2 Days in Lisbon (Weekend Itinerary)
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This is the ideal itinerary for someone who’s arriving in Lisbon on Friday night and leaving on Sunday night or early Monday morning. You can also adapt this itinerary to any 2 days in Lisbon that aren’t a weekend.
It’s always hard for me to include Belém in an itinerary for Lisbon because it’s one of the most touristic neighborhoods in the city. Unlike Alfama, where there seems to always be a mix of locals and tourists, Belém is mostly tourists waiting in long lines to visit the “age of discoveries” related landmarks (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Torre de Belém, and Padrão dos Descobrimentos) and to eat the (in)famous “pastel de Belém”.
That said, and because this is an itinerary for cultural tourists spending a weekend in Lisbon, Belém has to be part of the experience. Although I suggest you skip getting inside the landmarks and just admiring them from the outside to save time.
Take the train from Cais do Sodré to Belém and then back. The trip takes under 10 minutes and on Saturdays trains run every 20 minutes. It’s the best time-saving option because traffic between downtown and the west side of the city is always chaotic.
Belém is about understanding the wealth that the so-called “age of discoveries” brought Portugal and that you can see in the massive monuments Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and Torre de Belém, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Both impressive examples of the 16th century Manueline architecture (with a few add-ons done in the 19th century).
Padrão dos Descobrimentos continues this “age of discoveries” narrative of the fearless and the bold “discoverers”, each of them represented on this sail-shaped monument. Notice the marble map in front of it, with all the Portuguese former colonies (called “overseas Portuguese territories” during the four decades of Estado Novo, the conservative dictatorship).
Please keep historical context in mind when visiting these “age of discoveries” monuments. Decolonization is a fairly recent topic for the Portuguese and, I must say, we are now taking the first small steps into addressing post-colonialism and slave trade.
In this itinerary, you can squeeze in CCB (Centro Cultural de Belém) if there is some cultural event there that you don’t want to miss. I would personally skip Museu Coleção Berardo because you won’t see there anything different from any other general art museum elsewhere in the world. Then again, it’s up to you.
Are “pasteis de Belém” overrated? Maybe. But they taste great warm, sprinkled with cinnamon, and with a cup of coffee. Since you’re in the neighborhood, I don’t see why you shouldn’t get one. Just don’t take them to go; they’re not the best after a couple of hours.
Your Saturday afternoon depends on how much time you’ll spend in Belém and, to be honest, there’s no rush.
I believe taking a Lisbon tour will be a good use of your Saturday afternoon, especially because all of them or most of them will most likely have a reference to the “age of discoveries” and, by now, you’ve seen plenty of related landmarks to create a picture in your mind.
Although Alfama has become quite the tourist trap in the last five years or so, this historic neighborhood of Lisbon is quite different in the early morning, especially on a Sunday.
This part of the itinerary is all about getting lost in the narrowing streets, seeing the sunbathed terracotta rooftops from one of the viewpoints, waiting for the city to slowly awake. That perfect time of day right before the crowds arrive.
Despite it all, in many ways, Alfama is still authentic as long as there are locals resisting real estate pressure.
Usually, the meeting point for guided tours is around Museu do Fado ou Campo das Cebolas, which means most guides take their clients uphill to tick off all the must-sees: the old cathedral (Sé), the viewpoints (Santa Luzia and Portas do Sol), and the Castle.
So, the trick to avoid the crowds is to reverse their usual route. This, of course, will depend on where you’re staying in Lisbon, but I suggest you take the Metro to Santa Apolónia (Blue Line), walk up to the National Pantheon, and then make your way down to Rua de São Vicente and take it from there.
You’ll never get really lost in Alfama because the city finds a way to put you back on the right track. Eventually, you’ll end up near the river, somewhere between Praça do Comércio and Campo das Cebolas.
Assuming that you ended up between Praça do Comércio and Campo das Cebolas, you can now walk up or take the Metro to Baixa-Chiado (Blue Line).
Chiado is usually a shopping neighborhood but I will always associate it with Modernist Portuguese author Fernando Pessoa. Not only did he work and spend time at cafes in this area, but he was also born across the square from Lisbon’s Opera Theater, Teatro Nacional de São Carlos (you’ll find a statue dedicated to him here).
I like the contrasts in Chiado and it’s always been and will always be crowded, so I wouldn’t say the current atmosphere is the result of overtourism or a recent surge in popularity. It’s a commercial district.
It’s also the neighborhood of one of my favorite art museums in Lisbon, and one I believe doesn’t get as much attention as it should: MNAC – Museu de Arte Contemporânea do Chiado (Contemporary Art Museum).
The museum is not very big (in size) but I believe it’s an important stop for cultural tourists interested in Portuguese art from the mid-19th century to the present time.