Before our trip to Portugal I had heard only wonderful things about the capital. Bursting with culture, beautiful scenery, and a vibrant nightlife scene; Lisbon didn’t disappoint. Peter and I were lucky enough to travel around Portugal with my parents who flew out from South Africa. We spent six days in Madeira, three in Lisbon, and ended our trip off with six days in The Algarve. I thought it would be a good idea to write about our 3 days in Lisbon since it’s one of the hippest and trendiest cities in Europe at the moment.
Our 3 days in Lisbon went a little something like this…
We arrived off the plane from Madeira on Wednesday morning and made our way straight to our Airbnb apartment in central Lisbon. With only 3 days in Lisbon we knew that our time was limited and we wanted to start exploring immediately. Our accommodation was very basic – in no way luxurious, but the location was perfect and it was ideal for the short time that we spent there. We spent hardly anytime in the apartment.
As soon as we had unpacked and had a quick refreshment, we headed out into town to get a taste of the city charm and charisma.
Before I continue I think I should add that Lisbon is a great city to explore by foot. However, it is extremely hilly! There’s a reason it’s known as the city of seven hills. So you should expect a good workout – that means more yummy food right? We stayed close to Santa Catarina and we were within a decent walking distance to the start of the main town. It was a 20 minute walk but there is also a tram nearby and a train station.
When people discuss whether Lisbon or Porto are a better option, Lisbon is typically described as having better attractions. It’s also very possible to visit Lisbon on a budget. So let’s see what Lisbon has to offer travellers.
Central to East Lisbon
We made our way from our apartment to Alfama all the way in the East stopping at all the “hotspots” along the way. We walked most of the way, but at some point we did hop on a tram – we wanted the full yellow tram experience. You can purchase transport cards/tickets from any of the local cafes.
Time Out Market
Our first stop was the Time Out Mercado da Ribeira which is the most famous food market in Lisbon. It was launched by Time Out magazine in 2014 and is located in the city center by the river. Hosting different food stands from renowned Portuguese chefs, you can try exquisite traditional specialties as well as different food from all around the world.
It is very crowded here but the food is delicious. We stopped for a bite to eat and we were all very impressed with our meals. I tried the pink sword fish rice dish – I’m a sucker for seafood – and it was divine! It’s similar to a traditional clam dish served with coriander and lemon dressing. Once our tummies were full it was time to move on.
Praca do Comercio
Next we stopped to explore the Praça do Comércio area. Directly translated, this means commercial square. You will find a statue of King José I in the centre, and traditionally painted buildings that line the three sides of the square. This is the largest plaza in all of Lisbon – lined with shops and cafes.
The Praca do Comercio falls within the Baxia area – in downtown Lisbon. At the back of the square is a famous arch that opens up into Baxia – a district of ordered streets and majestic buildings. There was a little outdoor market happening here which was pretty cool. We tried some local wine and wandered up and down the cobbled streets. However, it’s very touristy so if you don’t like crowds you not going to enjoy it very much. But if you’re a fan of architecture you might enjoy walking around for a bit.
Alfama was my favourite spot in the city. It’s the oldest district of Lisbon and had the views that I envisioned when I was daydreaming about our 3 days in Lisbon. Think delightful maze of narrow cobblestone streets, red rooftops and views of the Tagus river. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a glass of vino and a stunning view – which is exactly what we did 🙂 The best viewpoint in the city is Miradouro das Portas do Sol. It’s not hard to find – we came across it by chance and I only realized afterwards that this is where we were.
Castelo Sao Jorge
In Alfama you will find Sao Jorge castle which is a moorish castle that was built in the 11th century. Since it was already fairly late in the afternoon by the time we got here, we didn’t go in. But if you have more time don’t overlook it. It’s a solid climb up through the winding streets of Alfama and boasts some of the best 360 degree views of the city. Inside you will also have the chance to wander the old castle walls, visit the camera obscura, check out the old cannons on display, and more.
Parque Eduardo VII
On the other side of the city you will find Parque Eduardo VII which is a peaceful park area away from the busyness of downtown Lisbon. There’s an incredible viewpoint here with views over a large part of the city. It’s a beautiful sight with a backdrop of the river Tejo and green labyrinthine gardens. We took a train here – it’s rather far to walk from downtown Lisbon.
We had heard a lot about Bairro Alto – the nightlife hub of Lisbon. So later that evening once the sun had gone down and dusk started to stretch across the city, we made our way over here to see it for ourselves. It’s been dubbed as the bohemian district and the perfect place to meet for the first drink of the evening. But aside from the many bars, cafes, and clubs, there are also plenty of top class restaurants and designer boutiques scattered amongst the cobbled streets.
We started off with a caipirinha from one of the local bars and then strolled down the streets looking for somewhere to have dinner. Outside each establishment is “a promoter” trying to convince each passing guest why they should eat there, rather than another place. It makes the decision-making process kind of hard. But eventually we came across the perfect little restaurant with live music. It was quite expensive – but that is to be expected in the touristy areas. After dinner we did a little more bar hopping. My parents are young at heart and Bairro Alto is the perfect mix of crowds of all ages coming together seamlessly.
Sadly we didn’t get around to visiting Bairro Alto during the day. Apparently this is the only district in Lisbon that transforms drastically between day and night to the point that it’s unrecognizable depending on when you visit. I actually wish we had a little more than 3 days in Lisbon so we could have seen it from a different light. But maybe next time 🙂
I had heard all about the romantic and mystical destination of Portugal, that is Sintra. So with 3 days in Lisbon I wasn’t going to miss the chance to visit this fairytale village. Crossing over from the Western suburbs of Lisbon and into the green mountainscape of country estates, palaces, parks, and a medieval castle, it truly feels like you are entering another world.
There’s so much to see and do in Sintra that it’s actually recommended to spend two to three days here if you have the time. Unfortunately we didn’t, so we just visited on a day trip. But what a magical day it was! The train ride from the city to Sintra is long – about an hour – so you really need to set a full day aside. Upon arrival we were greeted by plenty of tour groups and operators offering tours of the village. But we are not really one’s for guided tours so we opted to explore alone.
There are buses that will take you up to specific tourist attractions which is great if you are there to see something specific. But if you are like us, and want to explore the area, then walking is best. It’s a beautiful area with stunning viewpoints all the way up the winding hills. We stopped at multiple points along the way, taking photos and admiring the views.
Quinta da Regaleira
There are quite a few palaces, castles, museums, and lots more to see in Sintra so if you only have one day here, like we did, you will need to pick and choose what you are going to do. We decided on Quinta da Regaleira – a romantic palace, like something out of a dream. A 20th century residence, split over five floors, this ornate gothic facade has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But it’s not about the palace, it’s the enchanting gardens that really steal the show.
During the summer, Quinta da Regaleira is open between 09:30 – 20:00, and 09:30 – 18:00 during winter. The last admission is allowed an hour before closing time. The entrance fee is 6 EUR for adults and 4 EUR for children and seniors, and includes access to the palace and the gardens. There are guided tours on offer for 10 EUR. Inside the gardens you will find a collection of hidden tunnels and concealed symbolism that represent an ancient secret order.
A mythical palace complete with gothic features, underground grottoes, and magnificent water features, Quinta da Regaleira is truly magical. It boasts the most beautiful outdoor grounds that I’ve ever laid my eyes on. I dedicated a whole article to this unique palace which you can read more about here.
Other parts of Sintra
Since we didn’t have a lot of time in Sintra, we didn’t see half of what we would like to have. But when I look back now, I really wish we had made time to visit Pena Palace. I know right, can you believe we didn’t? It’s recently been named as one of Portugal’s “Seven Wonders”. Situated right at the top of one of the highest hills, Pena Palace looks out over all of Sintra. You will have incredible views of it throughout the old town below.
Other recommended sites to visit are Cabo da Roca, the Castle of the Moors, the park and palace of Monserrate, and the Palace of Sintra. Also be sure to explore the old centre of Sintra when you in the area.
What else is there to know about Lisbon?
Lisbon is a great place to visit with friends or family. There’s something for everyone here and that’s why it’s become so popular over recent years. With just 3 days in Lisbon we got to see a lot of the city. But, there’s so much that we missed out on too. In all honesty I’m an absolute beach girl and much prefer quiet, beach destinations over city breaks. But Lisbon is a city that I would go back to in a heartbeat.
It’s the second oldest capital city in Europe
Maybe you more clued up than I am, but I seriously had no idea! After Athens, Lisbon is the oldest capital city in Europe.
It’s one of the best budget cities
In fact, Portugal is one of the cheapest countries that we’ve travelled to in Europe. But the great thing about Lisbon is that it offers high quality food, great accommodation, and nightlife to suit any budget – even the low end budget. Peter loves beer so a lot of our cost comparisons are based on beer price. At just 2 EUR for a beer in many places – he was smitten!
Ride on the tram
Famous for its number 28 yellow tram, you don’t want to miss out on the tram experience. You can purchase tickets in local cafes or directly from the driver. The classic 1930s trams are still used today because modern trams aren’t suitable for the steep hill and tight curves in the city. The tram travels between Alfama in the east and Praca do Martim Moniz in the west.
With just 3 days in Lisbon this quickly became one of my favourite cities. It’s a charming city, affectionately referred to as the city of light, and it’s not hard to see why. With a vibrant nightlife scene, beautiful architecture, and a lively atmosphere, we couldn’t get enough of this trendy city.
Have you been to Lisbon before? What is you favourite European city?
Love & Light
Ms Blissness ♥
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