Lisbon, the city of seven hills, has a unique character and charm, different from most European capital cities. One afternoon a few weeks ago I stumbled across a deal to a top hotel in central Lisbon, that really was too good to miss. It did not take much persuasion for me to quickly book some flights. I had long yearned to visit Lisbon and here was an ideal opportunity to book a Lisbon city break.
Perfect Lisbon City Break
Here are my top 10 recommendations for a Lisbon city break. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!
1. Visit Castelo de São Jorge
Castelo de São Jorge is located at the top of one of Lisbon’s many hills. The castle as it stands today was built by the Moors, but archaeological digs in the castle grounds have found evidence of a castle at this site since the 2nd century BC. There is an entry charge of 7.50€ but I think it is worth every cent. The castle itself will take you a few hours to get around, and you can also visit the archaeological dig and the museum.
Being situated on top of a hill, it goes without saying that there are spectacular panoramic views from the castle. Once you have finished exploring the castle, enjoy a nice refreshing glass of Vinho Verde or an ice cold local beer, while sitting outside the castle’s cafe gazing out over the city. Not to be missed on a Lisbon city break!
2. Try some local food and drink
If you love food and drink as much as I do, you will not be disappointed in Lisbon. Everywhere you go there is an abundance of food, from delicious steaks to beautifully fresh seafood, and specialities such as breaded cod and corn cakes to custard tarts and Vinho Verde.
Fish such as cod and sardines are staples in Portugal and really should be sampled if you get the chance. Fresh fish usually prepared so simply, with no need for extravagant herbs and spices, as the Portuguese have an art of making such simple dishes taste delicious.
Small dishes such as breaded cod, corn cakes, chicken pies and spinach quiches which are often found in restaurants and cafes in the Baixa district cost as little as 2€ a dish should also be sampled. Afterwards why not try a traditional custard tart, either from the restaurant or you could find a street vendor?
I discovered Vinho Verde (Green Wine) while on this trip, and I couldn’t get enough of it. Vinho Verde is from the north of the country and is a lightly sparking young wine usually consumed within a year of bottling. If you haven’t already experienced Vinho Verde, and if you like your wines like I do, then I’m sure you will love it.
3. Get lost in Alfama
The district of Alfama is the oldest in Lisbon, nestled on the hillside between Castelo de São Jorge (St George’s Castle) and the Tegus River. Alfama is a maze of narrow streets and alleys which lead to small traditional praças (squares) and miradouros (terraces) that have breathtaking views over the city and down to the river. It’s worth spending a few hours, or an afternoon just getting lost in the winding alleys and streets, appreciating the intricate architecture and picturesque tiled buildings. Find a local cafe, have a drink, or maybe a bite to eat as well. Just take the time to enjoy the simple things in life which are so apparent in this area of the city.
To get to Alfama you can walk from the city centre in about 20-30 minutes, or if you’re not feeling that energetic you could take a cab or bus, or hop on tram number 12 or 28. During our Lisbon city break we visited the Alfama district a few times, mostly by foot, but we did have to try the famous Lisbon tram just once. As well as the stunning views from Alfama, you can also visit the Portuguese Decorative Arts Museum, Castelo de São Jorge, Lisbon Cathedral and take in the the stunning views from Miradouro de Santa Luzia.
Ride the Tram on your Lisbon City Break!
4. Take a ride on tram 28
A visit to Lisbon is incomplete without a trip on the vintage yellow trolley tram, Eléctrico 28. The journey begins at Praça Martim Moniz, and takes about 40 minutes, winding its way up and down the hills of central Lisbon. You can either sit down and relax, enjoying the sights on the way, or hop on and off as you please as you explore further.
The tram costs 2.85€ for a single, or you can buy a day ticket for about 6€. Tram 28 runs on average 4 times an hour, with the last service leaving at 21:15. If tram 28 tram is busy, tram number 12 runs the along much of the same route as the 28, through the Alfama region of the city. Be prepared for a bumpy ride as these ancient trams lurch and grind through the winding streets of Lisbon, just like they have been doing for the last 80 years. A ride on the tram during on Lisbon city break is highly recommened!
5. Visit Mude Museu
The Mude Museu (Mude Museum) is located in an old converted bank in the Baixa district of the city, just moments away from Praça do Comércio. The Museum is open 10:00 – 18:00, Tuesday through to Sunday and the entry is free.
Mude showcases iconic design and fashion items from the last century, from furniture items by names such as Charles and Ray Eames, Verner Panton, Marcel Breuer and Thonet, to fashion statements by Dior, Channel and Christian LaCroix. As well as these items there are items such as the first model of a Dyson vacuum, a 1959 BMW Isetta, a classic Vespa and even prototype kitchen utensils from Ikea along with their original CAD drawings. I’m sure there is something here that will please everyone, so why not spend a few hours here when you’re visiting this beautiful city?
Take in the views on your Lisbon City Break
6. Take in the views at Miradouro de Santa Luzia
Lisbon has many Miradouros, or terraces dotted around the city’s many hills, all with spectacular views over the city, river, or both. The most stunning of all must be the view from Miradouro de Santa Luzia. This beautiful Miradouro is located on the side of a hill, a few minutes walk from Castelo de São Jorge, and can be reached easily by foot or tram number 28 or 12.
If you take the tram, just look for the stop Miradouro de Santa Luzia. Here the small square, with a few restaurants and a drinks vendor, that looks out over Alfama and the river. Linger here for a drink in the sun.
7. Lisbon Cathedral
Construction began on Sé de Lisboa (Lisbon Cathedral) in 1147 by order of Portugal’s first King, and was built on the site of an ancient mosque. The cathedral itself has been updated and modified over the years and is a blend of different styles of architecture. The cathedral is the oldest church in Lisbon, and has survived many major earthquakes in its time, including the great quake of 1755 which devastated much of Lisbon.
The cathedral is located in the Alfama district, and is open daily from 9:00 – 19:00. Entry is free but if you wish to visit the cloisters this will cost you 2.50€. From the outside the cathedral looks like a medieval stone castle, but the inside oozes romanesque-gothic style architecture. The ceiling is absolutely breathtaking, with such intricate detailing and beautiful colours. This cathedral deserves a visit if you are in the area, even if you can only spare a few moments.
Eating on a Lisbon City Break
8. Dinner in Bairro Alto District
The Bairro Alto district is Lisbon’s bohemian haunt for artists and writers, and some say it is possibly one of the best spots in Europe for a night out. It’s also known by the locals as the best place to eat in Lisbon, or so I was told by a member of staff at our hotel.
On our last night in Lisbon we strolled from the hotel down to the Bairro Alto district to find somewhere to have dinner. We found a place called Floresta Da Cidade, located down Travessa do Poço d Cidade, a narrow pedestrian alleyway. There were so many restaurants around here to choose from, but for some reason this one grabbed our attention.
It wasn’t the warmest of evenings but we decide to sit outside anyway, as many others were doing so. We sat at a small table on the side of this alley. The table wasn’t level but we didn’t care because there was such a warm and welcoming feeling from this quaint traditional Portuguese restaurant. We ordered a bottle of their house red, and as I have found in many other places on the continent, it really was quite nice. I ordered something I had had in Portugal many years ago when I was a child: steak on the stone. I was told to cut the steak into small strips and to cook them on the stone. Even such a simple dish turned out to be so delicious. A meal in Bairro Alto comes very highly recommended.
9. Portuguese Decorative Arts Museum
Museu De Artes Decorativas Portuguesas (The Portuguese Decorative Arts Museum) can be found in the square at the Miradouro de Santa Luzia. The entry fee is 4€ and they are open daily from 10:00-17:00, but please note they are closed for lunch.
The museum is set in a 17th century Portuguese palace, and each room you visit is laid out how the room would have been hundreds of years ago, with artefacts from the 15th through to the 19th century, including furniture, paintings, ceramics, jewellery and textiles.
10. Elavador de Santa Justa
As well as the Electrico’s of Lisbon, the Elavador de Santa Justa was built so people could easily access the Carmo area from the Baixa area of the city. The Elavador’s construction was first discussed in 1874, and was completed in 1902. If you have a Lisbon card or daily card for the metro you can ride for free, or you can pay the lift attendant for a return journey at a cost of 5€.
Now although the views from the various Miradouros around the Alfama region and from Castelo de São Jorge are spectacular, and even though the Elavador de Santa Justa is nowhere near as high, the view from the top of this lift is breathtaking. I think it’s because of the lift’s close proximity to the city centre that gives it such a unique view over central Lisbon. Totally worth spending 5€ for the view. While you are up in the Carmo area, why not visit the ruins of the ancient Church of our Lady of the Carmo Hill, followed by a cool refreshing glass of Vinho Verde in the square afterwards?
Well, I hope these ten things have tempted you to visit the city of seven hills. As I sit here and write this review, having fallen totally in love with Lisbon, I have already booked another trip to Portugal, this time to visit the northern city or Porto.
Porto – I hope you impress me as much as Lisbon!