Portugal is an underrated European country overlooked by most North Americans until recently. Last time I was in Lisbon was June 2015, and it wasn’t nearly as crowded as this time around. It still hasn’t reached the likes of Barcelona or other popular tourist destinations in Europe, but that isn’t a bad thing. It’s welcome by the locals, and when I asked my guide how tourism has impacted everyday life, he gave me a great example to which most can relate. He mentioned that he must now arrive at his favourite restaurants much earlier to ensure he gets a table, no more late dinners! I wish I could say that Lisbon in 3 days is doable, but there are so many sights to see outside of the city center that you would need much more than that to see everything. Lisbon is 100 km² which is equivalent to approximately 25 hours of walking. If you walked non-stop except to sleep for 2.5 days you’d probably get a glimpse of Lisbon, but let’s be honest, that’s not how you explore a city.
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Our reason for visiting Lisbon was the same as three years ago, Carl had a conference, and I joined, because why not. This time around we decided to spend the weekend in the Algarve for some much-needed sunshine and rest. If you are looking for things to do in Lisbon by yourself, or even if you aren’t flying solo, this Lisbon itinerary has you covered.
Things to do in Lisbon in 3 Days
Arrival to Lisbon Portugal
We arrived on Monday evening which didn’t leave much time for anything other than dinner. Since the hubby had to be well rested for his conference the next day we kept it low key and enjoyed a great meal at Doca Peixe. This Lisbon restaurant is located at the Santo Amaro Dock, right below the famous 25 de Abril Bridge or Golden Gate Bridge 2.0, as I like to call it. I’d be lying if I said you didn’t hear the cars make their way across the bridge, but the food made up for the slightly annoying ambient noise.
While my husband and co-worker enjoyed the soccer match on one of the many screens displayed all along the boardwalk and discussed derivatives or whatever it is they do, I drank lots of wine and stuffed my face. Oh, I forgot to mention it’s World Cup and we’re in Europe, so it’s turned up a few thousand notches.
No meal starts without a little Aperol Spritz on a hot day before switching over to an excellent local white wine from the south of Portugal. I have a new-found love for Portuguese wine, which I wrote about here: Wines of Portugal: A Wine Guide for Dummies. We started with grilled octopus chopped up and served as an appetizer, along with flambé shrimps in cognac and finally the star of the meal, a whole grilled sea bass that should have fed 5, not 3. The thing is, you get more than what you pay for in Portugal when it comes to food. It’s a breath of fresh air in comparison to many other places we’ve visited.
Day 1 – Full Day Private Tour from Lisbon
I like to put my solo traveller hat on when I tag along on Carl’s business trips. That usually involves planning tours, solo fine dining, a little shopping and leisurely afternoons by the pool. Yes, I’m a spoiled housewife, don’t hate. This time I decided to book a full day private tour from Lisbon to Sintra, Cascais and Estoril. I found the tour on Viator after searching under private and custom tours in Lisbon, it has excellent reviews, so I didn’t hesitate. One thing to keep in mind is that Viator has a minimum requirement of two people for most of their private tours, so I booked for two.
We’ve done numerous private tours during our travels, some better than others and this one was rather underwhelming. Joao, my tour guide, came to pick me up at our hotel at 9 am and he was expecting two people even though I clearly stated that I’d be alone when booking. On our drive from Lisbon to Sintra, we stopped at the National Palace of Queluz to purchase tickets for the Park and Palace of Pena.
National Palace of Queluz
We didn't visit the National Palace of Queluz since it wasn't on the itinerary. But I would recommend visiting the site since it is on the way to the Palace of Pena. The royal residence in Sintra, also known as the Portuguese Versailles, is a landmark showcasing Portuguese architecture and landscape design. You can visit the lovely gardens and the interior of the palace which includes a collection of baroque, rococo and neo-classical pieces from the 18th and 19th century.
Joao explained that the Portuguese government has converted many of the palaces in Portugal into hotels because they couldn’t afford the maintenance. If you wish to stay in a traditional, luxury or historical hotel in Portugal, you may want to check out Pousadas de Portugal. Pousadas are historical monuments that have been converted into hotels which can be found all over the country. Pousada Palácio de Queluz happens to be right across the street from the National Palace of Queluz. If you are looking for a grand experience that brings you back to the 18th century, this is the place for you!
Park and Palace of Pena
Our next stop was the Palace of Pena. As we drove to the main entrance, Joao expressed how difficult it is to find parking and that he may need to drop me off and let me visit on my own. Strike one. I mean, if I wanted a ride to the Palace of Pena I would’ve taken a taxi. And of course, there was no parking. Joao dropped me off at the entrance, instructed me to go to the gift shop to purchase the official guide and to make my way up to the Palace on my own. I was a little annoyed, to say the least.
You need about 3 hours if you wish to visit the entire property. I only got to see the exterior since the lineup was much too long to view the palace’s interior and I had to be back to catch my taxi…err, I mean meet my guide.
Sintra, Portugal – Charming Town and Travesseiro Pastries
A trip to the Park and Palace of Pena should be followed by a visit to the picturesque Portuguese town of Sintra. Visit Portugal has a great one-day itinerary, Discovering Sintra, on their site that is worth checking out. This time we found parking, which meant Joao would be joining me on our short little walk around the town of Sintra. We took a quick stroll around the cobblestone town before heading for lunch at Restaurante Apeadeiro, a traditional local Portuguese restaurant.
Do not miss Piriquita, a bakery founded in 1862 where you’ll find delicious Travesseiro pastries, a delicacy of Sintra. Travesseiro directly translates to pillow, which is appropriate since it does look like one. I would’ve had a couple since they were so good, but the sugar-filled dough-based pastry with egg cream and almond is so rich that one was enough.
Cabo da Roca – Westernmost Point
Following my solo lunch, we made our way back to the car and drove to Cabo da Roca. This is the most western part of mainland Portugal, Europe and the entire Eurasian continent. The only place where it kind of makes sense that people once thought the world was flat. The views are spectacular, and if you are into hiking, some trails lead to Lisbon beaches, Sintra and many other locations.
Cascais and the Estoril Coast
Off we went to Cascais, a luxury suburb of Lisbon, also a former fishing village that has turned into a favourite holiday destination for many. There are plenty of things to do in Cascais, like alfresco dining at one of the many restaurants, spend an afternoon at the Praia da Rainha beach, shop the designer boutiques or stay at one of the many 5 star hotels in the area. Cascais, the Portuguese Riviera, is home to some of the best luxury resorts near Lisbon equipped with fabulous amenities like outdoor pools. Perfect for those like myself who would rather avoid the crowded beaches and messy sand.
Unfortunately, we didn’t stop in Estoril. Instead, I got a quick overview of the town as we drove by on our way to Lisbon. Estoril is a short walk from Cascais which means you can book one of the best luxury resorts in the area and enjoy both towns. The Estoril Casino, where exiled royals, spies and refugees hung out during World War II, was the inspiration behind Ian Fleming’s 007 movies. Turns out Lisbon is nicknamed the city of spies because many sought refuge in Portugal due to its neutrality during World War II.
Day one of my Lisbon in 3 days itinerary ended a little earlier than expected when I arrived back at my hotel about an hour earlier than scheduled. Maybe if we’d stopped in Estoril, we’d ended our tour on schedule. Just a thought…
Day 2 – Rooftop Pool and Private Lisbon Tour with Premium Portuguese Wine and Tapas Tasting
5 Star Hotel Rooftop Pool in Lisbon
My private Lisbon tour didn’t start until 3 PM, so I decided to take advantage of the Epic Sana Lisboa hotel’s rooftop pool. I had to make sure it was the same as when I visited three years ago and that involved spending a few hours lounging poolside with a drink. There aren’t many luxury hotels in Lisbon’s city center with rooftop pools or outdoor pools, so it’s always nice when ISLA considers the needs of the conference attendees’ significant others. It was lovely and quiet until five blue suits chose to sit right next to me and conduct an “open-air meeting.” If you are wondering where to stay in Lisbon, this 5-star hotel is a great option. The rooms are nothing to write home about, but the rooftop pool makes up for its shortcomings.
Private Lisbon Tour with Premium Portuguese Wine and Tapas Tasting
I was convinced I signed up for a food tour, but it turned out to be something different. This is mostly my fault since I apparently didn't understand the description on Viator. Ana from Mrs. O Around the World, who happens to be Portuguese and a Lisbon native, posted about a Lisbon food tour that she really enjoyed through Culinary Backstreets. Unfortunately, it was too late to cancel my booking, but I thought I’d share this option in case you wish to do a real Lisbon food tour recommended by a local.
Pedro, my tour guide, met me at Monumento dos Restauradores and we walked around Lisbon’s Chiado, Carmo, Baixa and Bairro Alto neighbourhoods. The tour was focused on historical facts rather than sampling delicious food while we walked the streets of Lisbon. At one point we stopped in front of a shop that sells Pata Negra ham where I was expecting a sampling and not a simple here is the store that sells the stuff…
Our last stop was Lisbon Winery where I finally got to enjoy some food. I couldn’t help but get the sense that this place was a tourist trap, maybe because everyone in there was American. How do I know this? I was listening to everyone’s conversations; a little eavesdropping goes a long way. When I asked Pedro if locals frequented this Lisbon wine bar, his answer was no. At least he was honest. Nonetheless, the tasting of various Portuguese artisanal cheeses, charcuterie, Pata Negra (finally), jams, olive oils and of course wine was delicious. I ended up shipping six bottles of Portuguese wine home. I fell into the trap.
“If there are other Americans in there—in any number—chances are, you’re in the wrong place. If you go to New York looking for a deli, you don’t want to go to a deli with people filled from the Midwest taking pictures of each other. You want to go to a deli that’s filled with New Yorkers. Not because New Yorkers are particularly nice, it’s just that, chances are, that’s a good deli.” – Anthony Bourdain
Day 3 – Lisbon in 3 Days Must Include Shopping, Fine Dining and Portuguese Traditional Delicacies
Shopping on Rua Castilho
Before heading for lunch, I decided to take a stroll on Rua Castilho, and I may have gotten a little carried away at the Karen Millen boutique. If you are looking for luxury brands your best bet is Avenida da Liberdade, you can begin on Rua Castilho and walk your way down the avenue. For local designers, I would recommend Chiado and Bairro Alto where you’ll find locally owned shops carrying unique items.
Lunch at Eleven – One of the Best Restaurants in Lisbon
Shopping should always be followed by a lovely lunch, so that’s what I did. I had my best meal in Lisbon at Eleven, a Michelin-starred restaurant, by Chef Joachim Koerper. The Atlantic Tasting Menu is what I opted for since I had a couple of hours to spare before the hubby was done with his conference. And I also wasn’t in the mood to do any more sightseeing. The assorted fish saffron risotto dish was divine, the best risotto I’ve ever had! Of course, I also opted for the wine pairing which included an excellent selection of Portuguese wines.
Bairro do Avillez' Taberna for Traditional Portuguese Delicacies
The perfect end to our 3 nights in Lisbon was dinner at one of José Avillez’ many restaurants in Lisbon, Portugal. He is one of the most renowned Portuguese chefs, and you can choose from a variety of concepts like a gourmet bar, fine dining or cabaret gourmet. We had reserved Páteo at Bairro do Avillez but switched to Taberna since we were in a rush. This laid-back casual eatery in Lisbon’s Chiado district offers a vast variety of dishes like croquettes, tartar, a selection of Portuguese cheeses and charcuterie.
Lisbon to Algarve Drive
It was time to head to the Algarve where we’d be spending the next 3 nights at one of the best luxury resorts in Porches; Vila Vita Parc. After an exhausting week at a conference, I thought it would be best to enjoy a little sunshine in the Algarve as it is the perfect place near Lisbon to visit. The distance from Lisbon to the Algarve is just under 300 kilometres and can be done in less than 2.5 hours. I decided to book a flight instead which ended up being delayed. Which led to us renting a car at the last minute since the Lisbon to Algarve drive was going to get us in bed much earlier than our flight.
Sights of Lisbon Portugal Not to Miss
Half Day in Belém
3 nights in Lisbon simply wasn’t enough to see everything, and I did miss out on Belém. It is recommended to take the tram from Lisbon to Belém or you can also take a taxi. A few sights not to miss:
Have you been to Lisbon, Portugal? If not, would you like to visit?
Visiting Lisbon in 3 days may be a little rushed but with tons of 5-star hotel choices, sights to visit, great restaurants and shopping, you’ll be tempted to return. Portugal is a beautiful country and there are so many things to do outside of Lisbon so make sure to spend a little more time exploring. This Lisbon itinerary is perfect for a first-time visitor!
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