21 things to see on a weekend trip to Lisbon
It feels like everyone's going to Lisbon this year. It's probably something to do with its coastal location and warm, sunny climate. It also helps that Lisbon's got castles, monasteries and museums, as well as only being half-an-hour away from golden beaches and superb swimming spots. The only downside? You might have to walk up a few hills to enjoy its cafe culture, food and nightlife.
1. See 1000 year old castle remainsThe Castelo de S Jorge was rediscovered in the early 20th century during an excavation, which dug up the remains of a castle and royal palace. It's now a national monument and a gateway to nearly a 1000 years of Lisbon history.
2. Visit the Torre de BelémThe Tower of Belem was built in the early part of the 16th century by Manuel I to protect the city from being attacked by sea. You can still see the medieval keep as well as the more modern military bits. The tower's also much-photographed due to its dramatic location.
3. Go behind the scenes at some historic monasteries and conventsThe Jerónimos (or Hieronymite) Monastery, along with the Torre de Belem, is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and it is also a National Monument - mainly due to its ambitious architecture. It's incredible that the Igreja e Convento do Carmo (Convent of Our Lady of Mount Carmel) is still standing, as it survived a devastating earthquake in 1755.
4. Wander around the pretty niche museumsThe Pharmacy Museum delves deep into 5,000 years in the history of medicine. And granted the Museu Nacional do Azulejo - a museum essentially dedicated to tiles - might not sound the most exciting. But it's actually got some of the most beautiful examples of the famous Azulejo ceramic works in the city.
5. Brush up on your car knowledgeThe National Coach Museum is near to Belem Tower is filled with the Royal families ceremonial carriages. They're all in good condition and it takes about 40 minutes to see them all. The Navy Museum is also close by.
6. Visit a monument to sea explorationThe 50m-high Padrão dos Descobrimentos (above) was built to mark 500th anniversary of Henry the Navigator's death - one of Portugal's greatest sailors. You can also get a nice view of the mouth of the River Tagus from here too.
7. Let Santa give you a liftThe classic engineering of the Elevador de Santa Justa has made this lift a tourist attraction. Save your legs the effort of climbing up to the roof of its gothic tower for a city view.
8. Go to a flea market at Fiera da LadreaThe flea market in Alfama is the usual mix of tat and artisan crafts. If you loved the 80s - you'll find tons of old toys and games from that era here.
9. When a botanical garden meets a Bond baddies lairEstufa Fria botanical gardens has some unusual hot and cold plant houses to explore - and it's free on a Sunday. Once you're done with the plants, play count the sculptures (there's loads) and then head to the bar.
10. Take a tramThe Remodelado trams were built in the 1930s, and we recommend the very pretty Tram 28 route. You can jump off and explore one of the passing neighbourhoods, or use it as a way to get up the steep hills.
11. Visit an award-winning aquariumThe Oceanário de Lisboa's main aquarium holds around five million litres of water and has more than a hundred species living in it. You'll find penguins, otters and sharks, along with plenty of fish. Book online to get cheaper tickets (and you also won't have to queue when you arrive).
12. Have breakfast, lunch and dinner outsideThe main square in the city is Praça do Comércio, a lively place with restaurants on both sides.
13. Listen to the local music while you eat
14. Stuff yourself with Portuguese delicacies
They've got a sweet tooth round here - so you'll find Pastel de Nata, or Portuguese custard tarts, everywhere. The best ones are in the Belem area, and you'll see people queuing up to buy them from the place they originated. Or try Bacalhau - the Portugeuse word for cod. You'll see it prepared in different ways throughout Portugal - but smoked, cured or fresh, it's all good stuff. You should also try the fish cakes - Pasteis de Bacalhau.
15. Hang out at Mercado da Ribeira
16. Have a drink with a view at the Park BarA car park might not sound like the most glamorous of locations - but Park bar is a cool place to have a drink. Aim for the end of the day, and you'll get a 360 degree view of the city as the sun goes down.
17. Drink in a very unusual pubThe Pavilhao Chines is part pub, part museum, with a good degree of junk in there too. Have a drink and take in the sheer number of objects and art on the walls.
18. Visit a living fairy taleThere are Moorish castles, monasteries and old fortresses, not to mention a sprawling forest (it has 500 types of trees) in the Parques se Sintra. Getting there takes around 45 minutes by train from the Restauradores Station or Oriente Station - and the train tickets are only a few euros. It can be expensive to visit all eight sites (costing more than 100€/person in total) so maybe just choose a couple if you're on a budget. To get there you could walk up the mountain or get a bus from Sintra Station and have a glass of wine at the Palace of Pena. Get a TukTuk back down - it can be an hair-raising experience.
19. Play a round or eight of golfTry and bag a birdiePortugal is also home to Europe's "golf coast".
20. Head for a leisurely lunch by the beachThe pretty coastal town of Cascais is around 30 minutes by train or car from Lisbon. This is seafood central. Try the local sole, sea bass or sea bream, and then sleep it off on the sand.
21. Go kitesurfing on Guincho BeachGuincho Beach is close by to Cascais for surfing and swimming, as well as some good coastal walks. If you don't want to get wet - it's good entertainment just watching the surfers and windsurfers from the shore.
Travel tips: Getting around Lisbon
- The only flat surface in the city is the Praça do Comércio so you'll be up and down hills, stairs and cobbled streets.
- The Viva Viagem (like the London Oyster) card is useful if you travel by metro/tram/bus or train, as you can load it for single trips or day tickets.
- Trains are very cheap to take and you can take a metro in Lisbon from the airport as well. Taxis won't set you back too much either.
- You could also buy a Lisboa Card, which not only gives you access to public transport, but also discounts on entry to museums.
- If you get lost don't worry too much, the majority of people in Portugal speak good English, so it's quite easy to get directions.
When to go
- The peak tourist season is during the summer, with the temperatures between June and August easily hitting an average of 30C.
- It's slightly cooler in spring and autumn, but you'll still get plenty of sunshine, and you might find that hotels and flights are a little cheaper.
- Make sure you pack the sun cream, Lisbon is always a bit windy due to its proximity to the ocean, so you might not realise how hot it is, until you're already a bit sunburnt.