How to Spend 3 Days in Lisbon
Want to visit a city with almost 300 days of sunshine a year? If you haven’t added Portugal to your top European countries to visit, you are definitely missing a gem! There is so much history here, which makes sense; it is the oldest country in Europe. Lisbon could rival London or Rome as a vibrant metropolis with a beach to boot! There are so many ways to fill 3 days in Lisbon, but I’ll try to highlight the best things to do in Lisbon. You don’t want to miss the historic beauty, balmy weather and hipster atmosphere. These are the must-see spots in Portugal’s capital city.
Visit Tower Belém
Torre de Belém (Tower Belem) sits right on the sea, with a unique blend of architecture from the Moorish, Gothic and Romanesque styles. It’s my favorite view in Lisbon. Stroll along the quays, with sailboats in the harbor and small cafes dotted along.
The Padrão dos Descobrimentos is next to the tower, which is a historical monument in its own right. Since the early 1960s it’s been a testament to the success of the Portuguese explorers, including Vasco da Gama and Prince Henry the Navigator.
How to get to Torre de Belém?
The tower is located outside of city center, about 30 mins transit. You can take the train from Cais do Sodré to Algés and walk back to Belém. There is a Belém train stop, but the walk is slightly longer. Tram 15 also connects central Lisbon to the Belém district. Another popular choice is renting a scooter to make your way between the quays. I’d recommend visiting at the beginning of your day or around sunset to avoid the crowds.
Replenish at the Mercado da Ribeira (TimeOut Market)
Lisbon was one of the first TimeOut Market locations with curated stalls from local vendors. Downstairs features local fruits and vegetables, with the upstairs section a blend of new eateries, fresh products and favorite treats. Grab a drink or a local dish at this famous food market. Pop down at a communal table with free Wi-Fi from 10 am to close. The market offers 26 different restaurants, with 8 additional bars.
Drink in the Nightlife in Bairro Alto
While this is definitely an area for tourists and students, Bairro Alto is still a cultural experience in itself. The neighborhood is packed with international restaurants and al fresco bars. At night, people spill out of the bars onto the streets with drinks in hand. Explore the area during the day for a Portuguese bakery if a young street party isn’t your thing.
Explore the Coastline
While technically Lisbon isn’t a “beach town,” the water’s edge and hipster vibe give this city a beachy vibe. There is a 14-mile-long stretch of sandy beaching around the Caparica Coast, but the water’s pretty cold all year long.
Are there water views by Lisbon’s city center?
You can get great views of the waterfront at Praça do Comércio. There are steps along the Tagus that provide the perfect resting spot after a long walk around the Bairro Alto.
Join a Walking Tour
When I first arrive in a city, I love to experience it through the eyes of a local. Their unique insights, recommendations and colorful stories bring the city to life. My favorite walking tour was with Tours of My Life: The Essential History, Fun Facts and Free Tastings Tour. You can book the pay-what-you-wish walking tour through GuruWalk. Our guide Fraga was wonderful and shared some great stories throughout the city stops. You also get to try a pastel de nata!
Enjoy a Pastel de Nata
If you’ve never tasted a warm pastel de nata with fresh cinnamon sprinkled on top, then don’t walk, but run to Portugal! These egg custard tart pastries are found all throughout Lisbon, but my favorites are at Nata de Lisboa. If you want to visit arguably the oldest pastel de nata pastry shop, then head to Pastéis de Belém. They opened in 1837 and claim to be the first café to begin selling the custard tart commercially. Today they attract thousands of visitors daily meaning the café is filled with children, long queues and noisy tourists. Take that as you will. Ultimately, the best way to experience the pastel de nata culture is to try as many as you can at every pastry shop you pass in order to gauge for yourself your favorite egg custard tart.
Take the Secret Path to the Santa Justa Elevator
The Santa Justa elevator, also called the Carmo Lift, connects the Baixa neighborhood to the Bairro Alto district. It’s one of the most visited sites in Lisbon and as such usually has a long line at the bottom. Avoid the €5.30 ticket fee to ride up the elevator (and the long lines) by starting at the top – Largo do Carmo (Carmo Convent) in Chiado leads to the walkway with a narrow spiral staircase that ends at the observation deck. The century-old iron tower is 45 meters high and offers 360º-views over Rossio Square.
Experience a Fado Show
Portugal’s national music, a Fado performance ignites the soul of Lisbon. There are many different places to enjoy a show, with a co-ed performance, classical musicians, and a Portuguese guitar. You can book a Fado show for the night to include dinner or drinks.
Hop on a Tram
One of the first things you will notice about Lisbon is that it’s quite hilly. When you need a little hiking break, jump on one of the historic yellow trams. The most scenic route is on Tram 28, which passes through the historic center, linking São Jorge Castle to Bairro Alto. Tickets are €3 on board, though exact change is usually need. You can purchase a 24-hour ticket that includes all trams, metro and buses in Lisbon if you plan to use other public transport. Day tickets can only be purchased from metro stations. During the summer, the tram is standing room only midday, so the best way to grab a seat is to board at the beginning or end – Martim Moniz or Campo Ourique.
Watch the Sunset at One of Lisbon’s Miradouros
All the hills make walking definite exercise, but it also ensures great views at sunset atop a hill viewpoint. Lisbon offers many different options, including São Pedro de Alcâtara, a cute garden in the trendy Príncipe Real neighborhood. Another, the Miradouro da Graça, looks out over the nearby Castelo de São Jorge, the ruins of an 11th-century Moorish palace. The castle has amazing sunset views, but an entry ticket is needed.
What’s the best place to watch the sunset in Lisbon?
One of the highest viewpoints to watch the sunset is at the hill edge of Castelo de São Jorge. Purchase tickets in advance and head up at least an hour before sunset during the summer to get a good lookout spot.
Visit the World’s Oldest Bookshop
Established as the Guinness World Record for oldest bookshop, Bertrand Bookshop and Café is tucked away in the Chiado district. Opened by two French brothers in 1732, it’s a simple shop with vaulted rooms and wooden shelves. The original store was destroyed in an earthquake in 1755, so this is the second location. It doesn’t have the “umph” of the famous Lello bookstore in Porto (or the entrance fee), but it’s still an experience to wander the tunnels of the oldest operating literary shop. Most of the books are in Portuguese, but they do have a small English section. If you purchase a book, the staff will ask if you want a stamp stating you purchased it at the oldest bookstore in the world. Soak up the history.
Take a Day Trip to Sintra
Grab a train from Rossio station to Sintra in an hour to visit the colorful Pena Palace. You can climb the steep, steep hill or take the 434 bus from the station. Make sure you purchase entrance tickets in advance. If you arrive before your timed entry, you can explore the park. The palace will take 1-2 hours to wander through. If you have time, you can also visit the Castelo dos Mouros on the hill.
Where to eat in Sintra?
Stop for a snack of queijadas. These warm cheese, cinnamon tarts go great with coffee. Buy them from Fabrica das Verdadeiras Queijadas da Sapa just up the hill from the train station. Get a pack of 6 and enjoy a treat at the palace after your tour.
If you are looking for an elegant meal in a charming environment, head to Incomum. The rotated menu is elevated, but unpretentious. The menu rotates, but I loved the beet risotto with duck. Reservations are recommended. We came in after a morning of hiking around the palace, so don't worry about a backpack and a little sweat. :)
There are so many things to do in Lisbon, but these can be packed into a 3-day itinerary, or you can enjoy many more days soaking up the Portuguese culture. Head to Porto afterward for a wonderful taste of the wine country. If you have an extra couple of days, get off at Aveiro – the Venice of Portugal just one hour south of Porto. I have created a guide to Aveiro here.