What to do in Lisbon if you only have one day
It was a perfect summer’s day, the early morning cool, the sky cloudless as we cruised towards Lisbon on Sea Princess, and although anticipating our day ahead keenly, we had no real expectations about what to expect in Lisbon, as we hadn’t made any firm plans or booked any tours.
But we knew that we’d find much to explore and discover in this Medieval European city with it’s cathedrals, Gothic monasteries, markets, cafes, museums, cobbled streets and castles.
As it turned out we were in for a most memorable day which far exceeded our expectations.
So please come along as we share our day, and if you, one day want to explore Lisbon at a leisurely pace in just a few hours, here are a few ideas – but we’d also love your suggestions about what to do in Lisbon if you have more than a day to wander.
The River Tagus
As we cruised under the impressive 25th of April Bridge, a suspension bridge that spans the River Tagus (built using the same engineering principles of San Francisco’s golden Gate Bridge) we saw dramatic hillsides with old stone houses and cruised past the Statue of Christ (little brother of the Rio de Janeiro Christ statue).
Tuk-Tuk – Yes-Yes!
Following our swift disembarkation we spied a row of Tuk-Tuks along the waterfront, and decided that booking one of these might be the easiest way to get a sense of how the city was laid out.
After a quick negotiation we set off with David our driver at the helm, and quite noisily motored off over the cobbles into the old part of the city for our orientation. It was fun, if not a little noisy and bumpy!
Our whirlwind hour in the Tuk-Tuk took us through the winding alleyways of the Alfamo, the ancient Moorish quarter with its narrow roads, orange-tiled roofs and centuries old churches. We drove around the Pantheon, and as it was Tuesday, we drove slowly through a sprawling flea market.
“You can buy anything and everything here, and it’s rumoured that if something has been stolen then you should come to the flea market because you’ll be bound to find it at one of the stalls,” David joked.
We continued to wind our way up towards the highest viewpoint overlooking the city, “From this vantage point, Miradoura Da Senhora do Monte, there is a spectacular 270 degree view,” David enthused, and he was right.
Then it was back into the Tuk-Tuk and following some skilful and interesting manoeuvres by David, which I’m not sure were entirely legal, we escaped the traffic and arrived at Lisbon’s 12th Century Cathedral.
This solemn, imposing cathedral was built like a fortress and was used as the last line of defence against Moorish invaders plundering Lisbon. On entering the huge entrance doors we immediately got the feeling that this was a place built to last and inside it felt rockfast and peaceful and exceedingly cool.
After the cathedral we headed west past the Pracko dos Municipal an impressive square that teemed with al fresco restaurants, and our Tuk Tuk tour ended a little early at the bottom of a towering set of steps leading to the Bairro Alto centre of the capital’s nightlife.
The effect of the throbbing engines and cobbled streets had certainly had an effect on our internal organs and we decided that we needed to sit and take in the scenery without noise or vibration!
Pastel de Nata
So we sat at an al fresco restaurant and revitalised with a coffee and a wonderful Portuguese tart, a Pastel de Nata, which is a national delicacy; it’s pastry encrusted, custard filled and absolutely delicious.
Refreshed we then climbed the steep winding steps to the Bairro Alto.
“This part of Lisbon really comes alive at night with a warren of bars and restaurants and Fado music,” a friendly tourist guide told us.
We walked up to the Miradouro De Sao Pedro De Alcantara another viewpoint with a beautiful fountain. Here there were lines of stalls selling local produce; Wine, port and Ginja (fortified cherry wine), handbags, hats and sandals made of cork, and delicious looking prosciutto, olives, Nata tarts and pastries.
From the viewpoint we headed back down to the Baixa or Lower Town using the Venicular. The old carriage is spectacularly adorned in lively graffiti, and also on the way down we came across other street art bursting with colour painted on high walls.
At the Baixa quarter we found modern Lisbon with its elegant squares, pedestrian streets, neo-classical buildings, cafes and shops and admired the ornate and extravagant building which is now the railway station.
From here we headed back towards the river walking along the pedestrianised precinct where there were myriads of al fresco restaurants with shade sails, street artists and shoppers.
We stopped for 5 minutes to watch the most spectacular group of street acrobats leaping and spinning and tumbling in the gaps between the shops and diners to the absolute delight of the crowd.
By this time we were definitely ready to sample some of Lisbon’s culinary offerings and looked for somewhere to eat, but this was harder than it sounds as there’s so much on offer and we didn’t know which way to turn.
Lunch and Sangria
We decided upon a restaurant called Solar dos Bicos, with al fresco dining looking out towards the river, and as the temperature was now in the 30s we sat out of the sun in the cool and welcoming traditional interior with its stone arches, heavy wooden tables, wine racks, and beautiful wall tilings – frescoes depicting early Lisbon scenes.
We settled in with a carafe of Sangria, some fresh ham, pineapple, goats cheese, olives and fresh crusty rolls for a long lazy lunch. Dave finished off with what Portugal is famous for, a glass of red port which I could tell from his satisfied smile must have been very nice.
Laid Back Lisbon!
Suitably refreshed and eager to discover more of this delightful city, which now after an alcoholic beverage we called ‘Laid Back Lisbon’, we headed once again for the winding alleyways and cobbled pathways of the Alfamo.
Here the streets are tiny and secretive, many so narrow that cars or even Tuk-Tuks can’t fit through. Small shops are tucked into recesses and the area is alive with small restaurants. As it was fiesta time the streets were festooned with colourful tinsel streamers above street stalls which would at night come alive offering all kinds of local delicacies and a huge street party.
All too soon it was time to head back to Sea Princess and we bade Lisbon a sad farewell. We’d so enjoyed being granted taste of this colourful city, and added yet another place to our growing number of destinations to which we’d like to return one day!
Things we loved about Lisbon
- Easy to navigate on foot
- The interesting and pretty architecture
- The views across the city from 5 look out points
- The beautiful tiled facades of the buildings
- Vintage trams running down cobbled streets
- The tastes and flavours of the characteristic cuisine
- Sipping Sangria and local port at an al fresco restaurant
- The friendly people
- The winding streets and hidden corners of the Alfamo
- The imposing churches, cathedrals and forts.
- The colourful squares with interesting wavy stonework.
- Although we didn’t feel hassled in any way, by vendors or pick pockets we had been warned to look out for stealthy thieves, and kept our valuables safe at all times.
- Wear comfy walking shoes because there are lots of steps, cobbles and uneven surfaces if you go a-wandering.
- Do try a Nata tart!
If we’d had longer in Lisbon we would have spent time at …
- The Belem Tower – a fortress on the banks of the Tagus, dating back to the 16th Century.
- The Jeronimos Monastery – 16th Century monastery – a World Heritage Site
- Cascais & Sintra – set in the Bay of Cascais – Cascais is a fishing village and is a popular beach resort while Sintra is one of Portugal’s oldest cities home to an 8th century Moorish fortress and imposing manor houses and castles that once belonged to feudal lords and monarchs.
The 1755 Lisbon earthquake caused considerable damage throughout the capital but the Alfama survived with little damage. The earthquake killed between 30 – 40,000 Lisbon residents and destroyed 85% of the city’s structures. In coastal areas many people were killed by the following Tsunami.
By 1755 Lisbon was one of the largest cities in Europe.
The Alfama is the oldest district in Lisbon it’s name derived from the Arabic meaning fountains or baths.
Fado is Portugal’s national music and still survives in the midst of the new.
Trams were introduced in the 19th Century – you can still ride on trams dating back to the earliest 20th Century.
So Lifestylers – any tips – things to do in Lisbon? Have you enjoyed this post?
I’m travelling as a guest of Princess Cruises on this 2016 World Cruise, but all opinions are my own.