2 Days in Lisbon: The Ultimate 48 Hours Itinerary

2 Days in Lisbon: The Ultimate 48 Hours Itinerary

Lisbon Scenic View

Lisbon was one of the best discoveries of my recent trips. So much so that I wish I had visited the city a few years earlier before it became such a top destination in Europe. I fell in love with Lisbon’s bohemian and slightly decadent atmosphere and was impressed by how lively and creative the city is. I loved every moment of my 10-day trip to Portugal, and Lisbon certainly was one of the highlights. Retrospectively, starting my trip from Porto was a good idea. I liked the city so much, and I was not expecting to be even more amazed by Lisbon.

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Lisbon history in a nutshell

The capital of Portugal is one of the oldest cities in Western Europe, with a history going back a few centuries before the Roman Empire. The subsequent invasions from the Romans, Germanic Visigoths, and the Moors from Northern Africa left their imprint on the city’s cultural development.

Lisbon, Azulejos

The 15th and 16th centuries marked Lisbon’s golden age. Thanks to its privileged geographic position at the mouth of the River Tagus, and overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Lisbon was at the forefront of the maritime explorations. The Portuguese discoveries included West Africa, the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, the Indian Ocean, India, Southeast Asia, and Brazil. You can still see the wealth and power of Lisbon when visiting Belem and its two most famous landmarks: the Belem Tower and the Jeronimos Monastery, inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1983.

The 1755 earthquake and its widespread destruction were one of the darkest moments in the history of Lisbon. The rebuilding is clearly visible in the Baixa district, with the ample, symmetric Praça do Comércio and the elegant buildings lining the streets built as a grid.

As for the origins of Lisbon’s name, the most credited answer is that it might derive from the ancient name “Allis Ubbo,” the Phoenician name meaning “safe harbor.”

Best time to visit Lisbon

Lisbon is a year-round destination, although the best time to visit is undoubtedly late Spring or early Autumn. Like Barcelona, Venice, and Amsterdam, Lisbon is one of the most visited cities in Europe. This means that it can get very crowded in the summer (June, July, and August) or during the holidays (Easter, for example). And also more expensive. Winters are generally mild but can be somewhat rainy. If possible, when planning your trip to Lisbon, try to visit during the weekdays, since Lisbon is a hot weekend getaway in Europe.

If you can only spend two days in Lisbon during the peak season, I advise you to buy Skip the Line tickets for the main attractions. That way, you’ll avoid wasting time queueing.

TIP

LISBON CARD

The best way to get around Lisbon (aside from walking) is to buy the Lisboa Card, which is really convenient. You can choose between a 24h, 48h, or 72h Lisbon Card to get unlimited access to all public transportation. Furthermore, the Lisboa Card provides additional benefits, like a free pass to 35 museums and monuments, plus discounts on other places of interest and activities.

You can buy the Lisboa Card once you get there at the Ask Me Tourist Offices and Turismo de Lisboa facilities and shops. However, if you want to save time and start using public transport right away, I suggest you buy your Lisboa Card in advance and redeem it at the Airport.

Lisbon attractions map

Lisbon itinerary: Day 1

Like I always do, on the first day, I focused on Lisbon’s historical center to explore the heart of the city.

You can, of course, discover Lisbon by yourself and at your own pace. However, if you want to learn more about the capital of Portugal, its history, and other curiosities, a guided tour is a good introduction. Here are a few Lisbon tours which are worth looking at:

  • Lisbon Essential Tour: History, Stories & Lifestyle
  • Best of Lisbon: 3-Hour Private Walking Tour

You can also explore the city differently and take advantage of cool experiences like the Half-Day Electric Bike Tour or the Lisbon Sightseeing Tour by Tuk Tuk. This latter might be a good idea if you spend 2 days in Lisbon with kids, since climbing the hills is tiring.

A tour provides a great introduction to the best of Lisbon, but if you prefer to do everything independently, here’s my suggested Lisbon itinerary on your first day.

Historic Center, Lisbon

Lisbon - Historic Center

Rossio Square

The majestic Rossio Square is a convenient place to start your visit, regardless of where you are. Praça do Rossio is indeed an ideal spot to orient yourself and begin appreciating the decadent look that makes Lisbon so unique.

From Rossio Square, you can choose whether to take your first Lisbon funicular or walk and reach the beautiful garden of São Pedro de Alcantara. If you decide to ride the Funicular da Glória, expect it to be very crowded. Glória funicular dates back to 1885 and climbs up to São Pedro de Alcântara (Bairro Alto) from Praça dos Restauradores in the Baixa. It’s often jam-packed with tourists and locals, the latter heading to the bars of Barrio Alto during weekends.

Bairro Alto Lisbon

São Pedro de Alcântara is one of the many viewpoints (Miradouros), offering beautiful sights of the Baixa and St George’s Castle hill. Also, São Pedro de Alcântara is considered one of the most beautiful places to admire the city at sunset.

Santa Justa elevator and Convent of Carmo

You’ll reach the Santa Justa elevator a short distance from Piazza Rossio. Built in 1902 by Raoul de Mesnier du Ponsard, a French architect and an apprentice of Gustave Eiffel, the Santa Justa elevator (also called “Elevator of Carmo”) is one of Lisbon’s landmarks. The elevator connects the lower part of the city to the Bairro Alto, and if you climb the spiral staircase to the top of the tower, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning view of the city.

Nearby Santa Justa elevator, the Carmo convent (Convento do Carmo) is worth a visit. The medieval convent was partially ruined during the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, and today you can see a portion of its original architecture: the fascinating roofless nave. You can also have a look at the small archaeologic museum, which includes artifacts from different periods.

Praça do Comércio

Once known as Terreiro do Paço (the Palace’s Square), given its proximity to the Royal Palace, Praça do Comércio is a beautiful square surrounded by elegant yellow buildings and arcades. The 1755 earthquake destruction didn’t spare the Royal Palace. After the erection of the new buildings, the new square became Lisbon’s port of entry; thus, the name Praça do Comércio.

Lisbon Praça do Comércio

The statue of King José I on horseback towers at the center of the square, one of the main meeting points in the city. Don’t miss to pop into the Martinho da Arcada cafe. Dating back to 1782, it was one of the favorite places of Fernando Pessoa and other Portuguese poets and writers.

Alfama

From Praça do Comércio, head east to the quaint Alfama district, the most typical quarter in all of Lisbon. With its alleys perching up the steep hills, Alfama is one of the few neighborhoods which survived the 1755 earthquake. It was also one of my favorite places – probably the best areas in Lisbon, IMO. And I felt so happy to have booked my accommodation in Lisbon right there.

Walking through Alfama is like taking a step back in time. The district has a strong Moorish influence, starting from its name, deriving from the Arabic word “al-hamma,” which means hot springs or baths. The Moors built the maze of winding, narrow streets as a defense system and to keep homes cool in summer. Alfama exudes an old-world atmosphere, and the worn whitewashed houses covered in colorful tiles reflect the fado’s melancholy and longing.

Although the increase in tourism fatally changed the city, as I got lost through the charming alleys of the Alfama, I could still breathe the soul of Lisbon. The Alfama district retained an air of authenticity, which sadly might soon disappear as gentrification holds foot.

Lisbon Tram 28

This is also the perfect place to board one of Lisbon’s iconic trams, such as the number 28. Onboard, you can see how narrow the streets of Alfama are while the tram makes its way through the meandering uphill alleys.

Lisbon Tram 28

Lisbon tram 28 is by far one of the most famous attractions in the city. Therefore, the queues are long, and sometimes you have to wait for 2 or 3 to pass before you can board. Is Tram 28 worth the wait? I can’t tell. I dislike queuing so much that I’m ready to do so only to experience something exceptional. Rather than waiting and boarding a crammed tram (not exactly my idea of something enjoyable), I prefer walking peacefully.

Aside from leisurely strolling around and watching local life unfolding before your eyes, Alfama is also home to some of Lisbon’s main landmarks.

Lisbon Cathedral

The Cathedral is Lisbon’s oldest building, erected in 1150 on the site of an old Mosque. Don’t feel put off by the bulk external architecture. Once you step inside, you’ll marvel at the beautiful Romanesque and Gothic interior. A must is visiting the gothic cloisters, beautiful and exuding spirituality.

Saint George’s Castle

You’ll know you’re approaching Saint George’s Castle as soon you start spotting the crowds. Although severely damaged during Lisbon’s 18th-century earthquake, the castle underwent a significant refurbishment in the second half of the 20th century. Saint George’s Castle is indeed one of Lisbon’s top attractions, especially for the superb views of the city from the ramparts and the towers. A Skip the Line ticket is the best way to optimize your time in Lisbon, avoiding the frequent long queues.