Tejo Estuary. Santa Luzia is the best place to enjoy the sunset with a view, a beer and locals jamming with their guitars.
In Alfama every door hides Airbnbs and B&Bs. We stayed in the more central loft of the Sebastião and João in the central Baixa district, 2 minutes from the subway station Baixa/Chiado and Rossio train station but – most importantly – one step away from one of the best sellers of pastéis de nata.
These Portuguese cream custard tarts (pastéis means pastry, nata means cream) are said to have been created in the 18th century by the monks at the Jerónimos Monastery in Belém. Today dozens, if not hundreds, of pastelarias across Lisbon sell them. Our favourite is the Fábrica da Nata with its freshly baked pastéis served straight from the oven and sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar at every time of the day. This place will let you forget about the famous – and crowded – Pastéis de Belem.
Our weekend in Lisbon ended on the sweet, intense and sad – deeply sad – notes of fado. No other music so perfectly depicts the qualities of the people who inspired it: the varinas (fishwives), the sailors, the bohemians… The only thing known for sure about the origins of fado is that it emerged in the heart of this city, in Alfama, as a product of a cultural melting pot where the Moors mixed with seafarers. Traditionally known as the music of the people, Lisbon’s fado ( “fate” in Latin) seduce conveying emotions and feelings in a mix of tragedy, melancholy and, surprisingly, the joy and the pride of the people.
Well, we can’t think of a better place to listen to it all other than Tasca do Chico, a very special place but also one of the most iconic, traditional and beloved bars in Bairro Alto. Few things in Lisboa can be more typical than a Fado session accompanied by a good glass of wine and local tapas. To hear some Fado Vadio (Fado sung by amateurs), show up on Mondays and Wednesdays. Insider tip: get over your fears and order a flaming chorizo (10€). Once you see a chorizo on fire on your table don’t panic, wait until it’s burned and then taste it. It’s worth the price.
Tasca do Chico
Rua do Diário de Notícias, 39, Lisbon
19:00 – 03:00 daily
Entrance fee: Free
Wifi in Lisbon
To be always connected and reveal our Lisbon discoveries live, we rented a pocket-sized device for an unlimited high-speed Internet. The name of this little lifesaver? TravelersWifi, 12 hours battery life and can connection up to 5 devices!
How to move around Lisbon
Lisbon is one of Europe’s cheapest capitals and taxis are plentiful and inexpensive. We loved Uber here, the smiley drivers were precious sources of local tips and the fares were incredibly low. Public transport is pretty good too. A metro line connects Lisbon’s airport to the city centre and is the fastest and cheapest connection.