Lisbon is the kind of city that’s perfect for a weekend getaway. Why? For one it’s relatively small. If you spend a few short days in, say, London or Berlin, you’ll leave feeling like you only saw a mere corner of all there is to see. The simple act of mastering the public transport systems in some larger cities takes more time than a weekend affords. Lisbon is walkable, navigable, the kind of city you can just wander around mapless and inevitably stumble across something wonderful.
It also has the advantage of a mild climate. Summer is bright and hot, tempered by the North Atlantic breezes. Springs and autumns are sunny and pleasant, punctuated by bursts of cleansing rains. Winters are relatively short and mild compared to other European cities. You never have to worry about being trapped indoors by a deluge of ice and snow.
Though tourism is steadily increasing in Portugal, it remains advantageously low-key. Lisbon may get touted as the latest “must-go” travel destination, but it’s still shrouded by an aura of authenticity that clings to the ancient buildings and traditional customs and holds at bay that bridle of expectations that shapes the experiences visitors have in other, more prominent, cities.
If you arrive on a Friday night, make like a Lisboeta and do some drinking in the street. The Bairro Alto neighbourhood is the number one place for this: a network of bar-filled streets that becomes like one big street party after nightfall. Portuguese drinking culture is to spend minimal time inside, instead taking your cup of beer, red wine or vodka-heavy caipirinha outside where you can chat to friends under the blanket of night sky.
For a unique Saturday morning activity (after you’ve naturally slept in a little and had a late breakfast at a typical Portuguese pastelaria) head to the old town neighborhood of Alfama and explore Feira da Ladra, Lisbon’s famous flea market that overflows with everything from clothing to books to beautiful old Portuguese tiles. Alfama is a must-see neighbourhood in general – so do take the time to get lost in the winding narrow streets that extend from the river up to the Moorish São Jorge Castle on one of the city’s highest hills. The castle itself is worth a visit for its history and sweeping views.
An ideal Sunday activity is to catch the train or tram to Belem and take in several historic sites: the impressive Jeronimos Monastery, the ornate Tower of Belem and the Monument to the Discoveries, which rises like a stone-carved ship’s hull pointing out towards the river. Of course, no visit to Belem is complete without a pit stop at the famous bakery for pastéis de Belém: freshly baked custard tarts encased in layers of crispy sweet pastry.
And naturally if you’re in Lisbon, a day trip to Sintra is always well worth a visit.