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72 hours in Lisbon

While there’s lots to love about Portugal, I’ve fallen head over heels with Lisbon. One of the world’s most picturesque cities, built on the hills above the Tagus River, it has everything you could ever want in a European city from cobbled streets to get lost in, delicious cuisine, rich history, and vibrant color. It’s hard to put a finger on the exact reason why Lisbon is so enchanting, but I think what takes it over the top for me is the friendliness of the people. Okay, the sheer beauty of it all and the food don’t hurt either. 

Having returned again and again, I don’t think you could ever have enough time in Portugal’s capital, but if you have to limit yourself to 72 hours, this is a good way to take advantage of it.

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Day 1

Upon arrival to Lisbon, you’ll want to drop your luggage off at your hotel and go exploring. I highly recommend the 4-star AlmaLusa or 5-star Pousada de Lisboa, both of which will put you in the heart of it all. My favorite way to beat any lingering jet lag is by strolling the waterfront district of Belem. A walk along the Tagus River will allow you to take in two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the iconic 16th-century Belem Tower. It was built out of limestone to guard the entrance to the harbor and its nearly 100-foot, four-story tower and bastion have become a symbol of the city. 

The other UNESCO-listed site is also a must-visit. Jeronimos Monastery provides testimony to the country’s maritime history and was commissioned by King Dom Manuel I during the time of Vasco da Gama’s pioneering sea voyage to India. One of Lisbon’s finest examples of late gothic Manueline style of architecture, its pastry chef created pastéis de Belém, a flaky custard tart made with a pastry shell and filled with a combination of eggs, sugar, milk, lemon, and cinnamon. While the recipe remains a secret, various versions of it spread throughout the country and it’s since become the national dessert. Trust me when I say you need to try it – the delectable treat will keep you going until lunchtime.

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Now you’ll be ready to explore one of several intriguing museums like the Royal Coach Museum, MAAT, and Berardo Collection. With so much to see, you’ll be looking at a late lunch afterward. Cacué is a perfect spot, its name a word the chef’s father made up to refer to men on bicycles. It features many traditional classics like arroz de lingueirao (razor clam rice) and bacalhau a Minhota (fried codfish with potatoes). With a full belly, you’ll have the energy for some more exploring. The extensive collection at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum is well worth a visit. The institution was designed to showcase the masterpieces that Gulbenkian, a British-Armenian businessman and philanthropist, collected during his lifetime. It includes around a thousand pieces with everything from Egyptian, Greco-Roman, and Western art to works from the Far East.

 For dinner, sample petiscos (small plates) at Ramiro or Petisco Saloio. The latter attracts “discreet foodies” and is all about Portugal’s signature tasty, bite-size, shareable, dishes, albeit with its own elevated twist, richer and heartier than most. 


Day 2

The best way to begin your second day in Lisbon is by heading to the Mercardo de Riberia. I always stop at Delta Coffees for a tasty fuel up before exploring the market stalls and enjoying specialties like the traditional pork sandwich. One of my favorites is the Francesinha which includes ham and pork sausage with melted cheese, followed by a slathering of sauce, all topped with an egg. Nearby at Rua Nova do Carvalho (Pink Street), capture a colorful photo for your Instagram feed. If you want to delve into the city’s lively nightlife, this is where you’ll want to come back to after dark. From here you can hop on one of the famous tram cars, ascending the hill to the 11th-century Sao Jorge Castle, Castelo de Jorge, for a spectacular panorama of the river and the city.

After taking in the jaw-dropping view you can easily stroll back down the steep streets to eclectic Alfama, one of the oldest areas of the city. Filled with many cafes and shops selling traditional crafts, you might want to do some browsing or buying before stopping at one of the popular local spots for petiscos.

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Alfama is also the place to try a glass of the local sour cherry liqueur, ginjinha, at one of the historic taverns. The vibrant Bairro Alto and Chiado are well worth a visit. This is where I like to pick up some local, handmade items such as soaps and olive oil at A Vida Portugesa, which make for great souvenirs or gifts for friends and family back home.

There’s no better way to end this day than with a sunset sail along the Tagus River, admiring the city from another perspective, sailing past landmarks like Belem Tower, the 25th of April Bridge, and Sao Jorge Castle. You’ll learn about the city’s history and attractions from the captain and can enjoy it all while sipping wine, available for purchase onboard. The highlight is watching the sunset from the deck of the sailboat, just about guaranteed to provide picture-perfect photographs. Afterward, waterfront dining can be enjoyed at 5 Oceanos which has a menu of fresh Portuguese-style fish, seafood, and steaks, or the industrial-chic Kais Restaurant Bar, a brick warehouse transformed into a foodie haunt serving a modern Portuguese menu with a focus on seafood dishes.

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Day 3

Take advantage of your final 24-hour hours to head to what was once an industrial neighborhood. The former warehouses of LXFactory were converted into art galleries, concept stores, charming shops, and restaurants. When you’re ready for lunch, for a local spot my personal favorite is Ni Michi which offers authentic Latin flavors that can be enjoyed with a pisco sour, which many say (and I concur) is the best in the city. The ceviche makes a great appetizer and I like the fish tacos followed up with the three-milk cake or churros.

You’ll want to walk off those delicious eats and a great way to do it is to head to Museu Nacional do Azuelejo which can be reached with a stroll along the waterfront. It’s a 5-mile trek but you can always take public transport back. The art museum, which translates to the National Tile Museum, is dedicated the traditional tilework of Portugal and the former Portuguese Empire called azulejo. Here you’ll get an excellent overview of the history behind the famous azuelejos that you’ll see frequently during your time in Lisbon. Set in the Madre de Deus Convent that was founded in 1509, the collections will take you back in time through the history of tile, from the 15th-century through today.

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Now is a good time to take the cable car called Telecabine. The aerial lift will bring you to a height of nearly 100 feet over the Tagus River while providing panoramic views of Park of the Nations, a neighborhood park built for the 1998 Lisbon World Exposition. It includes gardens, Europe’s second largest aquarium, and the Vasco de Gama Tower which an observation take that provides magnificent views over Lisbon out to the sea.

For the perfect grand finale of your time in Lisbon, enjoy dinner at one of the top restaurants in the city. Either one of the eateries by renowned chef Jose Avillez, a well-known face on Portuguese TV for his cooking show “Improbabilicious,” are sure to be memorable. The more casual Cantinho do Avillez offers the best in contemporary Portuguese cuisine influenced by his travels abroad, while Michelin-star Belcanto is a legend in this city with two tasting menus and an a la carte option taking diners on a gastronomic tour of contemporary Portuguese dishes.

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This article was first published in issue six of the Unforgettable Travel Magazine.