Lisbon 1 Day Itinerary: How to Spend the Perfect Day in Lisbon

Follow this guide for a fulfilling, flying visit to the Portuguese capital.

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Lisbon streets with tram

Gardening, our father once told us, teaches you patience and careful watchfulness. Unfortunately we’re not much of a student – as our withered lupins will attest – but on our most recent visit to Portugal we mused that the same could be said of its complex capital city. Patience: the majority of Lisbon’s most exquisite restaurants and exciting attractions require the sort of stoic waiting-in-line that would make even a Brit bite their nails clean off. But, much like the rewards of watching the daily progress of your runner beans (so we’ve been told), the end results are delicious and gratifying.

As for careful watchfulness, this isn’t as sinister as it sounds. We simply mean that in Lisbon it pays to go off piste and keep your eyes out for chance encounters. Wander the quiet streets surrounding Alfama’s Sao Jorge Castle and you may end up sharing a glass of homemade Ginja from the doorstep stall of a local resident. Head for the views from Jardim do Torel and end up in the Wes Anderson-esque symmetry of the Lisbon Geographic Society.

Typical Lisbon Tiled Building

We haven’t really the patience for gardening, nor it would seem for spinning lengthy – and let’s face it, loose – extended comparisons. We would however be prepared to wait an age for the perfect garlic shrimp. Or, say, to catch a glimpse of the pleasing early graphic designs of Carlos Galamba. If this sounds similar to the balance of your own priorities, the below Lisbon one day itinerary is for you.

Morning

In our view breakfast should always be savoured, but with limited time on your hands don’t make too much of a meal out of it. For the trendy among you, coffee and pancakes at Amélia in Campo de Ourique will tick all the right boxes. But for some on-the-go sustenance and a quick look into the world of Portuguese pastry production, head to the tiny cafe Manteigaria in Bairro Alto for two or three pasteis de nata and an espresso shot, where the open kitchen gives you a glimpse at how these sweet little national gems are made. You’ll be tempted to join the crowds outside the historic and world famous Pastéis de Belém, but don’t do that. The pasteis at Manteigaria are just as good and the experience is better suited to our whistlestop schedule.

Lisbon is a very walkable city, and if the weather’s fine and you fancy stretching the legs, a fairly leisurely stroll will get you to most points on this itinerary, the next being an unchallenging five minutes away. The beautifully preserved ruins of Carmo Convent provide a perfectly pleasant hour or so of culture depending on your levels of interest in Gothic architecture and ancient archaeological artefacts. You can go the whole hog with a guided tour of the museum and learn about the church’s history and national importance, but we’d recommend a more non-committal approach; nose around the glass displays of coins and swords in your own time and stretch out beneath the huge stone archways for moments of self reflection.

Carmo Convent, Lisbon, Portugal

The Museum of Portuguese Contemporary Art is close-by for a cultural add-on should you wish your Lisbon one day itinerary to continue along that route, and if you’re taking my “careful watchfulness” advice seriously you might chance upon the Jardim de São Pedro de Alcântara for some serious views across the city.

Afternoon

A Lisbon lunch is a casual affair so don’t waste time searching for Michelin-star restaurants or eating in hotels. Instead, call in to somewhere like Prado Mercearia for meats and cheese and a glass or two of their slightly sparkling Vinho Verde. This place is also a traditional style grocer’s and a great source of local produce for your apartment – trick yourself into believing you’re a true alfacinha by stocking the cupboards with natural wine, smoked cured sausage and tinned sardines.

You’ll have heard of the latter of these staples as being something of a Portuguese obsession, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Sol e Pesca. Located on the slightly off-putting but certainly interesting Cais do Sodré – a street to be avoided at all costs beyond 8pm unless you enjoy shooting endless 1-Euro Goldshlager with slurring students – this little restaurant is a monument to canned fish. Make your way through the brightly coloured cans of sardines, trout, eel, tuna, trout, mackerel, cod and bluefin tuna, all served with Alentejo bread. The wines are good, but wash this down with a cold pint of beer for the full fisherman’s experience, then for God’s sake get out of there before the bars start opening.

Forty minutes walk along the coast (or 10 minutes in a cab) will bring you to LX Factory, an industrial complex housing art shops, design studios, events spaces, pop up stores, rooftop bars and quality restaurants. There’s always something going on here, and while it sounds like every shallow hipster’s fantasy, and while you will get some floppy, mustachioed posers, it’s actually one of the city’s most important and productive creative hubs, responsible in the large for the success and prosperity of the flourishing Alcântara neighbourhood. It just so happens that you can also pick up an incredibly rare vinyl and handmade jewellry while you’re there. The bookshop in the complex, Livraria Ler Devagar, looks like it was designed by Maurits Escher and Quentin Blake after a particularly heavy day-drinking session, and is a great place to while away an hour or so in readiness for the evening ahead.

Evening

Cocktails, food and fado lie in store this evening, kicking off with an 8pm spicy cilantro mezcal margarita at Farès before dinner at Estrela da Bica. To its credit, this welcoming local restaurant won’t be found in the usual culinary guides to Lisbon, where you’ll see gushing reviews of places like Ramiro or A Cevichera (excellent as both of those restaurants are). Tucked away in the Bica district at the top of a long and daunting staircase from Farès, Estrela da Bica’s shabby chic decor and homely-yet-inventive menu provide a warming Portuguese embrace and genuine taste of local Lisbon cuisine with an international twist: truffle mushrooms with confit egg, zesty duck tacos, falafel and tzatziki and salmon sashimi with blackberries. That embrace gets warmer with every carafe of red wine you knock back, which, if you’re as easily swayed by bon vivant community atmosphere as I am, will be lots.

Lisbon by night

The closing act of our fleeting Lisbon experience takes place in the heart of Alfama – by this stage you’ll be wanting to take a cab – where the Hot Clube de Jazz showcases the best local and international jazz cats until the small hours. But if jazz insults you, fear not, because around the corner below a residential block is the local cosy fado bar Tejo. Here you’ll find equally talented musicians performing heart-rending versions of traditional Portuguese folk songs, and nomadic, whispering, red-eyed audience members rubbing their hands together to express applause – apparently the residents above aren't too keen on noise, which makes for the odd entertaining set-to.

And there you have it. Time to head home and spend the rest of the night frantically figuring out how to postpone your flight home so you can extend this Lisbon one day itinerary to a full week.

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