A young crowd beholds twilight’s touch on the yellow façade and 18th century arcade of the Praça do Comércio in Lisbon's Baixa-Chiado area. Right on the river and ensconced within government buildings, the square was occupied by anarchist troops during the 1974 Revolution. Today it hosts stores, street vendors, and a Sunday antique market.
Lisbon - Been There

3 days in Lisbon: your local's guide

Photo by Jurjen Drenth

Lisbon - Been There 3 days in Lisbon: your local's guide

With over 300 days of sunshine a year, it’s hard to overlook Portugal’s capital city as one of the best travel destinations in Europe – and one that's wildly underrated.

Sandra Henriques
Sandra Henriques

With its spectacular food, culture, and weather, it's a wonder that it remains undiscovered by so many travelers.

It takes more than three days to get our wonderful city under your skin but with a little planning and a tight itinerary, you can get to the highlights, eat some incredible food, and soak up some real lisboeta life.

Some quick tips

If you've got one shot at the city and only three days, pick a hotel in the city center close to a metro stop on the blue or green line. Both lines will get you to, or close enough to, most of the must-see spots.

The city is fairly walkable but if that's not your thing, the public transport is excellent and a 24-hour ticket gives you access to buses, metros, trams and even some urban trains.

Last: tipping isn't mandatory as it is in some countries. It's still seen as a nice gesture if you get good service!

Day One – Belém and Alcântara

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A romantic couple rests outside the Torre de Belem, an ode to exploration and an example of Manueline – or Portuguese late-Gothic – architecture. Designed in the early 15th century to defend Lisbon’s harbor, the World Heritage fortress is a ceremonial entrance into the city. Photo by Jochem Wijnands

Jochem Wijnands

Jochem Wijnands

Nikon f5

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A romantic couple rests outside the Torre de Belem, an ode to exploration and an example of Manueline – or Portuguese late-Gothic – architecture. Designed in the early 15th century to defend Lisbon’s harbor, the World Heritage fortress is a ceremonial entrance into the city.

Belém quarter is in the far west end of the city (roughly 20-30 minutes from the city center) and has the most famous Manueline architecture landmarks: the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and Torre de Belém.

How to get there

If you're in the center, take the train from Cais do Sodré - it's the fastest route - or, if you like, get tram 15E or buses 728 and 714 from Praça do Comércio.

When to go

Go early in the morning to dodge the long queues. With the area being a little quieter the earlier you go, make a pit stop at Pasteis de Belém for a centuries-old secret-recipe custard tart and an espresso.

What to do

The Belém area calls for strolls by the river and plenty of envy-inducing, Instagram-worthy photographs.

If you have the time before lunch (I'd highly recommend any restaurant by the river, so I’ll leave that decision up to you), check out the Berardo Museum (for contemporary art) and also the Padrão dos Descobrimentos monument. The view from the top is worth the admission ticket.

After lunch, hop on tram 15E and get off at Largo do Calvário. This stop is within walking distance (no more than 5 minutes) from old fabrics factory-turned-hipster-wonderland LX Factory.

Here you’ll find a mix of vintage and design shops, office spaces, and cafes and restaurants housed in brick-exposed buildings in a quasi-enclosed block under bridge 25 de Abril.

Day Two – Cais do Sodré, Chiado and Bairro Alto

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The 19th century Elevado da Bica, one of the city’s funiculars linking its low and high points, runs up Rua Da Bica De Duarte Belo in Bairro Alto. The district is quieter by day with people visiting its small shops, churches and art galleries, but one bursting at night, when Lisboetas flock to its abundant bars, restaurants, and fado clubs. Photo by Jurjen Drenth

Jurjen Drenth

Jurjen Drenth

Canon 1Ds Mark II

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The 19th century Elevado da Bica, one of the city’s funiculars linking its low and high points, runs up Rua Da Bica De Duarte Belo in Bairro Alto. The district is quieter by day with people visiting its small shops, churches and art galleries, but one bursting at night, when Lisboetas flock to its abundant bars, restaurants, and fado clubs.

Starting the day in Cais de Sodré

A decade or so ago, locals wouldn't recommend that a traveler visit Cais do Sodré.

Prostitution and drug dealing were the profitable businesses of the time; these days, Cais do Sodré is a mecca for foodies (with the canteen-feel of Time Out Market - Mercado da Ribeira) and a must-stop for quirky cafes and bars at the “Pink Street”.

...or, starting the day in Chiado

Chiado will forever be the posh area of Lisbon, with its cobblestoned always-busy squares Largo do Chiado and Praça Camões, and its expensive shops. You don’t need to be a shopaholic to enjoy the atmosphere of Chiado, though. The neighborhood is equally perfect for afternoon tea with mouthwatering croissants at Pastelaria Benard, casual lunch at one of the restaurants of Armazens do Chiado, or exploring unique architecture like the roofless gothic church at Convento do Carmo.

...to finish up in Bairro Alto

Ah, an evening in Bairro Alto. For dinner and live fado music, Lisbon's very own traditional musical style, Bairro Alto is the place to be. Get ready to bar hop the night away.

For fado and bite-sized Portuguese snacks it doesn't get better than Tasca do Chico. Typical, traditional, and a favorite of locals, Tasca do Chico is a tiny little place with pictures all over the walls and dozens of football scarves pinned across the ceiling. Take my word for it: go there.

Day Three – Alfama, Graça and Mouraria

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Inside Castelo de São Jorge, or the Castle of St George. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Inside Castelo de São Jorge, or the Castle of St George.

Save the best for last. In Lisbon, that's the old neighborhoods of Alfama, Graça and Mouraria. There's all kinds of things it's impossible to skip: the castle of St. George; incredible views over the river Tejo and terracotta rooftops; the medieval cathedral Sé de Lisboa.

What to see

This is, by far, the busiest and most touristy of all Lisbon's neighborhoods so all three quarters are full of restaurants, tascas (the Portuguese word for taverns), and cafes. Typical dishes like salted codfish (bacalhau), grilled sardines or flamed chorizo almost always make the menu.

Where to go

If every city has a heart and soul, this is it for Lisbon. The best way to get to know it is by getting lost – you may up in someone’s backyard (who will kindly point you in the right direction) and just by wandering, you'll find your own unique part of our beautiful city.

 

Want more travel tips, with the best hotel rates on the internet? Learn more at TRVL

Sandra Henriques Gajjar is a freelance writer born in the Azores and currently based in Lisbon. Since 2014 she’s been blogging about travel, culture, and the people she meets in between at Tripper, a blog about sustainable cultural tourism to offbeat destinations

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