Lisbon city break: how to spend a perfect weekend in Portugal

written by
Matthew Hancock

updated 17.04.2024

Lisbon highlights to make a long list. It has great museums and interesting districts. With its elegant hotels, trendy clubs and welcoming atmosphere, and affordable prices for food and drink, it's no wonder that Lisbon city breaks are popular. Explore all this vibrant city has to offer with our comprehensive guide.

The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to Portugal, your essential guide for visiting Portugal.

Treat yourself to food markets

Lisbon does tradition but it does hip too. Then sometimes it combines the two. Take Ribeira Market. Much of the building is now given over to a vibrant food hall, with an impressive range of stalls and plenty of bench-like tables where you can sit and eat.

Another famous historic market to visit on Lisbon city break is the Mercado de Arroios which has served Lisboetas for over a century. Thanks to the renovation the market is not just a place where you can buy and taste Portuguese products, but also a cultural and social centre.

This exciting short tailor-made trip to Essential Portugal will take you to the exciting and stunningly beautiful Portuguese cities of Lisbon and Porto, with guided tours of their historic old towns, and on to the pearls of north Braga and Gamares.

Making Portuguese the codfish cake in Lisbon © Shutterstock

Making portuguese the codfish cake in Lisbon © Shutterstock

Discover the range of museums

Even the city museums have an edge. See the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT) in Belém. Try the Fado Museum in Alfama. Or discover the Berardo Collection Museum. Catch unusual art at the Gulbenkian. Drop in on the quaint Carris Tram Museum. And the Maritime Museum is another must-do while on Lisbon city break.

Walk along the city centre

Lisbon's fun to get lost in. Head to the centre, pocket your phone then just wander. Come across little-visited squares and discover alleys hiding tiny cafés. Not that Lisbon lacks big sights. Walk along Praça do Comércio - Lisbon’s main riverfront square.

Down on the waterfront, Cais do Sodré is a colourful but slightly down-at-heel suburb which has become hip thanks to some good restaurants, clubs and bars. Many of them are located along Rua Nova Carvalho, aka Rua Corde-Rosa or “pink street”, on account of the colour of its tarmac.

Elevador de Santa Justa street lift creaks its way up 32m above the Baixa. The exit at the top comes out next to the Bairro Alto’s Convento do Carmo, but you can stop first for a drink at the elevador’s own pricey rooftop café, which has great views over the city and the elaborate metal framework of the lift itself.

Aerial view of Praca do comercio in Lisbon, Portugal © Shutterstock

Aerial view of Praca do comercio in Lisbon, Portugal © Shutterstock

See top Lisbon highlights

Don't miss the view from Castelo de São Jorge. See Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Belém. In fact, Lisbon highlights could fill weeks but you'll probably spend a lot of time just looking at the city. It's built on hills so there are plenty of great vantage points.

For city views, head to the Miradouro da Senhora do Monte. This is a hilltop viewpoint in the district of Graça. It provides a spectacular panoramic view of the city, including some of its most famous landmarks such as Castelo de São Jorge and the Tagus River.

Alfama district, Lisbon

Alfama's extraordinary skyline is one of the main highlights of Lisbon city break /CC0

Enjoy the great weather

Lisbon enjoys over 3000 hours of sun a year. Even in December, there's sunshine for at least five hours. Fortunately, there's also lots to do outdoors. It's a short hop to the coast too. Estoril is famous for its James Bond connections. Today it also has some of the region's best beaches. Cascais is another easy train ride away. The beaches here are smaller. But the town compensates with mansions and historic backstreets.

Short on time? Book a packed day trip around Cascais, Estoril and Sintra from Lisbon.

Take your rental car and discover Lisbon, Sintra & Cascais before heading to Alentejo on this tailor-made trip to Lisbon and the South of Portugal. This fascinating region features many historic gems to discover, as well as a unique cuisine to taste.

Savour the local food

Portuguese cuisine is one of the underrated Lisbon city break highlights. Almost every restaurant serves grilled fresh fish. Seafood's generally affordable and variations on bacalhau – dried salted cod - are many.

Pork's also a big deal and succulent grilled chicken is another staple, have it with, or without, piri piri sauce. Local wines tend to be cheap and highly drinkable. And don’t miss the pastries. Pastel de nata custard tarts always taste best in Belém.

Need a city break base? Stay at Famous Crows Lisbon Suites in Belém.

Pastel de Nata

Pastel de Nata © Shutterstock

Feeling the vibrant nightlife - one of the best ideas for your Lisbon city break

Lisbon’s nightlife is legendary, though don’t expect to see any action much before midnight. There are some great bars where you can get a drink at any time of the day, but clubs – which may not open much before 11 pm – generally operate on a “minimum consumption” policy. You buy a ticket at the door which you can get stamped each time you buy a drink at the bar.

The traditional centre of Lisbon’s nightlife is the Bairro Alto, an intriguing blend of student bars, designer clubs, fado houses and restaurants. The Cais do Sodré district is currently the “in” place, while neighbouring Santos also has a trendy reputation. Bars and clubs in Alcântara and the docks tend to attract a slightly older, wealthier crowd than those in the centre.

Listen to live fado music

Lisbon's also the home of Fado which is the distinct music of Portugal. But avoid touristy fado clubs, find authentic fado bars instead. Believe me, you'll be moved. The Alfama is Lisbon’s oldest and most atmospheric quarter, a labyrinthine maze of narrow streets, steps and alleys wrapped around the steep lower slopes of the Moorish castle.

Walking around the area is a must for any Lisbon city break. Street life is the interest here, much of it continuing in the same way as it has for centuries. Appropriately in an area which is home to many fado clubs, there is also a museum dedicated to this classic Portuguese genre.

Discover the history of Fado. Take a walking tour of Alfama with local guides.


Nightlife starts late and ends later in Lisbon © OFFFSTOCK/Shutterstock

Stay in hotels that offer more than just rooms

While planning your Lisbon city break look for restored townhouses in Baixa. Many are now smart hotels. You'll also find them as hostels and apartment rentals. Character hotels are an Alfama signature. Bairro Alto is very cool for night owls. And many districts offer budget accommodation.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Lisbon

Get around Lisbon city easily

Central Lisbon's small and walkable. Catch a historic elevadore to negotiate its steep hills. The city's metro is efficient, the buses are good too but the trams beat all. They mostly date back to the early 20th century and all tackle Lisbon's steep streets easily.

Around for a few days? Pick up a 72-hour hop-on-hop-off transport pass for Lisbon.

Ride the famous yellow trams

Vintage yellow trams roll along the oldest and steepest streets and are worth taking for the sheer fun of it. The most famous route is #28; the most interesting stretch is from São Vicente to the Estrela Gardens via the Alfama and the Baixa.

Beginning in Lisbon and ending in Porto, this tailor-made trip to Cultural Portugal will take you to the delightful wine region of Douro, the mountain range of Serra do Bussaco and the romantic town of Sintra. Relish the prospect of driving around Portugal's stunning coastline and unique cultural sites.

Lisbon tram

Lisbon tram © Shutterstock

Ready for a trip to Lisbon? Check out the Rough Guide to Portugal.

If you prefer to plan and book your trip to Portugal without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.

We may earn a commission when you click on links in this article, but this does not influence our editorial standards - we only recommend services that we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

Matthew Hancock

written by
Matthew Hancock

updated 17.04.2024

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