Portugal has landed squarely on the travel radar, attracting visitors from around the world. It blends old-world European charm, noteworthy landmarks, and delicious food all at relatively affordable prices when compared to nearby countries. This 5 days in Portugal itinerary has everything you need to plan a successful trip from what to see in Portugal, how to plan out your days, and tips for getting around and where to stay.
Before getting started, I want to thank my friend, fellow travel-lover, and co-author, Mark Gregory, for providing the framework for this guide by sharing his Portugal itinerary tips from a recent January 2018 trip. Go on over and give his IG some love. 😉
5 Days in Portugal Itinerary: Lisbon, Sintra, and Porto
Lisbon is a vibrant, walkable city…that’s if you’re ok with steps and hills. Lisbon is on a serious gradient but with so many charming cafes there are plenty of opportunities to stop and enjoy the local food and drink.
The city has become quite popular because of its old-world European architecture, historic sites, great food and wine and plenty of public transportation options to help you get around when your legs tire of the sloping streets.
2 Days in Lisbon
Lisbon has a number of attractions to see depending on your interests. No matter which you choose, keep in mind how fun it is to just walk around exploring Lisbon’s neighborhoods. Stopping for small bites and something to drink a few times a day is the perfect way to balance a day of sightseeing. The food is light (lots of seafood) and delicious. The hills are a great workout. And, quaint cafes are aplenty. Can you think of a better combination for touring a new city?
With 2 days, my focus was on seeing Lisbon and its main sites. This meant getting outside, walking and riding trams, to explore the city. Luckily, the region’s milder winter temperatures make this easy to do. But, make no mistake. Lisbon also has plenty of museums, from art galleries to architectural & historical museums. You could easily plan to visit a different one every day.
Day 1 in Lisbon
Begin the day catching the #28 Tram toward Castelo de Sao Jorge. The historic tram winds its way toward the Castelo and into the Alfama area. This tram line still uses the old tram cars and is a great way to wind through Lisbon’s streets and sightsee along the route. Many Lisbon landmarks can be accessed from the #28 Tram.
Pro Tip: The Lisbon Card includes unlimited free travel on trams, buses, and the metro. The card comes in 24, 48, and 72-hour time periods. I never had to worry about having or getting a ticket and when my legs and feet got tired, I could hop onto these public transportation choices quickly and easily.
Hop off the tram close to the Castelo Sao Jorge (Use stop Sè or Largo das Portas do Sol). Walk up to the Castelo and along the fortress’ ramparts for sweeping views of the city. Sao Jorge dates back to Lisbon’s Moorish period and its high perch makes it easy to see how the citadel was used for defense against invading forces.
If you didn’t stop on your way to the Castelo, visit the Lisbon Cathedral, also called Sè. It was built in 1147 and is a National Monument.
After admiring the views from the city’s highest point, meander through the maze-like streets, alleyways, and staircases of the Alfama neighborhood.
It’s classic “old” Lisbon at its best. The streets are narrow and life seems to date back to an earlier time. Grandmothers hang laundry from lines. Fishermen chat about the day’s events. Scents of authentic cooking waft from open kitchen windows. Buildings show off gorgeous tilework. As with Romania, exploring yields unforgettable glimpses of local life and discoveries of small shops, cafes, and squares.
Pro Tip: Before your trip, use the offline feature of Google Maps app to download a map of Alfama and other areas of Lisbon to help find your way. Alternatively, this popular Lisbon Essential Tour takes visitors to all of Lisbon’s most interesting neighborhoods, including the Alfama and Bairro Alta, without the fuss of finding your way.
Once you’ve toured the Alfama, head back down to the Baxia area and into the Praca (Plaza) Dom Pedro IV, referred to as Rossio. It’s the central square of Lisbon with fountains, monuments, and cafes. If you’re ready to give your feet a rest, Rossio is the perfect spot for people watching along with a bottle of vinho Tinto or Branco, of course!
ProTip: If your visit lands on the last weekend of the month, plan a little extra time in the Praca da Figueira, just nearby Rossio. The Praca becomes a tented market with local foods and products. It’s also in the Baxia area and close to the #28 Tram.
While you’re in Baxia, Lisbon’s commercial district, stop to admire the architecture at the Rossio Train Station before heading to Praca dos Restaurodores and the Elevador da Gloria just nearby. This “lift” carries passengers to the Barrio Alto neighborhood.
Up high, you’ll once again overlook the city and have access via a 5-8 minute walk to Largo do Carmo, a pretty, must-see Lisbon square and the ruins of the 14th-century Convento do Carmo. By using the Elevador da Gloria, you’ll bypass the Santa Justa Lift which can often be very crowded with long lines of people waiting to go up to the viewing platform.
Once you’ve seen the ruins, finish by walking along Rua Garrett where you’ll find cafes and shops to enjoy.
ProTip: These 3 Lisbon neighborhoods are made for exploring! With a morning start, this itinerary leaves time for things like stopping at an unexpected church, having (another!) Pastel de nata after lunch, wandering with your camera to capture Lisbon through your eyes, and/or using your Lisbon Card for free entry to one of the city’s popular museums.
If you’re looking for cool things to do in Lisbon later on, head over to Pink Street (Rua Nova do Carvalho) for a taste of Lisbon’s nightlife. There are loungy bars and speakeasy-style places to rest your feet and enjoy a good stiff cocktail.
Pensao Amor on Rue do Alecrim, but also with an entrance on Pink street, is a former brothel turned lounge authentically restored with comfy chairs and great music. It’s a unique look at Lisbon’s seedier past, but also a place (and area) to enjoy a late night party scene.
Day 2: Belém Lisbon
Today, begin by riding the #15 Tram from Lisbon to Belém. This area of Lisbon boasts numerous monuments, including 2 UNESCO Sites, and several museums. A visit to Lisbon wouldn’t be complete without a stop in Belém.
The Torre (tower) de Belém was built in 1515 as a means of defending Lisbon from possible invaders and was named a UNESCO Site because of its rich maritime history. If you plan to climb the Tower, you should begin your day here, just as Portugal’s famous explorers began their discovery voyages here during the Age of Exploration.
The Tower is well-preserved but small. The lines of people queuing to enter and then again inside to climb to the top begin early in the day. It’s best to arrive in the morning with your Lisbon Card, which includes free entry to the tower.
When you’re Torre de Belém visit is done, follow the Tagus River to the striking Monument of the Discoveries. It celebrates Portuguese explorers like Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan, and others who set off to map and discover routes to the Far East, India, and the Americas.
Afterward, head away from the water and through Belém’s park toward the Jerónimos Monastery. Built in the early 1500s, the Monastery’s architecture symbolizes the role the Monastery played during the Age of Exploration. It’s a place were sailors prayed before their journeys and thus the ornate details reflect their life at sea. This UNESCO Site is also the final resting place of famed Portuguese Explorer, Vasco da Gama.
Pro Tip: The Lisbon Card also includes free entry to the Jerónimos Monastery. If you’ve used the card for the tram, the metro and now for the tower and the monastery, the savings from the card make total sense.
Having seen Belém’s 3 most famous sites, reward yourself with a pastel de nata from Pasteis de Belém. Expect a line but it’s a small price to pay to sample these Portuguese egg tart pastries from where they originated.
On the Tram back into the center of Lisbon rev up your appetite again for an afternoon visit to the Mercado da Ribeiro.
The market itself isn’t the main draw, but the Time Out Food Court is a must-eat place. Lisbon’s best chefs combine local ingredients with their expertise for seriously delicious eats. Walk around and stop when you want to grab a bite. The food court gets very crowded so you have to look for people getting up and hover to grab their table. You can also go to the north side and sit at one of the many restaurants or bars (or even sit outside) for a delicious meal.
The favorite by far was Tasca da Esquina. Indulge in fresh sea bass, clams, shrimps, cod, oysters, and of course, vinho branco. Before you realize it, a couple of hours will have passed!
Best Area to Stay in Lisbon
Barrio Alto is Lisbon’s high (as in elevated 😉 ) neighborhood. It’s centrally located and has plenty of restaurants and nightlife nearby. If you’re searching for where to stay in Lisbon, I recommend it or somewhere between Barrio Alto and Castelo de São Jorge to the west.
Accommodations along the water are also a good choice. It’ll help you navigate and keep you within walking distance to most attractions.
As with many cities, staying near the metro also makes getting around very easy. The #28 Tram passes by most of Lisbon’s main sites so easy access to this line makes getting to and from your hotel convenient. If you’re planning to venture outside the main city center, look for a hotel or Airbnb near the “green” line.
I stayed at the 9Mercy Hotel. The hotel was perfectly situated in a neighborhood with the old world feel typical of Lisbon. I was welcomed with a glass of Port and felt right at home in my comfortable room. The hotel also serves breakfast with a good variety of options from which to choose.
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Sintra is one of the most popular day trips from Lisbon. Although Sintra sits less than 20 miles from Lisbon, it’ll feel like a true retreat. With its castles, palaces, hilltops, and history, you’ll quickly see why it became popular with both the Portuguese royal family of long ago and today’s many travelers to Portugal.
Pro Tip: The Lisbon Card also includes free train travel to Sintra and Cascais, as well as discounts on admission for Pena Palace, Pena Park, Quinta da Regaleira, and other popular Sintra attractions.
Things to Do on a Sintra Day Trip
Sintra is approximately 40 minutes outside (northwest) Lisbon. Get up early because tiny Sintra has a ton to offer and you’ll want to make a full day of it. Getting from Lisbon to Sintra is straightforward and inexpensive.
There’s also a popular Sintra and Cascais tour from Lisbon if you prefer to remove any hassle that could come with traveling on your own and go with a local guide.
Pena Palace is a must on a Sintra day trip. It sits on a hill looking like it hopped from the pages of a fairytale. It’s romantic style, brightly colored exterior, ornate interior, and closeness to Lisbon make it many Sintra visitors first stop. Visiting, I couldn’t help but think of the charming Peles Castle in Romania
From the Pena Gardens, you can make your way to Pena Park. From there, walk a bit back up the hill to reach the entrance to the Moorish Castle. The stepped stone ramparts leading to the castle’s perch takes you back in time to Portugal’s Moorish years and offers unobstructed views of Pena Palace and the surrounding area.
When your visit is done, take the bus back down to Sintra’s historical center. While it’s possible to walk back from here, you’ll want to maximize your time.
For the rest of your day in Sintra, choose between the National Palace of Sintra or Quinta da Regaleira in order to have time leftover to enjoy the cute little city that Sintra is. You’ll want to grab a bite, try some port and snap a few great shots before your trip back to Lisbon.
Quinta da Regaleira is a manor house purchased by a wealthy Brazilian businessman who turned over the design reins to an Italian opera set designer. Luigi Manini was only asked to blend a combination of artistic styles and to integrate Knights of Templar and other Masonic symbolism. The result is a mystical blend of mosaics, beautiful gardens, hidden tunnels, grottos, and an inverted tower. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is 20% off with your Lisbon Card, rated the #1 thing to do in Sintra, and is just a short 15-minute walk from town.
The National Palace of Sintra, on the other hand, is the only palace or castle situated in Sintra’s historic center. It was also built during the Moorish period but was later used by the Portuguese Royal Family as a summer home. The architecture, tilework, and cone-shaped chimneys are the highlights. If you’d like to learn more about the Palace’s history, pick up an audio guide for your Palace stroll.
2 Days in Porto
Porto has gained quickly in popularity. It’s the second largest city in Portugal, sprawling and perched on top of a huge hill along the Douro River. While you could plan a Lisbon to Porto day trip, the city is in the heart of wine and Port country and is well worth a 2-day visit as part of your Portugal itinerary.
Lisbon to Porto Train
The Lisbon to Porto train is very easy to navigate. The trains are clean, comfortable and have great views of the Portuguese countryside. Depending on the train you’re on, the ride can take 2.5-3 hours. Buy your tickets online in advance to save money.
Lisbon-Santa Apolonia to Porto-Campanha is the main route for faster trains from Lisbon. Your ticket will also be good for a free transfer from Campanha Station to Porto’s other train station, Sao Bento, just inside the old city. These transfers come every 5-15 minutes and take just about 5 minutes between stations.
Pro Tip: If you’re new to European train travel, look at your tickets for your car and seat number. Be sure to look at these numbers marked on the train and to sit in the right seat. It can be hard to move to your correct seat with your luggage once the train is moving.
Before sharing Porto itinerary ideas, I want to add that Porto seemed harder to navigate than Lisbon or Sintra. Usually, when this happens, I join a free walking tour to orient myself.
So, if your timing is right, consider a free Porto walking tour to show you the city’s viewpoints, squares, and local favorites, all while learning more about Porto’s history and getting a sense of where everything is. Oftentimes, like in Brasov, you get a great overview and know which spots you’d like to visit. Plus, what’s better than access to a local expert for tips and recommendations?!
Day 1 in Porto
After you’re settled in, the Ribeira and the Douro River area should be at the top of your Porto activities list. Dating back to Medieval times, it has the tiny, maze-like streets with old, colorful houses you’d expect and along the way, there are plenty of cafes and shops to discover. It’s a great area to wander on foot.
Walk through Ribeira Square, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, the square is popular with tourists, but historically, it was Porto’s marketplace where merchants sold bread, fish, and other items.
From the Douro River, you’ll see the two sides of Porto connected by the Ponte Luis I Bridge, the Riberia side and the Vila Nova de Gaia side.
At the time of its completion in 1886, the bridge was the longest of its kind in the world. You’ll want to walk over the second tier of the Ponte Luis I Bridge to marvel at the bridge’s design and for the birds-eye views over Porto.
Then, after a morning of walking, spend the afternoon doing one of the most fun things to do in Porto, a port tasting! After all, Porto is the home of Port wine.
Along the river on the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the city, you’ll find many port houses that offer tours and tastings. There are even more Port houses up in the hills, like Graham’s, which also offers sweeping views of the river and the city.
While some Port Houses have walk-in tours and tastings, it’s best to reserve ahead of time. Hours vary, particularly if you visit in the off-season, and tours aren’t always available in English.
Day 2 in Porto
Start by walking to the city center (via the river, if you’d like) to visit the Monument Church of St. Francis. It’s Porto’s 15th-century Gothic church designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Afterward, make your way to the Sao Bento Railway Station. The tile work in the station is as much a reason to visit as catching a train. The beautiful blue tiles show life in Portugal’s countryside and other important historical events.
Make sure to visit the Livraria Lello, one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal. Lonely Planet and other travel publications have repeatedly listed the bookstore as one of the best in the world. It has ornate ceilings, gorgeous wooden spiral staircases, and stained glass. Reportedly, the bookstore was inspirational for JK Rowling in her writing. She lived in Porto teaching English years before writing Harry Potter.
Finish your Porto sightseeing by climbing the steep steps of the Clerigos Tower for panoramic views of the city. The narrow climb brings you nearly 250 feet up where you can see the Douro River and the orange rooftops of the old town.
Where to Stay in Porto
Staying too far outside the city was a mistake. The best places to stay in Porto will be within the old city. Try to be relatively close to the Sao Bento Railway Station, which is also a tourist attraction because of its beautiful tile paintings. The railway station is in the middle of the city and a convenient spot from which to explore. Research Porto Hotels | Book Porto Hotels
Practical Portugal Tips for Success
1. The Portuguese are lovely and friendly people who know you can’t speak their language but are happy when you try. If you’re in a jam because of the language barrier and you speak another language like, French, Italian, or Spanish, give that a try.
Here are a few important words and phrases to know.
Ola – Hello (say hello all the time)
Bon Dia – Good Day (nice way to say hello)
Por Favor – Please (add to everything)
Obrigado – Thank you
Gostaríamos de uma mesa para dois. – We would like a table for two
Dois copos de vinho tinto por favor. – Two glasses of red wine, please.
Saude – Cheers
2. If you’d like to make reservations for fancier restaurants, use thefork.pt
3. The Metro in Lisbon is easy and cheap to use. But keep your ticket because you’ll need it to exit the station. Uber tend to be slightly cheaper than taxis.
4. Trams and streetcars are a way of life in Portugal and free with your Lisbon Card. Keep in mind they are small and fill up quickly. If you’re using them to get to a tourist site, go in the morning to avoid long lines.
5. If you do want to visit museums, check when they’re open. Many museums close on Mondays.
6. Lastly, this itinerary was used for a successful trip in the off-season. 5 days in Portugal is likely not enough time if you’re interested in seeing all of the above and spending time on the beaches.
In that case, add extra days for a seaside break!
In addition, there were fewer people and hardly any lines at many popular sights and day-trip locations like Sintra. If visiting in the summer, plan to start your days early to get ahead of the crowds. Avoid popular day-trip locations on the weekends, if possible.
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