With its narrow streets, sloping hills and incredible vistas, Lisbon is the perfect destination for a romantic weekend in Europe. But its charms aren’t merely courtesy of its beautiful, Lisbon is vibrant living city with a buzzing cultural and culinary scene, least not mention its lively nightlife. Join us as we delve into the best of romantic Lisbon for an incredible weekend (or longer) in the Portuguese capital.
Five Reasons Why Lisbon is The Perfect City for a Romantic Getaway
What to know why you should be planning a trip to Lisbon? Check out my Youtube video above to entice you to this marvelous and fun city! Then you can start organizing your trip with my romantic weekend itinerary below!
Get your weekend off to a sweet start with the city’s favorite drink… no, not porto but ginjinha (or simply ginja), a delicious sour cherry liquor. Get a shot at the historic A Ginjinha, in business since 1840, this tiny shop sells shots of their choice of ginjato local regulars and locals alike. The Praza de São Domimgos, were the itsy-bitsy bar is found, can sometimes be abuzz in the evenings with buskers. Either way it’s good for people watching, so you can sip your shot here or instead, you can compare with its competitor, my favorite of the two, Ginjinha Sem Rival, meaning “without rival,” around 2o meters up R. Portas de Santo Antão (on the right side of the theatre and the street to your back to A Ginjinha).
With your happy glow, take the quaint street behind the theatre (Largo de Regedor) and halfway around to the left of the Praça dos Restauradores to follow the glowing lights of the city up, up, up on the yellow tram Ascensor da Glória. One of several picturesque historic trams of Lisbon, this one takes you up to the Barrio Alto. Once to the top turn right and you’ll reach the first of Lisbon’s famous viewpoints (or maradouro), the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, which offers a sprawling view of the twinkling downtown area and the golden castle.
Get your first taste of contemporary Portuguese at top great options right nearby in this northern area of the Barrio Alto. You can enjoy a tasty meal at hip restaurant of The Decadente. They have an attractive, laid-back dining room or romantic back garden where you can enjoy their regularly changing market based menu (you can also come for their very reasonably priced set lunch menu and brunch).
Hardcore foodies with a budget might prefer 100 Maneiras. This excellent bistronomie style restaurant, sources all of their ingredients from Lisbon’s Riberca Market to create their inventive takes on Portuguese culinary traditions served in a decadent tasting menu. Their dining room is classy without being stuffy, the perfect match for their sleek gastronomy.
For a post dinner drink in the vicinity of either, make your way around the corner to the quirky Pavilhão Chinês. Not exactly a Chinese Pavilion as the name indicates, but a lively cabinet of curiosities, displaying an eclectic collection of vintage nicknacks.
Alternatively, if you want to combine both history and contemporary Lisbon and kick your weekend off with a fancy meal, then drift a little further down towards the river and you’ll reach Restaurante Tavares. Opened in 1784, it’s considered Portugal’s oldest restaurant and has served such international and local stars such as Cary Grant, Ernest Hemingway, Eça de Queiroz and Amalia Rodrigues. Your eyes will be dazzled by the dining room’s vast mirrors, chandeliers, velvet chairs and white table clothes whereas your palates by the chef’s divine, creative Portuguese dishes.
If you’re not looking to end the night just yet, since you’re already here, you can bar hop around Barrio Alto. With its high concentration of venues, from dive bars to chic wine bars, there’s something for everyone.
If you don’t have breakfast included in your hotel (well…. or even if you do…), start your day at the Confeitaria Nacional. Since 1825, they have been baking up some of Portugal’s best pastries… including the famous Pasteis de Nata, mouth-watering custard tarts which you have to devor over the course of your weekend. You can get some sweets to go, or sample some with a coffee in their classy interior (Note: if you’re doing the food walk recommended below, you may want to skip this since it’s often included).
Then make your way to the nearby Mercado da Figueira where you can pick up some supplies for a picnic lunch. From here, you only a couple of short blocks from Martim Moniz square and the start of the city’s most famous streetcar, the rickety Tram 28. Getting on here will better your chances of having a seat as you jiggle up through Alfama, one of the oldest districts of the city and to the São Jorge castle. Lisbon’s castle is a must for any romantic visit to the city. While much of it is reconstructed, exploring its towers and hidden corners is part of the fun. There’s even a garden of love and you’re certain to fall in love with the splendid views you can take in of whole city.
Speaking of views… if you haven’t found a cute lover’s nook to nibble away on your picnic lunch, then start drifting down the hill to enjoy it in one of the area’s various lookouts, like the Miradouro de Santa Luzia, which has a gorgeous bougainvillea draped pergola, a lovely garden and charming church.
From here you could either weave your way back to downtown or hop back on the Tram. Be sure to make a stop at the city’s soaring medieval cathedral, dating back to the 1100s and survivor of the Lisbon’s devastating earthquakes… another must-see site for a romantic visit, and your next stop, by either the tram or criss-crossing downtown, is the breath-taking ruins of the Carmo Convent and Church. Once the largest church in Lisbon, this lovely gothic structure was too heavily damaged during the infamous 1755 earthquake to be rebuilt. It’s a powerful reminder to this important event in the city’s history and a mysterious site to visit. Be sure to peruse the peculiar finds of the archaeological museum located in the back section. To the right of the Carmo, is possibly the city’s prettiest church, the gilded Sao Roque. Take a slow gander on the inside at its opulent baroque interior.
You can also explore the history if Lisbon on the in-depth expert led tours of Context Travel. See their Lisbon tours here.
By now you’ve probably worked up an appetite so spend the rest of your fternoon discovering Lisbon’s food tradition on the Downtown-Mouraria Food & Cultural Walk offered by Taste of Lisboa Food Tours. This excellent and tasty tour takes you to a fantastic array of truly local venues throughout the Downtown are and the more offbeat Mouraria district. You’ll try the likes of wine, cheese and sausage at one of the city’s oldest delicatessens, award-winning cod cakes, savory soup and anchovy tapas at tavernas surrounded by locals and learn about the Portugal’s multiculturalism over a samosas. The tour is a wonderful primer on Lisbon’s food scene and will be useful for your further food explorations around the city. You’ll also touch on the history of Fado, the country’s “national” music and its roots in the area… which could very well lead you into your evening plans…
If you’re not tempted by this fabulous food tour then perhaps you might like the beautiful little gem of the House Museum Medeiros e Almeida. Set in the turn of the 20th century home, the museum displays some of the elaborately decorated rooms of the former mansion and the collection of its the Medieros e Almeida family including European and Chinese decorative arts and paintings. If you have a little more time left in your afternoon, you could then go for a stroll in the lovely Eduardo VII park, situated a short walk away.
If you are feeling too stuffed from your food walk to think about a full dinner, then cruise over and up toTopo, a rooftop bar and restaurant found a short distance from the end of the walk. While it might not look enticing from the street level, you need to go up to the6th floor of the Centro Comercial Martim Moniz and wonderful views of the city await, and, if you can catch the sunset, all the better. This central branch of this small hip chain (with two other venues in Chiado and in Belem) has just been remodeled with a seductive Asian theme and huge dragon lantern swirling across the ceiling. It also has different ambiances, from sofas in the lounge, to seating at tables and at the bar. You can merely get a drink or add in some of their new mixed Asian tapas and dishes.
On the other hand, many visitors to Lisbon want to take in some of soulful Fado music. Note that most Fado shows are dinner shows. You can do this in a less touristy setting right in Mouraria, the area explored with Lisboa Food Tours, at Maria de Mouraria. Managed by the Fado Museum, this modern building was built on the site of one of the Casa da Severa, the home of Maria Severa, an early Fado singer. You can book a table and dinner. For another Fado experience in a romantic setting, try theMesa de Frades, which is located in a former chapel, decorated in gorgeous tiles.
For a more original evening “show” in Lisbon, book in at the Beco Cabaret Gourmet. Set within a former chapel accessible by a secret door through the chic Bairro do Avillez restaurant is this sensual speak-easy style club. One of its kind in Lisbon, it has a once or twice (on Fri and Sat) nightly contemporary cabaret show paired with refined small plates and succulent cocktails. It could be the perfect surprise for your weekend. If you want to forego the food and entertainment, after 10:45pm, guests can come in for a swank drink.
You can pick your mood for an artsy Sunday morning in Lisbon. For a traditionalists’ experience, start off with breakfast at one of the city’s cafés institutions: the Pastelaria Versailles. Founded in 1922, the refined café is still adorned in its original black and white marble floors, stained glass panels, molded ceilings and glitzy chandeliers, however, a relaxed atmosphere reigns where you can sample some of their rich signature hot chocolate and pastries made in-house. It’s a few short blocks away from the lovely Museum of Calouste Gulbenkian, an Armenian oil billionaire who chose Lisbon as the home of his impressive art collection. Located in two specifically designed modern buildings, The Founder’s Collection traces the history of art from the Egyptian to 20th century Modernists and features masterpieces by the likes of Rembrandt, Turner and Degas whereas the Modern Collection introduces visitors to modern and contemporary Portuguese art. After your visit you can contemplate the art you saw in the pretty garden which encircles it.
For a contemporary artsy vibe, start venturing east (where we’ll spend the afternoon) to the LX Factory. Set within the buildings of an abandon 19th-century textiles factory, the sprawling complex is a hub of today’s creative Lisbon. Home to start-ups and art spaces, the ground floor is abound with design shops and hip cafés, so you can start with brunch amongst Lisbon’s cool locals then spend some time browsing. There’s always something going on here, including performances and concerts… so it’s also a fun place to come in the evening.
The rest of our afternoon will be spent in beautiful Belém. Once a suburb of Lisbon, it’s now right on the capital’s edge and has some “attractions” well worth the 30 minute tram/bus ride. Visitors flock here for the incredible Pastéis de Belém, the rivals to the pastel de nata custard tarts found in central Lisbon. This bakery dates all the way back to 1837 and claims to use an ancient recipe from the monastery situated next door. Don’t fret over the long lines, they go quickly … and that’ll all be forgotten when you sink your teeth into their delectable tarts.
While the churches in Lisbon are beautiful, there’s something extra special, and extra romantic, about the Jerónimos Monastery. Now a historic monument and classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the complex is a former monastery of the Order of Saint Jerome and one of the finest examples of Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline style. Although it’s very popular, there are plenty of quieter nooks and crannies to discover hand-in-hand with sweetheart.
Across the plaza from monastery is Lisbon’s port on the large Tagus River. A nice place to stroll, admire the enchanting Belém tower and take selfies by the LOVE sign, but an even better way to see the area, and all of Lisbon, is on the fantastic sunset cruises offered by Lisbon by Boat. These small group cruises depart from the port around an hour and a half before sunset aboard elegant and comfortable sailing yachts. You’ll first tour towards downtown, learning about the evolution of the city and the sites along the river via your entertaining and knowledgeable local guide, including cruising under Lisbon’s San Francisco-style bridge, then back perfectly in time to savor the incredible sunsets accompanied by some snacks and vinho verde. It’s a fantastic experience and ideal for a romantic weekend in Lisbon. They also have private romantic cruise options, for those looking for an extra special experience.
Keep the magical aura of your romantic weekend in Lisbon in the stylish Chiado district. For a contemporary dining in a swank setting book at table at one of the six restaurants located in the exquisite Palacio Chiado. The marvelous 18th-century palace combines an enchanting ambiance of stained glass and frescos with your choice of Portuguese and modern gastronomy. Or for a trendier meal in the area, pull up a stool at Peixola, a tapas-style contemporary cantina, using the finest and freshest fish and seafood prepared in unique and surprising ways — oh and served with a range of rhum cocktails
Cap off your night off at the spectacular rooftop terrace of the sleek SILK club. This top-rated bar has excellent cocktails, delicate Japanese food, stupendous views and even romantic double lounge chairs which seem made to gaze out at the sparkling city. Or finish your stay in Lisbon at the grungy yet sexy Pensao Amor. A repurposed derelict boarding house, the “think love” of its name is exuded in many forms throughout this bordello vibe venue. The different rooms have different ambiances, from the maison close cocktail lounge, the the poll-dance disco-tech with racy art work, the place will certainly add a dash of naughtiness.
However, don’t have to say adeus to Lisbon yet… extend your stay to a long weekend by spending a day or two in nearby Sintra – see more below!
Where to Stay in Lisbon
If you’re looking for a unique and romantic hotel in Lisbon, have a look at the splendid boutique Lisbon Heritage Hotels. This small group of five hotels consists of lovely historic hotels and converted homes. From the 18th century to the only hotel within the castle complex, there’s something for everyone. Read more in my review here.
Bonus Extension to Sintra
While Lisbon is a wonderfully romantic destination, the magical town of Sintra might be even MORE romantic! Located less than an hour by train from central Lisbon, this charming town is nestled in the pine-covered hills of the Serra de Sintra. For centuries, its milder climate and stunning setting have drawn Portuguese royals and nobility of Portugal. This reached particular heights in the 19th century when the area became the centre of the romantic era in Portugal, leading to surge in the construction of over-the-top palaces and mansions, listed as UNESCO Workld Heritage, four of which are highlights of a visit to Sintra.
Unless you leave early, it might be a little touch to squeeze them all into one day so you may need to pick and choose, or better yet, stay the night at the divine Lawrence’s Hotel (see below). If you only have a day, you might want to opt for the Pena Palace, the Castello dos Mouros (because it’s nearby the Pena Palace and completely different) and most romantic of all, the Quinta da Regaleira estate. There’s even a local bus that can get you around to all of the sites, which you’ll need unless for an expert hiker!
Sitting high on the mountain and surrounded by bucolic gardens, the Palacio National da Pena is one of Portugal’s most treasured historic sites. Commissioned by King Ferdinand II in 1842, the playful palace emulates the King’s love of the arts as well as the creativity of the 18th century romantic era. The palace is as delightful from the inside as the out, and the complementary tame yet wild gardens play a complementary role. A 10-minute walk, or short bus-ride, away are the remains of the 9th century Moorish Castle. Snaking along the hillside and will exceptional views of the valley, the fortress provides valuable inside into the history of Portugal, controled by the Moors for several centuries (joint entrance ticket for both available).
An absolute must for a romantic visit to Sintra is the gorgeous Quinta da Regaleira. The current estate was designed in the early 20th century for millionaire António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro. There’s a small lovely palace and chapel, but it’s the extremely imaginative park that’s the show-stopper. The ideal place for lovers to amble aimlessly, it features grottoes, ponds, wells, eclectic fountains, fake towers mirroring the Moorish fortress and a maze of pathways to get lost away from the other visitors. Simply enchanting.
The second oldest of the top monuments is the one which is the first to catch your eye, the Palacio Nacional de Sintra. A royal palace dating back to the 15th century, and famous for its conical kitchen chimneys, it was embellished by various royals, resulting in an incredible living monument to the different era’s of Portugal. If you have time, it’s worth visiting. The town itself is also very picturesque and has some lovely chapels, shops and cafés, all of which add to the appeal of this special place. If you’re looking for an excellent and reasonably priced lunch then track down Metamorphosis. A great trip from my friend Chloe of My Life Living Abroad, you won’t be disappointed with their fresh and delicious Portuguese traditional dishes!
Where to Stay in Sintra
Established in 1764, Lawrence’s Hotel is the oldest hotel on the Iberian Peninsula. Especially during the 19th century, it developed a reputation as the writers’ hotel, having welcomed many important writers, such as Lord Byron and renowned Portuguese writer Eça de Queirós, who even mentions the hotel a number of times in his writings. The hotel, and its 16 suites, have been lovingly restored and evoke the very essence of the romantic movement which is so intrinsically linked to the city. Take a tour of it via my article on it at this link.
Discover all of the places in our Romantic Lisbon mini-guide on our google map!
Lily Heise is a Paris-based writer, originally hailing from Canada. She has lived in Paris for over a decade and contributes to international and local publications. Her work has been featured in The Huffington Post, Business Insider, CondéNastTraveler.com, Playboy, Frommer's, DK Eyewitness Guides, HiP Paris and others. (this photo is actually of her web designer Emilia :)