Greetings, Internet Stranger and welcome to 24 hours in Lisbon! Lisbon, Portugal is famous for many things: egg custard tarts, being the capital of Portugal, terrible earthquakes, fado music, a very unusual form of architecture, cherry booze, and Vasco de Gama. These are all lovely things, with maybe one or two exceptions, but my favorite thing about 24 hours in Lisbon is what a gorgeous city it is to explore on foot.
My three favorite things to do while traveling are eating, visiting museums, and wandering around aimlessly looking for stray cats. Today we do all three and more. Come, let us pussyfoot our way through 24 hours in Lisbon!
24 Hours in Lisbon
Where to Stay?
So the hotel where I stayed in Lisbon is now defunct, but I can definitely recommend a neighborhood for you. Lisbon is an amazing walking city, so I suggest staying in the City Center. That way you’ll be able to get up whenever you want and go explore! Lisbon has hotels at every price point, so no matter your budget, you’ll be able to find something good.
And if you’d like to explore over 7000 great deal on hotels in Lisbon, just click here.
24 Hours in Lisbon
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today around Lisbon. It’s very frequently hot here, though not always, so it’s smart to wear sandals. I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Also, don’t forget the sunscreen! The sun can get scorching! My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. You don’t want to sling a heavy bag all around Lisbon. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so you’ll never run out of juice!
24 Hours in Lisbon
Morning: Experience Lisbon Walk
My favorite thing to do when I first arrive in a city is go on a walking tour, preferably a food-oriented walking tour. This way I get an expert’s first-hand knowledge on the important things to know about a city before I set off to explore on my own. I was lucky that the Experience Lisbon Walk was available because it combined a walking tour of lovely Lisbon with memorable gastronomic souvenirs. Our guide Margerida took us around so many places that it would take a day to list them all, so I will limit myself to…
APPROXIMATELY TOP FIVE: 24 hours in Lisbon
1) First, admire the architecture like the Eden Teatro
The most important year to remember when visiting Lisbon is the year 1755 because that is when the great earthquake occurred that destroyed so much of the city. The upside of the earthquake, if you can say there is an upside to a natural disaster that killed so many people, is that present-day Lisbon is chock full of a fascinating cacophony of architectural styles. This is because the whole city had to be rebuilt after the quake.
This Art Deco theater from the 1930s pictured above was my favorite of all the buildings we looked at. Sadly you can’t step out here for a retro night at the movies like Daddy Warbucks and Little Orphan Annie because it has been converted into a luxury hotel.
2) Start your morning right with some booze!
In Lisbon, this means ginjinha, which is 23% alcohol and made with Morello cherries and cinnamon. We got ours at the most famous bar for the spirit, A Ginjinha. It felt mildly bohemian doing shots at 11 AM, but there was a piece of fruit inside my shot, so probably it was healthy.
3) Visit the Igreja de Sao Domingos
Margerida said she didn’t want to spoil our next destination for us, so she led us up to a small church near A Ginjinha will little fanfare and said she would explain after we left. We were all surprised to enter and find that the interior of the church was mostly bare and that the walls were partially blackened.
After we exited the Igreja, Margerida explained that the church had been severely damaged in a fire . The same fire had also damaged a nearby theater, and there had only been enough money to repair the church or the theater. Surprisingly for a Catholic country like Portugal, they chose to repair the theater instead of the church.
Maybe they thought Portugal already had enough gold-plated churches? But I kind of wonder if that didn’t hurt God’s feelings. I mean, it would definitely hurt my feelings if people chose to rebuild a theater instead of my house unless the theater was showing Hamilton or something.
4) Eat the national dish of Portugal
OK, so maybe I don’t know for a “fact” that the pastel de nata is the national dish of Portugal. Maybe it’s salted codfish or something. But if the nata is not the national dish, it really should be because you can get it in any Portuguese city, and it is delicious. As I explained in my article about Porto, pastel de nata is a flaky tart filled with molten egg custard. If you get the small natas, about three should satisfy you.
We tucked into our treat at a hole in the wall called Pasteis de Mouraria. The natas were served alongside a tart that was actually filled with a white bean paste. This didn’t taste like beans at all. They were sweet with a light and slightly grainy texture. I approved of its magic bean-like ways, but the pastel de nata are better.
5) Eat Romeo and Juliet
“What?” you must be asking in horror, Internet Stranger. “Why would you want to eat Romeo and Juliet? Everybody loves Romeo and Juliet, from Baz Luhrmann to garden gnomes. Well, I’m not talking about William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet. In Portugal, Romeo and Juliet refers to the serendipitous pairing of sweet guava jelly and tangy Portuguese Sao Jorge cheese.
I was definitely expecting the little snack to commit suicide by jumping dramatically into my mouth, but sadly this did not happen. The cheese and jelly did taste amazing with the tawny port, so that might make up for my disappointment a little bit.
6) Take the ferry
Our final destination in our 24 hours in Lisbon was over the Tejo River, so we got to take the scenic route. I love being on the water, though sadly I do not know how to sail, so I take any possible opportunity to float away on any tide, high or low, with the possible exception of the Gowanus Canal. The ferry is a great value because for about 3 Euros, you can get the same amazing views you’d normally have to pay 19 bucks for on a river cruise.
Everyone on my tour group agreed with me! Proof!
See! We all look really happy and like we’re about to fall over because the ferry was definitely moving. Also, no matter what it looks like, my hand is not on that blonde girl’s knee. Sorry, Internet Creeps!
7) Sample vinho verde and Portuguese seafood
Once we reached the opposite side of the river, we were in a neighborhood called Cacilhas. This rea is famous for its seafood restaurants. We stopped at a charming blue and white tiled place called Vale do Rio, where we snacked on scrumptious giant prawns, cod cakes, and pickled lupine beans. The lupine beans were my favorite because I’d never eaten anything like it before. You munch on them by biting a hole in the top and sucking out the interior. The salty taste was quite addictive.
For booze, we had vinho verde, which is a slightly sour and refreshing wine from the north of Portugal. It went really well with sucking the heads out of giant prawns.
24 Hours in Lisbon
Afternoon: Explore Lisbon
As I always recommend, once the tour is over, head off to explore Lisbon on your own! I assume you’d like some of my suggestions for places to visit, or why are you wasting time on this blog, Internet Stranger? So I’ll give you a boost with
Approximately top 5: 24 hours in lisbon edition
1) Time Out Market
While the tour is entertaining and delicious, the snacks offered aren’t meant to be a full lunch. You can stay at Vale de Rio and eat lunch if you want, but my group opted to head back to the main part of Lisbon, once again via the ferry. I ended up grabbing a snack at the famous Time Out Market on Av. 24 de Julho 49 with an Irish couple from the tour. I shall call them Sean and Seana because I definitely don’t remember their actual names.
There were about a thousand food stalls in the market to choose from, but Seana was craving pizza, so I joined her at the Pizza a Pezzi stand. I felt a little touristy choosing pizza in Portugal because I eat it all the time back home, so I got this cheeseless beauty with rich and salty sardines on top. Nothing says “Authentic Portuguese Experience” like cured fish!
2) convento do carmo
Now that we are back on the mainland, it’s time for more Portuguese history! And that means traveling once again back to the year 1755 when the earthquake made Lisbon’s buildings dive. These arches once belonged to the Convento do Carmo, but because of that earthquake, they now belong to the ruins of the Convento. However sad the devastation caused by the quake might have been, the ruins are a captivating place to spend an afternoon exploring.
4 out of 5 cats agree!
24 Hour Tip
Don’t miss the Archaeological Museum located in the ruins of the Convento. It contains everything from lovely Portuguese blue and white tiles…
To unbearably fugly mummies in glass cases. So, you know, something for everyone!
24 hour treasure
My favorite thing about the Convento do Carmo, other than the cats, mummies, and maybe cat mummies, was the elements of Manueline architecture. This sadly has nothing to do with Manuel from Fawlty Towers. Manueline architecture is named after the 15th-16th century Portuguese king Manuel I.
The style is a highly ornamental one that incorporates elements from basically everywhere a Portuguese explorer might have gone: India, Morocco, Swansea…That is why there are so many not typically Western elements present in Portuguese buildings.
It’s also why that arch above has about eleventy million curlicues when just one would probably be sufficient. If you ever see a building that is over-the-top ornate in style, just mutter to yourself, “Looks Manueline to me” You’ll sound like you know what you’re talking about, even though you almost assuredly don’t!
3) Sao Roque Church
Sao Roque is the mullet of churches: business in the front, party in the back. No, that’s wrong. It’s the Tim Gunn of churches, business on the outside, party on the inside. The exterior of the church is extremely plain, but once you get inside, it is gilded like something out of Rumpelstiltskin’s wildest dreams.
In the year 1755, the earthquake left this church alive. Sao Roque is one of the few buildings in Lisbon not to be destroyed by the quake.
4) The miradouro de sao pedro de alcantara
Once your eyes have been blinded by all that gold, wake them up with the views from the Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara. A miradouro is just Portuguese for a scenic viewpoint, and since Lisbon is set in the hills, there are abundant eye-boggling miradouros all over the city. But I like this one because it has a pretty garden and also because it’s easy to buy a cheap beer at one of the kiosks here.
5) jardim do principe real
As a bookworm/solo traveler, I am always looking for charming spots to sit and read. Aside from the miradouros, I also like to soak up some knowledge in the well-tended Jardim do Principe Real. It is the perfect place to go to find pretty lavender blooms and also the mystery of AFB.
Who is AFB? Is he a Portuguese prince? A proponent of Manueline architecture? A desiccated mummy? If you know, please don’t keep me in suspense any longer.
24 Hours in Lisbon
Evening: Fado Tour
It’s not typical for me to go on two tours in one day, but I was dying to hear some fado music during my 24 hours in Lisbon, and this tour seemed like the easiest and most sociable way to hear it. Fado, for those not in the fa-know, is Portuguese five-hankie music.
You don’t need to speak Portuguese to want to slit your wrists after you listen to it, and believe me, I mean that as a compliment. I’m not a musician, so I’m not qualified to comment on more technical elements, but you can recognize a fado song by the sad, sad thrumming of the Portuguese guitar and the sad, sad singing of a sad, sad Portuguese person.
Our tour guide Tiago took us to two different parts of Lisbon that played an important role in the development of fado music before the grande finale of the fado show. We started in the Mouraria neighborhood where, legend has it, is where fado music began.
THREE FUN FACTS ABOUT SOME SAD, SAD MUSIC
1) Who is the mother of fado?
People say that the first fado singer was a prostitute named Maria Severa, pictured above. She performed in the early 1800s, so obviously this was painted from imagination, as they weren’t very good at taking photos back then. She performed in the Mouraria neighborhood, the neighborhood where the Moors were allowed to live in medieval Lisbon.
Maria Severa is still honored in this neighborhood, not just with street art, but also with alcohol. We stopped at a tiny local bar called Os Amigos de Severa, which translates to Friends of Severa, to get a shot of that sweet ginjinha. I use that term literally, as this was sweeter than the ginjinha we had consumed that morning.
2) who is the queen of fado?
Amalia Rodrigues (pictured on the above mural). Rodrigues was so popular that people usually refer to her as the Queen of Fado. Even though she died in the nineties, she is still beloved in Portugal, as evidenced by her omnipresence in street art.
I think she’s a classy lady with cool hair and an amazing tearjerking singing voice. I warn you, once you start listening to her stuff on Youtube, you won’t be able to stop. Don’t click on that link unless you want to listen to sad music and cry all day. I speak from bitter experience.
3. where is fado club central?
The Alfama is famous for the kind of skinny winding alleyways you see pictured above, so it’s a great area to get lost in. You can lose yourself on purpose or, if you’re like me, both constantly and completely by accident.
The name Alfama comes from Arabic because the neighborhood dates to the time when Lisbon was occupied by the Moors. Our guide Tiago was very complimentary about the contributions that Muslims had made to world culture, from mathematics to architecture. Way to be inclusive, Tiago! Now let’s eat.
24 Hour Tip
Take your time at the last stop of the tour, which is an actual Fado house called Fado em Si. Dinner was included with the tour, so we got to dine on soup, petiscos (Portuguese tapas), crema catalana, which is kind of like flan, and copious amounts of wine while we listened to fado.
I loved the leisurely pace of the dinner/concert. We had our soup and then we listened to the fado performer. We ate our petiscos, which were a tasty combination of cheese, ham, potato croquettes, mushroom salad, and every Portuguese person’s best friend, the codfish. Then we listened to another fado performer. We spooned our crema catalana for dessert, and then there was even more fado.
Our group started with twelve people, but there were a couple of people who got sleepy and lame and left early. No fun! Don’t you do the same! How often do you get to listen to fado music in the Alfama? I ended up closing the joint down with Tiago and this old couple from the UK, and I think if British senior citizens can handle the late night, you can too. Make it all the way to the end of your 24 hours in Lisbon without sleeping!
24 hour treasure
One of the coolest things about this tour is that you get to take the famous yellow Tram 28 from near the Mouraria neighborhood to the Alfama. Ordinarily the line is super long, but we were taking it late enough in our 24 hours in Lisbon that we did not have to wait on line.
Tiago was very good about making sure we all got on the tram, so much so that a woman taking the tram started yelling after him to know how to book his tour. I have proof because she’s the lady giving the thumbs up in my photo above.
Further Reading: 24 Hours in Lisbon!
Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Lisbon? Then let me help you with some suggestions for further reading. I’m a fan of Lonely Planet’s guide to Lisbon. They divide each chapter according to neighborhood, which makes the book easy to use for planning purposes.
Jose Saramago is one of the most famous Portuguese writers of all time. After all, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. I recommend his novel Baltasar and Blimunda. It’s extremely entertaining and extremely bizarre.
One of the most famous recent novels set in Lisbon is Night Train to Lisbon, This book will take you on a journey into Portugal’s dark fascist past. (JK Rowling named one of the Harry Potter baddies after the Portuguese dictator Salazar, who looms large in this novel.) But it’s also a beautiful story about hope and resisting evil.
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Lisbon. If you want another 24 hours in Lisbon with Belem, try this itinerary. And if you’d like to add 24 hours in Porto, try this itinerary or this itinerary.