Seven hills and a thousand surprises, Lisbon is cosmopolitan and decadent, charming and romantic, full of fun and flavour. 48 hours is not long, but it’s enough to get a taste of the capital city of Portugal. Grab your camera and some comfy shoes. The countdown starts here. We have a city to explore.
You don’t have to get up too early, you’re on holiday after all, so set the alarm for 9am, the perfect time to eat your way through the hostel’s breakfast menu (you need to charge your batteries for the day ahead). Yes, we already know that it’s going to be hard to leave your new hostel, especially as Lisbon’s best hostels are some of the best in the world, but it will be worth your while to step outside. We promise.
In the morning, your best option is a stroll through Baixa. This is Lisbon’s most central district and a prelude to a blind date where, just to let you know, you are going to fall in love.
To name just a few of the things you can do in this area; wander down Rua Augusta and cross through the triumphal arch, take a look at Comércio Square and the Tagus river, carry on down Rua da Prata to Figueira Square, until you reach Rossio Square, famous for the undulating pattern of its black and white mosaic paving. And don’t forget to check out the Santa Justa lift, the fastest (but not the cheapest) way of reaching the city’s Bairro Alto upper district. You can forget about the Bairro Alto for now though, we have other plans…
… nothing more and nothing less than exploring one of Lisbon’s most authentic and undiscovered districts: Mouraria.
Formed by hundreds of winding alleyways, where the locals can be seen hanging their washing on the balconies, Mouraria feels like a small Portuguese village with a multicultural soul in the heart of Lisbon. But the magic doesn’t end there: Mouraria is the birthplace of Fado, Portugal’s traditional music, that has been known to evoke a state of ‘saudade’ nostalgia in more than one person. The story goes that the creator of this musical genre was Severa, a prostitute who lived in this district and who attracted her clients with her songs and their melancholic and nostalgic melodies. Between the walls of Rua do Capelão, you can see photos, graffiti and paintings dedicated to her and the best Portuguese Fado artists.
Photo: María Severa on a wall in Mouraria by Brisid H. (via Flickr)
Before you leave Mouraria, we recommend that you check out the bar ‘Os Amigos da Savera’ (‘Friends of Savera’) for a shot of ginjinha (€1), Lisbon’s traditional cherry liqueur. Located at Rua do Capelão 32.
You’ll need to eat lunch, right? Avoid anywhere popular with tourists and follow Lisbon’s locals: if a bar is full of them, it’s a good sign. Lisbon isn’t an expensive city, so it’s easy to find good, cheap places. That said, remember that most restaurants open from 12 noon to 2pm and if you want to save yourself a few Euro cents, you should opt for the prato do día (€4-6), and avoid the appetisers served in many restaurants such as cheese, olives, bread, paté… they aren’t free.
One great place is Reviravolta, a snack bar serving small beers for €1 and home made daily menus at great prices. It is located on Rua Bacalhoeiros 16, in the Alfama district, which we will explore with a full tummy.
Alfama, the old fishing district, is one of the most interesting areas of Lisbon. Here you can wander through streets full of history, take a look at the Casa do Bicos with its original facade, Lisbon Cathedral, the stunning Santa Luzia lookout with its tiled wall and the nearby Portas do Sol lookout that offers impressive views over Lisbon.
Photo: Emilio García via Flickr
Take a moment to rest a while, since you have a steep 600 metre climb ahead to São Jorge Castle (entry €7.50 adults, €4 students). As you can imagine, it’s worth the effort: you’ll have the whole of Lisbon at your feet, with its orange roofs and white alleyways.
Now is the time to return to the hostel: take a while to lie on the bed and rest your limbs, chill out and chat with other travellers, and get ready for a night out, Lisbon style. By the way, did we mention that this district features some of the coolest hostels in all of Lisbon?
When the sun sets, Lisbon’s happiest and most fun side awakens. If you don’t know where to go, we’ll remove any trace of doubt: Bairro Alto is the perfect place. Dispersed among its alleyways you will discover small bars full of atmosphere. Let fate decide which one to enter, and have a couple of beers while you meet travellers from all over the world, or drink a toast with a caipirinha while you make friends with a chilled group of local students.
Photo: Bairro Alto by Raquel Almeida
For a quick dinner, a good idea is to head to the O Trevo bar, on Luís de Camões Square, where it is said that they have the best bifanas (pork sandwiches) in all of Lisbon (€2).
An original idea is to join in with one of the city’s many pub crawls. They cost around €15 and include free shots at each bar, a 90 minute open bar with beer and sangria, entry to a fashionable club and, most importantly, it will allow you to discover authentic places with other travellers like you. Cool!
We suspect that you may hit the snooze button a few times today, but don’t worry, you’re forgiven (after all, we are responsible for last night’s antics). But don’t lie in too long: this morning you’ll be visiting one of the most interesting districts in Lisbon, Belém, which features some of the city’s best attractions. This is the case for the Jerónimos Monastery, a stunning building erected to celebrate Vasco da Gama’s return from India, Belém Tower which in the past was used as a defence tower, customs centre and even a lighthouse, the Monument to the Discoveries, from where you can see stunning views of the Compass Rose, a mosaic with a diameter of 50 metres representing a world atlas.
Photo: Pastéis de Belém, Rua de Belém, 84-92
While the district of Belém used to be famous for being the departure point of the explorers towards the New World, now it’s famous for a whole new reason: modern travellers come to explore this area of the city in search of the Pastéis de Belém. In this bakery, decorated with traditional white and blue tiles, you can try the famous ‘pastéis de Belém’, small custard tarts (€1) that will have you licking your fingers. Located at Rua de Belém 84.
In the afternoon you have a date with Lisbon’s most bohemian district: Chiado, Portugal’s ‘Montmartre’, with its streets full of terraces, cafés, churches and interesting shops. Don’t miss Rua Garrett, the Bertrand bookshop which opened in 1732, or the ruins of the Carmo Convent, destroyed by an earthquake in 1755. And especially, if you like literature, take a visit to the famous Café A Brasileira, where Fernando Pessoa used to write. We can’t guarantee that inspiration will suddenly hit you, but you will undoubtedly enjoy a delicious coffee.
Photo: Chiado by Session27 (via Flickr)
If you decide to stay in this area for lunch, a great option is Sabores na Travessa, at Travessa da Queimada 36. The menu of the day, with a main dish and drink, costs around €5-8. Another tasty option is Pastelaria Camões, an authentic Portuguese bakery serving delicious, cheap dishes. Find it at Rua do Loreto, 63/65.
Luís de Camões Square marks the border between Chiado and Bairro Alto. Worth far more than its bars, clubs and parties, it deserves to be discovered in the light of day. Its reward takes the form of graffiti, corners full of charm and one of the best lookouts in Lisbon: São Pedro de Alcântara. View the sunset from here on high; the perfect ending to a perfect trip.
If yesterday we explored Bairro Alto, with its youthful and fun party atmosphere, today we suggest a more relaxed, but equally unforgettable alternative: attend a Fado show. The best areas for this are Alfama and Mouraria, although the Tasca do Chico in Bairro Alto is a great alternative if you want to stay on for a few drinks after. Fado shows start at 9pm and are free (you just have to pay for your food and drinks). We do recommend that you book, since they are often busy. A 100% authentic Lisbon experience, which will make your hair stand on end and you will remember forever.
We hope you’ve enjoyed your trip and now you know: come back! There are always more things to do in Lisbon.
Photo: Comércio Square
Tips for your first trip to Lisbon
- If you want to save money, forget about the Santa Justa lift, you can go up to Chiado/Bairro Alto for free. Simply enter the metro at Chiado and follow signs to Luís de Camões Square. It’s super quick to use the escalators to move between Baixa and Chiado/Bairro Alto.
- A great option to travel between Lisbon’s key points is tram 28. But take care: look out for pickpockets. Even though Lisbon is a safe city, there are often plenty of them on tram 28… as you know, wherever there are tourists there are pickpockets! A single trip costs €2.85 so if you are thinking of using the tram, buses or metro, you will save money by buying an unlimited travel pass (€6) which lasts 24 hours.
- If you like urban art, you’ll love Lisbon: you’ll find murals, graffiti and interventions throughout Mouraria, Alfama and Bairro Alto. We also recommend a trip to Avenida Fontes Pereira de Melo, where a few urban artists have painted the facades of abandoned buildings… the murals are amazing!
Photo: Belém Tower
– We advise that you visit Belém on Sunday mornings: both Jerónimos Monastery and Belém Tower are free from 10am to 2pm.