This is the second and final part of our story of how to make the most of a week in Portugal. You’ll discover the best places to visit in the capital and from there we’ll head south to the white beaches of the Algarve.
One week in Portugal: 3 days in Lisbon
The capital city of Portugal abounds with beautiful sights, delicious restaurants, and lots of things to see and do, so I always recommend dedicating most of your week-long trip to Portugal to this part of the country.
Lisbon is much larger than Porto, so you’ll probably use the metro or city streetcars from time to time, but of course walking is still the best way to explore the city. Again, bring suitable walking shoes; the terrain here is just as hilly, and the roads and walkways can be incredibly slippery, especially in the fall and spring seasons.
You could easily spend a whole week here, but I think the optimal amount of time to get to know the city and see the nearby sights is three days.
You could easily spend a whole week here.
I have a huge list of things to do in Lisbon, so here I’ll just focus on some of my favorite sights. Part of the charm of Lisbon is exploring the streets and alleys on your own.
From any of Lisbon’s vantage points, it’s impossible not to notice the majestic Moorish building known as the Castel Sant’George. The imposing castle on top of the hill dates back to the second century and is fascinating to explore. In addition, its walls offer an impressive view of the city.
Ride the No. 28 tram
Lisbon’s streetcars are iconic, but no streetcar is more famous than the 28. It is, in fact, the tourist streetcar that offers the best route around the city. However, it can be incredibly crowded and uncomfortable. It’s best to take it in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the crowds.
One week in Portugal: a day in Sintra
The fairytale city of Sintra is a must-see in Lisbon. You can go there on your own or join a tour. You can’t see everything in one day, but if you choose a few places, you can arrange a good full-day or half-day tour. I did a half-day trip to Sintra with MoveToCascais. The excursion was just fine: I had plenty of time to visit Quinta da Regaleria.
The Palácio Nacional de Sintra
If you drive from the Lisbon side and turn sharply to the right near the Toy Museum, there is a paid parking lot along the Volta do Duche, then there is another big lot down on the left and another one just after you pass the palace if you stay on the right. I will specifically write about parking lots because Sintra has a lot of trouble with that.
The palace is impressive. There are many things done in the original Portuguese style, unlike the rest of Europe. Aside from the many halls and the tower of azulejos, the highlight of the palace is the massive kitchen with two enormous conical chimneys.
This palace has a rich history. As early as the 8th century, a Moorish palace was built on the site. In 1147, during the Reconquista, Alfonso Henriques conquered the palace. In 1281 the palace was restored. In 1385 King João I ordered the palace completely rebuilt, including the famous huge kitchen with giant chimneys, which became a symbol of Sintra. In 1495-1521, King Manuel I undertook an extensive reconstruction of the palace, adding touches to Manueline architecture. In 1683 King Alfonso VI died here in the palace prison, where he was imprisoned by his brother Pedro II and spent 9 years. In 1755 the palace was partially destroyed by the echoes of the same earthquake that nearly destroyed Lisbon. The last inhabitant of the palace in the 1880s was Maria Pia (grandmother of Manuel II). Since 1910 the palace was turned into a monument of national importance.
Alfama is one of the best places in Lisbon to get lost. Winding alleys, staircases and steep cobblestone streets are surrounded by ancient houses and buildings. It’s one of Portugal’s oldest neighborhoods, and it’s incredibly charming.
Alfama is also home to Portugal’s most famous flea market, called the Thieves’ Fair. Despite the name, the vendors claim that nothing is stolen 🙂 The Thief Fair takes place twice a week, Tuesday through Saturday, and opens at 6am. Come early for the best bargains.
The Alfama area also has many great restaurants, so I recommend spending a morning or afternoon exploring the city with the intention of stopping for lunch or dinner.
Belem is only a few minutes by streetcar from Lisbon and has quite a few attractions. Most people go to Belem for the Pasteis de Belem, which is said to have some of the tastiest pasteis de nata (egg pies) around. Along with the pasties you should also visit the Tower of Belem, the Jerónimos Monastery and the Monument of Discovery.
Listen to Fado in Bairro Alto
You can’t be in Lisbon and not hear Fado at least once. It’s an important part of the city’s culture and if you happen to come across a good Fado singer you’ll be amazed. Try Café Luso or Adega Machdo, both in Bairro Alto.
Eat the Time Out Market
This food pavilion is a gourmet’s paradise. You can find just about everything here, from wines to baked goods to full lunches. There are a bunch of tables in the center where you can eat, or you can get takeout. It’s a great place for lunch or dinner, and prices at most vendors are very affordable.
Go on a sunset cruise
Lisbona has very beautiful sunsets. You can go down to the waterfront and watch it with the crowds or run away from them and watch the sunset from a boat. The hour-long cruise offers a different view of the city and goes all the way to Belem and back.
Where to stay in Lisbon
As I mentioned above, Lisbon is much larger than Porto, so there are more neighborhoods and districts to choose from. The city center is a good choice, as it’s easy to get to everything from here. I like the historic Chiado and Baixa neighborhoods. Keep in mind though that Chiado is right next to Bairro Alto, so it can be noisy at night.
Lisbon offers all sorts of accommodation options. Here are some recommendations on where to stay in Lisbon, depending on your budget:
Hostels: Yes! Lisbon Hostel, Lookout! Lisbon Hostel (see my review here),Sunset Destination Hostel
Luxury Hotels: Pousada de Lisboa, Sofitel Lisbon, Iberostar Lisboa Luxury Hotels: Pousada de Lisboa, Sofitel Lisbon, Iberostar Lisboa
Luxury Hotels: Pousada de Lisboa, Sofitel Lisbon, Iberostar Lisboa
Luxury Hotels: Pousada de Lisboa, Sofitel Lisbon, Iberostar Lisboa
One week in Portugal: a day in the Algarve
The Portuguese Algarve is one of the most famous areas of the country. Beautiful views from the cliff tops, beaches and hiking trails make it a popular holiday destination during the warm season. However, if you do not rent a car it can be very difficult to get around, so I recommend if you only have one week in Portugal to visit this region for just one day.
Faro has a large airport from which you can fly out (or even take a cheap flight back to Lisbon or Porto to catch your flight), but Faro is tiny. I made the mistake of spending a whole day here and was disappointed. You can stay in Faro overnight, but do yourself a favor and hop on a bus to Lagos to really see the Algarve. It’s about 1.5-2 hours away by public transportation so that it won’t take long.
If you’re not up for a bus ride, you can explore the city in half a day (again, it’s small) and then take a boat cruise to see part of the Algarve from the water. If you want a little adventure, try a cruise on a pirate ship with a swim stop. You can also watch dolphins or take a boat tour along the Ria Formosa, called one of the 7 natural wonders of Portulaca.
You can also take a boat tour.
Algarve is about a 4-5 hour train ride from Lisbon, so it’s best to take the evening train on your last day in Lisbon to arrive in the city at night and then spend the entire next day exploring. If this seems too much for one day, consider spending another day in Lisbon. It’s a big enough city that you could easily add another day for sightseeing or visiting a few nearby beaches.
Tips on packing for Portugal
It can be hot in Portugal even in autumn (I was there in October and wore shorts with a T-shirt). Of the other things you will definitely need:
- A good reusable water bottle. Tap water in Portugal is safe to drink.
- If you go to the beach don’t forget your towel! I recommend a microfiber towel, it’s light and quick-drying.
- Sunscreen is a must, and if you are going to the beach, please take a reef-safe sunscreen with you. Regular sunscreen kills reefs and marine life, so do what you can for the ocean and for yourself.
- Forget flip-flops and sandals, Portugal is full of hills and, trust me, the streets are very slippery. Running or walking shoes with good treads are a must
- Coming in season or off-season? Take a rain jacket with you – a good waterproof one, because it can get very rainy, especially up north. (I like Columbia raincoats, they have options for men and women).
One week in Portugal may not seem like a long time, but you can do and see a lot in seven days. Portugal is a beautiful country and I really enjoyed exploring it. If you use this week-long itinerary of Portugal as your guide, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, too.
Note about travel insurance in Portugal
Please do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to resort to it more than once. Although the costs may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me: you will regret it if you don’t have it. For only a couple of euros a day you can save a lot of nerves and money.