Lisbon is the new kid in town and it’s been quickly becoming the coolest European city to visit. Besides, what’s a Portugal holiday without Lisbon, anyway? Here’s what I really thought of my 3 days in Lisbon itinerary…
The azulejo and pastel-drenched alleyways, the perfectly prepared and salted cod fish, the liveliness of city life without the hustle and bustle or crude concrete protruding on every corner, is mesmerizing and enthralling. The charm this city exudes is remarkable as most cities can’t be described as charming. Cities are meant to be chaotic, loud, and industrial looking but not Lisbon…
Lisbon is a lovely happy medium of city life and I fell in love the second I saw those hillsides adorned with whitewashed and orange rooftops strewn across beside the sea.
Lisbon, you’re fabulous. I have a major crush and I will surely be back to explore you some more.
With that said, all heart flutters and wide-eyed experiences can come with a few blows. Nothing totally major but there were a few flaws I wasn’t personally digging about Lisbon, but hey, that’s just me and I surely don’t expect anything or any place to be perfect.
You have nothing to worry about Lisbon, you’re still good in my book and I’ll see you soon (winky face).
5 Things I Loved About Lisbon and 3 Surprising Things I Didn’t
While I speak about what I loved and didn’t, my Portugal holidays around the city actually makes for a great 3 days in Lisbon. I list where I went within here so gathering those things to do in Lisbon into a little bundle makes for 3 wonderful days touring the city. You’ll be able to explore Barrio Alto, Alfama, and Sintra on three separate days (and a bit in between). I think the best time to visit Portugal is when I went, Spring. It’s not too busy and the cold weather has pretty much passed. Hopefully, this give you some insight about Lisbon’s attractions and some loves/dislikes about the city!
Things I Loved
OMG. I was afraid I wasn’t going to like the food because I thought it would be very “meat heavy,” and I don’t eat meat. Well, it kind of is, but they also love seafood and fish, which I eat! This is very exciting not only because I love food and need it to live (I’ve starved/eaten very unhealthy in some countries because of this which sucks) but it’s not that expensive when compared to some of the other countries in the area. Wooo! So my fav things?
- Bacalhau – Oh cod never tasted so good! Grilled or in a burger, I’d eat bacalhau (the Portuguese word for codfish) anytime. Order anytime you get a chance. Usually fish isn’t the cheapest thing on the menu, but here, I found that it was often at a very reasonable price. Dinner one night was bacalhau and I had it for only 7.50€. It came with a massive piece of fish, broccoli, chickpeas and onion, and some boiled potatoes. A feast!
- Seafood – Arroz de polvo (octopus rice) is to die for and feijoada de choco (cuttlefish and bean) it sounds wrong seafood and beans?! But it’s so delicious!
- Pastel de Nata (Pasteis de Nata)- Like are you trying to get me fat, Portugal!? Why! Why must this egg custard pastry be so good! I don’t even have a sweet tooth, and the beauty of it is, it’s very much a dessert but at the same time not too sweet.
- Sardine spread and olives – This starts off your meal right and, of course, comes with fresh bread as well. Who knew sardine spread would be delicious? I didn’t. FYI if this comes to your table without asking, it’s totally normal but also not normally free. Just so you know! It’s inexpensive so don’t be cheap and send it away, just be cool. Like a local. Ya know?
There’s more food to love of course, but these were my surprising favorites because I wasn’t too impressed when I first heard of them but after giving them all a try, I was pleasantly surprised. This food actually goes for all of Portugal as these dishes aren’t only offered in Lisbon.
For a funky and cool spot to go sightseeing and chow down, try LX Factory. My Airbnb was actually just next door to this spot!
Random note about dinner in Portugal:
They eat late. Like really late. Like 10 pm late! So yeah, while I’m sipping wine in bed these people are going out to dinner and starting their evening. I couldn’t hang because I’m a total grandma and I’d get hangry before 10 pm came around. I’m letting you know this because it’s pretty normal for locals to eat at this time and this is a good thing if you want to eat at a popular restaurant, it won’t be as busy at “normal eating hours.” This also means places open later.
We tried to eat at 6:30 pm (OMG I sound so lame right now but seriously, I didn’t eat lunch, so I wanted an early dinner, I sware I’m not THAT grandma) and the place told us to come back when they open at 7:30 pm. Yeah…
Lack of Skyscrapers and the Vibe
I never really noticed how much better a city’s vibe can be without skyscrapers. I love NYC and when I think of it, I think of massive tall buildings in every direction. It gives the city a certain flavor that I crave and love.
But I’ve now come to realize what a different vibe a city has without all the skyscrapers. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m not delusional, comparing Lisbon to NYC is like apples and oranges with their 6+ million or so population gap, however, I very much dig this type of city! I don’t think I’ve been to a (real) city without skyscrapers (Siem Reap, Vientiane, and the like don’t count, k?) for a very long time. I was in Europe briefly in 2008 during a time where I didn’t “get” travel as much as I do now, surely not at a time where I could fully appreciate places for what they are. As this, in my experience, is quite a “European thing” as opposed to the populous Asian capitals I’ve been roaming around fo the last few years.
I love being able to see everything around me without buildings blocking the way. I love being able to walk up a hill and gaze downwards without an office building in my face. I love being able to see the history on the walls and the streets and not be surrounded by the same concrete towers one after another.
The air is still fresh for a city, this isn’t a smoggy concrete jungle, the streets and alleyways are quiet and clean, it’s hip, it’s modern enough without going stale and being unoriginal. They buildings tell tales without words and the winding alleyways could write a book if they could use a pen and paper… It’s popular for some European capitals to be almost skyscraper-less but there’s something about Lisbon… I haven’t been to a city like it and I
like love it!
I made my own little Lisbon tour by walking about which fed my love for the vibe.
I freaking love viewpoints. Like it’s a must see in every place I go to if there is one. I love a nice view. At the end of the day, who doesn’t? Miradouros, or viewpoints, are everywhere in Lisbon. And you don’t need to go to the top of a skyscraper to see one! They are just randomly placed on a hillside overlooking the gorgeous city. There are at least 7 or so in the immediate area of the city. I went to Santa Catarina where they were having a little happy hour sunset party (awesome thing to stumble upon), Santa Luzia and Portas del Sol, and Senhora do Monte. Maybe another one or two and I didn’t catch the name, but an easy Google map search will show you where they are all located and I couldn’t get enough of them.
Oh, and they are FREE! The best Lisbon tour is walking around to all of these viewpoints!
I went on a tram once. Exactly once. I LOVE to walk about a city to get to know it and this city is very walkable. I think you’ve probably gathered that I loved walking this city on my own little DYI Lisbon tour. All of its main spots can be walked to. You will get a nice workout going up and down those hills too! I felt it in my thighs and glutes and I liked it! Lord knows I need to work out some more, so I thank Lisbon for its built in stair master.
The architecture is a work of art
Lisbon oozes character. Lisbon is like the sassy fashionable sister of the family. She’s sometimes quiet and seems modest but when she opens her mouth you KNOW it’s undeniably her. She struts her stuff with white washed buildings and tan roofs that cover her hillsides and then there are the “rebels” in between that are splashed in pastel or covered in a myriad of azulejos, or colorful tiles, that are worthy of marveling at. She easy to get around by foot but makes you work for it with her constant inclines and descents with uneven rocky cobblestones winding up the way.
The colors and the tiled buildings are a few of my favorite things of this charming city but the churches and unfinished relics are show stoppers. My absolutely favorite was the Carmo Convent. A medieval convent that was taken down by the 1755 earthquake and never fully rebuilt. The arches, details, and darkness that’s exuded from the remains are morbidly marvelous. (4€ entrance fee).
You’ll see ruins sprinkled throughout the city from the massive and cataclysmic earthquake that turned Lisbon into a pile of rubble. Despite the sadness of this event, the city has rebuilt a large portion but has kept some throughout that now make for a melancholy reminder yet provides that extra dash of character that makes this city’s enrapture so infectious.
The Se de Lisboa, Estrella Basilica, Belem Tower and more are all masterpieces that you should wander to. I’m in love with walking around the city and passing these structures of art. If you’re planning on a Portugal holiday, Lisbon will surely need to be a stop.
Things I Didn’t Love
Uh, why? This tram is a joke. I feel so bad for the locals so I’m going to speak out for them. Give it a rest, don’t ride this line.
Once upon a time, there was a tram line named tram 28 and it became the most famous tram in Lisbon. It’s a cute old school tram that glitters when the sun hits its yellow trim. It roams around the city and takes tourists to all the major landmarks. But people forget that this is also the tram that locals use to live their life and tourists are kinda ruining it because they are too lazy to walk or only want to do “the famous thing” rather than find an alternative when it’s painfully obvious this “Lisbon attraction” is too inundated.
There are other tram lines, metros, Ubers, and of course, the two feet we have been given that can be used to get to these same places. Not to mention people will likely not even get a seat on the tram and will have to stand. So yeah, walking doesn’t sound all that bad!
If the tram is not too busy (which is actually never unless it’s off season and you’re riding it during regular work hours) then go for it. Otherwise, avoid it like the plague. I have never seen lines so long to use a tram. Not even in NYC rush hour. Not in Beijing rush hour. Never anywhere in my life would I even think about waiting in a line that long for anything unless it was a free giveaway of a million dollars. Why, oh why would people do this to themselves. You can literally walk there faster and NOT have the experience of being a sardine. You eat sardines in Portugal, not become one.
How about just walking or if you’re desperate, taking an Uber. Let the locals live life and be able to use their tram system without 3859276040532 sweaty tourists surrounding them.
Which brings me to my next point…
Dammit. Lisbon is getting TOO trendy
Lison is getting too trendy for its own good. Don’t me wrong, I totally get it. Can you not tell that I’ve fallen for this city? But it’s gotten too trendy aka BUSY. I love that I came here during shoulder season, April. If I came just one month later, I can see now how much I would dislike Lisbon. Like literally be disgusted with how busy it gets.
If there are long lines for famous attractions during April I can’t image what it’s like during high season.
Lisbon is lovely but nothing is nice when you’re in long lines for literally everything and everything is crowded. Come to Lisbon during off or shoulder season. The high season looks and sounds miserable.
And again, speaking of which… Crowds were out of control at…
OMG. SHOCKING! Is this a mistake? Surely she placed Sintra under the “didn’t like” category by mistake, right?! There’s NO way she didn’t like Sintra… Excuse me, Nina, there must an error here…Please, fix it.
No, there’s no error here. I wasn’t the biggest fan after spending a day at Sintra. The city’s most popular attraction, the #1 thing to do around Lisbon, the easiest Lisbon tour to take for the day, the fairytale land that everyone talks about and raves about. The highlighted attraction of the goddamn country… I wasn’t the biggest fan of.
Don’t get me wrong, Sintra was beautiful. The town was cute as a button from what I saw and it had everything I liked about Lisbon just on a smaller scale. The castles were like a fairytale, gorgeous, opulent, well kept, vibrant, and overall as advertised in the pictures and the stories people have told me.
But nothing can prepare you for the touristiness of this place. Again, I’m here in SHOULDER season. My fav time to travel to places so I don’t have to be in massive crowds yet still have nice weather. And to be fair, when we first got to Pena Palace, the most famous landmark of them all, it wasn’t THAT bad. But by the time I was leaving to the next place, there were too many people. The crowd doubled, possibly tripled.
And the entrance fees… It was 14€ to get into Pena Palace. another 3€ for the audio guide, and if we wanted the bus up the hill which was a 15-minute walk up hill (we didn’t) it was another 3.50€! That was JUST this palace. There are about eight castles/palaces and attractions in the area to see. Each having their own cost associated with it.
Think you can walk to all these spots? HA! Not really. It would take days to see every place if you walked to all of them. There’s only one measly road in the “popular” area near Pena and the Moorish Castle.
That’s not including the 25€ to go from Lisbon to Sintra and then the same amount to get back.
TIP: The tourist’s buses are a total rip off, you’d be better off walking in the areas that you can (like Pena to the Moorish castle is very close) but when you want to go to another area, just order an Uber. It’s way cheaper when you have a friend or two split it with as opposed to 5€ each everywhere.
Is Sintra an awful place? Hell no, it’s beautiful. I understand why it’s popular. And to be fair, I knew it was going to be busy and popular. I just wasn’t prepared for how busy, how truly expensive, and how spread out and the need for transportation was.
Would I recommend going? Eh, I mean, would you not go if I told you to? Probably not. It’s recommended by everyone, it’s gorgeous, and you’ll probably go anyway. Just know it’s not a fairytale anymore when you add 35947392 other people in the same place trying to get the same pictures etc…
Is the history cool? Yes and no. It seems refurbed a lot, I didn’t even bother going totally inside Pena, for example, because the line was long (this is the line after you’ve already waited in line to get your tickets, you’re inside the castle grounds, just not indoors) and you’re going through to look at room of a palace, with gates blocking you from actually going in the rooms, you’re literally in line to see rich people’s furniture. Eh.
Should I skip it? Do what you want, you’ve been warned. I would never deter anyone from seeing anything because it’s your choice. I just didn’t see that much of an appeal compared to the cost and touristiness ratio. This is pretty much the most popular of places to see in Lisbon since it’s so close and so beautiful so you’ll have a tough decision to make.
What about winter? I haven’t been in winter, but I’d assume it would be the least busy at this time! This might actually be a good time to go for the least amount of people and the entrance fees will have a (very) small discount.
3 days in Lisbon
I spent about five days in the city but narrowed my things to do in the city into a compact 3 days in Lisbon because I think more people have a limited amount of time, or maybe you work online like I do and have to work some days? If you have extra time, that’s awesome, there’s plenty more to see! But as mention, I’d explore the three main areas. Barrio Alto the first day, Alfama the second, and if you want to try it, go Lisbon to Sintra on your third day and see what you make of it.
For some alternatives, should you have more than 3 days in Lisbon, I’d look into going to the famous beach resort area, Cascais or looking into some of the other local beaches. Some of the best beaches in Lisbon are said to be: Praia da Fonte da Telha, Praia do Meco, Portinho da Arrábida, Praia da Comporta.
Random tips and hidden gems in Lisbon:
- Hotel Mundial offers a view of São Jorge Castle, the famous castle and one of the most popular places to see in Lisbon. Well, I guess I’m a rule breaker because I didn’t see it like everyone else did. I saw it from Hotel Mundial and a few other view points like Miradouro da Senhora for FREE and without waiting in the absolutely RIDICULOUSLY long line and exorbitant 8.50€. I win!
- Behind the restaurant, Palacio Belmonte, and near São Jorge Castle is this very random and awesome “art installation” that consists of a man collecting garbage and making it into art. I find these types of things intriguing and weird and I was digging it! It’s old ruins from the earthquake with graffiti and random things placed in it to make art, I loved it, go stumble upon it while roaming the streets.
- Outside Casa Liege restaurant there’s a tram stop. As in the tracks end and the tram has to stop for the driver to take a break. This leaves the tram car totally empty and available for an…. EPIC PHOTO OPPORTUNITY. It’s on the top of a hill overlooking a colorful street with the water in the distance. I was pretty happy with this find, happy photo hunting for this one! Make sure to shoot me a message if you get a pic here. I’d love to see it. 🙂
- Cathedral de Estrella has a park with a bathroom. The churches and or parks near them usually have bathrooms… So if you walk around all day like I do, this is a good thing to know!
- Oh, speaking of walking, in case you haven’t gathered yet, I freaking love walking around cities and getting lost and that’s what I recommend you do. If I didn’t walk around and just took a tram to all the major tourist spots, I would have probably had a less cool time here. Get your go-to walking shoes on and get moving. You’ll be surprised what you stumble upon and many of the things I loved most were accidental finds.
- Miradouro da Senhora is a very busy viewpoint compared to the others I went to. It wasn’t that bad when I was there but there were still many tuk-tuk around, I was actually quite surprised! If you’re in summer and that viewpoint is totally inundated with people if you walk back down the hill and just at the corner of Calcada do Monte and Donecento Monteiro streets is a “viewpoint” that I kinda found. You get pretty much the same view with virtually no people! Yay, we win! You get views of São Jorge Castle, Cristo Rey, and the bridge!
- Love dogs? Me too. Which is why I was happy to stumble upon Jardin Cerca de Graca. Have a drink here and play with other people’s dogs if you’re not creepy about it.
- Have a drink in public. No, really, it’s totally cool. OK, I’m not saying be lush and walk through the streets wasted with a beer in hand, PLEASE DON’T DO THIS. But most of the big squares and gardens around Lisbon have mini kiosks that serve snacks and alcoholic beverages. How amazing is that?
- Be like a local and drink a shot of port after your meal (hello, PORTugal) but be careful of Medronho, another after dinner shot the locals like. It’s essentially liquid fire in my opinion. EKKK!
- Get.Lost. No, not like that, you’re encouraged to stay on the blog! I mean get lost in the city. It’s the best way to see it.
Overall I LOVED Lisbon. I can’t say enough good things about it. I think it’s one of my fav European cities now, just not in high season. But that’s everywhere, right? In fact, I’m pretty sure because of my epic trips to Portugal that it just skyrocketed to a spot on my top three fav European countries! Portugal is fabulous and I love it to pieces. I’m planning my next visit already!
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Nina Ragusa is an adventurer, messy bun master, breakfast fan, and full-time travel blogger. She’s been abroad since 2011 and blogging on Where in the World is Nina? for nearly as long. Nina helps people like you move around the world while making money. She loves talking about how to work abroad and online to travel longer!