Are you planning to visit Portugal and want to start in Lisbon?
Is Lisbon next on your bucket list of places to go as soon as COVID-19 measures will be withdrawn?
If you answered in the affirmative, you don’t wanna miss this article!
As usual, I’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions about Lisbon first, and then I’ll be sharing with you what we visited in Lisbon in 2 days, making amazing memories that will last a lifetime.
So let’s dive into it without any further ado.
Disclaimer: While writing this article, at some point, I had to choose between cutting a lot of useful info to make it shorter or keeping the useful info but splitting it into two parts. Eventually, for the sake of completeness, I settled for the last option.
This article therefore will describe only the very first day out of the two we spent visiting Lisbon. Check out the second part by clicking here!
What's Lisbon known for?
Lisbon is famous for:
- Its hills, which it was built on. There are seven of them, like in Rome;
- Its yellow trams (very similar to the ones in San Francisco, USA) that bring you on uphill rides and show you the city from different points of view. The 28 route is the most famous among tourists, as it passes through the city centre as well as various districts on the tourist hit list;
- Its “pastéis de Nata” (literally “cream pastries”) delicious egg custard tart pastries dusted with cinnamon. Those are also known as “pastéis de Belém” from the name of the Lisbon district, which is rumoured to be their birthplace;
- Its “Pão de Deus” (literally “bread of God”) is a soft brioche, usually flavoured with lemon zest, rum, or vanilla, with a golden and crispy topping made with desiccated coconut and eggs;
- Its “Ginjinha”, a liquor made by fermenting ginja berries, which give it a cherry-ish flavour, and some spices;
- Its “azulejos”, Portuguese and Spanish characteristic painted tin-glazed ceramic tiles visible on the exterior of many buildings, both as an ornament and as a way to control the temperature inside the buildings;
- Its Fado, a form of music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with a sentiment of resignation, fate and melancholia;
- Its “bacalhau” (“salt codfish”) that comes in all forms imaginable, such as in deep-fried spheres made with potatoes, eggs, parsley and onion, locally known as “pastéis de bacalhau”, or in shreds with potatoes, scrambled eggs and black olives, known as “bacalhau à Brás”, and so on.
Is Lisbon expensive?
Not at all. Lisbon is indeed one of the least expensive European capitals!
What is the best month to visit Lisbon?
It is either in springtime (from March to May) or in autumn (September to October) as the weather is still warm, hotel rates are cheaper and there are fewer crowds than in summer.
If you happen to be there in mid-June, though, don’t miss the “Festa dos Santos Populares” (literally “Popular Saints festivals”).
They start on June 12nd with the feast of Saint Anthony, patron saint of Lisbon, with parades on Avenida da Liberdade, the main artery of the city. Music and colours reign on that day as people come to the street to celebrate and enjoy typical Portuguese songs and dances as well as traditional gastronomy. The following day, the day of Saint Anthony, the festivities reach their climax with the procession in which the saint statue is carried in procession through the streets around the Lisbon Cathedral. The festivals continue with the celebration of Saint John on the night of the 23rd and Saint Peter on the 29th.
Where is the best location to stay in Lisbon?
They usually advise to stay in Chiado, Baixa, Principe Real, Bairro Alto, Avenida da Liberdade and possibly Alfama, to have a base in the heart of the city and within walking distance of major sights, restaurants, transport and shops.
We stayed in a guesthouse between Principe Real and Avenida da Liberdade and it turned out to be pretty handy.
Can you see Lisbon in 2 days?
Affirmative! Lisbon in 2 days can be done. It’s gonna be enough to get an accurate idea of the city.
What should I not miss in Lisbon?
Let’s see, though, how one can visit Lisbon in 2 days.
Lisbon in 2 days
As always, we arrived in Lisbon the day before the first day of sightseeing, to be already there the following morning and start our visit in the early morning with a hop-on-hop-off bus tour.
First thing in the morning, we bought a Lisbon Card each (34€/41$ for 48h) and took the bus tour to get a better understanding of the city layout and distances. With the Lisbon card, we got a 25% discount on the ticket price. So we pay 16.5€/20$ each, instead of 22€/26$.
To take the bus we walked through Avenida da Liberdade, towards Marquis of Pombal Square, the departure point.
1. Avenida da Liberdade
Avenida da Liberdade (“Avenue of Liberty“) is the most important 19th-century boulevard in Lisbon and one of the most expensive and luxurious shopping streets in Europe, built in the style of the Champs-Elysees in Paris.
It runs north for a mile (1.6km), linking Marquis of Pombal Square in the north to Restorers Square, and is more than 300 feet (90m) wide with ten lanes divided by pedestrian pavements decorated with gardens.
Like the Champs-Elysees and other great European boulevards, Lisbon’s Avenida da Liberdade ends at a large roundabout (Marquis of Pombal Square) and with a monument (dedicated to the Marquis of Pombal).
2. Marquis of Pombal Square
The Marquis of Pombal Square (“Praça do Marquês de Pombal”) is an important roundabout named after Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, 1st Marquis of Pombal, 1st Count of Oeiras, the powerful prime-minister responsible for the rebuilding of Lisbon after the Great Earthquake in 1755.
A monument to the Marquis of Pombal was erected in the centre of the square. He is depicted standing on the top of a column with his hand on a lion, a symbol of power and leadership, and his eyes directed to the downtown area that he rebuilt (the Baixa Pombalina). The base is decorated with allegorical images depicting Pombal’s political, educational, and agricultural reforms. Broken blocks of stone at the foot of the monument and tidal waves flooding the city symbolize the effects of the earthquake. The surrounding paving stones are decorated with a mosaic of Lisbon’s coat of arms.
The square is surrounded by several corporate headquarters, including the largest Portuguese banks and some of the most famous 5-star hotels in the world.
From there, at the end of our bus tour, we came all the way down through Avenida da Liberdade to reach Restorers Square.
3. Restorers Square
Restorers Square (“Praça dos Restauradores”) commemorates the end of the Iberian Union in 1640, which restored the Portuguese crown after 60 years of Spanish domination.
In the centre of the square, in a nice mosaic-pavemented area, stands proudly a 30-meter high obelisk, carrying the names and dates of the battles fought during the Portuguese Restoration War, and two bronze figures on the pedestal depicting Victory and Freedom. That is the monument to the Restorers.
On the west side, one can see the cream and pink baroque façade of Foz Palace, built between the 18th and 19th centuries. It housed the Ministry of Propaganda under the Salazar regime, but now it’s home to the national tourism office and hosts free concerts open to the public in its Hall of Mirrors.
Next to the palace is a building known as Eden Cinema, now serving as a hotel, with a beautiful Art Deco façade dating from the 1930s.
On the north side, you can find Lisbon’s “Hard Rock Cafe”, hosted in the old Condes Cinema building, another fine example of the Art Deco architectural style.
Next to the Palácio Foz, immediately opposite the Condes Cinema, you can find the “Elevador da Glória” (“Glória Funicular“), the most celebrated of Lisbon’s three iconic yellow trams that have been transporting passengers up the hill to the Bairro Alto since 1885.
From there, take the Glória Funicular.
4. Glória Funicular
Glória Funicular (“Elevador da Glória”) is the most popular and busiest of all Lisbon’s railway funiculars, hauling around three million passengers up and down one of the city’s steepest hills every year.
Ticket: 3.8€/4.6$ (a one-day round trip). Free with your Lisbon Card.
Once on the top, you’ll enjoy some magnificent views over Lisbon from the San Pedro de Alcántara viewpoint.
5. Saint Peter of Alcantara Viewpoint
Saint Peter of Alcantara Viewpoint (“Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara”) offers enchanting views over Avenida Liberdade, Saint George Castle, the Cathedral and the Tagus river.
During the festive months (such as the Festa dos Santos Populares in June and over Christmas in December), it hosts markets, fairs and festivals.
From there take Rua de São Pedro de Alcântara as if you wanted to go back to the funicular, but instead, continue onto that street for a couple of minutes. You will find the Saint Roch Church on your left.
6. Saint Roch Church
Built in the 16th century, the Saint Roch Church (“Igreja de São Roque”) is the earliest Jesuit church in the Portuguese world and one of the first Jesuit churches anywhere. It was one of the few buildings in Lisbon to survive the earthquake relatively unscathed.
Despite having one of the plainest façades in all Lisbon, it boasts one of the city’s richest interiors.
It contains several chapels, each of them representing a masterpiece of the Baroque style. The most notable is the 18th-century Chapel of St. John the Baptist (Capela de São João Baptista), which, at the time of its construction, was reportedly the most expensive chapel in Europe. It was, in fact, designed in Rome using the most costly materials available, including ivory, agate, porphyry, lapis lazuli, gold and silver, blessed by the Pope and then shipped to Lisbon on three ships.
Adjoining the church is a museum displaying one of the world’s most important Roman sacred art collections. The museum entrance fee is 2.5€/3$. With the Lisbon Card, you get a 40% discount so that you will pay only 1€/1.21$ to enter.
Outside the cathedral, you can see the controversial statue of António Vieira, a 17th-century Portuguese Jesuit priest who went to Brazil to Christianise the natives and fought against slavery. This statue caused controversy as some people see it as a glorification of European and Christian dominance. The priest is, in fact, depicted holding up the crucifix with young naked natives surrounding his feet.
From there, go back to Glória Funicular and downhill to Restorers square. Once there, take Rua 1º de Dezembro and you will get to Rossio Square in a couple of minutes.
7. Rossio Square
Rossio Square (“Praça do Rossio”) is the popular name of King Peter IV Square (“Praça de Dom Pedro IV”), one of Lisbon’s main and liveliest squares since the Middle Ages. It has been the setting of popular revolts and celebrations, bullfights and public executions, and is now a preferred meeting place for locals and tourists alike.
Its wave-patterned cobblestone pavement dates back to the 19th century and on either side of the square are two baroque fountains, which were imported from France in the same period.
In the middle of the square, you can see the column to Peter IV, King of Portugal and first Emperor of Brazil. It consists of a 27-meter-high pedestal with marble allegories of Justice, Wisdom, Strength, and Moderation, qualities attributed to this king, known as “the Soldier King”, whose bronze statue stands on the top.
On the north side of the square is the Queen Maria II National Theatre, a monumental neoclassical building of the 1840s. It has a portico with six Ionic columns and, crowning the pediment, a statue of Gil Vicente, a Portuguese playwright and father of the country’s theatre, also known as the “Portuguese Shakespeare”.
On the left-hand side of the National Theatre is the Rossio Railway Station, built in 1887.
On the southeast side, you can find Cafe Nicola, the favourite among writers and artists of the 18th and 19th century. While on the west side, you can find the Pastelaria Suiça, one of the finest and oldest pastry shops in the city.
From there, head south on Rossio Square and take Rua dos Sapateiros. Then turn right onto Rua de Santa Justa and you will find the Santa Justa elevator at the end of the street.
8. Santa Justa Lift
The Santa Justa Lift (“Elevador de Santa Justa”), also called Carmo Lift, was designed by a former student of Gustave Eiffel in a neo-Gothic style and inaugurated in 1902. It used to be powered by steam until 1907 when an electric motor was put in place.
While the exterior is almost entirely wrought iron decorated with filigree details, inside there are two old-fashioned cabins that take riders up to the nearly 150-foot-tall (45-metre) observation point.
From its top, the observation deck offers a collection of spectacular views over St. George’s Castle, Rossio Square, the Carmo Convent ruins and the all Baixa neighbourhood.
Entrance fee: 5€/6$ (lift ride) + 1.5€/1.8$ (observation deck access). The price is included in the Lisbon Card.
Once back at the bottom of the lift, take the road behind it, called Rua do Carmo, turning on your left. Then, turn right onto Rua Garrett and right again onto Calçada do Sacramento. Finally, continue onto Largo do Carmo. You will find the Carmo Convent on your right.
9. Carmo Convent and Church ruins
The Convent and the church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel are a former medieval Catholic convent and church ruined during the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. It was one of the deadliest quakes in history, leaving an unknown total number of dead (from 10000 to 100000), and 85% of the city in total ruins.
At the time of the earthquake, the Carmo Church was the largest in Lisbon, but today the roofless nave open to the sky is all that remains of the arches and rubble that caved in on the congregation while they were attending mass.
What used to be the main altar is now home to a small archaeological museum with an eclectic collection of tombs (the largest one is the one of King Ferdinand I), statuary, ceramics, and mosaics.
Entrance fee: 5€/6$ but you will get a 20% discount with your Lisbon Card (4€/4.8$).
Fun fact: At the entrance of the museum, there is a stone engraved with gothic lettering, informing visitors that Pope Clement VII granted 40 days of indulgence to “any faithful Christian” that visits this church.
From there, go back to Calçada do Sacramento and then to Rua Garrett. Almost at the end of the latter, you will find Café A Brasileira on your right.
10. Café A Brasileira
Café A Brasileira is one of the oldest and most famous cafés in Lisbon city centre.
It was open in the 19th century as a coffee-shop that sold Brazilian coffee, but, over time, it has become the meeting point for intellectuals, artists, writers and freethinkers, including the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa (whose bronze statue stands just outside the café since 1988), and now a tourist attraction.
From there, go back down Rua Garrett and this time, instead of turning left onto Calçada do Sacramento, turn right onto Rua Nova do Almada. Then turn left onto Rua de São Nicolau and finally right on to Augusta Street.
11. Augusta Street
Augusta Street (“Rua Augusta”) is a lively pedestrian street with mosaic pavements, outdoor cafés, international shops, street artists and peddlers, that, through the homonymous triumphal arch, opens on Commerce Square, the beating heart of Lisbon.
This is a very beautiful street where you can take a stroll, have a drink, eat something and do some shopping.
Fun fact: The streets that run parallel to Augusta Street are named after the occupations or the materials that once existed and were worked in those same streets. Among them, you can find Shoemakers Street (“Rua dos Sapateiros”), Silver Street (“Rua da Prata”), Gold Street (“Rua do Ouro”), and so on.
At the end of Augusta Street, you will find the Augusta Street Arch.
12. Augusta Street Arch
Augusta Street Arch (“Arco da Rua Augusta”) is a stone, triumphal arch-like building overlooking Commerce Square.
It was built in 1875 to commemorate the city’s reconstruction after the 1755 earthquake and it affirms “the virtues of the greatest”: strength, resilience and achievements of Portuguese people.
It has six columns and is adorned with statues of various historical and allegorical figures.
At the top, you can find an allegorical group representing Glory, as a woman dressed in a peplos, standing on a three-step throne and crowing Valor and Genius.
Over the columns, on the other hand, there is a group of four historical figure statues representing Nuno Álvares Pereira and the Marquis of Pombal on the right, and Vasco da Gama and Viriatus on the left. There are also two reclining figures representing the rivers Tagus and Douro.
Upon the top, you can enjoy impressive 360° panoramic views over Commerce Square and the River Tagus to the south, the Baixa district to the north, the Carmo Covent and the Bairro Alto district to the west, Alfama neighbourhood, the Sé (Lisbon Cathedral) and Saint George Castle to the east.
Entrance fee: 3€/4$. The price is covered by your Lisbon Card.
From there, our next stop is Commerce Square, as you can imagine.
13. Commerce Square
Commerce Square (“Praça do Comércio”) is one of the most beautiful and suggestive squares in all of Europe, opening southwards onto the huge Tagus estuary.
It was built on the site where the old Royal Palace used to stand before being destroyed by the earthquake in 1755, as part of the rebuilding of the Pombaline Downtown, ordered by the Marquis of Pombal. At that time, the commercial ships would unload their goods directly onto this square, as it was considered the “door” to Lisbon, therefore its name.
The palace was rebuilt surrounding the square, with its buildings painted in royal yellow with arcades all along their façades. At the beginning of the 20th century, though, they were converted into government offices and painted in Republican pink, and then again in yellow as a homage to their royal history at the end of the first republic era.
Nowadays most of the government offices have been taken over by restaurants with outdoor tables and some of them by the Lisboa Story Centre, a modern interactive museum dedicated to the history of the city (free to visit with your Lisbon card).
In the centre, you can find the bronze equestrian statue of Joseph I of Portugal, who ruled during the Great Earthquake.
On a pedestal by the riverside, there is a likeness of the Marquis of Pombal raised onto the royal shield flanked by Triumph, with a horse, and Fame, with an elephant, in a clear allusion to Portugal’s overseas possessions. On the backside of the pedestal, in low relief, there is an allegorical representation of royal generosity towards a city in ruins with Commerce opening up a chest full of money.
On the north side of the square, besides the Augusta Street Arch, you can see another of the city’s legendary café, Café Martinho da Arcada, Fernando Pessoa’s favourite.
From there, take Rua da Alfândega (looking at the Arch, it’s the street on your right). Turn left onto Rua dos Fanqueiros, right onto de São Julião and then left onto Rua da Padaria. Finally, turn right onto Largo Santo António da Sé and continue onto Largo da Sé. You will find Lisbon Cathedral in front of you just after passing the Church of Saint Anthony of Lisbon (on your left).
14. Lisbon Cathedral
Lisbon Cathedral (“Santa Maria Maior de Lisboa” or “Sé de Lisboa”) is a Roman Catholic church and, as the oldest church in the city, is the seat of the Patriarchate of Lisbon.
Built in 1147 on the site of a former mosque, it has survived many earthquakes and has been modified, renovated and restored several times, showing nowadays a mix of different architectural styles: Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, and Neoclassical, combined in a robust structure shrouded by a medieval vibe. It has been classified as a National Monument since 1910.
Its Gothic cloister is similar in style to the one inside the Heironymite Monastery in the Belém district, although a little smaller.
Cloister entrance fee: 2.5€/3$.
From the Cathedral entrance, turn right and then left onto Rua Pedras Negras. Turn right onto Calçada Correio Velho and, at the end of this street, take the stairs on your right (“Escadinhas de São Crispim”). Once at the top of the stairs, turn right onto Rua do Milagre de Santo António. Finally, turn left onto Rua de Santa Cruz do Castelo and you will find the castle on your left.
15. Saint George Castle
Saint George Castle (“Castelo de São Jorge”) is one of Lisbon’s most emblematic landmarks, perched atop Lisbon’s highest hill in the Alfama district and offering both excellent history and views of the city and the River Tagus.
The first occupation of the castle hill dates to at least the 8th century BC while the first fortifications are from the 1st century BC. From that moment, Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, Moors and Portuguese (after the 1147 Siege of Lisbon) chose this hill as a place to build their fortifications.
Since the 12th century, the castle has served as a royal palace, military barracks, home of the Torre do Tombo National Archive, and now as a national monument and museum.
Admission fee: 10€/12$.
From there, go back to Rua de Santa Cruz and then turn left onto Rua do Chão da Feira. Continue onto Travessa do Funil, onto Largo do Contador Mor and then onto Travessa de Santa Luzia. Finally, turn left onto Largo Santa Luzia. You will find the viewpoint on your right.
16. Portas do Sol Viewpoint
Portas do Sol Viewpoint (“Miradouro das Portas do Sol”) is a balcony opening onto the Tagus river and offering truly spectacular views over Alfama district, various domes and different types of architecture.
There you can also find a statue of St. Vincent, the city’s patron saint, holding a boat with two ravens, the city’s symbols.
From there, head to the opposite point of the viewpoint where you come from, turn right onto Rua São Tomé and continue onto Rua das Escolas Gerais. Turn left onto Calçadinha do Tijolo and right twice (the first to turn onto Calçada de São Vicente and the second to stay on it). Turn then right onto Largo do Sequeira, take the stairs and, once on the top, continue onto Largo do Outeirinho da Amendoeira. You will find the Nation Pantheon at the end of this street on your left
17. National Pantheon
The National Pantheon or Church of Saint Engracia (“Igreja de Santa Engrácia”) is a 17th-century church converted into a pantheon in the 20th century.
Important Portuguese personalities are buried there, such as presidents of the Republic and cultural icons.
It’s considered Portugal’s first baroque monument, but it lacks all the golden ornamentation and blue-and-white tile panels, so typical of Portuguese baroque. Instead, its interior, inspired by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, is made up of coloured marble and inlaid stone with undulating walls and a monumental dome that rises about 80m/262ft above ground.
The roof is considered one of Lisbon’s most beautiful viewpoints with a 360-degree panoramic view of the Alfama district, the Tagus River and the city skyline beyond.
Admission fee: 5€/6$. Free with the Lisbon Card.
With the National Pantheon ends this first part of “Lisbon in 2 days”. Don’t forget to check out the second part!
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