The Ultimate One Week Portugal Itinerary: Fall in Love with Lisbon and Porto
Portugal is the most underrated country in Europe. The secret is finally getting out, but this small country on the Iberian Peninsula has been overlooked for years. It still doesn’t get as much love as its next-door neighbor, Spain. That may actually be a good thing – fewer tourists, fewer crowds. This post lays out how to spend one week in Portugal for first-time visitors. In 7 days, you’ll see the highlights of Porto, Lisbon, and surrounding areas.
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Transportation: Portugal has three international airports in Lisbon, Porto, and Faro. The cities and towns are connected via the national train system, Comboios de Portugal, and the national bus service, Rede Expressos. There are also private bus companies like Alsa (super cheap!) that serve multiple destinations in Portugal. Within cities and towns, you can get around using a network of public transportation options – trams, buses, and metro.
Currency: Portugal is a member of the European Union and the Euro Zone and, therefore, uses the Euro as its currency. Major credit cards are normally accepted in the major cities, especially in chain restaurants and hotels. That said, I would carry cash because there are lots of establishments that are cash-only. Learn more about how to save money on travel.
Climate: Portugal has a Mediterranean climate, which means it experiences mild, rainy winters and hot, sunny summers. The country is home to many seaside communities and landscapes with high altitudes. Those factors affect the weather, too.
Languages: Portuguese is the official language, but you’ll also find a considerable number of English, French, and Spanish speakers.
Day 1: Lisbon – Praça do Comércio, Alfama, and Bairro Alto
As the capital and cultural epicenter of Portugal, Lisboa, or Lisbon, is a natural place to start your visit. You’ve probably seen photos of the iconic yellow trolleys in the middle of the city’s steep, narrow streets. That’s as much as I knew about Lisbon when I first visited in 2012. Honestly, I had low expectations so I was beyond surprised by how much this city had to offer! I loved it so much that I’ve gone back twice.
Today, Lisbon is a hub for expats and creatives, a major transformation from when I first visited. In fact, so many foreigners have moved there in the last 5 years that rent has gone through the roof. Still, the spirit of the city remains the same.
I’ll give you two options for your first day: a walking tour or a slow-paced tour of the city center. For the former, you can do Sandeman New Europe’s free 3-hour walking tour of Lisbon. Starting at the central Praca do Camoes, the tour focuses on Lisbon’s history and architecture. You’ll learn about events that have shaped this city, like the Portuguese Inquisition and the Great Earthquake of 1755. Option two is to follow the itinerary below.
Praça do Comércio
Praça do Comércio is the largest square in the city that overlooks the riverfront. It’s also the heart of the city. With its bright yellow walls, this place provides a stunning backdrop for photos! Often, you’ll see performances by musicians and dancers in the square. I’ve seen everything from African dancers to concert pianists perform here.
In front of Praça do Comércio, you’ll find the Tagus River. It’s relaxing to just sit by the river while people watch and getting some fresh air. From the river, you can walk back up to Praca do Comercio and continue down to neighboring Rua Augusta. This is the main pedestrian street in Lisbon. It’s famous the giant arch at its entrance and its ornately-decorated marble floors. This street often crowded but worth a stroll when you’re getting introduced to the city.
Getting to Praca do Comercio: take tram 15 or take the metro to Cais do Sodre and transfer to bus 760
Alfama is the oldest district in Lisbon. This hilly neighborhood is the birthplace of Fado, a hauntingly beautiful style of music originally performed by women seeing their husbands off to battle. Another thing I love about Alfama is the array of stunning viewpoints overlooking the Rio Tejo (Tagus River.) I enjoy watching the musical performances by the Miradouro de Santa Luzia and running into the quirky street performers. That said, nothing beats the Sao Jorge Castle, a Moorish castle dating back to before the 12th century. Then again, I’ve never seen a Moorish castle I didn’t like.
Things to do in Alfama:
- Have lunch with peacocks at the Sao Jorge Castle and then climb to the top for epic views. An entrance ticket for the castle is 10 EUR
- Take tram 28 around the entire district (get off at Largo do Graca.) It costs 1.50 euros per ride
- Visit the Fado Museum to learn about the history of this musical style
- Snap some photos by the famous overlook, Miradouro de Portas do Sol.
- Admire the Baroque architecture inside the Se Cathedral
Getting to Alfama: take tram 28 (usually crowded) or get some exercise by walking uphill. No buses go up to Alfama because the neighborhood is too hilly and narrow.
Bairro Alto is the place to hang out at night in Lisbon. This area has rows of bars and clubs that play Reggaeton and top 40 until 6 am in the morning. There are live music venues where local musicians take the stage until morning. Bairro Alto truly comes alive at night, although there’s still a lot to see and do during the day.
I still vividly remember in 2012 when my friend and I went to a giant street party in Bairro Alto. It was on Rua do Norte, where our hostel was. (If you want to sleep, don’t stay at a hostel in Bairro Alto!) We ran into two Italian men who asked us to get to their hotel after chatting for an hour. No way! Bairro Alto is a fun spot but beware of unscrupulous men trying to solicit favors from young women. There’s also a whole lot of shisha and cannabis being passed around, and the smell is strong. Just a heads up.
Things to do in Bairro Alto:
- Go barhopping on Rua do Norte and neighboring streets
- Try Ginjinha or Ginja, a popular sour cherry liquor shot
- Catch a live music show at Paginas Tantas over a beer
- Ride the Rua da Bica tram up and down one of the steepest streets in Lisbon (during the day)
Getting to Bairro Alto: take the metro to Baixa-Chiado and then walk north.
Day 2: Belem
Belem is a calm neighborhood on the southwest side of Lisbon, a bit farther out from the city center. You need to devote a whole day to see this area. For much of its history, Belem has had thriving maritime industries. It was from here that the Portuguese explorers sailed to India and the New World. Nowadays, Belem is better known for its well-preserved Manueline architecture, a style of Gothic architecture dating back to the 16th century
I’ve stopped at Belem every time I’ve visited Lisbon because it’s a nice escape from the busy center. Each time, I’ve discovered something new. The last time, I finally noticed the immaculate details on the exterior of the Jeronimos Monastery. You’ll learn more about that in a bit.
Things to do in Belem:
Indulge in deserts at Pasteis de Belem
Pasteis de Nata, egg tarts, is one of Portugal’s signature desserts. In Lisbon, you’ll find them in just about every bakery or coffee shop. But there’s one bakery you where you need to make a stop: Pasteis de Belem. Founded in 1837, this has used the same secret family recipe to make its egg tarts since the beginning. What I really liked about the restaurant, though, was the interior decor and history. The place is massive, sitting up to at least 200 people. There are also pies, sweets, and other items on the menu.
Explore Manueline architecture at the Jeronimos Monastery
Right down the street from Pasteis de Belem, you’ll find the glorious Jeronimos Monastery. This is a 15th-century monastery that’s a well-preserved example of Manueline architecture. It’s also the final resting place of Vasco de Gama, the first Portuguese explorer to sail to India. I didn’t get to go inside the monastery, but even the outside was splendid. If you want to tour the interior, be sure to purchase a ticket online for 10 EUR. When I arrived during my last visit, the line was way too long and I didn’t have enough time. Amateur mistake. On my next trip to Lisbon, the first thing on my list is to go inside the Jeronimos Monastery! It’s long overdue.
Climb to the top of Monument to the Discoveries
Across the Jeronimos Monastery is an iconic sculpture that sits on the Tagus river: the Monument to the Discoveries. It’s hard to miss but a bit tricky to get to. You have to take an underground passage to cross the street and come out on the other side. The entrance of the passage is at the garden in front of the Jeronimos Monastery.
The Monument To the Discoverers was opened in 1960 as a tribute to the Portuguese age of discovery. Shaped like a ship, the monument has sculptures of the almost three dozen Portuguese explorers on each side. For 3 EUR, you can climb to the top (or take the elevator) to view the entire area for up to 45 minutes.
Visit the Belem Tower
The Belem Tower is right next to the Monument To the Discoveries. Like the Jeronimos Monastery, it was also built in the Manueline architectural style. Its original purpose was to protect the city from foreign invaders.
Getting to Belem: Belem isn’t connected to the rest of Lisbon by metro so you’ll have to take tram 15 or tram 127 from Praca de Comercio. Get off at Belem. The tram costs 2.90 EUR each way.
Day 3: Sintra and Cabo da Roca
It’s time for a break from the city. For that, we’re going on an epic day trip to the historical town of Sintra and the southernmost tip of Europe, Cabo da Roca.
Located just a one hour train ride from Lisbon, Sintra sits on the Portuguese Riviera surrounded by the Sintra Mountains. It’s famous 19th-century architecture at its center, Vila de Sintra. You’ll find extravagant palaces, castles, villas, gardens, and out-of-this-world views. A visit to Sintra is a must when in Lisbon, and I can’t emphasize that enough! Do not skip Sintra or you’ll be missing out big time. I repeat: do not skip Sintra.
Landmarks to visit at Sintra:
The Pena Palace is epic, one-of-a-kind, and awe-inspiring. And that’s probably an understatement. It’s the most beautiful castle I’ve seen in Europe, more beautiful than Neuschwanstein and the Alcazar de Segovia, in my humble opinion. It takes about 40 minutes to drive up the hill to the entrance. Then, you’ll probably have to wait in a long line if you didn’t buy your tickets online. But once you get inside the palace, you’ll be glad you waited.
Built in the mid 19th century, this multi-colored palace is a prime example of Romanticist architecture. It sits at the top of the Sintra mountains, 1,738 feet above sea level. The palace is surrounded by a vast, green expanse of forest and rivers known as Pena Park. I would buy the ticket for the palace to get the full experience. You should plan to spend 2-3 hours here if you want to see the highlights and get a photo in every angle.
A great way to experience the Pena Palace is to do a guided Pena Palace group tour with Get Your Guide. With this tour, you get hotel pickup, transportation to Sintra, accident insurance, and skip-the-line tickets to the palace and the park. I’ve done Get Your Guide tours around Europe and love how streamlined and engaging their tours are.
Castle of the Moors
This 8th-century castle was a built by the Moors who ruled the Iberian Peninsula for nearly 800 years. It was captured by Christians in the mid 12th century during the beginning of the reconquest of Spain. Like the Pena Palace, the Castle of the Moors is also perched at the top of the Sintra Mountains. From there, you can get a panoramic view of the entire town, or more like kingdom, of Sintra.
Sintra National Palace
The Sintra National Palace was the home of the Portuguese monarchy for 800 years. It is the oldest surviving royal palace in the Sintra Cultural Landscape. The palace has been well-preserved so you can see everything from the Royals’ furniture to cutlery.
Getting to Sintra: Take the Lisbon-Sintra train from Rossio Station. The train runs every 30 minutes, and the journey lasts 30 minutes. A one-way fare is 4.30 EUR.
Cabo da Roca
There’s just something inspiring about lighthouses sitting at the edge of the world. Or is it just me? Well, Cabo da Roca is a cape on the southernmost tip of mainland Europe, where you’ll find a lighthouse overlooking the Atlantic ocean. This backdrop is great for photos. I should warn you that this area is extremely windy! I mean there are powerful winds that can knock you down. Be cautious, and wear sturdy shoes.
Getting to Cabo da Roca: From Sintra, take bus 403. It will drop you off at Cabo da Roca within 45 minutes.
Day 4: Cascais
We have one more day trip on our itinerary: Cascais. Cascais is a small, coastal town less than 20 miles west of Lisbon. The Portuguese pronounce the name as Cash-Caish, which I also thought was funny-sounding. Name aside, this town is an idyllic getaway if you’re looking for white sand beaches to lounge on for hours. It’s a popular tourist destination, especially for the wealthy.
That said, you don’t need to be loaded to spend time here. My sister and I took a quick trip – about 3 hours. We wandered around the harbor and the quaint streets for about an hour. Then we shopped for souvenirs. Afterward, we found a row of Indian restaurants, and the food smelled divine. Tried the food, and it was divine. Who knew Cascais had great Indian food?
Things to do in Cascais:
- Relax at the pristine beach, Praia da Conceição
- Try the fresh seafood by the beachfront at nearby Praia de Moitas (20-minute cab ride)
- Stroll through the colorful streets of the historical center
- Get some Indian food (it’s really good here!)
Cascais is small so you can see the highlights in 2-3 hours. You can also easily spend a whole day here, just lounging on the beach and eating. If you’d like to see more of Lisbon then you can go back and spend more time in the neighborhood(s) you liked. There are a few other locations that you can visit on a day trip from Lisbon, but I haven’t made it to those places yet. I’ll be sure to write about them when the time comes.
Getting to Cascais: Take the train (green line) from Cais de Sodre station to Cascais. The journey should take 30-40 minutes.
Day 5: Porto
Next, we’re heading north to the city of Porto. I’ve debated this question many times: Lisbon or Porto? In the end, it’s a dead tie for me. Both cities offer something different and are amazing in their own way. Porto is famous for its port wine, medieval riviera, bridges, and calorie-packed Fransencinha sandwich.
Getting to Porto: you can take a bus, train, or flight. It all depends on your preference. A bus ride would take about 5 hours. I’d recommend Rede Expressos or Alsa. All buses depart from Lisbon’s two bus stations: Sete Rios and Oriente. You can also take the Comboios de Portugal train to Porto in 3-4 hours. Find more info about traveling to Porto by train or bus.
A flight would be the most convenient option at just one hour. I use Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights. Flights from Lisbon to Porto on Skyscanner go for as low as 11 EUR!
Things to do in Porto:
We’ll take things easy on your first day in Porto so you can recover from the journey up north. Today, we’re just going to explore the historical center by the Douro River.
Take in the city views at Cais de Ribeira
Cais de Ribeira is the colorful waterfront facing the Douro River. This area is always lively, and there are tons of bars and restaurants that line the streets. It’s a great place to sit, eat, and people watch for a couple of hours.
Climb the Dom Luis I Bridge
As the oldest bridge in Porto, the Dom Luis I Bridge has become a symbol of the city. Constructed in an arch shape, this double-deck, metal bridge was the brainchild of Gustave Eiffel. Does that name sound familiar? He was the same architect behind the Eiffel Tower.
Now, I’m afraid of heights, but climbing this bridge was manageable. And the views of the city were worth it. The bridge connects Porto to neighboring Vila de Nova Gaia, across the Douro River.
Day 6: Igreja do Carmo, Jardim da Cordoaria, Wine tasting
Igreja do Carmo
This is the iconic blue church that I’m sure you’ve already seen in photos. It’s all over Instagram. While I haven’t been inside (you’ll rarely find me inside a church), I did stop to admire the exterior paintings. Stunning!
Jardim da Cordoaria
Jardim da Cordoaria is a park on the x part of Porto. What really stands out here is a bronze sculpture of four men sitting on a bench and laughing. It’s just such a heart-warming sight. The park overlooks the Riviera so it’s also a nice place to sit for a while.
Ask any hotel or hostel staff where to go for port wine, and the name Taylor’s will inevitably come up. That’s why my sister and I headed to this winery at the top of the hills of Nova de Gaia, right across the Luis II Bridge. After getting lost for a good 45 minutes, we finally found the place. The hills of Nova de Gaia are a maze so consider doing a guided wine tour with one of my fave tour companies, Get Your Guide Tours.
At Taylor’s, you can try samples of port wine while watching peacocks come in and out of the winery. What is it with these peacocks? Anyway, if you want to have a full meal here with your wine, bring at least 30 euros. For just wine tasting, 10 euros will do.
Day 7: Francesinha, Mercado do Bolhão
Okay, you can’t go to Porto without trying its famous sandwich, Franscencinha. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you can skip this. Fransencinha is a multi-layered sandwich with cured ham, roast beef, sausage, and a runny egg inside. On the outside, there is a layer of melted cheese. Then, the whole sandwiched is smothered in a hot, thick tomato/beer sauce.
I asked the manager at my hostel where to eat Francesinha, and he recommended Cafe Santiago. So, there I went. Was their Francesinha the best thing I’ve ever eaten? No. Was it good? Yes, it was. I’m curious to try the sandwich at other establishments and see how they compare.
Mercado do Bolhão
This is a two-story market in the center of the city. I visited in 2016 but it has since been refurbished so it looks quite different now. There are a variety of stalls selling fresh produce, seafood, and prepared dishes. Prices vary, but I remember the prepared dishes being affordable. I’d say they were in the 10-15 EUR range.
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