24 Hours in Lisbon
Allow yourself to wake up naturally, at whatever time. You’ll thank me later.
Start between the Bairro Alto and Príncipe Real neighborhoods, leaning on the balcony of the S. Pedro de Alcântara viewpoint. Take in the views of the river, the castle, and the rooftops from the hill in front and feel the morning sun directly on your face.
Say bom dia to the old man walking his dog. If you haven’t eaten yet, have breakfast at the cafe kiosk. If you have, drink an espresso (note: this is what you’ll get anywhere if you just ask for “coffee”).
Go down Calçada da Glória on foot or on the yellow funicular and check out the graffiti panels on your left. At Restauradores square, catch the metro and get off at Marquês de Pombal. Make your way up Eduardo VII park. Stare at the fountain at the top. It’s an homage to the 25th of April Revolution by a famous Portuguese sculptor, and it has had its share of controversy. Yes, it looks like a penis.
Cross the street and enter the Amalia Rodrigues Garden. Circle it until you see a wooden bridge. Lisbon’s Green Corridor begins here, which will take you to Monsanto Forest Park, the “lungs” of the city.
Walk the 2km. Roll on the lawns, admire the moves of the skateboarders, appreciate the street art, and look at the vegetable gardens. Curse the ugly hotel buildings on the right; marvel at the majesty of the Águas Livres Aqueduct on the left.
Don’t give up on the bridge that looks like a highway — you’re on the right track. Cross over it and under the viaduct, always following the marked paths, until the mountain of green that is Monsanto appears in front. Take it in for a bit, but then go back the same way to the subway. Or don’t go back and spend the rest of day here…there’s plenty to do.
Back on the subway, get off at Baixa/Chiado, using the R. do Crucifixo exit. On the corner with R. São Nicolau is Oito Dezoito. Eat a two-course meal for 8.50€. Feel like having an after-lunch nap, but leave to grab a bica (the traditional name for espresso in Lisbon) instead.
At Pérola do Rossio, they blend their own coffee and grind it to order for a 50-cent, aromatic shot of caffeine. Buy a batch of one of the blends, ground for whichever coffee machine you use, to take home.
Pass by the ruddy tourists packed together at Casa Suiça’s terrace, looking like they’re practicing photosynthesis. Take the second right but avoid the ginginha (sour cherry liqueur) at A Ginginha — there’s better up ahead. Peek inside S. Domingo’s Church and look at the bright colors of the marble columns and the burnt altar. It’s beautiful and creepy, but I find all churches creepy.
Continue on the street to your left until you reach Martim Moniz. Check for exhibitions in the square and make a mental note to come and have lunch at one of the many kiosks another time. Fight the desire to sit on the deck chairs in front of the fountains, cross the street, and turn left after the Sra. da Saúde church, entering the Mouraria neighborhood.
If you’re into crafts, this street is the place to buy beads and threads. Turn right when you see the statue with the Portuguese guitar and keep going until you spot the small door with the sign “Amigos da Severa.” See, I told you there was a better place for that ginginha. Chat with Mr. Antonio and try to decide whether or not he’s drunk. You’ll come to no conclusion. Congratulate him on his 33 years working there, have another one, or two, and then tipsily move on.
Up the street is Largo da Severa, supposedly where the home of the first famous Fado singer was. Wander around until you find yourself on São Lourenço street (tip: keep turning right).
Yes, it’s confusing and you’ll probably get lost, but that’s part of the fun. Inspect the red, blue, and green-tiled buildings, nod to the old men with berets, the occasional nun, and the women with saris, and rest at one of the small squares with benches.
At the end of S. Lourenço is Largo dos Trigueiros. There’s a fountain in the middle and colorful festoons. Maybe there will be old women knitting or chatting on the benches, maybe African men listening to Cape Verdean music, maybe young people smoking joints, or maybe you’ll have it all to yourself. The pictures on the walls nearby are part of a project by Camilla Watson, where she prints directly onto its walls photos taken in the neighborhood. Want to know more? Her studio is right here.
Keep walking forward, passing more narrow streets, renovated and old buildings, and a small square with a church. Check out the side streets if that sounds good to you, say boa tarde to the ladies peeking out their windows, and get back to S. Cristovão street.
As you can probably tell from the incline, you’re now on the hill to S. Jorge’s Castle. For a rest, stop at Chapitô, a complex of white, red, and yellow buildings surrounding a patio, filled with new and old chairs, a small herb garden, a tent, a terrace, and the city and river opening up beyond. It’s all part of a project that includes a circus and performance arts school, a home for disadvantaged teenagers who also attend the school, stages and a tent for training and shows, and a restaurant and bar. Sit on the terrace and drink an imperial (local draft beer).
Continuing on the same street, realize how different this part of town feels to Mouraria. Everywhere, you hear people speaking other languages, holding maps, looking flustered. To your right, you’ll see a panel of white and blue tiles portraying St. Anthony, the patron saint of Lisbon. I find it corny, but a lot of people seem to admire it. To your left and up a hill is the entrance to S. Jorge’s Castle. Fado is being played somewhere.
When you get to Santa Luzia’s lookout, you need to decide if you want to stay around here, heading to the Alfama neighborhood just below, or if you’ve had enough of traditional neighborhoods. Not sure? Ok, do both. Hop on tram 28, heading toward Martim Moniz, and you’ll quickly cross Alfama on your way to your next destination. Enjoy the ride.
Catch tram 15 at Praça da Figueira. It will take you around downtown (Baixa) and away from the center, in the direction of Alcântara. Ask the driver to signal the stop closest to LX Factory.
This old industrial complex, left abandoned for decades, reopened in 2007 and has established itself as a “creative island.” You can find architecture and design firms and stores, visual arts producers, art galleries, small crafts stores, cafes and restaurants, urban art on building walls, and, inside, boutiques and much more. Have a chocolate cake at Landeau and lose track of time at Ler Devagar, an incredible bookshop covered floor to ceiling with over 150,000 used and new books.
You have 2 options:
- Stay here, have dinner at one of the restaurants, and check for parties at one of the warehouses.
- Take the tram back to Cais do Sodré. Have dinner at cozy Café Tati for international comfort food and, if you’re lucky (usually Wednesdays, Thursdays, or Sundays), live jazz. Or try O Povo for Portuguese petiscos, minimalist decoration, and Fado (weekdays). This street is all you need for the rest of the night. Have a drink at Pensão Amor but leave before the hordes arrive. Dance to the sounds of the 70s / 80s / 90s at Jamaica or Tokyo until around 3am. Move on to Musicbox for some electronica (or go earlier if you know of a special gig) and, if you still have it in you, there’s Europa or Copenhaga for the after-hours, starting at 6.
Dawn / new morning
You can’t go home without staunching all that alcohol with some fat. Stop by Casa Cid for a bifana (pork sandwich), a couple of rissoles, some moelas (chicken gizzards), or even a whole Portuguese stew.
Yes, it comes off a bit shady, and you might get asked for food by dubious-looking people (do watch your wallet), but it opened in 1913, when it served the sailors and hookers that wandered through these streets, and it’s the only place where you can eat this stuff until 10 in the morning.
Go to sleep.