City Break: Three days in Lisbon

There is nothing I like more than a short city break, exploring an undiscovered location. Portugal is a country I had never visited before, so when searching for my next adventure I thought there would be no better place to start than its coastal capital city. 

Being one of the oldest cities in the world, and second oldest in Europe after Athens, meant Lisbon has a vast amount of history and numerous sights to take in.

We headed to the sunny capital for a long weekend break, with the plan to see as much as we could whilst at a relaxed, easy pace.

So what exactly did we pack into three days in Lisbon?

Day One

After a particularly early morning flight, day one was never going to be anything strenuous. After checking into the Mercure Lisboa Hotel, we headed down to the city centre just a short ride away on the metro.

The first port of call was Praça do Comércio. Situated by the banks of the Tagus river, this grand plaza was thriving with activity.

The colourful surrounding buildings provided a perfect introduction to our trip, with panoramic views of the Arco Triunfal da Rua.

From here we continued our exploration along the Tagus river, soaking in the atmosphere, taking in the traditional architecture and finding our way round the narrow streets.

We quickly stumbled across Pink Street, known as the “place to go” for a night out, which during the day was understandably deserted. Perfect opportunity to get a quick picture without an influx of tourists.

Our wondering continued, stopping for lunch and a visit to a pastry shop – to test out a few “Pastel de Nata.” The Portuguese Tarts were simply divine, well worth the holiday weight I took home with me.

More strolling resumed, passing by the Santa Justa lift, Rossio Square and stopping to take a view pictures of the tram at Ascensor da Glória – before heading back to our hotel to take advantage of the roof top pool for the rest of the afternoon.

Day Two

Our second day in Lisbon involved a trip to the resort town of Sintra, in the foothills of the Sintra Mountains and the Sintra-Cascais Natural park on the Portuguese Riviera.

Joining a small group tour allowed great flexibility to explore the region, with a knowledgeable guide providing an overview of the local area and its history throughout the day.

First stop was a tour of the UNESCO-listed Pena Palace, a magnificent injection of colour perched atop the mountain. After a gentle climb to the gates of this glorious palace you can instantly see resemblances to the palaces featured in many Disney films. It is actually said that Pena Palace inspired Walt Disney when he created his castle. After visiting, it is clear to see why. 

Visiting Pena Palace is a must if you are in the area. However, if you plan to go it is worth getting there early. Queues build up quickly once the gates open and you can expect a long wait to get into the palace itself. Additionally, take a light weight jumper or jacket – the wind at the top, even on a bright summers day, can be rather bracing. 

After the morning spent taking in Pena Palace, it was soon time for a lunch stop. The perfect place for this was Sintra Old Town. Its narrow cobbled streets and pastry shops, with Pena Palace looming from the mountain above provided a picturesque lunch view. Here, it is recommended to try a “Queijada,” a cheese and cinnamon tart, traditional to Sintra itself. We stopped at Café a Piriquita to taste this regional treat.

Had we had a little more time here we would have taken time to explore the Sintra National Palace in the old town square. Instead we just spent time enjoying the view from the outside – looking up to the mountains, Pena Palace and the Castle of the Moors.

Soon after lunch we were on our way to Cabo da Roca – the cape that forms most westernmost point of continental Europe. Here, we had glorious panoramic coastal views and spent time following the coast line to get a few pictures.

Our final port of call for the day was the coastal resort town of Cascais. Known for its sandy beaches and busy marina the town provided the perfect stop to end the day.

Here we spent time wondering the charming centre, taking in the scenery and enjoying a little gelato from the famous Santini ice cream parlour.

Day Three

Our final full day in Lisbon saw us back in the city centre, attempting to fit in as much as possible in a short time.

We decided the previous night to take advantage of thesightseeing buses. Ordinarily, I don’t endorse the sightseeing buses, however when pressed for time they can provide the perfect opportunity to fit more into your itinerary. On this occasion they certainly did that.

Picking up the bus from outside our hotel we followed the route all the way down to the Tagus river, disembarking at Jerónimos Monastery. Being late June, and in therefore in peak season, the queues to enter this impressive building were too long to bare. So we did not get the opportunity to take a look inside. Rather disappointed we continued on, taking the medieval Belém Tower, built to defend the city of Lisbon and Padrão dos Descobrimentos, the 1940s statue built to mark the 500 years since Henry the Navigators death.

Back on the bus we enjoyed the views back into the city centre, hopping off again at Praça do Comércio.

From here we ventured upwards towards the Alfama district, following the famous tram line 28 and passing the Lisbon Cathedral.

The narrow streets were bustling with tourists, a constant flow of trams and even tour bikes roaring up the hills. 

Combined with the rising heat and depletion in energy from our walk uphill, we took the opportunity to have refreshments at 28 Café before heading to the final destination of the day – Castleo de S.Jorge.

Standing majestically above city centre Castelo de São Jorge is one of the most popular tourist attractions Lisbon has to offer. Here visitors are not only rewarded with some of the best panoramic views of the city, but can also walk the castle walls and enjoy the tranquil gardens in the courtyards.

After a full on day sightseeing our trip was coming to an end. We returned to our hotel for a late afternoon swim before dinner and flight home early the next morning.

We had managed to pack in a lot during our three days in Lisbon, but as always it felt like there was so much more to explore. I would love to have had more time in Sintra, discovering more sights it had to offer, I would have like more time to take a look around Jerónimos Monastery and other landmarks within the city centre. 

I have no doubt that I will return to Lisbon in the near future, the exuberant city with red tiled roofs, coloured buildings and cobbled streets proved to be a delightful destination – one to be visited time and time again. 

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