Top-Speed Tourism: How to Spend 24 Hours in Lisbon

Here's an aggressive 24-hour tour of Lisbon that will help you get a good feel for the city of light. Our guess is after completing this itinerary, you'll end up changing your ticket out to go for another few days at least.

The city of light has lots worth highlighting, but if you only have a day or two in Lisbon, you’ll have to limit yourself. Here’s an itinerary I like to take my 24-hour visitors on. The energetic ones, anyway!

Should you be more of a doer and less of a planner, we can also plan an itinerary tailored to your specific interests. Just get in touch. Side note: if it’s a bachelor shindig or the like, we do not provide costumes or stupid hats…and neither should you.

Praça do Comércio: I recommend starting at the center: Praça do Comércio. You can take in a lot of Portuguese history in one very picturesque swoop from here. This is the square where the royal palace stood before the 1755 earthquake. You can see west along the Tagus river all the way out to the Atlantic, past the statue of Cristo Rei that the Portuguese clergy envisioned as a plea to the heavens to keep them out of World War II (it worked, although the statue was only completed in 1959).

Turn around for a glimpse of the majestic Castelo de São Jorge, the 11th-century castle that the first Portuguese king Afonso Henriques took from its Moorish rulers with the help of a few Crusaders. And you can continue your education at a seriously cheap, if not free, wine tasting at Wines of Portugal on the west side of the square. To wake you back up, grab a bica (espresso) and a pastel da nata (custard cake) at Martinho Da Arcada, to the right of the big arch — this was, after all, a frequent haunt of the great Lisbon poet Fernando Pessoa.

Lisbon Shop: For your souvenirs, skip the ridiculous wooden roosters or Chinese-made Ronaldo t-shirts at the minimercados, and pop into one of the better tourist shops to look at quality goodies made locally. They carry cobblestone coasters, excellent photography books about Portugal, ceramic andorinhas (swallows), lots of items skillfully crafted out of cork and more.

Portas do Sol: Take tram 28 (drivers accept cash) up the hill: it’s marvelously charming — when the lines are short. If it’s August, just forget it and walk toward Alfama, popping by to cool off inside the Sé Cathedral. The tram stop for the castle is at Portas do Sol, which is really only a 15 minute walk up, so your call. Savor the view, have a drink from the convenient and cheap quiosque (kiosk), and if a skinny grey-haired busker is strumming there, throw him some change. He’s a legend.

Note: If it happens to be a Tuesday or Saturday, the thieve’s market, Feira da Ladra, is happening at Campo Santa Clara, behind the church (left), just a 10 minute walk away. It’s worth a spin through, and a must for antiques obsessives.

Pátio de Dom Fradique: On your way to the castle, take an alternative route through an still abandoned part of the city, called Pátio de Dom Fradique, also known as Portas do Castelo. It’s overgrown with green grass and decked out with some pretty awesome graffiti, great for an alternative photo-op. The castle and all that pretty stuff is just a few minutes away, so might as well have an off-the beaten-path adventure beforehand.

Castelo de São Jorge: The castle is an excellent structure to explore, and often empty enough to relax, too. Walk out onto the ramparts for a longer visit, or keep it to the perimeter walls to save time. There are roman ruins as you enter the actual castle itself, just to the right as you pass the portcullis. It’s easy to miss. Once you’re finished ogling the view and pretending to pour hot oil over the sides, go have a ginja (cherry liqueur) in a chocolate cup from the café and snap a few shots of the peacocks who are roaming around looking for the odd crumb.

Wine Bar do Castelo:  This wine bar serves delicious meat and cheese plates for a lunch-sized snack and another chance to try some of Portugal’s top wines. You tell the waiter what kind of wine you like and he or she will bring you three options to try. The one you like best, you get as a full glass and that’s the one you pay for.

The National Tile Museum: If it’s not too late in the evening (or a Monday, when they’re closed), make your way down the hill toward the Santa Apolónia train station and either grab the 728 bus or continue walking for 20 minutes east to this museum in the former convent of Madre Deus (after which the famous Portuguese band named themselves). It’s open until 18h, and well worth the trip to learn about tile-making methods through history, look at modern azulejo (tile) art, and see a 37m-long panoramic tile map of pre-earthquake Lisbon. If you’re hungry, the patio café here is a real treat as well.

It’s getting late, most likely, so now would be a good time to catch a cab back to your HQ. Since most people eat dinner at around 21h, you’ve got a little time to freshen up and get yourself over to Cais do Sodré for dinner and a night out.

Povo: What a better way to finish off your big day than with scrumptious traditional Portuguese food and fado? This restaurant does both right. Try the pica pau and the salada de polvo to start, and finish it off with a prego or some sardinhas for your main dish. During your meal, the resident fadista will melt your heart with a song and explain the history behind it in both Portuguese and English. Since they’re mostly young and hungry, it’s guaranteed to be a damn fine show. Just try not to clink your glasses too much during showtime.

Titanic sur Mer: Stumble out of the restaurant onto Pink Street and stop in for a drink at one of the hundreds of bars in the area as you head towards Cais do Sodré station. Just behind it, to the right of the terminal fluvial (ferry terminal), is one of the best places to dance in Lisbon. The club opens at 23h and closes up shop at 6h, so if you’re in it for the long haul, they’ve got you covered with DJ nights, live bands, the works.

Cacau Da Ribeira café: If you really want to do what the Portuguese do, now it’s time to eat “breakfast” before you go home. Open all night (and morning), this place serves caldo verde and pão com chouriço (kale soup and sausage bread), the traditional meal to be eaten while intoxicated. There will certainly be a line and stumbling yet harmless clientele clamoring for comida (food), so go ahead and join them while you decide between coffee, coke, or just one more imperial (a half pint of draught beer).

Come back for longer next time, because there’s loads to explore.


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