How To Spend 3 Days In Portugal


What if I told you that it’s possible to uncover the best of Portugal in just 3 days? In May 2022, my girlfriends and I had our hearts set on experiencing Portugal. However, we were in Madrid prior and we only had a single weekend to spare. Knowing that time was tight, we didn’t want this to prevent us from exploring the diverse landscapes of Portugal. So, we asked ourselves, ‘why not cram in as much as possible in one weekend?’ And that’s exactly what we did! If you ever find yourself in a similar time-crunch situation, this guide is here to assist you in planning an enjoyable trip.

A Little About Portugal

Why should you consider visiting Portugal? For starters, Portugal shares its borders with Spain, which makes it an easy stop for any southwestern Europe trip. Because we were in Madrid prior, we were able to easily take an 8 hour bus ride to Lisbon. Also, Portugal has a stunning coastline along the Atlantic Ocean. This means breathtaking ocean views, as well as endless opportunities for beach lovers and water sports enthusiasts. 

Portuguese culture is a vibrant mix of influences from Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. Fado music, colorful festivals, and a love for soccer are just a few aspects of their rich culture. When it comes to exploring the country, Portugal has diverse landscapes. From the rugged cliffs of the Algarve to the historic hills of Lisbon, it is undeniably a stunning destination. So you can understand why it was challenging for us to pick just one city to spend the weekend.

For my food lovers, Portuguese cuisine is an enjoyable fusion of flavors, with seafood taking center stage. You can’t forget to try the world-famous custard tarts, Pastéis de Nata. It was so good that I ended up filling my mini tote with a significant amount of it before heading back to Madrid.

Now that you have a glimpse of what Portugal has to offer, join me as we explore three incredible cities in just three days!

Know Before You Go

Language: Portuguese is the official language, but many locals in tourist areas speak English. Learning a few basic Portuguese phrases can go a long way in enhancing your experience.

Best Time To Visit: Portugal’s weather is pleasant year-round, but the best time to visit is during the spring (April to June) and fall (September to October) when the crowds are less, and the temperatures are comfortable. I went at the end of May and I got to enjoy the lovely summer weather, while avoiding large crowds and long lines at popular sites.

Transportation: Portugal has an efficient and affordable transportation system, including trains, buses, and trams. Consider purchasing a Lisboa Card for unlimited public transportation in Lisbon. In Faro, we only had 2 stops, therefore we used an uber to get around. Cascais is a small town that is easily walkable, and so we walked everywhere which allowed us to see a lot of the city. However, there are also taxis and Ubers available if that is your preference.

Safety: Portugal is generally a safe destination for tourists. However, exercise standard precautions like safeguarding your belongings and being aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded areas.

Currency and Money Matters: Portugal uses the Euro (€). ATMs are widely available, and credit cards are accepted in most places. Be sure to notify your bank of your travel plans to avoid any issues with card usage.

Packing Tips: Here are some tips to help to make sure that you are well prepared for your trip!

  • Footwear: One crucial thing to consider when packing for your Portugal trip is ensuring you have suitable footwear. When people say the streets of Lisbon are elevated, they are not exaggerating! Underestimating the steepness of the hills of every narrow cobblestone street can significantly ruin your day. This is why comfortable shoes are a must to ensure an enjoyable and pain-free day in Lisbon.
  • Beach Essentials: If you’re visiting coastal destinations like the Algarve, be sure to pack your swimsuit and beachwear. Also, you’ll need sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat for sunny days, especially if you plan to spend time at the beach.
  • Travel Adapters: Portugal uses European-style Type C and Type F plugs, so bring the appropriate adapters for your electronic devices.
Detailed Daily Itinerary

Here is a detailed day to day guide on how we spent our 3 days in Portugal!

Lisbon is the city of iconic yellow trams and hilly streets that make you feel like you just completed a leg day workout! We did our research before getting to Lisbon, so we knew exactly what to expect with the hilly terrain, and we came prepared. As much as we were tempted to wear our cute sandals, we knew the only right option was to step out in sneakers, and our feet will forever thank us for making that decision. We did a lot of walking in Lisbon, and noticed that each neighborhood in the city had its own unique charm, from Alfama to the trendy Bairro Alto.

One of the great things about walking is that you get to discover more exciting things along the way, and that’s what our day in Lisbon was all about. From trying out tasty mocktails in a pineapple to spotting sea animals by the water’s edge, my girls and I had a lovely day well spent in the city!


Early Morning Arrival: With only three days in the country, we needed to maximize our time. Therefore, we opted for an overnight bus ride that left Madrid on Thursday night, arriving in Lisbon on Friday morning. Thankfully, our hotel allowed us to check-in early, and without wasting a moment, we freshened up and went straight into exploring!

Brunch/Lunch in The Rua Augusta: Being in a city known for its incredible seafood, that was exactly what I craving after a long night of traveling. We headed straight to The Rua Augusta, which is a popular and vibrant pedestrian street that is known for its shops, cafés and mix of traditional restaurants.

Similar to many European cities, the restaurants here have their menus set up outside, and the one and only thing I was looking for on each menu was a popular Portuguese dish called Arroz de Marisco. If it wasn’t on the menu? On to the next! We eventually found a spot and I won’t brag too much about how great the food was because unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the restaurant. But don’t worry, it’s a staple on the menu at many restaurants, and you definitely need to try it or some sort of seafood dish while you’re there. With Portugal’s long coastline, fresh seafood is a fundamental part of their cuisine and it significantly adds flavour!

Shopping in the Area: After lunch, it was time to face the hilly streets of the Rua Augusta. What began as a simple exploration turned into a mini shopping spree because we came across some of our favorite stores (i.e Zara & Bershka) and not only did we fail to stop ourselves from going in, but we also ended up making a few purchases. In our defense, we were in Europe, and it is almost impossible to say no to a shopping experience in Europe.

Praca de Comercio: When we were fully satisfied with our purchases, we then headed to Praca de Comercio where we saw the famous Arco da Rua Augusta. This structure is as grand as it appears in pictures, if not more fascinating. It’s a great photo-op spot and also proof that you were actually in Lisbon – other than photos in the iconic trams of course. Although we didn’t climb the arch, it’s known to offer breathtaking panoramic views of Lisbon and its skyline.

Arco da Rua Augusta

Miradouro do Rio Tejo- Cais and Miradouro de Senhora do Monte: From the arch, we walked to Miraduoro do Rio Tejo-Cais, where we started our walk along the water. This is where you’ll find various stands selling mocktails, including the famous mocktail in a pineapple.

Jardim dom Luis
Miradouro do Rio Tejo- Cais

In this area, you’ll also find many tuk tuks offering rides to tourists. We had been walking for quite a bit so we hopped in a tuktuk and our driver drove us around, showing us attractions in the area, including the famous Se de Lisboa. One of our key stops during the tuk tuk ride was Miradouro de Senhora do Monte, one of the city’s best viewpoints. Here, we enjoyed a calm and serene setting, with beautiful views of Lisbon’s historic neighborhoods. 

Miradouro de Senhora do Monte

Alfama: Lastly, we visited the historic district of Alfama, known for its narrow winding streets, colorful buildings, and rich Moorish influence. Here, we found charming alleys and hidden gems around every corner.

Time Out Market: We ended the day heading back to Rua Augusta to visit the Time Out Market. If you’re looking to satisfy your Portuguese cravings, this is a great place to do it. This market will always have my heart because not to be dramatic, but it’s where I fell in love with Pastel de Nata.

Time Out Market

NightCap: After what felt like an extremely long day, we felt like grandmas and knew we simply had no business being out at night. The thought of exploring Lisbon’s night scene didn’t even cross our minds because we were exhausted to say the least.  So we called it a day and headed back to the hotel to rest. Besides, we had another long day ahead of us and definitely needed our beauty sleep!

BEACH LOVERS! This is your chance to visit one of the most unique and beautiful beaches you might ever come across. When my girls and I initially searched up the Algarve, we kept coming across photos of stunning beaches surrounded by massive cliffs and red rocks, and we just knew we had to find one because we had never seen anything like it. This was what led us to Vale de Lobo Algarve, where we had one of the best days of our lives. We played music all afternoon, danced around the beach, caught up on each other’s busy lives, laughed, enjoyed our favorite snacks and just appreciated being with each other. Here’s how we spent our day!

Early morning bus from Lisbon to Faro: We started the day by heading over to Lisbon Oriente station to catch an early morning bus ride to Faro. We traveled with Flixbus, and paid 28 euros (each) for a round trip. If taking the bus, you want to make sure you book ahead of time to secure your spot!

Breakfast at Baixa Café: Once we arrived in Faro, we walked from the bus station to Faro Central Square/Old Town Faro. This is where we found the lovely Baixa Café for breakfast. I’d also say the square is a great place to start your Faro adventures.

Baixa Café

Explore the area after breakfast: After breakfast, we walked through the area where we saw centuries-old buildings, an array of shops, and a beautiful cathedral. The central square was also a serene spot for us to just sit back and simply take in our surroundings. 

The Central Square
The Central Square

Beach day at Praia de Vale de Lobo Algarve: As I mentioned before, we were on a mission to find the beautiful beaches we saw in pictures, and we did! After exploring the Central Square, we took an Uber ride to Vale de Lobo, a resort with a beach that stands out as one of the most renowned and frequently photographed spots in the entire Algarve region. It’s surrounded by fascinating reddish cliffs, creating a picturesque setting that words can’t fully capture. The entire place is absolutely unreal to say the least.

We honestly weren’t sure if we would be let in because we were not resort guests, however we were dropped off by our Uber driver without any questions from security, and were warmly greeted by staff as we walked onto the property. Whether it was luck or not, we certainly didn’t complain! We came fully prepared with our favorite snacks, speakers (of course) and all our beach day essentials needed to enjoy a full day of relaxation. Adding to our stroke of luck, we were initially the only ones at the beach, which made the experience all the more peaceful and calming. 

Vale de Lobo
Vale de Lobo
Vale de Lobo

Evening return to Lisbon: After spending the afternoon at Vale de Lobo, it was time to return to Lisbon and we decided to get food from one of the restaurants at the resort. However, this almost ruined our lucky streak because it took a bit longer than we anticipated. We were able to grab our food and quickly hop in another Uber to return to our bus station. A good lesson to learn from this is to make sure that you monitor the time closely so you don’t miss your bus because the last thing you want to do is find and pay for a last minute accommodation in Faro.

Cascais was the city where we got to be carefree and simply have a great time. From having a mini dance party by the water, to having an impromptu shopping experience at local shops, this was an adventure that made us forget about all our troubles for the day. Although we researched the key landmarks prior to our arrival, we didn’t have a set plan on how we wanted to spend the day. Instead, we decided to rely on spontaneity and let things play out naturally as we walked through the town.

Even as I type this out now, I’m surprised that I let this happen because usually when I travel, I need to have every single day planned down to the last hour! However, there was something fun and exciting about not knowing what we were going to see or do next, and I absolutely enjoyed it. Also, Cascais is a small town, so despite the fact that we walked everywhere, we ended up seeing most of its highlights. Here’s how we enjoyed our carefree day!

things to do in portugal

Early morning train to Cascais: We started the day with a scenic train ride from Lisbon to Cascais.  If this is your chosen method of transportation, you don’t need to buy your train ticket in advance – you can purchase it when you arrive at the train station.

Centro Historico: From the train station, we were off to discover the charm of Cascais historic Old Town. This was only a 4 minute walk from the train station, hence the reason it was our first stop. While you’re here, be prepared to walk through very narrow streets, colorful facades and cute little shops and cafés. This time around we were able to resist the urge to make any purchases and we simply settled for window shopping – we were so proud of ourselves.

Lunch: Before continuing without our exploration for the day, we stopped at one of the many restaurants in the historic center for lunch. Unfortunately, I vaguely remember this dining experience, but it wasn’t anything worth recommending. However, the center is filled with various restaurants and cafés, so you definitely won’t be short of options to choose from.

Praia de Rata: As mentioned earlier, we were happily strolling without a concrete plan or itinerary. Upon leaving Old Town, we stumbled upon Praia de Rata, approximately 15 minutes from Centro Historico.  Although we wanted to spend some time on the beach, the weather had a different agenda – cloudy and mildly chilly. So we simply admired the view and headed off to the next stop we came across.

Praia de Rata:

Paredao de Cascais: This is a scenic walkway along the coast, and you’ll find benches where you can take a break to take in the view and enjoy the surrounding area. Again, due to the not-so accommodating weather, we simply walked along the pathway rather than sitting down on the bench or taking a dip in the nearby seawater swimming pool- Piscina Oceanica Alberto Romano. 

things to do in portugal

Cidadela de Cascais: Between Paradeo de Cascais and Cidadela de Cascais, we really weren’t looking for anything particular. We simply knew we had to head in this direction to discover more of the city’s gems, so with our music playing softly on our speakers, we embarked on a 22 minute walk. However, when you’re enjoying the thrill of being in a new place with your favorite people, a 22 minute walk feels more like 5 minutes. Eventually, we saw  Citadela de Cascais, which is a historic fortress that has been turned into a cultural center. Here, you’ll find galleries, gardens, and opportunities to learn about the local history. We weren’t interested in going in, so we briefly admired the stunning architecture and moved on to the next site. 

*At this point, you’re probably wondering why it was a quick stop and go for everything we had seen so far. Well, picture this: We had a tight schedule of about 7 hours because we had to make sure we caught the last train leaving Cascais back to Lisbon. We absolutely couldn’t miss that train because we had a 6am flight the next day. Yes, 6am! I did mention this was a whirlwind adventure, right? With this ticking clock and an early flight, lingering at one spot wasn’t an option. That’s why we had to embrace a “keep it moving” attitude throughout the day. Time was our currency, and we spent it wisely! But we still enjoyed every minute of this day and didn’t feel like we missed out on anything, other than spending more time at the beach, but that was definitely beyond our control thanks to the weather!

Santa Marta Lighthouse Museum: Now, the true gem of Cascais (in my opinion). What I found so fascinating about Casa de Santa Maria and the Santa Marta Lighthouse Museum wasn’t just the historical treasures themselves. It was the entire area. Located next to the beautiful water and surrounded by lush greenery, this area was absolutely beautiful and it quickly became my favorite part of Cascais. Of course we had to have a photoshoot here, so this is where the tripod came out and we got to work, capturing each other’s best angles.

Although we didn’t do this, if you’re brave enough, you can climb to the top of Santa Marta Lighthouse for breathtaking views of the coast and learn about Cascais’ maritime heritage in the museum below. We spent quite a bit of time here, not only because we stopped for pictures but also because we wanted to take in the lovely environment. We had to walk past this same area later at night and it was even more breathtaking than it was during the day.

Santa Marta Lighthouse Museum During the Day
Santa Marta Lighthouse Museum at Night
Santa Marta Lighthouse Museum

Boca de Inferno: This natural gem was one of the attractions that we absolutely had to see. It is essentially a sea arch with cliffs that have been battered by the repeated force of the Atlantic ocean. You have to be cautious while you’re here, but it’s a site worth visiting.

Boca de Inferno
Boca de Inferno

At this point we realized that our spontaneous adventures had somehow led us to every attraction that we had identified prior to getting to Cascais. Therefore we found a secluded area where we would be able to play our music without disrupting other tourists and the general public. Once we found a spot, we settled there and danced around, laughed, and savored every moment until the sun went down.

Cascais Marina: As we headed back to Centro Historico, we came across the Cascais Marina, which we seemed to have missed earlier during the day. It’s like your regular Marina, but it’s worth mentioning because the view here at night was absolutely stunning. 

Cascais Marina
Cascais Marina

Evening return to Lisbon: Before heading back to Lisbon, we stopped at a café to stock up on Pastel de Nata because again, I was absolutely obsessed! Grabbing this treat was the perfect way to end what felt like a perfect weekend. From there, we headed off to the train station right on time to catch the last train. 

Cascais Café
Accommodation Recommendation

We opted for the convenience of a single hotel base for our trip. Therefore we stayed in Lisbon and commuted to Faro and Cascais from there. Our accommodation of choice was the Holiday Inn Lisbon – Continental. To be honest, our packed itinerary left us with very little time to fully explore the hotel’s amenities. Nevertheless, I can attest to the comfort of the rooms, which offered a standard and pleasant stay with no concerns. The customer service also met our expectations, providing a hospitable experience throughout our brief moments at the hotel.

Holiday Inn Lisbon – Continental
Final Thoughts

Portugal proved to be an unforgettable destination, where our ambitious and slightly wild adventure allowed us to experience its beauty. From the captivating landscapes of the Algarve to the historic streets of Lisbon and the coastal beauty of Cascais, each moment was one for the books. To top it off, I got to experience it with some of my favorite people. I definitely hope that I get to return one day, hopefully with a bit more time to explore. Until then, bom viagem to all those setting their sights on Portugal!