From the average 300 days of sunshine that Lisbon gets per year, to the rambunctious markets, historic architecture, emerging culinary scene and notorious nightlife - the capital city of Portugal is one not to miss out on, and to find yourself coming back to over and over again.
What’s even more under the radar to a lot of travellers are the adventures you can have surrounding Lisbon. This region - from Sintra, Berlenga Island to Arrabida Natural Park makes tantalizing day trips for anyone looking to get out in nature, mix things up from the city breaks, and soak up why this corner of Portugal is truly like a daydream.
Know Before You Go
A long favourite city getaway for Europeans during the winter and summer - Lisbon and the surrounding area seems to be perfect for a holiday any time of the year.
- No wonder why! During the winter months from November to February, Lisbon has the mildest winter out of any major European city, ranging between 8 and 10 °C - and that’s the lowest at night. For those sun-seekers during the usual grey European winters, Lisbon is the perfect place to be - with an average of 9 hours of sunlight in the winter.
- During the summer months from June to August, the temperature rises up to an average of 28 until it cools down in late September. This makes the beaches in Lisbon and the surrounding perfect for swimming for many months through to autumn.
- The shoulder season in Lisbon and the surrounding areas ranges from a balmy 18 °C to 22 °C. These months from March - May and from September to early November, makes a great time to explore the capital of Portugal without the large amount of crowds during the summer.
Day 1 - Lisbon: exploring Baixa, Chiado and Alfama neighbourhoods
Built on 7 hills by the Tagus River, wherever you are in Lisbon, it’ll always feel like there’s a view. That’s because your eyes will marvel at sights like the city’s matching orange tile rooftops, sweeping grand cathedrals or the colourful tiled art buildings - a true visual feast of a city.
Start your Lisbon trip off at Parque Eduardo VII, where if you stand at the very top of the well-manicured lawn, you’ll have a pretty good first impression of what the city is. The view looks over the Tagus River, and the many buildings perched on the hills of Lisbon. While you’re at the park, be sure to explore the Estufa Fria, an immaculate greenhouse that has an array of ponds, and various gardens that are filled with diverse flora and fauna.
From here you can either continue walking or biking down to Rossio Square, which is the heart of the capital city. Lisbon is known for its safe and well-connected cycling lanes that make biking an easy way to get around and see the city. If you decide to book a bike tour around Lisbon, you will see the city in a fun way at a comfortable pace. Once you’re at Rossio Square, you can have a drink at one of many old-world European cafes or just take in the architecture. The wavy pattern of the square’s cobblestones is dazzlingly hypnotic, just like the beauty of the two baroque fountains here. You’ll also spot the neoclassical Dona Maria II National Theater, which has watched over this atmospheric centre since the 1840s.
Make your way down Rua Augusta, a street made for leisure strolls since it’s completely pedestrian-friendly. This street is smack middle of the Baixa district, which is Lisbon’s downtown with grand classical buildings all around you to remind you of the deep heritage this city has. None truer of this is Commerce Square, or Praça do Comércio, which is a representation of the Portuguese empire’s reach and wealth at the height of the late 18th century. The iconic Arco da Rua Augusta guards the square but also has an observation platform at the top that gives you a great sight of Rue Augusta. Architecture lovers shouldn’t miss the Elevador de Santa Justa, a Gothic-sampled wrought-iron lift that still functions today that you can take up to the viewing platform and walkway.
In the later part of your day, from Baixa district, we’ll explore the Chiado and Alfama neighbourhoods. You can do a walking tour of Lisbon through these neighbourhoods with a local guide that goes in-depth with each highlight stop of the city.
Chiado is Lisbon’s most glamorous neighbourhood, with well-preserved pristine buildings harking back to the late 1700s. This glitziness shimmers in the architecture in the neighbourhood too - with Basílica dos Mártires being one of the more gorgeous basilicas in the city. I don’t want to spoil too much, but if you step inside the baroque and neoclassical architecture, have a lookup! The ceiling paints the story and glories of Afonso Henriques, Portugal’s first king.
Amongst the many art galleries in this neighbourhood, the National Museum of Contemporary Art of Chiado stands out. The museum celebrates Portuguese artists, highlighting the country’s cultural and creative scene. If you have time and are an art enthusiast, don’t miss out on the wide range of collection that is on display from paintings to installations, photography and sculptures.
The 14th-century Convento do Carmo is a gothic ruin with arches underneath a clear sky due to the roof never being repaired. It’s a sight to behold, leaving you with a chillingly haunting feeling amongst the leftover disintegrated convent.
If you’re a book lover and have a love for old-world book stores, definitely check out Bertrand Bookstore while you’re in Chiado. When I mean old - I mean, they’re literally the oldest bookstore in the world with a Guinness World Record hanging in the door to prove it!
If you choose to do a walking tour of Lisbon, it’ll wrap up in Alfama, which coincides with this itinerary for the day. Alfama is Lisbon’s most historical neighbourhood - with civilisations stacked on top of each from the Romans, Visigoths, Moors and Germanic tribes. Lisbon is one Instaworthy city, but most feel the neighbourhood of Alfama is the most picturesque of all.
Get lost in the labyrinthine cobblestone alleys, looking up at the numerous pastel coloured and tile covered homes of Alfama. You can take tram 28 - yes, the iconic yellow trams that have become one of the symbols of Lisbon, into Alfama. Explore St. George's Castle, which can be seen from almost anywhere around Lisbon since it’s on such a high hill. Since we’re already so high up, a nearby walk away is the Portas do Sol Viewpoint. This is your classic terrace panorama of Lisbon - where you can see out to see the city’s most emblematic sights. From this viewpoint, with the cathedrals and water in the distance, you get the best of what makes Lisbon so beloved by locals and travellers alike!
The Lisbon Cathedral and the National Pantheon are other highlights of Alfama, two glorious architectural beauty contrasting yet complimenting the Capital city. The cathedral is gothic and almost 9 centuries old! While the all-white pantheon has a striking dome, that has a grand terrace crowning over the city.
Now for the romantics and sunset lovers (who doesn’t love a good sunset spot?) end your day at Santa Luzia Viewpoint. Consider this spot the city’s own public balcony, where you can stroll underneath classical columns that are wrapped in fully blossomed bougainvillea flowers. If you’re here at sundown, the view of the Tagus River and Lisbon will look like it's set in a blaze of soft orange hues. I know, cue the awws!
Where to Stay in Lisbon:
Budget - Famous Crows Lisbon Suites
Mid-range - Rossio Garden Hotel
Luxury - Hotel da Baixa
Day 2 - Lisbon: exploring the Belem neighbourhood
The second day of Lisbon continues a whirlwind of the city’s best, this time in the neighbourhood of Belem. Dating back to the 15th and 16th century where Portuguese sailors ruled the seas, and explorers were funded to discover various trading routes around the world - Portugal and specifically Lisbon, became a massively wealthy empire. Belem, being right on the docks and shipyards reflects this adventurous past.
It’s also home to Pastéis de Belém, a famous and affordable cafe where the golden shimmering Pastel de nata custard tart was born. Biting into one of these tarts is a delight, whether you’re starting your day off with them or taking a travel break with this snack. The tart is made out of egg and sometimes is dusted with cinnamon, being up there now of what you think of when you think of Portuguese cuisine (including the bacalhau cod, piri piri chicken, and ginjinha - cherry liquor). If you’re curious about taking your tastebuds through more Portuguese delights, definitely check out a local food and wine walking tour of Lisbon.
While in Belem, you won’t be able to miss the imposing fort of Torre de Belem. The Moorish architecture of the watchtowers has become a unique architectural sight in Europe itself. Nearby, the Padrão dos Descobrimentos is a huge sculpted monument that memorializes the country’s history as explorers of the sea from the 15th century “Age of Discovery”. The influence of the Portuguese from this seafaring time is still seen around the world to this day - with former colonies like Macau cherishing their own version of the pastel de nata, to Brazil speaking Portuguese as their main language.
A close by walk is the Jerónimos Monastery, aka Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. It’s a massive ornate monastery where you can visit the chapel for free. Even just staring at the doors you’ll be impressed by the little details sculpted into the religious figures that guard the monastery. The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and adds to the impressive regalness of Belem.
On the way back to the city’s centre, your final stop is LX Factory. Picture this, a big industrial site with factories that dates back to the mid 19th century, where everything was the hub for the textile industry. Now, it’s a hub for creatives - artists who have transformed the once-run down area into one of the most eclectic sites in Lisbon. There’s a cool bookstore, various cafes, local boutiques, and a wine shop. Welcome to where Lisbon’s cool crowd hang.
Where to Stay in Lisbon:
Budget - My Charm Lisbon Suites
Mid-range - Emporium Lisbon Suites
Luxury - TURIM Boulevard Hotel
Day 3 - Sintra’s Forest and Castles
After exploring Lisbon, it’s worth it not to miss out on a day trip to the UNESCO Cultural Landscape site of Sintra. This is the first bite into outside of the capital city, with a memorable impression that will have you see why this region is so gorgeous. Sintra is a village of romance and whimsical sights just right outside of Lisbon. Known for its fairytale-like gardens, forests that poets dream about, and architecture fit for princes and princesses.
These once opulent kingdoms have leftover ruby red castles and sunlight yellow palaces sitting on various hills of Sintra to explore. If you’re looking for an easy fun tour of Sintra’s forest and castle, you can even get pickup and drop-off from Lisbon (Sintra is only a 30-minute drive away).
Castelo dos Mouros is a hilltop Moorish fortress that stands out for its winding stone walkways, overlooking the sea. Trust us when we say even the fortresses in Game of Thrones got nothing on this place.
Nearby, the 19th-century Romanticist Pena Palace is built fittingly as a summer home for Portuguese royalty. The more you explore the palace grounds, the more unique splendours you’ll discover: viewpoints, windows that look out into the surrounding enchanting forests, fountains and walking trails that twist and turns decoratively everywhere.
Then there’s Quinta da Regaleira - which from the outside may look less eccentric with its Gothic facade than its neighbouring castles and palaces, but don’t underestimate this estate. Your mind will be blown away by the exquisite complexity and many worlds are held within this one UNESCO Heritage Site: a palace, fountains, a chapel, water-filled grottoes, deep wells, and lakes, just to name a few.
These are just some of the big names amongst the many other sights of Sintra that you’ll get to explore on the tour, or just by spending a whole day in this village.
Where to Stay in Sintra:
Budget - Casa do Arco
Mid-range - Arribas Sintra Hotel
Luxury - Casa Holstein Quinta de Sao Sebastiao Sintra
Day 4 - Berlenga Island
When you picture Portugal, you picture the pure nature of the blue sea and the endless coast with it. After all, most of the country is on the coast! A day trip to Berlenga Island from Lisbon to experience that wild side would be the perfect getaway.
Berlenga Grande is an island off the coast of Peniche, a quaint fishing village. To get there, you’ll have to take a boat, but the ride is already as scenic with lapping waves and shimmering waters, as the island itself. Now here’s the thing, to make sure that the island’s natural environment is well protected and remains unspoiled, only a maximum of 350 visitors are allowed to visit.
There you can take a hike through the reserve, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see puffins, which are endangered but a symbol of the nature reserve. Along with rare species like the puffin, you’ll see other animals during your hike, which adds to the Berlengas Archipelago’s magic.
If you’re curious about an effortless pick-up and drop-off with activities like kayaking through the islands’ caves, definitely consider booking an adventure day tour for Berlenga Island. This will also guarantee you to be part of the daily max visitor cap for the island.