It doesn’t take much to fall in love.
Sometimes all it takes is that second you emerge from the subway in a new city, surrounded by bustling people and brightly tiled buildings, and the scent of freshly-baked custard tarts and cinnamon inviting you into the nearest pastry shop.
Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world, and the oldest capital city in western Europe (I’ll be honest, that was a surprise to me). It has a beautiful Mediterranean-like climate, great food, amazing culture, and just the best VIBE. Some cities got it, some don’t. And boy, does Lisbon got it!!
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So without further ado, I give you my tips for making the most of a day or two in Lisbon!
#1 – Get up high and find your favorite view
Built in, on, and around a number of hills (seriously, insanely hilly walking), Lisbon is chock-full of amazing viewpoints. You could spend a couple weeks here and still not hit them all. There are many great lists of them all over Pinterest (I’ve linked one below that I used in my trip planning), so pick at least one or two that sound great and make sure to build them into your walking plan.
Only a half hour or so after arriving we made our way up to Santa Caterina, which was full of students playing guitar and smoking pot, pretty crowded but chill. Not my favorite vibe, but great view. Later that night, we accidentally ended up at Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcantara (at least I think that’s what the second is) to watch the lights come out.
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#2 – Go a step further with a cocktail and a view
I’ve written an entire other post about Lisbon’s best secret rooftop bar. And it’s attached to a 800-year-old convent. I highly recommend spending a sunset here, but there are tons of others. Pick whichever one you’ll be closest to as you’re wrapping up your sightseeing for the day, and settle in with a glass of vihno verde—a Portugese wine that is young and light and crisp, with just a slight fizz.
Read all about the cool local craft market we found at Carmo Convent here!
#3 – Eat all the pasteis de nata in sight
I made it my personal mission to try pastel de nata in every place I saw it, to determine the absolute best. I read all the lists. And funny enough, I accidentally happened upon one of the very best (award-winning) shops as we were walking from the metro to our apartment upon arrival.
Manteigara is totally legit. It’s the only thing they make there, there isn’t really much else to do. You can get a coffee (just okay, not great) and absolutely amazing pastel de nata with just a hint of cinnamon in the custard. Perfection. There is one other place that is supposed to be the best near Torre de Belém that we didn’t get to try (I did on a later visit, see here!), so I definitely recommend getting over there and doing your own taste test as well!
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#4 – Get lost looking for all the brightest buildings
Find your favorite. There was a pure emerald green one that I found at night (so couldn’t photograph) and was super bummed I couldn’t find it again. So I suppose all of these will have to do. The exceptional detail on the tiles and then the rich colors as well were one of my absolute favorite parts of Lisbon.
#5 – Get out early before the crowds
This is one of my go-to tips for any place, but there is really something magical about the early morning light on the colors and cobblestones of Lisbon. Take a walk around Baixa-Chiado, walk down on the waterfront, or get up high to the Carmo Convent (the second and third pictures below, and one of my faves).
We were out early to catch a train to Sintra, and I found myself wishing I could grab a pastel de nata and a coffee and just sit on a bench in one of the little squares.
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#6 – Walk along the waterfront & visit the old city
No trip to Lisbon is complete without getting down to the waterfront and walking along it, then wandering through the Praca do Comércio and up into the Baixa neighborhood. Pass through the Arco da Rua Augusta, go see the Elevador Santa Justa, and then head up toward the Carmo Convent (if you’re up to the climb).
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#7 – Take an Uber or the metro out to Torre de Belém
This one is a little controversial, I had quite a few people tell me it wasn’t worth it. And I kind of get why, it’s a little bit of a trek out there, and on an overcast day it could be a letdown.
But look at it!
The weather cleared up right as we arrived, though it had been overcast for a few hours. I’m just weirdly fascinated by this random little structure that’s just a few feet out into the ocean. It’s like its own tiny little castle. If you have time, you can get over to Belém to get the other best pasteis de nata in Lisbon, at Pastéis de Belém. Be warned though, the lines can be long!
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#7b – …with bonus Monument to the Discoveries
You get a two-fer if you head out to Belem, because in addition to the tower you’ll see the very cool Monument to the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos). They’re a short walk from each other, within sight. It celebrates the Portuguese Age of Discovery or Age of Exploration.
#8 – Get up to Castelo de Sao Jorge at sunset
So…this is a little bit of a cheat, because our timing was off (it took us a little longer to get there than planned) so we missed sunset by a few minutes and didn’t feel like paying the entrance fee to the castle for only a couple minutes in there. So these pictures are from the walk up to the castle. But don’t be us. Plan better. Get up there for sunset.
#10 – If you have more than a day, get out of the city
There are soooooo many amazing day trips from Lisbon, it’s hard to choose where to go. We went to Sintra, and it was every bit as spectacular as I thought it would be. It helped that we were there in late March, though, before the tourist crowds got insane (they call it “Disneyland for Adults” for a reason…). I’ve done a whole post on our visit to Sintra with all my tips for planning your own trip!
If you’re going in peak season and the thought of hordes of tourists and long lines gives you hives, there are tons of other options, from Porto (really could be more than a day) to cute seaside towns.
If it’s not clear, I fell head over heels for Lisbon’s charms. The fact that I only had a day (plus our day in Sintra) kills me, and I’m already plotting ways to return and see more of Portugal.
Spoiler alert: I did return!
Bonus tips for what to do in Lisbon
- Rent an apartment, not a hotel–stay right in the middle of everything!
- Use the metro to get around, it’s super easy. Get a Viagem card and refill it.
- Pro tip: take a pic of the metro map with your phone, so you can refer back to it later
- But make sure you walk a ton…and wear comfy shoes!! Lisbon’s hilly cobblestones are not messing around, and can get quite slick when wet.
- If you’re wanting to visit a lot of major attractions, consider the Lisboa Card. You’ll get into a lot of attractions with it and I believe it offers free public transportation as well. I believe it’s 18.50 euros for 24 hours.
I think we covered a lot of ground in 24 hours, but would love to hear from you what tips I missed—let me know your recommendations in the comments!
Other whirlwind city itineraries you might like:
- A First-Timer’s Guide to 24 Hours in Reykjavik, Iceland
- 48 Hours in Paris (and 11 Pain au Chocolat…)
- 24 Hours in Dublin
- 24 Hours of Immersion in Jerusalem
- A First-Timer’s Guide to Medellin, Colombia
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