Do you like the sun, food, sea and city views? And do you only have a long weekend for a trip? If yes, then Lisbon might be the place for you! Lisbon is the capital city of Portugal – it is hilly, colourful, warm and has lots of great food. It makes for an ideal weekend break destination.
We had 3 days staying in Lisbon. We spent the first two days in central Lisbon, and the 3rd day out visiting Sintra. Sintra is an amazing place, a UNESCO world heritage site home to palaces and castles, and well worth a visit if you can extend your Lisbon trip to 3 days or more.
However long you’re in Lisbon for, here are 10 amazing things to do in the city – all doable in 2 days.
1. Carmo Church
All that is left of what was once the largest church in Lisbon is now its Gothic ruins. This church was destroyed by the huge earthquake Lisbon suffered in 1755 as people were attending mass, and is now roofless. It is still beautiful though, and a popular spot for wedding photos.
At the church
2. Monument to discoveries & Belem Tower
About a 30 minute drive outside the centre of Lisbon, you can visit the waterfront, right where the river Tagus meets the Atlantic Ocean. On the waterfront is Belem Tower and The Monument to Discoveries.
Also in the same area is the 25th of April bridge and just behind the waterfront is the National Archaeological Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art and Jeronimo’s Monastery (see ‘the best of the rest’ below). This area, known as Restelo, makes for a lovely half day trip (or full day trip if you do both of the museums).
The monument to discoveries is a celebration of the Portugese age of sea exploration, standing along the river bank where ships used to depart to Orient. Belem Tower is a UNESCO world heritage site and was built during the 16th century as a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon and is viewed as another symbol of the Age of Discoveries. It’s really interesting to note that the tower was originally built on a small island in the middle of the Tagus river, but now sits near the shore because the 1755 Earthquake re-directed the river!
3. Senhora do Monte Viewpoint
Located in the Graça neighborhood, this is the highest point in the city and offers panoramic views out across Lisbon. It is a bit of a climb, but definitely worth it. It’s also perfect for watching a sunset, though we went in the middle of the day and although it was hot, it was still lovely.
4. Terreiro do Paco
This square sits on the river Tagus, with beautiful 18th century buildings and arcades. This location was home to The Royal Palace, which was again destroyed in the 1755 Earthquake. King Dom Jose I survived the Earthquake and headed up Lisbon’s reconstruction. It is his statue that sits at the centre of the square.
5. Bairro Alto
This area is one of the central neighbourhoods in Lisbon, and home to lots of nice shops, bars and restaurants. It’s definitely the centre of Lisbon’s nightlife.
In this area, you can also ride the Bica funicular in the iconic yellow trains. This line was reopened in the 1990s and preserves the tradition of the original late 19th century transport system.
6. Jeronimo’s Monastery
Another UNESCO world heritage site, this Monastery used to belong to the Order of St Jerome. It is a huge building (near Belem Tower) with beautiful interiors and gardens. You can explore independently or go on a tour round the monastery, but the queue was so long when we arrived it was a 2 hour wait! We decided against it and just explored outside as much as we could. I therefore suggest getting there early if you do want to go round it! The cloisters do look beautiful.
7. Sao Jorge Castle
This castle was started in the 5th century, then enlarged by the Moors in the 11th century and then later transformed into a Royal Palace, seeing its heyday in the 13th to 16th Centuries when it was occupied by the King of Portugal. It is now open to the public, and takes half a day to explore the site. There is the castle, 11 towers, a museum, a bar and a restaurant.
8. Elevator of Santa Justa and viewing platform
This elevator sits in the Baixa area of town. It takes passengers 45 metres up to the Largo do Carmo, and is made out of wrought iron. Inside the carriages are wooden and take you back to a different era. The viewing platform at the top of the lift gives lovely views out over Lisbon.
9. Timeout Market
This is a big market hall perfect for a lunch stop. It has great food stalls selling everything from croquettas, to seafood, to charcuterie, to cakes, to wine bars. They even run cooking classes there if you want to do something a bit different.
10. Pastel de Nata
No trip to Portugal would be complete without sampling a local pastel de nata, or custard tart. First cooked up by monks in the early 19th century, these sweet and creamy tarts are a beloved national favourite, and you’d be hard pressed to find a bad ‘nata’ anywhere in Lisbon. For me, if you’re in Lisbon you have to visit the original shop – Pasteis de Belem, which sells around 20,000 a day (!), and is just round the corner from the monastery (see 6 above). As the story goes, monks began selling sweet pastries in order to survive, and the recipe hasn’t changed since 1837.
Thanks so much for reading! I hope you found this post helpful. Let me know your thoughts and if you’ve been on a trip to Lisbon in the comments below. Stay safe and happy travelling all.