I never paid much attention to Lisbon in the past. But a last minute change of plans whilst travelling through Europe led us to this beautiful city. The journey there wasn’t easy. Delayed and cancelled flights meant that by the time I arrived, I had been awake for 24 hours. I was exhausted, ravenous, and all I wanted to do was curl up in bed for a day or so. But the minute we landed, my mood lifted. I knew right then that I couldn’t waste a single second of the time I had there.
If you want to make every second of the time you spend in this incredible city count, read this step by step itinerary of the perfect day in Lisbon.
8:00AM: Breakfast from the bakery
Make it a great start to the day by heading to the nearest bakery. Portuguese pastries are seriously underrated, especially in comparison to delicacies from other European countries like France and Italy. So it’s time to start giving them the appreciation that they deserve.
When you get there, you’ll find a huge selection of mouth-watering pastries and you’ll find it impossible to choose just one. So make sure to fill your boots and get yourself a tasty selection box. You’re only there for 24 hours, so you need to stock up! And after all, breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
If you want to eat like a local, start your day off with some fresh bread and good coffee. The Portuguese typically don’t eat pastries until late morning — but I found it impossible to wait that long! Popular Portuguese pastries include the famous pastel de nata, bola de berlim (a sugar-coated dough ball filled with egg cream) and travesseiro (sugar coated puff pastry filled with almond cream). All that sugar will easily fuel you for the journey to your next stop.
8:30AM: Head to São Jorge Castle
After breakfast, head up to São Jorge Castle to get there in time for when it opens at 9:00AM. It tends to get pretty busy during the day, so getting there first thing will allow you to enjoy the site without the crowds. Plus, the cooler morning temperature will make it possible to avoid huge sweat patches whilst making your way up the endless number of steps to the top.
But the long and sweaty journey is worth it for the scenery. The castle is one of the highest points of the city, which gives you some absolutely magnificent views. If you’re lucky enough to visit on a clear day like I was, you’re really in for a treat. Seeing this view is easily one of the best things to do in Lisbon.
As well as getting to see a fantastic cityscape, you’ll also get a chance to step back in time and find out more about the history of the city. Opt for a guided tour to find out more about the different areas of the castle, including the Tower of Ulysses, ruins of the Royal Palace of the Alcáçova, and the fascinating archaeological site. And don’t forget to check out the camera obscura for a 360° view of Lisbon in real time.
Entrance fee: The adult fee is €10. Students, over 65’s and disabled guests pay just €5, and under 12’s go free.
Opening hours: November – February: 9:00AM to 6:00PM.
March – October: 9:00AM to 9:00PM.
11:00AM: Jerónimos Monastery
Your next stop is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Portugal. Jerónimos Monastery holds great significance in the country, and has an incredibly rich and vibrant history. As well as being a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the resting place of some of the most famous Portuguese figures, it’s also the birthplace of a national delicacy — the pastel de nata!
The monastery started off as a small and simple chapel in the 14th century. But when the famous explorer Vasco de Gama came back to the city with riches, King Manuel I ordered that it be turned into a magnificent monastery to show the newfound wealth of the country. However, the King himself never got to see the finished product, as it took over 100 years to build!
This isn’t so surprising to hear when you see the monastery in person — it’s absolutely huge! The size of the building makes the intricate and detailed architecture seem even more impressive. The grounds are made up of the remarkable church of Santa Maria and an impressive two storey cloister. It’s a fascinating place to visit, and it really shows the best of Lisbon.
Entrance fee: The adult fee is €10, and children go free. Make sure to check to see if any concession prices are on offer too.
Opening hours: October – April: 10:00AM to 5:30PM.
May – September: 10:00AM to 6:30PM.
You’ll have already had a busy day, so no doubt you’ll be ravenous by the time you get to lunch. Fortunately, you’re in the best place to satisfy your appetite as Lisbon has some of the best food in Europe. We already know how delicious the bakery goods are, but that’s just scratching the surface. The city was named foodie hotspot of the year in the 2019 National Geographic Traveller awards, so you’ll easily find something that you love.
Portugal is renowned for the quality of its fish. The most popular fish dish amongst locals is fresh sardines, which are usually eaten at summertime alongside a thick slice of delicious sourdough. Another popular dish amongst the locals is chouriço, which is a less spicy version of Spanish chorizo. It’s often eaten as a snack, but it’s sometimes used in recipes too, so make sure to keep an eye out for it.
If you haven’t already guessed, Lisbon isn’t exactly renowned for vegetarian or vegan food. But don’t worry, veggies and vegans can still find places to eat without too much hassle. Check out this article from The Nomadic Vegan to find the best meat-free restaurants in the city.
1:30PM: Rossio Square
After you’ve had a bite to eat, head over to Rossio Square, otherwise known as King Pedro IV Square. This is the main square in the city. It’s incredibly lively and popular amongst locals and tourists alike. In fact, you may be close to the square, since it’s surrounded by some of the most popular cafes in the city, including art-deco masterpiece Cafe Nicola.
Rossio Square has always been the most popular area of the city. Back in the 13th century it was one of the few places that was open to commoners in the centre. This is where the term ‘rossio’ comes from, as it translates to common land. In the 19th century, the square was repaved to create the rippled effect that we see today.
In the centre of the square is a statue that’s supposedly of Dom Pedro IV, who was the king of Portugal at the time. However, many suspect that the statue was initially based on Emperor Maximilian I. The story goes that as he was assassinated just before the statue reached completion, it was altered a bit and passed off as Maximillian. At the time this was undoubtedly hush hush, but by today’s standard it seems like a good choice for sustainability!
As well as the numerous cafes, there are plenty of touristy shops to explore around Rossio Square, so make sure to bring an empty bag and a full wallet!
2:30PM: Santa Justa Lift
After you’ve spent some time exploring Rossio Square, head over to Santa Justa lift. This lift is one of the oldest in the world, and easily one of the most beautiful too. It was inaugurated as one of Lisbon’s public transport systems in 1902, and was used by locals who had long been struggling to travel from uptown to downtown Lisbon. However today the lift is used primarily as a tourist attraction. The architectural style is influenced by Gustave Eiffel, which is why many deem the lift to be ‘the Eiffel Tower of Portugal’.
But this attraction isn’t just about the lift itself. The views from the platform at the top are some of the best in Lisbon — you get to admire the River Tagus and Rossio Square in all its’ glory. You may find what seems to be a pretty hefty queue when you arrive, but it speeds up pretty quickly as the lift can hold 15 people at a time. Plus, it’s well worth it for one of the best experiences in the city.
Entrance fee: The cost of a return ride and a stop on the viewing platform is €5.15.
Opening hours: 7:30AM – 11:00PM
3:30PM: Time to explore
After visiting Santa Justa, you’ll have a bit of spare time before your evening meal. Take this time to just wander around and explore the city. This is your opportunity to experience the best of Lisbon. It is easily one of the most picturesque cities in Europe, so this is one of the best things to do here. Admire the stunning architecture and soak up the laid-back vibe. If you’re feeling too shattered to explore on foot after your busy day, hop on a tram and explore the city through the eyes of the locals.
6:00PM: Food and drink by the river
After a busy and jam packed day, have a chilled end to your 24 hours in Lisbon by grabbing some drinks and a bite to eat by the riverside. There are plenty of waterfront restaurants for you to choose from, so you should be able to find somewhere just right for you. Sit back, admire the sunset, and enjoy your last few hours in one of the best cities in Europe.
What’s your perfect step by step itinerary for Lisbon in a day? Let me know in the comments below!