Home Destinations How Much Time Should You Spend in Lisbon?

How Much Time Should You Spend in Lisbon?

written by Stephanie Mikkelsen September 5, 2019
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Lisbon is having a moment. Rightfully so, as the Portuguese capital as for too long flown under the hot-spot radar of holidaymakers planning their European travels. But with Portugal well and truly cemented as one of the most newly popular destinations for Australian travellers, Lisbon is finally getting the spotlight this magnificent city deserves. But as with making any travel plans, one of the biggest questions that comes with organising your holiday in Portugal is, ‘How long to stay in Lisbon?’

The answer? However long you like – or however long your annual leave allowance, budget and other travel plans will allow. That said, it always helps to have a guideline on how much time can be devoted to devouring custard tarts, listening to Fado performances and ambling between the city’s prettiest neighbourhoods.

Get an idea of what you can see in Lisbon with one day, two days and a five-day itinerary with the ideas below. And because how long you stay in Lisbon will also be swayed by what time of year you visit, we’ve also included the best time to visit Lisbon by season and traveller type.

When Is The Best Time to Visit Lisbon?

Forgive the cliché but, anytime. Lisbon is a city that has no bad angles, no bad lighting and no shortage of wonderful things to do, no matter what time of year you visit. Of course that’s not to say that certain times are year don’t trump others – it just depends on what you’re looking for. Much like other cities around Europe, the best time to visit Lisbon if you’re looking to avoid the throng of crowds that descend in the summertime are the shoulder seasons – March to May or September and October. Travelling during these months gets you the usual perks of shoulder seasons: fewer tourists, still pleasant weather, and the potential to snap up cheaper flights or hotel deals if planning far enough in advance.

The most cost-effective times of year are during winter, following the Christmas and New Year’s Eve festivities; think January or February.

The best time to visit Lisbon for those looking to log beach time is in July to September. The waters off the Portuguese coast take a while to warm up, so ocean swims before July may surprise visitors with the chillier temperatures.

Travellers who love throwing themselves into events, festivals and general merry-making will love the atmosphere of Lisbon in June. It is a month-long celebration throughout Portugal, known as Popular Saints’ Festivals, and Lisbon is the epicentre. Pop-up markets, food stalls and street parties take over the city, and the narrow and steep laneways are filled with cheery locals, music performances and tiny stands offering bifana (grilled pork in a crusty roll) and glasses of sangria for as little as two euros. The revelries peak around 12 and 13 June with parades and various other events.

Oenophiles wondering when to go to Lisbon may want to plan their trip around harvest season (usually September and October, depending on the year’s climate and the region).

Other dates to note as some of the best times to fly to Lisbon include February for Carnival; Holy Week in March and April; and spring and autumn for surfers wanting to test Lisbon’s breaks.

View from St. George’s Castle. Credit: Steve Gardner | CC BY 2.0

How Long to Stay in Lisbon?

Again, how much time you dedicate to your Lisbon itinerary entirely depends upon what you want to get out of the Portuguese capital. Are you wanting to keep to the big-name attractions, and are happy to see more next time you visit Lisbon? Or perhaps you’re keen to check out some of the major landmarks but also work in a couple of experiences and day trips into the itinerary mix.

You can definitely see parts of Lisbon in one day. But you cannot see it all. So, having one day to spend in Lisbon comes down to knowing what you want to see, setting an early alarm and making a beeline for attractions before the queues begin to build. To take in a bit more of what Lisbon has to offer, a stay of about 3 or 4 days is ideal. This means you can get to a majority of what Lisbon is famous for and maybe even sneak in an excursion to Sintra or Cascais. If you have ample time up your sleeve, a week in Lisbon promises the chance to see the big sights, head out on a day trip or two, and throw in some experiences – cooking classes, street food tours, Fado performances – for good measure.

Praça do Comercio. Credit: kuhnmi | CC BY 2.0

What To See in Lisbon in 1 Day

Okay. You have 24 hours to get as much of Lisbon under your belt as you can. The best way to start is by setting a (relatively) early alarm and heading out into the city. Head to Praça Martim Moniz as quick as you can. This is where to get tram 28 in Lisbon; the square is the starting point for this yellow-hued carriage and arriving at the stop early gives you the best chance of making it on-board without too long of a wait. The Lisbon 28 tram passes through the Graça, Alfama, Baixa and Estrela districts, giving passengers a scenic journey through some of the city’s most popular areas. The cost of the number 28 tram is about three euros per fare, though the city also has a 24-hour pass for around six hours that includes unlimited travel on all public transport. The downside of travelling aboard tram 28 is the crowds; it’s often packed tighter than the tins of sardines Lisbon is famous for. Another option is to walk the tram 28 route yourself, or try boarding the tram from its stop at the other end of the line, at Campo de Orique.

Tram 28. Credit: Megan Wong | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Take in the gorgeous views across the city’s famed terracotta roofs from St. George’s Castle. Getting to the castle by foot takes some huffing and puffing up a steep hill or two, and entry is ticketed, but there are marvellous lookout points once inside. Explore the walking trails, towers and castle walls, too. One of the best ways to while away a sunny afternoon in Lisbon – even if it’s your only one – is to simply wander. Walk down from the castle and get lost in the alleyways of Alfama and stumble upon striking street art murals and pretty photo ops. Roam the thoroughfares of Chiado and Baixa to peer into the window displays of bookshops, food stores and boutiques. Another area great for strolling is Cais do Sodre, where you can see Pink Street, Mercado de Lisboa and Praça de Sao Paolo, and soak up sea air along the promenade Ribeira das Naus. Cais do Sodre is also close to Praça do Comercio, perhaps the grandest of all plazas in Lisbon. Walk beneath Arco da Rua Augusta, snap a photo of the statue of Dom Jose I, and admire the view over the Tagus River.

So what about ideas on what to eat in Lisbon when you’re here for the day? Tick off one of Lisbon’s best experiences by grabbing a pastel de nata and coffee for your breakfast. The average cost of a pastel de nata should be about one euro, though these moreish tarts can be snaffled up from smaller bakeries in less-trod alleyways for as little as 80 euro cents!

Pastel de nata. Credit: Stijn Nieuwendijk | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A lunch that can be eaten on the go is perfect for travellers that don’t want to dawdle at a restaurant. Luckily, your options on what to eat in Lisbon are vast, varied and delicious. Grab a bifana and eat at a stand-up counter or sit down on a bench in a local square to people-watch as you eat. Some of the most popular places to find the best bifana in Lisbon are O Trevo, As Bifanas Do Afonso, O Triângulo da Ribeira, and Casa das Bifanas. A prego is the beef alternative to a bifana. Other things to eat in Lisbon that make for great on-the-go bites are pao com chouriço (chorizo in bread), pasteis de bacalhau (codfish fritters), croquets, or anything from the menu at a nearby tascas – tiny local restaurants found on almost every street.

Lisboans eat dinner late, and the city’s restaurants don’t really start to fill up until around 9pm. The exception are those cult status no-bookings-accepted eateries where you need to be at the door before opening just to add your name to the list. Even if you are faced with a one hour-plus wait for a table at any of Lisbon’s best restaurants, then simply find a nearby watering-hole and settle in with a glass of vinho verde (green wine) or a cocktail. Bairro Alto is the beating heart of Lisbon’s nightlife scene, and the district is wall-to-wall with bars, pubs and restaurants. Don’t be turned off by restaurants that also have menus in English – in Lisbon, that isn’t necessarily the yellow flag that is can be in other European cities. Ordering a selection of pestiscos (smaller grazing plates or bite-sized snacks) is a marvellous way to sample as many Portuguese flavours as possible. Popular pestiscos cover presunto (cured Iberian ham), flame-grilled sausage, octopus salad and deep-fried green beans. Just remember to not confuse pestiscos with its Spanish cousin, tapas.

What To See in Lisbon in 2 Days

Head to Praça do Comercio, where you can catch a number 15 or 127 tram and head to Belém. This district is home to some of the most recognisable things to see in Lisbon – Belém Tower, Jerónimos Monastery, and Monument to the Discoveries. Of course, when asking the question, ‘What is Lisbon famous for?’, one of the first answers is pastel de nata. And Belém was the birthplace of these morsels. Make a beeline for Pasteis de Belém . In the 1830s, the owners of this legendary pastry shop bought the original pastel de nata recipe from the nearby monastery’s monks. A pilgrimage to Pasteis de Belém is a non-negotiable for many and lines can be long. The reward of biting into flaky pastry and creamy custard filling makes any queue infinitely worthwhile. Other things to do in Belém are a scenic cruise along the Tagus River, meandering through Jardim Botanico Tropical, seeing Belém Palace, and savouring some locally-caught seafood.

Belém Tower. Credit: Poliuszko | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Return to the city and hop off at Cais do Sodro or Praça do Comercio. Walk up to the ruins of Largo do Carmo. Much of the convent, as well as major other sites throughout the city, was destroyed in the earthquake of 1755. Move to Elevador de Santa Justa (the upper entry is just across from the convent) and cross the walkway to the viewing platform. The lift was originally established to shuffle passengers from Baixa to the convent and as such, is included as being part of Lisbon’s public transport network. That means entry is included for those that purchase one of the city’s unlimited travel passes.

If you like museum-hopping while on holiday, some of the best museums in Lisbon are Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Museu do Oriente and Museu Nacional do Azulejo. Travellers who love exploring local markets have a treasure trove to discover in an afternoon or morning in Lisbon. Mercado de Ribeira is the largest in Lisbon and has a great fresh produce section, as well as the popular Time Out food hall. The hall, while mostly now frequented by tourists, is a handy place to go if you want to sample bites from some of the best eateries in Lisbon. And there also happens to be a Manteigaria outpost here – a bakery that make one of the best pastel de nata in Lisbon. Order a serve of grilled fish at Mercado 31 de Janeiro, pick up knick-knacks and pre-loved trinkets at Feira da Ladra, or seek out LX Factory on a Sunday for clothes, crafts and jewellery. Travellers in Lisbon throughout summer may also just happen upon pop-up markets and events on their wanderings.

Time Out Market Lisboa. Credit: Enrico Strocchi | CC BY-SA 2.0

What To See in Lisbon in 5 Days

A food tour of Lisbon is a brilliant amuse bouche as to what your tastebuds can expect of the city’s culinary offerings. Not only is it an introduction as to what to eat in Lisbon and foods to try in Lisbon, but strolling through the streets of Alfama, Bica or Chiado is a fantastic way to get your bearings. And these tours can help you discover those hole-in-the-wall eateries worthy of a return visit later on in your week. Those that want to get even more hands on with Portuguese cuisine might be swayed into booking a cooking class. Find classes run by professional chefs and passionate home cooks, and turn your hand to making everything from chorizo appetisers and salted cod, to the famous custard tarts. Prefer sipping and swilling to stirring and sauteeing? Learn about Portuguese wines with a tasting session or trip to some of the estates located around the city’s fringes.

Pena Palace. Credit: Naval S | CC BY 2.0

Head out of Lisbon’s city limits with a day trip to Sintra. Getting to Sintra from Lisbon couldn’t be easier: a train from Rossio in Lisbon will take you straight to the station in Sintra. Trains from Lisbon to Sintra run regularly throughout the day, plus there are some direct services. Those who have hired a car for their time in Lisbon can also drive to Sintra – it is about a 30-minute trip. Make straight for the entrance of Pena Palace upon arrival (this is best done in a taxi or tuk tuk) and spend the morning wandering its magnificent grounds and gardens. Then walk or take a car to Quinta da Regaleira to see the Gothic sights – towers, grottoes and the Initiation Wells – at this incredible park. Another of the popular things to see in Sintra is Castle of the Moors. Plus, an excursion to Sintra pairs beautifully with exploration of Cascais, a coastal resort destination known for its pretty centre, white-washed buildings, phenomenal beaches and stellar seafood restaurants.

Fonte de Telha. Credit: Moranguitta | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Don’t limit your Lisbon itinerary to just the north side of the city’s river; cross the Tagus to explore the south. An excursion over the 25th April Bridge (the longest suspension bridge in Europe), or on the ferry to Cacilhas from Cais do Sodre, is fantastic for travellers that want to see more than just the main attractions in Lisbon. There are two main towns on this side of the river: Almada and Cacilhas. The former is home to the Christo Rei monument, and the latter is where you will find some of Lisbon’s best seafood restaurants, easy access to the sands of Prais Fonte de Telha and Costa da Caparica, and the permanently docked Dom Fernando Il e Gloria, a 19th-century naval ship. Thinking of staying in the city and want to know what to do in Lisbon in one week? More day trips from Lisbon include to Evora, Batalha and to the Baroque palace in Mafra. Want to experience beaches near Lisbon? Seek out Sesimbra, Serra da Arrabida National Park, Troia and Estoril.

Ready to experience pastel de nata, Fado and all Lisbon has to offer for yourself? Book cheap flights to Lisbon with Webjet, as well as your Lisbon hotels or holiday packages.

Hero image: Lisbon. Credit: Julian Dik on Unsplash