(Editor’s note: This post on Lisbon is the latest in a series of quick-trips we believe better reflect the expat lifestyle in Europe.)
Even though I believe that there is so much more to Lisbon than can be enjoyed over a weekend trip, sometimes we do not really have time to do more per city, or we only need to go somewhere for the weekend.
Lisbon is doable in two or three days, but this short time has to be planned wisely to make the most of it.
Skip spending too much time indoors
No one else would tell you this. Everyone would recommend entering the Castle of Sao Jorge, the Jerónimos monastery, The Gulbenkian Museum, etc. I understand that completely as they are all cool places to visit.
However, in my personal opinion, Lisbon’s real charm is its outdoor life.
I would prefer to go on long strolls by the Tejo River, explore the historical Alfama (Lisbon’s oldest neighborhood which wasn’t destroyed by the 1755 earthquake), go to the neighborhood of Belem for the famous Portuguese custard tarts (pasteis de nata) as well as the Tower of Belem, and enjoy the beautiful
viewpoints (miradouros) for which Lisbon is known.
Lisbon is about enjoying the moment
Lisbon is not a city with a long list of attractions to cross out.
Lisbon is a way of being, a way of doing things. It has a relaxed, slower pace of life which allows both its residents and guests to enjoy the moment.
Don’t be surprised if customer service in shops or restaurants is not very quick (for me this was never a problem as I am Egyptian and I am used to things done at an even more relaxed pace).
This is part of the Lisbon experience, to spend two hours having lunch in a sunny outdoor terrace and three hours having dinner in a traditional Portuguese tasca. Therefore, I would prefer to do less in Lisbon, even if I am only visiting for a weekend, and get into the chill pace of the city than run around from one end of the city to another taking loads of pictures.
Plan transportation to save time
The Metro is quite efficient in Lisbon. And Uber is quite popular and affordable. However, if I am only in the city for a brief visit, I will avoid the buses, if possible. It is not uncommon for a bus to be a bit late because of the traffic. They could also take longer on the way than planned because of protests (which are likely to occur on the weekend) or simply because of the rush hour. This also happens when it rains heavily in Lisbon.
You will save a lot of time if you stick to the Metro or Uber. For people with limited mobility or for those who want to see too much of the city in a short time, there are always many tuk-tuks available in the downtown area.
Here’s the link to the Lisbon Metro website.
If you are spending too much on food, you are probably skipping on authentic Portuguese dining
A Portuguese tasca (the name for a typical Portuguese restaurant) is never expensive (the exceptions are places serving seafood). Only tourist traps are overpriced. You can have a three-course meal with drinks in my favorite Portuguese tasca, O Mondego for a bit less than 15 euros!
Watch and listen to some Fado
Fado is just magical! It is a traditional Portuguese style of music. The vocalist often sings melancholic lyrics of longing and romance accompanied with a Portuguese guitar and a mandolin. Something is really overpowering about being in the presence of a Fado performance. It is definitely something to watch and not only something to listen to.
A possible itinerary for a weekend trip:
• A walk which starts from the downtown area of (Baixa-Chiado)
• The Elevator of Santa Justa
• Rossio (with its main square of Praça da Figueira)
• Confeitaria Nacional for coffee and pastries (where King Dom Luis I of Portugal used to get his pastries)
• Commerce Square
• Take the famous 28E tram to Alfama (It is always crowded so be prepared for a queue)
• Enjoy the viewpoint of Portas do Sol
• Walk around Alfama (Pack comfortable walking shoes for Lisbon)
• Walk around the Castle of Sao Jorge
• The Lisbon Cathedral
• The Church of Sao Roque
• Walk around the neighborhood of Graça
• Enjoy the viewpoint of Nossa Senhora do Monte
• Drink Portuguese craft beer at Oitava Colina
• A walk downhill for dinner at Ramiro (the best seafood place in town)
If you have an extra day to spare, I would recommend dedicating it for the beautiful town of Sintra as it has beautiful castles and scenic hikes.
• Pasteis de Belem (You can find them all over Lisbon, but these are the best in town)
• The Tower of Belem
• The Monastery of Belem (you don’t have to go inside)
• LX Factory (to enjoy the market and have lunch)
• Tasca do Chico for a Fado performance
• Dinner at O Mondego (or any traditional tasca of choice)
The really amazing thing is that the above itinerary could be done for less than 300 euros for two people. Lisbon is also a budget-friendly destination and a great way to rejuvenate before the start of the week.
Read more about Lisbon here in Dispatches’ archives.