People in Lisbon are fans of last-minute plans: impromptu coffee stops at the local kiosk, sunset viewings that lead to a night out, or spontaneous trips to the beach as soon as the heat strikes (maybe even in November).
But for those short on time, planning is essential. There’s plenty to cover, from historical landmarks like the 16th-century Jerónimos Monastery to pastry-filled cafés, hilly viewpoints overlooking the Tagus River, and historic, bougainvillea-filled neighborhoods like Alfama. Photographers will be enraptured by the city’s light and tiled-covered buildings, history-lovers will have plenty of monuments at their fingertips, and everyone will want a taste of the local cuisine, whether it’s sweet pastel de nata (custard tarts), a glass of ginjinha (sour cherry liqueur), or a whole feast of petiscos (Portuguese-style tapas). This is how to spend two to four days in the Portuguese capital.
2-day Lisbon itinerary
Day 1: Baixa, Alfama, and Graça
Kick off the day exploring Lisbon's downtown, known as Baixa. The Rossio train station—with its striking neo-Gothic facade—is a great starting point. From there, walk to Rua da Áurea, where you’ll spot the wrought-iron Santa Justa Lift—a 147-foot-tall elevator that was once a crucial part of Lisbon's public transport system, as it gets you from the Baixa neighborhood to Chiado quickly. While the lift is renowned for its sweeping views of Lisbon's rooftops, consider skipping the line: You can get the same panoramic views from nearby Terraços do Carmo, a two-level outdoor terrace with a bar that offers the same views for free. (The bottom terrace often hosts outdoor movie sessions in the summer.)
Continue your stroll down the pedestrianized Rua Augusta, one of the city’s main shopping avenues. Grab a bica (short espresso) and a freshly baked pastel de nata from Manteigaria. Continue to the Arco da Rua Augusta, a triumphal arch built to celebrate Lisbon’s restoration following the 1755 earthquake that devastated much of the city. Just across the arch is the Praça do Comércio, one of Lisbon's largest and grandest squares, facing the Tagus River. The royal palace that used to stand here was destroyed during the earthquake; it’s since been replaced by a row of neoclassical buildings, including one housing the Ministry of Justice, while the surrounding arcades are lined with restaurants, hotels, and museum outposts. The square is also the departure point for many walking tours (usually meeting in front of the grand statue of King José I) and a stage for festivities, such as Christmas (the city's biggest tree goes here) and New Year’s fireworks.
Take a short break at the waterfront promenade while you ponder where to grab lunch. For a quick bite, head to As Bifanas do Afonso, which specializes in bifanas (Lisbon’s traditional pork sandwich). If you prefer a sit-down meal, reserve a table at O Velho Eurico for Portuguese petiscos or Prado for farm-to-table treats with a contemporary twist.
In the afternoon, wander up the hill to Alfama and Mouraria, the city’s oldest districts, located about a 10-minute walk from Baixa. These are often full of tourists eager to see the traditional azulejo facades. Alfama is among the few places to have survived the earthquake. You can see it in its remaining maze-like streets and old houses, like the one at Rua dos Cegos 20 with its pointy terracotta roof. While you’re here, visit the Sé, Lisbon’s oldest church, which dates back to 1147. Farther uphill, you can relish the views from two lookouts: Miradouro de Santa Luzia and Miradouro das Portas do Sol.
Take a detour to medieval St. George’s Castle on the edge of Mouraria, Lisbon’s old Moorish quarter. The building you see today was founded in the 10th century during the city's Islamic occupation, but there is proof of it being a settlement here since at least the Iron Age. Go inside to learn more about the castle's history and see artifacts uncovered during excavations as well as remains of old Islamic houses; also, look out for the peacocks roaming the gardens. The castle's location is one of its best features—as one of the highest points in the city, it's a great spot to get your bearings. Be sure to explore its side streets (no ticket needed). They’re filled with bars and cafés ideal for an afternoon coffee, as well as residential houses with colorful facades and laundry hanging from the windows. Be sure to keep an eye out for the hidden viewpoint Miradouro do Recolhimento (hint: look for a white gate). The viewpoint is only open at certain times (10am–1pm and 2–6 pm) but offers panoramas similar to other Alfama viewpoints without the crowds.
After conquering the castle, walk to the National Pantheon; this neoclassical building is the resting place of notable Portuguese figures, such as footballer Eusébio and fado singer Amália Rodrigues. If you stop by on a Tuesday or Saturday, you can catch the flea market on the backside of the monument. About a hundred sellers gather here every week to sell anything from art prints and vinyls to second-hand clothing and furniture.
As the sun sets, make your way to the Graça neighborhood (about 10 minutes uphill) to catch the spectacle at either Miradouro da Graça or Miradouro da Senhora do Monte, two viewpoints with privileged views of St. George's Castle and the Tagus River. Miradouro da Graça has a kiosk with seats where you can hunker down and order a drink. Miradouro da Senhora do Monte, on the other hand, offers more of a relaxed vibe where you stand or sit on the grass. While there are a few vans parked on the road selling drinks like fresh lemonade, most locals pick up a bottle of wine or beer from the nearest grocery store and take it up there for an aperitivo. Both spots get busy around sunset, but that's part of the whole experience, and buskers are usually around to liven up the atmosphere.
If you want to enjoy fado, a Portuguese music genre renowned for its mournful lyrics and vibrant performances, head back to Alfama; Mesa de Frades and Parreirinha de Alfama are some of the best spots for it. Otherwise, stick around Graça and enjoy a drink at one of the neighborhood bars. Sip local craft beer at the Oitava Colina Taproom, head to Vino Vero for a glass of natural wine, or try the signature cocktails at Onda.
Day 2: Belém, Alcântara, and Cais do Sodré
Get up early, and hop on a train or one of Lisbon’s iconic trams to Belém—a riverside, monument-filled district in western Lisbon—to beat the crowds queuing up for Jerónimos Monastery. This 16th-century monument is a prime example of Manueline architecture, a Portuguese late-Gothic style characterized by its ornate carvings and nautical motifs inspired by the country’s maritime expeditions. Legend has it that it was the Jerónimos monks who whipped up the first batch of pastéis de nata, now sold down the road at Antiga Confeitaria de Belém. You can try these delicious custard tarts inside the bakery’s tile-covered rooms or get a box to go and enjoy them at the surrounding gardens.
Head up to the museum inside Centro Cultural de Belém (CCB) to marvel at modern artworks by the likes of Picasso and Andy Warhol. Or make your way to the Padrão dos Descobrimentos. This controversial building—erected in the 1960s—is essentially a trophy of the Portuguese Age of Discovery, when the country was profiting from its maritime explorations. The caravel-shaped structure features renowned figures of the time, such as Infante D. Henrique, a Portuguese prince who sponsored many of these journeys, and poet Luís de Camões who wrote about such “feats.” Portugal is slowly coming to grips with its role in colonization, but monuments like this are still revered by some locals. (If you want to learn more about Portugal’s role in this dark period, join the African Lisbon Tour when you’re covering downtown on day one.)
Walk west along the riverfront until you reach Belém Tower. The building, erected in 1519, has had many roles over the centuries, from a military fortress to a political prison and now a UNESCO World Heritage site. While the tower is worth admiring from afar, there’s not much to see inside. Skip the line, and instead head to the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT), a contemporary art museum with distinct, curvy architecture covered entirely in white tiles. Rotating exhibitions cover thought-provoking topics on the intersection of art and technology (like, can robots make our world better?) and occasionally highlight the EDP Foundation Art Collection, which includes artworks in Pop Art, Minimalism, and Conceptual Art styles. The ticket also includes entrance to the adjoining Tejo Power Station, a 20th-century thermoelectric power plant that once supplied energy to the capital. Inside, visitors will find things like industrial machines and household appliances that show the history of electricity in Portugal. Then, climb up to the museum's free rooftop (in the new building) or grab a seat on the riverbank and enjoy views of the distant 25 de Abril Bridge.
To continue your tour of Lisbon’s artistic marvels, take a scenic five-minute train or tram ride to Alcântara, the neighborhood just east of Belém, to check out LX Factory, a former textile factory turned creative hub packed with shops, restaurants, and art studios. Don’t miss Ler Devagar, one of the city’s prettiest bookshops, and keep your camera handy to capture the colorful street art, like Bordalo II’s giant bee made of repurposed trash.
Head back to the center of Lisbon’s action to grab dinner from the chef-run food stalls at Time Out Market in Cais do Sodré, or sample top-notch vegetarian cuisine at nearby Arkhe. Then check out the nightlife around Pink Street—a bar- and club-lined drag revamped in 2013 with the street splashed in hot pink paint. Pensão Amor is a solid choice; housed in a former brothel, the bar recalls Cais do Sodré’s past as Lisbon’s red light district.
3-day Lisbon Itinerary
Day 3: Bairro Alto, Chiado, and Príncipe Real
Spend your morning wandering around Príncipe Real, the heart of Lisbon’s gay scene. Beyond its welcoming bars and clubs (which you can hit up later), you’ll also find a sea of independent boutiques, cafés, and gardens to crawl during the day. Kick things off with a hearty brunch at Seagull Method, or enjoy a traditional breakfast at Padaria de São Roque, drinking in the Art Nouveau decor as you tuck into some toasted bread and a galão (coffee with milk).
Walk toward the Jardim do Príncipe Real, a romantic garden dotted with kiosks where locals often gather for an after-work drink. The gardens are the backdrop for the neighborhood’s organic market, held each Saturday. Across the street is the iconic Embaixada, a neo-Moorish palace that turned into a shopping gallery in 2013; local designers have taken over the sumptuous rooms showcasing their latest swimsuit lines and jewelry collections. Slip into a Portuguese-made shoe by Chumeco, or try on the minimalist shirts from Isto. (Even the pictures on the walls are for sale here.)
Head to Miradouro São Pedro de Alcântara, and enjoy the views of St. George’s Castle and the distant Tagus River. A bit farther downhill is the Igreja de São Roque, one of the most expensive churches in Europe. It’s clear they’ve gone all out, using gilded carvings, tiles, marble, and lapis lazuli (a semi-precious deep-blue gemstone) to adorn every inch of the space. While this church was restored after the 1755 earthquake, nearby Carmo Convent was left in ruins to remind people of the tragic event. Inside is now an archaeological museum, and in the summer, the convent often hosts video-mapping shows, projecting the history of Lisbon onto its walls.
Head around the corner for a glass of Portuguese wine or a classic cocktail like caipirinha (made with Brazilian cachaça, sugar, and lime) at Carmo Rooftop with prime views of the Santa Justa Lift. Then take a short walk to Avenida da Liberdade, a tree-lined boulevard full of luxury shops, theaters, and lively kiosks. On your way there, pop into Ginjinha Sem Rival for a glass of ginjinha. Keep an eye out for the city's oldest funicular, Ascensor do Lavra, in operation since 1884; you can take the ultra-short three-minute journey uphill to visit the Torel Garden, where you’ll find a small pool to lounge in the summer.
From Avenida da Liberdade, hop on the metro to São Sebastião to visit the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum. Take your time wandering the gardens, where turtles bask in the sun and ducks waddle along a central lake. Then step inside the museum to take in Impressionist paintings and French jewelry, among other impressive artworks.
After visiting the museum, take the metro to the Baixa-Chiado station and walk up to Bairro Alto for a night out. Treat yourself to delicious Middle Eastern treats at Tantura—their hummus is out of this world. Then set off on a bar crawl—as the city's number one party district, Bairro Alto has no shortage of places to wet your whistle, whether you're craving cheap beers, boozy mojitos, or a beverage with a side of fado at a traditional joint like Tasca do Chico. Also be sure to check the program at Zé dos Bois, an art-gallery-slash-bookshop-slash-club, which hosts exhibits, concerts, outdoor movie screenings, and more.
4-day Lisbon Itinerary
Day 4: Day trip to Sintra
With a fourth day in the city, it’s worth taking a day trip to Sintra, a fairytale-like village nestled amid the mountains northwest of Lisbon. While you can drive there, parking is limited, and access to the historic center is restricted to residents and tourist vehicles. A much easier option is to take the Sintra train line from Lisbon’s Rossio railway station (about an hour).
Once in Sintra, you’ve got two options. Venture into the old town following the Volta do Duche trail, or hop on a bus or tuk-tuk straight to the UNESCO-listed Pena Palace. Enveloped in misty mountains, this Romantic palace—built in the 19th century—is straight out of a Disney movie. The Portuguese royal family previously used it as a summer retreat, and you can still see traces of their presence in the ornate rooms and lush curated gardens.
From the palace, you can easily reach the Moorish Castle. Walk along its 10th-century battlements and enjoy the breathtaking views of the surrounding hills. When you’re done, make your way back to the town center. It’s a 40-minute hike or a 10-minute ride on a bus or tuk-tuk.
Grab a light lunch at Raíz overlooking the pointy chimneys of the 19th-century National Palace of Sintra. Then hit the road again to tour the grounds of Quinta da Regaleira (a 20-minute walk away). Envisioned by the Italian architect and set designer Luigi Manini, this extravagant estate is filled with mythological symbols and hidden tunnels.
Wrap up the day at Casa Piriquita, where you can sample travesseiros (puff pastry rolls filled with an almond cream) and queijadas (sweet cheese tarts), two traditional pastries from Sintra.
Key Lisbon Travel Details
Where to stay in Lisbon
Lisbon is split into several neighborhoods—known as bairros—each with its own personality. For a short stay in Lisbon (2–4 days), it’s best to stick close to the center. Neighborhoods like Chiado, Baixa, Alfama, or Príncipe Real all offer a great base to explore the city. While these neighborhoods are closest to the action, there are undoubtedly other neighborhoods to stay in Lisbon, whether you’re visiting with kids, looking for nightlife, or on a budget.
In the 20th century, Chiado was the meeting point for Lisbon’s writers and thinkers. It’s still the heart of the city today, housing plenty of cafés, theaters, and bookshops like the century-old Livraria Bertrand. Among Chiado’s top landmarks are the Santa Justa Lift and the Carmo Convent.
- Palácio das Especiarias: Occupying a 16th-century mansion, this boutique hotel offers a glimpse of old Lisbon with a few modern additions. Guests have access to a spa and exclusive events like fado concerts and thematic dinners. (Starting around $200/night)
- Living Lounge Hostel: A short walk from the Santa Justa Lift, this humble hostel features private rooms and mixed dorms. Breakfast is included in the stay, but you can also cook meals in the shared kitchen. (Starting around $30/night)
It was the Portuguese statesman Marquês de Pombal who envisioned the layout of Baixa following the 1755 earthquake. Indeed, much of what you see here was built after that, including the monumental square of Praça do Comércio where the royal palace used to stand and the Arco da Rua Augusta—a neoclassical arch built to commemorate the city’s revival—now stands. The best part about this neighborhood: the flat riverfront promenade, a much-needed and well-deserved break from the city’s steep hills.
- AlmaLusa: If you’re looking to splurge a little, try this boutique hotel a few steps from the Praça do Comércio. Whether it's your first time in town or you’re revisiting, the friendly concierge will happily give out recommendations to match. (Starting around $250/night)
- Home Lisbon Hostel: Even if you’re traveling solo, you’ll soon make friends at this lively hostel, which hosts walking tours, pub crawls, surf lessons, and more. (Starting around $30/night)
There’s something special about Alfama, with its maze of streets and breathtaking viewpoints like the Miradouro de Santa Luzia. You can’t help stopping here to capture the tile-covered buildings or the old-style 28 tram that winds through the neighborhood. Over the past decade, Alfama has become quite touristy, with locals being pushed out of their homes to make room for short-term rentals. If you choose to stay here, go the hotel route and be sure to support local businesses. Note: June is a party month in Alfama, so expect evenings to get rowdy.
- Memmo Alfama: This boutique hotel sits right next to Alfama’s iconic lookouts, but you can also enjoy the same views from your room or the rooftop pool. (Starting around $200/night)
- This is Lisbon Hostel: Choose between shared and private rooms at this affordable hostel near St. George’s Castle. Facilities include a lounge, kitchen, and a rooftop with panoramic city views. (Starting around $30/night)
If you’re looking to dine and drink in style every evening, Príncipe Real is the neighborhood for you. It’s one of the swankiest in Lisbon, home to stylish cocktail bars, international restaurants, and independent boutiques housed in 19th-century mansions, like Embaixada. It’s also the heart of the city’s LGBTQ+ community, with plenty of gay-friendly bars and clubs scattered throughout. The nightlife scene may be booming, but during the day, it’s pretty quiet, with locals gathering at the neighborhood gardens for a coffee or to stock up on organic produce from the weekly farmer’s market.
- Mama Shelter: In keeping with the neighborhood’s bohemian atmosphere, this hotel stands out with its quirky decor. Colorful patterns take over everything—from the ceiling to the carpets. Facilities include a bar and plant-filled rooftop restaurant. (Starting around $150/night)
- Independente Príncipe Real: If you want to stay close to the action while saving some money, opt for the Independente. Housed in a 19th-century mansion, this hotel has both dorms and suites, plus a regular round-up of events like communal dinners and film screenings. (Starting around $30/night)
How to get around Lisbon
Lisbon’s airport is pretty close to the city center (about 4.5 miles north). The city’s metro network connects the airport to downtown in around 30 minutes. Visitors should catch the red line to Alameda and then switch to the green line, which leads to Baixa-Chiado—the heart of the city. If you have a lot of luggage, you’d be better off getting an Uber or Bolt (another ridesharing service) directly to your hotel, as some stations don’t have elevators. Expect to pay around €15–20 for the journey if you’re staying downtown.
Once in the center, you’ll be able to walk pretty much anywhere. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes, as you’ll be tackling a few hills. Alternatively, you can use the public transportation system, which includes buses, metro, trams, trains, and ferries.
The metro is the most convenient way to travel around Lisbon. A single metro ticket costs €1.65, but you’ll also need to pay an additional €0.50 for a rechargeable card. Instead of buying a single journey every time, you can pre-charge a card with money by choosing the Zapping option at the ticket machine. You'll get cheaper journeys across the network, including on trams, trains, and funiculars.
Unless you’re traveling long distances outside of the capital, you won’t need a rental car. With narrow streets and limited parking, driving in Lisbon can be a challenge. You can also easily reach nearby towns, like Cascais and Sintra, via train.
When to go to Lisbon
With sunshine pretty much year round, there’s hardly a bad time to visit Lisbon. Summer is the busiest season by far (and for good reason). The weather is perfect for alfresco drinks and swimming at the nearby beaches. Plus, there are all kinds of festivals going on. The only downsides: the crowds and the high fares. Expect lots of people queuing at monuments and restaurants, as well as hotels being fully booked.
Spring and early fall can be just as warm. Although there’s occasional rain, coming at this time means you’ll save some money and avoid the big crowds. (You may even squeeze in a beach day if you’re lucky.)
The Popular Saints’ festivities (Santos Populares) are the biggest celebration in Lisbon. If you’re visiting around June, you can’t miss it: The smell of freshly grilled sardines lingers in the city’s streets, and people dance the night away to pimba (Portuguese popular music), with the biggest party being on the evening of June 12. Lisbon hosts many other events throughout the year, including film and music festivals and the Web Summit conference in November, which attracts techies from around the globe.