You know what I love about Lisbon? There isn’t an over the top amount of “must see” attractions like in Rome, New York, or Paris. The pressure is off to go here, there and everywhere, ticking major attractions off a list. While cities with many famous highlights are exciting, wandering for 2 days in Lisbon, taking in a few fascinating sights, and simply going with the flow, is just as fun.
I like Lisbon. I like the hilltop views, the people and their candor, and the Alfama district’s charm. I especially like the food and drinks (except for the chicken gizzards). I loved renting scooters and how good the weather was. I really loved how cheap the wine was. Now that I think of it, there wasn’t anything I didn’t like.
Lisbon was our first impression of Portugal and gateway to the rest of the country – road tripping through the beautiful Algarve, wine and port tasting in the Douro valley, and wandering around picturesque Porto. I always start strong on a trip – excited to be somewhere new – with the energy to sightsee all day and drink late into the night. It’s even better when you have a fun hubby and close friends (Robyn and Craig) to experience it with.
We stayed at the HF Fenix Music – a funky, music-themed hotel with an inviting roof top pool and bar, and great views of Lisbon. It’s no Six Senses Douro Valley, but a modern place to rest your head with a decent price tag.
2 days in Lisbon – what to see and do
For a short stay of 2 days in Lisbon, I’ve narrowed this section down to four top suggestions, giving you time to see two per day.
It’s easy to get around Lisbon. There are electric scooter and bike rental systems, Uber, and cheap cabs, including open-air, rickshaw-style ones. We had some serious fun scooting around on Lime scooters. If you haven’t tried cruising around on an electric scooter, now’s the time. Although hilly, Lisbon is also an easily walkable city. That extra calorie burn on steep streets will help with that extra dessert and glass of port.
Going to Lisbon and not wandering the Alfama district is like going to Rome and missing the Colosseum. It’s an old school, charming maze of steep, narrow cobblestone streets to get lost in. Take in the brightly coloured tile facades and street art, and stop at a rooftop terrace for a cocktail, or cozy bakery for some Pastéis de Nata (Portugal’s famous custard tarts). Have your camera ready to capture the unique streetscapes you’ll stumble upon.
Perched on top of a hill in the Alfama is Castelo de São Jorge (St. George’s Castle). More of a fortress and castle ruins than a fairytale-like castle structure, it’s worth the 10 euro entry fee. The site is extensive, with 11 towers, but my favourite part was the views of Lisbon from the top.
Budget at least a half-day to do the Alfama up right.
Jerónimos Monastery and Belém
Jerónimos Monastery is a UNESCO world heritage site built in 1601 that features impressive gothic architecture. A worthwhile attraction to visit in your 2 days in Lisbon, the intricate detailing of the cloisters is not something you’ll soon forget. This massive complex also houses the Church of Santa Maria and Museum of Archaeology, both worth a look (the former more than the latter). The line up for tickets can be long, so go early.
Further West is the Belém district, most known for the Belém Tower and Pasteis de Belém, its famous bakery/cafe. The 16th century Tower was a fortress and gateway to Lisbon, and is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. Pasteis de Belém has been making pasteis de data since 1837, and lines up out the door. These crunchy, custardy treats (kind of like the outside of a croissant filled with the inside of creme brûlée) should really be eaten more than once on your trip to Portugal.
Praça do Comércio and strolling central Lisbon
The riverfront Praça do Comércio is Lisbon’s main square, a busy hub of tourists surrounded by 18th century, sunshine-yellow architecture. In the centre is the Equestrian Statue of Joseph I. On the north side of the square is the Rua Augusta Arch, leading into the most bustling street in Baixa, Rua Augusta.
This area has some of Lisbon’s busiest streets, along with countless restaurants and bars (see where to eat and drink section below). You can venture into Bairro Alto, Chiado, or other surrounding areas, all walkable. A “choose your own adventure” style stroll allows shopping, eating, and a high percentage of finding a hidden gem wine bar.
Oceanario de Lisboa
The Oceanario de Lisboa is the largest aquarium in Europe, with everything from sharks and shellfish, to otters and octopuses. We didn’t visit this aquarium, but have heard it’s excellent. I’ve been to multiple aquariums, so preferred to spend my time in Lisbon experiencing culture, history, and food. It’s undoubtedly one of the city’s top attractions though.
Tickets are 19 euros for adults and 13 euros for children, and kids three and under are free. If you’re travelling with kids, it’s a must.
2 days in Lisbon – where to eat and drink
Eating and drinking was a Lisbon highlight. We ate like kings, with seafood being a high priority, followed by Portuguese specialities, and whatever the servers recommended. Almost every meal involved the four of us ordering multiple dishes and sharing them all (SO my jam), which will forever hold these three people in high esteem for me. We also tried alllll the wine. And port. Even Portuguese moonshine!
We became repeat customers at Grau Douro Wine Bar, an intimate bar in the Baixa-Chiado area. We loved it – the staff, food (make sure you try the Alheira and Chouriço balls, otherwise know as “Oscar’s balls”), drinks, live music, and in-bar Pomeranian, Calypso. Meat Me was another fave, also in Chiado. This upscale, trendy restaurant on two floors had excellent food (especially the beef wellington) and great service, and the hostess might be the kindest and most beautiful angel in Lisbon.
Alfama has a plethora of good bars and restaurants. Portas do Sol is a modern terrace cocktail bar with superior views. Chapitô à Mesa is a cozy restaurant with great views from the top floor. Stroll Alfama’s streets and you’ll find something that suits your style or craving.
If you find yourself heading to Belém or the Jerónimos Monastery by scooter or bike like we did, there’s a string of seafood restaurants with patios along the water just before the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge. We had a delicious seafood feast (oysters, shrimp, octopus, and sea bream) at Doca Seis. The salt-crusted, baked sea bream was one of the most delectable pieces of fish I’ve ever ingested.
For late night revelry, check out Pink Street (Rua Nova do Carvalho) in Baixa-Chiado. You can party until 7 a.m. if that’s your jam. It’s more edgy than classy – you will be offered drugs – but harmless nonetheless.
2 days in Lisbon – whatever you want it to be
Portugal is on many travellers’ radars these days, with something for everyone and generally less tourists than other areas of Europe. It’s also less expensive than other European countries and easy to travel in. With Lisbon being your main international point of entry, take the opportunity to spend a couple or more days there, soaking it up at whatever pace your heart desires.
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