Planning a trip to Lisbon? Get some inspiration on what to do while you’re there with our idea of a perfect three-day itinerary. History, culture, entertainment, restaurants… Pack it all in at a comfortable pace and don’t miss a thing!
On 1 November 1755, Lisbon was shaken by a violent earthquake that completely destroyed around 85% of the city. It was not just the Portuguese capital that suffered, however. The whole of Europe was affected, devastated by this calamity which was to undermine public optimism and faith. And yet, Lisbon was to rise from the ashes more beautiful than before, as if proof that humanity can overcome any obstacle.
To begin your exploration of Lisbon, head first to the Alfama district, by the sea. This is the city’s oldest district – one of the few to have survived the earthquake – and it is made up of a warren of tiny streets. Alfama is undoubtedly one of the most romantic urban settings in the world. Internationally known for its abundance of fado, a traditional Portuguese music style, don’t miss the opportunity to explore the neighbourhood in the evening: step into any bar, and you will find the melancholy of Saudades is best savoured with a glass of wine.
This area is also home to the Castle of São Jorge from which you can enjoy one of the best views across the city and the estuary. You can visit the Cathedral, which was built in the twelfth century on the site of a mosque, marking the victory of Catholicism during the Reconquista. It may be its violent origins which have lent it such a fortified air.
From the top of the Alfama, right in front of the cathedral, take the number 28 tram. This line takes you on a tour of all the historical areas of the city and means you won’t get too tired. The tram is much used by the locals, and you will no doubt experience the enthusiasm and kindness of the Portuguese on your journey.
After your tour around the city, and having stopped for something to eat, perhaps one of the typical dishes such as cod salad, head on to the Praça do Comercio. This is the largest square in Lisbon, located in the Pembaline district, at the heart of the city. From the square, turn to the north, and explore this area that was completely rebuilt after the earthquake and which is now a Unesco World Heritage Site. You will discover the Santa Justa Elevator, designed in a style reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower. It will take you up to the Bairro Alto, and from the top you can enjoy a beautiful panorama.
In the evening, return to the Alfama, slipping through the door of a fado bar, and enjoy a ginjinha, a cherry liqueur, as you look out at the boats in the bay, much like Fernando Pessoa composing his Naval Ode.
The next day you will head to Belém, a district situated to the west of the city which is easily reached by tram. The area is best known for being the starting point for many Portuguese adventurers and exporters, including Vasco da Gama.
The Jeronimos Monastery is one of the major historical buildings in Belém. It reflects the wealth and power of Portugal after the success of its period of maritime discovery and exploration. It’s also the most successful example of Manueline art, and emphasizes Portugal’s great power in the fifteenth century. The Belém Tower, on the banks of the Tagus, is another of the main examples of this style.
After enjoying the Jardim de Belém, a great spot for a picnic, next to the monastery, you can visit the Berardo Museum, which contains a unique collection amassed by Portuguese businessman José Berardo. Entry is free of charge, and you can admire works by Picasso, Andy Warhol, Dali, Lichtenstein, Mondrian, Pollock and Malevich.
In the evening, you can either choose a chic restaurant, such as Aurea which is located on the Praça do Cemercio, or go up to the Bairro Alto to Sinal Vermelho, a top quality traditional restaurant.
For your third day, first make your way to Bairro Alto, one of the most picturesque areas of the city where you will find many typical shops and pretty little houses. This is an ideal place for a memorable stroll. With its bohemian atmosphere, Bairro Alto is also one of the main hotspots of Lisbon nightlife.
Near here, on Mount Olivete, you can relax with a visit to the botanical garden, which has species from all around the world, as well as a particularly interesting waterfall irrigation system.
For lunch, head down to the Mirador de Sao Pedro de Alcantara, which provides a beautiful setting. From here you can see right across the city centre.
In the afternoon, head north and discover the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, which bears the name of the passionate collector who collected these 6000 pieces over a period of 40 years. The museum is divided into two sections of equal interest: one is devoted to classical and oriental art while the other is devoted to sculpture and European painting from the eleventh to the twentieth century.
On your last night in Lisbon, it’s time to sample the Portuguese festive spirit, parties usually starting late and finishing at dawn. You’ll find it all happening in the Bairro Alto or on the banks of the Tagus where there is a profusion of bars and nightclubs each with a very different atmosphere. To listen to live music, head to the Music Box, which offers live music every night from Tuesday to Saturday.
After getting to know Lisbon, it may be a wrench to leave "Lisa" as the city is affectionately called by its inhabitants. With traditional charm, picturesque streets, passionate bursts of fado and an active nightlife, the city promises a holiday that combines culture, relaxation and discoveries. If you have the opportunity to spend a little more time in the Portuguese capital, don’t pass up the opportunity to visit Sintra, an entire town declared a Unesco World Heritage monument, located just 25 kilometres north of the capital.