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Travel Guide: a cultural weekend in Lisbon

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

Set over seven rolling hills with vast picturesque vistas, Lisbon is a truly beautiful city. Yellow trams chug up cobbled streets to lofty viewpoints or miradouros, ramshackle orange-roofed houses are painted in perfect pastel shades and clad in ornate patterned azulejo tiles, while sun-drenched terraces provide a welcome resting point along the way. Meandering through back alleys you’ll come across tiny wine bars playing local fado music, historic patisseries and boutiques with wood-panelled cabinets that have remained unchanged for a 100 years, next to shabby-chic shops and bold, colourful graffitied walls. Lisbon’s a bit rough around the edges, but it is charmingly so.

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

The hillsides of Lisbon dotted with pastel shaded buildings

I had never been to Portugal but Lisbon had long been on my wishlist to visit. So, when my boyfriend turned the big 3-0 and I wanted to whisk him off for his birthday weekend to somewhere sunny and warm, but not too far away, it seemed like the perfect place to explore, enjoy and indulge ourselves. We’d had quite a stressful few weeks so a couple of days email-free in a pretty city with nothing to do but let our feet guide us was absolute bliss.

The weekend was a surprise and he didn’t know where he was going until he got on the aeroplane and heard the air stewardess speaking portuguese and guessed. I had roughly planned an itinerary and booked a restaurant for his birthday night, but for the rest we just made it up as we went along and weren’t too worried about rushing about to see things and tick off boxes, we just wanted to breathe it all in and take our time.

So here, I’ve created a travel guide for 3 days in the sunny portuguese capital, including the best coffee, culture and cute corners of the city away from the crowds. I’ve collated all the places we visited in a handy Jauntful map below.

Lisbon travel guide

There is also a downloadable pdf version which you can print off here or just click on the tab on the right above.

Our itinerary in brief…

Day 1: Explore the beautiful old district of Alfama

Day 2: Culture, culture, culture!
morning: Explore Belém and the Unesco world heritage site Mosteiro of Jerónimos, afternoon: visit the cultural centre and museum Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian

Day 3: Explore Baixa, Bairro Alto & Chiado, including the Museu de Design e da Moda and Museu do Chiado

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

Mosaics and patterned tiles or azulejos are dotted around everywhere, especially on buildings facades

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

Pretty sunny balconies

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

The no. 28 tram sliding down the hill in the Alfama district

And here’s what we got up to in more detail…

Day 1: Explore Alfama

Alfama is one of the oldest districts of the city and also one of the prettiest. A web of cobbled streets weave uphill from the imposing Gothic cathedral Sé to the commanding Moorish castle of São Jorge, passing shaded terraces and bars spilling onto walkways. On the steep climb up, miradouros or viewpoints provide breathtaking views across the rooftops and the river Tagus beyond. Start at Miradouro de Santa Luzia with its bougainvillea draped outlook and Largo das Portas do Sol further along, before making your way up to Miradouro da Graca for a well earned pit stop and cold drink.

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

A house in Alfama with blue patterned tiles called azulejos in Portuguese

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

A terrace on the climb up to Castelo de Sao Jorge

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

Tapas bars hidden away down back streets

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

Views over the city chanced upon while walking around Alfama

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

Azulejos Miradouro de Santa Luzia

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

View from Miradouro de Santa Luzia

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

Miradouro de Santa Luzia

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

Pit stop at Miradouro de Santa Luzia

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

This tree seemed to have captured exactly the same colours as the building behind

We loved Cafe da Garagem in Alfama. Hidden beneath a theatre, it’s a little gem of a place far from the madding crowd. The light, bright conservatory-like room looks over this incredible view of the city and serves great coffee, cake and fresh juices. You can easily while away a whole afternoon here, whether it’s simply looking out at the view or playing chess and chatting away. There’s quirky details too – the tables are made of doors, there’s vintage touches everywhere, and the receipt even comes in an old shoe!

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

Cafe da Garagem in Alfama – Teatro Taborda Costa do Castelo, 75, 1100-178 Lisbon

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

Vintage touches in Cafe da Garagem

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

Vintage light fittings in Cafe da Garagem

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

Vintage shoes provide a quirky display

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

Receipts come in shoes

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

The view from Cafe da Garagem

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

The view from Cafe da Garagem

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

Tiled facade in Alfama

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

Pretty alleyways

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

Pastel-shaded cobbled streets

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

The viewpoint from Largo das Portas do Sol

Day 2: Belém

On the second day we headed a little further out of the city centre to Belém, home to some of Lisbon’s best museums and top attractions. We dipped into the awe-inspiring Mosteiro of Jerónimos, a Unesco world heritage site, and walked around its golden cloister admiring the ornate arches and expressive gargoyles while avoiding a couple of showers.

Lunch was petiscos or tapas in 2 a 8; tempura green beans, fragrant clams and fresh octopus salad, before leaving room for one of the famous pasteis de natas from Pasteis de Belem. They’ve been making the traditional sweet custard tart since 1837, following an ancient recipe from the monks of Mosteiro dos Jerónimos.

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

Inside the cloister of Mosteiro of Jerónimos

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

The cloister of Mosteiro of Jerónimos

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

The slender columns of the cloister are carved with flower motifs

Next up was Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, one of our favourite finds of the trip. Much like the Barbican in London, it’s a Brutalist, concrete arts venue designed in the 1960s, with a modern art gallery and architecture exhibitions, an auditorium for concerts and an open-air  amphitheatre in the surrounding leafy gardens. It was designed by three Portuguese architects – Ruy d’Arthouguia, Alberto Pessoa and Pedro Cid, who envisioned it as an enormous cultural centre, where the public could flow freely between auditoria and exhibition spaces. We spent so much time wandering through the jungle-like gardens, admiring the architecture and stopping by the lake-side cafe that we ran out of time to actually see the art inside!

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian – Avenida de Berna, 45a | Praça de Espanha, 1050, Lisbon 1067-001

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

The museum of Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, which displays more than six thousand pieces including jewellery designed by Rene Lalique

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

Leather seats in the concrete interior of the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian architecture centre

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

Inside the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

The gardens of Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian’s open air theatre

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

Concrete and plants vie for attention in the gardens

Day 3: Explore Baixa, Bairro Alto & Chiado

On day three we explored a couple of other districts in the centre of Lisbon. Baixa, Bairro Alto and Chiado are slightly chicer, refined versions of Alfama, with smart boutiques, rich, ornate buildings and art galleries. The back streets still have the same rough-around-the-edges charm, with hidden cafes and laundry strung up from one building to another drying in the breeze.

We started in the heart of the city at Praca do Comercio before taking in two art galleries – the Museu de Design e da Moda and Museu do Chiado further west. Housed in a former bank, the Museu de Design e da Moda is worth going as much for the building as for the design and fashion inside. Iconic furniture from the likes of Alvar Aalto and Ron Arad rub shoulders with fashion from Christian Dior and Balenciaga against a backdrop of rough concrete and rich marble panels.

The Museu do Chiado, split between two buildings including a former convent, shows 19th and 20th century works from artists such as Rodin as well as contemporary Portuguese work. Stop off at the cafe and enjoy their small sculpture garden.

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

The Chiado district of Lisbon

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

The Chiado district of Lisbon

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

The backstreets of Chiado

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

We stopped off for lunch at a healthy cafe, A Mercearia, 40 Rua Vítor Cordon

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

Inside A Mercearia on Rua Vítor Cordon – they seem to like using doors as tables!

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

A Mercearia, a healthy food cafe/deli on Rua Vítor Cordon

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

Strolling the streets of Baixa

We then meandered our way up to Bairro Alto, climbing up to the steeply inclined Elevador da Glória, Lisbon’s second oldest funicular that connects Praça dos Restauradores to Rua São Pedro de Alcântara. We chanced upon Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, a fine viewpoint with the best views across the city. Here the city has the feel of Paris, with peaceful flowing fountains and relaxed open-air cafes – with the sun shining and the sky as blue as blue can be, it was the perfect ending to the trip.

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

View from Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

Elevador da Glória

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

Fountains at Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara

catesthill - Lisbon travel guide

Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara

We still had so much to see and only really scratched the surface, but that gives us an even better excuse to visit again. I loved the city’s undeniable charm, and the hodgepodge of art, culture and local life that gently buzzed from it’s streets. Lisbon, we can’t wait to be back!

All images my own, except the images from Jauntful in the guide widget.

25 Comments

  1. Thank you Cate for this amazing guide to Lisbon which I have just printed off for our trip in June. I am really excited now after reading your guide & seeing your beautiful images & can’t wait to go and explore! x

    • Fantastic! I’m excited for you! I would love to go back, there is so many things we missed but hopefully you’ll enjoy our favourites as much as we did! xxx

  2. Beautiful Cate, I’ve been looking for a European weekend destination for later this year, and my have just found it!

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  4. Pingback: 4 days in Lisbon: pt. 2 – ACCOOOHTREMENTS.

  5. Gorgeous, gorgeous photos. It’s not somewhere I’ve ever been but not I really want to. I’m craving a different country, at the moment. I not used to being in the same place for so long but with a three and a five year old, spontaneous travel is not as easy as it once used to be.

  6. So much pattern and design, I’ll never fail to love all the gorgeous tiles. Lovely photos and it sounds like you had a good time.

  7. Gaby says

    I’ve been only once in Lisbon and enjoyed really a lot.I recommend to all my friends to find time for visiting also Museum of tiles/azulejo. It’s only 15-20 min by tram from the centre and worthy. There’s also cafe in its atrium where you can have breakfast or light lunch. More details: http://www.museudoazulejo.pt/en-GB/default.aspx

  8. Fantastic guide, no need for trip advisor ! Love your photography too and what a lovely surprise for your man x

  9. Oh what a fantastic guide and love the download. I’ve never been to Lisbon before but now it’s definitely on the list thanks to your post. Wonderful photos and I’m dying over all that gorgeous tile! xx

    • Thank you, I think my boyfriend was getting a little bit tired with the amount of times I stopped to take a photo of some more tiles! Took us ages to get anywhere! x

  10. I haven’t been to Lisbon Cate but now I’ll have to put it on the list. Such beautiful photo’s too. x

  11. OH what an incredible place! I’d love to go one day, I’ll be heading to Porto this year which I hope will be nice.
    Such lovely pictures! My mouth dropped when I saw the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian pics,so so beautiful!

    • Ooh Porto is next on my list! The Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian was such an amazing place and of course loved all the concrete x

  12. I love Lisbon, it’s such a beautiful city and it’s been way too long since I’ve last visited. Your photos make me want to pack my bags and get over there straight away :-) Have a lovely start to the week – even if it’s back in the UK 😉 x

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