How did I not know about Lisbon sooner? It’s simply perfect for British travellers on a budget who are looking for a weekend city break. It’s south enough to have great weather (mostly) with the old worldly feel of Rome and the frugality of Budapest. Why don’t more people know about Lisbon?! I recently spent 4 full days in Lisbon with my boyfriend. Although, if the weather was better (we were so unlucky) and if we left the apartment before 11am (we were on our holidays, okay?) we could have done it in 3. Let me convince you that 3 Days in Lisbon is the city break you’ve been looking for!
This map is the only map you’ll need for your weekend in Lisbon! The icons in red are must-sees, must-dos and must-eats, and are featured in my guide below. The icons in blue are recommended places that I thought were rather dull, or places I was recommended but didn’t get around to seeing, but are there so you can decide for yourself. In green is the airport and Metro/Train station you are very likely to use.
Before we begin: Since I’m veggie, I’m not gonna go around suggesting places that you omnivores might like, so there’s only 1 or 2 food suggestions. Also, I’ve researched opening times and adult prices for each activity to give you a guide. Please be aware that opening times change with the seasons so it’s always a good idea to have a quick check yourself.
3 Days in Lisbon
Flights, Accommodation & Transport
We flew with good ol’ Ryanair for an absolute steal. The flight times were limited, and since we landed after midnight I had to book a €27 taxi from the airport to our apartment which I did through Ryanair’s transfer add-ons. I usually try to use public transport for airport transfers, but at that time of night it was our only option. It all went smoothly and our driver was waiting for us at arrivals.
The metro is your friend in Lisbon. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise. You can get to and from the airport during normal hours so cheaply. It’s not like London where a Zone 1-2 tube journey costs the same as a small island. You can download the metro map here. And if you’ve got visions of the slow, meandering funiculars often photographed in Lisbon… that’s not what I’m talking about. Lisbon has actual normal metro stations. And it’s worth mentioning again, SO CHEAP!
And finally, our apartment. This was mine and my boyfriend’s first time using AirBnB and we had such a good experience. We stayed in the Alfama neighbourhood which was the perfect location, the apartment was perfect and our host Maddie was so friendly. If you want to see the apartment we stayed in, click here.
To begin your wonderful weekend in Lisbon, head up to Castelo de São Jorge (9am-9pm everyday, €8.50 for adults) because it’s one of the most popular activities and likely to be busy in the afternoon.
Coincidentally enough, the Castle is slap bang in the middle of the Alfama neighbourhood, so this is the perfect opportunity to have a walk around. It’s quite a big neighbourhood and so freaking beautiful. So you could probably spend up to an hour just wandering around.
The next two activities are quite highly recommended by Lonely Planet, your other basic guide books, etc. etc. but I don’t know why. I understand that Sé Lisbon Cathedral (9am-7pm Tues-Sat & 9am-5pm Sun-Mon, free) is Lisbon’s Cathedral and therefore it’s most prominent Catholic building in the city. But it’s so dull compared to the Church you will be visiting tomorrow! However, since it’s free and if you’re in the neighbourhood, it’s worth a pop inside.
I have to say the same same about Fundação José Saramago/Casa dos Bicos (10am-6pm Mon-Sat, €3) which is just around the corner from Sé Lisbon Cathedral. It’s a building with a quirky facade and houses a museum to one of Lisbon’s greatest poets, José Saramago. And it has a couple of other random, small exhibits.
Since it’s so highly rated everywhere, we were surprised to find that almost everything was written in Portuguese and only a few of the descriptions were translated into English (and it was generally as bit… dull) so I wouldn’t recommend it.
Learn about Lisbon’s history…
A museum/exhibit I would recommend is the Lisboa Story Centre (10am-8pm everyday, €7) which is centred in the stunningly beautiful Praça do Comércio public square. You are given an audio guide and an exhibit to walk around and learn all about the history of Lisbon in 60 minutes. Before I went to Lisbon, I knew nothing of it’s past and I do like learning more about the place I’m visiting.
All of those attractions and activities should take up most of your day, so what better way to wind down that heading to Mercado da Ribeira (10am-2am Thurs-Sat, 10-12am Sun-Wed). This is an indoor food market which I can only describe as an upmarket food court. This was perfect for me and Cole as we could grab seats (it can be a scramble at peak times but don’t worry, you’ll find some) and then have a wander around whilst one guards the seats and pick up whatever we fancied.
Granted, it wasn’t great for vegetarians, but the pizza and ice cream I had were divine. Cole had some peri peri chicken which he also said was much better than Nando’s chicken. So there you have it! And the market is so reasonably priced. If I haven’t emphasised this enough: Lisbon is CHEAP.
Finishing day 1
To finish the day, if you’re into your ales or just like your alcohol to be cheap, head to Trobadores – Taberna Medieval Bar. The interior would not look out of place in Middle Earth. Nor would the bar staff’s uniform and the BEER IS SO GOOD YET SO CHEAP. Yeah, not Lisboan or authentic to the culture or whatever but you can smoke inside if that’s your thing. Yet, it doesn’t have the lingering cigarette stench your local working men’s club probably still has. And it is one of the highest rated bars in Lisbon. And cheap. Don’t forget cheap.
The Lisbon Oceanarium (10am-8pm everyday, €17) i.e. the aquarium is a bit of a trek away on the metro. So, it’s worth getting it out of the way in the morning. The Aquarium is one of the largest in Europe and holds a huge purpose built tank in the centre. It’s honestly so worth it. There’s every kind of ocean life under the sun (literally) in this building and you can tell the sealife are treated well.
Back to the city
You could probably spend a fair few hours in the aquarium, and I definitely recommend taking your time as it’s the most expensive thing you’re going to spend your money on. After you make it back to the city centre, head to Church of Sao Roque (10am-5pm Tues-Sat, free) which is waaaaay more awesome than the Lisbon Cathedral. It’s quite possibly the most expensive church in the world and it has these incredibly ornate shrines full of gold and bling. The shine might make your eyes go funny though.
Next, head to Elevador de Santa Justa (9am-9pm everyday, €5). This is the 1920s art deco style lift just plonked in the middle of the street that connects two street levels. There’s a bit of a queue but it’s not crazy long, and you do get lovely views of the city at the top.
Is it 5 O’clock yet? Well, it will be somewhere. So it’s time to try one of Lisbon’s local delicacies: Ginjinha. This is a traditional portuguese liqueur made from sour cherries and you have to try it at least once whilst you’re in Lisbon. The best place to buy a shot of Ginjinha is at A Ginjinha bar (9am-10pm everyday, €2/3 per shot) which looks like a takeaway counter. To get there from the Elevator, you cross the Praca do Rossio which is worth noting. It’s literally just a main square. A bit unexciting but at least you can say you visited it.
Finishing Day 2
How you spend your evening is up to you! The Saldanha neighbourhood is known for it’s street art and you’ve got some great photography opportunities if it’s still light enough. It is worth keeping in mind that it’s a good walk or metro ride away from the city centre and there are tons of opportunities to see street art around the Alfama Neighbourhood. So don’t feel like you’d be missing out if you gave it a miss like we did.
Finally, with all the vantage points around Lisbon (it is the city of seven hills, after all) you’ve got to head to Miradouro da Senhora do Monte for sunset. It wasn’t even that sunny the day we made the climb (be prepared) but it was still beautiful. Also, great street art on the way up here too!
On your final day in Lisbon, you’re heading out of the city to the nearby suburb/town of Belem. Some of Lisbon’s most visited and highly rated attractions/eateries are in Lisbon so it cannot be missed.
First, you need to walk or get the metro to Cais do Sodre. This is the main bus/boat/metro/train station in Lisbon. From here, you’ll make your way over from the metro to the train side of the station. Buy a Zone 1 return ticket from the automated ticket machines and hop on a train going to Linha de Cascais. But the Belem stop is only a 15 minutes or so ride.
Whilst in Belem, I recommend…
Head over to Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (10am-5pm Tues-Sun, €10 but free between 10am-2pm on Sundays) first thing as the queues can be quite long. Here you can buy a duo ticket for the Monastery and Torre de Belém (10am-6:30pm Tues-Sat, €6) together costing €12 which is sooo worth it. If just to skip the seriously windy queue to get up the tower quicker.
After Torre de Belém, you can walk along the harbour and take in the monuments. Padrao dos Descobrimentos is the impressive white statue dedicated to Portugal’s Discoveries. Which is like, a thing that happened. Something to do with Portugal ruling Brazil I think. I don’t know, you’ll have to read Wikipedia, but it’s still pretty damn impressive.
Before you leave Belem, you’ve got to hit up the Pastéis de Belém (8am-11pm everyday) patisserie as it bakes the best custard tarts which are a delicacy in Portugal. You won’t be disappointed. They’re cheap, too, in case you were wondering.
Other sites of note in Belem
The other sights of note are the Ponte 25 de April bridge which looks uncannily similar to the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. And also, the Christ the Redeemer statue across the river. Apparently, this statue and the one in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil are geographically looking at each other from across the world. Pretty sweet, huh?
Other bits and bobs you could do in Belem include visiting Palacio Nacional da Ajuda (10am-5:30pm everyday, free) which is Portugal’s national Palace. Of course, it’s not still used for it’s original purpose. And it does look very nice. However, because of it’s distance away from the centre of Belem there’s no way we could make it up there.
You could also stop off at the Museu do Oriente (10am-6pm Tue-Sun, €6) on your way back as it is one of the most highly rated museums in Lisbon. But to be honest, we had a pretty full on day and I just wasn’t in the mood for looking around a building full of Asian artefacts.
Back to the city
If you see any postcards of Lisbon or have an idealistic view of a quaint, old worldly Lisbon in your mind, you’ll no doubt be thinking of the bright yellow funiculars that glide around the city. And you’ll especially be thinking of the one near Ascensor da Bica (free, or €3.20 if you want to ride) which rides up and down a ridiculously steep hill. You can easily just walk down the hill and save yourself an overpriced ride as you can still take photographs.
Finally, end your last night in Lisbon at one of the best bars in the city, Pensão Amor bar (12pm-3am Mon-Wed, 12pm-4am Thurs-Sun). The bar used to be a brothel and sports low lighting and orange tones and hosts Burlesque shows on certain nights of the week. It’s a great place to sip a cocktail and snuggle into a lavish armchair and admire the mirrors and ornaments surrounding you.
And that’s it! Sounds like an awesome trip, right? You’re in for a good time! Are there any other must-dos and can’t-misses in Lisbon I haven’t mentioned?