Last Updated on June 26, 2021 by Maggie McKneely
Only have a short time to spend in Portugal’s capital city? Check out this itinerary for the perfect one day in Lisbon!
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One Day in Lisbon
Of all of Europe’s historic and famed capital cities, Lisbon is easily one of the most underrated. And for the life of me, I can’t understand why. It’s a city full of stunning architecture and brightly painted homes, adorned with hand-painted tiles, wrought-iron balconies, and flower boxes bursting with blooms. On every corner is another cafe with pastries, “ginja,” and fresh seafood that’ll make your tastebuds rejoice. It’s a haven for history lovers – Lisbon actually predates London, Paris, and even Rome! With sunny weather and mild temperatures most of the year, there’s never a bad time to visit (it ranks as one of Europe’s best winter destinations!). And because it is so underrated, Lisbon hasn’t been taken over by tourists yet. What’s not to love?!
Lisbon is a city full of undiscovered nooks and crannies. Around every corner is a new alley, bookstore, church, tile-covered doorstep just waiting to be explored. It’s the type of city that makes you say “I could spend an entire year here and not scratch the surface!”
Unfortunately, as travelers, we rarely get to spend a year anywhere. Lisbon is one of the best destinations for a weekend trip in Portugal if you have two or three days. But sometimes you only have one day, especially if you’re spending a week exploring the rest of Portugal like my mom and I did! And if you’re only going to spend one day in Lisbon, you need a plan – like the one below!
Tips for Visiting Lisbon
If you’re spending at least one day in Lisbon, get the Lisboa Card. For just €20, the Lisboa Card gets you free unlimited travel on all public transportation in the city, free train tickets to Sintra and Cascais, free admission into most main attractions, and steep discounts in many restaurants and stores. Buying a Lisboa Card is the smartest investment you’ll make in Lisbon.
Metro: Lisbon’s metro is clean, safe, reliable, easy to use, and convenient – it can get you close to almost anywhere you’d want to go. It’s known as one of the best subway systems in all of Europe. It was the method of transport we used the most while we were in Lisbon. The metro operates from 6:30 AM-1 AM; a single ride ticket costs €1.45 (or free with a Lisboa Card). Check out this Lisbon metro guide for more.
Bus: The bus system is the next best mode of transportation after the metro. If there’s somewhere the metro can’t get you to, the bus can. We used the bus system a couple of times and found it to be safe and convenient for where we needed to go. And again, with the Lisboa Card, the fare is free. Go here for more info on routes and timetables.
Tram: The tram may be Lisbon’s most famous transportation system, but it’s also the least recommended by experts and locals. The trams are a notorious haven for pickpockets (since it’s mostly tourists who ride them). They’re also very slow and don’t go to many places. Many visitors to Lisbon think they have to ride the famous No. 28, the yellow tram, to have a full Lisbon experience. But you’re better off just taking a picture instead.
Where to Stay
Lisbon has no shortage of great places to stay in. Each of Lisbon’s neighborhoods have their own personalities and flavors. But in my opinion, when picking a neighborhood to base yourself for your trip, Alfama is the best. It’s centrally located, filled with small, local restaurants, and is quiet and less touristy than other parts of town. After spending all day with the crowds at Lisbon’s many attractions, it’s nice to escape to the quiet alleys of Alfama in the evening.
My mom and I stayed at Cosy Alfama and I can’t recommend it highly enough! Cosy Alfama is a full apartment filled with vintage charm and stocked with everything you could possibly want. It’s tucked into a charming corner of Alfama. You can almost imagine yourself as a local here – you can throw open the balcony window to hear Fado being sung nearby or watch neighbors going about their business in the square below. We loved our stay here so much that we didn’t want to leave!
Other Places to Stay:
One Day in Lisbon Itinerary
Pasteis de Belem
Name a better way to start your day than with coffee and pastries. I’ll wait. Trust me, if the only advice you follow from this one day in Lisbon itinerary is that you begin at Pasteis de Belem (early, before the other tourists wake up!), you will have made an excellent choice.
Why? Well, let’s talk about Portuguese egg tarts. I know an “egg tart” sounds bizarre, but it’s a gooey, creamy, delectable slice of heaven that hasn’t made its way to the U.S. yet and I don’t understand why. My mom and I had our first “pastel de nata” (as they’re called in Portuguese) on our Douro Valley tour and proceeded to spend the rest of our week searching for the best egg tarts in Portugal.
Lisbon’s Pasteis de Belem is the most famous bakery in Portugal – every “things to do in Lisbon” list includes it. But are their egg tarts worth it? After eating dozens over the course of a week, YES.
After all, Pasteis de Belem is the birthplace of Portugal’s famous pastries. The cafe opened in 1837 and began making the egg tarts using an ancient recipe concocted by the monks who lived at nearby Jeronimos Monastery. To this day, Pasteis de Belem is the only place you can find egg tarts made using that recipe. The recipe is entrusted to just a handful of master confectioners, and their promise to never reveal it to anyone else is rumored to be a “blood oath.”
But a visit here isn’t JUST about eating pastries. If you can get here early enough in the day before the crowds, you’re in for a wonderful experience. The cafe itself is beautiful – every room is covered in Portuguese “azulejos” and decorated with historic pieces from the cafe’s past. Table service is provided by courteous, knowledgable waiters and each dish and beverage is presented with instagrammable aesthetics.
Tip: The cafe opens at 8 AM and starts getting busy shortly before Jeronimos Monastery opens. We arrived around 9 am and the cafe wasn’t too busy yet. We left at 9:30 and there was a line out the door. So – get there early for a pleasant experience!
Now that you’re full and happy from your coffee and egg tarts, head next door to Jeronimos Monastery, home of the monks who gave the bakers that famous egg tart recipe. But that’s not why the monastery is the most popular attraction in Lisbon – it’s because it’s an incredible work of art. Few places in the world have made me audibly gasp in awe – the Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park, the Vatican. And now the cathedral at Jeronimos Monastery.
Construction of the monastery began in the 1500s but wasn’t completed until the 17th century. Which makes sense, considering the immensity of the structure and complexity of the artistic details. From the incredible stonework that surrounds the unique two-story cloister to the emotional 400-year-old Christ sculpture, and the seemingly-endless Church of Santa Maria, you’ll walk out of Jeronimos Monastery wondering why it isn’t more famous.
Admission info: The monastery is open from 10 AM-6 PM in the summer, 10 AM-5 PM in the winter. It’s free to enter the church, but €10 to enter the monastery. But if you have a Lisboa Card, admission is free.
Tip: The best way to see the monastery, and get people-less shots like my picture of the cloisters above, is to be the first guests inside – and to do that, you need to be among the first in line. Most people will have to stand in a separate line to get their tickets, and then stand in line again to go inside. But if you have a Lisboa Card, there’s a special line for you that guarantees you’ll be the first one in because you don’t have to do all that extra waiting! It’s not well marked but look for the “ticket holders” line next to the church entrance (NOT the museum entrance). Your Lisboa Card grants you entrance via that line ahead of everyone else. But still get there early (20-30 minutes before it opens).
Related: If you have more time, check out this guide for spending 3 days in Lisbon!
After you finish exploring the monastery, head to Belem Tower, a 20-minute walk down the main avenue. Instagram has made it a place you should not miss in Lisbon – for Instagrammers, Belem Tower is extremely popular for its aesthetics. Lisbon’s seemingly random castle tower stuck in the middle of the Tagus River makes for excellent pictures.
But the tower has historical significance too. Though the structure appears elegant and ornate, it’s original purpose was to be part of Lisbon’s defense system – built in 1514, the ground floor alone has 16 windows, each with its own cannon. There’s also a pit where prisoners were thrown into once upon a time. Years later, Torre de Belem was converted into a lighthouse and customs building. Nowadays, its one purpose is to entertain tourists (and Instagrammers!).
Admission info: Belem Tower is open 10 AM-6:30 PM in the summer, 10 AM-5:30 PM in the winter. Tickets are €6 or free with a Lisboa Card.
Tip: The line to tour the tower can be extremely long and slow-moving. With only one day in Lisbon, don’t feel bad for skipping out on the tour, especially if you’re visiting Lisbon with kids. The most important thing to do at the tower is to take pictures of the outside (which you can do without standing in line) – just make sure to try and spot the rhinoceros gargoyle!
After visiting Belem Tower, follow the river back towards the Monastery. Eventually, you’ll come to the massive, unmistakable Discoveries Monument. Built-in 1960, the monument celebrates Portugal’s history of world exploration. It’s shaped like a ship’s prow and is strategically located at the tip of Lisbon’s marina, the same place where many of those famous expeditions took off centuries ago. Carved along the side are the familiar figures from school history books – Vasco da Gama (who found a direct route to India), Cabral (who discovered Brazil), Ferdinand Magellan (who first circumnavigated the globe), and Prince Henry the Navigator, the driving force behind Portugal’s Age of Exploration.
Admissions Info: There is actually a small exhibit inside of the monument, as well as an elevator to the top for a view over Lisbon. It’s open from 10 AM – 6 PM.
Tip: Skip the exhibit and the view. There’s a better one later on in this itinerary that’s free.
National Coach Museum
This is one location you probably won’t see on other “one day in Lisbon” itineraries, and I think that’s a shame.
Located across the street from Jeronimos Monastery, the National Coach Museum houses the largest collection of horse-drawn carriages in the world, including carriages that date back from the 16th century to the day when cars took over as the main mode of transportation. While I know such a collection sounds pretty boring (because it did to me too when I first heard about it), the museum is fascinating.
You would not believe the amount of work and expense poured into some of these carriages, and many of them were only used once! Several carriages on display belonged to kings and other royalty, popes, and several figures you may recognize from history. It’s a small but surprising museum and well worth the visit.
Admissions info: The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 AM – 6 PM. Tickets are €6 or free with a Lisboa Card.
Tip: The museum is in two separate buildings. The more modern building houses the more impressive pieces of the collection, so if you only want to explore part of the museum, pick that building.
Time Out Market
By now, you’re probably starving. Fortunately, one of the best places to eat in Lisbon is just a short bus ride away – the original Time Out Market!
Despite Portugal’s reputation for being a foodie’s heaven, my mom and I discovered that finding Portuguese food that tastes good and isn’t just made for tourists is actually pretty difficult to find. But Time Out Market is the epicenter of Lisbon’s food scene – most of the city’s best-known chefs and eateries have an outpost here.
An independent panel of critics tastes and tests every dish for sale at the market – nothing that receives less than 4 stars passes the test, which means that only the best of what Lisbon has to offer is available here. But despite the high-quality of the food, the prices are far more affordable than going to the actual restaurants themselves. And, service is much faster, which makes it a great lunch stop if you only have one day in Lisbon.
And with the market’s family-style seating arrangement, it’s also a great place to make new traveling friends!
Tip: To get here from the Coach Museum, take bus line 728 from Estação Fluvial de Belém. Ride for 7 stops and get off at Cais Sodre. Time Out Market is just across the street.
Miradouro do Senhora do Monte
I promised you that a place with a view was included in this itinerary and here it is: Miradouro do Senhora do Monte. This popular vista used to be known only to locals, but someone let the tourists in on the secret and it’s now a bit of a tourist attraction. But it’s certainly worth it! This small romantic, wooded park is perched on top of one of Lisbon’s many hills and grants a full panoramic view of Lisbon’s skyline (if you want to end your one day in Lisbon here, it is one of the best spots to catch the sunset).
Tip: If you’re coming from Time Out Market, take the green line metro from Cais do Sodre to Intendente. From there, it’s a few blocks uphill to the vista (I recommend plugging in “Miradouro do Senhora do Monte” into your GPS because it is a bit off the beaten path). Or, if you’re not up to the hike (because it is VERY uphill), hire a taxi, Uber, or tuk-tuk.
Get lost in Alfama
The last part of your day is arguably the best: wandering around Europe’s oldest neighborhood, Alfama.
The scenic vista you visited and the section of Lisbon below it is known as the Alfama region. Unlike the rest of Lisbon, it has remained untouched by wars or natural disasters. The result is a charming network of narrow alleyways, artisan shops (perfect for finding Lisbon souvenirs!), and historic cathedrals. In Alfama, you’ll find wrought-iron balconies adorned with drying laundry and birdcages, white-washed homes decorated with tiles, and “Fado” singers playing at every restaurant. It’s definitely one of the best photography spots in Lisbon.
It’s known as Lisbon’s most authentic neighborhood and it’s worth spending a few hours wandering around. And yes, you probably will get lost – Alfama’s streets are so tangled and tiny that many don’t show up on the map! But if you’re going to get lost, you couldn’t pick a more charming place to lose yourself in.
Questions about Lisbon? Thoughts on the itinerary? Let me know in the comments!
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