top of page

How many days in Lisbon for the perfect itinerary?


view of Lisbon

The Portuguese capital of Lisbon is a beautiful city brimming with gorgeous scenery, interesting architecture, ancient history and a vibrant local culture. As one of the major European cities, Lisbon captivates the traveler with winding cobblestone streets, colorful tiled buildings, and panoramic views from its seven hills. With so much to explore, the question arises; how much time is enough to truly experience all that Lisbon has to offer? The answer, of course, is complicated. 


Lisbon buildings

I realize that most of the time, when traveling to Europe, you are on a tight schedule, wanting to see as much as you can in the short time you have (usually 1 or two weeks). I will use this assumption for my recommendation. You can get a good taste of Lisbon in a day but I would definitely suggest more than one day for this amazing city, especially if it is your first time.  For your first visit, if you are on a 10 day trip, I think 3 or 4 days dedicated to Lisbon is a good amount of time. This would include a day trip or 2 outside of the city. Of course, if you have more time, Lisbon can definitely keep you entertained for longer. In this article I will go over everything you will need to know about organizing and planning  your perfect trip to Lisbon. We will cover all the historic sites worth visiting, top attractions and spots with the best views. 


Getting there


Lisbon buildings

By Air: Lisbon Portela Airport (LIS)

For international travelers, flying into Lisbon Portela Airport (Humberto Delgado - LIS) is the most convenient option. Located just 7 kilometers north of the city center, LIS is Portugal's largest and busiest airport, serving as a major hub for both domestic and international flights. From North America there are direct flights to Lisbon from LA, Chicago, Toronto, Montreal, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Miami, JFK, and Newark. You can often find very reasonably priced tickets on Portugal's TAP airlines. 


Square in Lisbon

From LIS, travelers can reach the city centre by various means of transportation, including taxis, airport shuttles, and public transportation. The Aerobus provides direct service to key areas in Lisbon, such as Marquês de Pombal, Praça do Comércio, and Cais do Sodré, making it a convenient option for those staying in downtown hotels. Additionally, the Lisbon Metro offers a direct connection from the airport to the city center, with the journey taking approximately 20 minutes.


Street in Lisbon

By Train: Lisbon Oriente Station

Traveling to Lisbon by train offers a convenient option for those arriving from other parts of Portugal or neighboring European countries. Lisbon's main train station, Gare do Oriente, is located in the Parque das Nações district, just east of central Lisbon. Serving as a major transportation hub, Oriente Station offers high-speed trains (Alfa Pendular and Intercidades) connecting Lisbon to cities such as Porto, Faro, and Madrid.

From Oriente Station, travelers can easily access the Lisbon Metro, buses, and taxis to reach their final destination within the city. The station is also next to the Vasco da Gama shopping mall, where passengers can find additional amenities, including restaurants, shops, and tourist information.


Lisbon

By Car: 

Traveling to Lisbon by car offers flexibility and convenience. We always rent a car when we are in Europe because we love being able to make our own schedule and find off the beaten path places. Driving in Portugal outside the cities is easy as there is a well-maintained network of highways. I would not drive in Lisbon however. It is very congested with many hills and one way roads. If you have a car, park it at your hotel and walk or take public transportation while in the city. 


Buildings in Lisbon

Getting Around:

Once you've arrived in Lisbon, exploring the city's many attractions is made easy thanks to its efficient and accessible public transportation system. 

One of the most iconic modes of transportation in Lisbon is the historic tram network, which winds its way through the city's narrow streets and steep hills. The trams have become a symbol of the city. Tram 28 is particularly popular among tourists as it winds through historic neighborhoods such as Alfama, Graça, and Estrela. Passengers can hop on and off at various stops along the route, allowing for easy access to some of the main attractions. Be aware though, there are usually long lines to get on tram 28, especially during the peak season of the summer months. 


Lisbon tram

In addition to trams, Lisbon has a great network of buses, metro, and trains. The Lisbon Metro consists of four lines that connect various neighborhoods, landmarks, and tourist attractions, making it a quick and efficient way to travel around Lisbon. Additionally, the city's bus network offers numerous routes that cover the entire city, providing convenient access to neighborhoods, parks, and other major sites.


To use public transportation in Lisbon, you can purchase reusable Viva Viagem cards, which can be loaded with credit for use on trams, buses, and the metro. These cards can be topped up at metro stations, train stations, and various shops throughout the city. You can also purchase individual tickets for single journeys or day passes for unlimited travel within a specific time frame. If you know you will be using public transportation regularly, it is easiest to buy a day pass. That way you won't have to worry about topping up the card. 


Lisbon buildings

There are little yellow go-cart type cars you can rent to drive around the city. We tried this once with our children. The cars give you directions as you drive to stay on a sightseeing route of the city. The problem is, if you make a wrong turn and get off the route, the car stops talking to you. Our family was in three different cars. We made a wrong turn right away and the car stopped telling us where to go. We then lost each other so each of us spent the time randomly driving all over the city. It was a fun way to explore Lisbon but just be aware that it probably won't be relaxing.


Lisbon car

When to visit Lisbon

Like most of Europe, the best time to visit Lisbon is during the shoulder season. High season is during July and August when it can get extremely busy and hot. The good news is that Lisbon is mostly pleasant the rest of the year, so even visiting in winter can be lovely. The average high temperature in December, for example is 60 degrees Fahrenheit. November and December are the rainiest months and Lisbon can get windy but coming in the off-season, with cooler temperatures and less crowds is definitely preferable.


View of Lisbon

Main Sights

Ok. Let's get into what you want to see when you are in Lisbon. As with most European cities, a great way to begin your first day is to start in the old town. In Lisbon this is known as the Alfama district. It is located between the São Jorge castle and the Tagus River and is full of cobbled streets, historic houses and incredible views. Dating back to 1200 BCE, this is the oldest neighborhood of Lisbon. It includes historical monuments and must-see stops. Historically it was actually located outside of the city walls and housed some of the poorer citizens such as dock workers and sailors. Today, it is the perfect place to get lost and enjoy getting to know this iconic city. 


The Alfama neighborhood is full of steep hills. The best way to reduce the amount of time climbing, is to take a tram up to the top and then walk down the hills exploring the area. It is also really easy to get lost. If you really don't know where to go, just head down the hill and you will eventually exit the neighborhood and be able to find your way. 


Castle in Lisbon

The Castelo de São Jorge, or the castle of St. George in English, is located at the highest point of Alfama. There have been fortifications on this hill since the 1st century BC. This is when Lisbon was declared part of the Roman empire. The medieval Castelo de Sao Jorge castle seen today was constructed after the Christian reconquista from the Moors.  The castle was used for the residence Alfonso III who was the governor. It was renovated in 1300 becoming a Royal palace. You can visit the castle, ruins of the royal palace, see the walls, enjoy beautiful views as well as see the archaeological center and the camera obscura. There is also a guided tour available if you want to learn all about the history and other important information you may not learn on your own. 


St. George castle Lisbon

Don't forget to stop for pastéis de nata on your way up to the castle. These delicious pastries are found all over Portugal. They are a shell of flaky pastry filled with an egg custard. The name translates to cream pastries. The tarts are baked at a high temperature until the tops are slightly scorched. Most of the time they are served with powdered sugar or cinnamon sprinkled on top. Our favorite place to buy these delights is just before you enter the castle. It is called Pastelaria Santo Antonio. They were absolutely delicious. 


Lisbon Pasteis de nata

The Lisbon cathedral, also called the Cathedral of St. Mary Major, is the oldest cathedral in the city. Constructed in 1147 in the Romanesque style, parts have been renovated and added since then in Gothic, Baroque, Neo-classical and Rococo styles. While this cathedral is grand, I find it not as beautiful as some others in the city. 


Lisbon Cathedral

The church of Santa Egracias, for example, is a beautiful Baroque building. Originally a church, it was converted into the national pantheon where important Portuguese are buried.


National Pantheon of Lisbon

Construction began in 1681 but was not completed until the 20th century because of lack of interest.  The interior is covered with gorgeous marble patterns and the Baroque organ was brought from the Lisbon cathedral. 


Lisbon national pantheon

The Baixa district is a majestic neighborhood of the city with grand plazas, shops and restaurants. It lies in a valley between the Bairro Alto district and the Alfama district. There is good public transportation in this area with the Rossio metro station being the main hub. This whole area was rebuilt in 1755 after a devastating earthquake destroyed this part of the city. There are five main plazas in the neighborhood. They are: the Praca do Comercio, Praca Dom Pedro IV (Rossio square), Praca dos Restauradores, Praca Figueira, and the Praca do Martim Moniz. I will cover a couple of these squares but they are all wonderful to visit if you have time. 


Baixa neighborhood Lisbon

The Praca do Comercio is a grand open square facing the water. The buildings surrounding the plaza have housed some of the most important government departments such as the ministry of defense, the supreme court, ministry of finance and others. Historically this was the area where goods from the Portuguese colonies were traded. Before the earthquake, the Ribiera palace was beside the water. All that remains are the marble steps where dignitaries would arrive and enter the palace. The Praca do Comercio was the setting of the assassination of King Carlos I in 1909 as he was riding in his carriage with his family. The king died immediately and one of his sons was also killed. Today it is a lively square and wonderful gathering place. It is a great place to spend some time enjoying the atmosphere. Consider getting a drink at the oldest cafe in the city, Martinho da Arcada which was established in 1782.


Praca do Comercio Lisbon

The main street of Baixa is the Rue Augusta. This grand pedestrian street is full of colorful restaurants, cute coffee shops and characteristic stores. It connects Rossio Square, to the Praca do Comercio. Re-designed after the earthquake, the street now has a stately and more uniform Neo-classical design. It is a lively area with street performers and all sorts of places to eat and shop. The impressive Arco da Rua Agusta leads from the street to the Praca do Comericio. This arch was built to commemorate the rebuilding of the city after the earthquake. It has six columns and features carvings of historical figures along with the coat of arms of Portugal. The building was originally designed as a bell tower but was converted to an arch after more than a century. You can visit the top of the arch to have a unique view of Lisbon. 


Arch in Lisbon

Rossio plaza, or King Pedro IV square, is considered the heart of the city and has been a main square in Lisbon since the middle ages. This square has been the host of many celebrations, revolts and even bullfights and executions. It was heavily damaged in the earthquake but was rebuilt in the 18th century. It is always alive with people and activity. Known for its distinctive wavy tiles on the ground, Rossio is the best place to sit back and watch the city. 


Rossio Square Lisbon

Next to Rossio plaza is the Church of St. Dominic. This church was, at one time, the largest church in Lisbon. Dedicated in 1241, this church was damaged by both the earthquake of 1531 and the earthquake of 1755. The rebuilding was finally completed in 1807. In 1959, a fire broke out in the church completely gutting the interior and destroying many works of art. While the church reopened in the 90s, there are still many signs of the fire left, including a smell of stone and wood. 


Church of Saint Dominic Lisbon

If you are wandering and notice a church with an open roof, this is the Carmo convent or the Convent of our Lady of Mount Carmel. This convent was a casualty of the 1755 earthquake where it lost its roof and was heavily damaged. The roof collapsed on the congregation as they were attending mass. It is estimated that as many as 70,000 people died throughout the city because of the earthquake. The Convent was originally founded in 1389. By 1551 70 clergy were living in the convent. It was never rebuilt and now serves as an archaeological museum.  In the summer the ruins are used as a backdrop for theatrical productions and concerts. 


Carmo convent Lisbon

The Avenida da Liberdade is a tree lined boulevard that stretched for nearly a mile. It was created in the late 19th century as a way to modernize the city. There are grand mansions and other beautiful buildings along its edges. In the center median there are gardens, fountains, sculptures and monuments. This is a delightful place for a stroll. It is lined with high end shops, boutiques, embassies and cafes. 


Estrela basilica is another church worth visiting. It is officially called the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This Neo-classical church is topped with a Rococo dome. The interior has pastel marble of pink, grey and yellow arranged in beautiful patterns. Construction of this church began in 1779 after Queen Maria vowed to build a church if she were able to bear an heir to the throne. 


Estrella basilica

Also located in the Baixa district is the elevador de Santa Justa or the Santa Justa lift.   Built in 1902, this wrought-iron elevator was built to help residents get up one of the steepest hills of the city. At the top are panoramic views of the Baixa neighborhood. There are often long lines to get in the elevator though so be prepared to wait if you want to take it. It is also rather expensive for an elevator ride.  


Santa Justa elevator Lisbon

At the top of the elevator is the Bairro Alto neighborhood. Bairro Alto can be translated as upper district. This is a densely populated and lively area with a central location. It is known for its nightlife with jazz clubs, bars, and nightclubs but is a wonderful area to wander around during the day as well.


The Igraja de Sao Roque and the Igraja de Santa Catarina are two churches worth a visit. The Igraja de Sao Roque or church of Saint Roch, was the earliest Jesuit church in Portugal and one of the first anywhere. It has a single nave with 8 side chapels. The history of this church is interesting. During the 1500s Lisbon was being ravaged by the plague. On the site where the church stands now was a cemetery for the victims of the plague. The King of Portugal sent for a relic of Saint Roch, the patron saint of plague victims, from Venice, where his body was. When it arrived, the relic was carried up to the cemetery by a procession. The people then decided to erect a shrine to the relic on the site. In 1553 the Jesuits took over the site and started to build a larger church. The painted ceiling is meant to give the illusion of barrel vaulting with three domes is particularly interesting. 


Saint Roch church Lisbon

Igraja de Santa Catarina, or church of St. Catherine, was originally part of a convent in the 1600s. It is easy to overlook from the outside but is has a gorgeous guilded Baroque interior. Luckily, it was not damaged during the earthquake of 1755 giving us a glimpse into the wealth of Lisbon during that time. 


tiles of Lisbon

Of course, everywhere you look in Lisbon, you see painted tiles or azulejos. They adorn both the interior and exterior of buildings all over the city. The glazed tiles are typically blue and white but can come in any color. They became popular in the 16th century after they were introduced by Moorish conquerors. Lisbon took this Moorish influence and blended it with a European aesthetic to create a distinctly Portuguese style. They have now become a symbol of the city.


Lisbon tiles

One of the best things to do to learn about the history of the tiles in Lisbon is to go to the national tile museum. Set in a 16th century convent, the building alone is worth visiting with some absolutely stunning rooms.


Tile museum Lisbon

The museum takes you through the journey of tile in Portugal from the 15th century up until the present day. While you are at the museum you can take a tile painting class. This is a wonderful way to learn about the tradition of tile painting in Lisbon. It also makes for a perfect souvenir as you get to keep your tile (after it is fired for a few days).


Lisbon tile painting

We can't talk about Lisbon without mentioning the viewpoints. The fact that Lisbon has so many steep hills can be difficult when you are trying to get around but it does provide some amazing views. There are many viewpoints in the city that are the perfect place to relax in the late afternoon and watch the sun go down or take a break from walking and overlook the city. 


Lookout of Lisbon

Miradouro da graça is a good option for overlooking the city. It is located on a hill next to the castle and offers beautiful views. Another favorite is miradouro de santa luzia. Located by the church of Santa Luzia, this terrace overlooks the Alfama and surrounding area. Miradouro das portas do sol is perched in the Alfama neighborhood giving great views of the Tagus River along with the charming maze of streets of the Alfama area. One of Lisbon's hidden gems and more secluded lookout point, is miradouro Nossa Senhora do Monte. Located at the top of Graca hill, this is a wonderful place to relax and enjoy the gorgeous view. Try to find one, or all of these amazing viewpoints when in the city.


view of Lisbon

When you are in Lisbon, a must-do is to go to a Fado concert. Fado is the traditional heartbreaking music the women of Lisbon would sing while they waited for their fisherman husbands or lovers to return from sea. It can be traced back to the 1820s but probably began much earlier than that. The tradition was passed on orally making it difficult to uncover its exact history. Fado is mournful and often melancholy or full of resignation, longing or loss. The women sing of their heartbreak and sorrow. The singers are usually accompanied by guitar music or other instruments.  Attending a Fado concert is the ideal way to spend an evening in Lisbon. It is a wonderful way to capture a glimpse of Portugese history and culture. 


Belem Portugal

The Belém district of Lisbon is home to some of the most iconic tourist attractions. Historically, this was the location for Lisbon's docks and shipyards. Eventually, the trade routes that ran through here brought immense wealth to Portugal and funded some of the attractions in the Belem area. Today this area feels removed from the activity of central Lisbon, with a much calmer atmosphere. It is full of parks and tree lined plazas and riverwalks.


The Torre of Belem, Belém tower, or the tower of St. Vincent, is a small 16th century fortification that once helped defend Lisbon. It was a point of disembarkation for Portuguese explorers and acted as a gateway to the city. Through its history it has also been used as a lighthouse and a customs house. It has ornate carvings and intricate designs on its exterior and since 1993 has been a UNESCO world heritage site. You can visit the tower and tour the governor's hall, the King's hall, the Audience hall, the chapel and the roof terrace. You will also be able to see the pits and holes where prisoners were thrown. It can get busy and a little overwhelming with a narrow staircase leading up and down the different floors, so if you don't like crowded spaces, maybe sit this one out. 


A 15 minute walk from Belem tower is the magnificent Mosteiro dos jerónimos, or Jerónimos monastery. Taking over 100 years to complete, the Monastery is probably the best example of the Portuguese Gothic Manueline architecture. This style has complex and ornate designs carved into limestone, often with maritime motifs. The Monastery was occupied for 4 centuries by monks before it was abandoned in the 1800s. The Monastery, along with its church of Santa Maria, is an absolute must see when in Lisbon.


Jerónimos monastery Lisbon

You can't leave Belem without stopping in at Pastéis de Belém de Belem. This cafe is said to be the birthplace for pastel de nata, which they began making in 1837. Their recipe is carefully guarded. There is often a line outside so be prepared to wait to get in. As mentioned earlier, our favorite pastel de nata are actually up by the castle but these ones are also delicious and worth trying. 


Pastéis de Belem

Time out market is another fun stop in Belem. This is a large food hall on the waterfront with a variety of different restaurants offering traditional Portuguese dishes. There are also numerous bars and cafes in the hall. They also hosts concerts and other events. This is a great place to get a bite to eat while you are in Belem. 


Sintra Portugal

After spending a few days in the marvelous city of Lisbon, I suggest you take a day trip to the nearby Sintra. It is an easy hour train ride from Lisbon to Sintra. Even if you have a car, leave it in Lisbon and take the train to Sintra. It is very difficult to drive and find parking in Sintra and the train is very easy and convenient. Sintra is a town located in the Serra de Sintra hills and is home to many castles, palaces and gorgeous estates. This UNESCO world heritage site was once a summer retreat for the royalty and nobility of Portugal. There are many sights in Sintra. If you only have one day here you will have to choose as you will not be able to see everything. The perfect amount of time for Sintra would probably be three days. If you have only one, I would suggest Pena palace, the castle of the Moore's and Quinta de Regaleira. This will be a very full day but it is doable. If you have another day or two, spread it out a little more and add Monserrate and the Sintra National palace.


overlooking Sintra

Sintra really needs its own blog post. For the purpose of this post I will just touch very briefly on each of the sights I mentioned were must-sees.


Pena palace Sintra

Pena palace is the iconic colorful castle located on a hill. Originally a Monastery was located on this site. In the 19th century the Pena palace was built with a blend of Gothic, Manueline, Islamic and Renaissance styles using bright colors of pink and yellow.  It was used as a summer residence for the royal family. Make sure you walk on its grounds under the palace as they are really beautiful. Both the palace and its grounds feel like they were plucked straight out of a fairy tale or a story book. Also, make sure you get timed tickets ahead of time. It can be extremely busy. 


Pena palace gardens

The castle of the moors is a medieval castle built by the moors in the 8th and 9th centuries. Located on the top of the mountains, the castle was a strategic point. There are granite battlements, towers and walls that snake across the mountain ridge. Today the castle is partially in ruins but it is a beautiful place to wander, climbing on the ruins and walking the walls for spectacular views. 


Castle of the Moors Sintra

Quinta da Regaleira is a gorgeous estate that was built in the late 1800. You can tour the villa but the real jewel of the property are its grounds, filled with monuments, gardens and grottos.


Sintra

Make sure you climb down the well and through the tunnels to walk the stone path crossing the water.  There is a legend that surrounds this estate. It states that the owner was a member of the knight's Templar and the estate hosted secret Templar ceremonies and initiations. 


Sintra Portugal

With even more time in Lisbon consider other day trips. The charming walled village of Obidos with its white houses trimmed with blue and yellow, is an easy drive or train trip from Lisbon. The beautiful town of Evora is another wonderful option. 


Obidos Portugal

Whether you have one day in Lisbon or one week, there is plenty to see and explore. With characteristic neighborhoods, grand plazas, stunning architecture, captivating history and inviting day trips, Lisbon is an unforgettable vacation. 


Ready to travel to Lisbon? Contact us at eurotravelsbydesign@gmail.com and we will custom design the perfect trip for you!!












25 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page