5-Day Lisbon itinerary
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If there’s one itinerary to take things slow, this is it. You can choose to travel from west to east (Belém to Oriente) or do the itinerary in reverse, east to west. This 5-day Lisbon itinerary excludes day of arrival and day of departure. You can mix and match the days as you please, and there’s plenty of spare time each day so you can wander off and explore the city without a plan.
Belém is the neighborhood of massive “age of discoveries” monuments, built as a result of this newfound source of wealth or to pay tribute to what most consider as the “golden age” of the Portuguese empire.
For this itinerary, I suggest you start at Ajuda by visiting another Portuguese empire related monument at the top of the hill: the unfinished palace Palácio Nacional da Ajuda.
The palace was built as a safer home for the Portuguese royal family after the 1755 Great Earthquake, but was left unfinished in 1807 after said family escaped the French invasions by
running away seeking exile in Brazil (then a colony or, as they liked to put it then, a part of the grand Portuguese empire).
After exploring the palace, you can walk down to Belém and visit all the “age of discoveries” monuments like Mosteiro dos Jerómimos, Torre de Belém, and Padrão dos Descobrimentos.
For this west/east or east/west itinerary, I suggest you always start the day at MNAA (National Museum of Ancient Art) because it’s the best way to beat the crowds. I also suggest you stick to one or two floors, specifically the third floor where you’ll find Portuguese art (painting and sculpture).
I also suggest you walk from MNAA to the center of Madragoa down Rua das Janelas Verdes, left on the Calçada Marquês de Abrantes, and left again to Rua da Esperança. Rua da Esperança, in particular, is an interesting mix of old traditional restaurants and new cafes/brunch joints, all coexisting peacefully as far as I can tell.
That street is important because that vibe continues on as you cross Av. Dom Carlos I to get to Rua do Poço dos Negros, one of the three streets of “the triangle”.
Neither Madragoa or “the triangle” focus too much on attracting tourists – in fact, I think tourists come here precisely for that mix I mentioned above – but the vibe is slightly different once you go down to Cais do Sodré.
Note: I wrote about Madragoa for the 2020 edition of the book Secret City by Lonely Planet*.
I confess that from all the Lisbon itineraries I’ve wrote so far (you can see them all below), this day three of the Lisbon itinerary for five days is probably my favorite. It’s light because it only includes one museum that doesn’t take more than one hour to visit.
It also condenses so much of Lisbon’s identity in one go: the yellow tram 24E, the art museum of a local artist born on June 13th (the day of the city when everyone is going nuts about popular saints and sardines), the grand reinvention of the city after the 1755 earthquake led by Pombal.
Tram 24E, that connects Chiado to Amoreiras, is underrated for tourists but was a major win for a local association of Lisbon residents who lobbied to get this route reopened. The rails were there and the need for this route was there, so after a long battle, they got it back. I boarded the tram on the reopening and I use it frequently now that I work from Chiado.
But there’s more to tram 24E than convenience to get to a part of the city not served by Metro and that’s the stop at Jardim das Amoreiras. Why? Because it gets tourists closer to an art museum that otherwise is kept under the radar: Fundação Arpad Szenes – Vieira da Silva.
I enjoy small, independent museums that focus on one (or more) local artists. That one is one of them and, as I stated above, it doesn’t take too long to visit.
From the museum, you can walk back to the tram stop and get on the tram again to Amoreiras (which is the next stop, R. Amoreiras) or walk there. This shiny glass building is both an eyesore and an icon. Is this possible? It’s a shopping mall with offices, designed by an architect who became more famous for other creations than his buildings (google it :D). It might not be liked by everyone, but it’s impossible to ignore it.
With the Amoreiras shopping mall on your left, walk down Av. Eng. Duarte Pacheco towards the Marquês de Pombal roundabout. Yes, the guy really thought that much about himself and, well, he can take credit for rebuilding Lisbon after the earthquake.
And no matter how many years I spend in Lisbon, walking down Av. da Liberdade from Marquês do Praça dos Restauradores is still one of my favorite walks.
On this day dedicated to the old quarters of Lisbon, I suggest you start with a visit to the tile museum (Museu Nacional do Azulejo). I know how the tiles on the buildings of Mouraria, Alfama, and Graça are one of their biggest attractions, but I believe it’s important to get the background of those tiles first.
Geographically, the tile museum is not in neither of those quarters but it’s a short bus ride away from any of them. From the museum, you can take buses 728 or 759 that stop at Campo das Cebolas (Alfama).
The Expo happened in Lisbon in 1998 and it’s still remembered by locals as one of the biggest events in the city. That was long before the Portuguese capital was taken seriously as a European city, long before anyone even thought of it as a tourist destination, long before… Well, you get the picture.
Expo 1998 took place in what is now known as Parque das Nações (or referred to simply as Oriente by locals). The area that was previously an industrial wasteland had been completely transformed with contemporary architecture, an urban park, a (very expensive) second bridge over Tagus River, and a new train station designed by Santiago Calatrava (that everyone complains about when it’s cold and windy).
Most recently, Oriente became the place where all digital roads lead to every year in November during the Web Summit.
When it comes to grand gestures of showing the world Portugal is to be taken seriously, Expo 98 is very close to the “age of discoveries”. Of course, at the time the connection between both events was portrayed as Portugal’s eternal relationship with the seas. Well, that’s one way to put it.
Oriente, to me, is like a modern version of the tribute Belém pays to that relationship with the seas but on the opposite side of town. I expect you’ll draw your own conclusions, of course, since there aren’t any landmarks or museums to visit here.