Lisbon is the new Venice. Whereas Italy was once the in-destination for newlyweds on their honeymoon, recent trends have shown a huge upsurge in love for Portugal and its vibrant capital, which for the majority of the 21st century has gone under the radar as a potential spot for that first holiday as a married couple. And we can see just why it’s gaining popularity – the perfect blend of historic architecture, incredible cultural heritage, and a modern, urban population, all situated along one of the most picturesque coastlines in Europe: what’s not to like?
Whether you’re planning to go on honeymoon for a couple of days or a couple of weeks, in Lisbon you’ll find a thousand things to do – and a thousand more places to do nothing and relax! So read on to discover more about this rising European city, and just why you should book your flights there today…
A short history
Lisbon was the site of the Carnation Revolution in 1974, which saw the overnight transformation of the country from a neo-Conservative dictatorship to a slowly but surely liberalising democracy. Ever since, Lisbon has spearheaded the campaign to modernise Portugal, becoming a hub for young people, innovative technologies, and bold new cultural experiences – from art to food to reflections on their history. Here you will find remnants of that past – in the antiquated architecture, the old tram system (which, whilst completely safe, will terrify you when they do anything over 5mph!), and the rustic décor – intertwined with the future: bustling bars, nouveau-chic cafés and urban markets like LX Factory.
Portuguese is the primary language spoken, but nearly the entire population also speaks English – and, for the most part, they’ll be able to understand your Spanish too. Either way, this is a city of some of Europe’s friendliest people, so you’ll never be stuck for a helping hand. And if you’re travelling between June and September, pack your suncream!
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What to do
Lisbon’s centre is the Praça do Comércio, but this city is not like Madrid where the main features are all within a few metres of one another. Stretching along 20 miles of coast, you’ll have to do some walking – or just hop on the metro for less than €8 every day – to see everything, but gosh is “everything” worth seeing. Before travelling out to neighboring towns like Belém or Cascais, there are a hundred places to visit in Lisbon.
Visit one of their 50+ museums – including the Gulbenkian Institute with its 3 museums and gorgeous gardens, or the Museum of Ancient Art where you can learn about their colonial history with China – or travel to the Oceanarium in the Oriente region of the city (they have 14 different types of sharks!). And if museums and aquariums don’t tickle your fancy, then you can go for a stroll along the promenade, explore the hundreds of restaurants, and take photos from the top of the São Jorge Castle which overlooks the entire city.
Where to visit
However, one of the best districts of Lisbon is Belém – hop on the number 15 tram for half an hour, and explore this incredible coastal town! Boasting the Torre de Belém and the indomitable Jerónimos Monastery, avoid peak times if you don’t fancy an hour wait, but they are truly unmissable features. The interior of the monastery will absolutely blow your mind – but be careful with the cobbled steps! And for any political junkies out there, Belém also has the Presidential Palace which is a must-visit: exploring Portugal’s difficult 20th century history, its museum is full of info and interactive features, and the building itself is absolutely beautiful!
Portugal is famous for its pastry, and in particular its pasteles de nata (think egg custard, but about a hundred times nicer!); Belém’s resident Pastéis de Belém is the best place in the entire country to try them out. Don’t be fooled by the quaint café exterior – inside you will find what is essentially a pastry restaurant, with a menu with pages of options to choose from. Grab a coffee and a pastry there, and then explore the Tropical Botannical Gardens! Belém can easily fill a day of your honeymoon, with enough time to chill out too…
Another fantastic day (or two) out is Sintra. Located quite a way out from Lisbon city centre, but free to travel to on your day-pass (which gives you access to all buses, trams, trains, and the metro!), Sintra hosts the most visited monument in Portugal: the Pena Palace. Be warned – if you’re visiting in Summer, it will take a while to get there due to the amount of visitors, but the views from the top more than make up for any wait. Along the way, you can also visit the Moor Castle, the Sintra National Palace, and the Quinta da Regaleira – all of which are incredibly romantic spots too. The mountainous views, the beautiful architecture, the soft wind in your hair… you’ll fall in love all over again!
But, we hear you, you’re heading on your honeymoon and you really just want to know where the beaches are. In Sintra, you’ll find a beautiful range of beaches which are perfect for escaping from the bustle of the tourist attractions and of Lisbon city centre. However, undeniably the place to travel to for the beach in the Lisbon region is Cascais. Though quite a lot of people flock to Cascais for exactly this reason, don’t worry about being overcrowded, because the coastline at times seems to extend on forever.
You can stay in Cascais and travel into Lisbon to explore its incredible features if you’re looking for two weeks of pure and absolute relaxation – but if you just want a day or two is do nothing on the beach, it’s an easy journey via train and you’ll be back in time for dinner. And even if you’re not a beach buff, Cascais is definitely worth a visit just for the views.
When you think of Europe and food, we know your mind is immediately going to Italy, Spain or France. And we get it, and we can’t argue too much with you – but we definitely want to put Portugal in there too. Lisbon is one of the best places in the country to discover traditional Portuguese dishes due to its proximity to the ocean – its fresh seafood is to die for! One of Portugal’s national dishes açorda (always with shrimp if they ask!) is definitely worth a try – don’t be put off the by the strange porridge-like consistency and appearance, we promise it’s good!
However, if you’re looking for a food-fest where you can try a little bit of everything and really discover Portugal’s finest dishes, then stroll on down to the Time Out Food Hall in Cais Do Sodré (side note: there are some really great bars around here too!) and be amazed by what is on offer. With over 30 different kitchens working there every night of the week, you can get anything from seafood to traditional croquetas, and the most glorious selection of wines and ports. But don’t just take our word for it – check it out for yourself!
One of our favourite things about Portugal is that it is not yet completely geared towards catering for tourists. Like we said earlier, you’ll never be short of people who can help you out, but you also won’t be drowning in a sea of sight-seeing buses (though they are available if you want one!). But visiting here will really give you a glimpse of authentic Portuguese culture that many European capitals struggle to do due to the number of visitors. And beyond the places and experiences we have mentioned in this article, there truly is a staggering amount of things to do. So for whatever kind of honeymoon you’re after – relaxing, adventurous, historical, romantic – we promise Lisbon is the place!
For other honeymoon recommendations, check out our other articles: