This past summer, I visited Lisbon, Portugal for the first time, and instantly fell in love with the city. With its rich history, beautiful architecture, and delicious food, Lisbon is a European city you do not want to miss! You could honestly spend days, weeks, even MONTHS exploring Lisbon without getting bored. But many of us are on a tight travel schedule, and only have a few days to spend in one city (especially when there are so many other parts of Portugal to see!)
This guide will help you figure out how squeeze the best of Lisbon into three days so that when you leave, you will feel like you’ve made the most of your time there.
Day 1 – Lisbon: The Old and the New
Start off day one by exploring the Lisbon City Centre. Check out Baixa – Lisbon’s central modern downtown area. After a disastrous earthquake in 1755, Baixa had to be completely rebuilt. Lively cafes, vast plazas, and excellent shopping centres fill the busy streets of Baixa. While you’re in Baixa, you may be interested in checking out the Elevador de Santa Justa – an elevator in Lisbon’s downtown that gives you an excellent view of the city.
Be sure to spend some time walking around the Alfama neighbourhood as well, which, in contrast to Baixa’s modern setting, is the oldest part of Lisbon. Take some time to wander aimlessly through the narrow streets taking in the beautifully coloured houses, ancient architecture, and cobbled roads. Make sure you wear comfy shoes, as there are a ton of hills. You’ll wind up with calves of steel by the end of your time in Lisbon!
Stop for a sandwich and a cold drink at a local café to refuel before starting your ascent to Castelo de Sao Jorge – Lisbon’s renowned Moorish castle.
Castelo de Sao Jorge is atop a hill that overlooks the beautiful historic centre of Lisbon. You can access the castle by city trolley, or if you’re feeling up for it, a nice leisurely (uphill) walk up to the top. Tickets to go into the castle cost around €8.50 ($12 CAD). It is totally worth it because you get a million dollar view from the top of the castle. It is the perfect place to just sit, relax, and take in Lisbon’s magnificent beauty.
After a long first day of wandering around a new city and hiking up a massive hill, you will undoubtedly be very tired. A nap may be in order. But once you are feeling refreshed, hit up Bairro Alto – Lisbon’s main nightlife district for some dinner and drinks.
Day 2 – A Fairytale Day in Sintra
For your second day in Lisbon, I would actually urge you to leave Lisbon! Take an hour long train ride west of Lisbon and you will be in Sintra, a town in the mountains known for its glorious palaces. First and foremost, there is the National Palace of Sintra, located in the main square. The Palace is known for its combination of Gothic and Moorish architecture.
Next we have Pena Palace, which is probably the most recognizable building in Sintra with its vibrant pastel colours. This is the most famous of the Palaces, and therefore, the most commonly visited by tourists.
And finally, we have my personal favourite: Quinta Da Regaleira – a marvelous royal estate and UNESCO world heritage site. Quinta Da Regaleira contains many grottos, ponds, wells, gardens, and most notably, the Initiatic Wells (one of my Portugal highlights!).
There are many other estates and palaces in Sintra as well, but there is no way you can see them all in one day. I would suggest choosing one that you are the most interested in seeing. Maaaaybe two if you have the energy. We chose to go to Quinta Da Regaleira.
The prices range for the different palaces. Of the three I mentioned, Pena Palace is the most expensive, and Quinta Da Regaleira is the cheapest. Prices also increase during peak tourist season.
While you’re in Sintra, you should also spend a little bit of time wandering through the town. Have a bite to eat at one of the local restaurants, or cool down from the Portuguese sun with an ice cream.
Day 3 – The Best of Belem
Belem is a district of Lisbon easily accessible by bus or train from the Lisbon city centre. Many of Lisbon’s finest tourist attractions are in Belem. Start your day off walking around the town. Head over to Mosteiro dos Jeronimos – a massive and extremely impressive monastery in the centre of Belem.
Next, head down to the waterfront to see the Torre de Belem – a beautiful fortified tower that was once used as part of a defence system. Built on the shore of the Tagus River, the Tower and the surrounding scenery are extremely picturesque. Be sure to bring your camera!
After some heavy Tower appreciation, you will probably be feeling very hungry. Well, you’re in luck! Belem happens to be the home of the famous Pasteis de Natas, also known as Portuguese Custard Tarts. Pasteis de Belem is the bakery where the recipe for the insanely delicious custard tarts originated. I wouldn’t dream of leaving Belem without visiting Pasteis de Belem! Sure, you can get some pretty good custard tarts in and around Lisbon. But none of them compare to what you get at Pasteis de Belem. There will almost definitely be a queue at the bakery, but it is 100% worth the wait. I would advise you to get a couple extra, because you will want more.
Take the train back to Lisbon. When you arrive in Lisbon, opposite the train station you will find the Timeout Market. With dozens of food stalls serving all different cuisines, the Timeout Market is a great place for lunch or a mid-afternoon snack.
For the most amazing authentic Portuguese Piri Piri chicken and chips, be sure to hit up Bon Jardim restaurant. I still dream about that meal. That’s how good it was.
When looking for a place to eat, it is generally wise to avoid anything non-Portuguese. If it’s not Portuguese, it is likely to be quite touristy, and therefore overpriced.
If you’re into art, some good museums to visit are Museu Calouste Gulbenkian and Centro de Arte Moderna
Lisbon is famous for a drink called Ginjinha. It is a sweet liqueur made from ginja berries. You can get it pretty much anywhere, but there is this one little hut of Rossio Square (the main central square in Lisbon) that only sells Ginjinha, so I would recommend trying some there.
Now that you’ve read through (and hopefully enjoyed) my itinerary, you are pretty much set for three awesome days in Lisbon! So if you haven’t already, make some room for Lisbon at the top of your bucket list!
Do you have any other favourite places in Lisbon? Comment below!