Day 2: Graca, Santa Cruz and Alfama
The second day of your 4 days in Lisbon is spent exploring the eastern neighborhoods of the city center. It’s another full day of walking and sightseeing, with pauses here and there in scenic lookouts and one ride that you really don’t want to miss.
Breakfast With a View
If you want to spice things up for breakfast, head (back to) Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara. The large scenic lookout boasts a proper cafe along with a kiosk and you can enjoy your breakfast under the sun with views of the area which we’re about to explore.
The #28 Tram
You will have no doubt noticed Lisbon’s famous yellow-colored trams on day one and it is now time to ride the city’s most famous line to our first stop of the day. The #28 tram departs from the Baixa and quickly ascends the hills of the Graca before heading back down to lower ground via Alfama. Throughout the journey, the ride offers exceptional views of Lisbon and miraculously manages to overcome the steep inclines (and declines) as well as super tight corners. However, you’ll have to share the small carriage with locals, dozens of other tourists, and pickpockets.
To ensure you actually get on board, walk to the Martim Moniz metro station and wait for the #28 to arrive. You can merely ride the entire journey if you are pressed for time but if you want to follow along this itinerary, get off at Largo da Graça just next to Nossa Senhora da Graça church to check out the Miradouro da Graca – yet another stunning lookout, this time with fantastic views across to the Castelo. As with nearly every Lisbon lookout, you’ll find here a small kiosk where you can enjoy a refreshing drink while admiring the views.
Santa Cruz & Castelo
From the lookout, walk down Rua de Sao Tome and enter the gates of the medieval village of Santa Cruz. Housed within the walls of the Castelo de Sao Jorge (simply known as Castelo), Santa Cruz feels like its own little world, a village detached from the rest of the city thanks to its elevation and the Moors who built its ancient walls.
The obvious next stop is the Castelo (~€8) – an ancient Moorish castle that commands the finest views in the city. It’s also the most visited tourist attraction in Lisbon, but not one you can afford to miss.
Presence on this prime real estate dates back to 48 BC, with the Moors later fortifying this place in the 11th century. In 1147, the castle was placed under siege by a tandem of Crusaders and Portuguese Royalty, destroying much of its walls in the ensuing battle. When the dust had settled, the castle was rebuilt and the royal family even stuck around for a few more years to enjoy the views and the cool air (after which the castle was converted into a prison). The fun thing to do here is to simply stroll the grounds, check out the views from the ramparts, and listen to guitarists usually hiding in shaded corners of the castle.
Lunch at the Circus
For lunch (with a view, of course), head to Restaurante Chapitô à Mesa – an iconic eatery that also doubles as a circus school. This is a popular place for both lunch and dinner, but since the views are to die for, it’s best to come here during the daytime when you can actually admire the scenery. I recommend making advanced reservations (especially for dinner) and to sample the signature meat and fish dishes. It ain’t a cheap place to eat but, hey, you’re on vacation!
Post lunch, head to Miradouro de Santa Luzia, and check out its adjacent church. This lookout is one of the most charming spots in Lisbon. It offers great views over the red rooftops of the Alfama and the whitewashed churches rising above them, but the best part is grabbing an outdoor seat at the small cafe and sipping a glass of sangria while watching the #28 tram slide down the hill.
To slightly get away from the tourist scene, head on a pleasant 10-minute walk to the Spanish-built church of Sao Vicente de Fora (€4) and continue to the white-domed Santa Engracia – an impressive 17-century church that now functions as Portugal’s pantheon – the Panteão Nacional.
Santa Engracia took nearly three centuries to complete and it now houses the remains of some of Portugal’s most historic figures. Entrance to the pantheon is around €3 and absolutely worth it, not only for the history lesson and architectural amazement but also for its rooftop terrace. Scenic terraces and lookouts must be a Lisbon thing (as you’ve probably figured out by now) and the one atop the pantheon boasts sunny views of the Castelo, the Alfama, and the river. We enjoyed chilling here for an hour under the sun as we were pretty much the only ones up here. Oh, and on Tuesdays and Saturdays, the nearby Campo de Santa Clara hosts the city’s largest flea market.
We’ll spend the rest of the afternoon in the labyrinth of charmingly run-down alleys that make up Alfama. This was once a posh neighborhood but when the aristocrats moved out, this neighborhood attracted fishermen who were in search of cheap real estate by the river.
Part of the fun of exploring Alfama is simply getting lost as you wander from one alley to another and watch the locals go about their daily routines. At some point, make it to Igreja de Sao Miguel – a beautiful Spanish-style church that stands out among the rundown houses of the Alfama.
The next major stop is the Se – Lisbon’s main cathedral. Built on the site of a former mosque to mark Lisbon’s capture from Moorish hands, you don’t want to miss the visit to the Se, plus it’s free to enter!
Not too far from the Se, head to Pois Cafe on Rua de Sao Joao da Praca and grab a seat on one of the comfy couches beneath the arched ceiling. Pick up a book or a magazine, unwind and relax, and ask for the “sunrise cafe” (trust me).
It’s nearly time for sunset and we’ll make two quick stops before grabbing dinner. The first one is to check out the interesting exterior of Casa dos Bicos (“House of the Points”) – a 16th-century building with a unique facade that’s lined with diamond-shaped stones. Right next door is Loja dos Descobrimentos – the best place we found in Lisbon for buying authentic ceramic tiles and the likes. It’s also where we finally learned why we kept seeing rooster figurines everywhere in town. This has to do with the legend of the Rooster of Barcelos, and you can buy your very own rooster right here!
Waterfront or Fado Dinner
For dinner, I once again recommend two options. The first one involves a 15-minute walk from Alfama to the cruise ship terminal area for sunset drinks and dinner at Deli Delux – a fine foods shop that also doubles as a restaurant and bar with a fantastic outdoor terrace. From here, you can grab the metro back to town from Santa Apolonia station or walk along the river back towards Praca do Commercio if it’s not too dark.
For a more authentic experience, use your time in Alfama to check out the myriad of fado restaurants hiding in the narrow alleys. Make dinner reservations for the one you fancy the most and enjoy your meal to the melodramatic tunes of the fado.