24 Hours in Lisbon
Lisbon: Europe’s most vibrant and colourful capital, littered with azulejos tile buildings that stand on its seven winding hills. It’s easy to lose yourself in the charming streets, but we want to make the most of your experience, so here’s our epic guide to spending 24 hours in Portugal’s unparalleled capital.
Hit the hills by 4×4
If you’re looking for an urban adventure and you don’t fancy joining the queues for the famous number 28 tram or hitting the streets in a tuk-tuk, then we suggest taking a vintage convertible Jeep. It’s a thrilling and sometimes nail-biting experience, you cruise through some of the city’s narrowest streets in the old districts of Alfama and Graça chauffeured by a local guide, who can talk you through all the local insider knowledge. It’s certainly the fastest way to reach some of the city’s most breathtaking miradouros (viewpoints) and at the end of your exhilarating ride, you’ll be toasting the views with a traditional pastry and Portuguese liquor.
Taste the culture
For those who prefer to venture through the streets on foot you can take a guided food tour around Lisbon’s districts it’s one of our favourite ways to experience the culture by tasting delicious Portuguese street foods along the way.
The pastel de nata (custard tart) is Portugal’s most renowned pastry and a must-taste experience when visiting the country that you can rarely have enough of. We always suggest two tastings throughout the day, the first located in the heart of the city at Manteigaria where the tart has a thicker, more indulgent custard and thin, crispy base- the perfect sugar rush before a day of exploring and the second in the historic district of Belém where we suggest heading straight to the pastries birthplace, Pasteis de Belém to sample the secret recipe that has existed since 1837 and is only known by 6 people, all within the family. For those with dietary restrictions, Zarzuela has tastingly cultivated a custard tart for every single intolerance from lactose to gluten-free which are all utterly delicious, just make sure you get there early to avoid disappointment.
If you love wine and you are interested in the history behind Portugal’s various wines, we can recommend a private wine class, which includes an introduction to the 14 wine regions, our favourite is hosted by an expert sommelier at her Wine Flat. The tasting can be tailored to your travel itinerary, so you can discover all the various regions you’ll be visiting and learn how to pick and taste the best wine. Of course, there are always a few extras thrown in there, with tastings of wines from regions you can’t miss, regardless of whether you’ll be visiting or not – we’ve never had a complaint!
View Lisbon from the other side
If you’re looking to get an alternative view of the city, then we suggest hopping on a boat taxi at Cais do Sodre and venturing across to the small fishing port of Cacilhas. Here you have a great selection of authentic Portuguese fishing restaurants serving fresh grilled seafood which has been freshly caught by fishermen that day. Our favourite spot is Ponte Final, situated right on the corner of the port, if you arrive early enough, try to grab a table right out on the pier with a direct view across to the city’s historic centre.
Have an arty afternoon
Whether the skies have clouded over or the blazing heat of the day is too intense for exploring, Lisbon has an impressive selection of indoor activities for those looking to briefly escape the outdoors. The National Museum of Ancient Art holds the largest collection of national treasures with over 40,000 pieces from paintings to sculptures, it’s easy to get lost in the history of it all.
For those seeking an art collection that goes beyond Portuguese-based artifacts, we suggest venturing up to the north end of the city to Calouste Gulbenkian, the museum offers a stunning private collection of art collected by the famous ‘Mr 5 percent.’ The 6,000 piece collection features 1,000 on rotation, with an impressive catalog of well known contemporary artists alongside ancient Islamic, Greco-Roman and Egyptian pieces offering a balanced mix of culture and history. If it’s a sunny day, the garden that surrounds the museum is a pretty and tranquil place to wind down and take a breather.
If you’d prefer an artistic afternoon that’s a bit more interactive, we can organize a guided visit to the Museu do Azulejos (Lisbon’s Tile Museum) located inside the former Madre de Deus Monastery, a national landmark that has existed since 1509. It’s one of Lisbon’s most unique museums and follows the history and evolution of tile panels that decorate the capital’s streets from its introduction by the Moors, to its Hispanic influence and the style and approach of its use today. The trip can be followed by a tile painting workshop with an artist who has dedicated their work towards the restoration and maintenance of azulejos across the city. It’s a great and interactive way to create your own unique memento to bring home as a reminder of your Portugal holiday.
Enjoy an Aperitif at a rooftop or from a Miradouro
Whilst walking Lisbon’s many hills might be a challenge, the reward is some of the finest Miradouro, the Portuguese word for viewpoint, that the city has to offer. Unfortunately, it’s rare that you get to enjoy these Miradouro moments alone, and often you find them crowded with others also eager to catch the last of the sun’s rays as it sets over the Tejo. That being said, the city also has some great smaller rooftop bars where it’s possible to have a more intimate sunset experience.
The Miradouro de Nossa Senhora do Monte is Lisbon’s highest viewpoint and offers remarkable views all the way across to Alcântara, it’s less visited because it’s so high that most stop making the climb at the Miradouro da Graça, which you often find more crowded. For those more interested in a view over to the castle, we suggest hitting the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara which boasts a lively atmosphere in the evening and some great Kiosks with snacks and outdoor seating. It’s worth noting they recently had to put gates around the outside of the Miradouro, so if you’re looking for an unhindered view, we suggest hitting a rooftop bar instead.
For those who prefer to toast a breathtaking view with a cocktail equally as impressive than our top three spots are sure to deliver on the guidelines. For an intimate view with limited seating, we suggest heading to Madame Petisca (early to avoid disappointment) which offers tasty cocktails alongside its picture-perfect view out to the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge. The Sky Bar at Tivoli Avenida de Liberdade is only open at certain points of the year during the warmer summer periods, but it’s easily one of the best spots for gazing out to the river and seeing the castle in full glow during the evenings. For an up-close and personal view of the Cristo Rei and in an environment a little off-the-beaten-track, we suggest Rio Maravilha in LX Factory which offers a tasty selection of Portuguese/ Brazilian fusion cocktails and mocktails to toast the end of a long day.
If you’re not so interested in the view and are looking for more of a cozy atmosphere, then we suggest heading to our favourite kiosk at Largo do Carmo in a small, sheltered square where you’ll often find some live jazz in the evenings.
End the evening with a soulful song
As you venture through the winding back streets of Alfama and Mouraira in the evening, the dimly lit paths are even more haunting with the distinct woeful sounds of fado, echoing from the tascas behind the doors. The bohemian art form was established after the Moorish occupation and expresses the struggles felt by the working-class who lived in Lisbon’s oldest districts.
There are two ways to experience fado, the first being in a typical fado house where renowned resident fado singers perform in between the service of a three-course traditional Portuguese meal. Our favourite here is Mesa de Frades where the sounds echo eerily inside its resident old chapel walls, perfectly adding to the mystique of the whole experience.
For those seeking a more local experience, we suggest some fado vadio (fado sung by amateurs) in A Baiuca, where locals jump out of their seats to express their own soulful woes through the art of fado. Affordable, reasonable quality wine and small petiscos (tapas style) snacks are what you’d expect to find here.
Take a nightcap in a quirky bar
Proof that Lisbon is very much a buzzing cosmopolitan capital is no more evident than in its impressive bar destinations. For impeccable cocktails in a basement apartment, we suggest venturing to Red Frog Speakeasy, located on a hidden side street off the main Avenida de Liberdade, it has an “American prohibition bar” theme where you press a bell and wait to see if you’ll be granted entry. The interior is dimly lit and offers little space, so don’t be surprised if you have to wait a while before you’re let inside because they never overfill this place.
Alternatively, you might want to hit the hip Príncipe Real area to Pavilhão Chinês, a colonial-style bar made up of a selection of rooms and decorated with quirky artifacts from toy soldiers to vintage war memorials from all around the world. The bartenders are dressed in a completely red waistcoat suit and the bar also offers an impressive tea selection to add to its idiosyncratic appeal.
Better yet, if you’re interested in a bar that only uses the fresh seasonal Portuguese products check out Toca da Raposa. The centerpiece of the bar is its marble island, where you can watch the small selection of cocktails be cultivated before your very eyes using ingredients ranging from olive oil to eucalyptus flower, all picked fresh from the market that day. The cocktails are named after various animals, and it changes often, so it’s certainly a quirky bar you won’t tire of tasting every time you visit.
Where to start?
Hopefully, this will have given you a good flavour for what you can do and experience in 24 hours in Portugal’s capital, the Epic way.
If you’d like to find out a bit more about how we can go about tailoring a trip to your specific interests, with our on the ground know how – get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.