Europe, Eurovision, Travel

An Itinerary for Lisbon – DIY Travel Tips and Ideas

A DIY Itinerary for Lisbon

Planning a trip to Lisbon?  You’ve made an excellent choice. Lisbon is one of Europe’s most visited cities. And for good reason. The city has a casual blend of historic charm and cosmopolitan lifestyle that keeps visitors coming back for more. Here I will share my top tips for visiting Lisbon. Use these tips as the building blocks to create your own itinerary for Lisbon.

It’s entirely up to use which blocks you chose and you are in complete control of this itinerary. However I’d suggest that you prioritise the attractions that make you feel the most excited. This will help you get the most out of your Lisbon itinerary. Don’t forget to make time to relax if you need it.

View over the rooftops of Lisbon

Where is Lisbon and how do I get there?

Before I dive into your a Lisbon itinerary, lets talk logistics.

Perched on the west coast of Portugal, Lisbon is between the Atlantic Ocean and the mouth of the River Tagus. It’s Europe’s most westerly capital city and the only European capital on the Atlantic ocean. Thanks Wikipedia.

Lisbon has very good transportation links.

By Air

Airlines fly to Lisbon from across the globe. Start your Portuguese experience early by flying with TAP, Portugal’s national airline. Search with  Skyscanner to make sure you’re getting the best deal on flights.

By Rail

Lisbon is well connected by rail with good links to France and Spain. Via the Eurostar there is also a connection to the UK. More information at Rail Europe.

By Boat

You can now visit Lisbon by boat and Lisbon is a popular port of call for many European cruise ships. That being said, most cruises don’t offer very long in the capital. There’s a lot to do in Lisbon so I’d recommend visiting Lisbon separately.

When is the best time to visit?

Portugal has a mild to warm climate throughout the year. For the best weather, visit Lisbon between May and September. During the months of July and August the city can get very busy. Therefore aim for May-June or September to get the best of both worlds.

In a separate blog, I advocate combining travel with Eurovision, this was what sparked our trip to Lisbon. However, don’t hold your breath for Eurovision to return to Lisbon in the coming years.

Eurovision Logos in Lisbon, Portugal

Your DIY Lisbon Itinerary

The Basics

These are the staples of most Lisbon itineraries. Therefore, use these as the basis of your plans.

Alfama District

Starting our Lisbon Itinerary in Alfama

Add Alfama to your Lisbon itinerary. This is one of Lisbon’s most popular and picturesque neighbourhoods.

Alfama is the beating heart of historic Lisbon, stretching from the Castle Sao Jorge to the River Tagus. This area was formerly the entire city of Lisbon. The city has since spread from this original hub.
The neighbourhood has maintained much of its charm. Here you will find narrow, winding streets and washing lines between buildings. The streets are complimented beautifully by traditional Portuguese tiles which add to the rusticity of Alfama. The area is also home to many of the city’s historic attractions.
The area is very popular with tourists and can become crowded at times. There are also a lot of cheap souvenir shops here. however, if you look past this you will find quaint local restaurants and independent cafes, many of which feature live Fado music. 
If you decide to visit Alfama, these sites are well worth a visit.

Castelo São Jorge

Castelo Sao Jorge, Lisbon

Lisbon’s medieval fortress and former royal residence. Dating from the 8th century, the castle is played a huge role in the city’s history. The Castelo São Jorge is open to the public 7 days a week and guided tours are available. That being said, getting up the hill can sap your energy so do this in the morning.

Miradouro de Santa Luzia

Come here for stunning panoramic views over the city of Lisbon. The terrace also includes murals depicting the history of Lisbon. Better yet, it’s completely free of charge.

Sé de Lisboa

Lisbon’s Cathedral and the oldest surviving church in Lisbon. Known locally by the shortened version, Sé. The building originates from the 1100s but now has a mix of architectural styles. The cathedral is home to Roman, Arabic and Medieval remains and the treasury host relics from Lisbon’s rich history.

Lisbon Cathedral

The Church of Santa Engracia

Not actually a church, this building was converted into a national pantheon. It is the resting place of former presidents of Portugal.

A view over the rooftops of Alfama, Lisbon

The Monastery of São Vicente de Fora

An important monastery and one of the finest examples of mannerist architecture in Portugal. The monastery is also the resting place for the Portuguese monarchy.

Baixa

Add Baixa to your itinerary for Lisbon

Baixa is the historic commercial centre of Lisbon. Head here for beautiful architecture and stunning public squares.

After being completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1755, the area was redesigned in a neo-classical style. Therefore Baixa offers a very different flavour to Alfama, despite being close in proximity.

Baixa has a bustling atmosphere and is home to tree-lined boulevards, beautiful plazas and pedestrianised shopping avenues.

If Baixa is on the list for your Lisbon Itinerary, make sure you visit the following:

Praça do Comércio

Birdseye view over Praca Do Commercio

This is Baixa’s focal point. The square was previous home to a royal palace. The redesign of Baixa transformed the palace into an open square of maritime trade, with easy access to the river Tagus from the south. The square has maintained much of its grandeur although customs houses have been replaced by bars and restaurants.

In the centre of the square you will find a statue of Joseph I, the King of Portugal at the time of the earthquake.

Statue in Praca do Commercio being filmed by a drone

Arco Rua Augusta

This elegant arch stands on the north side of Praça do Comércio. The arch commemorates the rebirth of Lisbon following the earthquake in 1755. You can also climb the arch for views across Praça do Comércio and the Baixa district. From here, head up the Rua Augusta which is one of the city’s most popular shopping strips. 

Arco Rua Augusta, Lisbon

Elevador de Santa Justa

Built in 1901, this elevator connects Baixa to the Bairro Alto district. At 45m high, the elevator’s summit offers a kiosk as well as panoramic views across the city including great views of Alfama. The elevator is now a tourist attraction in its own right. A return ticket will cost approximately 5 Euros.

Elevador Santa Justa, Lisbon Itinerary

Belém

Located 6km away from the city centre, a short train journey will take you to Belém, which is Portuguese for Bethlehem. Belem is famous for three main reasons: exploration, religion and pastry. 

The Portuguese empire reached it’s height in the 16th century. Much of this legacy can be linked with Belém. Located at the mouth of the River Tagus, the shipyards in Belem were the starting point for Portuguese explorers. Much has changed since then, however reminders of Belem’s maritime legacy remain.

The Padrão dos Descobrimentos

This is a towering effigy to prominent figures from Portuguese naval history including explorers and financiers. The sculpture leans towards the River Tagus like the prow of a ship.

Padrao Dos Descobrimentos, Lisbon

The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos

Built as a church for the explorers based within the Belém area. The building’s construction was funded by a tax on the spices arriving into the nearby port and is a great example of late gothic architecture in Portugal. The monastery now hosts two museums, including the Museu de Marinha, where you can find out more about Lisbon’s naval heritage.

Torre de Belém

Once a fortification to protect Lisbon from attack, the Tower of Belem is now one of the cities most iconic attractions.

Torre de Belem, One of Lisbon's most iconic sites

Pastéis de Nata

Lisbon is famous for it’s custard tarts, or Pastéis de Nata. The recipe for this sugary treat originates in Belem, close the Mosteiro do Jerónimos. Today, Pastéis de Belem continue to create custards tarts following the secret recipe from the monastery. These are available throughout the city, come to Belém for the original.

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The Deeper Cuts

These attractions are less popular with visitors to Lisbon but are still worthy of being included within your Lisbon Itinerary. Here are some top tips to continue building your itinerary.

Avenida Da Liberdade

This beautiful boulevard stretches from Restauradores Square in the South to Marque do Pombal in the North. The avenue has blend of high end fashion stores, hotels and independent cafes. This a great place to grab a coffee and a Pasteis de Nata. On weekends the Avenue doubles up as an art and antiques market which is worthy of a visit on a quiet Sunday morning.

Eduardo VII Park

Directly north of Avenida Da Liberdade, you can find Eduardo VII Park, named after the British monarch in 1902. Today the park is an area for relaxation and is beautifully landscaped. At the northern end of the park you can visit the world’s largest Portuguese flag which flutters proudly over stunning views of Lisbon.

Eduardo

Principe Real

The area surrounding Jardim do Principe Real is quickly becoming recognized as one of Lisbon’s trendier, quirkier neighborhoods  It’s a great place for some time away from the tourist trail and to spend an afternoon browsing concept stores and fashionable eateries. Embaixada is a good starting point and is a collection of boutique stores housed inside a converted Moorish palace. On Saturday, you can also find a small market inside the Jardim do Principe Real which sells everything from vegetables to stylish art prints. We picked up a couple of monochrome prints from the artist at this market.

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TimeOut Market Lisboa

This is one of Lisbon’s oldest and busiest food markets offering a mixture between vegetable stalls, street food and deli counters. There is a huge range of food available making this a great place to eat, drink and soak up the atmosphere. However, the market is popular and can get extremely busy. Therefore, visit at lunch times tend if you’d like to avoid crowding.

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Parques Das Nações

A trendy and modern neighbourhood built for Expo 98 is now popular with locals and tourists alike. Built on derelict industrial land, the Parque das Nações is now home to corporate headquarters as well some of the most expensive flats in Lisbon. Visit here for landscaped gardens, chic postmodern public art and stroll along the estuary footpath.

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Next Steps

Continue your Lisbon itinerary with a trip outside the city. Lisbon is also a great starting point for an onward journey.

The Portuguese Riviera

A short train journey west of Lisbon brings you to the towns of Cascais, Estoril and Sintra. The region attracts Europe’s royals, rich and famous to it’s luxury beachside resorts. Don’t let that discourage you, the resorts are very accessible for all types of visitor. Visit here for time away from the city and for a relaxing time by the ocean.

Find out more about my trip to Cascais here.

The Lighthouse at Cascais

Faro

Located in the south of Portugal, Faro is the historic capital of the Algarve. Faro is a great starting point when discovering the south coast which is littered with quiet beach resorts. Faro is best visited by Bus or car as there are no direct trains.

A street view in Faro, Portugal

Porto

A train to Portugal’s second city only takes 3 hours and is a perfect way to extend your city break to include another city. Porto is home to the port wine cellars, some of which you can visit. The city embodies all the charm of Lisbon, but a much smaller number of tourists. If you do visit Porto, a river trip up the Douro is a must. 

A night view in Porto, Portugal

Cape Verde

Although not close in proximity to Lisbon, the Cape Verde islands were part of Portugal until 1975. As a consequence, Lisbon has regular flight connections to Cape Verde, making Lisbon a great starting point for trips to the islands. Tourism is just beginning to discover these islands so visit them now before they become overly commercialised.

Cape Verde, Not on your Lisbon Itinerary but

Getting Around Lisbon

I loved the Lisbon Metro system. It was extremely easy to navigate, and we used it on several occasions during our visit. The Metro is exceptionally clean which is always a bonus. I always recommend that travelers take a private transfer from the airport to the hotel upon arrival. Travelling can be stressful enough without having to navigate a foreign transport system after a flight. However, we were confident enough at the end of our trip to find our own way back to the airport using public transport which isn’t something I can say for every city we’ve visited.

Where to stay

We stayed at the Sofitel Liberdade which on the Avenida Da Liberdade. The rooms are modern and stylish, and the facilities are good. The neighborhood is quiet, but still walking distance from the city’s main attractions. There is also a Metro station across the road from the hotel which made navigating the city very easy.
The Hotel Jupiter also came highly recommended from other travellers we spoke with, although it is located further from the city centre.
As with all cities, Lisbon is a large city with many suburbs. Some hotels listed as being in Lisbon may be far from the city’s attractions. However, Alfama and Baixa are a good point of reference. In other words, any hotel within proximity to these areas is well located. That being said, the metro service in Lisbon in excellent so look out for hotels close to a metro station.

Further Reading

Your DIY Lisbon Itinerary

Thanks for reading the blog – let me know what you think the comments below. I’d be keen to hear your recommendations for Lisbon.

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