Lisbon! Lisboa! Or ‘Losbon’ according to my phone’s predictive text… Whatever you want to call it, this picturesque city has been on my European hit-list for quite a while. Seduced by the idea of winding, cobbled roads; old-school trams; vibrant street art; and lip-smacking Portuguese cuisine, we decided it was time to book our very first trip (just the two of us) to explore this beautiful city and see what all the fuss is about. Saints do Lisbon – lock up your sons! And dads!
We managed to cram in a lot of our favourite things to do in Lisbon into one jam-packed weekend – we were there for a good time, not a long time! I’ve tried to include all our best bits of the city in this post as well as a round-up of the key ‘top things to do in Lisbon’ sights at the end. And take our word for it – there’s a lot to love about Lisbon…
Where to wander
Pack pumps that can take a pounding as wandering the streets in Lisbon is an activity in itself. Steeped in faded glamour, there’s a photo opportunity waiting round every corner in the shape of ornate balconies, intricate tile-work and pretty facades. In fact, we decided Lisbon would be the perfect backdrop for Zoolander’s ‘derelicte chic’ fashion show. BLUE STEEL.
For the prettiest neighbourhood in town, we took a stroll to Alfama, the historic heart of Lisbon and one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city. Exploring the cobbled streets, steep hills and medieval buildings is like taking a step back in time whilst the trundling old trams that rumble by simply add to the atmosphere. If you are looking for romantic, winding alleyways and a postcard-perfect view of the river with plenty of authentic little places to eat and drink, then Alfama is the district for you. For an alternative way to get to Alfama, find a tram stop for the number 28 – this famous route will take you on a scenic tour through Lisbon, hop on and hop off at your leisure.
For the love of shopping
Wherever we go, my sister and I love checking out the local shops and markets. Although our tastes do run a bit different, there is definitely some overlap with vintage shops. I love a bit of kitsch and am a sucker for (faux) furs, statement sunnies and costume jewellery, whereas Sophie fully embraces the oldest vintage you can find. Like you know those markets stocked high with piles of stuff that somebody died in and you don’t want to touch? That’s where you’ll find Sophie! Anyway, one of those types of markets is the famous Feira da Ladra or ‘thieves market’. A sprawling market filled with trinkets, toys and clothes. My verdict: a hell of a lot of crap, but hey – one girl’s trash is another girl’s treasure.
For a vintage shopping experience that gets the pulse racing a bit more, check out , billed as one of the most famous vintage shops in Lisbon. Browse carefully sorted racks of clothes and bags; rummage through chests of accessories; try on a load of hats; and then grab a quick drink in the attached cafe. Alternatively, Viúva Alegre has also been recommended for its interesting decor and racks of vintage treasures.
Food for the soul
Honestly, our favourite part of Portugal! Eating and drinking in Lisbon is the best – we didn’t have a single disappointing meal from the minute we arrived (under cover of darkness and hunting for restaurant still taking last orders at 11.30pm) to the last big feast before hitting the airport.
Fans of seafood, rejoice! Specialities include the cod dishes and octopus rice – expect big portions at fantastic value for money. Vegetarians don’t go hungry either as the Portuguese (though big on their meat dishes too) love a fancy salad packed with grains, olives and colourful Mediterranean treats. If you like to get a little sugar high, you won’t be disappointed either – the cakes, tarts and ice-cream of Lisbon are sublime. The custard tart of Lisbon is apparently kind of a big deal.
Although it is easy to wander around and discover tucked away tabernas (unlike Barcelona where you could literally walk for miles without a proper destination in mind and then accidentally settle into a tourist trap – always plan ahead in Barca!), one of our favourite dining experiences was the Mercado da Ribeira in Casis do Sodre. A huge, covered market packed with sophisticated street stalls offering everything from artisan chocolates to fresh oysters to steak – it was super affordable and there was so much choice! Order your food and grab a glass of wine and they give you a buzzer which will go off when your meal is ready to collect. After eats, have a wander around the shops where you can pick up tins of sardines, handmade soaps and sexy little succulents to take home as gifts.
Drinking and dancing delights
If you’re anything like us, a recommendation for a good bar or two is always appreciated when visiting a new city. And Lisbon has great bars coming out of its ears. Great drinks too!
Fans of a light, white wine might want to give the crisp vinho verde a go whilst the only shot of choice is the cherry flavoured liqueor ginjinha. Cocktails get an A+ in Lisbon too – even a delicious gin and tonic is served in cocktail dimensions here – if you don’t get a glistening fish-bowl full of the stuff, you’ve been shortchanged.
Grab a daytime drink… at a little 1920s speakeasy-themed pop-up stall called ‘Pitcher Cocktails’ perched on the shores of the sweeping Rio Tejo. Pick your poison and you’ll have it served in a cute take-away jar.
Watch the sunset… at roof-top bar, Park Bar, a quirky spot disguised from the street below as a multi-storey car park. Enter the building on Calcada do Combro and enter the lift or stairway at the door to the left. The very top level has been turned into a bar, decorated in greenery, with a great selection of drinks, cool vibes and pretty views of the city at sunset.
After dinner drinks… in the Barrio Alto, Lisbon’s famous after-dark neighbourhood. A network of lanes that comes to life after 10pm with tiny roadside bars that spill out onto the street.
Further south, in trendy Cais do Sodre, look out for a bar tucked away below street level with a large, dreamy cherub painted on its canvas awning. Pensao Amor (‘the house of love’) apparently used to be a brothel where ladies of the night would entertain the sailors that frequented this notoriously seedy area of town. The bar serves excellent cocktails (try the negronis) and gives a cheeky nod to its heritage with sumptuous decor of rich drapes, plush velvets and sensual colours to get you in the mood… for cocktails and dancing. Which is basically one of our favourite things to do in Lisbon at night.
Day trips in Lisbon
As beautiful as the shimmering river is, sometimes a trip to the seaside is just what the doctor ordered. We hopped on the train (they run every 20 minutes) at Cais do Sodre for the 30 minute journey out to the coastal town of Cascais. A charming little place, Cascais might not have the edgy vibe of Lisbon but it does have a coastline peppered with golden, sandy beaches sloping into bracing, aquamarine waters.
The beaches to the north face the Atlantic and get a heavy pounding by the surf – good for those who want to play in the waves. You will need to hire a car to reach some of the best. To the east (where you will hop off the train) there are plenty of smaller beaches to explore with calmer, sheltered waters ideal for swimming and snorkelling.
And a few little extras if you want to hit up the key Lisbon sights:
For historical treats…
- Visit the Sao Jorge castle high on the hill and you’ll be treated to a view of Lisbon that only the birds get to enjoy.
- Admire the gorgeous cloisters and cool Gothic chapel at the 15th century Jeronimos monastery.
- Listen to the pounding surf at the Belem tower which used to guard the harbour back in the day.
For an art attack…
- Drool over one of the most impressive collections of modern art in Europe at the Museu Berardo.
- Take a Lisbon street art tour to see how the masters do it, then get up close and personal with more urban art at the Galeria de Arte Urbana (GAU).
- Feast your greedy little eyes on the gorgeous collection of colourful tiles at the National Tile Museum, housed in an ancient monastery.
I hope this guide to Lisbon has given you lots of useful info – let us know if there is anywhere else we have to pop on our list next time we go!