Portugal is the perfect combination of sandy beaches, beautiful ornate architecture, rugged coastlines, and a vibrant city life. And of course, a lot of wine.
Portugal also happens to be one of the most affordable destinations in Europe. And for a woman, one of the most important aspects is its security. Lisbon is safe, so it’s a perfect place for solo female travelers. In the past couple of years, Lisbon has become a hub for digital nomads and ex-pats from all over the world, but there’s so much more to Portugal’s capital city that makes it worth to visit beyond the bohemian flair that spices up the deep-rooted traditions.
Wandering through the cobblestone streets of one of the oldest cities in the world, I understood why so many travelers fall in love with this unique city. I visited the city in August, which is the hottest month of the year and packed with tourists, so if you’d really love to enjoy this colorful city, I recommend you visit in the spring or earlier in the summer. The city is famous for its steep streets that are made of basalt cobblestone (Lisbon straddles seven hills. So if you, like me, love to explore new places by walking, make sure you bring comfortable shoes and discover all its hidden gems. Lisbon is a pedestrian-friendly city and you will truly appreciate its charm by walking. But if you don’t feel like walking, it’s worth to invest in a Lisbon card which is an all-inclusive city card that gives you free entry and discounts to more than 30 of the top attractions and museums in Lisbon and includes unlimited free travel unlimited travel by public transport.
Lisbon served as a starting point for many famous explorers such as Vasco da Gama. I also started my Camino Portuguese here, all the way to Santiago de Compostela. But before going on this pilgrimage, I spent some time with exploring the colorful city. 2 or 3 days will be enough for you as well, to walk this itinerary to experience intriguing architecture, storied history, rich culture, and delectable cuisine. Let’s get onto my must-see list of Lisbon on a long weekend.
3 Days in Lisbon Itinerary
The earlier you start your day the more time you’ll have to see the attractions.
Ride Tram 28
You can’t talk about Lisbon without the famous yellow tram (electrico), Line 28 tram. If you search for the hashtag #Lisboa you will come across thousands of photos people took with or on this iconic line that rides through many of the oldest and most charming neighborhoods of Lisbon like Baixa, Chiado, Graca, and of course, Alfama. Running between Martim Moniz Square and Campo de Ourique (near Prazeres Cemetery), Tram 28 is one of the only three charming, pre-World War I models that still operate. You can hitch a ride around town for a few euros but be respectful of the locals, who use it for more than just Instagram.
Stroll Down Pink Street
This is a very famous painted pink street in Lisbon. It sits in the heart of Lisbon’s red-light district, now referred to as the pink light district. The place is a fun mix of quirkiness and nice restaurants. Also, the nightlife of Cais do Sodre area is centered around Pink street, with numerous trendy underground bars.
Visit St. George’s Castle (Castelo de Sao Jorge)
The medieval castle is located on top of the hill, being well visible from almost everywhere in the city. It is nearly as old as the city itself, with its oldest parts dating back as early as the 6th century. Coincidentally the best spot for sweeping 360-degree views of the city below offering one of the most beautiful sunsets you can find. Around the Castle of St. George, you will also find several small shops which sell more than your average fridge magnet.
Santa Justa Lift
The Neo-Gothic Elevador de Santa Justa, Lisbon’s sole vertical street lift (was steam-powered until 1907) is one of the most eccentric landmarks in the Lisbon skyline. It is made of iron and embellished with beautiful filigree motifs. Passengers can travel up and down the innards of a latticework iron tower to a viewing platform. Though I do not recommend taking the lift, as the ride only takes about 10 seconds but the waiting time in the queue is painfully long.
Praça do Comercio
Praça do Comercio (Commerce Square) is the largest and most famous square in Lisbon, a public courtyard with cafes and restaurants that sits on the Tagus River. This spot used to the location of the Pacos da Ribeira, a palace that was destroyed during the great earthquake of 1755.This scenic square gives home to the triumphal arch and a towering statue of King José I on horseback in the center. You can explore the riverfront and marvel at the square’s 18th-century arcades and Pombaline architecture.
Watch a Fado Show
Portugal’s own music genre that can be enjoyed over a meal and is a must-do while you are here. Originating in the early 1800s, fado is melancholic by nature and includes instruments like guitars and mandolins with one Fadista crooning poetic lyrics related to the sinister side of romance, death, and sorrow. Fado is a huge part of Portuguese culture and is so integral to the Portuguese experience that UNESCO recognizes it as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity! Just follow the music anywhere on the streets of Alfama or Bairro Alta.
Jerónimos Monastery or Hieronymites Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos) is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful things to see in Lisbon. It is not only the most glorious monument in Lisbon but is also another national icon – Originally built to honor Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India in 1498.. This UNESCO World Heritage Site, built in 1502, was constructed in the Manueline style of architecture and blends ostentatious Gothic and Moorish influences with elements of nascent Renaissance.
Monument to the Discoveries
Padrão dos Descobrimentos is one of the most notable points in Lisbon and yet another of the city’s most iconic landmarks.We’re talking about a 52-meter tall monument that is dedicated to some of Portugal’s most famous explorers, who shaped the country’s (and the worlds) history by playing a vital part in the development of the Portuguese Age of Discovery. The monument is designed in the shape of a caravel, with Portugal’s coat of arms on the sides and the sword of the Royal House of Avis rising above the entrance.
Bike to Belem Tower
Torre de Belem (Belem Tower) is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and is over a kilometer from the city center, near the mouth of the river Tagus is definitely worth a visit. The tower is truly majestic and serves as an emblem of Portugal’s Age of Discovery. It was initially built in 1515 as a fortress that guarded the entrance to Lisbon harbor. It was as a starting point for the navigators who set out to discover the trade routes. You can hop on city bikes and head over for sunrise or sunset. This place is very popular, a fine example of the lavish Manueline style of architecture whose ornate façade is enhanced with fanciful maritime and floral motifs, but the crowds were minimal early in the morning and toward the evening. On your way to Belem Tower, we passed Padrao dos Descobrimentos – a monumental monolith.
Centro Cultural de Belém
As the name suggests, the cultural center is situated in Lisbon’s historic Belém district, the Centro Cultural de Belém (CCB) is a multidimensional cultural venue that plays a key role in the city’s contemporary art scene. The building itself is very artisty, featuring bold, geometric forms and expansive, light-filled spaces. At the heart of the CCB lies the MAC/CCB Museum (formerly known as the Berardo Collection Museum), which houses one of Europe’s most esteemed collections of modern and contemporary art with over 900 works on display – such as Picasso, Warhol, Dalí, Rene Magritte or Francis Bacon.
Wander the Alfama District
Nothing screams Lisbon as much as the Alfama, the city’s oldest district. Due to its position on sturdy bedrock, Alfama is the only area that escaped the wrath of the 1755 earthquake which annihilated Lisbon. One of the most notable buildings in Alfama is the Casa dos Bicos. It dates from the early 16th century and is faced with sharp pyramid-shaped stones.
Here, you’ll find everything – history, rich culture of the locals, the most delicious authentic food, Fado playing and a real sense of Portuguese life as the locals live so close and openly, I felt like I was invited into their homes.
National Tile museum
You might be surprised that there is a museum for tiles, but Portuguese azulejos or painted ceramic tiles are incredible and deserve a museum! Azulejos are integral part of Portugal’s architectural heritage and you can find them literally on everything from cathedral cupolas to wine bodegas and even the smallest houses in the smallest villages. The museum has a wonderful collection of azulejos and traces the history of oil painting in Portugal.
Other interesting museums
National coach museum
Igreja do Carmo a semi-ruined medieval convent that functions as an archaeological museum
Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, one of the greatest private collections ever amassed.
And finally, we have the most important stop of my time in Lisbon – Sé Catedral. The cathedral is the oldest religious edifice in the city and holds great architectural significance, and also the starting point of the El Camino from Lisbon.
What and where to eat?
One of my favorite things about Lisbon is the availability of fresh produce and the amazing markets! Portuguese food is Mediterranean food at its finest. While being vegan is much easier in Lisbon, when it pairs with Celiac disease it becomes slightly more challenging as gluten is a very basic ingredient in local cuisine. Most of the country’s authentic dishes are made with meat and/or fish, but it is not impossible to find vegan/vegetarian and gluten-free food, especially in a large city like Lisbon. You can find veganized traditional Portuguese treasures like Pastel de Nata to junk food (Burger King even opened a fully vegan restaurant here).
I suggest saving all of the restaurants that you want to check out on Google Maps. They are sprinkled all over the city; if you can see where they are on the map, you can better plan your eating itinerary as you explore the city.
Timeout Market is a food hall located in the Mercado da Ribeira at Cais do Sodré. While this place can be very touristy, it is a lot of fun when it comes to food, drinks or even just a snack.
Conscious, honest, and globally-inspired vegan cuisine made of the freshest local produce to minimize waste in the kitchen.
A Minha Avó
If you’re on the run, check out this vegan takeaway spot! They have a creative mix of veggie and faux meat dishes like bacalhau com nata (cod with cream) and a carne roll with alheria stuffing.
There’s always something new and tasty on the menu at this healthy veggie-café. The menu rotates regularly to showcase local and seasonal ingredients; you’ll find curry, burgers, house-made soup, and more.
Bar Boca LX
There’s no better place to go for a vegan wine and tapas outing than here. But the place is small, so make reservations ahead of time!
This King Kong-inspired vegan café is whipping up loads of delicious veganized Portuguese and Brazilian dishes.
This amazing little café is serving up Lisbon’s best selection of vegan ice creams and donuts!
The pastel de nata is a national treasure in Portugal, but finding vegan options can be tricky unless you come here. This spot has conquered creating a veganized version of the famous custard tart, and you’ve got to try it.
The food at Beiju is fully gluten free as they specialize in sweet and savory tapioca crepes, which are naturally gluten free. It’s grab ‘n go type food and makes for a perfect quick lunch.
A must visit for any gluten free travelers to Lisbon. Get there in the morning for a really lovely fresh pastel de nata custard tart. They have a huge range of gluten free baked goods, plus savoury items that you can take away or sit down and eat in their café. It’s not a fully gluten free bakery but they have processes to prevent cross contamination and the gluten free items are obviously all stored separately. They also had a full additional allergens chart on the wall – very useful if you have more than just a gluten intolerance to deal with.
Another Italian restaurant that is able to cater for coeliacs and that has a dedicated gluten free menu.
Grom is part of an amazing Italian chain gelateria and they are fully gluten-free. It’s not obviously advertised but check with staff and they will confirm that all the flavors, waffle cones, toppings and biscuits are totally gluten-free.
Photo: Imola Toth