Over the past few years, Lisbon’s popularity among travellers has boomed and it isn’t difficult to see why. The Portuguese capital offers an ideal combination of relaxed surfer-dude culture and a vibrant cosmopolitan city feel. From it’s intricate hand-painted tiles to it’s trendy cafe culture and coloured rooftops, Lisbon should be on the top of everyone’s city break list.
While Lisbon isn’t the largest European city, it certainly has plenty of cool things to see and do as part of a quick-stop city break. In fact, there is so much to do that visiting for just a few days can be quite daunting. It can be really difficult to choose what to visit in the limited time available. We’ve put together this handy 3-day Lisbon city break itinerary to give you some inspiration of how to fit in all the best things to see and do in Lisbon. So, what are you waiting for? Lets go!
When is the Best Time to Visit Lisbon?
If you ask me, Lisbon is great for a city break at all times of the year. Its all-year-round sun and constant mild climate mean that the temperatures never get too low in winter (lowest around 10°C) or too high in summer (highs of around 35°C).
So, if you’re looking for a city break destination that allows you to take full advantage of the sun then August is the best time to visit. However, you have been warned that this is almost the most busiest time of year, when the city is super crowded and accommodation prices shoot up. For those who aren’t as bothered about getting a tan but want to see all of the sights in peace, winter is the perfect season to visit Lisbon for an unhurried atmosphere.
For those looking for something a little in between melting sun and total peace and quiet, then the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn are also great times to visit Lisbon on a city break. During these times of year you can benefit from fewer crowds, lower accommodation prices and a mild climate.
How to Get Around Lisbon?
One of the first things you do upon touch down in Lisbon should be purchasing a Metro card. You can buy one of these cards from any machine in any metro station in the city. Costing just 0.50EUR, they are excellent value as they can be used on any of Lisbon’s buses, trams or metro systems. You are sure to get plenty of use out of your Metro card throughout your 3-day city break in Lisbon.
The Metro card pretty much has you fully covered for public transport across the city. Given that Lisbon is a fairly small and compact city, most of the time you can get by on foot. However, please note that Lisbon it known for its hilly landscape and so expect a good workout for the legs.
Accommodation in Lisbon
When it comes to booking a city break, the most difficult task is always finding accommodation. It can be really challenging to strike that perfect balance between close proximity to sights and not paying an absolute fortune for just a couple of nights. Thankfully, Lisbon is teeming with great affordable hotels and hostels in all areas of the city. However, for a truly unique Portuguese city break experience, I would recommend browsing through the endless Lisbon Airbnbs that are available to rent. With so many different options to choose from, you can get the full authentic Lisbon experience and feel like a proper local.
Once you have decided on a type of accommodation, the next big challenge is deciding where about in Lisbon you want to be. This is no small feat considering the number of diverse and unique neighbourhoods throughout the city. One thing is for sure – you want to be near the city centre. I would recommend starting your accommodation search in Baixa, Bairro Alto or Alfama as these are always safe bets for a good time.
3 Day Lisbon Guide
Day 1 in Lisbon: Alfama & Old Town
Alfama is Lisbon’s most emblematic neighbourhood, with its picturesque labyrinth of narrow streets and small squares and buildings with more personality than the next. The area trickles down from the São Jorge Castle to the River Tagus, and is packed to the brim with fado bars playing traditional Portuguese music, along with plenty of romantic al fresco restaurants and hip cafes.
As the oldest quarter of Portugal’s capital city, taking a stroll through this medieval neighbourhood is like taking a step back in time. Essentially, Alfama is a village within a city, made up of narrow alleys, tiny squares, ancient churches, and whitewashed houses with tiled walls and wrought-iron balconies decorated with flower pots and drying laundry. This district has an unearthly quality about it that deserves to be experienced to be appreciated to its full extent. The best way to see this traditional neighbourhood is to slowly wander through its picture-perfect streets and walking up to the castle for the most impressive panoramic view of the city.
While the scenery in Alfama is astonishing in itself, what makes this neighbourhood even more visit-worthy is the people. Most of the area’s older residents have lived there all of their lives and still maintain a strong sense of community which is truly apparent throughout. Yet, there is a sense that an increasing number of more wealthy people are investing in properties there, with many traditional buildings being transformed into charming apartments and many renovated buildings below the castle being converted into some of the city’s most unique hotels.
Breakfast: Café Tati
Located just behind the Ribeira Market, Café Tati offers a welcoming, laid-back environment for breakfast or brunch before a long day sightseeing in the Alfama district of Lisbon. Surrounded by old decorative artwork and antique furniture, this cafe puts on live jazz music to create a relaxed atmosphere perfect to fuel up in the morning. Make sure you arrive with a big appetite; Cafe Tati serves up big hearty breakfasts that consist of all the necessities, including eggs, croissants, fruit and yoghurt.
Early Morning: São Jorge Castle
Once you’re all full up from breakfast, start your 3-day Lisbon itinerary at São Jorge Castle. Dramatically towering over the city, this mid-11th-century fort is an iconic staple of every Lisbon snapshot. Take a stroll through its rambling walls and pine-shaded courtyards for the best views over the city’s red rooftops. A true display of how old this city really is, São Jorge Castle has survived through Visigoths in the 5th century, Moors in the 9th, Christians in the 12th, and royals from the 14th to 16th centuries.
While the castle’s exterior is truly magnificent, inside the fort is also a sight to behold. Inside the Tower of Ulysses, a camera obscura (a darkened room with a small lens at one side through which an image is projected) provides a spectacular 360-degree view of Lisbon. There are also a number of galleries that display relics from the past centuries, including traces of the 11th century Moorish neighbourhood at the Archaeological Site.
Late Morning: Church Of São Vicente De Fora
Next, grab a top-notch cup of coffee from the Copenhagen Coffee Lab and Bakery before entering the Church of São Vicente de Fora. Named after the patron saint of sailors, this imposing church is a defining feature of the Lisbon cityscape. It is a church with an adjacent monastery, which was badly damaged during the 1755 earthquake and took nearly a whole century to restore to its present state.
While the church itself is impressive, the monastery next door is the true showstopper. The interior of the monastery is elegantly decorated with blue and white hand-painted tiles which portray the story of St. Vincent. You can also take a trip up the bell tower to see the humongous bells that can be seen from the front of the church. For some reason most people choose not to traverse the narrow staircase up to this attraction which means that it is usually pretty quiet. From here, you get a stunning view across the city to the River Tagus.
Lunch: Pois Café
Whilst exploring hilly, busy Alfama, you will certainly need regular refuelling and there are plenty of cool spots to pick from for a light bite. Pois Cafe is a trendy lunch spot that will immerse you in a warm and cosy atmosphere. Open every day, serving up plates for every appetite, Pois is a cafe that guarantees a smile. The ideal place to curl up with a book on one of their couches, or start up a conversation with friends on the wooden tables, Pois provides a rustic and friendly environment to refuel for your first afternoon in Lisbon.
Early Afternoon: Graca’s Campo De Santa Clara
Now onto the next site: Graca’s Campo de Santa Clara. During the weekends, a massive flea market, Feira da Ladra covers Alfama’s streets. A city break to Lisbon isn’t complete without a trip to one of its famous open-air flea markets, including this one which is one of the most well known. Feira da Ladra or ‘Thieves Market’ is thought to have been in Lisbon since the 12th century and offers a hugely diverse range of bits and bobs.
If you wonder through the market-filled streets you are certain to find something that you never even knew you needed. The market sells everything you could ever think of, from old rotary phones, rustic photo frames, broken mannequins, home-made artisan goods, coins, antique furniture and pre-loved vinyl records. The traders here are perfectly legal and many simply display their stalls on blankets laid on the ground. You can find the market on these streets every Tuesday and Saturday, from dawn to early afternoon.
Late Afternoon: National Palace & Lisbon Cathedral
Next, stroll through the tightly packed streets of Alfama and make your way past the quaint independent stores and chic bars to the impressive fortress that is Lisbon Cathedral. This ancient cathedral was built in 1150 by Portugal’s first king for the city’s first bishop, the English crusader Gilbert of Hastings.
The exterior of the Cathedral resembles a medieval fortress, with two large bell towers and a spectacular rose window, while the interior appears predominantly Romanesque, with a Gothic choir and ambulatory. To the left of the entrance is a baptismal font that was used in 1195 to baptise Saint Anthony who was born nearby. In the 14th-century cloisters once were gardens but now you will find that they are the sites of excavations that have revealed Roman and Visigothic remains. Yet, amongst all of the Cathedral’s treasures, the most important sacred object is the casket which contains the remains of St. Vincent, the official patron saint of Lisbon.
Once you’re done discovering the treasures of the Cathedral, head to The National Palace of Queluz and its stunning gardens. This truly magnificent scenery is one of the best examples of the remarkable link between landscape and architecture in Portugal. These grounds display the surroundings and lifestyle in which the Royal Family and the Portuguese Court spent their time during the second half of the 18th-century and the early 19th-century. At the same time, the Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassic architecture highlights the transition from the Ancien Régime to Liberalism.
Most restaurants in Alfama are either small or incredibly popular or both. As a result, to be safe, I would recommend booking a table, particularly during the high tourist season (April to September).
Tucked away down a cobble stoned alley in Alfama is this unexpected little restaurant. A slight contrast to the rest of this traditional, fado-obsessed neighbourhood, Boi-Cavalo screams contemporary cooking at its very finest. A nice respite from your first day in Lisbon exploring one of the oldest areas in the city, this trendy, hipster-magnet is a breath of fresh air that provides a stark contrast as your day turns into night. Located in an old butcher shop, this modern restaurant has been transformed into a cool bistro adorned with Scandi-inspired wooden furniture.
As for the food, the menu changes each week, but know that you are in for a treat no matter what. Past menu highlights have included suckling pig with kale, horseradish and shrimp dust, as well as desserts like tofu custard with toffee bits.
Nighttime: The Sweet Sound of Fado
With its winding streets, ancient fortresses and intricate tile-work, Alfama by day is one of the most charming districts in Lisbon. However, as dark draws in, the neighbourhood acquires an altogether different mood. There is no tradition that encapsulates this romantic atmosphere than Fado, a style of music that is truly integral to the Portuguese experience. Combining raw passion with fun and excitement, the Fado music that flows through Lisbon’s cobbled streets often amounts to being one of visitors’ most treasured travel memories.
Tasca Do Chico is one of the very best Fado hot spots in the whole of Lisbon. Featuring flag-draped ceilings and portrait-lined walls, this trendy bar oozes nostalgia and offers an intimate Fado experience. Just one block north you will hear the sweet jazz sounds drifting from Páginas Tanta. Here, a diverse crowd, of both young and old, can be found enjoying live pop music. Even better, at both of these great spots, entrance is free and the drinks are super cheap.
Day 2 in Lisbon: Belém & West Lisbon
The original birthplace of the world-famous pastel de nata, Belém lies right at the centre of Portuguese history. Located west of Lisbon’s city centre, this district is the home of many of the country’s most prominent cultural institutions, museums, architecture and award-winning restaurants.
It was from Belém that the explorer Vasco da Gama set sail for India in the 15th century, returning with rich treasures that helped to fund the area’s extravagant buildings and went on to build a global empire. Many of those stand-out buildings have now become crucial symbols of Portuguese culture. Today, Belém is not only a testament to its colonial past, but also a must-visit tourist spot for those who want to know more about modern Portugal.
Breakfast: Pastéis de Belém
No 3-day Lisbon itinerary would be complete without a visit to where the delicious custardy pockets of goodness that are pastes de nata, were first invented: Pastéis de Belém. Starting out in an early 19th-century monastery in Belém, this traditional pasteleria first began cooking up its ‘top-secret recipe’ after the 1820 liberal revolution witnessed all convents and monasteries in Portugal shut down. In order survive after the revolution, monks started selling sweet pastries in order to survive, and the recipe hasn’t changed since.
Selling around 20,000 pastries every single day, Pastéis de Belém is one of the most popular destinations for these tasty delights, and for good reason. Each and every pastry that is sold is lovingly made by hand, using traditional methods, and following the secret recipe from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos.
Early Morning: Jerónimo’s Church And Monastery
After demolishing as many pasteis de nata as you can, head to Jerónimo’s Church and Monastery. As one of the most important monuments in Portugal, this church us the country’s most visited heritage site. The 16th-century monastery is a true architectural masterpiece, packed with artistic elements that have been admired for many centuries.
The monument was built in dedication to the Order of St Jerome as a serene place for prayer, meditation and leisure for the Order’s monks. It is a magnificent example of Manueline, or Portuguese late Gothic, architecture, featuring an impressive vaulted ceiling that is held aloft by intricately carved stone pillars. The inside of the monastery is brightly illuminated by beams of sunlight cascading through the colourful stain glass windows. The interior of the church is a fascinating site and the view of it from the upper choir is certainly not to be missed.
Late Morning: Museu Coleção Berardo
End your second morning in Lisbon at Museu Coleção Berardo, the main collection of modern and contemporary art in the whole of Portugal. The permanent collection, assembled by José Berardo, offers a history lesson in the development of modern day art.
You can enjoy pieces by both contemporary and 20th-century artists, from various different cultural backgrounds, who have contributed to the history of art. Well-known names include Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Piet Mondrian, Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman and Marcel Duchamp, among many more. These incredible artists are presented within the context of the art movements that they helped define. The works are neatly organised in chronological order which allows you to truly feel like you’re travelling through time and gaining knowledge of each period as you go.
Lunch: Santa Catarina
Hop on tram 15 to the quaint neighbourhood of Santa Catarina which sits atop the hill. Santa Catarina is a traditional neighbourhood with narrow, winding streets and pastel-coloured houses. Before you properly start exploring this pretty neighbourhood, take a trip to Pharmacy where you can experience a perfect combination of tasty sharing plates and laid-back atmosphere. To get to this top-notch restaurant, its quite a climb up a steep hill, so go ahead and take the easy way up, on Elevador da Bica.
Once you’ve fuelled up at Pharmacy, visit Miradouro de Santa Clarita for an incredible view of the Tagus estuary, the bridge and the city’s rooftops. Whilst taking in the amazing views, enjoy the unique atmosphere of the music, good conversation and beer in the evening.
Early Afternoon: LX Factory
On your way back towards the city centre, on the tram 15, quickly jump off to visit LX Factory, one of Lisbon’s newest and coolest, but most understated hang-out spots. Originally an old textile factory, the building has now been transformed into a modern, creative and innovative space situated directly below the 25th of April Bridge.
Occupied by professionals of the creative industry, LX Factory serves as a stage for a whole host of happenings related to music, arts, fashion and architecture, among others. This trendy hub features eye-catching street art on the walls, indie shops, a really cool bookshop and some of the best tasting coffee in the city. First taken over by a number of small businesses and creative professionals, LX Factory houses a great range of innovative start-ups, ranging from hip restaurants to sleek work spaces for artists and designers. Soon after, cafes, bars and shops joined the scene to cater to the many professionals hard at work in its surroundings.
Hopefully, with this being your third day of your weekend city break, it will be a Sunday. If so, LX Factory holds a weekly flea market each Sunday in its main street, where vendors sell vintage and local designer clothes, old vinyl and CDs, handmade jewellery, and everything else you could ever need.
Late Afternoon: Jump on an Old Fashioned Tram
The LX Factory is located a fair walk from your next stop, so you have the perfect excuse to jump on one of Lisbon’s old fashioned trams. The Number 15 Tram goes all the way back to Rossio, and if you purchased one, you can even use your metro card.
No Lisbon city break is complete without a nostalgic roller-coaster ride on an elétrico, one of the capital’s infamous old yellow streetcars that are constantly screeching through the city’s narrow streets. Small and surprisingly nifty, these 100-year-old trams rumble along narrow gauge tracks through a maze of ancient residential districts.
Although Lisbon doesn’t technically have a Chinatown like many other major European cities, the Martim Moniz area is widely regarded as being the heart of the city’s Asian community. You can’t visit this self-made Chinatown without taking a trip to the Illegal Chinese restaurant – don’t worry, it isn’t actually illegal!
The reason this restaurant is inconspicuously named ‘illegal’ is because of how well-hidden it is. The fairly dodgy looking apartment building doesn’t exactly beckon strangers to come in off the street. After walking through the doorway you will walk up a narrow stairwell, largely devoid of light. Once you reach the top, you will find a door featuring a neon pink stamp of a blurry Chinese character. Most Chinese restaurants in Lisbon tend to serve up the same culinary delights: fried rice, chow mein and fried pork dumplings.
Day 3 in Lisbon: Bairro Alto, Baixa & Chiado
Bairro Alto is the picturesque central area of Lisbon, dating back to the 1500s. Traditionally, Bairro Alto has been regarded as Lisbon’s bohemian haunt of creative minds, including artists and writers. During the day, this neighbourhood’s maze of criss-cross shopping streets and tiny alleyways tends to be fairly quiet; it is when day turns to night that Bairro Alto really comes out of its shell. As the dark draws in, this Lisbon area is transformed into one of the city’s most thriving nightlife quarters. Behind a facade of graffiti is a host of traditional and international restaurants, Fado Houses and a range of trendy bars filled with locals and tourists alike. During a weekend break to Lisbon you will find people of all ages, backgrounds and lifestyles bar-hopping through Bairro Alto.
Baixa is considered the main shopping and banking district in Lisbon, stretching from the riverfront to the main avenue, where streets are named according to the shopkeepers and craftsmen who traded in this area. The district is relatively new given that it was completely rebuilt after the Great Earthquake of 1755. Its streets are flanked by neat neoclassical buildings, being Europe’s first great example of neoclassical architecture and urban planning of its age. On visiting Baixa, you will find expansive, elegant squares, pedestrianised streets, hip cafes and glamorous shops.
Breakfast: Cafe Janis
For a tasty breakfast on the final day of your 3-day Lisbon itinerary you’re going to head to Cafe Janis, a vibrant all-day cafe that serves anything, anytime (literally). This fun breakfast spot has a day-long cafe-restaurant concept, which means that it serves everything from breakfast to dinner at any time of the day – if you really want to, you can order porridge for dinner and cocktails for breakfast with no judgement.
Situated in the Cais do Sodre of Bairro Alto, you can claim a spot on the outdoor terrace for the perfect breakfast or brunch in the sun, looking over this central area of Lisbon.
Early Morning: Tram 28
After filling up with tasty delights from Cafe Janis, head to Praça Martim Moniz to board the infamous Tram 28. This old tram winds its way up the hilliest, narrowest and most-scenic streets in the city, where you can admire Lisbon’s historic heritage and typical neighbourhoods. The tram route goes all the way from Martim Moniz to Campo de Ourique/ Prazeres, which takes approximately an hour.
It is best to try to get an early start on this day in order to avoid the queues. As well as being an incredibly popular tourist attraction in Lisbon, Tram 28 is also used by locals as their main mode of transport around the city. Even if you do get there early, you can expect long queues and it’s likely that you’ll be standing the whole way.
Late Morning: Praça De Principe Real
Jump off the tram at Praça De Principe Real, essentially the older, sophisticated sibling of the more well-known Bairro Alto. Packed to the brim with trendy restaurants, grand mansions, quaint antique shops and tiny gardens, Príncipe Real is a must to explore on your 3-day Lisbon city break. This cool little Lisbon area is located right next to one of the best viewing platforms in the city, the Miradouro São Pedro de Alcântara, and it is well worth the walk. From here you will get a stunning view of the Castle of São Jorge, Sé Catedral, and the River Tagus, as well as the many 18th century buildings of Avenida da Liberdade.
If you love a little shopping spree, then you are in for a treat with Embaixada, a luxurious shopping centre housed in a magnificent 18th century neo-Moorish building revived with a range of beautiful Art Nouveau details. Inside this glamorous shopping mall, you will find over a dozen shops with different themes and serving different purposes. However, each of these shops has one thing in common; they are all dedicated to the preservation of tradition, creativity and innovation within the fashion and design industries. Alternatively, if you prefer a slightly more laid-back shopping experience, then simply stroll down the street poking your head in and out of the many small antique shops along the way. These shops sell a great range of souvenirs and gifts that are ideal for taking home to family and friends.
Lunch: A Cevicheria
Situated between Bairro Alto and Principe Real is A Cevicheria. Run by chef Kiko Martins, this signature restaurant serves up mouth-watering Peruvian cuisine, specifically ceviche (the technique of macerating raw fish and meat in vinegar, citrus and spices). The chefs deliver fabulous variations of this traditional Peruvian dish, such as tuna with beetroot and white fish with sweet potato puree. With an incredible blend of Portuguese, Asian and tropical flavours, A Cevicheria delivers an unforgettable gastronomic experience in an inviting setting.
These bold flavours and adventurous recipes are all served within a small restaurant that features eye-catching decor. Sit at the counter under a giant octopus as you enjoy your seafood, cooked to perfection. Superbly decorated in blue and white tones, this restaurant is a true tribute to the sea.
Early Afternoon: Elevador da Glória
After lunch, take the Elevador da Gloria funicular, one of three in Lisbon, links Bairro Alto and Baixa. Opened in 1885, as the second of its kind in the city, this funicular train was only electrified in 1915 but still retains its original charming characteristics.
While the Elevador da Gloria is a must-do in Lisbon, you also have the option of walking down to Rossio and Baixa, alongside the tram tracks to admire some of the coolest and most unique street art in the city.
Late Afternoon: Igreja de São Domingos & Convento do Carmo
Now you will find yourself in Rossio and Baixa, which are much newer areas of Lisbon, built after the 1755 earthquake. The first must-see attraction in this district is Igreja de São Domingos church, which has played a huge role in many of the city’s tumultuous historic events. From earthquakes and fires to pogroms and royal weddings and christenings, this atmospheric church has seen it all. Today, this fascinating past gives way to a palpable sense of history, drawing tourists who are looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
Next, you might want to take the Elevador de Santa Justa up to Convento do Carmo, but if you want to avoid the long queues and the fairly average views, take the free supermarket lift to Rua Garrett instead. Wander through the shops before arriving at Covento do Carmo, a medieval convent that was ruined in the 1755 earthquake. Looking down over the city below, the skeletal remains of this once great Gothic church are a haunting reminder of Lisbon’s devastating past. The chapel, located at the rear of the convent, now contains a peculiar collection of fascinating artefacts, such as tombs of the famous, a 2nd-century Egyptian sarcophagus and two mummies of Peruvian children.
Dinner: A Typical Portuguese Dinner
After a long day roaming the streets of Bairro Alto, Chiado and Baixa, there is nothing better than a hearty Portuguese dinner to perfectly finish off your last day of your Lisbon itinerary. Visit Chiado’s 1º de Maio, a basement restaurant, perfect for anyone wanting to get a taste of classic Portuguese cuisine.
Nighttime: Bairro Alto Bar Crawl
If you ask the locals where the best night out in Lisbon is, the answer will surely be Bairro Alto. This dark horse of a neighbourhood has been the city’s hub of nightlife for the past 40 years, with a diverse range of authentic bars lined up along the quaint cobbled streets.
Bairro Alto is famous for its tiny bars, which only seem to reveal themselves when night takes over. You could grab a takeaway beer from one of the many bars to have on the move, just like the locals. Or, head to Tasca do Chico, a staple bar in Bairro Alto, known for its impromptu fado. With an incredibly authentic feel, with walls decorated with posters and photos of famous singers who have graced the bar, there is no better place to finish off your Lisbon city break.
Where to go next: 3-Day Copenhagen Itinerary