3 days in Lisbon – 12 must do activities

Lisbon is a city that attracts more and more tourists. It is a very popular European capital due to its sunny weather all year long. This city combines excellent quality food, cheap accommodations/flights and has a vibrant atmosphere and nightlife – it is perfect for a week-end getaway in Europe, or even longer! This very photogenic city is definitely worth a visit!

In total there are 7 hills in Lisbon. This means it is a paradise to catch beautiful sunsets from different viewpoints and enjoy a panoramic view of the city. Of course, it also means that you need to wear a confortable pair of shoes to explore the different areas ;). We loved it because Lisbon is a great city you can discover by foot.

We have gathered a list of what to do in Lisbon, our top favourite activities in the city. Our local Portuguese friend who spent 5 years in Lisbon recommended us a lot of stops to add to our itinerary. Some places are less touristic than others. It was a perfect combination to discover this capital and enjoy our stay as much as possible. Thank you so much again Susana!

Our 12 favourites activities in Lisbon

  • Take a ride with the Tram 28
  • Grab a lunch at the Time out Market
  • Catch a sunset from a Miradour (view point)
  • Explore the Campo de Santa Clara square
  • Visit the Belém Tower and stop at the Monument of the Discoveries
  • Eat one pasteis de nata and then a second one 😉
  • Enter into the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos 
  • Stop at the most original food souvenir shop – Conserveira de Lisboa 
  • Diner after 9.00pm
  • Explore the aquarium – go to the Lisbon Oceanarium
  • Take a day trip in Sintra to visit the Pena Palace
  • Stop at Cascais – a beach town

Best of Lisbon

Take a ride with the Tram 28

This tram 28 road is so iconic. True it is such a touristic attraction to take this ride but it one of the best sightseeing path through Lisbon. You can see so many landmarks along the way. Getting on board on this tram is one of the favourite activity for the tourists. Those famous yellow trams dating back to almost one century are so charming!

Tram 28 - Lisbon
Tram in Lisbon

The tram is always very crowded. There is a new tram only every 10 minutes. If you want to get a chance to seat we recommend to take the tram at the station Martim Moniz, as the tram starting point is located at Martim Moniz square. Be prepared to queue at least for 30 minutes. Finally you will be rewarded by a very nice ride across Lisbon. The ride up to the terminus is about 40 minutes.

Note – if you really want to avoid the crowd or if you are in a hurry, you can always grab another tram. As there are actually a number of other trams that run all over Lisbon, and a few also take the same road as the Tram 28.

Grab a lunch at the Time out Market

We love street food. That’s why the Time out market is such a paradise for us ;). It is the equivalent of the Mercato Metropolinato for the Londoners. One of THE perfect place to go to grab a lunch and try different dishes! This is an indoor food market with so many stalls essentially with Portugueses dishes but also international one. If you are lucky you can even find a table to enjoy a nice lunch and relax a bit before keep going your exploration of Lisbon.

Time out Market – street food court

Prawn and rice

If you are looking for a less crowded market – you can try its cousin – Mercado de Campo de Ourique. There are a combination of inside and outside stands with fresh food. As at the Time Out Market – you can grab local tapas to more exotic dishes.

Catch a sunset from a Miradour (view point)

There are 2 great spots to enjoy a nice sunset in Alfama. The Alfama borough located in a hilly area is very living with an outdoor market and colourful streets. We highly recommend to go there one hour before the sunset so you can wander through the streets. Then it will be the perfect timing to relax with a panoramic view of Lisbon.

There are 2 locations close to each other to enjoy the sunset. Either from the Miradouro das Portas do Sol or from the Miradouro de Santa Luzia.

View from the Miradouro das Portas do Sol - Lisbon
View from the Miradouro das Portas do Sol

You can also continue to explore Alfama and go up to the third Miradouro – Miradouro da Graça.

View from Miradouro da Graça
View from Miradouro da Graça

And then just a few minutes you can finish your day with catching the sunset from the fourth viewpoint – Miradouro da Senhora do Monte.

Sunset view from Miradouro da Senhora do Monte
Sunset view from Miradouro da Senhora do Monte

Explore the Campo de Santa Clara square

This square is located in Alfama and between both impressive churches São Vicente de Fora and Santa Engrácia. The Santa Engrácia was a church now converted into the National Pantheon. So important Portuguese personalities are buried in this place from writers to footballers, fado singers up to President. On the other side of the square, there is the Monastery São Vicente de Fora. This building is majestic with a Renaissance architecture.

The monastry São Vicente de Fora - Lisbon
The Monastery São Vicente de Fora

Note – on Tuesdays and on Saturdays there is a flea market in this square. So this area can be quite busy!

Visit the Belém Tower and stop at the Monument of the Discoveries

Belém is one of the most famous neighbourhoods in Lisbon. Even if you are in Lisbon only for a few days, we highly recommend you to spend some time to explore this area. It is located in Western Lisbon and very easily accessible by tram 15. The ride is about 25 minutes to reach Belém. The Belém Tower is part of the UNESCO heritage.

This tower built more than 4 centuries ago was used as a port for explorers.

The Belém Tower

At that time, Portugal was one of the most powerful country for maritime exploration. So this tower played a crucial role in the history. And it also served as a lighthouse. A few meter from the tower there is a massive building to celebrate the explorers – the Monument of the Discoveries.

The Monument of the Discoveries or Padrão dos Descobrimentos in Portuguese
The Monument of the Discoveries or Padrão dos Descobrimentos in Portuguese

Eat one pasteis de nata and then a second one 😉

This local sweet treat is famous all over the world. Your trip in Lisbon will not be complete if you don’t try them. These Portuguese egg custard tarts are even dangerously delicious ;). It is essentially baked with eggs yolks, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla which gives a tasty caramelised custard.

The recipe can vary slightly from one shop to another. Some bakers are really creative and they develop some chocolate pasteis de nata or some with chocolate flakes over the top.

Pastéis de Belém

But if you want to try the original recipe – you have to go to Belém. As the best place to try them is at Pastéis de Belém which is the home of Pasteis de nata. My Portuguese friend told us this is THE bakery to discover this tasty custard tart. We followed her advice and we were not disappointed. The Pasteis de nata were so tasty! You will see – you try one and it is so delicious. At the end of the breakfast you have eaten at least 3 of them ;).

Delicious Pasteis de nata at Pastéis de Belém
Delicious Pasteis de nata at Pastéis de Belém

Tip – you will notice when you are arrive at Pastéis de Belém – there will be a long queue. However, you don’t have to queue – just go inside as the locals do, it is huge! The first 2 rooms are often full but as you keep going it is very likely that you will find a table to enjoy your pastries :).

If you really enjoyed this pastry you can even join a cooking class workshop. There is a local company called Foodie Bookings where you can learn how to bake this delicious pastry when you are back at home.

Enter into the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos 

The Jerónimos Monastery is another highlight not to be missed in Belém. This old monastery located near the Belém Tower is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

View with the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in background
View with the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in background

The Portuguese architecture of the monastery is worth a visit. It has one of the most decorative church of Portugal. As the monastery is located so close to the sea, the sailor slept there before embarking on long journeys to explore Asia.

Garden inside the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos
Garden inside the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos 

Chapel inside the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos
Chapel inside the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos 

Depending on how much time you have, you can either decide to only visit the main chapel or visit the full monastery. There is an entrance fees of 10€ [as of September 2020].

Diner after 9.00 pm

In Lisbon you don’t need to hurry at the end of the afternoon to find a nice restaurant before there is a long queue. There, the usual time for diner is quite late in the evening. What a nice difference with London where it is sometimes difficult to find somewhere to eat after 9.00pm.

We noticed that our first evening, restaurants and parts of the city wouldn’t be really busy before 9.30pm. If you want to really enjoy a Lisbon night and do as local, we suggest to be prepare for a late diner!

Stop at the most original food souvenir shop – Conserveira de Lisboa 

Near the Rossio plaza, there is an unusual shop – Conserveira de Lisboa. It is a canned sardines shop that looks like a toys shop :). You may think it is strange to add this stop in your itinerary. But the shop is really well decorated and can be an original souvenir to bring back.

At Conserveira de Lisboa

At Conserveira de Lisboa
A tinned can

In total, there are more than 70 varieties of tinned fish. What is funny is that the cans are organised by year. So you can bring back a tinned can with your year of birth.

Yes I was a bit lost, too much choice 😉

Explore the aquarium – Go to the Lisbon Oceanarium

You can easily spent 2-3 hours just exploring the different aquariums on the different levels. We were impressed with the diversity! In total there are more than 500 different species. For example there are seahorses, moonfishes, devil rays, sea lions, starfishes, clown fishes up to sharks. This activity is perfect with kids.

It was the first time I visited an aquarium and it is pretty cool. You really have the feeling to be in the middle of the ocean. The aquarium is really well designed.

Devil ray at the Lisbon Oceanarium
Devil ray at the Lisbon Oceanarium

Sea Otters at the Lisbon Oceanarium
Sea Otters at the Lisbon Oceanarium

There are several rooms to represent different climatic environment. For example, the ice of the Antarctic or the Tropics. My 2 favourite spots where to watch the sea otters and the penguins. The Lisbon Oceanarium is the largest indoor aquarium in all of Europe. As a result there are about 1 million people visiting the aquarium each year. The aquarium is the home of more than 8,000 living organisms.

Penguins at the Lisbon Oceanarium
Penguins at the Lisbon Oceanarium

Take a day trip in Sintra and visit the Pena Palace

If you have 3 days or more in Lisbon, we recommend to add Sintra into your itinerary without any hesitation. This historic region of Sintra is well famous for its palaces, ruins and other castels. The most iconic palace is the Pena Palace locally called Palácio Nacional da Pena.

The colourful Pena Palace

Pena Palace

The yellow and red palace catches the eyes of so many photographers and bloggers every year.

Pena Palace - Sintra
Pena Palace

This palace is even listed on the 7 wonders of Portugal. Inside the palace, you will discover very luxurious rooms.

Pena Palace - Sintra
Pena Palace

Luxurious hall inside the Palace  - Sintra
Luxurious hall inside the Palace

To sum-up, visiting the Pena Palace is a must do! It is a very bright, colourful and beautiful palace. We loved our visit and stayed about 2 hours to take photos and enjoy the beauty inside and outside of the palace.

Pena Palace in the background
Pena Palace

Pena Palace Garden

The main entrance to the palace can be crowded and quite busy. That’s why we decided to enter by the lower entrance down the hill. It is nice because you will be able to enjoy a walk in the Pena Palace garden.

Pena Palace Garden

There are bridges, a pond and even some small sculpture. The walk up to the palace is really pleasant as you discover the palace and its bright colour as you keep walking.

Note – We suggest to rent a car to get to Sintra. It will take between 30 minutes to 1 hour to drive there. Otherwise you can also take a train from Rossio Square in Lisbon or a bus that will bring you close to the train station. Once you are at the station, be prepared for a moderate walk as the palace is about 500m up to the hill. It will take you about one hour to reach the Palace.

Stop at Cascais – a beach town

On our way back from Sintra, we headed up to the beach town of Cascais. This town sometimes know as a Portuguese Monaco is very lively. It is one of the best place to eat seafood or grad a snack at one of the seaside restaurants!

There are some beaches. As we visited Cascais in February we didn’t try the water but I am sure that jumping in the water is a cool activity to escape the crowd and hot Lisbon summers!

Cascais
Cascais
The main beach in Cascais
The main beach in Cascais

Where to eat in Lisbon?

As usual try to eat and discover as much local food as possible, especially as the Portuguese food is delicious. Our local Portuguese friend shared with us her list of recommandations of great restaurants before our trip. See below the list of our favourite restaurants.

  • A Cevichera – Peruvian restaurant. This place is recommended in every out of 3 blog posts about Lisbon. I am not kidding, you will discover it if you read a couple of blog to plan your visit ahead. The menu is a small card, which is regularly updated. It combines Portuguese cuisine with traditional Peruvian dishes. We had such a great evening with so much tasty food. This place is becoming more and more popular. So of course you will have to queue as you can’t book a table in advance. We had to wait about 1 hour but it was definitely worth it :). Tip – instead of queueing in front of the restaurant, register your name on the waiting list. Then walk for 5 minutes up to the Principe Real Garden and grab a drink at the Cafe Esplanade.
  • Pasteis de Belém – it is an institution. If you go to Belem – you have to stop there. This is probably the best place to try the pasteis de nata. This spot is not just for tourists. We saw so many locals enjoying their Sunday brunch there.
  • Choupana cafe – the best place to get a breakfast with delicious pastry. We are French and breakfast is my favourite meal. This place is like the Paradise. They have such a large choice of pastry – from almond to pistachio or raspberry croissants, delicious pain au chocolat. And the cherry on the cake, they have a partnership with Kusmi tea – so a large choice of original tea.
  • Momento HB – delicious tapas. We recommend to try the tapas Remember Lisbon – 7 Lisbon specialities. The waitress allowed us taste the wine to confirm whether we like it before serving us a full glass.
  • São Rafael Cellar – nice restaurant in Alfama borough. Their octopus was a real treat 🙂
  • Pois Cafe – quite unique chill atmosphere. Nice food and drinks for decent prices.
Grilled Octopus at São Rafael Cellar
Grilled Octopus at São Rafael Cellar

Tasty breakfast at Choupana cafe
Tasty breakfast at Choupana cafe

Apetizer at A Cevichera
Apetizer at A Cevichera

Budget – how much does it cost?

The local currency is the Euro – €. The rate is about $1 = 0.87€, £1 = 1.1€ as of July 2020.  

To give you an idea, see below on average how much things cost in touristy area. Prices can be cheaper in non-touristy places.

  • Hostel night = €20-30
  • Double room night mid-range = €50-90
  • Cheap meal = €10
  • Mid-range diner = €20
  • One beer = €2
  • Single tram 28 ticket = €3 
  • Pasteis de nata= €1
  • Coffee =€1-1.50
  • A single metro ticket from the airport to central Lisbon €1.60
Lisbon Tram
Lisbon Tram

You can pay by card pretty much everywhere. So don’t worry, there is no need to withdraw a large amount of cash when you arrive in Lisbon. Tipping is usually not required but of course always accepted.

When to go – best month to visit?

The best time to explore Lisbon is probably from March to May or from September to November. We went in Lisbon the second half of February. We were so lucky as it was already sunny and warm (about 25C degrees). It was the perfect timing for a week-end breakout. Our local friend really recommended to avoid the summer as it is too hot. In July and in August it is also the peak season. As a result the price of accommodations can double and the streets are crowded with tourists.

Funny fact about Lisbon, surprising it is the sunniest capital in Europe – even more than in Rome or in Athens. In total, there are around 290 days of sun per year! So don’t worry too much when you plan to visit Lisbon, it is very likely that you will get some sunny days.

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