Lisbon is just one of those places everyone has to go to one day. It’s got so much going for it – great food, attractive people, beautiful sights, all topped off with a laid back, cultural vibe you only get in Europe. But with so much to do and see, where do you start? Here are my top tips for the perfect long weekend in Lisbon.
Do take a moment up at the Miradouro do Sao Pedro de Alcantara at night time. Lisbon looks so pretty in the dark, especially the castle, all lit up in orange. There was a little fair going on on the terrace while we were there too – a dance stage, cabins selling port and sangria, souvenir stands and bakery stalls. Once you’ve soaked it all in from the viewpoint, make like a local and get the funicular down to the square.
Don’t waste time on the beach. I’m sure you can get to a beach easily enough, but the truth is there is so much else to see in the city that you don’t really need to. Also, Lisbon is set on the Tagus River, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that big expanse of water in front of you is the Atlantic Ocean. It’s not. Save your beach time for another holiday – you’ve got a lot more to see yet.
Do actually go inside the Monastery. Yes, it looks beautiful from the outside and from the church that you can enter for free. But the real magic is in the monastery that is €10 per adult ticket. In my opinion it’s totally worth it, and both my husband and I agreed it was the highlight of our trip.
Don’t be fooled into thinking you’re in a different country. The Sé whisks you away to Paris, the bridge feels like San Francisco and the Jesus statue will make you think you’ve just stepped foot in Rio. Lisbon seems to be like a real life Madame Tussaud’s for buildings, but it also has plenty of its own sights that other cities would do well to copy.
Do save up to get delicious cocktails up at the Hotel Barrio Alto’s BA Terrace bar. That €12 mojito may seem expensive, but it’s totally worth it for that view. And the drinks are damn tasty. What more could you want from a bar in the heart of the city?
Don’t assume all natas are created equal, and especially don’t assume the more expensive the better. I’ve got a whole blog post coming up on this soon, but the quality of those delicious creamy custardy tarts varies greatly across the city, and the original might just still be the best. In fact, it most certainly is.
Do try and speak a little Portuguese while you’re there. You may get laughed at, like I did, but I think that was because they were more surprised to hear someone trying rather than because I had completely screwed up (at least I hope so). As long as you know your Por favors and Obrigados, you should be okay. But also…
Don’t get confused and speak Spanish instead. This was something else I was guilty for. I found I could read Portuguese okay because it looks remarkably similar to Spanish, but the sound is totally different. Imagine someone speaking Spanish with a really thick Dutch accent – that’s how it sounds. The locals might not be able to understand you, so it’s best to attempt their language or settle on English.
Do try Portuguese tapas. We found the quality to be much higher than the majority of tapas restaurants we found in the touristy areas of Spain. Probably because they were the touristy areas… But I digress… We tried goats cheese and marmalade, fried cuttlefish, traditional meat pieces (well, Tim did at least), prawns (oh my god the prawns…) and Lisbon’s speciality, cod.
Don’t miss our favourite restaurants were in the Baixa and Barrio Alto areas of the city – Da Prata 52 and Coimbra Taberna. They were both complete stand outs for their taste, service and atmosphere. It was my birthday on the first night of our trip, and the staff at Coimbra went out of their way to make me feel special by inviting us downstairs for a private show of fado and a free G&T. They clearly know their audience!
Another absolutely fantastic place to eat is the Time Out Market, where some of the best restaurants in Lisbon have street food stalls set up for tourists and locals alike to sample their signature dishes. It turned out to be one of my favourite things to visit in the whole city – the beer flows, the food is exceptional, and it’s a really lively place. You could easily stay there for hours, trying everything in sight, but do be warned – it gets very busy. Once you have a seat at the long communal benches, you’d be a fool to give it up.
Do try to find somewhere to watch fado – traditional Portuguese music. It’s a very melancholic sound with Portuguese and classical guitars, plus a singer with a deep and emotional voice. The songs can be about desire, love, sadness, memories… So even if you don’t know what on earth they’re singing about, you can still feel the emotion in their voice and, yes, it did bring a tear to my eye.
Don’t leave everything to the last minute at the airport. We thought we were there with good time to spare, only to find our flight departed from the other terminal, queue for security and then queue for passport control before queuing for our gate, and then queuing again to get on to the plane! We spent our whole time there in queues and it looked like a good airport, so I wish we had had more time to look around, if only to buy some wine that we couldn’t have bought in the city, thanks to our hand baggage only fares.
Do go all the way to the top of the Santa Justa elevador. Even though there may be better viewpoints in the city, it’s still pretty cool to say you went all the way to the top of the 45m lift to look down over Baixa. It costs a little extra to reach the highest point, but if you’re lucky like us, you might get let up for free because the guard didn’t get out of bed early enough.
Don’t miss the Yellow Bus tours. For a decent price you can get tram tours, bus tours, a boat trip and all Carris transport across the city, including local trams and funiculars. They are your typical tourist transport tours with uncomfortable headphones and the poshest English voice telling you about the sights to your left and right, but they’re a really good way to get your bearings in the city when you first arrive. Which leads me to…
…Do a boat trip to see Belém sights from the front. Belém is one of the most visited areas in Lisbon, and from its beauty and architecture, it’s easy to see why. Most of the sights are best seen from the water – Belém Tower and the Monument to the Discoveries, for example. Plus the boat trip should give you a better view of the 25th April bridge and Cristo do Rei while you’re at it.
Don’t miss it. Lisbon is one of those cities that you can see yourself going back to again and again. I loved it, and I already can’t wait to go back because I don’t think we even scratched the surface of this beautiful city.
Have you ever been to Lisbon? What did you like best about it? Do you have any must dos or don’ts?