Lisbon: The Ultimate Weekend City Break Guide
Where to go, what to see and perhaps most crucially, what to eat on a Lisbon city break.
In the last year, I’ve been lucky enough to sample the culture in multiple amazing cities: London, Paris, Florence, and Belfast to name just a few. I didn’t expect to end up back in one of these cities within a year, but somehow, I found myself in Lisbon for the second time.
I first visited Lisbon last March with my boyfriend. Seeing as my dissertation deadline was about a week away, I was a complete ball of nerves. I don’t think I’ve ever been less relaxed on a trip — my brain just refused to shut off. But even though I couldn’t shake the anxious monologue playing in my head, I was still awestruck by Lisbon.
It was unlike any other city I’ve ever seen. Composed almost entirely of paved hills, with winding streets and speeding trams, Lisbon was pure dynamic. It forced us to move, to walk down rambling boardwalks and climb mountains after three-course meals. It left us sun-baked and satisfied every evening. After a long winter in rainy Dublin, we had forgotten the feeling of Vitamin D coursing through our veins. The sun had clearly been hiding in Lisbon all this time: all 290 days of it per year!
It comes as no surprise that when it came to picking the destination for a family weekend this February, Lisbon was my first suggestion.
If you’re wondering which European destination you should visit next, I’d highly recommend giving Lisbon a try. Even just a weekend in this stunning city is enough to make you fall in love.
In this Guide:
Getting around Lisbon
Both times I’ve visited, I flew into Lisbon Portela Airport. This is the closest airport, and it really is shockingly close to the centre. A short metro journey or a 15-minute taxi ride will drop you right in the heart of things.
To catch the metro to the city, just follow the signs at the airport and buy a Via Viagem travel card at one of the metro station machines. Get off at Rossio station for the most central location, or find the nearest station to your accommodation on Google maps first.
The travel card itself costs €0.50, and you can top it up by an amount of your choosing. I would recommend starting out with a relatively small amount, like €5 or €10. You can always top it up afterwards if you need more juice.
The Via Viagem card can be used on any form of public transport around the city, including buses, metro and trams. It’s so handy, and pretty inexpensive compared to other cities I’ve visited. A metro ride costs €1.50. My daily commute to work costs nearly double!
In total, we spent around €10 each on getting around the city, plus €5 for a day trip to Sintra. More on that later. For a whole weekend of travel, that’s pretty great value!
Beautiful and affordable places to stay in Lisbon
Although Lisbon has a wide offering of high-end as well as smaller boutique hotels, I’ve opted to stay in apartments on both trips. In fact, staying in apartments is generally my preferred way of travelling these days. There are a few reasons for this.
The most practical reason is that it works out to be cheaper. Lisbon apartments are great value. It’s not often you find a three-bedroom apartment in a central location for €60 a night.
Secondly, I love having access to a kitchen, particularly on longer trips. I’m a vegetarian, so it can be hard to find good veggie options in restaurants every day of a trip.
Lastly and most importantly, I love experiencing the way people actually live. You get a feel of the local neighbourhood and see your new neighbours going about their daily business. Plus, finding your way back home after a long day and letting yourself in with a set of keys is way more satisfying than swiping a key card. Just one woman’s opinion!
Both times, I’ve stayed in the Principe Real area of Lisbon. It’s central, just a 10 minute walk from the heart of the city. It’s vibrant, with people enjoying drinks at the park kiosk on warm evenings. And it’s also close to some of my favourite Lisbon brunch places and restaurants.
Whether you go through Airbnb or a rental service like Feels Like Home, you’re bound to find beautiful apartments at decent prices.
The view from our apartment in Lisbon — I wished I could pack it up in my suitcase to take home!
Coffee and Check-In
Drop everything and caffeinate — always my first point of call
If you’re anything like me, you like to drop your luggage as soon as you’ve arrived at your destination. As I’ve talked about on the website before, I travel light, with only a carry-on. But even a carry-on feels heavy when you’re climbing endless hills with one in tow. When landing in Lisbon, I’d recommend heading straight for your accommodation first.
If check-in isn’t open yet, there are luggage storage places dotted around the city. The one at Rossio station gets full pretty quickly, so try a local shop instead. Trust me, you don’t want your bags weighing you down when you’re hurtling down a steep hill.
On the first day, you might like to take it easy. You’ve travelled, you’re tired, you’ve gotten this far. Coffee is in order. Lucky for you, I’ve already written up a whole Lisbon coffee guide. Each of the places on that list is an ideal stop for a weary traveller. For example, the first time I went to Lisbon, Aidan and I stopped for a jackfruit club sandwich and coffee at Comoba. Sounds delicious? It sure was. You should see the pictures:
My Ultimate Guide to Independent Coffee Shops in Lisbon
This time around, I brought my family to a tried and tested favourite: Fábrica Coffee Roasters. In my books, there’s no day that coffee can’t fix. A smooth, locally roasted and expertly poured flat white wipes the slate clean.
After coffee and check-in, it was time for us to take a stroll through the city and forage for dinner. And there’s no better place to dive right into Lisbon’s foodie scene than the Time Out Market.
Wining and Dining
The most versatile place to eat in Lisbon
Time Out Market Lisbon
Where? Right by the port, near the famous Pink Street and Bairro Alto District
If you and your travel companions can never decide where to eat or what type of cuisine you’re in the mood for, Time Out Market has you covered. It’s got dozens of stalls from some of Lisbon’s best restaurants under one roof. You can taste and share dishes from different vendors. So, whether you’re in the mood for seafood, a proper burger or some sushi, you’ll find the best of the best right here.
Everyone sits together at long communal tables, so there’s a constant buzz in the air. On a Friday night, it was jam-packed. My best tip? Channel your inner Alex Russo at the Crazy 10-Minute Sale, and prepare to fight for space at a table. Once you’ve snagged a spot, the doors to the foodie world are wide open.
If you only have time to try one place, I’d highly recommend the Ground Burger stall. If you’re a fellow vegetarian, you’ll be blown away by their veggie burger. So saucy! Ground Burger also have their own restaurant in the north part of the city, so if you’re in the area I’d highly recommend checking it out!
If you’re up for it, the area near the market is Lisbon’s nightlife hot spot. The Pink Street is right around the corner, so grab a drink and enjoy!
Weekend Brunch in Lisbon
The tastiest brunches in Lisbon
On Saturday morning, we were up bright and early, ready to take in the sights. First on our list, of course, was brunch. I’ve already recommended the best of the best in my coffee guide. On this occasion, we stopped by Comoba for egg bowls, avocado toast, and breakfast burritos galore. They serve some great novelty coffees, and I finally got to try their matcha latte! It definitely lived up to the hype.
As for the Sunday best, we headed over to Zenith Brunch & Cocktails, an industrial-chic hotspot specialising in — you guessed it — brunch and cocktails. Whether you’re feeling sweet or savoury, Zenith’s menu has got you covered. I have yet to try their famed shakshuka and Eggs Zenith (a play on a brunch classic), but their pancakes were calling my name. I went for the Peanut Butter stack topped with vanilla ice cream. “Does that even count as breakfast?” you may ask. Probably not. But who can say no to breakfast for dessert every once in a while?
Lisbon, like many European cities at the moment, is absolutely bursting with gorgeous brunch spots. Each one I’ve visited was more Instagrammable than the last. It would be impossible to visit them all in one weekend (or would it? Leave this challenge with me) so here are a few more for you to choose from:
Taking in the sights in one of Lisbon’s oldest districts
With a big meal under our belts, we were ready to take on the city. We were pleasantly surprised to find that Comoba is right by the 28 tram line. This is that historic yellow tram you’ve seen in pretty much every picture of Lisbon. It goes right through the city, so you can get a thorough look around just by hopping on board.
All you have to do is scan your Via Viagem travel card and enjoy the ride. Snag a seat if you can to get the best possible views. The tram can get packed full of tourists, so just be wary of pickpockets. I’d recommend getting off at the stop near Castelo de São Jorge. This means you don’t have to make the trek up all those hilly streets. Plus, you get a gorgeous panorama of the city as soon as you step off the tram!
Roaming around the Castelo
The 28 tram drops you off right by the stunning Miradouro de Santa Luzia — a viewpoint spanning the whole of Lisbon. On certain days, you’ll see cruise ships docked in the port. On any day, you’ll see a vast expanse of brick-red rooftops against a perfectly blue sky. This is the true magic of Lisbon to me: the views, the sunshine bouncing off the houses, the warm sea breeze. I could spend ages just taking in the view. You can, in fact: there are a few cafés and bars sprinkled around the place, ready for you to lounge around.
With no time to spare though, we decided to walk around instead. Every street corner is another postcard view: a steep staircase leading to a miradouro, a heavy lemon tree leaning out over a garden wall. A walk around the castle area makes you appreciate all Lisbon has to offer: an escape from reality in a splash of visual sensations.
At this point in the trip, you might decide to visit the inside of the castle. Entry costs around €10. I chose not to go that route, but I’m not writing it off. If you find yourself in Lisbon for longer than a weekend, this would be an excellent use of your time. But with only two full days, I prioritised wandering around outdoors and really exploring the city itself. The size of the unmoving ticket queue just affirmed what I already knew. So, after climbing up to the top, roaming around the grounds and photographing at least twenty yellow trams, we decided to change direction.
A trip to Belém is non-negotiable while in Lisbon
If you’ve started your research on Lisbon already, you might be wondering whether a trip to Belém is worth it. Sure, it’s a little out of the way, about a half an hour train or tram journey from the centre. But trust me, you want to fit this one in. I would come to Belém for the pasteis de nata alone. These are traditional Portuguese custard tarts with a caramelised top. Going straight to the source in Belém, where it all started, guarantees the freshest and most delicious pasteis de nata.
Catch a tram to Belém from Praça do Comércio, a large plaza lined with restaurants and shops. Get off when you see the crowded lines outside Pasteis de Belém — where X marks the spot on our treasure map. They have separate entrances for takeaway and sitting in. Make sure you go through the right door. And don’t worry, there’s far more seating inside than it first may seem.
There’s a vast menu full of local cakes and pastries, but I’d recommend trying the classic above all else. Nothing beats a warm custard pastry paired with a bitter espresso. And then another, and maybe one more after that. They’re too good to resist!
After you’ve stuffed yourself, head down to the Padrão dos Descobrimentos. This is a monument celebrating the explorers who set out on their travels from Lisbon, including Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan. It’s absolutely massive, and you can climb all the way to the top if you wish. Or you can take a seat on the edge of the water and pause to enjoy the sun on your face. With Vasco da Gama’s Ponte 25 de Abril bridge on your left, the view couldn’t be better!
Take a stroll (or a scoot) down the promenade
Next on the agenda is a walk down the promenade to the Belém Tower. You can also hire a scooter if that floats your boat — they’re absolutely everywhere in Lisbon. Just download the relevant app, unlock the scooter, and scoot away.
The Tower is a truly stunning piece of architecture that sprung up during the Portuguese Renaissance. It’s the point where explorers embarked and disembarked their ships. We arrived to the theme song of Game of Thrones, courtesy of a very talented violin player. Though I haven’t seen the show, I felt transported straight to that timeline. I mean, the place has a moat! What more do you need to feel like a royal?
You can go up into the tower — entry only costs €6, with a 50% discount for youth. It’s worth it to get a glimpse of the rooftop views.
Before you head back into the city, make sure to take in the lush greenery in the park area. What’s more heartwarming than seeing families picnicking and elderly couples walking hand in hand on a sunny afternoon? Perhaps seeing these cute scenes with an ice cream in hand.
Up next: Sintra
If you can spare a day for a trip to magical Sintra, make sure to read my separate blog post on the subject.
Famous for its mountaintop palaces and unparalleled views, Sintra is a resort town just a 40 minute train ride from the heart of Lisbon. For those looking for a more active and outdoorsy city break, the hiking trails here will be just the treat.
Both times I’ve visited Lisbon, I made visiting Sintra a top priority, and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I would recommend taking a trip to Sintra so heartily that I have written a whole post on the subject. If you’ve ever wanted to step right into a fairytale, make sure to give it a read.
(Blog post coming in a few days — watch this space!)
Roam and Wander
Bairro Alton, Baixa, Chiado and other walkable destinations
I don’t know about you, but I love dedicating at least a small portion of any trip to roaming freely. That’s when the real zest of a city reveals itself. It’s when you find the boutique shops, unique street art, and hole-in-the-wall eateries that make a trip feel like your own. Lisbon, being a very walkable city, is the perfect place to get lost and find treasures.
Last year, Aidan and I had a coffee at The Mill on a hazy afternoon. We were completely wrecked after our trip to Sintra, so we decided to take it easy and not make any plans for the day — just see where our legs take us. It was the best idea.
Wandering up the steep cobbled streets of Lisbon, we felt what it would be like to live there. We took in the faces of local people around us, smelled fresh flowers from the florist shopfronts, and even squeezed in a bit of shopping. Not to mention that every street corner and tiled façade formed a mosaic of the city in our minds.
The most recommended areas to roam freely in Lisbon are Bairro Alto, Baixa and Chiado. Each of these districts offers postcard views, traditional music and crafts that won’t disappoint. I would also take some time to wander over to the port area. Glittering sun and a warm sea breeze make for an easy afternoon that feels miles away from home.
And one last thing: don’t forget to at least look at the famous Elevador da Santa Justa. This iron-wrought elevator is a 19th-century industrial wonder and a truly unique tourist attraction. It has acted as a transport link between two levels of Lisbon for centuries — why not give it a go?
Italian food in Lisbon?
You won’t regret stopping by these Italian gems
I know many people have opinions on eating Italian food outside of Italy. And look, I do think eating local specialities should be a priority on any trip. But honestly? Finding places with vegetarian options that also suit the rest of the group can be a frustrating process. You can scour Happy Cow and Trip Advisor for hours and not come up with an option everyone loves. Plus, by the time you’re done, most places will have booked up for the night. Choosing a restaurant while hangry is not my idea of fun. So, I usually opt for at least one Italian dinner. Italian just has my back, you know? And my heart, too.
The best Italian food in Lisbon, in my humble opinion, can be found in Forno d’Oro Pizzeria. Their speciality is pizza, baked in a woodfire oven, with the most delicious fresh mozzarella di bufala and burrata cheeses. Their sauce is rustic and delicious, so I was glad I opted for a Margherita pizza this time around. Such a classic, especially when enjoyed with a glass of wine and homemade tiramisu for dessert.
What makes this restaurant extra special is the impeccable service. Book your table at least a day ahead to avoid disappointment!
Ready for dessert?
Since we’re on the theme of Italian food, I have one gelateria in mind that has people queuing around the corner. Gelateria Nannarella is an authentic Roman style gelateria that serves 100% natural gelato and sorbets. I got lucky this time — my accommodation was right around the corner, so it couldn’t have been more convenient.
They serve delicious fresh scoops of popular favourites as well as daily specials. Whether you’re a cone or cup kind of gal, you’ll find something you love here. My favourite part? A generous dollop of fresh cream on top. It perfectly complemented my strawberry gelato.
Nannarella is the kind of place that’s worth walking to, so if you find yourself a little out of the way, do consider making the trip. While you’re in the Principe Real area, don’t miss Foxtrot — an Art Nouveau cocktail bar hidden away in a Lisbon cellar. You’ll easily spot it by the Gatsby-esque mural marking the entrance.
If you’ve got some time to spare, why not pop into the Lisbon Botanical Gardens? It’s just a few minutes walking from Nannarella, so you can scoop and dash.
The ones that got away
The places I have yet to check off my Lisbon bucket list
A weekend is never enough time to experience everything a city has to offer. Sure, a jam-packed weekend city break allows you to sample the feel of a city and see its top-billed sights. A bittersweet part of its charm, though, is that it rarely leaves you satisfied. The first time I visited Lisbon, I left wanting more. This time around was no different. There are still so many parts of the city I want to visit one day. I thought I’d put them down here, partly to put them on the map for those of you with more time to spare, and partly to manifest them into my own future visits.
LX Factory Lisbon
I was gutted that I couldn’t fit LX Factory into my itinerary. Grand Tour Magazine describes this colourful industrial district as “cobbled streets lined with artists studios, shops, great bars and restaurants – LX Factory exemplifies local creative culture at its best.” Overlooking the 25 de Abril suspension bridge, this neighbourhood is a creative hub teeming with wonders. It’s also the perfect place to stop for some food or a drink in the evening. I’m a big fan of industrial design and reclaimed spaces, so I’ll have to dedicate some time to exploring LX Factory next time I visit. And I’m not going to lie, this is mainly due to one store in particular…
Ler Devagar has frequently been listed as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. Located in an old printing factory, it is not only a bookstore but an exhibition and event space. The name ‘Ler Devagar’ means “read slowly,” indicating that it’s the perfect place to find your next read and get a head start on it while sipping coffee.
If you’re a book lover like me, Portugal might already be on your bucket list. For example, you might like to visit Livraria Lello, the bookshop in Porto that inspired JK Rowling to write the Harry Potter series in the 1990s. But if you’re visiting Lisbon, Ler Devagar should definitely make its way into your itinerary. It’ll definitely headline mine next time around!
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MAAT is the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology in Lisbon. Housed in a gorgeous modern riverfront building, it features exhibitions by local as well as international artists, thinkers and architects. One of the main reasons to visit is the open outdoor space itself. If you’re a fan of modern architecture, make sure to add this to your list of places to visit, view and photograph.
Hiking to Cristo Rei
There’s only so many hikes you can fit into one city break. The hike to Sintra’s Pena Palace was my designated hike this time around. If I were to go again, I’d want to see the view from the other side of the city. You can take a ferry across the Tagus river from Cais do Sodre and hike all the way up to the Cristo Rei. This is a statue of Jesus facing the city of Lisbon, not unlike the one in Rio de Janeiro. You can even get to the top of the statue to admire the view for a €5 admission fee. Definitely one to consider if you have an afternoon to spare!
Heading to Lisbon any time soon? Let me know what places made the top of your bucket list! I hope you found some inspiration in this post to guide you on your trip to this magical city. And make sure to check out my Sintra guide (coming next week!) and Lisbon speciality coffee guide while you’re here too!
Also — you can check out all my Lisbon stories over on my Instagram highlight!
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