A week in Lisbon itinerary
For a week in Lisbon, I designed the most “the world is your oyster” itinerary of all itineraries! I decided to plan each day by theme, so it’s easier for you to mix and match. There’s plenty of spare time each day so you can wander off and explore the city without a plan too.
The fatal date of 1 November 1755 is so impregnated in Lisbon residents’ minds that we find it difficult to imagine a time before that. There aren’t many traces of the city before the Great Earthquake, followed by a tsunami and a fire.
That said, archaeological traces show up all the time. And I do mean show up. You see, rebuilding Lisbon after the earthquake was a top priority, and things moved quite fast.
There was no time to see if you were building streets, a sewage system, or a new block on top of something else. Things are different now. Every time something comes up during construction, a team of archaeologists who work at the City Council take action.
Most ruins are from the time when Lisbon was a Roman city called Olisipo. That’s why I suggest you start the day at the Roman Theater Museum (Museu do Teatro Romano) in Alfama.
Other traces of what Lisbon looked like before the earthquake are pretty scarce. However, you can still spot a medieval house in Alfama (Rua dos Cegos, 22) and what remains of the medieval wall that protected Lisbon in Mouraria. It’s an easy-to-miss piece of wall (yes, literally) near Martim Moniz square.
Lisbon has had the capacity to reinvent itself since that dreadful earthquake in 1755. To make do is a very Portuguese trait, in fact. Maybe because we’re wedged between the Atlantic Ocean and Spain?
But cultural conceptions apart, three Lisbon areas fit those criteria of rebirth: Baixa, Chiado, and Bairro Alto.
Which one you choose to visit first is up to you, considering they’re near each other, but I’ll leave you with the reconstruction chronology of the three neighborhoods:
- Baixa (Pombalina) – 18th century, post-1755 Great Earthquake;
- Bairro Alto – early 1980s, after the democratic revolution of 25 April 1974;
- Chiado – 1991 to 2001, after the great fire of 1988.
There are several viewpoints to see Lisbon from above, but the one from the top of the arch at Rua Augusta is the best to see the contrasts between medieval Lisbon (Alfama) and post-earthquake Lisbon (Baixa).
From a city planner’s point of view, Baixa is like a dream. Of course, for the romantics, there’s nothing more appealing than the chaotic and crumbling nestled buildings of Alfama. Had the earthquake destroyed more of the city by the river, and the whole downtown area would look like Baixa.
The rebuilding of Bairro Alto in the 1980s is ideological, not physical. Built initially after another big earthquake that hit Lisbon in 1531, Bairro Alto was always a symbol of transgression, but that became more visible in the first years after the fall of the conservative dictatorship.
From a few brothels and Fado houses here and there in the late 1970s, Bairro Alto blew up with dozens of bars and nightclubs at the turn of the decade.
Portugal and Lisbon, in particular, was opening up to the outside world with all the good and bad consequences you can imagine. Frágil, a bar that opened in 1982 on number 126 of Rua da Atalaia, would forever change Lisbon’s nightlife. Unfortunately, it no longer exists.
The devastation caused by the Chiado fire of 1988 was a series of misfortunes. It started at Armazéns Grandella, caused by an electrical malfunction, and spread violently to 18 buildings at 5:00 AM on 25 August 1988. The streets were too narrow for a fire truck to get to the buildings, which caused outrage among the Lisboans more than the fire itself.
A team led by Portuguese architect Siza Vieira was in charge of the project. It took 10 years (1991-2001) to rebuild Chiado as the bustling commercial area you see now. The last part of the project, known as Terraços do Carmo (Carmo Terraces), was completed in 2015.
Reinvented Lisbon is slightly different from rebuilt Lisbon because it’s not caused by destruction. Instead, I see it as the natural evolution of a city. However, that natural evolution is sometimes accelerated by gentrification and touristification.
As for Intendente, when I moved to Lisbon 20+ years ago, it was a no-zone.
“Don’t go there at night.”
“Don’t go there alone.”
“It’s full of prostitutes and drug dealers.”
“It’s not safe for a woman.”
Then, in 2011, Lisbon Mayor António Costa (later, Portugal’s Prime Minister) decides to move his office from the City Council’s main building to Intendente. The goal? To change the reputation of the neighborhood.
Political stunts aside, the truth is that investors and business owners started to look at Intendente for its potential. If the Mayor finds it safe enough for him, why shouldn’t they?
As much as I love how Intendente looks today – its brightness and energy, the garden that’s actually a piece of urban art by Joana Vasconcelos, the gorgeous Art Nouveau building – I’m concerned about the rampant surge of luxury apartments in the area.
Unfortunately, this is one of those places where you can witness gentrification in Lisbon as it happens. You’ll notice how it’s starting to spread from the Intendente square down the street Rua do Benformoso. If not stopped, it will soon hit the center of Mouraria, the Martim Moniz square.
Note: I wrote about Madragoa for the 2020 edition of the book Secret City by Lonely Planet.
Granted that the itinerary for day four is a lot more appealing for travelers interested in urban architecture, particularly the mid-century modern style (1933-1965).
If you don’t feel like walking around looking at buildings all day, I suggest you make the best of it at Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian.
You can take a self-guided tour of the gardens, following the itineraries suggested by one of the landscape architects that created it (Gonçalo Ribeiro Telles).
I definitely recommend a visit to the Modern Art Museum. And if you have a few more minutes to spare after that, I suggest you visit Under the Cover across the street — a store that specializes in independent magazines.
The neighborhoods of Campo de Ourique and Alvalade don’t usually show up on itineraries, mostly for the lack of monuments or landmarks to visit.
Most tourists hop off tram 28 at the stop before last and kill time browsing the market in Campo de Ourique (or the cemetery Cemitério dos Prazeres down the street). As for tourists in Alvalade, either they show up out of curiosity, or they’re staying at a short-term rental apartment in the neighborhood.
If you’re an architect buff, you must absolutely include Campo de Ourique and Alvalade. Both of them are mostly residential neighborhoods, so in addition to marveling at mid-century buildings, you can also do some people watching.
I like places that are left raw for the purpose of being left raw. Hipster urban Lisbon, namely LX Factory (west side) and the areas of Beato and Poço do Bispo (east side), aren’t it.
I’m quite over the repurposed abandoned and shut down industrial buildings being transformed into cafes, coworking spaces, restaurants, vintage stores. How much more exposed brick, steel beams, and urban art pieces can one handle?
That said, I also understand the appeal to visit them. That’s why I’m including that hipster urban side of the city on this 7-day Lisbon itinerary.
The Beato and Poço do Bispo area is still underdeveloped, but give it another year or two, and it will most likely outgrow LX Factory in popularity.
Pretty soon, the old fabrics factory that was turned into an urban cultural center in 2005 will become obsolete.
The former industrial complex now called Hub Criativo Beato, currently under construction, will soon house Mercedes Benz, Startup Lisboa, a coliving space, and all the needed support facilities like restaurants and cafes.
Small public parks and squares are scattered around the city if you’re looking to lounge around soaking up the Lisbon sun.
But I’d like to suggest something different on your sixth day in Lisbon: exploring Monsanto, the city’s Forest Park. Fun fact: it’s almost three times bigger than New York’s Central Park.
Monsanto has a ton of possibilities for outdoor activities with playgrounds for kids, picnic areas, viewpoints, hiking and biking trails, and an abandoned (for now) old panoramic restaurant covered in street art and with one of the most beautiful views of Lisbon.
Although it looks like the city grew around the Forest Park, the area was actually used for farming and grazing animals until the late 1930s, at the beginning of the conservative dictatorship. Then, landscape architect Keil do Amaral designed the park you see today.
If you feel like hiking or biking, try getting to Monsanto by following the Green Path (Corredor Verde) from Parque Eduardo VII to the Forest Park.
My suggestions for your last day in Lisbon depend on a few factors: how exhausted are you? Is there a place in the city you’d like to return to? Are you leaving Lisbon on this day and therefore have less than 12 hours in the city?
Think of day 7 as the bonus day.
If you’ve explored plenty of the city in the last few days, I suggest a day trip from Lisbon by train. Why train? Because I’m partial to this public transport, they mostly run on time, and they’re reasonably comfortable.
Don’t overthink it, just choose the destination that fits your plans and your calendar:
- Cascais (40 min each way)
- Sintra (50 min each way)
- Santarém (1h each way)
- Setúbal (1h each way)
- Grândola (1h 10min each way)
- Évora (1h 30min each way)
- Tomar (2h each way)
- Coimbra (2h 30min each way)