Bumping along the cobblestone streets of Lisbon, certain that I might bounce out of the back of our tuk-tuk if not for my seatbelt, it was clear that Lisbon had me at “hello” (or should I say olá?). I had 3 days in Lisbon to explore this beautiful city, and a busy Lisbon itinerary to fit it all in.
For years I had dreamt of visiting Lisbon and walking the black-and-white-tiled sidewalks. My first visit was a case of love at first sight. The moment when your blind date actually does look as good as his profile picture.
Sure there are always some hidden flaws, like how quickly the smooth curves of tile patterns turn into treacherous slip and slides when it rains, the ever-present lurking of pickpocketers in tourist centers, and the ubiquitous graffiti tagging that competes with the city’s red hot street art scene. But these aren’t enough to swipe away from the “City of Light”. I actually returned again recently to spend 17 days in Portugal because I just can’t get enough.
In fact, just as in humans, what some view as flaws others perceive as charm. Take, for example, the seven hills that make up Lisbon on either side of the valley that is the city center. My quads and lungs may not appreciate them as much as my eyes enjoy the views from the multiple miradouros overlooks that offer sweeping views of the city skyline.
There are many reasons why tourists are starting to discover the gem that is Portugal, making it a hot travel destination and Lisbon the new “capital of cool.” To start, it is a relatively safe country. Portugal has been named the most peaceful country in Europe and the third most peaceful in the world.
You can see this in the attitude of the people. Everyone I encountered was warm and welcoming. Even the drivers don’t yell or honk as you attempt to cross the street. That doesn’t mean I would want to drive in Lisbon, with its narrow, hilly, labyrinth of streets. But I would certainly find it less intimidating than Rome.
Portugal is also a fairly inexpensive destination (see how much a trip to Portugal costs.) Even though it operates on the euro, the prices harken back to the days of individual country currencies when a few bucks could buy you a nice meal. Today, even the famous pastéis da nata (custard tarts) can be purchased for one euro and a filling lunch at a local taberna can be had for only six euro. And trust me, it is much tastier, fresher, and healthier than a fast-food value meal.
There are so many things to do in Lisbon in 3 days, soaking in the architecture, history, culture, and food. If you are visiting with a family and have young children, be sure to check out these recommendations for Lisbon with kids and also invest in a sturdy stroller or try out a backpack carrier for navigating the hills and streets. Otherwise, it might be best to wait until the kids have the energy for climbing on their own.
3 Days Lisbon Itinerary
Note: My first trip was hosted by Martinhal Resorts, TAP Air Portugal, and Tivoli Hotels and my return trip by EPIC Travel. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. If you click a link and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission.
You could technically “do” Lisbon in two or three days, but if you are traveling from overseas especially, I would recommend adding in an overnight or a day trip to Sintra. Make sure you read my tips for planning a trip to Portugal too.
I should also add that if you want some help planning your trip and finding some unique activities and places to stay, be sure to reach out to my partner EPIC Travel. EPIC is a custom travel agency focusing on just Morocco and Portugal and their travel planners live in the country and have close relationships with vendors. They can help design a custom Portugal itinerary especially for you. Just mention that you read about them on We3Travel to receive a free VIP welcome gift or upgrade on arrival. (As a partner I will receive a small commission if you book a trip through EPIC Travel but I’ve traveled with EPIC twice and can’t recommend them highly enough!)
Lisbon Itinerary – Day One
Morning: Get to Know Lisbon
If you are arriving from an overnight flight, you will want to take it easy on your first day. I have two favorite ways for combatting jetlag and getting a feel for a new city. First, get out into the famous Portuguese sunshine to wake your body up. I think a walking tour is a great introduction to a city but since you will be tired, why not take a tuk-tuk tour instead?
A tuk-tuk tour is much more personalized than a hop-on, hop-off bus and can get into the little alleyways where busses can’t. Just keep in mind that you will be getting in and out quite frequently and the bumps can be quite jarring, so be sure to wear your seatbelt and it is best for those that are fairly agile.
Since you will be whisked around the city, possibly facing backward, it helps to know a little bit about the major city landmarks and neighborhoods before you go. At each stop, your driver will be able to tell you a little about the history and give you time to explore.
On our three-hour eco tuk-tuk tour, we drove through the Baixa district with quick looks at the Elevador de Santa Justa, whizzed past the Triumphal arch and central Parço do Comerçio, before our first stop at the Lisbon Cathedral.
After a quick peek inside, we went up to Miraduoro das Portas do Sol and then the Miraduoro da Graça, two of the prettiest overlooks in the city. Along the way, we stopped to see some street art and passed through a local flea market on the way.
Throughout the tour, our guide introduced us to the brief history of Portugal, an overview of its neighborhoods, and some insight into the local arts from tilemaking to fado to street artists.
We finished with a stroll through the ancient Alfama district, the oldest district in the city. The Alfama is full of narrow alleys with laundry hanging off of balconies and local busybodies peeking out to trade the daily gossip. Equal parts touristy and authentic neighborhood, the Alfama district is not to be missed, but it was nice to explore this labyrinth with a guide.
A tuk-tuk tour will provide you with a good overview of the city and introduce you to neighborhoods that you may want to return to and explore in more depth. Although my friend Kim had a good point, in that it would be helpful to bring a map and have the guide point out all your stops along the way to help with orientation. Even better, bring a highlighter and have the guide highlight your route and circle your stops for a handy reference when you try to figure out what the heck is in your photo.
Afternoon: Relax or Explore Alfama More
Even if all you did was climb in and out of the tuk-tuk, you will still be tired and the perfect way to end your first day is with a trip to the spa. I find spa treatments are great jet lag busters. They will usually refresh and detox your skin and rehydrate your body. Plus, I can usually sneak in a little snooze during one. The water massage at the Spa at the Tivoli Avenida Liberdade, which is a combination of body treatment and massage, seems like the perfect solution.
However, if you are full of energy, I would recommend getting dropped off in the Alfama area and taking some time to explore on your own. There are plenty of small restaurants to stop at for lunch, although don’t be surprised to see that many don’t open until the evening.
You can visit some of the small fado bars if you return in the evening (fado is a soulful musical Portuguese tradition) and make sure to stop at one of the local shops with streetside tables for a taste of the local specialty of ginja, a sweet cherry liquor.
If you visit in June, the streets of the Alfama are lined with people grilling sardines, garlands draped across the streets, and music is playing around every corner to celebrate the sardine festival. Even in late April, we could drink in the sweet aroma of the orange blossoms (does anywhere have orange juice as fresh and tasty as Portugal?) But if we visited a couple of weeks later in May, we could have seen the city blooming with purple jacaranda blossoms.
You will likely want to call it an early night, but if you have the energy, either take in some fado in the Alfama or you could check out the bar-lined “pink street” (Rua Nova do Carvalho), which has been made Instagram-famous. Believe me when I say that you are probably better off stopping by during the day when the aroma of stale spilled beer isn’t as pungent.
I would recommend a light dinner at Meson Andaluz (Travessa do Alecrim, 4.) Make a reservation first but this tapas restaurant in Chiado offers delicious food and a cozy atmosphere with fun outdoor seating.
Lisbon Itinerary – Day Two
On your second day in Lisbon, you will want to spend time getting to know the city’s many neighborhoods. I would start out with a visit to the Castelo de Sao Jorge. This Moorish castle from the 11th century overlooks the city from a hilltop and offers visitors a chance to learn more about Portuguese history.
While technically a castle, this is more of a fortress, so don’t expect to tour any elaborate rooms like you might the palaces of Europe. The views from the castle walls are nice, but you can get equally nice views from the nearby Miradouros.
If you stop at Miradouro de Santa Luzia or Miradouro do Castello do São Jorge both have nearby restaurants /bars that would make good sunset-watching spots too.
After your visit, you could check out the Mouraria (Moorish) neighborhood, where you will find street art dedicated to fado, a musical style developed in this part of the city on Rua da Guia. In fact, on weekends from June through September, you will find outdoor fado concerts here.
Next, I would head down the hill to the Baixa and Chiado neighborhoods, filled with fashionable shops and restaurants. Take time to stroll the Rua Augusta main pedestrian street with all the restaurants and sidewalk cafes.
I loved just hanging out in Parço do Comerçio and doing some people watching. (Don’t be surprised if you see some people trying to sell you marijuana, just ignore them and move on.) If you want a good bird’s eye view, 2.50 euro will get you a ticket to the top of the Arco Monumental da Rua Augusta (the Monumental Arch).
I would recommend heading over to Time Out Market for lunch. If you can time it to arrive after the local workers are finished with lunch, you might have an easier time finding a table. This is one of the first food halls and is filled with bars and restaurants where you can pick and choose what you would like to eat and gather at a communal table. Don’t miss the pastéis de nata from Manteigaria, which I happen to like more than the famous pastéis de Belem.
If you enjoy shopping, you will love the Chiado neighborhood for its designer shops. But if you are looking for more authentic Portuguese goods, check out Cork & Co., Luvaria Ulisses (leather goods), Livraria Bertrand (the oldest bookstore in the world), and Ceramicas na Linha (pottery by the kilo). See my friend Katja’s recommendations on the best shops in Lisbon.
When evening comes, you will want to climb the steep hill to the Bairro Alto neighborhood, which is bustling with bars and restaurants that come alive at night. However, you can take the Ascensor da Glória funicular to save some tough climbing, just be prepared to wait a while for your turn.
At the top, you can take in the views at the Miraduoro São Pedro de Alcântara. There is a cute market here where you can pick up a snack or drink while enjoying the view (but please watch for pickpockets!)
Just before sunset, make your way over to the Park Bar. This rooftop bar is hard to find (you need to go into a parking garage, take the elevator up to the top and then walk up the ramp, Calcada do Combro, 58 Floor 6 in Bairro Alto.) The sunset views here are amazing!
If you prefer a more upscale and professional fado experience, book a reservation at O Faia (Rua Barroca 56), just be prepared to pay the minimum cover charge for your meal and drinks.
Lisbon Itinerary – Day Three
You definitely want to spend one full day in the neighborhood of Belem, on the outskirts of Lisbon. You can get there by tram, train, or cab/Uber, but cab/Uber is faster and about the same price or cheaper for a family.
The main attraction is the gorgeous Jerónimos Monastery, a 500-year-old former monastery and UNESCO heritage site. You will want to arrive early to beat the crowd or purchase a skip-the-line ticket in advance because waits can be well over one hour to get in.
We were given the great tip that you can also purchase tickets at the Archeology museum, which is adjacent to the monastery. You can purchase a combo ticket or just the Monastery ticket, and then head past the line into the center entrance. The secret is out though because that line can be long too, but when we visited it was half the length of the main monastery line.
Give yourselves at least an hour to enjoy the building, more if you want to visit the various exhibits inside which detail the history of Lisbon and Vasco da Gama. If you also want to visit the chapel, expect to wait in another line. Entrance to the church is free but it is a separate entrance so you have to exit the monastery and queue up again for the church. But if you get there early, you can do the church first and then use your skip-the-line ticket to visit the monastery.
If you need lunch after, walk over to the famous Pasteis de Belem, the bakery that made those ubiquitous custard tarts famous! Everyone swears that they are the best, but are they worth waiting in another line? You can decide. There are two lines for the outside counters and the third line for indoor seating so choose your poison. Personally, I thought the pasteis da nata from Manteigaria in the Time Out Market were just as good (and no line!)
You can then cross under the street from the monastery to the Discoveries Monument. The monument celebrates Portugal’s age of discovery and the monument represents a three-sailed ship ready to depart. There are 16 carved figures on each side, representing monarchs, explorers, cartographers, artists, scientists, and missionaries. You can also go inside and up to the top for gorgeous views of the Tagus River and Vasco da Gama bridge.
Before you leave Belem, take a stroll along the river to the Torre de Belem, or the Belem Tower. This is another spot where you will want to pre-purchase skip-the-line tickets to avoid a long wait. This tower was built in the 1500s to protect the river and today it is a UNESCO site.
If you have extra time in Belem, there are many museums to visit, or you could spend time people watching. It is definitely a touristy area, but with good reason. A day trip to Belem is not to be missed when visiting Lisbon.
Personally, I think the best way to finish your three days in Lisbon is with a sunset sail on the Tagus River. If you have the budget, spring for a private sail with Lisbon ByBoat, but there are plenty of group tour options available too. Most of these leave from the docks right near the 25th of April Bridge (Ponte 25 de Abril) and sail up the Tagus to Belem, then turn around and head up to the Alfama before returning just as the sun is setting behind the bridge.
You will get excellent views of the Sanctuary of Christ the King on the other bank of the river (which looks just like a smaller version of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue.) After your sail, you can have dinner at the busy restaurant district at the Docas. Rui dos Pregos is popular in the evening for its bifana sandwiches. Nearby LX Factory is another fun spot to check out for restaurants and shops.
If you have more time
If you have four days in Lisbon, you must take a day trip to Sintra. If you can, stay overnight even so you can really see everything Sintra has to offer! If you are able to stay overnight, stop at the seaside town of Cascais on your way back to Lisbon.
A few Sintra must-sees include:
- Peña Palace and Park
- Quinta da Regaleira
- Palacio de Setais
- Castelo dos Mouros
If you are lucky enough to spend five days in Lisbon, you can spend the last day visiting the Parque das Nações (Park of Nations) neighborhood. This is a newly redeveloped area that was rejuvenated for the Expo of ’98 and has been designed to include green spaces, public art, and theaters. One of the main attractions here is the Oceanarium, the largest indoor aquarium in Europe. You can also ride a cable car over the park and enjoy the views.
Another option would be to dig deeper into the history or food of Lisbon with a walking tour from Inside Lisbon or a food tour with Devour Tours. Although, if you are staying four or five days in Lisbon, I would try to fit this in earlier in the week. It is always a good idea to take a food tour early in your stay so that you can ask the guide for other restaurant recommendations that you can try throughout your stay.
If you have one week in Portugal, make sure to get out of Lisbon and see more of Portugal. I actually put together four individual one-week Portugal itineraries for you to choose from.
Getting to Lisbon
Note: My flights were provided for no charge by TAP Airlines as part of a press trip.
Getting to Lisbon can be easy and affordable. The national carrier TAP Airlines flies non-stop to Lisbon from New York (JFK), Newark, Boston, Washington D.C., Miami, Chicago, and San Francisco. All of TAP’s fares beyond Portugal (to Africa, Europe, and even South America) include a stopover in Lisbon for up to five nights with no additional airfare, making it easy to add Lisbon to your next trip to Europe.
Both times I’ve flown to Portugal, I’ve flown in Tap’s Economy Xtra class, which provides for extra legroom. I found the seating quite comfy for economy (except when the person in front of me fully reclined, but TAP does provide a great pitch for those that do recline.) The flight entertainment system offered a good selection of movies and entertainment (even games for kids.)
The food on TAP Airlines is fairly standard for airline food. And bonus, the meal includes a glass of wine, even in Economy Xtra! I found TAP on par with other national carriers such as Swiss Air (minus the chocolate bars) and much better than our experience on Aer Lingus and certainly the budget approach of Norwegian.
On my recent return trip from Portugal, I was given a complimentary upgrade to Business Class on TAP Airlines. If you splurge for Executive Class, it pays to book early and select your seat, especially if you are traveling alone. Many of the planes configure business class seats which alternate rows of two seats together (great if you are traveling with someone) and a row of a single seat or “pod”. The single seats are great if you are traveling alone and offer a bit more storage space and privacy. Executive Class offers a fully-reclining seat, meal choices, drinks, and a robust entertainment system.
Getting Around Lisbon
- Walking. If you don’t mind some walking and aren’t afraid to tackle hills, getting around Lisbon is easy on foot. Your thighs will get a work out and do be careful when it rains as the black and white tiles are beautiful, but extremely slippery. My friend slip on her bottom even wearing practical sneakers.
- Public transportation. There are plenty of trams to take around the city. Tram 28 is particularly popular with tourists (but also very crowded). There are also funiculars and elevators to help with those steep hills.
- Tuk-tuks. There are plenty of tuk-tuks for hire and these are especially fun for tours. Look for ones that are eco-friendly.
- Ubers. Ubers are readily available (and priced about the same as cabs from a quick comparison of Chiado to Belem.) Just keep in mind that when you order an Uber from the historical city center, there are a lot of one way streets that they need to navigate. It is best to walk to a convenient spot and order your pick up from there.
Where to Stay in Lisbon
Note: I was hosted by each hotel as part of press trips and my stay was complimentary. All opinions are my own.
I have stayed in three different places to really get a sense of the different neighborhoods. I loved each of these options, but for different reasons.
Tivoli Avenida Liberdade
If you are looking for five-star luxury with high-touch service, the Tivoli Avenida Liberdade is an ideal choice. Located on the posh, tree-lined Avenida Liberdade, it is still an easy walk straight down to the river and Parço do Comerçio. They offer full service with two excellent restaurants, a spa, an outdoor pool, and an excellent concierge staff.
There are plenty of room options for families from connecting rooms to family suites. The suites are quite spacious, with a pull-out couch in the living area, a large dressing area, and a huge bathroom.
Just keep in mind that this is ideal for a quieter stay at a large luxury hotel that is not quite in the “heart” of the action. It is also popular with tour groups or cruise passengers.
If you prefer a family-friendly suite hotel right in the heart of Lisbon, you can’t find a more perfect choice than the Martinhal Chiado. This brand was designed from the ground up to be family-friendly. Each of the 37 suites offers a full kitchen, washer/dryer, dishwasher, and a living area. All the details have been considered, from baby-proof furniture with rounded edges to a high chair and child-size utensils to a potty seat and step stool in the bathroom. Plus, if parents want a night out or time to explore on their own, Martinhal includes access to the kid’s club or nighttime pajama party at no additional cost (except meals for the kids.)
There is also a quick-service restaurant off the lobby, as well as room service. Trust me, enjoying a relaxing and quiet breakfast in my suite while appreciating the view was a taste of luxury right there! I really can’t picture a better family hotel in Lisbon, offering all the conveniences of an apartment rental but with the amenities of a full-service hotel.
Baixa House offers self-catering apartments right in the heart of the Baixa neighborhood, a short walk to all of Lisbon’s main attractions. This area can be a bit noisy and hectic, but Baixa House offers another great option for families or couple groups with two and three-bedroom apartments.
Each apartment has a small kitchenette and a living area. While it isn’t a full-service hotel, there is staff on duty during the day and a breakfast basket is delivered to your door each morning.
Explore More of Portugal
If you are planning a trip to Portugal, be sure to also check out these posts:
- How much does a trip to Portugal cost?
- Tips for planning a trip to Portugal
- 4 One-week Portugal Itineraries
- Best family hotels in Portugal
- Where to stay in the Douro Valley
- 6 Wine hotels in Portugal
- Things to do in Porto
- Planning a trip to the Azores
- Things to do and see in São Miguel
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