Lisbon is an utterly bewitching city, extremely picturesque, draped across its seven hills and overlooking the wide blue expanse of the River Tagus, with wonderful viewpoints. With its hilly terrain, quaint old neighborhoods, great museums, fantastic culinary scene, and lively but laid-back atmosphere, there’s a lot to love about this city. Lisbon is a city of immediate charms, and of a deeper beauty that must be sought out. While one day in Lisbon isn’t enough to explore what the city has to offer, it still accords you enough time to get a fair impression of the city. Here are our recommendations on the 13 best things to do in Lisbon in one day.
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How to Get Around Lisbon in One Day
Ideally, the best way to see Lisbon and discover its many hidden gems is on foot. It is a pedestrian-friendly city and you will truly appreciate its charm by walking. Despite being on seven hills, Lisbon is a fairly walkable city. Being a large city, some of the sights are quite spread apart. In order to save some time and get to some of the further lying attractions, you should make use of Lisbon’s reliable public transport network. For this one-day itinerary of Lisbon, we recommend both walking and using public transport.
A large chunk of Lisbon’s sidewalks are made out of easily damaged basalt cobblestone meaning there are numerous cracks along the way. It would be optimum to stick with a comfortable pair of flat shoes rather than heels as they can get stuck in the pavement.
The fastest and cheapest way to get around town is by the metro (Metropolitano). Metro stations are signposted with a red M, and the service operates from 06:30 to 01:00 every day. Buses have the most extensive network, while trams offer good sightseeing opportunities. The only downside is that both are prone to delays due to heavy traffic congestion. You can plan your trip using public transport here. In order to use public transport, you can purchase the Viva Viagem card and top it up at the ticket machines around the metro stations according to your needs. Always remember to validate your card otherwise you will incur a hefty fine if caught.
Taxis are also another option as they offer the swiftest way to get around. The minimum charge is 3.25 EUR and increases at around 50 cents a kilometer. Always insist on the taximeter as it is required by law. Just be careful not to get ripped off as scams are quite common. Uber also has a significant presence in Lisbon and can be another alternative to get around.
Forget about cycling in central Lisbon; the paucity of dedicated bike lanes and its hilly terrain simply doesn’t make it an inviting prospect.
Your One Day in Lisbon Itinerary: 13 Best Things To Do in Lisbon
For this one day in Lisbon itinerary, I have included some of the major attractions sights in the city. It, of course, isn’t possible to explore all of Lisbon’s major sights in just one day, and you’ll barely scratch the surface of what Lisbon has to offer. For your convenience, this post includes a free map which highlights the main points of interest in Lisbon for one day. You can find the addresses of the attractions by clicking on the icons in the map.
I understand that everyone travels at a different pace so feel free to choose the destinations according to your own pace. The earlier you start your day the more time you’ll have to see the attractions. Below I have compiled a list of the best things to see (or eat) in Lisbon over the course of one day:
- Pastéis de Belém
- Jerónimos Monastery
- Monument to the Discoveries
- Belém Tower
- Lunch at Time Out Market
- Rossio Square
- Santa Justa Lift
- Rua Augusta
- Commerce Square
- Roam the Alfama District
- Castle of St. George
- Hop aboard the iconic Tram 28
1. Pastéis de Belém
Start your one day in Lisbon by treating yourself to Portugal’s favorite sugar rush, the pastel de nata, a creamy, flaky egg tart custard pastry. The crisp pastry nests are filled with custard cream, baked at 200°C for the ideal golden crust, then lightly dusted with cinnamon. It’s sort of like a crème brulée tart.
Pastel de Nata is a ubiquitous fixture throughout bakeries and cafes in Lisbon. Supposedly, the best ones can be found in the renowned Pastéis de Belém bakery. Here the tarts are known as Pastéis de Belém, they claim all other variations are mere imitations.
Pastel de Nata’s history is interlaced with the Belém neighborhood in which it emanated. Monks from the nearby Jerónimos Monastery originally sold the treat at a local sugar refinery in the 18th century, and in 1837, the pastry began to be produced at Pastéis de Belém using the same recipe that is still used today. It is literally sugar-coated nirvana and you have to try it while you’re in Lisbon!
The original recipe of the iconic egg tart has been handed down from generation to generation at Pastéis de Belém. Only a handful of people in the world know this recipe and they aren’t permitted to travel together.
There’s always a big queue at the famous establishment to get in. It’s well worth the wait though because the pastel de nata sold here is so mouthwateringly scrumptious! The bakery itself is beautiful from inside with its blue-white azulejos. Pastéis de Belém is open daily between 08:00-23:00.
Don’t be put off by the long queue at the establishment since the larger chunk of the queue is actually for takeaway orders. It’s actually easier to get a table than a takeaway box!
2. Jerónimos Monastery
Jerónimos Monastery (or Hieronymites Monastery) is one of the best things to see in Lisbon and undisputedly the major attraction in the Belém district. The fairytale-like monastery was built in celebration of Vasco da Gama’s discovery of a sea route to India and is deservingly a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Begun in 1502, and more or less completed when its funding was withdrawn in 1551, the monastery is the most enthusiastic and triumphant achievement of Manueline architecture.
Jerónimos is a celebration of Portugal’s territorial expansion and an expression of a unique national style. Jerónimos is the resting place of many notable Portuguese statesmen including Vasco da Gama himself. During this time it was a symbol of wealth and power and it is sure to leave you impressed even today.
When you enter the well-lit nave of the church, the most striking feature of Jerónimos, you’ll immediately feel a sense of immense space and your eyes will be drawn to the slender tree-trunk-like pillars, entwined with characteristic Manueline carved ropes and exotic flora. I really loved the distinctive use of rounded forms and naturalistic motifs in the bands around the windows.
As beautiful as the nave was, the highlight of the Jerónimos Monastery for me was the amazing double cloister. Vaulted throughout and fantastically embellished, it blends Gothic forms and Renaissance ornamentation and is extremely lovely. Typical Manueline motifs such as ropes, foliage, exotic animals and navigational instruments adorn the arches and balustrades.
Another noteworthy attraction here is the elaborate south portal, a spectacle of lacy stonework. The carvings of the Virgin of Bethlehem surrounded by angels, rich floral details, and scenes from the life of St. Jerome are exquisite.
The entrance to the Jerónimos Monastery costs 10 EUR. Opening hours are Tuesday-Sunday, 10:00-17:30 (Oct-Apr) and 10:00-18:30 (May-Sep).
3. Monument to the Discoveries
As long as you’re in the Belém district you should also quickly see the Monument to the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos), situated just across the street from Jerónimos Monastery. This angular concrete landmark in the shape of a caravel was erected in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator.
A lovely frieze of 33 historical figures – explorers, cartographers, artists, scientists, and missionaries is set along both sides of the monument. At the prow is Henry, while behind him are explorers Vasco da Gama, Diogo Cão, Fernão de Magalhães (Ferdinand Magellan) and 29 other greats. There is a map of the world in multicolored marble on the floor in front of the memorial, with the dates of the discoveries set in metal. The setting of the monument next to the Tagus River is ideal for great pictures.
Since you have only 24 hours in Lisbon, you can just admire the monument from outside and skip going inside.
HISTORY 101: THE AGE OF DISCOVERY
Portugal’s golden era conquest and maritime exploration (The Age of Discovery) took place during the 15th and 16th centuries, with the aim of finding new trade and Christianizing the Muslims to the south. Vast fortunes were earned through maritime expeditions into the Atlantic and from the gold and slaves taken from the Guinea coast, but the real breakthrough for Portuguese imperialism came about in 1498 when Vasco da Gama reached India. Rounding the Cape of Good Hope, he proved Columbus wrong and gave the Portuguese the competitive edge in the spice trade. By controlling the Indian Ocean and the spice trade, the Portuguese established an eastern capital in Goa. With the acquisition of Brazil, Portugal became a mercantile super-power and was rivalled only by its neighbor Spain.
4. Belém Tower
No day of Lisbon sightseeing would be complete without seeing the magnificent Belém Tower (Torre de Belém). Just like the Jerónimos Monastery, it is also a great symbol of Portugal’s amazing Age Of Discovery during the 16th century. This multi-turreted and exuberant tower was initially built in 1515 as a ceremonial gateway in honor of Vasco da Gama’s voyages of discovery. It also doubled as a fortress which guarded the entrance to Lisbon harbor.
Make sure to look out for the ornate façade which is embellished with fanciful maritime and floral motifs. Moorish influence is very strong in the delicately arched windows and balconies. The domes of the Moorish influenced watchtowers are seated on Manueline rope-like circles and rise to a pile of small spheres that are reminiscent of the tops of chess pieces.
Prominent also in the decoration are two great symbols of the age: Manuel’s personal badge of an armillary sphere and the cross of the Military Order of Christ, once the Templars, who took a major role in all Portuguese conquests. Though worth entering for the views from the roof, the tower’s interior is rather unremarkable except for the elegant arcaded Renaissance loggia.
For 6 EUR you can see the interior of the Belem Tower. Opening hours are Tuesday-Sunday, 10:00-17:30 (Oct-Apr), 10:00-18:30 (May-Sep).
5. Lunch at Time Out Market
During your one day in Lisbon, you will be in need of good nourishment. Take a well-deserved lunch break at Time Out Market. This wonderful venue is a food lover’s paradise and one of the must-see attractions in Lisbon. An independent panel of city experts is in charge of overseeing the food stalls ensuring a high quality of food.
There are over 40 stalls here from top chefs with Portuguese cuisine as well as more international options. You can get everything here from seafood to steak sandwiches, sushi to chocolate and desserts. There is also a nice selection of wine and beer.
Time Out Market is open daily. Opening hours are Sunday-Wednesday, 10:00-24:00 and Thursday-Saturday, 10:00-02:00.
6. Rossio Square
Your next stop will be Rossio Square, officially known as the Plaza Don Pedro IV. It is the nerve center of the city and a popular meeting point among the locals. Over its long history, it has been the stage of bullfights, festivals, military parades and witnessed the burning of heretics during the Inquisition. The unusual wave-like mosaic pavement, which alternates between lighter and darker stone, left me dizzying with appreciation.
Two ornate Baroque fountains are some of the best features of the square and its center is dominated by a statue of Dom Pedro IV (a former Portuguese king and the first emperor of Brazil), perched high on a marble pedestal. In the buildings surrounding the church, there are mainly catering establishments and shops. This gives the square a lively appearance.
Rossio Square is just fantastic for people watching while sipping a cup of coffee or some chilled suds. To the northwest of Rossio Square is the Rossio Station (Estação do Rossio), a lovely neo-Manueline station with horseshoe-shaped arches and swirly turrets.
7. Santa Justa Lift
The Neo-Gothic Santa Justa Lift (Elevador de Santa Justa) is one of my favorite things to see in Lisbon. This architectural wonder is arguably the quirkiest landmark in the Lisbon skyline. It was built at the turn of the 20th century by the French architect Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard, a protégé of Gustave Eiffel. It’s Lisbon’s sole vertical street lift and was steam-powered until 1907. The body of the tower is made of iron and embellished with lovely filigree motifs. Passengers can travel up and down the innards of a latticework iron tower to a viewing platform.
Don’t waste your time riding up the elevator even though it’s a popular thing to do. The queues to ride the lift are very long and the waiting time is painstakingly slow (usually over an hour). The ride itself is 10 seconds and just like any other lift you’ve ever been in. On top of that, it costs over 5 EUR. I do however, recommend going up to the platform for some sublime views of Lisbon. You can either walk up the streets and access it from a passage next to the church or you can access it via a regular elevator (no cost to get up) through a small shop in the building behind Santa Justa Lift. The entrance to the platform costs 1.50 EUR.
8. Rua Augusta
Make your way down on Rua Augusta, one of the best-known streets in Lisbon that is home to a number of large international stores and catering joints. At the end of Rua Augusta is the beautiful Arco da Rua Augusta arch that was built in memory of the 1755 earthquake. Since it is closed to traffic, Rua Augusta is abuzz with restaurant terraces, street artists and music.
HISTORY 101: THE 1755 LISBON EARTHQUAKE
On the morning of the 1st of November, 1755, Lisbon suffered a massive earthquake, reducing over half the city to rubble. Although the epicenter was close to the Algarve, the huge waves from the ensuing tsunami flooded the lower part of Lisbon. Candles lit for All Saints’ Day were knocked over resulting in flames that ignited the city’s churches and causing a fire that raged for seven days. Churches, homes and public buildings all suffered in the disaster. It was one of the most powerful earthquakes of all time and the shock was felt as far away as Italy. Estimates place the death toll between 10,000 and 100,000 people in Lisbon alone. However, the reconstruction of the center of Lisbon took place rapidly. The famous Portuguese statesman, Marquês de Pombal, was responsible for coming up with an innovative grid system, that can still be seen today.
9. Commerce Square
Next up on this ‘one day in Lisbon’ itinerary is the Commerce Square (Praça do Comércio), the largest and most famous square in Lisbon. The square was rebuilt in the eighteenth century, after the earthquake of 1755, and was previously called the Palace Square since it housed the royal palace. Plenty of great photo opportunities in this idyllic square such as the monumental triumphal arch and a towering statue of King José I on horseback in the center.
Similar to Rossio Square, there are plenty of cafes and restaurants surrounding the square. Commerce Square leads elegantly down to the banks of the Rio Tejo, a great place for strolling, reading or sipping coffee. You can explore the riverfront and marvel at the square’s 18th-century arcades and Pombaline architecture. Today the vast open space of Commerce Square is used for cultural events and festivals.
10. Roam the Alfama District
One of the best things to do in Lisbon is simply exploring the enchanting Alfama district. It is the oldest district of Lisbon and therefore also forms a large part of the historic center of the city. The Alfama has a storied history since it was first occupied by the Romans and Visigoths in the early 4th century and then by the Moors in the 8th century before the Portuguese took back control. Alfama was buttressed against significant damage in the 1755 earthquake by the steep, rocky mass on which it is built.
Although there are no Moorish houses still standing, the quarter retains its kasbah-like layout. The winding streets of the Alfama are filled with tourists all year round who flock here to see the many attractions. The Alfama is famous for its many houses with beautiful Portuguese tiles (azulejos) and for its fado clubs.
A walk around the maze of crooked alleyways will accord you glimpses of the jumble of dilapidated houses, picturesque corners, and shady terraces. Locals often hang washing between the tightly packed houses. The Alfama district is Lisbon at its most romantic and finest.
Lisbon is commonly known as the “city of seven hills” by locals. However, this is actually disputed and some say it’s a myth, and that Lisbon actually has eight hills. Many believe that the reason for calling Lisbon the “city of seven hills” was that it would make it more similar to Rome and thus of more importance, despite the fact that Lisbon is reckoned to be older than the city of Rome. No matter if they are seven or eight, it is a fact that Lisbon’s hills add to all its allure.
11. Castle of St. George
The Castle of St. George (Castelo de São Jorge) is one of the major points of interest in Lisbon. The oldest parts of the castle date from the 6th century and this is where the history of Lisbon began. It served the Romans, Visigoths, and the Moors as a base for further conquests.
The castle was then used as a Moorish royal residence until Portugal’s first king, Alfonso Henriques, took control over it in 1147. Except for a short period, it served its time as a barracks and prison until 1938, when it was freed from any official duties.
The walls, 10 towers, shaded gardens and fountains are all that is left of the castle. Apart from the sublime views and the chance to wander the ramparts, the castle is worth a visit for the park gardens inside its walls. The castle museum contains an array of artifacts such as Iron Age pottery, Roman wine vessels, medieval oil lamps, and 17th-century azulejos.
The Castle of St. George is open daily from 09:00-21:00 (March-October) and 09:00-18:00 (November-February). The entrance is 8.50 EUR.
12. Hop aboard the iconic Tram 28
No 24 hours in Lisbon would be complete without a ride on the famous Tram 28, one of the most popular things to do in Lisbon. Tram 28 is one of the only three charming, pre World War I models that still operates in the city. The tram trundles and creaks its way through some of the oldest and most charming neighborhoods of Lisbon like Baixa, Chiado, Graca, and of course, Alfama giving you a splendid vista of many of Lisbon’s renowned gardens, churches, and monuments. It’s a real treat
Tram 28 is very popular with tourists and locals so it is usually packed to the core. You might have to engage in some jostling in order to get a seat board at the starting point in Martim Moniz Square. There are daily departures every 11 minutes and the full ride lasts 45-60 minutes.
Cap-off your one day in Lisbon by treating yourself to a fabulous dinner. There is no shortage of great eating establishments in Lisbon for all tastes. But since you’re in Lisbon, it would be a sin not to seize on the opportunity to eat some mouth-watering seafood. Salted cod (bacalhau) is a Portuguese specialty so you might want to give it a shot. For a fantastic meal go to Sacramento do Chiado or Da Prata 52, both of which are in the downtown area. A meal at either of these places is sure to leave you very content indeed!
Where to Stay in Lisbon
It’s handy to stay in the downtown districts of Bairro Alto, Baixa or the Alfama as they are a good base for sightseeing. There are plenty of good options here for all budgets.
Hostel: Home Lisbon Hostel, a great choice right in the heart of downtown.
Budget: Hotel Gat Rossio, solid option near Rossio train station.
Mid-range: LX Boutique Hotel, within 2 minutes of the Cais do Sodre train station.
Splurge: Santiago de Alfama – Boutique Hotel, sumptuous top-choice pick in the Alfama district.
Now, what do you think? Is Lisbon on your bucket list? Or is there anything else that shouldn’t be missed during one day in Lisbon? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!