The perfect way to spend one day in Lisbon

10 years ago, Lisbon was regarded as a hidden gem when it came to European city break destinations. As thousands flocked to Rome, Barcelona, London or Amsterdam not many had their sights set on the Portuguese capital. The good news is that things haven’t changed that much.

Lisbon still doesn't draw the crowds of its aforementioned counterparts. Instead a few days here can be as relaxed or as hectic as you want, and due to its compact nature, you can squeeze a lot into 24 hours. If I only had one day, here’s what I’d do…

9am – Begin your day with breakfast in Café Benard


As tourist upon tourist heads straight for Café a Brasileira, find Café Benard (104 Rua Garret), a neighbouring café where things are more ‘local’. It’s equally historic, dating back to 1912, and dishes up the most delightful croissants. If the weather is on your side you’ll be able to do some quality people watching with your breakfast before exploring.

10am – Get a bird’s eye view from Elevador de Santa Justa

Five minutes walk from the café is Elevador de Santa Justa (Rua de Santa Justa), an elevator built by Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard – a student of the famous Gustave Eiffel. Admittedly, his tower isn't as famous as his mentor’s, but a trip up to the top still offers stunning views over the city.

10.30am – Stroll down Rua Augusta to Praca do Comercio

Downtown Lisbon’s main artery in the neighbourhood known as Baixa is Rua Augusta. This marble tiled street is home to some of the world’s most familiar brands as well as cafés, tobacco shops and street sellers. At the bottom of the street is the much-photographed Arco de Rua Augusta that leads you to Praca do Comercio. Take a wander through the centre of the city, admiring the architecture.

11am – Jump on tram 28 past Sé Cathedral to Castelo de São Jorge


In other cities you jump on open-top buses to see the main sights in a small space of time. In Lisbon you can just hop on tram #28 to see them. It passes by the Barrio Alto, the centre of the city, Sé Cathedral and the historic castle. Hop on tram no. 28 at Rua da Conceicão. Admire Sé Cathedral on your right side as you climb the hills to the Alfama neighbourhood and the city’s fortress, Castelo de Sao Jorge.

11.30am – Explore Lisbon’s castle


Lisbon’s historic Castelo de Sao Jorge was officially founded in the 11th century but the area itself has been used as a fortress as far back as the 7th century BC. If you visit the castle you’ll learn all about the history, walk the walls and enjoy breath-taking vistas of the surrounding areas.

1pm – Wander back down to the centre for lunch

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After exploring the castle, take a leisurely stroll back down to the centre instead of a tram. Admire the views of the red roofs of Alfama, and visit city’s most famous cathedral. Then make your way to Rua dos Sapateiros and locate a restaurant called Bacalhoeiro (it’s near Rossio Plaza) for some delightful fish.

3pm – Enjoy a famous cake in the suburb of Belem


From Arco da Augusta, take the 15-minute light rail tram to the suburb of Belem. This part of Lisbon is famous for two things – a monastery and an extremely famous cake known as Pasteis de Belem. The former is an imposing structure that took over 40 years to build, while the latter is a very, very tasty custard cake that only three people know the recipe of.

4.30pm – More coffee, more people watching


My number one thing to do in any city I travel to is this – nothing. I like to leave time to see no sights and instead grab a coffee and watch the world go by from a café. This is the only way you get to really appreciate what living in a city is like. Rossio Plaza at the top of Rua Augusta is one such place to go for said coffee. Boasting a beautiful fountain in the centre of the square, it’s bordered with cafés calling for your presence.

6.30pm – Back into city, glass of wine in…


After a quick freshening up, the place to be seen in Lisbon is the Barrio Alto. It’s full of small bars, cafés and restaurants. Begin your evening in BA Wine Bar do Barrio Alto on Rua Rosa. If you want to learn more about Portuguese wine, or fancy a quick nibble before your meal, this is the bar for you.

8pm – Try a true Portuguese speciality: ‘Slice on the stone’


I’ve been to Lisbon four times and every time I go I visit Cabacas on Rua das Gaveas off Largo de Camoes. I come here for one thing and one thing only – steak. What makes it different is that it comes raw – you cook it yourself on a hot lava stone. Not to everybody’s liking admittedly, but I love it.

9pm – Finish night bar-hopping in Barrio Alto


Cabacas is on the fringes of Lisbon’s Barrio Alto – the city’s nightlife quarter. It’s the perfect place to finish a day off in Lisbon, boasting bars aimed at the livelier folk and those at the more tame people out there. My choices are Pavilhao Chines (Rua dom Pedro 89) which is one of Europe’s most uniquely decorated bars and Mezcal (20 Rua Travessa Agua de Flor), a Mexican bar that serves killer cocktails.

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