Lisbon is awesome. Es bonito, it’s safe, it has culture and it is tons of fun. When friends say they are coming, I usually recommend that they come for a minimum of 14 days. sin embargo, I know most people only get 1-2 week vacations and that they want to get the most out of it by seeing at least a few cities or countries. If you have your heart set on multiple locations and can’t do a whole 14-days, here are my suggestion on how to spend a 4-day weekend in Lisbon.
How to Spend a Weekend in Lisbon
I always suggest that you start off in Belem. Belem can be a whole day event, but don’t try to cram everything in. Why start with Belem? Because you absolutely have to see the Monastery and if you put it off you may miss it. Pick maximum two sites to see and stick with that.
PRO TIP: Don’t start with Belem on a Monday. Most sites are closed that day.
Belem is steeped in history. The neighborhood was the place where Portuguese adventurers would start their trips and come back as discoverers who brought back riches from lands all over the world.
Pasteis de Belem. This is where the famed custard tarts were invented. Are they the best in Lisbon? IMHO – no. I like significantly less runny…but since you’re spending only a weekend in Lisbon, you should taste the original. Last time I went, each pastry cost a little under 2€. Opens at 8 am, but you don’t have to be there at that time. I suggest 9 am so you have time to grab a table in the back (this is the trick so you don’t have to wait in line when there is one) and have plenty of time to walk over to spot number 2.
Mosteiro dos Jeronimos. You want to get here between 9:30 and 9:45. It opens at 10 am, but tourist buses let off hoards of tourists right in front of the monastery. If you get here later than this, chances are you will be in line behind 50-100 gente. All that being said, this is the one site you need to see. It is an architectural beauty and a perfect example of the Manueline style of architecture. It is also where many of Lisbon’s most famous people have been laid to rest. The cost of entry is 10€ (or 12€ if you get a double ticket for this and the adjoining Archaeology museum – it’s great, but if you’re only spending a weekend in Lisbon, it can wait for your next visit).
Cross the highway (there is an underground crossing) and check out both the Padrao dos Descobrimentos monument (5€) and the Torre de Belem (6€). You don’t have to go into both, you can choose one OR you can choose none and just admire them from outside. They are both lovely.
This is either a 4th stop or a 3rd stop if you don’t go into either of the monuments listed on 3. Berardo Collection is probably my favorite of all the museums in Lisbon. It’s located at the Belem Cultural Center (you’ll have to cross the highway again and look to your left). Why do I love it? Because it houses an incredible modern art collection, it’s almost always empty, and it’s free to go in. Entonces, hop on the train (back across the highway) and head over to stop #5.
5th Stop & Lunch
Cais do Sodre is a fantastic area. It used to be filled with hookers and seedy elements, but ever since the build-up of the Mercado da Ribeira it’s become one of the hottest areas in town. When you get off the train from Belem, cross the street and head to the Market (also known as the Time Out Market). Many people will tell you to go at night, but this is a mistake. At night, the market is overcrowded making it hard to snag a table and coordinate with your group. Lunchtime visits are much more pleasant. The market is filled with stalls where you can taste all types of Portuguese dishes and sweets.
6th Stop or a Little Rest
De aquí, you may want to head back to your hotel or Airbnb to get some rest… or, if you’re still going strong, you can make your way to Chiado. Chiado used to be the bohemian district where poets and painters would share ideas in the city’s cafes. Ahora, it’s chic and fancy. It is home to Lisbon’s theaters, great bars, and fantastic shopping. Check out Camões square, grab an imperial at the kiosk and explore on foot up the hill towards Bairro Alto.
By this time it should be getting late. Dinner and cocktails should be on your mind. Bairro Alto is Lisbon’s party central. Expect this neighborhood to come alive at night. That also means that this is filled with young drunken tourists. For me, this is a one-time thing. I normally don’t go to this neighborhood, but if you are coming to Lisbon only once, it is something to be experienced. Once you’ve experienced Bairro Alto, you’ll be ready for a good night’s sleep.
PRO TIP: For this trip, get Lisbon’s 24-hour unlimited transport pass. It lets you use the trams as often as you want for each day.
First, get up and go to a pastelaria nearby. Order a Portuguese coffee. Their stuff is damn good. Trust me, I’ve got Colombian blood. When you walk in, ask for a bica (that’s a strong, creamy, and delicious shot of coffee). Once you’ve had that you’ll be fully ready for the second day of your weekend in Lisbon.
You’re going to spend all morning in the Alfama. This is probably the best neighborhood to get lost in, but just remember to wear comfortable shoes (Not sneakers. Get yourself some proper walking shoes. Sneakers are for sports, not for travel). Why comfortable shoes? Because the Alfama is made of hills and cobblestones. This neighborhood is Lisbon as it was. When you walk its streets you will hear the sounds of fado (mostly at night time – but if you get lucky earlier in the day), enjoy the views of laundry hanging from windows, and the smell of fish cooking out of everyone’s homes. Here are a few things you need to see while you’re in the Alfama.
You cannot miss the National Pantheon of Santa Engracia. This building aimed high on architectural notes and it reached its pinnacle, but this task took 300 years to accomplish. The building has funerary monuments for some of Lisbon’s most beloved residents and an incredible dome which doubles as a 360-degree miradouro with some incredible views. If your visit happens to fall on a Tuesday or Saturday, you’ll also be able to buy your family & friends some gifts at the famed flea market, La feria de ladras. You can find most anything here, but I must make a PSA – do not…I repeat DO NOT buy tiles there. Many people steal tiles from homes and sell them here. It’s really bad for the city, so…just don’t.
Just 5 minutes on foot (and up some hills) is the Monastery of Sao Vicente de Fora. Another incredible work of architecture, the Monastery is simply stunning. This church is also often skipped by tourists who are out at other sites, so you can really enjoy its baroque tiles. Make sure to read up on the Bragança family, they’re buried there.
By this time you’ll be a little hungry and ready for a snack. Make your way to the miradouro de Santa Luzia by taking the 28. This is a very cute miradouro, but very popular so keep an eye out for pickpockets and just ignore the guys trying to sell you things you don’t need. Grab another bica & an empada de galihna. Then grab your camera; you’ll get tons of likes on your Instagram picture of the rooftops, but what you really want to see are the Bouganvilleas that accompany the tiles in the garden. This spot is gorgeous.
Now that you’ve had another coffee and a snack, you’ll be ready for my all-time favorite site in Lisboa; the Castelo de Sao Jorge. Why is it my favorite? It’s got tons of history, it is nicely laid out, there is a great cafe in there, there is an incredible view of the city AND there are peacocks running free. It’s pretty darn cool.
5th Stop & Lunch
Now you’re ready for lunch. Walk down the hill and go to Martim Moniz. This area used to be unsafe, but it is much better now. The square is filled with places to eat lunch and hang out for a drink, but you want to go to the Chinese supermarket that’s there and grab a cheap bowl of delicious soup. It’s the perfect place to replenish all those calories. If you choose to, you can spend a few hours here, enjoy some music and some sun. Or you can head back home to rest for your nightly adventures.
6th Stop & Dinner
Head over to Baixa. This area was destroyed by the earthquake-tsunami-fire of 1755. It is laid out in a grid-and-block so it is very easy to navigate. There are beautiful avenues, plenty of stores for shopping, and gorgeous plazas with Pombaline buildings. This 6th stop is really a few stops because you’ll be leisurely walking to dinner.
Start off your Baixa adventure at Praça do Comércio, this is the city’s main and largest plaza. Then head under the Arco da Rua Augusta arch and imagine what Lisbon looked like when this was first built. Walk up Rua Augusta (while ignoring the people trying to get you into their mostly over-priced touristy restaurants) towards Praça do Rossio. You’ll know you are there because this plaza has two gorgeous fountains. Keep walking forward. To your left, you will see Rossio station (one of the prettiest train stations in the world. In front of you will see Avenida Liberdade, Lisbon’s Champs-Élysées, a wide and beautiful tree-lined avenue with tons of high-end shopping. Stay towards the left and take the Ascensor da Glória (the funicular) to the São Pedro de Alcântara park. This is another of my favorite miradouros. Stop here, grab an imperial and enjoy the view. From here walk towards Principe Real, this is one of Lisbon’s poshest neighborhoods and where you will have dinner.
MUST DO: Stop for a drink at the Chinese Pavillion. It is the only place where smoking is allowed that I will ever recommend to people. You will see why when you get there.
Start your day in Estrela (one of my favorite neighborhoods). This is when you are going to get away from the tourists and get to know the city and its people. Start off at the Jardin da Estrela, one of Lisbon’s most beautiful parks. This is where locals go to walk their dogs, grab a quick snack and enjoy a picnic. De aquí, you can cross the street to the Basílica da Estrela, a church that was erected by the Queen as a Thank you to the Virgin Mary for granting her a child. Entonces, hop on the 28 tranvía.
You’re going to head to Campo de Ourique. This is one of Lisbon’s best neighborhoods (quickly becoming very French). When you get off at the Prazeres stop, check out the Prazeres cemetery. It is lovely and houses some of Lisbon’s most notable people. En ese momento, you will be getting hungry. You will want to go to the Mercado de Campo de Ourique, a more civilized and down to earth version of Mercado Da Ribeira (the Italian place there is superb).
Grab an Uber and head to Eduardo VII Park. The park is lovely and houses the Estufa Fria, the Carlos Lopes Pavillion, and Linha D’Agua. Relax and enjoy the sunshine. When you’re ready for dinner. Head over to El Corte Ingles and go to the top floor. Portugal’s most notable chefs have mid-range casual restaurants on the rooftop. It’s a great place to grab a snack and a meal…and then do a little shopping at the store so you have gifts to take home. Then head home to pack and get a little rest before you head to Lisbon Portela Airport.
Hope you enjoy your visit to Lisbon. If you have any questions on the city or your visit, just leave them in the comments & we’ll get back to you soon.