Straddling seven hills and full of ornate architecture and deep-rooted traditions topped with a bohemian flair, Lisbon is a bonafide tour de force on the Iberian peninsula. It’s no wonder that the city is so popular with tourists and is one of the most visited cities in Southern Europe. We thoroughly enjoyed every minute of our time in Lisbon. 3 days in Lisbon or a long weekend in Lisbon gives you plenty of time to experience the city’s classic attractions and a little bit more 🙂
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Table of Contents
Why You Should Spend 3 Days in Lisbon
Being one of the oldest cities in the world, which in fact served as a starting point for many of the famous explorers such as Vasco da Gama, Lisbon is as rich in culture as a city can possibly get. Lisbon is one of Europe’s most visually distinctive capitals with rambling old quarters and the waterfront that runs along the river Tagus to the Atlantic Ocean.
Lisbon is delightfully laid-back and locals are genuinely friendly so you feel very much at home here. It is also a culinary mecca with a wide array of seafood options and mouth-watering pastries. Most of all, it is blessed with pleasant year-round weather which makes it ideal for sightseeing even during the winter.
How to Get Around During Your 3 Days in Lisbon
The best way to see Lisbon and discover its many hidden gems is on foot. It is a pedestrian-friendly city and you will truly appreciate its charm by walking. Despite being on seven hills, Lisbon is a pretty walkable city. Being a large city, some of the sights are quite spread apart. In order to save some time and get to some of the further lying attractions, you should make use of Lisbon’s reliable public transport network. Therefore, our 3-day itinerary for Lisbon includes both walking and the use of public transport.
A large chunk of Porto’s sidewalks are made out of easily damaged basalt cobblestone meaning there are numerous cracks along the way. It would be optimum to stick with a comfortable pair of flat shoes rather than heels as they can get stuck in the pavement.
The fastest and cheapest way to get around town is by the metro (Metropolitano). Metro stations are signposted with a red M, and the service operates from 06:30 to 01:00 every day. Buses have the most extensive network, while trams offer good sightseeing opportunities. The only downside is that both are prone to delays due to heavy traffic congestion. In order to use public transport, you can purchase the Viva Viagem card and top it up at the ticket machines around the metro stations according to your needs. You can find more information about the Viva Viagem card here. A 24-hour ticket costs 6.40 EUR. Always remember to validate your card otherwise you will incur a hefty fine if caught. You can plan your trip using public transport here.
Taxis are also another option as they offer the swiftest way to get around. The minimum charge is 3.25 EUR and increases at around 50 cents a kilometer. Always insist on the taximeter as it is required by law. Just be careful not to get ripped off as scams are quite common. Uber also has a significant presence in Lisbon and can be another alternative to get around.
I wouldn’t recommend cycling in central Lisbon; the dearth of dedicated bike paths and its hilly terrain simply does not make it a viable proposition.
Is the Lisbon Card Worth it for 3 Days?
For our 3 days in Lisbon, Jacky and I invested in the Lisbon Card and it turned out to be mighty useful. We highly recommend getting the Lisbon Card for 3 days which costs 42 EUR. It offers free entrance to many museums and sites as well as discounts on others. This comprehensive tourist card accords you free access to most forms of public transport (not ferries) and reduced rates on some tourist tours. So, if you’re planning on going inside the sights we’ve listed, I would say that the Lisbon Card is worth it for three days.
Your 3 Days in Lisbon Itinerary
For this ‘3 days in Lisbon’ itinerary, I have decided to give you a good mix of popular sights and off-beat corners. It is also possible to follow this itinerary if you are spending a weekend in Istanbul. I’ve divided the itinerary in such a way that it gives you a multifaceted view of the city. For your convenience, this post includes a free map which highlights the main points of interest in Lisbon for three days.
You can find the addresses of the attractions by clicking on the icons in the map. I understand that everyone travels at a different pace so feel free to choose the destinations according to your own pace. The earlier you start your day the more time you’ll have to see the attractions. Below I have compiled a list of the best things to see (or eat) in Lisbon over the course of three days:
Day 1 in Lisbon
Today’s itinerary will cover the sights around the Belém district, which is inextricably linked with Portugal’s golden Age of Discovery. Today, it is a spacious, relatively green suburb with many museums, parks, and gardens.
1. Pastéis de Belém
Kick-off your 3 days in Lisbon by heading to the famous Pastéis de Belém bakery. It is famous for concocting the pastel de nata, a creamy, flaky egg tart pastry filled with custard that is dusted with cinnamon. Pastel de Nata is found all over Lisbon but according to us and legions of Lisbon natives, the original and best version is found at the Pastéis de Belém bakery. The tarts sold here are known as Pastéis de Belém, all others are imitations, so they say.
Pastel de Nata’s history is interlaced with the Belém neighborhood in which it emanated. Monks from the nearby Jerónimos Monastery originally sold the treat at a local sugar refinery in the 18th century, and in 1837, the pastry began to be produced at Pastéis de Belém using the same recipe that is still used today. It is dangerously YUMMY and you have to try it while you’re in Lisbon!
The original recipe of the iconic egg tart has been handed down from generation to generation at Pastéis de Belém. Only a handful of people in the world know this recipe and they aren’t permitted to travel together.
Given its lofty reputation, Pastéis de Belém is immensely popular there’s always a long queue to get in. It’s well worth the wait though. Once inside, make your way to the rear so it will be easier to get a table. In addition to the pastries, we really loved the blue-white azulejos inside. Pastéis de Belém is open daily between 08:00-23:00.
The longer part of the queue is actually for takeaway orders. It’s actually easier to get a table than a takeaway box!
2. Jerónimos Monastery
Jerónimos Monastery or Hieronymites Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos) is undoubtedly one of the best things to see in Lisbon. It is not only the most glorious monument in Lisbon, but is also a national icon. This UNESCO World Heritage Site, built in 1502, was constructed in the Manueline style of architecture and blends ostentatious Gothic and Moorish influences with elements of nascent Renaissance. I reckon it’s the most ambitious and impressive example of Manueline architecture that I’ve ever seen.
Built to honor Vasco da Gama’s epic 1498 voyage to India, Jerónimos is as much a symbol of the wealth of the Age of Discovery as it is a house of worship. During this time it was a symbol of wealth and power and it is sure to leave you impressed even today. The monastery was cared for by the Order of St Jerome (Hieronymites) until 1834 when all religious orders were disbanded.
Look out for the south portal in the exterior of the building, which dazzles with its exuberant carvings of the Virgin of Bethlehem surrounded by angels, rich floral details, and scenes from the life of St. Jerome. The breathtaking sense of space inside the church of Santa Maria makes it one of the wonders of European Gothic.
The marvelous vaulting in the church is held aloft by slender octagonal pillars, entwined with characteristic Manueline carved ropes and exotic flora. The 19th-century tomb of the legendary navigator Vasco Da Gama is carved with armillary spheres and other seafaring symbols.
For us, the highlight of the interior was definitely the cloister which features delicate tracery and richly carved Manueline motifs of ropes, foliage, exotic animals and navigational instruments that adorn the arches and balustrades. The delicate twisting divisions within the arches lend a wave-like, rhythmic motion to the whole place. The refectory is also worth seeing and its walls are tiled with 18th-century azulejos.
The entrance to the Jerónimos Monastery costs 10 EUR. Opening hours are Tuesday-Sunday, 10:00-17:30 (Oct-Apr) and 10:00-18:30 (May-Sep). Get the skip the line ticket as the queues at the Jerónimos Monastery are extremely long and you will save time.
HISTORY 101: THE AGE OF DISCOVERY
Portugal’s golden era conquest and maritime exploration (The Age of Discovery) took place during the 15th and 16th centuries, with the aim of finding new trade and Christianizing the Muslims to the south. Vast fortunes were earned through maritime expeditions into the Atlantic and from the gold and slaves taken from the Guinea coast, but the real breakthrough for Portuguese imperialism came about in 1498 when Vasco da Gama reached India. Rounding the Cape of Good Hope, he proved Columbus wrong and gave the Portuguese the competitive edge in the spice trade. By controlling the Indian Ocean and the spice trade, the Portuguese established an eastern capital in Goa. With the acquisition of Brazil, Portugal became a mercantile super-power and was rivalled only by its neighbor Spain.
3. Berardo Collection Museum
Located across the street from Jerónimos Monastery, the Berardo Collection Museum (Museu Colecção Berardo) proudly showcases some of the finest artworks from the twentieth century to the present. The excellent collection was gathered together by the Portuguese entrepreneur and philanthropist, Joe Berardo. This was one of the most impressive art museums we have seen and we were in awe of the collection here. It is so cool!
Take your time to soak in the approximately 1000 pieces on display here. One section covers Minimalism, Conceptualism, Post-Minimalism, Land Art, and Arte Povera movements, featuring works by stalwarts such as Nan Goldin, Anish Kapoor, and Sol LeWitt. The other section probes the 20th-century emergence of everything from Cubism and Surrealism to Neo-Dadaism and Pop Art. Bacon, Dali, Duchamp, Picasso, Pollock, and Warhol are all well represented here.
Some of the notable highlights of the museum are Picasso’s Tête de Femme, a great example of the Cubist style, Andy Warhol’s famous Brillo Box and Campbell’s Soup, David Hockney’s Picture Emphasising Stillness, Marcel Duchamp’s 1914 Le Porte Bouteilles (Bottle Dryer) and Rene Magritte’s spacey Le Gouffre Argenté.
Entrance to the museum costs 5 EUR with free entrance on Saturday. Opening hours are Tuesday-Sunday, 10:00-19:00.
4. Monument to the Discoveries
The Monument to the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos) is one of the most notable points of interest in Lisbon and one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. The 52-meter tall monument is dedicated to some of Portugal’s most famous explorers, who truly shaped the country’s history by playing a vital part in the development of the Portuguese Age of Discovery. This landmark structure was built in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator.
The monument is designed in the shape of a caravel, with Portugal’s coat of arms on the sides and the sword of the Royal House of Avis rising above the entrance. Henry the Navigator stands at the prow with a caravel in hand. The two sloping lines either side of the monument features a wonderful frieze of statues of the most prominent luminaries, Vasco da Gama and Fernão de Magalhães, among others. There is a map of the world in multicolored marble on the floor in front of the memorial, with the dates of the discoveries set in metal.
For a cost of 5 EUR, you can take the elevator to the rooftop from where you will also have a wonderful view over the Tagus river. Opening hours are Tuesday-Sunday, 10:00-18:00 (Oct-Apr), 10:00-19:00 (May-Sep).
There are several great eateries in the Belem district. Try Os Jeronimos or O Pedrouços for some great local seafood.
6. Belém Tower
Only about a kilometer from the Discoveries Monument near the mouth of the river Tagus, you will find Belém Tower (Torre de Belém), a truly majestic Portuguese tower which serves as an emblem of Portugal’s amazing Age of Discovery. The Belém Tower is arguably the most symbolic of all Lisbon’s historical monuments. It was initially built in 1515 as a fortress which guarded the entrance to Lisbon harbor, and therefore Lisbon in general. It then served as a starting point for the navigators who set out to discover the trade routes,
This valuable and iconic monument is justifiably protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Just like Jerónimos Monastery, it is an example of the lavish Manueline style of architecture whose ornate façade is enhanced with fanciful maritime and floral motifs. Adorned with rope carved in stone, the picturesque tower has openwork balconies, Moorish-style watchtowers and distinctive battlements in the shape of shields. The Moorish influence is very strong in the delicately arched windows and balconies.
At a price of 6 EUR, it is worth exploring the interior of the Belem Tower, especially to see the elegant arcaded Renaissance loggia. You can also see the armory and former dungeon here. Opening hours are Tuesday-Sunday, 10:00-17:30 (Oct-Apr) and 10:00-18:30 (May-Sep). Consider buying the skip the line ticket in order to save some time.
7. National Coach Museum
The National Coach Museum (Museu Nacional dos Coches) was one of our favorite things to do in Lisbon. This wonderful museum contains one of the finest and largest collections of coaches and ceremonial vehicles in the world. The collection of vehicles dates from the 17th to the 20th centuries and is a real treat to witness.
Made in Portugal, Italy, France, Austria, and Spain, the historic royal carriages range from the plain to the ostentatious. The most sumptuous ones are lined with red velvet and gold interiors, while their exteriors are carved and decorated with allegories and royal coats of arms. Watch out for the three massive Baroque coaches that are embellished with life-size gilded statues.
The National Coach Museum is open 10:00-18:00 (Tuesday-Sunday) and the price of admission is 8 EUR.
8. Christ the King
My first glance at the Christ the King statue (Cristo Rei) prompted me to pinch myself to make sure that I wasn’t in Rio. Inspired by the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this 110-meter giant overlooks the shores of the Tagus river from the small municipality of Almada. To get there, you can simply catch a ferry to the port of Cacilhas which is paid for just like a metro ride. From here you can take a short bus ride up the hill to the foot of the statue. The views from here are absolutely spectacular.
For a small fee, you can also climb to a viewing platform, but it really isn’t necessary. We ourselves were more than pleased staying put and taking in the view for free.
The raven is the symbol of the city of Lisbon. According to the legend, the two vigilant ravens featured on the coat of arms of Lisbon represent the ravens that accompanied the remains of the patron saint of Lisbon, São Vicente. For a long time there was even a cult for ravens in the city. The Municipality even had a large cage with ravens in the São Jorge Castle. Over time the ravens started to disappear and today they can only be found on the coat of arms of the municipality.
9. LX Factory
Cap off the first day of this ‘3 days in Lisbon’ itinerary by heading to the LX Factory, Lisbon’s creative hub. The complex opened in the 19th century as a textile factory, then housed a variety of industrial companies before being abandoned in the 1980s. During the economic crisis of 2008, it became a haven for young artists and designers, who metamorphosed it into one of the most important creative centers in Lisbon. Do not miss out on the LX Factory as it is one of the best offbeat things to see when spending a weekend in Lisbon.
Young creatives and trendsetters fill the fashionable bars, clubs, design shops, and galleries that surround the streets here. An eclectic dining scene features everything from trendy restaurants to artisan coffee shops. We recommend checking out Rio Maravilha, an amazing rooftop gastropub that has a mosaic statue of a woman imitating the Cristo Rei on the other side of the river.
You don’t have to be a hipster or an art connoisseur to appreciate this place. The atmosphere is really chill and no-nonsense. LX Factory has managed to stay out of travel guides so it hasn’t been inundated with tourists which is advantageous. The brick buildings here are full of graffiti that seems to reflect social criticism. The best place for us here was the cavernous Ler Devagar bookstore whose walls are filled with books up to the ceiling and has flying bicycles suspended from its ceiling.
Sunday is the best day to visit the LX Factory as there is a market where you can find all kinds of products, from antiques to local designer clothes.
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Day 2 in Lisbon
Day Two of this ‘3 Days in Lisbon’ itinerary will take you through the main sights in the Alfama, Baixa and the Barrio Alto districts. This is the most touristy part of Lisbon and thus it will be a long day.
1. Check out the Viewpoints
No visit to Lisbon would be complete without making the trek to one of the numerous cinematic viewpoints (miradouros) scattered all over Lisbon that stem from the city being built over seven hills. Some of the best viewpoints are Miradouro da Nossa Senhora do Monte and Miradouro Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen. The views from the top are great and treat you to a bustling urban mosaic of pedestrianized streets, the ubiquitous Castle of St. George, panoramic squares and the River Tagus.
Lisbon is commonly known as the “city of seven hills” by locals. However, this is actually disputed and some say it’s a myth, and that Lisbon actually has eight hills. Many believe that the reason for calling Lisbon the “city of seven hills” was that it would make it more similar to Rome and thus of more importance, despite the fact that Lisbon is reckoned to be older than the city of Rome. No matter if they are seven or eight, it is a fact that Lisbon’s hills add to all its allure.
2. Carmo Convent
The Carmo Convent (Igreja do Carmo) is a semi-ruined medieval convent that now functions as an archaeological museum. This was one of my favorite things to see in Lisbon. The convent was once considered the largest church in Lisbon until it was flattened by the earthquake of 1755. Reconstruction began a year later but stopped in 1834 after the religious orders in Portugal were abolished.
The naves, transept, and chapels were never fully rebuilt so now it has a roofless nave. I think it is perhaps even more beautiful as a result and looks pretty funky! The Gothic ruins now serve as evocative reminders of the devastation left by the earthquake.
Nowadays, the main body of the church houses a small museum showcasing a small, but very eclectic collection of books, coins, mosaics, a 16th Century Peruvian mummy and an Egyptian sarcophagus! Photography is prohibited though, so you’ll just have to go there yourself to check it out.
The opening hours of the Carmo Convent are Monday-Saturday, 10:00-18:00 (Oct-Apr), 10:00-19:00 (May-Sep). The entrance costs 3 EUR.
HISTORY 101: THE 1755 LISBON EARTHQUAKE
On the morning of the 1st of November, 1755, Lisbon suffered a massive earthquake, reducing over half the city to rubble. Although the epicenter was close to the Algarve, the huge waves from the ensuing tsunami flooded the lower part of Lisbon. Candles lit for All Saints’ Day were knocked over resulting in flames that ignited the city’s churches and causing a fire that raged for seven days. Churches, homes and public buildings all suffered in the disaster. It was one of the most powerful earthquakes of all time and the shock was felt as far away as Italy. Estimates place the death toll between 10,000 and 100,000 people in Lisbon alone. However, the reconstruction of the center of Lisbon took place rapidly. The famous Portuguese statesman, Marquês de Pombal, was responsible for coming up with an innovative grid system, that can still be seen today.
3. Santa Justa Lift
The Neo-Gothic Santa Justa Lift (Elevador de Santa Justa) is one of the most eccentric landmarks in the Lisbon skyline. It was built at the turn of the 20th century by the French architect Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard, a protégé of Gustave Eiffel. It’s Lisbon’s sole vertical street lift and was steam-powered until 1907. It is made of iron and embellished with lovely filigree motifs. Passengers can travel up and down the innards of a latticework iron tower to a viewing platform.
While riding up the elevator is a popular thing to do, I don’t recommend it. The queues to ride the lift are long and the waiting time is painstakingly slow (usually over an hour). The ride itself is 10 seconds and just like any other lift you’ve ever been in. On top of that, it costs over 5 EUR. I do however, recommend going up to the platform for some sublime views of Lisbon. You can either walk up the streets and access it from a passage next to the church or you can access it via a regular elevator (no cost to get up) through a small shop in the building behind Santa Justa Lift. The entrance to the platform costs 1.50 EUR.
4. Rossio Square
Rossio Square, officially known as the Plaza Don Pedro IV, is one of the most charming places and notable things to see in Lisbon. It used to be the focus of major city events for 500 years, until the 18th century. This was where citizens gathered to enjoy carnivals and bullfights or to witness public executions. It still exudes the old grandeur of Lisbon and is a popular meeting point among the locals. The unusual wave-like mosaic pavement, which alternates between lighter and darker stone, left me dizzying with appreciation.
Also to be found in the square are two Baroque fountains depicting mythical figures as well as a monument of Dom Pedro IV, a former Portuguese king and the first emperor of Brazil. Rossio Square is lined with many fantastic cafes, where you can sit sipping coffee while people watching on the square. You can do your Lisbon shopping fix here as Avenida da Liberdade is just around the corner and home to numerous upmarket fashion stores. To the northwest of Rossio Square is the Rossio Station (Estação do Rossio), a gorgeous neo-Manueline station with horseshoe-shaped arches and swirly turrets.
Just off of Rossio Square lies a small establishment, A Ginjinha, the oldest and most traditional ginja bar in Lisbon. Ginjinha or simply ginja is a traditional Lisbon based sour cherry infused liqueur. This is one of the things you have to do in Lisbon! A shot only costs 1.50 EUR. If you like it , you can purchase one of those bottles of red liquid gold as a souvenir. A Ginjinha is open daily from 9:00-22:00.
5. Rua Augusta
Make your way down on Rua Augusta street that leads down to Commerce Square. Rua Augusta is one of the best known and most important shopping streets in Lisbon. The street runs from Rossio square to Commerce Square. In addition to a number of large international stores, there are also numerous catering establishments and a few shops here that are unique to Lisbon.
The entrance to the Commerce Square is formed by the Arco da Rua Augusta. This triumphal arch was built in memory of the 1755 earthquake. I loved how vibrant this street was with its many terraces, street artists and music.
6. Commerce Square
Commerce Square (Praça do Comércio) is the largest and most famous square in Lisbon. It was rebuilt in the eighteenth century, after the earthquake of 1755, and was previously called the Palace Square since it housed the royal palace. There are plenty of great photo opportunities in this scenic square such as the monumental triumphal arch and a towering statue of King José I on horseback in the center.
Some great cafes and restaurants line the square including Café Martinho da Arcada, Lisbon’s oldest cafe, which used to be a popular hang-out of the city’s literati. Commerce Square leads elegantly down to the banks of the Rio Tejo, a great place for strolling, reading or sipping coffee. You can explore the riverfront and marvel at the square’s 18th-century arcades and Pombaline architecture. Today the vast open space of Commerce Square is used for cultural events and festivals.
7. Conserveira de Lisboa
We weren’t aware that tinned fish is a big deal in Portugal. Luckily we got the scoop about this just before we left from one of our Portuguese friends, a Lisbon native herself, who swore by it and told us that we would have to check it out. Conserveira de Lisboa is an iconic shop in Lisbon that has specialized in tinned fish since the 1930s. The shelves in the shop are stocked with endless rows of fish treats.
The instagrammable retro packaging of the colorful tins is adorable. You can get a wide variety of seafood such as cod, eel, mackerel, octopus, sardines, and tuna here. It is gobsmackingly good! These make for a great souvenir option as well so you might want to pick up some. They cost between 2-3 EUR depending on the variety of fish.
The downtown area is home to several great restaurants. However, there are lots of tourist trap joints around here that look inviting but the food quality is mediocre. Some good places in this area are Taberna Moderna – an authentic Portuguese restaurant and India Gate – a lovely Indian restaurant.
9. Lisbon Cathedral
The Lisbon Cathedral (Sé Catedral) is a must-see attraction when sightseeing in Lisbon. The cathedral is the oldest religious edifice in the city and holds great architectural significance. It was founded in 1150 to commemorate the defeat of the Moors three years earlier and stands on the site once occupied by the city’s main mosque. Over the course of its history, it has been altered a few times, so it reflects a mishmash of architectural styles, including Gothic, Neoclassical, Romanesque and Rococo.
The church facade resembles a medieval fortress as it is dominated by two large crenelated towers and the intricately carved massive rose window. There are several notable tombs inside. Little remains of the original cathedral beyond the renovated nave which further leads onto a chancel enclosed by an ambulatory, a 14th-century addition.
The Sé is a very dark church, and many interesting things in the chapels are rather obscured. Head for the lighter cloister, and go in the afternoon, when the low light enters the facade’s rose window. The Sé is also an important archeological site, with new finds made regularly beneath the cloister.
Lisbon Cathedral is open daily from 09:00-19:00. The entrance is free.
In 711 North African Muslim invaders, the Moors, overran the peninsula and occupied Lisbon for almost 450 years. Lisbon was an important trading centre under the Moors and their legacy is evident today in the Castle of St. George and the streets of the Alfama district. The first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, finally ousted the Moors from Lisbon in 1147.
10. National Tile Museum
The Portuguese have had a lasting love affair with azulejos – painted ceramic tiles – ever since they first set eyes on those imported from Seville in the 15th century. Azulejos are an integral part of Portugal’s architectural heritage featuring in everything from cathedral cupolas to wine bodegas.
The splendid National Tile Museum (Museu Nacional do Azulejo) is a wonderful museum pays homage to azulejos and traces the history of oil painting in Portugal. Jacky really loves azulejos so she was completely in awe of the museum’s vast collection of tiles and panels, which span the early 15th century through to the 20th century. Decorative panels and individual tiles trace the evolution of tile-making from its introduction by the Moors, through Spanish influence and the development of Portugal’s own style up to the present day.
The standout here is the gorgeous 36-meter, 1300 tile panel depicting the Lisbon cityscape before the 1755 earthquake. As impressive as the collection is inside, the building itself is an architectural gem, constructed in the Manueline style symbolic of the Portuguese discoveries period.
The museum itself is installed in the church and cloisters of Madre de Deus, a former convent dating from 1509. The church of Madre de Deus is a stunning blend of gilded woodwork, blue-and-white Dutch azulejos, and superbly painted walls and ceilings.
Opening hours of the National Tile Museum are Tuesday-Sunday, 10:00-18:00. The entrance is 5 EUR.
11. Wander the Alfama district
No three days in Lisbon would be complete without taking a saunter in the Alfama district. Nothing screams Lisbon as much as the Alfama, the city’s oldest district. The Romans and Visigoths occupied the area in the early 4th century followed by Moors in the 8th century. Due to its position on sturdy bedrock, Alfama is the only area that escaped the wrath of the 1755 earthquake which annihilated Lisbon. You’ll notice that the neighborhood still shows signs of the city’s Moorish past.
Alfama’s Arabic-sounding name and layout are a testament to its past as an important district of Moorish Lisbon. It is hard to grasp that this humble neighborhood was once the most sought-after quarter of Lisbon. Despite the fact that no Moorish houses still remain, the quarter retains its kasbah-like layout.
Yes, Lisbon is a rather large city, but believe me, if I say, you will easily forget that in the narrow alleys of Alfama. Compact houses line cobblestoned streets and stairways, their facades strung with washing. One of the most notable buildings in Alfama is the Casa dos Bicos. It dates from the early 16th century and is faced with sharp pyramid-shaped stones.
Whitewashed walls, steep streets, lavish Azulejos,…oh the list could go on and on and on. Keep your eyes, ears, and nose open. Alfama is a place for all the senses – between the melancholic sound coming from the many Fado bars and a distinct fish fry sizzle reaching you from restaurants and private homes, you will fall in love. No wonder it was our favorite neighborhood in Lisbon.
12. Castle of St. George
The Castle of St. George (Castelo de São Jorge) is one of the most notable attractions in Lisbon. It can be seen from nearly anywhere in the city and serves as an apt and romantic reminder of the capital’s ancient roots. It is nearly as old as the city itself, with its oldest parts dating back as early as the 6th century.
It served the Romans, Visigoths, and the Moors as a base for further conquests. The castle a the Moorish royal residence until Portugal’s first king, Alfonso Henriques, took control over it in 1147. Except for a short period, it served its time as a barracks and prison until 1938, when it was freed from any official duties.
All that is left now are walls, 10 towers and the remnants of the palace, the shaded gardens, and fountains. Overlooking the city, today it is a small oasis of calm, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Take a stroll around the medieval fortress and step back into the history of Lisbon. Visitors are mostly content to admire the spectacular views from the observation terrace that offers an uninterrupted panorama of the city, the River Tagus, and the distant Atlantic Ocean.
Climbing the towers and walk along the reconstructed ramparts of the castle walls is one of the highlights of visiting the castle. Check-out the castle museum that contains a collection of artifacts excavated from the hilltop, such as Iron-Age cooking pots and 15th-century tiles.
Around the Castle of St. George, you will also find several small shops which sell more than your average fridge magnet. We ourselves bought a beautiful little watercolor which now rests comfortably on our bookshelf 🙂
The castle is open daily from 09:00-21:00 (March-October) and 09:00-18:00 (November-February). The entrance is 8.50 EUR.
13. Sao Roque Church
If time permits, I highly recommend going to see the Sao Roque Church (Igreja São Roque), one of the best things to see in Lisbon. It is one of those churches whose austere facade belies a pompously opulent interior. The church was founded at the end of the 16th century by the Jesuit Order. Its interiors are embellished with agate, alabaster, amethyst, precious marbles, gold, silver and mosaics.
The coffered ceiling has been painted to give a beautiful trompe l’oeil effect, and the eight chapels are all individual works of art. There are notable azulejos dating from the mid-16th century.
The opening hours of the Sao Roque Church are Apr-Sep: 14:00-19:00 Mon, 10:00-19:00 Tue-Sun (to 20:00 on Thu); Oct-Mar: 14:00-18:00 Mon, 10:00–18:00 Tue-Sun.
14. Dinner at Time Out Market
After a long day’s sightseeing, you deserve a good meal. In order to get your taste buds galvanized make your way to the Time Out Market. This is a foodie paradise and one of the best things to do in Lisbon. It is the first market in the world where everything has been chosen and tested by an independent panel of city experts.
There are over 40 stalls here from top chefs with different brands of local products as well as more international options. So if seafood, steak sandwiches, pizza, hamburgers, sushi, chocolate, and desserts are what you crave you can find it all under one roof here. There is also a good selection of wine and beer.
Time Out Market is open daily. Opening hours are Sun-Wed, 10:00-24:00 and Thu-Sat, 10:00-02:00.
Day 3 in Lisbon
The final day of this ‘3 days in Lisbon’ itinerary will cover some of the outer lying sights and an iconic tram ride. These places are easily accessible by bus or metro from the city center.
1. Tram 28
Kickstart your final day by taking a ride on the iconic tram 28, one of the best things to do in Lisbon. Trams (eléctricos) are one of the most idyllic ways of sightseeing in Lisbon. Tram 28 is one of the only three charming, pre World War I models that still operates in the city.
The tram trundles and creaks its way through some of the oldest and most charming neighborhoods of Lisbon like Baixa, Chiado, Graca, and of course, Alfama giving you a splendid vista of many of Lisbon’s renowned gardens, churches, and monuments. It’s a real treat!
The only drawback about tram 28 is that it is always packed to the core and you will have to scramble for getting a seat. The best chance of getting a seat is by boarding at one of the starting points (Campo de Ourique or Martim Moniz). Nearly everyone gets on at Martim Moniz and there’s invariably a long queue so we would recommend getting on at the other end, Campo de Ourique (near Prazeres Cemetery), where much fewer people board. Also, keep a close eye on valuables since tram 28 has an infamous reputation on which pickpockets chiefly target tourists.
2. Gulbenkian Museum
Gosh! Where to begin? The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum (Founder’s Collection) is simply one of the best museums I’ve seen and is one of the must-see attractions in Lisbon. It is quite frankly one of the greatest private collections ever amassed. The entire collection was bequeathed to the city of Lisbon by the Armenian oil magnate, Calouste Gulbenkian. The Gulbenkian Museum houses about 6,000 pieces of mostly ancient artifacts and artworks.
The collection is divided into two sections: one part is dedicated to Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Mesopotamian, Islamic, and Asian art, and the other to European acquisitions. The collection is so rich in quality! The exhibits, which span over 4,000 years from ancient Egyptian statuettes, through translucent Islamic glassware, to Chinese porcelain and Art Nouveau motifs are displayed in spacious and well-illuminated galleries.
Some of the standout pieces in the Classical art section are a magnificent red-figure Greek vase and 11 Roman medallions, found in Egypt. We immensely enjoyed the exhibits from the Far East such as the exuberantly decorated porcelain and the Kangxi biscuit ware of the 17th and 18th centuries. The Oriental Islamic section houses a fine collection of Persian and Turkish carpets, textiles, costumes, and ceramics. Two of the best European artworks include Rembrandt’s masterful Portrait of an Old Man and an exquisite marble statue of Diana, goddess of the hunt.
If there’s one museum to visit in Lisbon, it is undoubtedly the Gulbenkian Museum. The museum is open Wednesday-Monday from 10:00-18:00. The entrance is 10 EUR.
3. Lunch at Laurentina
No visit to Lisbon would be complete without sampling the city’s culinary delight, cod – that is preserved in salt, and locally known as bacalhau. There are rumored to be 365 different ways of cooking it, one for each day of the year.
Being seafood lovers, we ate cod on at least two occasions in Lisbon. There are plenty of places to get good cod over the city. One of the best places is Laurentina, recommended to us by our friend and Lisbon native Mariana. At Laurentina, a lot of variations of this classic food are served and the quality is impeccable. Three of the best varieties are bacalhau à brás (salted cod, scrambled eggs, onions, and shredded potatoes), bacalhau à Conde de Guarda (salt cod creamed with mashed potatoes) and bolinhos de bacalhau (codfish balls, which is a very popular hors d’oeuvre).
You can also try other famous Portuguese food like feijoada (a paprika-spiced stew of beans, vegetables, and cured meat) and favas à Portuguesa (fava beans with blood sausage and chopped pork ribs).
4. Park of the Nations
Truly, nobody can resist Lisbon’s old-world charm, but the city has far more to offer than just that. If you want to cut yourself a slice of modern Lisbon, head out to Park of the Nations (Parque das Nações). Most of it was constructed for the World Expo 1998.
You will most likely have to take the metro to get here, and it is certainly one of the offbeat things to see in Lisbon. A pulsating amusement park and trade-fair center by day, by night the park becomes a concert and events venue, with a thriving nightlife scene and a casino. There’s also an ambitious residential development.
Oriente Station and the Vasco da Gama Shopping Mall will provide you with a bit of “fresh air” if you like. After all, we live in contrasts. We recommend taking the short ride on the cable car that runs most of the length of the Parque above the riverside and gives an overview of the area and good views of the Vasco da Gama bridge, one of the world’s longest bridges.
If you are having a little bit of a lazy day or you are perhaps traveling with children, make a stop at the Oceanarium, Europe’s second-largest aquarium (also one most the most crowded ones). It has hundreds of aquatic species organized by habitat and viewed on two levels. The main attraction is the vast central tank with a dazzling variety of fish, large and small, swimming round and round.
Along the river, you will also find a plethora of bars and restaurants for you to relax at.
A perfect way to spend your final evening in Lisbon would be by watching a fado show, Portugal’s version of the blues. Originating in the early 1800s fado is melancholic by nature, and includes instruments like guitars and mandolins with one Fadista crooning poetic lyrics related to the sinister side of romance, death, and sorrow. Similar to the blues, flamenco, and tango, it was music that grew out of hardship and poverty but became the defining soundtrack to a nation.
Fado music owes much to the concept known as Saudade, meaning a longing both for what has been lost and for what has never been attained. There are in excess of 40 fado houses spread throughout Lisbon’s cobblestoned streets in the city’s Alfama and Bairro Alto neighborhoods.
Many Fado shows take place in restaurants so you can enjoy a meal while enjoying this touching music. You will pay slightly more than at normal restaurants, but it’s all about the fado. Two of the best places to witness a live fado performance in the city are Mascote da Atalaia in the Barrio Alto district and Sr. Fado in Alfama.
We were a bit skeptical about whether the fado would be worth the money but those thoughts we quickly dispelled. It was a pretty enjoyable experience!
6. Bairro Alto & Chiado
However, if you still feel that Fado is too somber for you, you can explore a bit of the atmospheric Bairro Alto and Chiado neighborhoods and maybe do a pub crawl if you’re up for it. The hilltop Bairro Alto is one of the most scenic districts of Lisbon that is laid out in a grid pattern. Its small workshops and family-run tascas (cheap restaurants) make it the epicenter of Lisbon’s nightlife. Chiado is an elegant commercial and shopping district that was formerly a haunt of writers and intellectuals.
Lisbon natives are known for partying hard, usually starting quite late at night and many staying out until the sun comes up. Bairro Alto and Chiado are home to a cornucopia of bars and clubs. The bars here are quite small so you’ll see people spilling out onto the narrow streets. This creates a wonderful atmosphere where people socialize on the streets while chugging down the booze. Porta Largas, The Old Pharmacy, and PARK are some of the best bars around here.
Extending Your Stay
Although 3 days in Lisbon is a good amount of time to get well acquainted, you may want to stay a little longer to explore more of its gems. Lisbon is a great base for exploring some beautiful sights, such as the Moorish town of Sintra, the medieval town of Evora, and the coastal resort town of Cascais.
Where to Stay in Lisbon
It’s handy to stay in the downtown districts of Bairro Alto, Baixa or the Alfama as they are a good base for sightseeing. There are plenty of good options here for all budgets.
Hostel: Home Lisbon Hostel, a great choice right in the heart of downtown.
Budget: Hotel Gat Rossio, solid option near Rossio train station.
Mid-range: LX Boutique Hotel, within 2 minutes of the Cais do Sodre train station in the downtown.
Splurge: Santiago de Alfama – Boutique Hotel, sumptuous top-choice pick in the Alfama district.
Now, what do you think? What would you recommend seeing during 3 days in Lisbon? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!