Known as the ‘city of seven hills’, Lisbon has definitely been my favourite city break destination so far.
It feels somewhat like an underrated place, attracting much fewer visitors than other cities like Barcelona, yet it offers everything you could need for a perfect European city break: great weather, delicious food, plenty of sightseeing, amazing day trips, wallet-friendly prices and more.
Here’s my ultimate guide to a Lisbon city break, with at least four days worth of ideas to fill your trip.
Exploring Lisbon is easy thanks to the metros, buses, and trams which connect across the city.
A 24hr travel ticket for all three networks costs just €6, but you’ll need to buy a viva Viagem travel card from any metro station first. The card itself costs a one-off fee of €0.50, and can then be topped up and used throughout your stay.
If you’d prefer to drive and sightsee, or just fancy a different way of exploring the city, check out my time with Lisbon GoCars.
Things to do in Lisbon
When it comes to activities and sightseeing, Lisbon has something to offer everyone.
Walk through Alfama
While most of Lisbon is a modern European capital, the district of Alfama is, by contrast, a maze of narrow lanes and steep walkways. Once a poor neighbourhood located outside of the city walls, Alfama is nowadays a charming area full of character.
Public transport here is limited so you’ll have to walk, but the area’s best explored on foot anyway to experience just how small the alleyways are.
Plan your trip in June and you’ll also get to experience the annual Feast of St. Anthony, where locals go sardine-crazy and turn this entire area into a huge street party. Colourful bunting is hung from balconies, music is blasted until the early hours, and the smell of grilled sardines fill the tiny streets for a whole month of celebration.
Alfama is also the home of Fado music, a melancholic genre which originated in these cobbled streets. To learn more about the music, head to the Fado Museum, or to experience an evening of fado yourself, book a table for dinner at Sr. Fado.
Castelo de São Jorge
Walk uphill to the top of Alfama and you’ll find St George’s castle, one of the main tourist sites in Lisbon. This was our first stop after arriving in the city, and the views from here were amazing.
Entry costs €8.50 each and can be purchased at the office on the day of your visit.
It’s funny how transport can be an attraction in itself when you’re travelling, but riding one of the city’s iconic bright yellow trams is definitely an experience you should take.
The most famous is the E28, the longest route and the only tram in the city that’s able to navigate through the steep hills of Alfama. Jump on after a visit to the castle to enjoy a tour around the city, and experience the carriage creek and jolt uphill like a budget roller coaster. It may feel a little unsafe, but trust me when I say the brakes work really well – make sure you hold on tight before each stop!
The route terminates at Jardim da Estrela, a great park to stroll through and relax in with a drink from the cafe/bar found inside.
Praça do Comércio
Head to the waterfront for the stunning Commerce Square, where you can enjoy the breeze from the Tagus river nearby, or watch the sunset from the many cafes, bars and restaurants which line either side of the plaza.
From here, continue into the downtown area of Baixa for shopping, restaurants, and…
The Santa Justa Lift
Towering above the terracotta rooftops of downtown Lisbon is this 45m tall, vertical cast-iron lift, built in 1902 to connect the lower Baixa area with higher Carmo Square. For €5, you can take a ride to the top to admire the panoramic views over the city.
Queues for the lift are considerably long, so if you don’t feel like waiting or aren’t bothered about riding it, here’s a top tip – there’s a restaurant/bar located on the exit of the lift which anyone can visit, and all you have to do is go around the buildings to find it.
From here, you can actually walk onto the lift itself, all without paying a penny.
A visit to Belém is a must, not only to sample the iconic Portuguese custard tarts but also to visit Belém Tower, a 16th century fortified tower built on the bank of the Tagus river.
Entry costs €6 and is best booked in advance to avoid the long queues. Inside, a room of cannons and a prison cell basement is explored first, before climbing the many floors which make up this defence tower. The views from each grow ever more impressive as you reach the peak, which looks out onto the river and the Golden Gate-style 25 de April bridge.
Nearby to Belém Tower is also Jeronimos Monastery, another top attraction in Lisbon which we skipped due to time, but definitely looks worth a visit.
Take a day trip to Sintra and Cascais
If you can, I’d recommend spending a few days just to explore the beautiful surrounding towns which are a short train ride away from Lisbon.
Sintra is a beautiful town located in the foothills of the mountains, where the Portuguese nobility once resided. If you’ve only got one day, spend some time at the picturesque Pena Palace and walk along the walls of Moorish Castle. For more on this, see my guide on how to discover Sintra.
If you’re looking to relax, head down the coast to Cascais for paddle boarding, surfing, or sunbathing on one of the seaside town’s many golden beaches. Trains leave regularly from Cais do Sodre station in Lisbon and costs only €3.60 return.
There are transport links between Cascais and Sintra too, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to do both in one day as you won’t have enough time to see either.
Note: You can’t use the same viva Viagem travel card for both trains and metros etc., and a 24hr transport ticket for Lisbon also won’t be valid for fares to Sintra or Cascais. Don’t worry, just pick up another viva Viagem card and top up the fare separately to travel.
The queue at the train station can also be huge, so buy your tickets at any metro station instead to avoid the wait!
As one of the biggest and best aquariums in Europe, the Lisbon Oceanarium is an enjoyable place to visit to see the many different species of fish, amphibians, mammals, birds and more which make up their permanent and temporary exhibitions.
Entry costs €15.30 if booked online, and is open from 10am to 7pm daily (last entry is 6pm).
Where to eat in Lisbon
Food alone is reason enough for me to travel anywhere, and I ate to my heart’s content in Lisbon. Don’t miss Pastéis de Belém for the original and best Portuguese custard tarts, and if you’re adventurous, make sure you also try some octopus for dinner.
For more suggestions, take a look at my food lover’s guide on where and what to eat in Lisbon.
Where to stay in Lisbon
We booked this Airbnb apartment in historic Alfama and loved it. It’s at the bottom of the hill so you don’t have to climb up the steps every day, and was only a 10min walk into the centre.
If you want to be close to downtown Lisbon though, stay near Baixa. For shopping, consider Chiado nearby, and for nightlife, base yourself in Bairro Alto.
So, have you booked a trip yet? Do it!
Have you been to Lisbon? Did I miss something? Let me know!