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Are you in Lisbon for the first time, or are you planning to visit Lisbon and want to know what the city offers? Here we go! This is the story of someone like you (me, obviously!) who visited Lisbon for the first time.
If you are already overwhelmed by the list of places to see and things to do but are still wondering what will fit your short stay there, don’t worry. You are not alone. When I started to plan my trip to Lisbon, I knew I wanted to travel in their heritage trams, but then what next? When I started researching, I realized there is so much more than trams in the capital of Portugal.
I have put together some of the best things you can see in Lisbon in three days. Are you going to stay for a longer period? Then check out the places I have planned to visit on my future visits to Lisbon (the city is so big that one time is never enough). Also, if you are on the fly and don’t have three days to spare in Lisbon, check out the must-visit places.
For me, visiting a city, especially a capital, is a lot different than any other place for the most obvious reasons. There is always a chance of being scammed or robbed. So this article not only takes you through the places you can visit but also gives some tips from my experience visiting this wonderful city.
Come, let’s explore the city together!
1. Enjoy the Sunset in Lisbon
Did your flight land in the middle of the day, and you are still coming out of jet lag or just not ready for an extensive agenda? I completely understand. After landing, all I could think of was just stuffing myself with food and going to bed. If you arrive while the sun is still out, you could enjoy the sunset after dumping your bags in your hotel/hostel by heading over to a nearby sunset spot. There are many, many amazing points from where you can watch the sky being painted in shades of orange, pink and blue while sipping the drink of your choice.
Below are some of the best sunset spots:
- Ribeira das Naus (Cais do Sodre)
- Cais das Colunas (near Comércio Square)
- Miradouro de Santa Catarina
- Miradouro da Graça
- Belém Tower
- Champalimaud Foundation (a little past Belém Tower)
- Sunset cruise down the Tagus river (if you are feeling fancy)
Psst! Check for dark clouds in the sky before heading out to enjoy a dreamy sunset. I rushed to the Cais das Colunas after dropping my bags at my hotel before the sunset time (which was around 17-30 hours in early November) only to see the sun being engulfed by thick and dark rain clouds. But I was lucky enough to witness a beautiful sunset a day later from Belém Tower when the sky was clear of rain clouds.
2. Dedicate a Complete Day for Sintra
Although you could easily take a day trip to Sintra, I highly recommend staying a night there on. It has a lot of places to see, and it could be tiring to walk all day exploring the palaces and castles and traveling all the way back to your hotel in Lisbon just to jump into your bed.
There is so much to share about Sintra, so I wrote a separate post to make sure this one is not insanely long. Check out my post about the best things to do in Sintra to know all the details.
Note for folks who want to visit Sintra by car! You can drive to Sintra, but consider taking the bus and public transport for the rest of your journey. It is not advisable to drive in Sintra, and it is almost impossible to find a parking spot near any of the tourist attractions.
Big Note! You can no longer drive to the Pena Palace and Castle of the Moors. The only possible options are to take bus 434 or hike up to the palace.
Always check for the latest information in the official website.
Now that we are back in the city again after visiting Sintra, let’s check out the must-dos in Lisbon.
3. Walk Around the Praça do Comércio of Lisbon
Praça do Comercio is the main square of Lisbon, which faces the harbor. If you had visited Cais das Colunas, for soaking in the sunset vibes, you would have already noticed this main square.
A quick ride back in time! This place was built on the site where the Royal Palace once used to exist. The palace was destroyed by a massive earthquake that hit the city in 1755. After the square was built, it was used to unload goods from commercial ships. It was in fact, considered “the door to Lisbon”.
There is an equestrian Statue of King Joseph I (The king of Portugal during the great earthquake). Behind the statue, you could see the triumphal Rua Augusta Arch. The arch faces the Tagus river on the statue’s side and an arcade of yellow buildings surround the arch. There are cafes, commercial buildings, and even an Ask Me Lisboa tourist help desk (I will mention its importance later in this post). As I have mentioned, the Cais das Colunas is right beside the river facing the arch.
I witnessed the sunset on a very cloudy day. I later enjoyed my evening walking around the square, which was getting ready for Christmas (early November). Folks, it could get chilly due to the riverside breeze, so remember to bring your jackets.
How to Reach Praça do Comércio of Lisbon
Praça do Comercio is located in the Baixa Chiado. There is a metro station in Baixa Chiado on the other side of the arch. But I preferred taking the next stop in the metro, which is Terreiro de Paco. This station is closer to the river, and you can enjoy better views when you surface to the land from the subway.
There are also buses and trams which directly stop in front of the arch. My preference was using the metro if possible. But that’s just me, you could take any means of transport as there are so many and so frequent.
Safety Tip! Keep your bags protected when you are using any public transport, especially while you are standing. You would already find many warning signs about pickpocketing in all the buses and trams (especially trams).
Handy Information for Lisbon
Consider purchasing the Lisboa Card (24, 48, or 72 hours) based on your stay duration. It offers free transport by bus, trams, and metro and also trains to Sintra and Cascais. It also provides free entrance to major attractions in the city. Although you can buy the card online, you can only use it with the physical card (unlike the Amsterdam City card). You could directly purchase the card in one of the “Ask Me Lisboa” centers or exchange your online card for a physical one. (This is me getting back on the importance of the Ask Me Lisboa location from the main square.)
Strong Suggestion! These tourist desks open only at 10 AM in the morning (You would find queues in almost every tourist attraction by then, so channel your inner spirit and rise early, folks!). I recommend getting your card as soon as you land at the airport. Your card will be activated only on your first use, so don’t worry about the ticking clock. I regret not doing this. I was not aware of the mandatory physical card thingy (poor research, I know) and ended up waiting in the queue for the tourist desk at the Praça do Comércio to open at 10 AM. (Yes, you heard me right! There were people lined up already before the place opened.)
4. Ride the Santa Justa Elevator
While you are already in the Baixa Chiado area, why not ride this cool elevator before heading out to your next spot? This is just around a 600m walk from the Praça do Comércio.
A quick ride back in time! Can you believe this lift was originally a part of the city’s public transportation system? (At least, I was surprised! I would have never expected an elevator to be public transportation.) It was, in fact, a huge success (it was called the Carmo Lift) when it was inaugurated in 1902, which helped people quickly travel from lower Lisbon to upper Lisbon.
Now, this has become a famous tourist attraction, as it also has a viewing deck at the top which offers a magnificent view of the entire city.
Good to know! The observation deck is sometimes closed for maintenance during off-peak season. So check if it is open when you are visiting. Although it is cool to ride the lift, it is not exactly worth the wait in the long queues. But the view from the top is quite exquisite. So here is a great way to escape the crowd but still enjoy the view from the observation deck.
I was unaware of this nifty trick to escape the long lines, so I waited desperately for it to move as I wanted to see the view from up top. It was quite a long wait, even in November, which is not a tourist season. I was standing there imagining how worse it could have been if I had come in peak season. After about an hour, we got into the elevator and went up to the observation desk.
The view was spectacular from the top. There was a small cafe towards the side of the Carmo convent beyond the bridge from the lift. Walking past the cafe, I realized that a staircase was going downwards to the streets. After All, you need not wait in long queues which hardly move to soak in the beauty from the top.
Lesson learned! The experience of going in the lift is not worth waiting in a long queue (Total No No). However, the view from above is absolutely worth checking out. You can also go directly to the observatory deck (If you have not taken the Lisboa card, you will save up the entry of €5.3 for taking the lift.) as explained below. The observatory deck has a separate entry fee of around €1.5.
A Secret(?) Way to Reach the Top of Santa Justa Elevator
Find your way towards the Carmo Ruins, which is very near to the place where the Santa Justa queue starts. You could even find sign boards pointing to “Largo do Carmo”.
Although it is slightly uphill, it is not so steep, and it would hardly take around 5 minutes. Take the path on the right side of the Carmo Ruins, at the end of which you can find stairs that take you to the top near the cafe on the other end of the Santa Justa Bridge. Just walk through the bridge and buy your entry into the observatory deck.
Tip! I would suggest you go here to check out the views, even if the viewing deck is closed as you could still see everything from the bridge and near the cafe.
Psst! This is not an actual secret path, just most tourists are not aware of it yet and end up wasting hours of their precious time waiting for the lift. But do go to the entrance to take a picture of the lift. It is indeed one of a kind.
5. Wander in the Alfama District of Lisbon
Wandering around the streets of Alfama is one of the best things to do in Lisbon. This area is fairly steep and consists of many uphill alleys and staircases. Just walk around gazing at all those colorful buildings and quirky street art. Make sure to have some lip-smacking Pastel de nata while there (it should cost you around €2).
Get your perfect insta pic! The alleys are absolutely picturesque with all the multicolored buildings and cute little yellow trams running in the background. Another best way to explore Alfama, if you are afraid to get lost or you don’t have enough time, is to go on a walking tour. Walking tours should take around 2 hours, and you can also learn about the history of the place. There are also E-bike tours around the area if you prefer to avoid walking.
Miradouro das Portas do Sol
While you are already in Alfama, make sure to visit one of the best viewpoints in Alfama. The Miradouro das Portas do Sol and Miradouro de Santa Luzia are very close to each other. You can get stunning views of the rooftops of Alfama tapering down to the coast. You could also see cruise ships docked up close.
If you are visiting Alfama by tram (Keep reading to know more about Trams and specifically the famous Tram 28 which comes later in this post), you will get down right next to Miradouro das Portas do Sol. The Miradouro de Santa Luzia is a little walk from here, where you can see similar views but still worth checking out.
This is also the place you see in many postcards featuring a tram passing with a red-colored building behind. It is also on the route of the historic Tram 28.
Safety Tip! Due to the popularity of the place and incoming tourists from the cruise ships, it could get really crowded during the day, mainly after 10 AM. Be wary of pickpockets, keep an eye on your bags at all times, and wear them in the front while standing inside a tram. Try to also stay away from the people on the roads trying to sell you some random stuff.
During my trip, it was pouring heavily when I visited Alfama, which also later became a blessing in disguise (I will tell you later in this post). The roads were free from crowds, and we decided to watch the trams pass by from a cafe in front of the viewpoint until the rains slowed down.
6. Go on a Tram Ride in Lisbon (Not Necessarily Tram 28)
Riding on a classic Lisbon Remodelado tram is one of the must-do activities in Lisbon. Suppose you ask me, “It is just a tram and is available in many European Cities. What is so special about this one?” then yes. In that case, many cities have trams, but not the ones that are in Lisbon. These insanely cute and quaint-looking yellow trams still retain many of the original features from the 1930s. With the polished wood interiors and brass dials, riding in one such tram was truly a ride back in time. They look like something from right out of the museum.
I took tons of pictures climbing up and down these beauties. (I know it’s a tourist cliche thing to do, but I couldn’t stop myself from doing them.)
Is a Tram Ride in Lisbon Worth It?
Here is a major ‘But’ towards riding a tram. The tram ride is mostly about enjoying the experience. It is not about standing in never-ending queues for hours together only to get squished inside the small tram, trying to take a peek at the beautiful route passing by. These crowded tourist-filled trams also attract pickpockets the most. (It would be a nightmare to lose something in a new place!)
I think by now you would have already guessed that I am talking about the very famous Tram 28. There is nothing extraordinary about Tram 28 in itself. It is mainly about the route. It passes through most of the city’s historic districts, thus giving its passengers a scenic tour.
If you are early and lucky enough to ride sitting in one without standing in a huge line, it is absolutely worth it. But I wouldn’t recommend wasting your time by standing in the queue. You may not enjoy the beauty of the place by standing in an overcrowded tram.
If you are riding through the complete route of Tram 28, you might have to walk your way back for a certain distance before finding another bus or tram. I suggest getting down at the Basilica da Estrela from where you can easily get back.
Tip! Instead of taking Tram 28, you could hop on Tram 12 at Martim Moniz Plaza at Baixa, right behind the stop from where Tram 28 starts. Tram 12 goes on a clockwise loop of east Lisbon, and it is far less crowded than Tram 28. It also shares the route with Tram 28 for a brief part through the Alfama and downhill past the cathedral. You could hop off at one of these places, explore Alfama, and get back on the same tram (or even tram 28 while it returns to M. Moniz when it apparently has less crowd).
Other Alternatives for Lisbon’s Tram 28
Tram 24 is another good alternative to enjoy a peaceful tram ride in Lisbon. It runs from Praça Luis de Camoes to Campolide.
Psst! If you want to take pictures like the ones you see on Pinterest, you should walk along the path of Tram 28. I enjoyed tram-watching in Alfama (if that’s even a thing). The trams rattling through the historical destinations are a sight to soak in.
As I already mentioned, there was a crazy downpour when we visited Alfama. We had already decided not to take Tram 28 (for all the obvious reasons) and to take Tram 12 or a different option. After two whole hours of tram watching (at this point, it became more like staring at them desperately waiting for the rains to stop), we decided to hop back on the Tram 12 from Portas do Sol, where we completed the entire loop back to M. Moniz.
While we were waiting at the stop hiding from the rain, we noticed a Tram 28 in the other direction on its way back, heading towards M. Moniz. There was quite some crowd waiting to board, and to our surprise, we saw two other Tram 28s back to back and no sign of Tram 12 in our direction.
A Sign From the Universe?
We quickly changed our plans and thought of heading back to M. Moniz and felt that it was a sign from the universe not to ignore the Tram 28 (it’s an overstatement, we just went with the flow). It took some time to reach M. Moniz as Tram 28 took a longer route than Tram 12, so we sat back and enjoyed the views. It was a bumpy ride through the sharp turns and the spontaneous brakes, making screeching sounds as we climbed the steep roads. The ride was fun, and then we got down.
Advice! Please do not ask the driver if you can continue riding the tram for the next trip. The answer is NO, you cannot as there is a big queue of people waiting to board.
The driver took a break before his next ride, and there were two empty trams ready to start their trip, while at a distance, we could see people boarding another one. I shamelessly used the empty tram that was taking a break before its journey to click my pictures. (This is like Instagram vs. reality, you folks. By seeing the picture, you would not know how much of a struggle it is to actually get into one.)
Yay, Tram 28!
After my brief photo session with the tram, we decided to leave for our next destination. At that time, we saw that due to the rain, there weren’t enough people to fill the third tram (my model), and we actually ended up taking the Tram 28 with a nice seat by the window. (Phew! Do you see the blessing in disguise?)
To be honest, it was indeed quite a beautiful journey (the feeling of sour grapes is not so sour anymore). But I still stand by my opinion: do not wait for hours in the queue and grab the opportunity if you get lucky like me.
We got down at the Basilica of Estrela, which is a nice place to see, and continued exploring the rest of the city.
Tickets, please! If you don’t have a Lisboa Card, a one-way ride on a tram could cost you €3. And a 24-hour bus, tram, and metro ticket would only cost you €6.45. (It doesn’t make much sense, though!)
7. Visit the Se de Lisboa (Lisbon Cathedral)
The cathedral of Saint Mary Major is one of the iconic places to visit. It does not exhibit the grandeur that most of the other major European Cathedrals, but it is still worth visiting. The cathedral has stood its ground through many earthquakes, including the major one that destroyed the Royal Palace. It has been through multiple renovations over time, resulting in the mixed architecture style that it showcases.
If you don’t have much time, I suggest seeing the cathedral from the outside. It could also be a fantastic spot for capturing pictures of Tram 28s traveling downhill from the cathedral. It could almost look as if the tram was coming out of the cathedral.
8. Marvel at the Jerónimos Monastery
The Jerónimos monastery, which is called the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Portuguese (Heironymites Monastery) is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites. This monastery is an architectural marvel of the 16th century built to commemorate the return of Vasco da Gama from India. This monument is one of the must-see places in Lisbon (Highly recommend!).
The building looks massive from the outside. You need to take a step back to fully admire the stunning Portuguese Gothic architecture. Not just the exterior, but this place also has a surreal interior, which could be better appreciated if you are lucky enough to take a stroll in their beautiful corridors alone. (which is not very easy as it is always bustling with tourists).
Best Time of the Day to Visit Jerónimos Monastery
The best time to enjoy the place is as soon as it opens (which means you gotta get there before the opening time) or right before the closing time when the crowd is usually comparatively less. We got super lucky to escape the crowd as it was raining crazily all morning. It had just stopped a little before we reached the place, due to which there was surprisingly less number of people, and we walked straight in without a sight of a queue. We were there an hour before the closing time.
Make sure to purchase your tickets online. You are still required to collect the tickets from the entrance. So ensure you are in the correct queue.
Tip! The Lisboa Card gets you free entrance to the place, but you still have to scan your card at the machine to get your tickets. For others, I would suggest getting the combi ticket for Belem Tower and the monastery preferably at the Belém Tower if you are visiting in the morning or in the monastery if you are visiting close to sunset.
How to Reach Jerónimos Monastery?
The Tram 15 is the best option. There are many bus options as well.
9. Admire the Views From Belém Tower
Torre de Belém is a 16th-century monument, which was then constructed to act as a gateway to Lisbon and to defend the city from any attacks from the Tagus river. It is also located very close to the Jerónimos monastery.
Interesting to know! The tower was said to have been built on an island on the river Tagus, which is believed to have moved closer to the shore after the massive earthquake of 1755 (there is no evidence to confirm this theory, though).
Best Time of the Day to Visit Belém Tower
This is an excellent place to watch the sunset. You could go climb the tower and see the place from inside. It is free when you have a Lisboa Card. You still have to scan your card at the entrance. The entry for the tower is €6, but you could also combine it with the Jerónimos Monastery ticket.
Suggestion! If the tower is too crowded, I suggest you skip climbing the tower. The best view is from the outside. The first layer of the tower has an open viewing area facing the Tagus river. It is a lovely sight to the eyes if there is not much crowd or it could become too suffocating, especially during summers.
The Belém tower is open an extra 30 minutes more than Jerónimos during the fall and winter, so you could visit this close to the sunset. It is a fantastic picture spot when the sky turns orange.
How to Reach Belém Tower?
The Tram 15 is the best option. There are many bus options as well. It is a short 10-minute walk from where the tram stops. You should walk down an alley towards the coast and cross a skywalk. You can capture great pictures of the tower from the skywalk.
10. Explore the Rossio Square of Lisbon
The Rossio square, originally called the Don Pedro IV square, is located in the heart of downtown Lisbon. It has been one of the most famous squares since the middle ages.
You can notice that the square has interesting wave-patterned pavements. Not just the square, the sidewalks around this area have various beautiful patterns made of small tiles. The square becomes lit with Christmas decorations starting in late November.
Don’t forget to check out The Fantastic World of the Portuguese Sardines. It is a bright-colored circus-themed sardine shop (interesting, isn’t it?) located on the corner of Rossio Square. It is very hard to miss, so you will know when you see it. The shop has canned sardines with different designs and a year printed on them. It could be a unique souvenir you could take home for your loved ones.
The Rossio train station next to the square looks stunning at night. I got some major Hogwarts vibe from it (I guess that’s just me).
11. Climb the Towers of Saint George’s Castle (Castelo de São Jorge)
Saint George’s Castle is an important landmark of ancient Lisbon city. Although the castle took a massive hit from the 1755 earthquake, it was later restored around the 1940s to showcase the remains of the Moorish construction. It is a beautiful place to enjoy a breathtaking view of downtown Lisbon. As for any castle, it involves some climbing to get to the top. You can climb around ten towers to see some great views.
Tip! Do wear practical shoes suited for walking and climbing stairs.
The view is more impressive than the castle itself, so I recommend skipping this one and visiting the Moorish castle in Sintra if you are short of time. However, this castle is visible from the city for you to enjoy a glimpse of it if you have skipped it.
How to Reach Saint George’s Castle?
If you are a fan of walking up the steep roads of the city, then you could take a walk from downtown up the tram roads past the cathedral. But if you are exhausted just by glaring up the streets like me, you could take the bus 737 and ride up to the castle gate from Praça de Figueira. Alternatively, you could take trams 28 or 12 to Portas Sol. From there, it is just a short walk. Your Lisboa card will come in pretty handy for all these commutes through buses and trams.
Entry! Unfortunately, the entry is not included in the Lisboa Card. The fee for adults is €10. There is a reduced price for youth and seniors, but a valid ID card must be shown to avail of them. Entry is free for children under 12 years. I recommend getting the skip-the-line tickets online for your visit, as it could have huge lines due to its popularity among tourists.
So these are some of my must-see places in Lisbon for a short trip of two to three days. But I will also include another post soon with more places to enjoy for a more extended visit. This city has a lot of experience to offer, and to thoroughly enjoy the place, you will need at least 8 to 10 days.
I visited Lisbon in fall, so I have written about the important things to pack for a fall season trip. I have also compiled some useful information to know before you visit Lisbon. Don’t forget to read them!