Lisbon is the capital of Portugal and is swiftly becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. Most Brits heading to the western side of the Iberian Peninsula tend to opt for a trip to the Algarve, the country’s southernmost region, which offers beautiful beaches and luxury resorts.
A Weekend in Lisbon
But Lisbon’s cobbled, hilly streets, numerous spectacular viewpoints and fascinating cultural sites make it a must-see destination for those seeking a bit more action from their holiday. If you’re thinking of going to Lisbon for a weekend away, check out this helpful guide to the best things to do and see.
Climb the Belém Tower
One of the most popular tourist spots in Lisbon is the Belém Tower. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was built in the 1500s as a fortress to guard the city’s harbour. Since then, it has functioned as both a prison and a lighthouse, but today it attracts visitors keen to learn about the history of Portugal’s maritime power. Arrive early to beat the queues, then head up the tower’s narrow staircase for gorgeous views out over the city and the River Tagus.
Explore the Jerónimos Monastery
Lisbon’s other World Heritage Site is the Jerónimos Monastery, a masterpiece of Portuguese Gothic architecture and one of the most ornate religious buildings in the country. As well as being easy on the eye, it’s a site of historical importance: Portugal’s best-know explorer, Vasco da Gama, spent his last night in Europe here before making his famous journey to India. The current structure was built to commemorate his successful return, and his tomb can still be seen inside the monastery.
Gaze up at the São Jorge Castle
Parts of Saint George’s Castle in Lisbon date all the way back to the 6th century, though the structure has undergone extensive restorations since then. This large building looms over the city below from the top of the São Jorge hill, and you won’t want to miss out on the views from here.
Walk up the hill (or take one of the city’s iconic yellow trams to save your legs!) and explore the battlements, then visit the castle’s museum and archaeological sites. When you’ve seen enough, find a good spot to watch the sun go down over the eastern side of the city. It’s just beautiful.
Go Underwater at the Oceanarium of Lisbon
Lisbon’s oceanarium is one of the largest aquariums in the world, and it’s a great place to take kids. With a large central tank that contains four distinct habitats, the oceanarium exhibits some of the most interesting animals that our planet’s waters have to offer, including otters, jellyfish, sharks and even a rare sunfish.
When you’re done, don’t forget to visit the nearby Telecabine, a cable car that runs along the river to give sweeping views of the famous Vasco da Gama bridge, the longest in Europe.
Sample Wines in the Praça do Comércio
The main square in Lisbon, the Praça do Comércio sits right on the waterfront and offers splendid views of the estuary. It’s an impressive plaza with a central location, so you’re sure to pass through it a number of times while you’re exploring the city. Once you’ve walked around the perimeter, go to Lisbon’s best-loved wine merchant, Vinhos de Portugal, to sample some local delights.
Relax in the Rossio
Another large square in Lisbon is the Rossio. Come here to sit down, relax and watch the world go by in one of its famous cafés – Café Nicola is probably the most popular and was once frequented by the elite intellectual classes of Lisbon. Join their ranks and recharge here with a glass of cold beer or a cup of strong coffee.
Eat and Drink Local Delicacies
Between your sightseeing stops, you’ll want to experience some of the best food and drink that Lisbon has to offer. If you’re in the area, make sure you stop at Pastéis de Belém for the best custard tart in the city – round-the-block queues should tell you that you’ve found the right place.
Other Portuguese delights include bolinhos de bacalhau (salt cod fritters) and sardines – both fresh and tinned are delicious. If you’re not a seafood fan, you’ll still be well catered for. Have a bifana sandwich, made with local pork, for lunch, then head to a churasscaria for some of the best peri-peri chicken you’ll ever taste.
Wash your food down with a cold glass of vinho verde, a deliciously light ‘green wine’ made from young grapes, and don’t forget to have a local port as a digestif after your meal. Locals also enjoy a glass of sangria on a warm night, so join them at rooftop bar Park for an evening of fun. It’s situated on top of a multistorey car park, but don’t let that put you off – you get great views over the city, and staff here know how to make a mean cocktail.
Lisbon is home to some of Portugal’s best cultural offerings. It’s a beautiful city to look at, and its laid-back vibe makes most tourists feel at ease as soon as they arrive. It’s not a place to rush around, so take your time, relax and enjoy your holiday!
Written by Chloe Lay