Unlocking Lisbon in 3 Days

Unlocking Lisbon in 3 Days

Nestled along the sun-kissed shores of Portugal, Lisbon beckons with its vibrant culture, historic charm, and culinary delights waiting to be savoured. Embarking on a journey to this enchanting city is like stepping into a living postcard, where every corner reveals a new chapter of its storied past. From the winding alleys of Alfama to the panoramic views from São Jorge Castle, get ready for a whirlwind adventure that will leave you captivated and craving for more. Imagine strolling through cobblestone streets lined with pastel-colored buildings, the aroma of freshly baked pastéis de nata lingering in the air, and the sounds of Fado music serenading your soul.

Exploring Lisbons Historic District of Amalfa – Day 1

Begin your explorations in the oldest part of Lisbon, the Alfama district. Lose yourself in the narrow winding streets lined with colorful houses and adorned with traditional Portuguese tiles known as azulejos. Take in the sights, sounds, and smells of this historic neighborhood that has preserved its Moorish heritage.

Unlocking Lisbon in 3 days

Sao Jorge Castle

A historic fortress occupying a commanding hilltop overlooking the city and the Tagus River. It’s one of Lisbon’s most iconic landmarks and a major tourist attraction dating back to the 11th century when it was built by the Moors during their occupation of the Iberian Peninsula.
Originally known as the Moorish Castle, it served as a royal residence for several centuries under Muslim rule until Lisbon was recaptured by the Portuguese in 1147 during the Reconquista.

After Lisbon’s conquest by Afonso I of Portugal, the castle underwent renovations and became a royal palace. It played a significant role in Portuguese history, witnessing various royal events and political changes over the centuries.
The castle features a mix of architectural styles, including Moorish, Romanesque, and Gothic elements. Its imposing walls, towers, and ramparts offer panoramic views of Lisbon and the surrounding area.

Today, the Castle of São Jorge is open to the public and serves as a museum and cultural centre. Visitors can explore its interior, which includes archaeological sites, exhibitions, and multimedia presentations about the castle’s history and significance.
The castle grounds also encompass beautiful gardens where visitors can stroll and enjoy the scenery. These gardens feature native plants, tranquil pathways, and viewpoints offering breath taking vistas of Lisbon’s skyline.
Throughout the year, the castle hosts various events, such as concerts, theatre productions, and medieval re-enactments, adding to its allure as a cultural destination.

I’m not really one who enjoys museums and ruins, and although the castle does offer amazing views over Lisbon and where you can walk the wall for a 360 degree view, I felt the €15 entrance fee was a bit high. One can enjoy great views for free at other locations.
Also make sure you get there early to avoid the queues or get your skip the line ticket in advance!

Unlocking Lisbon in 3 days

The Church of Sao Vicente De Fora

Located near the Castle of São Jorge in the Alfama district.
The Church of São Vicente de Fora, which translates to “Church of St. Vincent Outside the Walls,” has a long and storied history. It was founded in the 12th century by Portugal’s first king, Afonso I, as a monastery dedicated to Saint Vincent of Saragossa, the patron saint of Lisbon.
The church features a mix of architectural styles, including Renaissance and Baroque influences. Its façade is notable for its grandeur and intricate ornamentation, while the interior is adorned with beautiful altarpieces, paintings, and sculptures.
One of the most significant aspects of São Vicente de Fora is its role as the final resting place for several members of the Portuguese royal family. The pantheon, located within the church, contains the tombs of various monarchs and nobles, including King Afonso VI and Queen Maria I.

The interior of the church is decorated with stunning azulejo tile panels, which depict scenes from the life of Saint Vincent of Saragossa. These intricate tiles are a hallmark of Portuguese art and add to the church’s aesthetic appeal.
São Vicente de Fora also boasts a beautiful Renaissance cloister, known for its elegant arches and intricate stonework. 

The Church of São Vicente de Fora is open to visitors who can explore its interior, including the royal pantheon and cloister, and admire its architectural and artistic treasures.
It opens at 10am and the entrance fee is €5.

Campo de Santa Clara

Campo de Santa Clara – Lunch Stop

A significant public square located in the Graça neighbourhood near the historical district of Alfama where it overlooks the Tagus River and best known as the location of the Feira da Ladra, one of Lisbon’s oldest and most famous flea markets.
Grab something for lunch at one of the tables overlooking the market, or if its a non-market day then explore one of the many side streets for a quaint café.

Feira da Ladra, translating to “Thief’s Market,” has a long history dating back to the 12th century. It takes place every Tuesday and Saturday and attracts locals and tourists alike. Visitors can find a wide array of goods at the market, including antiques, crafts, clothing, books, and more.
Campo de Santa Clara comes alive on market days with bustling crowds, colorful stalls, and a lively atmosphere. It’s a vibrant hub where people gather to browse for treasures, haggle with vendors, and soak in the sights and sounds of the market.
Surrounding Campo de Santa Clara are several notable landmarks, including the Church of São Vicente de Fora and the National Pantheon (Panteão Nacional). These historic sites add to the charm and character of the area, making it a must-visit destination for those exploring Lisbon’s cultural heritage.
From Campo de Santa Clara, visitors can enjoy panoramic views of Lisbon, including sights such as the riverfront and the city’s iconic hillsides dotted with colourful buildings. It’s a picturesque spot that offers fantastic photo opportunities, especially during sunset.

Lisbon National Palace

Located in the Ajuda neighborhood, the palace has its origins in the late 18th century when construction began during the reign of Queen Maria I. However, due to various factors, including the invasion of Portugal by Napoleon’s troops, the palace was not completed until the mid-19th century, during the reign of Queen Maria II.

The palace features a neoclassical architectural style, characterized by symmetrical facades, grandiose columns, and ornate decorations. Its design reflects the tastes and preferences of the Portuguese monarchy during the 19th century.
The National Palace of Lisbon served as the official residence of the Portuguese royal family from the 19th century until the abolition of the monarchy in 1910. It was a center of courtly life and witnessed numerous royal events and ceremonies during this period.

The interior is lavishly decorated with exquisite furnishings, tapestries, paintings, and decorative arts from various periods.
The palace houses several important collections of art and historical artifacts, including furniture, ceramics, textiles, and silverware. These collections provide insight into the cultural and artistic heritage of Portugal and its royal family.
Today, the National Palace of Lisbon is open to the public as a museum and cultural venue. Visitors can tour the palace’s rooms and galleries, attend exhibitions, and participate in guided tours to learn about its history and significance.

Surrounding the palace are beautiful gardens that offer a tranquil retreat from the bustling city. Visitors can stroll through landscaped pathways, admire ornamental fountains, and enjoy panoramic views of Lisbon and the Tagus River.
The palace opens at 10am and there is an entrance fee of €4.

Lisbon Cathedral

Lisbon Cathedral

Alternatively know as Sé de Lisboa or Santa Maria Maior de Lisboa, is one of the oldest and most prominent landmarks in the city of Lisbon.
It traces its origins back to the 12th century when it was constructed shortly after the city’s reconquest from the Moors by King Afonso I of Portugal in 1147 and was built on the site of a former mosque and has undergone several renovations and additions over the centuries.

The cathedral exhibits a mix of architectural styles, reflecting its long history of construction and renovation. The predominant style is Romanesque, with elements of Gothic, Baroque, and Neoclassical architecture added over time. Its façade features two massive towers and a rose window, while the interior is characterized by vaulted ceilings, ornate chapels, and a majestic nave.
Within the Lisbon Cathedral, visitors can admire several chapels adorned with religious artwork, altarpieces, and sculptures. One of the most notable chapels is the Chapel of São Vicente, dedicated to Lisbon’s patron saint. The cathedral also houses the Gothic tomb of Lopo Fernandes Pacheco, a 14th-century nobleman.

The cathedral’s cloisters are a highlight of the visit, showcasing intricate Manueline and Baroque architecture. These cloisters feature elegant arches, decorative tiles (azulejos), and a tranquil garden courtyard. 
The church opens at 7am and entrance is free, there is however a nominal fee of €1.50 to enter the apse and treasury which opens at 10am.

Fado - Dinner

After a long day of walking a sight seeing, what better way to end off your first day than with dinner and a Fado show.
Fado is a deeply emotional and soulful genre of music that originated in Portugal, particularly in Lisbon, during the early 19th century. It is characterized by its melancholic melodies, expressive vocals, and poetic lyrics, which often convey themes of love, longing, loss, and the hardships of life.
There are various venues that offer shows only or dinner/show…I can highly recommend it.

Belem & West Lisbon - Day 2

Jerónimos Monastery

Jeronimos Monastery

A UNESCO World Heritage site located in the Belém district of Lisbon.
Construction of the monastery began in 1501 and lasted for over a century. It was commissioned by King Manuel I to commemorate Vasco da Gama’s successful voyage to India and to give thanks for the country’s prosperity during the Age of Discovery.
The monastery exemplifies Manueline architecture, a Portuguese style characterized by intricate stone carvings, maritime motifs, and elaborate ornamentation. Its grand façade, adorned with sculpted figures and delicate lace-like details, is a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture.

Inside the monastery, you can explore the cloister, which features ornate arches, elegant columns, and delicate tracery. The Church of Santa Maria, located within the monastery complex, boasts a magnificent nave and stunning stained glass windows.
The monastery is also the final resting place of several notable figures from Portuguese history, including Vasco da Gama and Luís de Camões, Portugal’s most celebrated poet.

The monastery opens at 10am. Entrance is €12 and its best to prepurchase your tickets to avoid queueing at the ticket sales office. You will however still need to queue in the pre-purchased ticket line. We queued for around 90 min so be sure to have a hat, sunblock and water on warm sunny days. Although the monastery was beautiful and worth the wait, I was not impressed with the fact that after queuing for 90 min and paying €12, we had to join another queue to see the church (which is free). I was definitely not prepared to stand in line for another 30-40 min. 

monument to the discoveries Lisbon

Monument of the Discoveries

Just a short walk from the Monastery (across the road) is the Monument of Discoveries.
Erected in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator, a key figure in the Portuguese Age of Discovery. It pays tribute to the explorers, navigators, cartographers, and other pioneers who contributed to Portugal’s maritime expansion during the 15th and 16th centuries. 
The monument is shaped like a caravel, a type of sailing ship used by Portuguese explorers during the Age of Discovery. It stands at 52 meters (170 feet) tall and features a striking facade adorned with larger-than-life sculptures depicting prominent figures from Portugal’s history of exploration. 

At the forefront of the monument stands a colossal statue of Henry the Navigator, who is depicted holding a caravel in his hands, symbolizing his role in promoting exploration and navigation. Behind him are 32 additional statues representing other notable figures, including explorers, navigators, monarchs, artists, and scientists.
It also features an observation deck at the top, offering panoramic views of the surrounding area, including the Tagus River, Belém Tower, and Jerónimos Monastery. It’s a popular spot for tourists to take photos and admire the cityscape.

Lisbon Belem Tower

Belem Tower

From the Monument of the Discoveries head to the Belem Tower (about a 1km walk) located on the northern bank of the Tagus River.
Built in the early 16th century, the Belém Tower was constructed during the Age of Discovery as a fortress to defend the entrance to the port of Lisbon and to serve as a ceremonial gateway to the city.
The tower is a fine example of Manueline architecture, a Portuguese style characterized by elaborate stone carvings, maritime motifs, and intricate detailing. Its design features a blend of Moorish, Gothic, and Renaissance influences, reflecting Portugal’s cultural and artistic heritage.

The tower is composed of a four-story tower and an adjoining bulwark, both of which are adorned with decorative elements such as turrets, battlements, and sculpted figures. The tower’s exterior is embellished with intricate stone carvings depicting maritime symbols, mythical creatures, and royal coats of arms.
Originally built as a defensive fortress, the Belém Tower also served as a customs checkpoint, a ceremonial entrance to Lisbon, and a symbol of Portugal’s maritime power and wealth during the Age of Discovery. It played a crucial role in Portugal’s exploration and colonization of new territories.

The Belém Tower is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site opening at 10am, the entrance fee is €8 and I would suggest you prepurchase your tickets.
I will also talk about the Lisbon Pass further down in the TIPS where you purchase one ticket to access many of the sites and museums in Lisbon.

Tram 28

For a few Euro’s get yourself a daily tram ticket and see the historical parts of Lisbon on the infamous Tram 28, also know as the tourist tram!
Due to its popularity, the tram can get very crowded, especially during peak tourist seasons, so it’s advisable to board early, prepared to wait or stand for the journey. A local secret not shared on other blogs is TRAM 12. This follows almost the same route and is usually never crowed. You will actually get a seat to enjoy the scenery on your loop around the area.

The tram operates along a circular route that starts and ends in the Graça neighbourhood. and passes through several of Lisbon’s most famous districts, including Alfama, Baixa, and Estrela, offering passengers a unique and picturesque view of the city’s landmarks and attractions. Feel free to jump off at any time for a bite to eat for lunch or to do some shopping, you can always jump back on at a later stage.
The trams used on the route are vintage Remodelado trams, which have become a symbol of Lisbon’s public transportation system. These charming yellow trams are characterized by their wooden interiors, brass fittings, and nostalgic ambiance, providing passengers with a nostalgic journey back in time.

Tram 28 traverses narrow cobblestone streets, winding hills, and historic squares, offering passengers stunning views of Lisbon’s architectural landmarks, colorful buildings, and panoramic vistas. Highlights along the route include São Jorge Castle, Sé Cathedral, and Miradouro da Graça viewpoint.

Unlocking Lisbon in 3 days

Time Out Market - Dinner

Experience a unique and immersive dining experience, showcasing the best of the city’s culinary and cultural scene in one vibrant and bustling location.
The Time Out Market in Lisbon is a vibrant food hall and cultural hub located in the historic Mercado da Ribeira building in the Cais do Sodré district.

Offering a selection of food stalls, restaurants, bars, and shops. It’s a place where locals and tourists alike can sample a diverse range of dishes, from traditional Portuguese cuisine to international favorites, all in a lively and communal atmosphere.
The market features over 40 food stalls and eateries, each curated by the editors of Time Out Lisbon magazine. Visitors can indulge in everything from fresh seafood and gourmet burgers to artisanal pastries and craft cocktails, all prepared by some of the city’s top chefs and food artisans.

Exploring the Coast – Day 3

Lisbon Central

Lisbons Praca Do Comercio

Start your day at Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square) which is one of the most iconic and historically significant squares in Lisbon. Located on the Tagus River waterfront. It occupies a prominent position in the Baixa district, one of the city’s central and bustling neighborhoods.
The square has a rich history dating back to the reconstruction of Lisbon following the devastating 1755 earthquake. It was originally designed as a grandiose symbol of Portugal’s wealth and maritime power during the Age of Discovery. The centerpiece of Praça do Comércio is the magnificent Rua Augusta Arch, a triumphal arch that leads to the bustling Rua Augusta pedestrian street. Flanking the square are elegant yellow buildings housing government offices, cafes, and shops. The north side of the square faces the Tagus River, offering stunning views of the water and the April 25th Bridge.

Praça do Comércio is also a popular tourist destination. Visitors can explore the square’s architectural landmarks, stroll along the riverside promenade, and enjoy panoramic views of the Tagus River and the surrounding area. The square is home to several cafes and restaurants where visitors can relax and enjoy traditional Portuguese cuisine while taking in the vibrant atmosphere of the square.

Lisbon Cable Car

Lisbon Cable Car

A scenic mode of transportation that offers breathtaking views of the city running along a route that stretches from the historic district of Baixa to the picturesque neighborhood of Alfama. The journey takes passengers over the Tagus River, providing panoramic views of Lisbon’s landmarks, including the São Jorge Castle, the April 25th Bridge, and the Christ the King statue.

From the Praca Do Comercio, take a tram towards Passeio Neptuno (the Oceanarium) and buy yourself a return ticket for €9. Get off at the north station by the Vasco Da Gama Tower. Here you take a leisurely stroll along the promenade towards the very impressive suspension bridge.
Turn around once you’ve almost reached the bridge taking the cable car back to the Aquarium.
I did this walk on a crisp morning and found it very soothing for the soul and got some great shots of the jetty walkway/bridge.

Lisbon River Cruise

River Cruise

Make your last day in Lisbon a relaxing one. After two days of walking and seeing sites, my feet are always tired and I’ve clocked up hefty step count!
A river cruise is always a delightful way to experience the city’s beauty from a different perspective. Cruising along the Tagus River provides stunning views of Lisbon’s waterfront, historic landmarks, and picturesque neighbourhood.

Many river cruises provide informative commentary in multiple languages, offering insights into Lisbon’s history, culture, and landmarks as you sail past them.
Opt for a daytime cruise or a sunset one..each offer a unique experience.
Some river cruises offer dining options, allowing passengers to enjoy a delicious meal or traditional Portuguese cuisine while admiring the views. Whether it’s a casual buffet or an elegant dinner cruise, dining onboard adds an extra touch of luxury to the experience.

LX Factory Lisbon

LX Factory - Dinner

If you did not choose a dinner river cruise, check out the LX Factory for some light shopping, sundowner roof top drinks and various dining options.
The LX Factory is a vibrant cultural and creative hub located in the Alcântara district, this former industrial complex that was once home to a large textile factory and manufacturing facilities. In the early 2000s, the abandoned buildings were revitalized and transformed into a dynamic space for arts, culture, and innovation.
Today, the LX Factory is a thriving community of artists, designers, entrepreneurs, and creative professionals. It houses a diverse range of businesses, including art galleries, design studios, fashion boutiques, co-working spaces, and tech start-ups.

The LX Factory is known for its vibrant street art and graffiti, with colorful murals and urban artworks adorning the walls of the buildings. The ever-changing street art scene adds to the eclectic and artistic character of the neighbourhood, providing a visual feast for visitors.
The complex is home to numerous cafes, restaurants, and bars where visitors can enjoy a meal, coffee, or drink. The dining options range from trendy bistros and gourmet eateries to cosy cafes and casual food stalls, offering something for every taste and budget.
Its also a shopping destination, with boutiques, concept stores, and artisanal shops selling a variety of unique and handcrafted goods. Visitors can browse for fashion, accessories, home décor, books, vinyl records, and other treasures while exploring the complex.

Tips for Visiting Lisbon

  • If youre going to be doing a lost of sight seeing, consider getting the 24/48 or 72 hours Lisbon Pass. This gets you unlimited public transport on trains, busses and trams and free admission to 39 museums, historic buildings, and more.
  • Eating out in Portugal starts later than normal, so don’t be surprised when restaurants only open at 7pm or you find them empty at this time. It is by no means an indication of their popularity. Most locals will only start arriving around 8pm.
  • Don’t miss out on trying traditional Portuguese dishes like bacalhau (salted cod), pastéis de nata (custard tarts), and grilled sardines. Visit local markets such as Mercado da Ribeira or Mercado de Campo de Ourique to sample authentic cuisine.
  • Restaurants will often offer you bread, pate, olives etc…these are NOT complimentary and these items will be added to your bill. Most tourist have an issue with this, but its really a curtesy to be offered something while you wait for your meal and its really inexpensive, so just kindly decline them if you’re not interested.
  • Lisbon is generally a safe city, but be vigilant of pickpockets, especially in crowded tourist areas. Keep your belongings secure and avoid displaying valuables in public.
  • While many locals speak English, learning a few basic Portuguese phrases/words can enhance your experience and show respect for the local culture.

Planning a trip to Lisbon?
See our Travel Resources page for great deals on flights, accommodation and car hire.
Also if you are going to be touring the rest of Portugal, see our article entitled Exploring Portugal for more travel advise and tips!
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