Looking down at Commerce Square and the red roofs of Lisbon with the water in the distance
itinerary

3 days in Lisbon: an itinerary for first-time visitors

As one of Europe’s most loved cities, Lisbon boasts an energy like no other. The Portuguese capital city spans across seven hills overlooking the Tagus River where you can step back in history. 

Travel to the era of Discoveries at the Belem Tower and stroll atop the fortified walls of São Jorge Castle like the Romans and Visigoths once did.

Walk the cobbled streets or take the iconic tram through neighbourhoods that elegantly make the old and worn look attractive and cozy to discover traditional joints where live music or soaring Fado cascade out of the doors and windows. 

Lisbon is a city where you can indulge in mouthwatering food, including one of Portugal’s most cherished desserts, Pastel de Nata, and drink delectable local wines. This Lisbon itinerary gives you a good insight into the unique city and its main highlights.

An iconic, yellow tram surrounded by historic buildings in Lisbon, Portugal

How long should I spend in Lisbon?

As you might already realise, Lisbon is an outstanding city that caters to every type of traveler.

The longer you allow yourself to stay, the more unique layers of Lisbon you will uncover. You will absorb new corners and new feelings that might make you want to stay forever.

However, if you do not have forever (most of us do not) you can get a good grasp of the city and see all the main sites including the famous fairytale castle in Sintra, with three days in Lisbon.

Looking down at the lively Rossio Square in Lisbon

Day 1: Baixa and Alfama

A good place to stay when visiting Lisbon is the Alfama district or the Baixa district. It is also easy to reach the other districts from there by tram.

The Baixa district is easily connected with Alfama by the distinct Santa Justa Elevator, a historical landmark in itself, designed by Gustave Eiffel’s student, Raoul Mesnier.

Another main attraction you should not miss out on in the Baixa district is the Praça do Comércio. Strategically overlooking the Tagus River, it represents the wealthy trading period of the late 18th century when it was Lisbon’s commercial center.

Climb to the viewpoint on top of Arco da Rua Augusta to see the square from a different perspective. Walk Rua Augusta Street through the arch past lovely shops, restaurants, and cafés until you reach Rossio Square, which is the liveliest square in Lisbon.

There are many lovely restaurants in Alfama, the oldest district in Lisbon. You can either look for a cozy café tucked in one of the narrow cobbled streets or grab a table with a view at any restaurant near epic viewpoints like Miradouro de Santa Luzia or Miradouro das Portas do Sol.

The most important landmark, not only in Alfama but in Lisbon, is the São Jorge Castle sitting on the top of the hill of Alfama overlooking the city and the Tagus River.

Lisbon cityscape with the castle on the hill

The castle was built during the Moorish era in the 11th century and is very well kept, so visitors can enjoy walking on top of the fortified walls. You can stroll through the castle gardens, and visit the Camera Obscura to see the city from a different perspective.

There is also an archaeological site behind the castle with remains from the earliest known settlements in Lisbon dating back to the 7th century, the Moorish period, and from the last palatine residence that was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake.

And, most importantly, the views from the castle are mind-blowing - especially at sunset.

The rest of the day, you can spend getting lost in the streets of Alfama, paying a visit to Lisbon Cathedral, chasing the best viewpoints, and looking for a lovely restaurant for dinner with live Fado music.

If you are not familiar with Fado, it is Portuguese traditional music that according to historians goes back to the year 1820. However, it is believed that it is much older than that. With texts often depicting the life of the poor or life at sea, it is accompanied by a soaring guitar melody drowning in sorrow.

If you find a small and intimate venue to listen to this unique art form, you are guaranteed to have the hairs on your arms stand on end - in a good way that you will never forget. You can also do a fado tour if you aren't sure where to go.

Belem Tower in Lisbon, Portugal

Day 2: Belém, Chiado, and Bairro Alto

A good way to start the day is by taking tram no. 15 to the Belém district. There you will visit the Belém Tower which served as an embarkment and disembarkment point in the era of Discoveries. It sits on the edge of the Tagus River and the views from the top are breathtaking.

Next, make sure you walk past the Monument of the Discoveries which, unsurprisingly, is dedicated to the Age of Discoveries in Portugal. It is possible to climb the top of the monument for views.

The next important attraction to see in Belém is the 16th-century Jerónimos Monastery which, together with the Belém Tower is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The late Gothic structure housed monks from the Order of Saint Jerome.

The monks’ main task was to pray for and give spiritual guidance to the sailors and the King. During the age of Discovery, Jerónimos Monastery was one of the most prominent symbols of Portugal’s wealth.

The sun setting over the Jeronimos monastery in Lisbon, Portugal

Step inside and you will instantly see why. The incredible architecture, detailed carvings, symmetrical columns, and arches, all leave you in awe.

After exploring the Belém district, you might be hungry, and a great place for lunch is the Time Out Market in the Chiado District, a large food market with fabulous food from a number of the city’s best restaurants. However, do not leave Belém without grabbing a Pastel de Belém!

The afternoon and evening are perfect to spend walking around the Bairro Alto district where bars and restaurants fill the streets and as the night falls, it comes to life. Or, if you're a foodie, you may decide to do a food tour to taste a range of local dishes.

Before you go for dinner, make sure you walk by the Miradouro de São Pedro Alcantara Park where you can relax with lovely city views.

An aerial view of the colourful castle, Palcio da Pena in Sintra, Lisbon

Day 3: Sintra (Pena Palace and Castelo dos Mouros)

The last day of this Lisbon itinerary will take you to the outskirts of the city into the fairytale forests of Sintra. There are several organised tours, however visiting independently is very easy.

Take the train from Rossio Station - they leave approximately every 30 minutes. You can buy a ticket that includes the bus ticket in Sintra. This will make it easier as you reach Sintra town and do not have to worry about paying on the bus to reach the castles.

From Sintra town, hop on the 434 bus to the Pena Palace. This is the colourful fairytale castle that has become world-famous through Instagram.

The Pena Palace is surrounded by dreamy gardens and is truly one of the most stunning places to visit in Portugal. The UNESCO World Heritage site sits on the top of a hill overlooking the green surroundings and is just as utopian as it looks in pictures.

You can choose to only visit the castle grounds or also enter the castle. Both options come at a fee.

The impressive Castelo dos Mouros, a Moorish castle, in Sintra, Portugal

Continue on bus 434 and it will stop at the Castelo dos Mouros, a fabulous Moorish castle with fortified walls crawling across the green landscape like a miniature “wall of China”.

After the reconquest, the population living within the walls slowly moved away as there was no real danger anymore resulting in the castle slowly becoming abandoned. Since the early 19th century, restoration and archaeological excavations have found place on the castle grounds, which has resulted in an incredible historical site to visit.

Sintra town is wonderful to walk around and grab a bite to eat before heading back to Lisbon for the night.

The charming skyline of the Alfama area in Lisbon at dusk

If you have more time in Lisbon

If you have more time in Lisbon, there are a lot more things to do including day trips to nearby places that we have not covered in this itinerary. Here are some of the best attractions besides the ones mentioned in the above 3 days.

  • The National Pantheon - The building in Lisbon that has taken the longest time to build, started in 1682 as the Church of Saint Engrácia, later turned into National Pantheon, and was finally completed in 1966. The coloured marble interior is inspired by the Saint Peter’s Church in Rome which makes it a unique place to visit in Lisbon.

  • National Tile Museum - One of the most distinctive art forms in Portugal are the white and blue tiles depicting historic happenings and local life on important buildings throughout the country. A visit to the National Tile Museum will give you a lot of information about the history of the world-famed Portuguese “azulejos” as well as a look at an incredible collection of artwork.

  • Fado Museum - Another noteworthy museum to visit in Lisbon is the Fado Museum. There is a permanent exhibition and temporary exhibitions all dedicated to the unique music form.

  • Cascais - Second to Sintra, Cascais is the most popular place to visit near Lisbon. Only a 40-minute train ride away you can explore one of the most charming coastal towns near the capital.

    The quaint town boasts some of the best beaches in the country and several interesting museums like Santa Marta Lighthouse & Museum and the Museu Condes de Castro Guimarães, set in a fairytale castle. But the most popular attraction in Cascais is no doubt the Boca do Inferno. You can also do tours which visit both Sintra and Cascais if you're short on time.

Planning a trip to Lisbon? Read our guide on where to stay in Lisbon.

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Linn Haglund

Author - Linn Haglund

Linn is an avid traveler and freelance travel writer that has a passion for the outdoors, wildlife, and responsible travel. She is currently living the van life in southern Europe with her fiancé and their dog.

Having travelled in 50+ countries and lived in five countries, she has developed a fervour for helping people to travel more responsibly and leave a positive impact on their destinations through her blog, Brainy Backpackers.

Last Updated 17 December 2022

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