Lisbon, Portugal is a cosmopolitan European capital with a slightly worn-around-the-edges feel. The city has a patina of its own from the beautifully tiled buildings to the cobblestone streets and the infamous faded yellow trams. It completely won me over with its authenticity. Below you’ll find the top things to do in Lisbon to create your perfect day!
Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in western Europe and has a rich history that includes conquering and settlement by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and the Islamic Moors. It has always been an important port due to its strategic location on the Atlantic Ocean and the mouth of the Tagus River. Their relationship with their maritime history is evident throughout the city.
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An earthquake in 1755 devastated the city and the subsequent rebuilding defined the architecture you’ll see in the historic areas of Lisbon. Many cities reserve their art for interiors, but not Lisbon. Buildings covered in elaborately decorated tiles called azulejos are a trademark of the city and make for beautiful photographs.
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A Perfect Day in Lisbon, Portugal
Known as The City of Seven Hills, you will find yourself walking up and down hills and back up again as you see the sights. I was swept off my feet by Lisbon and could have a perfect day doing nothing more than strolling its cobblestoned streets and admiring its colorful buildings. But there are so many things to enjoy in this city. Here are my top picks for making the most of one day in Lisbon.
Best Breakfast in Lisbon
I stayed in the Biaxa-Chaido area and loved waking early to take a walk through the quiet streets. This is a city known for its pastries and you won’t have to walk far to find a bakery where you can pick up a cup of coffee and breakfast.
Pasteis de Nata is my breakfast of choice in Lisbon. The traditional custard tarts can be found at any bakery, but my favorites are from Manteigaria. Watch the tarts being made at their Rua do Loreto location and then dig into a box full of creamy, sweet, and crispy tarts. The perfect food to get you started for your perfect day in Lisbon.
Sightseeing in Lisbon
Tram No 28
Walk across the street from Manteigaria and hop on the popular Tram no. 28. Enjoy views of the city as the tram winds up and down hills and through alleys so narrow you can touch the buildings as you whiz by.
It’s a little like taking a tour on a roller coaster! The tram passes through the Graca, Alfama, Baixa, and Barrio Alto neighborhoods making it an inexpensive tour of the city.
Castelo de Sao Jorge
Castelo de Sao Jorge was built in 200 BC by the Romans and has been used by the various conquerors of the city over the years. The Castle watches over Lisbon below from its perch atop Sao Jorge hill and you can see the Castle from all over the city.
Explore the eleven towers and admire the panoramic views during your visit to the Castle.
Lunch in Lisbon
Now that you’ve been to the highest point in Lisbon, it’s time to head downhill toward the sea and eat lunch at the Time Out Market. The market is located in the Cais do Sodre neighborhood and houses 24 restaurants, 8 bars, and several shops featuring Portuguese products.
We ate here twice during our week in Lisbon because it was convenient after visiting Belem and a day trip to Cascais. The Time Out Market gives you the opportunity to try different Portuguese dishes that have been deemed the best in the city by a panel of Lisbon experts.
Walk uphill from the Market to the Baixa-Chaido area. Shops in this area offer everything from international brands to regionally made items. Make sure to pick up some souvenirs made from cork harvested in Portugal. Pop into one of the many ice cream shops here if you are craving a snack.
Visit Carmo Ruins
The Santa Justa Lift is in this neighborhood and is a popular attraction with a great viewpoint. But my choice would be a visit to the Carmo Archaeological Museum & Ruins.
The ruins are what was left of the Church of Santa Maria do Carmo after the earthquake of 1755. Walking through the ruins provides a respite to the energy and activity of the city outside. It was one of my favorite experiences in a week full of incredible ones.
Dinner: Where & What to Eat
After a quick siesta, head out to dinner to sample some of the incredible cuisine available in Lisbon. My perfect dinner in Lisbon includes local seafood and a glass of Portuguese green wine, also known as vinho verde. We were fortunate to have not one, but two excellent restaurants next door to our apartment.
O Cacador da Oliveria is a family-run seafood restaurant serving fresh, simple seafood. If you like to go where the locals go, this is the place for you. The variety and freshness of the seafood were incredible.
Oficina do Duque features a modern take on traditional dishes and we enjoyed dinner there two nights. They serve elegant, delicious food at reasonable prices. I’m still thinking about the pumpkin soup and the chocolate mousse with olive oil.
Where to Watch the Sunset
Stop for a shot of ginha, a cherry liqueur, as you leisurely walk to a miradouro to watch the sunset. Sitting high above the sea allows Lisbon to provide her guests with incredible sunsets from viewpoints throughout the city.
We spent more than one evening saying goodbye to the day and hello to the night at Miradauro Sao Pedro de Alcantara, located near our apartment.
Nightlife in Lisbon
The Barrio Alto neighborhood is home to many restaurants and a vibrant nightlife scene. People spill into the streets after dark and the area becomes a big, colorful party.
Prefer a less lively evening, but still, want to experience Lisbon after dark? Head to one of the many fado restaurants located in the city.
Fado is a music genre that was born in Portugal and is integral to the culture of the country. Best described as melancholy, fado can be heard in bars throughout the city.
Lisbon offers a diverse range of activities to visitors. I found some of my favorite moments were quiet moments stopping to admire an intricately tiled building or sitting on a bench eating ice cream.
I spent a week here and could have easily spent another week and still not have seen everything. However you spend your perfect day in Lisbon, you will fall under her spell.
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Where to Stay in Lisbon: Find the Best Hotel for Your Budget
Lisbon is Portugal’s capital city and it is both hilly and coastal. Lisbon is a city with many districts, tourist attractions and has a vibrant nightlife.
The main tourist districts in Lisbon are contained within a relatively compact area and include; the Baixa district (the grand and historic center of Lisbon), the Chiado district in central Lisbon and the Alfama district known for its steep hills, narrow streets.
For backpackers who need to find a budget-friendly place to stay for a night or two, you can find budget accommodation in the Lisbon area from around USD $20-30 a night.
Your low range hotel choices start from around USD $150 per night. However, you’ll get a room with a queen-size bed, a private bathroom, television, and tea & coffee facilities. The best rating Budget hotels to choose from include Holiday Inn Lisbon – Continental, Residencial Florescente, and Rossio Garden Hotel.
If you’re seeking luxury, you’ll find many five-star hotels offering high-class facilities and services, making your stay more inviting. The popular choices of luxury hotels include, but not limited to, the Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon, Tivoli Avenida Liberdade Lisboa, and Valverde Hotel.
The best time to visit Lisbon
Lisbon is a fabulous city to visit all year round, but the best time to visit is from March to May or September or October when the weather is warm but there are fewer visitors than during the summer months.
Winters in Lisbon are fairly mild with lows only dropping to the mid-40s making this a great city to visit during the off-season.
Fun Facts About Lisbon
- Belem Tower is a must-see landmark in Lisbon but many people don’t know it was once a prison. It served as a political prison during the Liberal Wars of the 19th century.
- Lisbon is known as the City of Seven Hills but is actually built on eight hills. The description of seven hills came from the book O Livro das Grandezas de Lisboa but the author forgot to include the hill of Graca, which is actually the highest hill in the city.
- One of the smallest bookstores in the world sits near the Alfama neighborhood. The bookstore has about 4,000 books but only a couple of people can fit in it at the same time.
- The original Pasteis da Nata can be found at Pasteis de Belem but only three people know the original recipe.
- The Vasco da Gama Bridge that spans the Tagus River is the longest bridge in Europe.
- Lisbon’s famous trams were originally imported from the US and called americanos.
Day Trips from Lisbon & Top Tours
I love to do a combination of exploring on my own as well as a few organized tours when I travel. I love to learn about the history and culture in a new location and tours with local experts is a great way to do this. I recommend Get Your Guide because you can cancel most bookings for free up to 24 hours before they start and their customer service is available 24/7 in multiple languages.
A few Top Tours in Lisbon, Portugal
Recommended Travel Resources
- Travel Insurance: World Nomads.
- Transport: AirfareWatchDog and Skyscanner (Best Sites to Research Flight Prices)
- Accommodation: Hotels.com and Orbitz
- Airbnb, Sign up here for a $40 credit.
- Top Lisbon Hotel Reviews: TripAdvisor
- How to Pack for 2 Weeks in Europe (in one suitcase)
- Cheap Flights to Europe with Condor Airlines
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Candy Wafford is a US-based travel blogger and while she travels frequently for her job, she is happiest when traveling for pleasure. Preferably strolling along a cobblestoned street with an ice cream cone in her hand. Join her at www.whereivebeentravel.com.