Ah, Lisbon. The birthplace of heartfelt fado music, delicious pastéis de nata, and myriad ways to prepare bacalhau (codfish). There’s so much to experience here that it’s hard to pack it all into approximately 3 days. But, if that’s all you have, read on to learn how to make the most of it!
When I was planning my Portugal trip, I knew Lisbon was a must-do for sure. I ended up making it the last stop on this leg of my trip, since it was the easiest city from which to fly to Morocco (more on that another time).
Although I originally intended to stay about 3 full days in Lisbon, I decided to extend my time in Lagos last-minute. So, this itinerary is technically for 2.5 days – but we’re going to call it 3 to keep things simple.
I also want to note that I was originally supposed to have a hostel collaboration in Lisbon, which I was super excited for! Unfortunately, the property I was meant to stay at had an A/C issue, and their other properties were at full capacity (keep in mind, this was June). So, I do want to give a shoutout to both Urban Garden Hostel because I’ve heard amazing things about them; and also to Living Lounge Hostel because I booked relatively last-minute but ended up being pleasantly surprised by the amenities!
NOW without further rambling, here’s a day-by-day itinerary for getting the most out of your Lisbon visit!
Table of Contents
- 1 Day 1
- 2 Day 2
- 3 Day 3
Arrive and grab lunch
When you arrive in Lisbon – whether via plane or perhaps on a train from Porto – head to your accommodations to get settled in before you hit the town. Like the rest of the country, Lisbon is super hilly, so you won’t want to be weighed down as you explore.
Personally, I decided to grab lunch after I got settled because all I had for breakfast was an energy bar. The area that I stayed in (the Baixa district) was pretty touristy, so I walked for a good 10-15 minutes to try and find some restaurants that were away from this part of town.
Ultimately, I found a strip of restaurants that – while probably still catering to tourists – had more reasonable prices for traditional Portuguese dishes. I don’t recall the exact restaurant that I went to, but it was along Rua dos Bacalhoeiros. I ordered the Bacalhau à Brás, which is basically a dish consisting of shredded codfish, egg, thinly sliced potatoes, onions, and olives. The consistency takes some getting used to, but it’s worth trying if you like cod!
Go on a Walking Tour
After you’ve had your fill at lunch, go walk it off with a walking tour! My hostel recommended the Wild Walkers, so I headed to Rossio Square to meet for the afternoon tour. Since I missed out on doing this in Porto, I was NOT going to miss it here! Walking tours are such great – and cost-effective – ways to get acclimated to a new city, so I highly recommend them.
We ended up seeing quite a bit of Lisbon in the approx. 3 hours of the tour, and our tour guide was great about providing fun facts for many of the sites! We also got an intro to the historical Alfama district, which I think is must-do if you’re visiting Lisbon, especially in early June. But, more on Alfama in a little bit.
Dinner + Night-In
Since I had signed up for a daytime tour on my second day, I decided to stay in and try to get some sleep at the hostel instead of venturing out. I know: shocker, right?
The great thing about Living Lounge was that they had a chef who came in to make affordable but delicious dinners every night! For about 10 euros (~$12 USD at the time) we got a 3-course meal and unlimited red wine. If your accommodations offer something like this, I recommend it!
Day Trip to Sintra
After you’ve gotten a bit acclimated to the Lisbon city center on your first day, try heading out of the city and checking out the historic, fairytale town of Sintra! Sintra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and you can make your way there independently via train. However, I really enjoyed having a guided tour of the area.
I booked my tour through the hostel since they had a slight discount, and we went on an all day excursion with YouTour. Our actual schedule was changed up due to some really crappy weather (of all days! Ugh!), and we unfortunately did not get to the beach portion listed on YouTour’s official tour page. But, we made the most of the day and still enjoyed exploring Sintra.
Town Center + Pena Palace
Our first stop of the day was a brief walk through the Sintra town center, which involved making our way through narrow cobblestoned pathways and stopping for ginjinha (cherry liqueur) shots in chocolate cups. Yum!
Afterward, we went up to Pena Palace to see the iconic red and yellow castles, and explore the surrounding gardens. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves here, but trust me: the colors are gorgeous to see in-person, and the forest that surrounds the main attraction is worth trekking through to get the most out of the experience.
Quinta da Regaleira
By the time we were wrapping up at Pena Palace and ready to head to the next item on our itinerary – Quinta da Regaleira – the rain had started coming down pretty strong. But, our group forged on and began walking the grounds of this expansive estate.
Quinta da Regaleira was allegedly commissioned by an eccentric millionaire who also had caves built underneath the property. It was a group consensus that these caves are definitely the highlight of Quinta da Regaleira, and we had a great time descending the spiral staircase “into hell” and traipsing through the caves below.
Lunch at Farm Restaurant
After a bunch of walking, it was time to head to the mountainside to a farm for a delicious Portuguese lunch. The farm’s restaurant was cozy, and the property itself was very quaint and peaceful. They gave us a few options to choose from for our main courses, and I chose another bacalhau-based dish. This one is a sort of cheese and potato casserole with codfish mixed in – perfect for a gloomy day!
Cabo da Roca
One of our last stops of the day was at the western-most point of Europe, Cabo da Roca. Cabo da Roca is situated on an already windy cliffside – so you can just imagine how much more windy it was with the weather that day! Although this was a quick stop, I recommend making your way here simply for bragging rights. If you’re in the Sintra region, you may as well make the most of it.
Cascais + Belem
As I mentioned earlier, we unfortunately could not make it to the beach during our tour as the weather was so crappy. I’m honestly still bummed about that, because I love any chance to hit the beach! Nevertheless, we drove back down the coast toward Lisbon and passed through the fishing village of Cascais before stopping briefly in Belem.
Cascais may historically be a fishing village, but it’s actually one of the most expensive areas in Lisbon! So if you stay or venture to this town, be sure to pad your wallet a bit.
In Belem, we got to see the gorgeous architecture of the Jerónimos Monastery before walking to Pastéis de Belém: the technical birthplace of pastéis de nata! Many say that the pastéis at Belem have a more lemon-y flavor to the custard, but I honestly didn’t taste the difference. Both styles that I’ve tried have been delicious!
Dinner + Hostel Bar Crawl
This particular Sintra tour doesn’t get back to Lisbon until late evening, so keep that in mind if you plan to hit the town!
After arriving back to the hostel, me and one of my tour-mates decided to grab a quick dinner nearby. Amazingly, we were able to find a seemingly-authentic (and reasonable) restaurant in Baixa called O Arco. I ordered a dorado dish, and even though it might look scary because of the way it’s sliced, trust me: it was delicious and just what I needed!
Since I had stayed in the previous night, I decided to head out on a bar crawl hosted by Wild Walkers and meet some more people from my hostel. The bar crawl was a great time, and we got a good amount of drink specials for the price (I believe it was 13 euros at the time). But, the main event of the night was definitely the outdoor club called Urban Beach.
Soooo here’s the thing about Urban Beach, and why I’m not linking to it: the group I was with had a good time simply because we got in free with the bar crawl, and stuck together on the dancefloor. However, the security and staff there were incredibly snooty, and some of the bouncers were just downright jerks!
I have since seen some TERRIBLE reviews about this place, and I’m not shocked. Some reviews even go as far as alluding to acts of racism, which I am also sadly not surprised about. As a result, I can’t say I recommend this place. But if you’re on the bar crawl, I guess you might as well see it through and take advantage of the “free” entry included in the bar crawl fee. Your call. I hope that Wild Walkers will eventually choose a different club to end the night with.
As I’m sure you can imagine, a night out in Lisbon (and most of western Europe!) will keep you up until nearly dawn and possibly leave you with a hangover. If that’s the case, take this last day to do some relaxed exploring, and perhaps hit up the spots that you got a sneak peek of on Day 1.
In my case, I decided to head back to one particular viewpoint that I found really beautiful: Miradouro de Santa Luzia. This place not only overlooks a part of the city and the sea, but it also has some beautiful flora lining its pathways as well. It’s definitely worth a visit simply for the photos, but I recommend finding a spot to sit and enjoy the live music that goes on as well.
Explore Alfama District + Lunch
Even relaxed exploring will build up an appetite, so now is the time to take a stroll through the much quieter Alfama district to find some lunch.
While I was in Lisbon, the district residents were actually preparing for a huge annual festival: Festas de Santo Antonio, or “Feasts of Saint Anthony”. The main festival day is June 12 (so I was gone before then), but even the days leading up to it are brimming with excitement!
While walking through the Alfama district, it was so cool to see the locals doing festival preparations, running around in costumes, and building floats for the upcoming parade. As I wandered through the narrow streets, I found myself compelled to stop at a stand in front of a house and have a shot of ginjinha just for the hell of it.
Eventually, I found myself stopping outside a small restaurant called Casa da Tia Helena that had a particularly appealing salmon fillet on display in its icebox. I immediately knew that’s what I was craving for lunch, and decided to pop in. I was able to cobble together a mix of Spanish and Portuguese to communicate with the waitress, and I had one of the best salmon dishes I’ve had in a while!
Tram Ride + City Park
If you’ve never taken a tram ride (whether in San Francisco, Lisbon, or otherwise), I highly suggest trying out the tram that runs through the city before you leave! Word of advice, however: only take the yellow trams. According to our walking tour guide, only the yellow trams are the original transport; red, or any other color, were created for tourists and are more expensive.
You can take the tram to pretty much anywhere you’d like to go in the main city, but I chose to hop on at the end of the day. So, I tried to make my way out to the Basílica da Estrela, but I just missed the admission hours. Luckily, there happened to be a nice park across from the basilica (oh how I love a good city park!), so I walked through there for a bit instead. The park is called Jardim da Estrela, and it’s a nice place to unwind and slow down.
Last Night Out: Alfama + Bairro Alto
On your last night in Lisbon, you’ve got to try to make it out on your own if possible! I chose to rally a couple of friends I’d made since arriving, and we hit the Alfama district that night to see how the locals party. If you head down the main steps that lead into the Alfama district – located near the Miradouro – you can just follow the sounds of thumping music to find the main square. Beware: it’s likely going to be packed with bodies dancing!
Another option for your last night in Lisbon is to check out the popular Bairro Alto, the bohemian and nightlife center of Lisbon. Here, you can find a ton of different bars to choose from, all with different vibes. If you’re feeling energetic, use Alfama to kick off the night and then end it in Bairro Alto!
There’s definitely a lot to see in Lisbon, but I tried to balance out my itinerary with relaxing and high-energy activities. What’s your favorite type of activity to do when you’re in a new city?