I am fortunate enough to say that I’ve already checked off all of the top travel destinations on my bucket list which inspires me to add new countries each year. Now when I plan a trip, I often choose a city at random based on recommendations, photos I see online or travel lists of the most beautiful places on the planet and Lisbon was one of them. The more I learned about the culture, history and architecture, the more intrigued I became and a few weeks ago I touched down in Portugal’s capital city.
Praҫa do Comérico (Commerce Square)
The coastal cities are always my favorite with their sparkling harbors alongside colorful villages and Lisbon’s beautiful castles and sunny terraces are picture perfect.
The Best Time to Visit
Since Lisbon is a tourist hot spot, the summer months are very busy. There are long lines at all major attractions, and public transit is usually overflowing. I recommend visiting before or after the summer rush. September in Lisbon was lovely! The weather was sunny and warm (25˚C most days) with a cool breeze and the crowds had thinned substantially.
Where to Stay
It is always best to stay in the city center so I booked a beautiful, luxury apartment on historic Rue da Prata – just down the street from the river and Praҫa do Comérico (Commerce Square). Since the accommodations in the older part of the city are mostly small hotels and apartments, I booked the beautiful 3 bedroom suite below on Airbnb. (To read my review on using Airbnb click HERE)
Lisbon in 4 Days – Top Attractions
I only had 4 days in Lisbon before heading to the Algarve Coast and then on to Madrid so I’ve created a list of must-see attractions and restaurants. If you only have a few days in the city, this guide will help you make the most of it!
Pena Palace – Sintra
When you get to Lisbon you will hear a lot of talk about Sintra. I didn’t think taking a day trip was in the cards but when I saw photos of the countryside I just had to visit and even our taxi driver recommended it!
Getting to Sintra
Sintra is a resort town in the foothills of Portugal’s mountains and the journey by public transit is 40 mins – 1 hour. There are several ways to get to Sintra – you can book a tour or take the train. We were quoted €65 for a tour bus which was basically just a ride into town and back. The train from Lisbon (located in Rossio Square) leaves the station every 30 mins and cost just €4.40 with return. When you arrive at the train station in Sintra, exit to your right and take bus 434 which drives along a tourist loop of major attractions and palaces. The bus cost €5.50 and after the summer rush it is much less crowded.
The bus makes several stops but I only wanted to see Pena Palace. If you want to do more in Sintra you will need an entire day. Entrance to the palace is €14 and an additional €3 to a take a small shuttle bus to the gates if you don’t want to walk 15 minutes uphill.
Travelers Tip: It can get very cool in the mountains so when visiting in late summer/early fall remember to bring a light jacket or sweater.
I’ve seen many palaces and amazing buildings during my travels but the facade of this castle situated atop the mountain peaks took my breath away. The dramatic design is like something out of a fairytale with vibrant color, intricate mosaic tile and layers of stone work all nestled into lush green hills.
Elegant chandeliers cascade over luxurious chambers.
Jeronimos Monastery in the Parish of Belem features a beautiful courtyard and cathedral with sprawling arches and impressive carvings. Entrance to the cathedral is €10.
Travellers Tip: The ticket line for the monastery can take hours. Instead, head to the museum entrance near the middle of the building to purchase tickets. Lines are much shorter since most people aren’t aware you can do this!
Pastéis de Belém
When you visit the Monastery make sure to stop at Pastéis de Belém just down the street. These world famous custard tarts were created at the bakery in 1837 and still remain one of the most popular Portuguese desserts. Despite trying many versions of this tart throughout Lisbon, the original recipe is definitely the best. The pastry is buttery, light and flakey while the custard is creamy and lightly sweetened. The tarts retail for just €1,50 each and you also can buy gift boxes.
Travelers Tip: If you want to have lunch in the area, check out Pao Pao Queijo Queijo a few shops over from the bakery. They serve large, tasty wraps, pitas, salads and sandwiches at very reasonable prices.
Torre de Belém (Belém Tower)
Tower of St. Vincent
Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries)
The heart of Lisbon’s cultural and entertainment district with many luxury hotels, restaurants and shops.
Alfama District & Portas do Sol (Doorway of the Sun)
Alfama is one of the oldest districts in Lisbon and probably one of the prettiest. The terrace has the best view of the town overlooking winding, maze-like streets and vivid red tiled roofs that slope gracefully towards the sea.
Parque Eduardo VII
This beautiful park overlooks the center of Lisbon and Marques de Pombal Square. I recommend starting at the top and walking through the garden to the square’s monument.
Santa Justa Lift
This iconic elevator in the heart of Lisbon provides a wonderful view of the city.
Pink Street is a local hangout with bars and restaurants. It may not be the cleanest area in the city (it was a bit grungy) but something about it reminds me of the yellow brick road from The Wizard of Oz so I had to see it.
La Puttana Restaurant
A couple minutes past the bridge on Pink Street there is a great Pizzeria called la Puttana. My love of Italian food always leads me to the most delicious places and this cute eatery features delicious wood burning pizza.
São Jorge Castle
I saw Jorge Castle from my apartment in Lisbon on a daily basis but I didn’t have time to visit. This attraction is highly recommended so you may want to add it to your list.
Transportation & Tours
If you only have a few days in the city one of the best and most efficient ways to see all the major attractions is from a tour bus. We booked our 2 day excursion with Living Tours (Grey Line Hop on- Hop off Bus) since we couldn’t possibly walk to all the sites. The open top busses take you to all major points of interest and it can be a very relaxing way to see the city with historical commentary in various languages.
I purchased tickets at the Living Tours Office near my apartment (Rue da Conceicao 1100-151 Lisboa) walking distance from Commerce Square but you can also buy tickets online. It included 2 major routes for €20 per person (not including entrance to attractions) and a free 15 min Tuk Tuk ride with participating divers.
Travelers Tip: This tour company also provides private cars for airport transfers for just €20 (up to 3 people) which is about €10 cheaper than a taxi. For more information you can visit the website at: livingtours.com.
Another popular way to see Lisbon is by Tuk Tuk - a small, motorized vehicle that reminds me of a bicycle – golf cart hybrid. The price is about €70 for an hour tour but a cheaper way to travel is by taking Tram 28 which gives you a great city tour for just a few Euros. The trams get crowded in the summer months but try to get a window seat and it the entire route.
Lisbon has many steep cobblestone streets that give your legs a good workout but walking is one of the best ways to discover the city off the beaten path. Wander around without a map, shop and enjoy a tasty meal at one of the many outdoor patios.
Aside from the few restaurants I’ve mentioned above, I wasn’t a huge fan of many of the local delicacies because I don’t like the taste of most meat including pork, fish, beef, lamb etc. Seafood is very popular in Portugal and fresh fish can be found at almost every restaurant. It was a bit difficult to find foods to try since some of the vegetarian looking dishes also had ham or tuna hidden beneath the tomato and cheese. One thing I was excited to try was the Piri Piri – a seasoning made from crushed chillies, onion, pepper, salt, lemon, bay leaves, paprika, pimento and a variety of other spices.
Miguel Laffan Chicken All Around at Mercado da Ribeira
Before I left for my trip I researched where to eat and decided to try the Piri Piri Chicken at Chicken All Around in Mercado da Ribeira – a food market that is popular with locals and tourist. You can order the dish with sides like crunchy potato crisps and basmati rice. This was the best Piri Piri I had in Portugal so I highly recommend stopping by.
I went to the market a couple times during my visit and also tried the Pad Thai at Asian Lab.
Don’t miss out on the delicious chocolate candied, roasted nuts at Frutos Secos (also located in the market). I got a mix of Macadamia and Hazelnut – very addicting!
Travellers Tip: Some restaurants will place appetizers on the table before the meal but these apértifs are not free. If you don’t want them, don’t eat them or ask the waiter to take them off the table.
Ginja is Portuguese cherry liquor that is very popular in the region. To me it tastes like sugary rum. I bought this large bottle at a local grocery store for just a few Euros.
The Algarve Coast – Portugal