Not quite undiscovered, but still nowhere near as overrun as many other European capitals, Lisbon is a historical, culinary, and cultural Shangri-La. With a history touched by the Romans, Moors, and several centuries of devout Catholicism, the city boasts a mélange of traditions unlike any other city on the continent. Spending two days in Lisbon might not seem like enough, but that’s plenty of time to get to know the city. If you find yourself with 48 hours to wander Lisbon’s cobblestone streets, this itinerary will help you get the most out of your stay.
Spend your first day in Lisbon getting your history on. The city is home to a really cool castle and an ancient tower, both of which are totally worth exploring.
Morning: Explore Lisbon’s Castelo de São Jorge
It’s best to carve out half a day, or at least a two solid hours, to explore this popular Lisbon attraction. Part of a Medieval citadel, the Castelo’s history goes all the way back to the Iron Age (seventh to third century BCE). It wasn’t until the Moorish occupation in the eleventh century that the area began to reach castle-sized proportions. Past a former elite residential area with unparalleled panoramic views of downtown Lisbon and through huge stone archways, you’ll finally enter the castle. Here, you can climb onto the walls and walk the castle’s perimeter, soaking in the views. The attached archaeological site is also a must see, showing you the layers of the Castelo’s history—from excavated Iron Age construction to the ruins of Islamic houses that stood here in the years before Portuguese rule.
Lunchtime: Grab a bite at TimeOut Market
A morning of exploring Lisbon’s medieval castles is bound to work up an appetite. Thanks to TimeOut Market, you don’t need to trek around all of Lisbon to feast on its finest culinary offerings. This converted warehouse space offers no fewer than 24 restaurants, eight bars, and a dozen retail shops, all of which were handpicked by a panel of independent food experts. In one corner, there’s a seafood smorgasbord, from high-end sushi to traditional grilled cod. Another section offers meaty pork bellies and pricey cuts of steak. An entire wall of the market is devoted to cozinhas de chef (chef’s kitchens), each highlighting a different culinary superstar of both Lisbon and Portugal as a whole. Of course, if you’re in the mood for a cup of soup and a pastel de nata, TimeOut’s perfect for that, too. Fair warning: you may need to fight for an empty seat in the food court-style communal tables.
Afternoon: Snap some pics at Lisbon’s Torre de Belém (Tower of Belém)
Whether you decide to visit the tower as part of a city-wide sightseeing tour, or choose to head there alone, one thing is for sure—the photo ops are endless at this Lisbon gem.
Built in 1515, the Torre de Belém is another one of the Lisbon’s most popular tourist attractions. Whether you’re in the tower’s jardim (garden), on the bulwark terrace, or on top of the tower, this emblem of Portuguese history is downright photogenic. Make sure to look for the stone rhino below the western tower—it signifies a failed gift attempt from King Manuel I to Pope Leo X. When the live rhino Manuel sent via ship drowned in a storm, its waterlogged body was recovered and Manuel proposed to give it to the Pope as if nothing had happened. Needless to say, that plan didn’t go well. At least it led to a charming bit of décor in an otherwise deathly piece of Gothic architecture.
Evening: Nosh on Lisbon’s local seafood (not the tinned variety)
Lisbon is well-known for its tinned fish (seriously, you’ll find sardines and anchovies everywhere). But Lisbon’s seafood-heavy cuisine includes so much more than the canned variety. Shrimp, giant red prawns, percebes (goose barnacles), lobster, and a whole host of other local seafood specialties await. Head to the neighborhood of Bairro Alto for some of the city’s most popular (and budget-friendly) seafood restaurants. Bonus: Bairro Alto is also a hotspot for nightlife—head to one of the many local bars in the area if you want to continue your night after dinner.
You spent your first day in Lisbon exploring the city’s historic architecture—spend your second day ogling some art and doing a little shopping.
Morning: Get your culture on Lisbon’s Museu Nacional de Arte Antigua
The first thing to know about the NMAA is that you’ll never have time to truly appreciate everything. The Portuguese Painting and Sculpture room has enough history to last you a week, and that’s just one floor. Other attractions include the room of Portuguese Discoveries, which features artwork “borrowed” from Portugal during its conquests abroad. Make sure to check out the Panels of St. Vincent, a 1450 mural considered to be the greatest achievement of pre-modern Portuguese art; the Belém Monstrance, an ostentatious piece of religious metalwork commissioned by King Manuel I and made of gold procured from Vasco da Gama’s second voyage to India; and paintings by Raphael and Dürer. On a less academic note, there’s also a room full of explicit art that you may also want to explore.
Lunchtime: Grab a sandwich and a beer in Intendente
Locals and tourists alike flock to Lisbon’s Intendente neighborhood for some of the best marine cuisine in town. While the seafood is admittedly delicious, we recommend finding a sandwich shop and tearing into a prego—a steak and garlic sandwich that holds legendary status among regulars. Grab a beer, settle in, and enjoy people watching along Lisbon’s streets as you wait for your lunch.
Afternoon: Shopping and street art in LX Factory
In a neighborhood that was once Lisbon’s main manufacturing hub, you’ll now find hipster boutiques, cafés, and startups. Flanking a single cobblestoned street just perpendicular to the highway are vegan shoe stores, modular lighting showrooms, thin crust pizzerias, and so much street art. Among the most unique spaces is a warehouse turned bookstore-art gallery-café-bar. Grab a coffee and spend a leisurely afternoon checking out Lisbon’s famous street art and shopping for some souvenirs.
Evening: Go bar hopping on Pink Street
Once the sun goes down, there’s one area of Lisbon that is guaranteed to have drinks flowing and music pumping. Decades ago, it was the city’s red light district. But now, the infamous Pink Street is a smorgasbord of wild parties and lively concerts that has earned it a reputation as one of Lisbon’s hottest nightlife hubs. The large, rounded doorways beneath the Rua do Alecrim and, yes, the pink street, make it the perfect spot for a pub crawl or to simply let your hair down on your last night in the city.