Home Europe Portugal The Ultimate Lisbon 5 Day Itinerary: Cafes, Culture, Beaches

The Ultimate Lisbon 5 Day Itinerary: Cafes, Culture, Beaches

Lisbon 5 day itinerary
Photo by André Lergier/Unsplash

Got five days in the Portuguese capital? Look no further than our Lisbon 5 day itinerary. It will whisk you from the labyrinthine streets of the old quarters to the salt-washed beaches on the nearby Atlantic coast, all in an effort to showcase the crème-de-la-crème of what this enthralling European metropolis has to offer.

Along the way, we’ll make a few recommendations for cafés and brunch spots, eateries, and bars, along with a nod towards the nightlife areas. You can take those if you’d like, but there should also be LOADS of alternative places to dine and drink if not. We’d say it’s a good idea to stay somewhere near to the center of the city, as our Lisbon 5 day itinerary begins and ends in the heart of town.

Every day on our Lisbon 5 day itinerary aims to take in a different aspect of the capital. Day one is all about the magical old center and the maze-like Alfama. Day two goes to the secret districts of hipster bars and alt shops. Then you spend some time enjoying the coast and the surf spots of Lisbon, followed by a return to the city and fix of Lisbon nightlife. Sound good? Let’s go…

Day 1 – history to kick start our Lisbon 5 day itinerary

Alfama
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

Morning: Start your morning in the beating heart of the Portuguese capital. Known as Baixa de Lisboa, this is the downtown core of the city. It’s a crisscrossing grid of streets lined with imposing Neo-Classical architecture, all filtering north off the Tagus Estuary.

A little bakery called Manteigaria is the place to go for your pastéis de nata (the famous local custard tart) and a strong coffee. After eating, head south down bustling R. Augusta, where you’ll be able to shop for tinned sardines and postcards, before emerging onto the sprawling Praça do Comércio. Welcome to one of the most handsome corners of Lisbon. Check out the triumphal Arco da Rua Augusta on the north side (it dates from the 1870s) and go to get your first look at the city’s wide estuary.

Afternoon: One street back from the great square is the R. Conceição tram stop. Head there to pick up Tram 12. More than just a mode of transport, this one’s a vintage European trolley painted in glowing daffodil yellow. It’s famous because it will whisk you through the very beating heart of the main historic areas.

First, the tram creeps into the maze-like Alfama. The oldest part of the capital, it’s all cobbled alleys and tight-knit streets that weave and wiggle back and forth on each other. You can do a whole loop of it on the tram, but we’d recommend getting off at the Portas do Sol. That’s a gorgeous lookout point and the home of Bar Terraço de Santa Luzia, perfect for a chilled beer in the sun. Later, head northwest through the alleys to see stoop cottages covered in tiles, all ringing around the Castelo de S. Jorge, a onetime Moorish fort that’s an icon of the city.

Evening: When the sun starts to set, there’s really no better place to be in Lisbon than at one of the many lookout points. Known as miradouros, they are dotted all over town. We’d also say the very best is in the area of S. Jorge Castle. Take a 10-minute stroll north up steep Calçada da Graça to Miradouro da Graça to find it and end the day with sweeping 180-degree views of the metropolis and the Tagus in the distance. There are lots of quaint Portuguese taverns in the vicinity for dinner. Hipster Damas has to be one of the top options, though.

Day 2 – Shopping and exploring hidden neighbourhoods

Exploring Lisbon
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

Morning: Get to Neighbourhood for breakfast. It opens at 9.30am and offers a hit of Mexicana-inspired breakies – think shakshuka with cayenne, poached eggs with avocado. The coffee is also some of the best around. You’ll then be on the west side of downtown Lisbon. That’s perfect for exploring the boutique shops of hipster São Bento. We love places like Boutik (a curated surf store with some beautifully shaped fish boards) and Cavalo de Pau (a vintage antiques store filled with eccentric trinkets).

Afternoon: Lunch will be in the quirky district of Príncipe Real. It’s one of Lisbon’s upcoming boho areas, sporting plenty of independent shops, coffee roasters, LGBTQ+ bars, and multicultural eats. You should take some time to wander first, though, as there are grand 19th-century mansions crowning the hills and the Botanical Garden of Lisbon is a must, offering glimpses of towering trees imported from across the New World and beyond. Grab a bite to eat (and perhaps a glass of local red wine) at Jobim, one of the top vinotecas in town.

Evening: Move around to the north side of Lisbon and catch the hustle and bustle of the Av. da Liberdade. This is the premier boulevard of the city, home to embassies and international trade missions and more. It’s a whopping kilometre long and has oodles of shops and bars up its length, but we’d say come mainly for the incredible sunset views from the Marquis of Pombal Square. Afterwards, walk the 20 minutes to Martim Moniz. Hailed as Lisbon’s Moorish Quarter, it’s a hubbub of spice sellers and Indian cookhouses, and it has the best curry houses around.

Day 3 – The beaches of the Costa do Estoril and Sintra-Cascais

Sintra
Photo by Katia De Juan/Unsplash

Morning & Afternoon: Grab a pastry and a coffee on the go from one of the many take-away joints on the Praça Dom Pedro IV, where you’ll dodge grand statues of old Portuguese nobles and babbling fountains alike. You’re on the way to Rossio station to hop on the locomotive to Sintra. There are regular trains that take about 40 minutes one way. You should try to arrive by 9am, before the bulk of the day trippers.

What awaits is one of Portugal’s most stunning UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a land of mystical castles on forested hillsides and old Moorish citadels. It should take three or four hours to explore it to the full. The points you simply have to see include the yellow-domed Pena National Palace and the brilliant white Sintra National Palace. The first is a romantic castle that looks plucked from Game of Thrones. The latter is a fantastically well-preserved medieval residence that’s stood since the 1400s!

Evening: Later in the day is all about swapping the history and culture for the beaches of the Costa do Estoril. The good news is that you don’t have to backtrack to Lisbon. Simply hop on the 403 bus from Sintra and it will take you south to the resort of Cascais. The journey itself is pretty darn awesome, as you’ll pass dramatic shoreline and the Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of continental Europe.

Take some time to enjoy a cocktail at one of the happening bars on the Baía de Cascais. It’s one of the jet-setter corners of Portugal, and there are gorgeous swimming beaches like Praia da Rainha if you fancy a dip. Those with surf on the mind might prefer to hop on the train heading back towards Lisbon. They go via Carcavelos, which is one of the most accomplished urban surf spots. There’s a touch of localism but also fantastic board rentals. Waves can be heavy on high swells, but also beginner-friendly when it’s smaller. Either have dinner on the beach or head back to the city on the direct train from there.

Day 4 – Costa da Caparica (AKA: More beaches)

Lisbon beaches
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

Morning: Four days in and it’s time for a great escape from the city. Cue the Costa da Caparica. This land of long, golden sands and shimmering Atlantic waters lies just across the Tagus Estuary from Lisbon. It’s your chance to taste the famous sun, sea, and waves of the region without straying too far from the hotel.

The best way to arrive is on a ferry from Cais do Sodré to Cacilhas and then change to the 124 bus. It takes around an hour in all. Those who want to explore the furthest beaches and remoter surf spots of the costa should be sure to rent their own wheels, though. You’re likely to hit the small fishing town of Trafaria first. That’s got some charming coffee shops with views north over the city to begin the day.

Afternoon: It’s time to explore the beaches, all 10 uninterrupted miles of them! Thankfully, a small tourist train still runs up and down the length of the Costa da Caparica in the summer months (June to September). It links all the sands from the town of Costa da Caparica itself to the beach resort of Praia Fonte da Telha in the south. The latter is the farthest from Lisbon but also a truly gorgeous run of coastline, with high dunes to the back, pristine sands, and sky-blue waters.

Praia da Mata is also an option, offering sunbeds on the shoreline. Oh, and look out for Praia Naturista 19 if you’re keen on flinging off the beachwear. There are surf spots all up and down this coast, too, so don’t be afraid to hop off wherever if you’ve got the board in tow.

Evening: We’d recommend beelining back to the town of Costa da Caparica for the sunset hour. Surf shacks and salt-washed beach bars come alive there in the later hours. What’s more, there are some truly wonderful Portuguese seafood taverns, like Restaurante Bate-Papo and Pata Roxa, both local and authentic.

Day 5 – Belem and the best museums

Belem Tower
Photo by Alex Paganelli/Unsplash

Morning: The area of Belem offers the perfect end to our Lisbon 5 day itinerary. It’s on the western side of the city, known primarily for the grand Torre de São Vicente (also known as the Belem Tower). Stand there and take in the views of the Tagus. You can almost imagine the great explorers of the Portuguese Age of Discovery – Vasco De Gama, Ferdinand Magellan – bidding farewell to their home as they sailed out to round the Cape of Good Hope or plot the sea routes to India. The tower looks stunning in the morning light, so consider settling in the nearby Café do Forte for your morning brew with a view.

Afternoon: Move a little east down the Tagus from Belem Tower to the Santa Maria de Belém marina. It’s within walking distance and the area has established itself as one of the hottest new museum districts in the city. There’s all sorts, from the cutting-edge MAAT exhibit on renewable energy to the National Coach Museum, which hosts examples of 400-year-old carriages once used by Portugal’s kings and queens. Culture buffs will also want to cross the road to the north. That’s where the exquisite Jerónimos Monastery makes its home. Shouldering above a series of stunning gardens, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the prime examples of Gothic Manueline building work.

Evening: A grand finale for our Lisbon 5 day itinerary comes courtesy of the hedonistic side of the city. You can either walk the Tagus riverside if you have the time or hop on a train two stops to Conde Barão. Begin with a classic kiosk beer from the Miradouro de Santa Catarina (the sunsets there are awesome, but it does get busy). Then, drop down to Av. Ribeira das Naus on the estuary to hop ramshackle bars on the water’s edge. Finally, hit up Pink Street, one of the most vibrant streets in Lisbon, home to boho beer outlets and beatnik drinkeries aplenty. For later on, there’s the Bairro Alto, where the nightlife goes into overdrive (just watch the hangover if you have an early flight!).