Lisbon—Things to See and Do When You Only Have a Weekend in Portugal

If you only have a weekend to spend in Portugal, there is no question you should spend it in Lisbon. As the capital city of Portugal, Lisbon in the hub of history, culture, and cuisine in the nation, and it boasts a range of unforgettable museums, galleries, attractions, and nightlife options appealing to any traveller. Packing as much as you can into a single weekend won’t be easy, as there is so much to do, see and explore, but try to add as many as possible of these must-do activities to your Lisbon itinerary.

Soak up the Culture

In recent years, Lisbon has undergone a kind of cultural renaissance, and more and more visitors are coming to the capital to explore the world-class museums and galleries. If you only have the chance to explore one, make it the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga. This is the majority of Portugal’s national art collection, meaning it holds some of the best art in all of Europe. Even if you are in a hurry, be sure to spot St. Jerome by Albrecht Dürer and the Adoration of St Vincent by Nuno Gonçalves, arguably the most famous Portuguese painter in history. If you want to see more art and artefacts in Lisbon, make time to tour the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum and the Museu do Azulejo, which is located in a 16th century convent.

Get Around in Style

In Lisbon, getting around on foot is easy to do, and the regular sunshine makes it enjoyable to be outdoors. You can also opt to use the public transportation, but nothing can compare to the more interesting methods of getting around the city. Tram 28, for instance, was built during World War II, and it winds along the historic district of Lisbon. It might be slow, and the terrain might be hilly, but it is an iconic part of visiting Portugal’s capital. Another fantastically unique way to travel is by funicular, or cliff railway. The most famous is the Gloria Funicular, which has been operational since 1885.

Admire the Cristo Rei

One look at the Christo Rei, and you might get confused about your current location. While far less famous than the Christ Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, the Cristo Rei is almost identical. It stands at a height of 100 meters, and it is located right along the banks of the Tejo River. You can see the Cristo Rei from a number of places in Lisbon, but it is definitely worth taking the ferry to Cacilhas, crossing the Tejo River, to see it up close.

Take a Walking Architectural Tour

One of the things Lisbon is best known for is the architecture. From the traditional limestone used along the coast to the contemporary skyscrapers, the city is a feast for the architectural design buff. A walking tour is the best way to soak up the incredible landmarks, and you can grab a map and navigate yourself or join a guided tour. Whatever you choose, be sure to spot the breathtaking Castelo de São Jorge, or Castle of St. George, the Ponte 25 de Abril, which was built by the same architect as the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge, and the historic Belem Tower, built in the traditional Spanish fortress style.

Relax in One of the Many Gardens and Parks

Lisbon is often referred to as the sunniest capital city in Europe, and this definitely rings true when you realize just how many gardens, parks and green outdoor spaces are located throughout the city. The Parque das Nações is a must-see, and it even includes an oceanarium, which is a big hit with children. The Jardim Botânico, or Lisbon Botanical Gardens, is another stunning place to walk, relax or have a picnic, and it was built hundreds of years ago by a Portuguese King who, as legend tells it, wanted a garden so big that it contained once of every plant in existence.

Party in the Bairro Alto

While there are clubs, bars, and lounges throughout the city of Lisbon, one of the hottest and most interesting places to spend an evening is in the Bairro Alto, or the high neighbourhood. It gets this name from the location at the top of a hill overlooking the city, and the winding and narrow streets mean that pedestrians, rather than cars, have priority. The Bairro Alto is the place to go for a caipirinha or any other pre-dinner cocktail, but it really picks up around midnight. One of the most incredible sights is around 2am each evening, when there is a mass exodus of party animals heading down the hill from Bairro Alto to get to one of the many nightclubs that stays open until sunrise.

Shop Until You Drop

Whether you want to snag some incredible souvenirs to remember your time in Portugal or you just want to explore the department stores and shopping malls, Lisbon covers all the bases. If you happen to be in Lisbon on a Tuesday or a Saturday, hop on Tram 28 and head for the Feira da Ladra, a flea market that has taken place for more than 300 years in the same spot. If you are in the mood to browse shops in the historic parts of the city, Rua Augusta in Baixa is a pedestrian-friendly spot, but Avenida da Liberdade is the true luxury destination for upscale purchases and designer labels.

Indulge in the Portuguese Cuisine

Don’t leave Lisbon without trying some of the local specialties. Skip the restaurants with the English menus, and look for signs reading, “pratos do dia.” This means dish of the day, and it is usually the best food at the best price. Typical meals in Lisbon could range from caldo verde, which is a kale, potato, and sausage soup, to tiras de choco frito, fried cuttlefish slices similar to calamari. Round out your stay with a sweet and sinful pastéis de nata, which is a pastry served hot out of the oven and sprinkled in cinnamon and sugar.

Lisbon is an incredible destination, and trying to pack everything into a single weekend won’t be easy. These top choices, however, represent the best of the city, and you definitely want to include as many as possible during your stay in Portugal!

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