So you only have 3 days in Lisbon to grasp the city’s grand magnificence? No worries. We’ve got you covered here with the top cool and unique things for a Lisbon 3 day itinerary.
After the devastating earthquake of 1755, much of Lisbon was rebuilt with a more contemporary structure and facade. Today, you’ll see streets and plazas laid in a symmetrical grid style with wide commercial streets that connect to each other up and down the hilly city. This layout makes it easy to get around especially for a three day Lisbon itinerary! Lisbon is also one of Europe’s most diverse capitals and as such is home to various neighborhoods that offer a world of things to explore. So we’ll add something from every neighborhood for your 3 days in Lisbon. Between activities, consider wandering around the city on foot to check out the local way of life and unique neighborhoods of Alfama, Bairro Alto, Chiado, and Belem.
Three days in Lisbon: Day 1
Belem Neighborhood: Towers, Museums & Beautiful Ports
Just four miles east of the historic center in Lisbon is the cute neighborhood of Belem. You could easily spend a full day here, but we only have 3 days in Lisbon. So here are the top cool things to choose from in Belem. First, you can’t leave without at least walking up to the famous Tower of Belem. Second, walking through the Belem Cultural Center and consider popping into their Museum of Modern Contemporary Art. Third, check out the Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology (MAAT) and the Jeronimos Monastery (close to each other). Lastly, rent one of the many bikes laying around to ride down the Tagus River and visit the many nearby beautiful ports from Belem towards the city center.
Food Tasting + Lisbon Walking Tour Combo
Portuguese cuisine is surprisingly distinct from Spain and other Mediterranean destinations. The country is popular for its seafood (especially 1,000+ ways to cook bacalao) and is influenced by its former colonies, its Atlantic coast, and trade. Popular flavors include: garlic, bay leaf, parsley, olive oil. With little knowledge of the local cuisine or what to order when I went out, I decided to discover more of the unique Portuguese cuisine by venturing on a cultural food tour: 16 Tastings Food Tour with Suck My Cod. We stopped by different spots and tried an array from cuisines from flaming chorizo to Mozambique dishes to local beverages to dessert delicacies coupled with an array of delicious cheese and wine. This is one of the easiest ways to immerse yourself in the local culture while learning about its history from a unique angle: through food!
Night Time Fado at Tasca do Chico (Barrio Alto)
No trip to Portugal is complete without a night of Fado. The traditional Portuguese music bursting with emotion and romanticism. Often sad but sometimes happy, listening to a performer sing fado live will surely pull your heartstrings.
One of the best places in Lisbon to listen to local performers? Tasca do Chico. This is where some of the biggest stars began. Because this is a very cozy place, the hallway between the main entrance and the bar is where the musicians and singers will perform. So get there early to grab a booth seat and to order some delicious wine and tapas.
Related Blog Post – Porto Travel: A Guide to the Beautiful Capital of Portugal’s North
Lisbon Itinerary: Day 2
Afro-Portuguese History & Heritage Tour
Despite its major role, much of Portugal doesn’t fully acknowledge its history in the slave trade and global colonization beyond glorification. Even though some of its former colonies won their independence not so long ago (Mozambique 1975), many Portuguese will proudly speak about their “Age of Discovery” in a romantic way, almost reminiscing about the time when they were one of the biggest world powers …by way of global plundering and enslavement. As a local Portuguese shared with me, instead of educating each other in schools about their full role in these atrocities, they often just point the finger to the English, Spanish, and/or French (who often also do the same with each other)… or they skew it in their favor somehow. Moreover, much of this history is taught by a Eurocentric perspective leaving out so many details to this day.
African Lisbon Tours
So here is where African Lisbon Tours comes into place: a tour dedicated to decolonizing history and heritage while bringing light to Afro-legacy and influences in Portugal.
Did you know that records estimate 13 million slaves were transported to the Americas? And of that number, 5.8 were traded by Portugal? And that this number is likely higher and does not include the slaves which died during the voyage (estimated 20-50%)?
There was even a time in Portugal, where almost every Portuguese owned at least one African slave. They enslaved in the name of spreading Christianity, erasing their culture and trying to “catholicize” and “Europeanize” Africans…. And while African people built Portugal, there is very little mention of them in their schools or museums. Now, obviously this issue is not unique to Portugal but by going on these tours you can better educate yourself, help spread awareness, and support this movement to decolonize and break down some pretty ridiculous myths.
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots” – Marcus Garvey
The LX Factory Complex
Located below the Ponte de 25 Abril Bridge in the Alcântara neighborhood, LX Factory is an abandoned fabric production plant turned art-nouveau complex sprawling with trendy stores, galleries, and cute restaurants/cafes. You can easily spend the entire afternoon here checking out the several places to pop into. On the weekends, more art spaces open up in one of the main buildings and the cobblestone street becomes an outdoor flea market. Though not cheap, it’s a great place to check out for shopping, eating, and trendy hip vibes.
Bonus: Don’t miss the iconic Livraria Ler Devagar bookstore. One of the most famous bookstores in Portugal.
Secret Chinese Restaurant
I know what you’re thinking… If I only have 3 days in Lisbon… Why would I go all the way to Portugal just to eat Chinese food? But some of these Chinese restaurants in Lisbon are actually pretty unique. And this one is DELICIOUS.
Clandestine Chinese restaurants in Lisbon seem to be a gray matter. On one hand, people say they’re illegal because they are run out of a residential apartment home. On the other hand, everyone has known about these restaurants for years and nothing’s ever happened. Tons of tourists and local Portuguese frequent these establishments so there’s little secrecy left to them anymore. But the allure of a sort of “secret” Chinese restaurant and the cultural fusion of Portuguese + Chinese piqued my interest.
The result? Absolutely delicious Chinese dinner finished off with flaming fried ice cream dipped in rum. I was in heaven (and in someone’s living room).
Address to my favorite one: Rua Benformoso 43, 2E (LEFT)
Lisbon Three Day Itinerary: Day 3
Museo Calouste Gulbenkian
This is not your typical European museum. Located within a beautiful garden complex is the art collection of a private collector by the name of Calouste Gulbenkian. The artworks exhibited come from different parts around the Middle East region such as Iran, Turkey, Syria. What makes this museum particularly outstanding, beyond the actual art is the presentation of the collection. It’s explained in a way that questions Euro-centric categories and classifications while pointing the historic effects of colonization and imperial intervention in this region. Something I’ve never seen pointed out in any other museum. Upon walking out of the museum, I engaged in a long and critical discussion with a fellow solo traveler about the very topics that we both found outstanding. Not only did I enjoy a gorgeous selection of artwork, but the museum’s curation really made me think and question
This restaurant doesn’t have a menu. Its only dish is a seafood risotto-like stew that is served to you in a pot for sharing. The price for two people is $14 each, so if you’re solo traveling through Portugal, bring a friend from your hostel or treat yourself and save the rest for later! Sitting in this family-owned restaurant, you’ll understand the charm behind the experience: one amazing award-winning dish by a local family in a small typical Portuguese restaurant. This is an experience you likely can’t get anywhere else in the world. There may be a line getting it, but it’s worth it.
Pro tip: Remember to let the water be absorbed by the rice. Don’t dive in right away. Let the stew cool down before going in.
Pastel de Nata Class at an Award-Winning Bakery! (Chiado)
Don’t miss tasting the most famous Portuguese dessert: pastel de nata. This pastry has a uniquely crunchy and flaky croissant-like crust with a creme brulee topping.
The art of the pastel de nata is in the contrast of tastes and textures. So if like me, you fall in love with this tart custard, consider taking a pastel de nata class. I took one at the family-owned and award-winning Pastelaria Batalha. You’d be surprised by the unique elements and combinations required to create these perfect little pastries of heaven. And I got to meet other like-minded solo travelers at this class!
An Extra Day in Lisbon to Visit Sintra
If you have an extra day, spend it in Sintra! Just an hour train ride away from Lisbon, take an extra day to explore this fairy-tale Portuguese town! Read all about it here: A Day Trip to Sintra.
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