Complete guide to a Lisbon city break

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.

Getting around

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.

lisbon sardine festival alfama

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.

lisbon sardine festival

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.

lisbon st georges castle

Entry costs €8.50 each and can be purchased at the office on the day of your visit.

Tram 28

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.

lisbon tram

lisbon tram ride

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.

lisbon praca do comercio

lisbon praca do comercio

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.

santa justa lift

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.

lisbon santa justa lift

From here, you can actually walk onto the lift itself, all without paying a penny.

Belém Tower

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.

belem tower

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 defense 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.

sintra portugal

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.

cascais

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!

Lisbon Oceanarium

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.

lisbon oceanarium

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 everyday, 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!

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complete guide to a lisbon city break

Comments

18 Comments
  1. posted by
    Katherine
    Jun 21, 2017 Reply

    What an awesome place. I’d never really considered Lisbon as a great destination before. The Santa Justa Lift looks pretty awesome from the outside and I love that you found a sneaky way up!

    • posted by
      Vic
      Jun 21, 2017 Reply

      It’s definitely a much more underrated destination than it deserves to be! I was pretty pleased with bypassing the huge queues outside the lift 🙂

  2. posted by
    kristi
    Jun 21, 2017 Reply

    Great info – bookmarking for my upcoming Europe trip. Looking forward to Lisbon!!

    • posted by
      Vic
      Jun 21, 2017 Reply

      Thanks, have a great time – you’ll love it!

  3. posted by
    Aarti Kamath
    Jun 21, 2017 Reply

    The post sounds inviting. You seem to have had a great time! Trip to SINTRA AND CASCAIS is a definite must!

    • posted by
      Vic
      Jun 21, 2017 Reply

      Thanks Aarti, I loved Sintra and Cascais too 🙂

  4. posted by
    Esther
    Jun 21, 2017 Reply

    Looks like such an epic trip! And your photos are fantastic. Thanks for all the good tips!

    • posted by
      Vic
      Jun 21, 2017 Reply

      Thanks Esther, definitely my favourite city break so far!

  5. posted by
    Kelly
    Jun 22, 2017 Reply

    Thanks for putting together such an in depth guide! Lisbon looks like such a beautiful city!

    • posted by
      Vic
      Jun 22, 2017 Reply

      Thanks Kelly, I can’t recommend it enough! 🙂

  6. posted by
    Alina
    Jun 22, 2017 Reply

    A good friend of mine lives in Lisbon, I remember when I visited, I was mostly impressed by the 25th April bridge. At the time I had not yet visited San Francisco, so it was as close as I could get to my dream-to-visit landmark! Just to years later I did 🙂

    • posted by
      Vic
      Jun 22, 2017 Reply

      Aw how nice! Do they look as similar in real life as they do in photos? I’d love to visit SF someday 🙂

  7. posted by
    Danijela WorldGlimpses
    Jun 22, 2017 Reply

    I loved Lisbon, and you’re so right it’s just perfect for a city break. Remember when coming to the city, I was dragging my suitcase, looking around in awe and I’ve hit the street lamp, well, with my head! 😀 Nothing serious of course, but I’ll never forget that I’ve actually “lost my head over a city”! 😀

    • posted by
      Vic
      Jun 22, 2017 Reply

      Oh no haha, glad you were OK! I fell head first into it too, though not literally like you 😉

  8. posted by
    Bidisha Banik
    Jun 22, 2017 Reply

    Lisbon definitely looks picturesque and worth a visit. Loved the post it is pretty informative plus the pictures look absolutely stunning. I am sure you must have had a wonderful time in Lisbon. 🙂

    • posted by
      Vic
      Jun 22, 2017 Reply

      Thanks Bidisha, it’s a really great city 🙂

  9. posted by
    Alexxa
    Jun 23, 2017 Reply

    First, I love the layout of your site. Such beautiful design! This brings me back to my trip to Lisbon five years ago. It was awesome but I admittedly partied a bit too much (early twenties) so my memory is a bit foggy. Wonderful photos though and so much detail. The colours are what Lisbon is all about!

    • posted by
      Vic
      Jun 23, 2017 Reply

      Thanks Alexxa! I didn’t do much partying, but the locals did loads as we visited during the sardine festival! Street parties and music was blaring right into the night – it was really colourful and atmospheric 🙂

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