During our 3-day trip to Lisbon, I felt at home like no other place I have ever visited. History explains my level of comfort. I am a Brazilian who was born and raised in Bahia, a state in the Northeast of Brazil. When the Portuguese explorers arrived on the Bahian shores in April 1500, they immediately claimed the new land in the name of the King of Portugal. For over two centuries Brazil remained a colony of the Portuguese Empire, and the city of Salvador (founded in 1549 as its first capital) was, after Lisbon, the most important city of the Portuguese empire.
The similarities between Salvador, Brazil and Lisbon, Portugal were unmistakable. From the colonial architecture to names of streets, churches, and convents, almost everything was familiar. Clearly, there’s no need to mention the language and food. Whether you have strings to Portugal’s past or not, Lisbon is a fabulous destination for anyone who loves history, art, architecture, and great food. I can’t recommend highly enough a visit to the Portuguese capital.
This 3-day trip to Lisbon itinerary will not only help you plan your vacation but also make your first visit to Lisbon one to remember. Read on and find out about the best areas to stay, how to get around, and a day-by-day guide that includes renowned sites.
A 3-day trip to Lisbon: where to stay
When searching for the best area to stay in Lisbon, Chiado seemed to be the perfect match for our criteria. We wanted a quiet place at night, but still close enough to historic monuments, cafés, restaurants, museums, and shops. Located in the heart of Lisbon, this charming and elegant neighborhood offered it all.
Hotels in Chiado
Top-notch: Hotel do Chiado
This four-star hotel is in the heart of the Chiado near Bairro Alto, Rossio Square, and Avenida da Liberdade. Many of the rooms have private terraces that offer panoramic views of Sao Jorge Castle and the Tagus River. Several sites such as Largo do Chiado, Santa Justa Elevator, and Fado bars are steps away from the hotel.
Mid-range: Lisbon Serviced Apartments – Chiado Emenda
The first convenience about this place is the keyless check-in. A code will permit your entry to both the building and your apartment. This is a fantastic place to stay with kids. Each unit features a fully-equipped kitchen, plus a washing machine. Located on a quiet street but still near everything. There is luggage storage available (small fee applies) if you plan to stay in town extra hours after check-out.
Budget: Guesthouse Lx Center Chiado
Excellent location to discover Lisbon due to the walking distance from major sites. Shared bathroom. Great place for the value.
Lisbon has no shortage of choices when it comes to accommodations. I recommend checking booking.com for more options.
How to get around Lisbon
Almost all of Lisbon’s attractions lie within a relatively small downtown area which makes it a walkable city. Nevertheless, the Portuguese capital is hilly. Practically every single street is on a hill, aside from the ones near the river. Based on our strength level, convenience, and extra fun, we used Uber, tuk tuk (a motorized three-wheeler), and the tram.
1. Uber works well in Lisbon. We used it quite a few times, especially when traveling between the airport and the city center, and to distant sites.
2. Tuk tuk is a fun way to explore Lisbon. Several circuits are available, and the driver will make stops for photos and to look around. Prices vary but expect the minimum of €20 per person for a one-hour tour. Generally, tuk tuks hold up to six people.
3. The Remodelado Tram 28 crosses the historic neighborhood of Alfama. Although it is meant to be public transportation for locals, tourists always keep it packed. Alternatively, there are the modern Siemens Articulado trams that cover two distinct routes, the hills, and Belém.
Note: A combo ticket (€20 per adult and €10 per child) offers unlimited trips on all tram routes for 24 hours after validation. It includes the popular yellow Tram 28.
A 3-day trip to Lisbon: the evening we arrived
On the first night of our three-day Lisbon itinerary, we enjoyed one of the best views of the city from the Entretanto rooftop bar at Hotel do Chiado. Even if you don’t stay at the hotel, I highly recommend a visit. Arrive before sunset, order one of their wonderful cocktails, and enjoy the stunning scenery of downtown, Tagus River, and Sao Jorge Castle. The view changes when the night falls, and the lit-up Sao Jorge’s Castle becomes the highlight of Lisbon’s skyline. I couldn’t imagine a better way to kick off a vacation in Lisbon.
Note: Bring a sweater with you even during the summer days. The terrace gets a bit breezy after dark.
A 3-day trip to Lisbon: Day 1
On our first day in Lisbon, we checked off our list the attractions that were not in the core of the historic center. Belém is a charming neighborhood to the west of Lisbon that is home to Belem Tower, Monument to the Discoveries, Jerónimos Monastery, and Portugal’s most famous treat, Pastéis de Belém.
Torre de Belém
Belém Tower (Torre de Belém) is a 16th-century construction at the mouth of the Tagus River that served both as a fortress and as a ceremonial gateway during Portugal’s Age of Discovery. Famous Portuguese explorers such as Bartolomeu Dias, who rounded the Cape of Good Hope, Vasco De Gama, who was the first person to sail directly from Europe to India, and Ferdinand Magellan, who captained the first ship to circumnavigate the world, started their voyages there. Moreover, Christopher Columbus made a stop at this place after he completed his discovery of the New World.
Although this UNESCO World Heritage site holds exceptional history, we didn’t visit inside. According to my research, the true beauty of the Torre de Belém is the remarkable exterior.
Still want to check the interior? Check When to be where for more information about hours, tickets, and best time to visit.
Monument to the Discoveries
A short stroll along the waterside will take you to the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) not too far from Belém Tower. This towering landmark in the shape of a ship stands 171 ft high on the bank of the Tagus River and celebrates the Portuguese overseas expansion. It displays Henry the Navigator in its prow, and behind him are King Afonso V and the explorers Vasco da Gama and Pedro Álvares Cabral (discoverer of Brazil), plus other significant characters of the Portuguese overseas expansion. Beautiful!
It is possible to climb to the top of the Discoveries Monument for its 184-foot high lookout that offers incredible views of Belém and the Tagus River. We didn’t climb, which I regret. If you have the time, take the lift up to the sixth floor, then walk up to the viewing platform.
Check the official website of the monument for additional information.
Pastel de nata at Cafe de Belém
Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém, Lisbon’s most acclaimed confectionery shop and patisserie, is a 10-minute walk from the Monument to the Discoveries. It was our next stop. At the table, we ordered the famous golden egg tarts, which were served straight out of the oven. Following the waiter’s advice, we sprinkled them with cinnamon. They were golden crispy outside, creamy inside, lightly sweet, and ridiculously delicious. Don’t forget to pair it with a cup of coffee. Yum!
Pastéis de nata were created before the 18th century by Catholic monks at the Jerónimos Monastery. At the time, convents and monasteries used egg-whites for starching clothes. The egg yolks were used to make cakes and pastries, aka Pastéis de Belém. After the liberal revolution, in an attempt for survival, the monks started selling these egg tarts at a nearby sugar refinery to bring in some revenue. In 1834, the monastery closed, and they sold the recipe. The first owners opened the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém in 1837, and their descendants own the business to this day. The secret recipe remains unchanged.
Monastery of Jerónimos and Church of Santa Maria de Belém
Directly in front of the Monument to the Discoveries, you will find the Jerónimos Monastery. The detailed carvings of the façade will capture your attention immediately. Built in 1502, the Jerónimos Monastery was populated by monks whose duty was to provide spiritual guidance to navigators. There, Vasco da Gama spent his last night before his voyage to the East. It is another UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Do not miss a visit inside. Carved columns with swirls of rope, coral, and sea themes memorialize the overseas Portuguese exploration. In a large room on the second floor, we checked the exhibition that displays a detailed timeline of the main events that occurred in the world during the last five centuries, along with highlights of Portuguese history and of the monastery itself.
Exiting the monastery, the entrance of Santa Maria de Belem was on the left. Admission is free, and it can be visited separately from the rest of the monastery grounds. Everything in the church is beautiful, but what impressed us the most were the elaborate columns that seem to be “growing” into the high vaulted ceiling very much like a tree.
Note: To buy tickets for the Monastery, walk to the National Museum of Archaeology located on the far left. Automatic machines are inside the building on both sides. The queue was long but moved quickly.
For more information about hours and ticket prices, click here.
Early afternoon we returned to the Commerce Square (Praça do Comércio) in downtown Lisbon. On three of its sides, yellow-colored buildings frame the U-shaped plaza. The southern end is open and looks out onto the Tagus River Bridge 25 de Abril, and directly on the opposite side is the eye-catching arch which leads to the entrance of Rua Augusta. A statue of King José I, is positioned in the center. The Commerce Square is stunning and a must-see for anyone visiting Lisbon for the first time.
The square was rebuilt on the site of the royal palace after the tsunami and fire that preceded the earthquake of 1755 that destroyed it. Due to this fact, locals most often call it Terreiro do Paço – Palace Square. It was originally designed to welcome ships back from their voyages to all corners of the Portuguese overseas empire. From the open Tagus side, Portuguese sailors would dock and unload their goods directly onto the square–thus the name of the plaza.
São Jorge Castle
São Jorge Castle (Castelo de São Jorge) is one of Lisbon’s most popular tourist attractions. It was highly recommended by several websites, and friends told us not to skip it. Plus, because it sits on top of the highest of Lisbon’s hills, its silhouette appears over the city’s skyline both by day and night. It was inviting.
Near Commerce Square, we caught a tuk tuk (negotiate the price before you hop on) towards São Jorge Hill. It was a fun ride! As we traveled uphill through the narrow streets and alleys of Alfama, the driver entertained us with historical facts of the castle and the city. The closer we got, the busier the route got with the crowds making their way up the hill.
Note: The line in front of the ticket office was 50+ people deep. I highly recommend booking it in advance.
The remains of the castle consist mainly of the outer walls. Built in the mid-11th century during the Moorish period, the castle later served as a fortified royal residence after Lisbon was freed from Moorish rule and became the capital of the Kingdom of Portugal. The grounds served as a military base to protect the elite, including the king. In 1755, the earthquake severely damaged it, which contributed to its decay.
I recommend a quick browse of the archaeological remains of the royal residence destroyed by the earthquake, and the permanent exhibition in the museum, which provides more details about Lisbon’s history. Check out the Black Chamber, an optical system of lenses and mirrors that provides a 360º-detailed views of Lisbon in real-time.
Beyond the castle’s remarkable history, the views from the terrace, towers, and walls were quite spectacular. Red rooftops, the Tagus River, Santa Justa Lift, the historic ruins of Convento do Carmo, and Bridge 25 de Abril spread beneath us and further. We could see for miles. Just the views alone made a visit to the castle worth the time.
Dinner at Clube do Fado
While planning our trip to Lisbon, I read conflicting opinions about going to a fado club. One opinion said “It is a tourist trap.” But how could we go to Lisbon and not listen to Portugal’s traditional fado? It would be like going to Brazil and not listening to samba, or going to Argentina and not listening to tango. We had to do it! Convinced that certain places could be a tourist trap, good music would never be.
Portuguese friends recommended Clube do Fado. What a beautiful evening! Although the codfish I ordered wasn’t the best I tasted in Lisbon, the music was fascinating. Four singers rotated through the night. Whenever the lights dimmed in the dining room, waiters stopped serving, conversations dissolved in the air, and a performer walked between the tables to stand against the wall in front of us. A fado was about to be sung. Accompanied by the melancholic chords of the Portuguese guitar, the soloist would close her eyes and gift us with her astonishing voice. It was more than just a song. It was a manifestation of feelings. Even if you do not understand a word of the lyrics, you will undoubtedly still appreciate the melancholic, but delightful music.
Note: UNESCO classified Fado as World’s Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2011.
A 3-day trip to Lisbon: Day 2
I was a kid when I first set eyes on Portuguese azulejos (ceramic tiles) at San Francisco Church in Salvador, Brazil. I remember being amazed by those beautiful blue and white squares that covered the walls of the church and the convent next door. At school, I learned that they brought the tiles during Portugal’s colonial expansion.
The Tile Museum (Museu do Azulejo) is not exactly in the center of Lisbon, but it is worth a visit. Housed in a 16th-century convent, the collection lays out the chronological history of tile-making from the 15th century to the present day. It explains how and why this beautiful artwork took flight, the methods, and influences over the centuries. Don’t miss on the top floor the Great Panorama of Lisbon. At nearly 118 feet long (Portugal’s longest azulejo), it reproduces the city of Lisbon before the 1755 earthquake.
Where there is a convent, a church is also present. Check the walls of Madre de Deus Church for one of the finest examples of Baroque decoration in Portugal with its warm, golden, luxurious carving that contrasts with the cool, blue and white tiles. Neither words nor pictures do it justice!
Note: We took an Uber from Chiado to the Museu do Azulejo. I recommend a couple of hours to see both the museum and church.
The Remodelado Tram 28 is itself an attraction. Dating from the 1930s, they are the oldest operating trams in Europe. The bright yellow cars were imported from the United States at the beginning of the 20th century to replace the old horse-drawn carriages, which were, back then, the main transport in Portugal. Nowadays, Tram 28 is still used as a public transportation by locals, but it’s a big draw among tourists.
We didn’t ride the Remodelado. Shocking, right? The truth is, the line was too long. Instead, we took a picture of it and rode the hills-route Articulado. I can’t compare the two routes, but I can certainly guarantee we were not disappointed.
Departing from Praça do Comércio, the tram climbed from Baixa to Graça before squeezing into the steep streets of Alfama, and back to Praça do Comércio. Some streets were narrow, and so were the sidewalks. As the tram passed through, my impression was that pedestrians moved closer to the walls to make room for the streetcar.
The streetcar passed some of Lisbon’s most famous historical monuments, and throughout the journey, an audio guide (offered in different languages through headsets) gave us relevant information about those sites. There are lots of opportunities to take photos. Our ticket was valid for 24 hours, so we rode the tram twice. First, we did the full circuit without getting off. There is so much to see. Then, we hopped-on, hopped-off to see some of the sites up close. Here are some that I recommend:
Praça do Rossio Square
One of the things our family likes to do in Europe is to visit historic, magnificent plazas. Rossio Square was one such site. During the Middle Ages this stunning square held popular rebellions, celebrations, royal proclamations, bullfights, and public executions.
Located in the downtown Baixa district, Rossio Square is now a hub of activities. Trams, city tour buses, metro, tuk-tuks, guides, and tourists enter the piazza from one direction and exit via another. We crossed the large pedestrian area covered with wave-pattern stones, looked at the two baroque fountains located at each end, and admired the central statue of Dom Pedro IV, King of Portugal and first Emperor of Brazil. The surrounding architecture, particularly the stunning building for the D. Maria National Theatre, provided a nice backdrop for Praca do Rossio itself.
Mercado da Baixa
This tented market has its own history. After the 1755 earthquake, vendors began to gather in Figueira Square (Praça da Figueira), over the ruins of the All Saints Hospital, to sell local products. Residents came to buy their everyday goodies, and as the market grew in size and recognition, an iron framework was built, and covered with an enormous tent. In 1855, Mercado da Baixa was officially inaugurated.
Still operating under a tent, locals and tourists roam between stalls that sell everything from handmade jewelry to honey, jams, smoked sausages, cheese, pastries (including pastel de nata), olives, olive oil, sangria, and more – a good place for a break. We ordered a sausage platter and two glasses of sangria, sat on one of the shared tables, and enjoyed the atmosphere.
Miradouros Portas do Sol and Santa Luzia
Lisbon extends across seven steep hills which offer several high vantage points. The Portuguese call them Miradouros. Although my favorite viewpoint was from São Jorge Castelo, the two miradouros we visited had their own atmosphere and offered exceptional views.
Miradouro das Portas do Sol and Miradouro Santa Luzia, both located on Saint Vicente Hill, offer fabulous views over the Alfama neighborhood, the Monastery of São Vicente, and the waterfront. Santa Luzia viewpoint is decorated with 18th-century tiles and has a small garden in Santa Luzia Church.
Note: Sé Cathedral was within walking distance from the miradouros.
Santa Justa Elevator
We had no intention of riding the Santa Justa Elevator. We were satisfied with the panoramic views from Castelo de São Jorge, Entretanto rooftop bar at Hotel do Chiado, and miradouros. Yet, we wanted to look at it up close. As we approached, the narrow 148-foot high, iron elevator soared above us, squeezed between neighboring towering buildings. Featuring neo-gothic arches and geometric patterns, the elevator is not only a piece of art but also an engineering marvel. Inaugurated in 1902, Santa Justa Elevator was intended to transport passengers from the Baixa district to the Largo do Carmo.
Note: The line to ride the elevator was endless. For additional information about fees and hours of operation, click here.
Convento do Carmo
Carmo ruins are the city’s most notable example of the devastation caused by the 1755 earthquake which nearly leveled the entire city. When the roof of the church collapsed, it caused significant damage to the building. Never restored, the church and the ruins serve as a testimony of the tragedy that happened in Lisbon in the mid-eighteenth century.
During the time we were in town, Carmo ruins had the temporary Lisbon Under Stars Show. After sunset, the walls of the 360-year-old church became the setting for a virtual production that showed events that have shaped the last 600 years of Lisbon’s history. Through three-dimensional, 360-degree images, the show combined multimedia projection, virtual dancers, lights, music, and special effects that made us feel like we entered a time travel machine. The spectacle also offered a unique opportunity to get a different perspective on the historic ruins.
For hours and admission fees, click here.
Note: There is a free public elevator located inside a souvenir shop (R. do Carmo 79) on the backside of the Santa Justa lift. It took us up to a terrace behind Carmo Convent, and from there we walked to the ruins.
Bairro Alto at night
Bairro Alto sits uphill from Chiado. After the Lisbon Under Stars Show at the Carmo we walked to Bairro Alto for a drink. Although quiet during the day, Bairro Alto comes alive at night. Locals and tourists gathered behind colorful, graffiti-ridden façades of bars, restaurants, and fado houses. Other folks walked through the narrow, cobbled lanes, shared a table placed on the narrow streets, or stood outside venues with a drink in hand. Voices, laughter, and music mixed on a joyful atmosphere that makes Bairro Alto well-known for its vibrant nightlife.
We finished the night in a cozy, quiet restaurant. After having had an overdose on codfish over the last few days, we ordered a platter with a variety of cheeses and cold-cut meat for a change. It was bigger than we expected, but paired with a tasting of Portuguese wines suggested by the waiter, we wrapped up the night in a yummy manner.
A 3-day trip to Lisbon: Day 3
Parque das Nações
Our family had a fabulous time exploring the historic district. Each church, castle, convent, or monument we visited during our trip to Lisbon brought us joy. Yet, we had a different agenda on our last day in town. We committed to the modern part of the city and to what our 12-year-old daughter wished. She wanted to visit the Oceanarium and the Pavilion of Knowledge (Pavilhão do Conhecimento), both located in the Parque das Nações.
Parque das Nações (Park of Nations) was built on the site of an old, degraded area along the Tagus River to host the 1998 Expo. After the event, the development became an influential area for Portuguese and tourists alike. Of all the districts in Lisbon, the Parque das Nações is possibly the most suited for families. From promenades to cable car, 5-star hotels, restaurants, aquarium, museum, and gardens, the parque has it all!
Here are just a few things that we enjoyed, and I highly recommend:
Stroll along the scenic waterfront promenade, including the wooden footbridge that stretches behind the Oceanarium. Magnificent views appear in any direction you look.
Although the journey is short, the cable car offers a bird’s-eye view of the entire park. One of the highlights is the Vasco da Gama Bridge, which is 11 miles long and its tallest tower reaches an incredible 500 feet in height. It connects Lisbon to the Setúbal district across the Tagus River estuary. The Vasco da Gama Tower, designed as a ship’s mast, is another attraction easily viewed from the gondola.
Considered one of the largest aquariums in the world, Lisbon Oceanarium consists of one massive central tank (1.32 million gallons of seawater) with four smaller tanks around it. The reservoirs are separated only by large sheets of acrylic to provide the illusion of a single large marine habitat. The Oceanarium hosts a vast array of fish as well as penguins, sea otters, sharks, rays, chimaeras, octopuses, cuttlefish, and jellyfish.
Pavilhão do Conhecimento
You don’t have to be a child to enjoy Pavilhão do Conhecimento. This modern and engaging science museum has interactive exhibitions with cutting-edge technology that teaches scientific concepts in a safe, practical, and fun way. It takes learning to a new level.
One of the hits among children was the skyline bike ride on which they pedaled over a tightrope in the air!