Lisbon in a Nutshell
The Portuguese were the modern world's first explorers - so take a leaf out of their book and arm yourself with this guide for the perfect weekend adventure in lovely Lisbon.
Lisbon is vibrant, fun, gothic, glamorous, colourful and, of course, cheap, all rolled into one. It's the perfect place to spend a weekend eating and drinking. In fact, that's pretty much all I do when I'm there...while taking in a tiny bit of culture on the side for good measure. So what are my favourite things to do in Lisbon? Keep reading to find out.
9 unmissable things to do in Lisbon
1. Eat a Nata in Pastéis de Belém
If you do nothing else in Lisbon, go here. Pastéis de Belém has been making Portuguese tarts for 179 years from a secret recipe known only to three chefs at any one time. These are unbelievably delicious; flaky crisp pastry filled with warm creamy sweet custard. The line is long, but moves quickly. The 10 minute wait gave us just enough time to go from planning to order one per person to deciding we all needed four each! And to be honest, we’ve should’ve bought more. It’s a food moment I’ll never forget and I’m not even the biggest custard fan.
Tip: Once they’re safely in hand, head across the road to eat them in the park while they’re still warm.
2. Jeronimos Monastery
In 1755 the city of Lisbon was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake, subsequent tsunami and fires that lasted for five days. It’s thought to be one of the deadliest earthquakes in history, with an estimated death toll of 30,000 to 100,000. Much of the city’s unique architecture was completely ruined. Somehow this gorgeous, and now UNESCO listed, monastery in Belém survived. Due to the earthquake’s destruction Jeronimos Monastery is one of the city’s only original examples of Portuguese late Gothic architecture (also called Manueline). The inside is beautiful, but for me it was all about the outside – it’s stunning.
Tip: The monastery is basically next door to the above Pastéis de Belém café so you can see both on the same trip. Belém is a little bit further out but it’s easy to get to. We had no problems navigating our way there by train and catching an inexpensive cab back to the city afterwards.
3. Stroll around the old city
The Portuguese were the modern world’s first adventurers. If you know what to look for you’ll find evidence of their explorations everywhere in Lisbon. The best way to learn the stories behind the city’s history, conquests and heartbreaks is with a walking tour.
4. Party in Bairro Alto
In this inner city suburb you’ll find hundreds of bars squeezed into just a few blocks. At night the streets are filled with people taking advantage of the cheap drinks. Our favourite place was a beautiful rooftop bar called Park that has stunning views of the city.
Tip: Go in the late afternoon to catch the sunset.
5. Have a shot of Lisbon’s official drink
I have a rule when travelling – always drink what the locals drink. In Lisbon this is Ginjinha (Ginja for short), a Morello cherry liqueur. Head toGinginha do Carmo for a shot in a chocolate cup. The bar is tiny and doesn’t have seats but you don’t need them; have a quick chat with the friendly staff, down your shot and be on your way.
Tip: Don’t eat your chocolate cup straight away - they give you a refill for free!
6. Have a traditional Portuguese dinner
Portuguese food is one of my favourite cuisines. Everything is fresh, light and full of flavour. The best meal we had in Lisbon was at Madragoa Café. This family-owned and run restaurant has simple, but delicious traditional food. The menu is in Portuguese, but they’ll take you through it in English and make recommendations. We had a bit of everything: the Cataplana (seafood stew), sardine canapes, alheira sausage with potato and eggs, queijo de Azeitao (goat’s cheese with honey) and the Açaores de Bacalhau (codfish with mashed bread). Yum. This little place is cash only and a bit out of the way, but well worth the taxi fare.
7. Eat until you're heart's content at the Time Out Food Market
According to Time Out their first food hall's 'mission is to get the best of each city and bring it together under one roof.' And they've definitely done that. This place is an absolute foodie wonderland. Make sure you grab a Santini ice cream while you're there.
8. A sunset cruise on the Tagus River
A great way to get a different perspective of Lisbon’s beauty is with a sunset cruise. Buy some cheese and wine and head out to Belem for a two hour cruise on the Tagus River. The best place to sit is at the front of the boat, so head straight there as soon as you get on to snag the prime real estate.
9. Step back in time to explore the birthplace of Lisbon
Alfama is a maze of medieval alleys and stunning views. Throw away your map and wander the streets of Lisbon’s oldest district. Afterward, enjoy some flaming chorizo at Tasca Beat.