When you have a capital city of a country such as Portugal, a country so very rich in history and architecture, you know that visiting such a city is bound to be an amazing experience. Oh, yes – Lisbon has so much to offer that you will fall in love with it instantly. In fact, there is so much to see that one day in this city almost isn’t enough to experience it properly. Almost. With a reliable itinerary in your hand (or phone), you will see the most important sights, discover many interesting places, and see firsthand what makes Portugal’s capital so special. Follow these tips for an amazing day in Lisbon!
What’s the best time to visit Lisbon, Portugal?
Thanks to its position on the Atlantic Ocean but also close to the Mediterranean, Lisbon boasts a fairly mild climate. Do note, however, that summers here can get very hot and are usually quite dry, but generally, the city is great to visit all year round. If we had to choose, however, we’d say that the best time to visit Lisbon is during months like May, June and September, when the heat is not that pronounced. If you want to enjoy the beaches, though, the latter two months are an especially good option.
As for the events, if you can be in town at the beginning of June for the Festas dos Santos Populares, you will get to experience loads of fun, and on the 12th of June, there is a huge carnival in the city. Nos Alive is a huge rock festival in July, whereas Festival Santa Casa Alfama celebrates the music genre of fado, and fashion lovers will want to check out Moda Lisboa in March. However, these are all just some of the big annual events that take place in the city, so no matter what your interests are, you will be able to find something to enjoy.
A few facts about Lisbon
With approximately 550,000 people within its city limits, Lisbon is one of the smaller capital cities in Europe. However, the wider urban area of the city is home to 2.7 million people, which puts it just outside the top 10 most populous urban areas in the EU.
You may be surprised to know that Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world, with traces of a Phoenician settlement from 1200 BC being present in the city center. When compared to other European capitals, only Athens is older.
Lisbon is said to have been founded by none other than Ulysses.
In the city, there is a special school in which students are taught the art of creating all those black and white pavements you see everywhere in the city. It’s an art form that can also be seen in former Portuguese colonies.
Vasco Da Gama Bridge in Lisbon is the longest bridge in the EU, and its length is a whopping 12 kilometers (about 7.5 miles).
A huge earthquake hit Lisbon in 1755 and almost completely wiped it off the face of the Earth. Not only that, but the quake was followed by a devastating tsunami. Just goes to show how powerful nature can be.
One day in Lisbon Itinerary
So, you’ve arrived to spend one day in Lisbon, eh? Well, you’re lucky because this is an absolutely amazing city to visit! However, sometimes it can be a bit challenging to include all the most important places and sights into your schedule. Here’s an itinerary that will help you do just that!
Start exploring in Alfama District
Alfama District is at the very heart of Lisbon, so there’s no better way to get to know the city than to head there early in the morning and just take a walk among its picturesque streets. And there are plenty of nice cafes around if you need your coffee to start the day right.
The red roofs and the white walls of the buildings around here under the sun and right on the Atlantic shore create a feeling very few other places can match. This part of the city is a great place to get a sense of what Lisbon is, but it’s also great because it helps you get to some important landmarks.
Climb up to St. George’s Castle
As you’re exploring Alfama District, at some point you will notice a citadel looking down on you from above. That’s St. George’s Castle, and you’d do well to set some time aside to visit it. The place is more than 2000 years old and has stood here and seen countless rulers change.
Its mighty towers still stand tall, and the view from the walls is nothing short of breathtaking. Yes, the climb may require some effort, but it will be well worth it in the end!
See the Lisbon Cathedral
To the south of Alfama District, you will find the Lisbon Cathedral. Now, this is a Portuguese national monument, and that in and of itself tells you a lot about this building’s importance. Its construction started in 1147 and lasted well over 50 years, but the cathedral has been renovated several times since then and thus has features of many different styles embedded into it. Additionally, the cathedral has been a rich source of archaeological evidence recently, which makes it all the more important and impressive.
Explore the Museu do Fado
If you want to learn about Lisbon and Portugal in general, you have to get to know the music genre known as fado. And what better way to do that than to go and visit the Museum of Fado? It’s fairly close to the cathedral and will teach you everything you need to know about this type of somewhat melancholic music that is so typical of Portuguese culture.
It’s also worth mentioning that the cafe which is a part of the museum often hosts fado concerts, so with a bit of luck, you might be treated to quite a show.
Stop for lunch
By now you must be getting hungry, and if you’re thinking about lunch you certainly won’t be disappointed because Lisbon has plenty of great restaurants. Augusto Lisboa is a perfect choice if you’re looking for something quick and simple or if you want to have brunch, whereas Gambrinus is a good place if you want to taste some authentic Portuguese dishes.
Ramiro is a family-owned restaurant where you can enjoy some great seafood, and Taberna Sal Grosso is a pleasant tavern with a varied and incredibly tasty menu. Of course, there are many other eateries apart from these, so feel free to explore. You’re bound to find an excellent place to eat.
Head to Belem
After lunch, it’s time to head to Belem. Why? Because this is the home to the majestic Tower of Belem (Torre de Belem), arguably the most attractive landmark in the whole city. When it was first constructed, at the beginning of the 16th century, it had a primary defensive purpose, but with time this magnificent tower became a customs office and eventually a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You can climb to the top of the tower to enjoy some incredible views, but just seeing it out in the water and connected to the mainland by a small bridge will leave quite an impression. And if you’re getting here from Alfama District, tram line 15E will get you here quite quickly and easily.
Visit the Monastery of Jeronimos
But the famed tower is not the only thing Belem has to offer. Close by is the Monastery of Jeronimos, an incredible complex that is also a UNESCO site. You’ll see why as soon as you lay your eyes on it – it is an architectural masterpiece that took more than a century to complete and was constructed to celebrate the peak of Portugal’s power during the so-called Age of Exploration.
Loads of greenery around here make this a wonderful place for a walk, but even without this, the monastery is quite a sight to behold and one of the most important landmarks in Lisbon.
Prepare to be amazed by Lisbon’s Oceanarium
After you’ve explored Belem a bit (and hopefully enjoyed a Belem pastry along the way), a fun way to end your one day in Lisbon is to go and visit the Oceanarium. There are thousands of animals there, from sharks to penguins and even corals, you could spend hours just in this one place. Especially because they also have a lagoon which you can explore with a pedalo if you want.
It’s a great place for the whole family, and there are plenty of opportunities to learn a lot about our oceans, especially about the Atlantic, to which Lisbon is inextricably linked. You can get here from Belem by car in about 20 minutes, but there’s also a bus that can take you straight to the Oceanarium.
Relax in the evening
Once the sun sets, you have plenty of options in Lisbon. I’ve already mentioned some of the great restaurants in this itinerary, but if you want something more high-end for your dinner, Alma is the perfect place to visit because it is a two-star Michelin restaurant.
When it comes to the city’s nightlife, Incognito is a very good club to visit, and the same goes for Plateau. Naturally, there are plenty of bars in Lisbon, too – Pensao Amor is considered by many to be the best in town, but Gin Lovers Bar & Restaurant, Delirium Cafe and Foxtrot also deserve to be mentioned. In short, if you want to enjoy your evening here, there are more than enough ways to do so.
Where to stay in Lisbon?
EPIC SANA Marques Hotel
Av. Fontes Pereira de Melo, 8, Santo Antonio, 1069-310 Lisbon
Looking for a place where you can spend your one day in Lisbon in style? EPIC SANA Marques Hotel is that and a whole lot more. You can arrange a taxi to come and pick you up at the airport for free, the rooms are wonderful and comfortable, plus the wellness center has plenty to offer, including a Turkish bath. On top, on the 12th floor, there is an infinity pool and a Japanese restaurant and bar from which you can enjoy a spectacular view. Mind you, there’s a great Italian restaurant here, too. A perfect place to stay!
Lisboa Carmo Hotel
Rua da Oliveira ao Carmo 1-3, Santa Maria Maior, 1200-307 Lisbon
Lisboa Carmo Hotel is another fantastic place to stay, right in the heart of the city. A big plus is that you will be close to the subway station, and the classic interior provides quite an exquisite feel to the hotel. Each room is very comfortable and comes with a minibar and coffee/tea-making machine, and many of the rooms feature wonderful views of the city. Oh, and the breakfast is absolutely divine! It’s a wonderful hotel in every sense, and as soon as you step in, you’ll know you’ve made a good decision by choosing it.
Hotel Riverside Alfama
Rua dos Bacalhoeiros, 12, Santa Maria Maior, 1100-070 Lisbon
An incredibly quaint and charming place, Hotel Riverside Alfama boasts a fantastic location in the city center and offers plenty of amenities to its guests. The rooms are very comfortable and all have private bathrooms which come with plenty of toiletries, and the area around the hotel is teeming with great restaurants. The staff will go out of their way to help you with anything you need, and there’s a metro stop very close by. Honestly, it’s very hard to find a hotel in Lisbon that offers better value than this.
We Hate F Tourists
Rua Capitão Renato Baptista 88, Arroios, 1150-087 Lisbon
Don’t let the name of this Lisbon hostel scare you, We Hate F Tourists is a great place to stay if you’re looking for this kind of accommodation. There’s a bar, a fitness center and a wonderful terrace with loads of greenery where you can really relax and enjoy yourself and soak in a fantastic view. Clean rooms and the location in a neighborhood where there aren’t too many people are also some big pluses, not to mention the kind hosts. As good as hostels come!
Day trips from Lisbon
While Lisbon certainly has a lot to offer, it’s also a great starting point for some wonderful day trips. Thanks to the city’s excellent connections, it’s fairly easy to reach other parts of Portugal. If you have time for that, here are some of the places you should seriously consider visiting.
Spending one day in Coimbra is a great idea for several reasons. This university city has a lot of incredible history to offer and was actually Portugal’s capital before Lisbon was awarded the honor. The incredible Biblioteca Joanina, the Old and the New Cathedral, great nightlife… This day trip from Lisbon has it all!
Much closer than Coimbra (about 30 kilometers), Sintra is a UNESCO World Heritage cultural landscape that boasts some incredible palaces and a Moorish castle from the 10th century. Not only that, but the nature around here is quite breathtaking, so the trip should definitely be a memorable one. The sights in Sintra are too numerous to enumerate in a paragraph like this, but know that you won’t ever regret making this day trip from Lisbon.
What was once a humble fishing village is today one of the most popular day trip destinations from Lisbon because King Luis I made the place his home in the 17th century. After that, lavish palaces began springing up, and today Cascais is a wonderfully unique and charming place that still has the power to relax its visitors and enchant them with the beauty of the Atlantic ocean. Come here, and you will recharge your batteries.
One of the most famous and important pilgrimages a Catholic can make is the one to Fatima. This is where the Virgin Mary appeared to three little children in 1917 on several occasions. So, visiting Fatima is quite a unique experience if this sort of thing interests you, especially with the huge basilica and the square in front of it. Definitely, a very interesting choice.
Extra tips for visiting Lisbon
- Lisboa Card is very much worth picking up if you’re planning to spend an active day in Lisbon. It provides you with free access to many important sights and museums, but it also allows you to use public transport for free. Last but not least, it also means you can get a train ride to Sintra or Cascais for free – a great thing for a day trip, too!
- You may find that places that are more oriented towards locals and not tourists do not always accept credit cards. So, it’s always good to have some cash on you, especially if you want to visit restaurants or bars where mostly locals come. Just make sure it’s safely stored.
- Uber is quite cheap around here, so it can be a good way to get around if you don’t want to bother with public transport.
- Be careful when getting a taxi to or from the airport. It should cost you about 15 EUR to reach the city, so be careful about the price and don’t allow yourself to be ripped off. Some hotels offer a taxi drive to/from the airport for free, and this seems like a really good way to get around this problem.
Make sure you have everything you need
What to pack for your next trip?
Make your next trip as simple and as enjoyable as possible by packing smart. It’s amazing how much stress top travel items can save you, so choose carefully.
Things like lightweight travel backpacks, for example, are ideal for short trips and allow you to move around with ease, and a passport holder will make sure you keep your documents safe at all times.
Check our travel checklist guide for 2021 to make sure you haven’t missed anything, and travel to your next destination in style and with maximum comfort.