When we found a flight for $550 round trip to Barcelona through Next Vacay (find out why we love using them so much here), we booked it and planned a trip to visit family for Thanksgiving. After seeing so many beautiful pictures of Portugal, we decided to add on a five day road trip, spending the majority of our limited time in Lisbon.
Lisbon has enough to see that we could have spent all five days there. However, with rainy weather a few of the days, we decided to escape the rain for sunny skies in northern and southern Portugal a couple of the days. That left us with two days in Lisbon and one day in Sintra, an easy day trip that is worth every minute. Here is a breakdown of where you need to go and when to get the best photos!
SUNRISE & EARLY MORNING
Depending on what time of year you go, you may have an earlier start with more time to spread out the morning or a later start with less time to fit everything in. We went in November, so sunrise was around 7:30 a.m. We visited these locations between 7 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. Many of the locations in Lisbon are within walking distance if you don’t mind a few hills, so I included distances for locations that are near each other.
MIRADOURO DE SANTA LUZIA & PORTAS DO SOL
If you are looking for a sunrise view overlooking Lisbon and the water, you can’t go wrong with either. We found them both to be pretty empty (only 3 – 5 other people there at any one time). Be prepared to walk uphill if you aren’t staying in Alfama (and maybe even then). You can also take a streetcar or Uber if you want an easier option or get a late start. Both of these lookouts are right next to each other, so you can easily check out both at once.
Portas do Sol is more of just a deck to look out, but it does have a better city view. Miradouro de Santa Luzia has a view of one section of the city but also is a prettier area. It is worth it to check out both to see which one you prefer.
ARCO DA RUA AUGUSTA & PRACA DO COMERCIO
From the viewpoints, it is only a 15 minute walk to the next stop on your morning tour of Lisbon (0.6 miles or a little less than a kilometer). On the way, enjoy the views of the Alfama district, but you can come back later in the day for pictures without worrying about too many crowds. We did stop for pictures at Lisbon Cathedral since we just happened to walk past it on our route. We stopped because it was a pretty church and found out later that it is the oldest church in Lisbon.
This arch and plaza can be crowded on weekday mornings in winter. Thanks to the later sunrise time coinciding with the morning commute to work in winter, you are less likely to find it completely empty on weekday mornings. In summer, this is less likely to be a problem. Either way, you want to be here early if you want photos without many people in them.
When we were there in November, there was construction on one side of the arch, but you can still get beautiful pictures on both sides. The side facing the plaza is more popular for pictures to get the statue under the arch.
From the arch, it is only a 10 minute (0.4 mile or .6 kilometer) walk to Pink Street. However, if you can manage it later in the day, skip Pink Street in the morning. In the morning it is covered with trash from partying the night before. If you want nightlife, Pink Street is a popular place to be. That leads to trash and a not so pretty smell the next morning. If you come back later in the day in the early afternoon or late morning, it is cleaned up and smells much better.
We visited Pink Street twice, once in the morning after the Arco da Rua Augusta around 8:45 a.m. and a second time around 10:30 a.m. The first time it was littered with trash and dirty water from rain the day before. The owners of the stores and bars started coming out to sweep the street when we visited earlier in the morning. The second time it was cleaned up. Both times it was pretty empty. Despite the photos on Instagram, it did not seem to be a popular spot.
Pink Street is also a lot shorter than you may expect. It is basically just a block on either side of the bridge that appears in the photos. I’m not sure why I expected it to be a bigger street, but it is hidden among the buildings and you kind of just stumble upon it.
ELEVADOR DA BICA
This is one of the most famous funiculars in Lisbon and only a few minutes from Pink Street or about 15 minutes walking from the Arco da Rua Augusta (0.7 miles or about a kilometer). We decided to ride it, but you can also just walk along the sidewalk that goes next to it. If you have a Lisbon card, transportation including the streetcars and funiculars is free. If not, you can pay about €5 for a round trip ride. Supposedly you can ride in one direction for free on some of the funiculars, but we did not find that to be true here.
When looking for the Elevador da Bica, the address on the map is likely to take you to the bottom of the hill. You won’t see the funicular right away since it is inside a building. There is a sign on the front of the building, so keep your eyes open for it.
We got there around 9:30 a.m. and found that not many people were riding the funicular or in the area. The people who were walking alongside the track seemed to mostly be locals going about their business. This area does get crowded later in the day, so it makes a good stop in the morning.
I’m going to talk about Belem Tower twice, but we actually visited three times. One of those times was in the morning before it opens. The bridge to the tower is shut down before it opens and after it closes. If you are going to Belem Tower when it opens, get there earlier to get pictures with the bridge empty and no one around.
I know sometimes in the summer there can be a line once it opens at 10 a.m. To make sure we did not have that problem, we went around 8:30 a.m. To get to Belem Tower, your best bet is to use a rental car (what we did) or take an Uber. It is only a 15 – 30 minute drive from most places in Lisbon. For us, it was a 25 minute drive or over an hour on public transportation. Since we had a rental car, the decision was easy for us. If you don’t have a rental car, you may want to consider an Uber to get to this area.
MONUMENT TO THE DISCOVERIES
We did not go in the Monument, but that is an option. It is only a few minutes by car or a 15 minute walk from Belem Tower. Before it opens at 10 a.m., the area is empty. The outside of the monument is impressive and covered in carvings of explorers from Portugal. Unfortunately, due to a hard drive issue, the only photos I have from this morning are on my phone.
25 DE ABRIL BRIDGE
If you want a good view of this bridge, you can see it from Belem Tower, the Monument to the Discoveries, or from a park just down the road. The bridge looks like the Golden Gate Bridge and makes for a good backdrop to your photos while you are in the area.
By late morning, I mean the time between 10 a.m. and noon. Most of the popular spots in Lisbon open at 10 a.m. including Belem Tower, Jeronimos Monastery, Carmo Convent, and the Monument to the Discoveries. This means you have a lot to choose from starting at 10 a.m.
Jeronimos Monastery was my favorite place in Lisbon. It is only a few minutes by car or about a 15 minute walk from Belem Tower. If you don’t have a car, you may want to see both at the same time while you are in the area. We went after our morning looking at the bridge, tower, and monument, but we also came back to the area at a different time to go in Belem Tower.
Construction on the monastery began in 1501, and it is so beautiful and full of detail throughout. Going into the attached church is free and does not require a ticket. Most tour groups seemed to take this option. If you want to visit the actual Monastery, you will need a ticket. Entry is €10 per person, or you can do a combined ticket with Belem Tower for €12.
I strongly suggest being at Jeronimos Monastery right when it opens at 10 a.m. You purchase the tickets from the building right next to the monastery, the Museum of Maritime. We did not visit the museum other than to purchase our tickets.
Once you have your tickets, go straight into the monastery. It is two stories, and make sure you visit both. The lower floor stays more crowded, and there will almost always be people in the courtyard (except when it rains like it did while we were there). From the upper floor, you also have access to a balcony with a view of the church. We did not go in the free part of the church since we could enjoy the view with fewer people from the balcony.
For anyone who travels solo, the monastery allowed selfie sticks. However, we set up the tripod to take pictures of the two of us together, and someone came over to tell us that we could not use a tripod there for security reasons. Be prepared and have another option for photos with you in them. The monastery is built in a way that there are lots of places to set your camera to still get pictures without a tripod.
Carmo Convent is back in Lisbon and is actually somewhere we visited in the afternoon. In the winter, this was okay as there were very few other people there. I think that this might be different in the summer. The Carmo Convent has similar hours to everything else in Lisbon, but anytime near open or close should find it emptier than midday.
The convent is mostly open air, so you want to visit on a day with good weather. The roof of the nave collapsed in an earthquake and was never restored. Only the arches remain, making it look a little like the ruins in ancient Greece.
If you walk all the way through the convent, you can enter the building in the back which is a museum and shop. The museum has artifacts from Portuguese history. It doesn’t take long to walk through unless you really take time to study each piece.
For the purposes of this post, I am counting early afternoon as anytime between noon and 3 p.m. (1500). This is the time when most popular places will be busiest, making it the perfect time to find quieter places and enjoy a meal.
CASA DO ALENTEJO
This beautiful restaurant looks like something straight out of Morocco. We decided not to eat there, but you can go in and enjoy the courtyard area and part of the upstairs without entering the restaurant. We went here right around 1 p.m. and found no one else there except those eating in the restaurant. I don’t think it ever gets crowded for taking pictures, so you can stop by anytime if this is somewhere you want to see.
RUA AUGUSTA & PRACA DOS RESTAURADORES
If you are looking for food, you will find plenty of options in this area right near Casa Do Alentejo. You have the plaza, and then surrounding the plaza are plenty of restaurant options. We wandered down Rua das Portas de Santo Antao one day and found it hard to choose a place because there were so many options.
The next day we decided to walk down Rua Augusta to find food and a certain ice cream shop. Rua Augusta allows foot traffic only, so restaurants along the side of the road also set up outdoor seating in the middle of the road. Since the weather was nice, we decided to eat outdoors at one of the many Portuguese restaurants. You can also find plenty of places to buy the famous pastel de nata along the street.
I will warn you that this area is full of drugs like marijuana and cocaine. We had many people (at least 15 – 20) approach us to sell us drugs as we walked down the street looking for food. Many took a simple no and walked away, but some were more pushy, taking offense when you turned them down. We decided to eat outdoors, but at least three or four more people approached us while we were sitting down eating. One of them began mocking us when we turned him down. The restaurant did nothing to keep them away. It was not a pleasant experience for dining, and I would probably choose indoor dining if we returned to the area.
Yes, I am giving a heading to a gelato shop. I eat ice cream in every country we visit, and I could not pass up rose-shaped gelato cones. Amorino Baixa is on Rua Augusta and near the Arco da Rua Augusta. The gelato appears as if it is rose petals inside the cone. If you want pictures with your cone, take them quickly or have a plan to get to the place you want pictures quickly as it will melt. We had a few extra minutes thanks to the cooler weather in winter, but summer would make it an extra challenge. The gelato is not only pretty, it was good!
ASCENSOR DA GLORIA & LOOKOUT
From Rua Augusta and Praca dos Restauradores, it was a short walk to the funicular. You have a choice to ride or walk to the top. While we rode up, we walked back down. Graffiti and street art covers the walls along the tracks. Since tickets are round trip, we gave our tickets to someone else at the top and walked down to take in the artwork. Be careful as it can be a slippery walk if the path is at all wet.
At the top of the funicular, if you look to the right, you will see a park and a lookout area. This it the Sao Pedro de Alcantara Garden. It provides a wonderful view of Lisbon and a good starting point to walk around Bairro Alto.
LATE AFTERNOON AND EVENING
This time frame covers everything from 3 p.m. (1500) until sunset. During November, the sun sets in Lisbon around 5 p.m. (1700).
BAIRRO ALTO & ALFAMA DISTRICT
These areas are two of the most popular for strolling around. You can find all kinds of beautiful tile work and colorful buildings. Be prepared for some hills and watch out for the tiled sidewalks after the rain. You really cannot go wrong in either area, so just wander around and see what you can find. Really, any time of day is good for this. We happened to be in Alfama in the morning after sunrise and in Bairro Alto in the late afternoon after lunch.
Belem Tower is the perfect location in Lisbon for sunset. In November, the sun sets behind the tower if you stay on the same side of the tower as the bridge. If you want to go in the tower (it is worth the €6 fee or you may already have a ticket if you do the combination with Jeronimos Monastery), we found that getting there about 30 – 45 minutes before closing was enough.
Inside, there is not really much to see that would take time. There are multiple levels to the tower. Some do not have much to see, but several have good views of the bridge, surrounding area or the rest of the tower. There is only one stairwell in the tower, so they use a traffic light system to make the stairs only up and then only down. You may have to wait a few minutes depending on when you get to the stairwell.
They will start kicking everyone out starting at the top of the tower about 10 minutes before closing. They slowly work their way down from the top to get everyone out by the time closing hits. From that point, you have about 15 more minutes on the bridge to get any pictures while they finish up inside. Once they come out, they clear the bridge and put the gate back across it. This gives you a little more time before it gets dark to get pictures without anyone on the bridge.
THE PRACTICAL INFORMATION
Because we wanted to see more than just Lisbon, we rented a car at the airport from Goldcar. Our hotel included parking for a fee, but you can park on most streets overnight for free on weekends. Having a car made it easy to get around Lisbon’s main areas. Figuring out parking was not always easy though. Thankfully the locals were helpful (usually homeless men who helped you find a spot for a small tip). We mostly drove to an area and then parked and walked everywhere from there. When we wanted to get to areas where parking would be a problem, we used Uber and then walked.
We stayed at the Czar Lisbon Hotel. We like to find hotels with free breakfast and not too far from the main sites. This hotel included both. It was about a 10 – 15 minute drive to most tourist places in Lisbon or about a 1.5 mile (2.4 km) walk to most places.
Is Lisbon somewhere you have already visited or somewhere you would like to go?
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