3 Days in Lisbon: What you should see and do

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3 Days in Lisbon may not seem like a lot of time, but you can see a surprising amount of things as long as you prepare yourself. The city is compact, has great public transportation, and appeals to people of all ages, so you won’t be disappointed. Add in fantastic people, cheap food, and a laid back atmosphere, and you’ll have a trip that you won’t soon forget.

The real question is 3 days in Lisbon worth it? Of course it is. Despite its growing popularity, Lisbon is still a relatively hidden gem. It may not have the “sexy” appeal as neighbouring Barcelona, but that’s what makes the city great. I recently spent some time in the city, so here’s what I recommend if you only have 3 days in Lisbon.

Day 1: Baxia, Chiado, Bairro Alto

Unlike other itineraries I’ve seen online, I’m going to try and make this as realistic as possible instead of recommending you see as many things as possible. With your first day, you’ll be arriving in Lisbon from your home country or some other destination, so you’ll want to get your bearings after you settle in your accommodations.

Start in the Baxia area and walk down R. Augusta, the main street with plenty of shops and restaurants. You’re better off avoiding any restaurants where someone tries to push a menu in your face since they’re tourist traps, but it’s worth making a quick detour to Confeitaria Nacional by Praça da Figueira for one of their baked goods. After a quick snack, head south towards Praça do Comércio, the city’s main public square. Note that on your way to Praça do Comércio you’ll pass by the Núcleo Arqueológico da Rua dos Correeiros which is a Roman archeological site underneath a bank. If you’re interested in a tour, make a reservation now for day 2 or 3.

After taking in Praça do Comércio, you have a few options. There’s the MUDE – Museu Do Design E Da Moda (Museum of fashion & design) and the Lisboa Story Centre (a 60-minute tour of Lisbon). Both are quick looks at the city’s culture, but I wouldn’t consider either must sees. Alternatively, you can pay to go up the Arco da Rua Augusta, but there are better, free views throughout the city.

Although the waterfront isn’t very sexy, follow it west and make your way to the Time Out Market. Opened in 2014, the Time Out Market is a giant food hall that has 35 food kiosks that serve some of Lisbon’s trendiest food creations. Even if you’re not hungry, a stop here is worth your time.

Once you’re done sampling a few dishes, follow R. do Alecrim north towards Chiado, but make note of Rua. de S. Paulo (aka Pink street) which you’ll pass over on your left. This street is one of the best places to soak up the atmosphere when night hits. Eventually, R. do Alecrim will lead you to Praça Luís de Camões which is the heart of Chiado. There are plenty of cafes if you need another break, but if you’re looking for an attraction, the Carmo Convent ruins are nearby and worth checking out. Right beside Carmo is the free military museum that’s good for about 30 minutes, but if you’re not interested, head north to Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara which has a stunning view of the city.

By now, it may be getting late. You can take Rua São Pedro de Alcântara tram to get back down to Baxia, but walking down is likely easier. Alternatively, you can simply wander the side streets of Bairro Alto and find a place for drinks. Trust me, you won’t have any trouble finding a spot, the streets will be packed with people.

I should note that by now you’ve probably noticed the Santa Justa Lift which is an elevator that takes you from Baxia up to Chiado. Don’t bother taking it, the lines can be long, and it’s expensive. It’s usually faster to just walk up or down.

Day 2: Belem or Sintra day trip

Normally I wouldn’t recommend a day trip if you only have 3 days in Lisbon, but if you read my Sintra day trip guide, you may want to dedicate a day to this resort town. It’s not technically a resort for tourists, but rather it was a resort town back in the day for Royals. These days, it’s all about tourism. A trip to Sintra is worth it, but timing will be tight.

If you prefer to stay within the city, then make your way to the district of Belém which has more than enough things to keep you busy for the day. Belém is only a 30-minute ride away on Tram 15 from Baxia. Alternatively, you could take the commuter train from Cais do Sodré station which is across from the Time Out Market.  

As soon as you arrive in Belém, make note of Pasteis de Belém beside the tram stop where pasteis de natas (Portuguese egg tarts) were first created. From here, walk east and check out the MAAT – Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology. The MAAT was once a power station, but now features some amazing exhibitions. Heading here just to the exteriors is worth your time.

Now head back west to the Jerónimos Monastery. This Monastery is a UNESCO heritage site and is absolutely massive. A ticket to the Monastery does not include admission to the Archaeological museum and Maritime museum which are housed within the Monastery. I should note that if you’re looking to save money, don’t bother paying to go inside the Monastery, the chapel is free and is arguably the best feature of the site.

Right across the street from Jerónimos is the Berardo Collection Museum. The museum focuses on modern art so you’ll see some crazy paintings as well as some funky exhibitions. The best part about the museum is that it’s free! Another free attraction nearby is the Padrão dos Descobrimento, a massive statue that commemorates Prince Henry the Navigator’s death. Finally, there’s Belém Tower a short walk west. The tower itself is a bit overrated, but it does have a lot of history to it. Don’t bother paying to climb to the top, the views aren’t that impressive.

What I’ve described above should cover most of the day, but it also could be done as a half day is you skip going inside the MAAT or the Berardo Collection Museum. If that’s the case, you can do some of day three’s itinerary now.

Day 3 – Alfama, Principe Real, Parque das Nações

By now you’ve probably noticed that I’ve left out mentioning specific squares as you’ll come across these on your own as you explore the city. Although my 3 days in Lisbon itinerary could probably be done in 2 days, it’s better to go at a slower pace to enjoy everything the city has to offer.

At the start of your last full day in Lisbon, you should head to any museum or the Núcleo Arqueológico da Rua dos Correeiros to start your day. After that, it’s time to see the last few major sites of the city in the Alfama district. Instead of taking the famous tram 28, just follow the tracks to explore. Make sure you check out Lisbon Cathedral, São Jorge Castle, and Miradouro das Portas do Sol which has a stunning view. Once you’re done up here, you can head back down the way you came or detour and head to Principe Real which is a high-end shopping area if you’re into that kind of stuff.

If you still have time (and you probably do), you could explore one more district. For a change of pace, Parque das Nações is the more modern area of Lisbon and just a 20-minute subway ride from Rossio station. Modern Lisbon features excellent architecture in the Oceanarium and surrounding buildings. You can walk through the park or take the cable car which flies above.

In the evening, you could head back to Alfama to catch a fado show or simply revisit some of the sites that you saw earlier as things come alive in the evening.

Visiting Portugal is pretty inexpensive, I wrote a detailed budget breakdown in this post. You could easily fit more into your itinerary than what I’ve suggested, but again, try to take things at a slower pace.

About Barry Choi

Barry Choi is a Toronto-based personal finance and travel expert who frequently makes media appearances. His blog Money We Have is one of Canada’s most trusted sources when it comes to money and travel. You can find him on Twitter:@barrychoi

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