How to See Lisbon in 72 Hours with a Bus Tour
Updated: Dec 3, 2019
This post sounds like a full-on advertisement for yellowbustours but I promise you it isn’t - this was the company I chose to travel with, and I genuinely had a great experience!
Last year I treated myself to a week of September sunshine in the beautiful city of Lisbon - the perfect destination for my third solo trip! In addition to day trips to Berlenga Grande Island and Sintra, and another day just to find my bearings, I spent three days hopping on and off buses (and trams!) in order to see all the city has to offer.
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Yellow Bus Tours
I chose to travel with yellow bus tours (#notspon, although #wouldlovetobespon), having done a bit of research into the different tours you can do around the city. There are a few different bus companies which provide similar tours, as well as the quirkier methods of travel (the tuk tuks, the segways, the eco-friendly cars, Lisbon has it all!).
One of the benefits of yellow bus tours (which other companies may provide, I’m not sure) was their €45 all-in-one ticket, which grants you unlimited access to their five main routes - three buses, a boat, and a tram - for 72 hours! Other perks included use of their Aerobus, travelling from the city to Lisbon airport, free access to the Elevador Santa Justa, local funiculars and public trams, AND numerous discounts on tickets for other Lisbon attractions! I was sold!
In case anyone is considering purchasing this ticket for their Lisbon trip, there is (currently, at least) a 10% discount if you purchase online, so you pay €40.50 instead!
There are obviously arguments against travelling with bus companies like this, and I know a lot of travellers, especially those on a tight budget, don’t like to use them. However, to each their own! I don’t always use these sorts of tours, but there are some benefits:
Routes are already planned out for you, and optimised to take you to the best sights as efficiently as possible
You can extend these routes yourself if you want to visit something that’s a 5-10 minute walk from a bus stop, but isn’t visited by the tour itself
Certainly in this case, there were very few places the tour *didn’t* travel to
One ticket covers you for three days of unlimited travel on their routes, with five routes to choose from
This same ticket provides you with discounts to attractions en route
Some people think it’s naff, but you also have audio narration as you travel, providing you with information about the city you might not otherwise have known
They are designed for tourists! If you’re a beginner solo traveller, I would definitely recommend these to you!
This link will take you to the best online version of their route map that I could find - it’s honestly impressive how much ground they cover! (Does anyone else get weirdly excited by maps…especially of somewhere they’re planning to visit? Please say it’s not just me!)
Anyway, back to the 72 hours you have to take advantage of this tour. Of course, there is an infinite number of ways you could use these five routes over three days, but I’ve based my itinerary on how I travelled around the city, the things I wanted to see, and what I learned from the mistakes I made along the way. I didn’t see everything, but I do feel like I saw Lisbon, which is the aim of the game, right?
What did I miss?
While there were sights which I intentionally skipped, there are a few that I regret missing, either because I didn’t give myself enough time, or didn’t realise what I was missing! Had I planned to include them, I would have had enough time, which is even more frustrating!
My regretful omissions are:
The Basílica da Estrela - one of Lisbon’s most famous churches
Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara - an observation point in Bairro Alto with a panoramic view over the city
Jardim Botânico da Ajuda - the first botanical garden in Lisbon, situated in the grounds of the Palácio da Ajuda
Elevador de Santa Justa - an elevator in the centre of the city with a viewing platform
Sé - the shortened name of Lisbon’s Cathedral, standing since the 13th century to the east of the Praça do Comércio
Bica Funicular- aka the Elevador da Bica or Ascensor da Bica - one of Lisbon’s most famous funicular trams, connecting Rua de São Paulo with Calçada do Combro/Rua do Loreto.
I also didn’t make use of the boat tour included in the ticket price. While it travels between Belém and the city centre, I felt restricted by the 1-2 hour gap in between services, so chose to catch the buses or walk instead. It would have been nice to take advantage of a free boat trip on a sunny morning, however!
What had I already seen?
As I mentioned earlier, I had already given myself a full day in the city to wander and find my bearings. While I didn’t visit any of the main sights, I spent that day mostly exploring the tiny streets of Alfama, where I was staying, and the very centre of Lisbon (i.e. the area I’ve outlined in a revolting green colour in the map - the star is where I was staying!).
My Airbnb was located in Alfama, a few streets away from the very centre of Lisbon - it was such a perfect location! Although it was on a small street away from the main roads, I felt very safe the whole time I was there. Granted, I didn’t do much exploring after dark, but I wouldn’t have been worried about doing so in the immediate vicinity of my apartment.
Not only was I minutes away from the very centre of the city, I was so close to the Castelo de São Jorge! It looks like I was staying almost underneath it, but it was actually a bit of a trek to get there! It was almost entirely uphill between my apartment and the castle, and I believe its entrance was on the other side!
There’s a particularly cool area of street art located just around the corner from where I was staying - I had definitely seen shots of it before on instagram and couldn’t believe I would be sleeping metres from it when I arrived!
Before I began my bus tour, I had already familiarised myself with this area, and visited the Praça do Comércio, Praça da Figueira, and Praça Dom Pedro IV. These plazas make up some of the bigger interchanges on the bus tours, so it was helpful to locate these beforehand anyway.
Recommended 3-Day Itinerary
I have assumed your days will start in the centre of the city, as did mine, but it shouldn’t be too hard to tailor your tour to your start and end location if they are different.
Day one is focused around the blue bus line, including sights north of the city centre and in Belém.
✴ Bus from Praça da Figueira to Parque Eduardo VII (blue line stops 1 to 9) ✴
Catch the first bus of the day on the Tagus line (blue) from Praça da Figueira up to the iconic Parque Eduardo VII, passing by the Pombaline boulevards of Av. Liberdade and Restauradores. Overlook the city from stop #9, adjacent to the observation deck (Miradouro).
Take a walk down the north eastern side of the park, crossing over to the west, towards the tennis club and botanical garden, Estufa Fria.
✴ Visit Estufa Fria ✴
While considered a botanical garden, Estufa Fria is not the city’s official “botanical garden”, which is located in Belém! Estufa Fria, instead, comprises a greenhouse with three gardens: the “cold”, the “hot” and the “sweet”.
For just over €3 (or for free if you have a Lisboa Card!) you have access to all three gardens; on my visit I had the entire place almost entirely to myself - I think I saw four other people there during the hour or so I spent walking around. Estufa Fria is frequently described as “a hidden oasis” in the centre of the city, and I couldn’t agree more.
✴ Bus from Parque Eduardo VII to Basílica da Estrela (blue line stops 9 to 11) ✴
After a peaceful visit to the gardens, hop back on the bus at the Miradouro for a short ride to the Basílica da Estrela. Regrettably, this was a stop I missed out on during my time in Portugal, but it looks truly beautiful, and is considered to be “one of the most ornate churches” in Lisbon! The church is free to enter, open from 7.30am to 8pm every day. It also sits across the road from the Jardim da Estrela - a landscaped city park which you are also free to enjoy.
✴ Bus from Basílica da Estrela to Belém centre (blue line stops 11 to 12) ✴
Next up is Belém centre, the perfect place to sample Portugal’s iconic delicacy, Pastéis de Nata! Walking along Rue de Belém, I saw numerous cafes and dessert shops with lengthy queues trailing down the street, where everyone was waiting to get their hands on one! Fellow vegans, you can skip these queues!
Given how tourist-heavy Belém was when I visited, I wouldn’t recommend a sit down meal here - you’ll be waiting a long time for a table,and probably paying extortionate prices for food. When I travel, especially when I’m on my own, I stuff my bag full of snacks and graze throughout the day, which saves so much time and money! There are a number of parks and gardens in Belém itself, and on the waterfront, so there are plenty of good spots for a picnic, if that’s your thing! Personally, I would recommend Jardim da Torre de Belém, which is only a short distance from the town itself.
✴ Walk to Torre de Belém, or bus (blue line stops 12 to 14, or orange line stops 10 to 3) ✴
The famous Torre sits on its own peninsula, where it is connected to the mainland predominantly by a queue of tourists….I passed by the tower on three occasions, and the wait time was never less than an hour long. Unless you can get to Belém before the tower opens, I honestly wouldn’t recommend waiting around. All of the best photos I’ve seen of the tower have been of its exterior, anyway! There are much better places to go for a view of Lisbon.
✴ Walk along the coast to Padrão dos Descobrimentos and MAAT ✴
Having appreciated the Torre de Belém from the outside, and avoided one of Lisbon’s eye-watering queues, take a walk along the shore of the Tagus River. With Ponte de 25 abril in your sights at all times, pass the Belém Lighthouse and Padrão dos Descobrimentos before reaching the next bus stop on the Tagus line. MAAT - the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology - is only a short distance further, whose building is a sight of its own!
✴ Bus from Descobrimentos to Cais do Sodre (blue line stops 15 to 18) ✴
Catch the bus from Padrão dos Descobrimentos for a short ride along the coast, and under the Ponte de 25 abril, to Cais do Sodre.
✴ Visit Rua Nova and the Bica Funicular ✴
Almost back in the city centre, there are two stops you can make on a short detour from Cais do Sodre.
You may have seen Rua Nova - aka “Pink Street” - on instagram before, due to its colourful and quirky aesthetic! From the roundabout at Praça Duque da Terceira, make sure NOT to walk directly north up Rue do Alecrim (unless you want to see the street from above, of course), but instead duck down into the alleyway to its right-hand side (by the BPI shop when I was there!). I wasn’t overwhelmed with insta-joy when I stopped by Rua Nova, but I’m glad I went to take a look.
I wish I had made the 4-minute journey around a few corners to the Bica Funicular when I was in Lisbon - I didn’t realise a) how iconic this tram is, nor b) how close it was! Never mind - a good reason to go back! Follow Rua Nova to the west until you reach Praça de São Paulo, turning left onto Rua de São Paulo. Keep walking in the same westerly direction, and the Acensor will appear on your right (or, rather more likely, a queue waiting for it!).
Not only can you take a ride along this short, but super-famous tram route, you can cut out the climb from Rua de São Paulo to Largo do Calhariz! Don’t forget to take some classic Lisbon tram shots from the side of the track! The tram runs roughly every 15 minutes between 7am and 9pm Monday-Saturday, with a 9am start on Sundays and public holidays.
Wander through the streets of Bairro Alto back towards the city, on a mostly downhill trip through Camões and Chiado, to end your first day.
Day two is busy! You’ll be hopping from the city centre over to Belém, walking back on yourself to the Docas area, visiting some quirky and arty spots along the way. Treat yourselves to being chauffeured around the city by tram on the Hills Tramcar Tour to end your day.
✴ Bus from Praça da Figueira to Jerónimos Monastery (blue line stops 1 to 13 OR catch the boat from the city centre to Belém and then walk) ✴
There may very well be quicker and/or cheaper ways to get to the Jerónimos Monastery first thing in the morning, but as you’ll already have a ticket for yellow bus tours, I recommend hopping back on the blue Tagus line directly to the monastery from the city centre! You could also catch the yellow bus tours boat from the city centre to Belém, with a short walk at the other end - however, the boat doesn’t start running until almost an hour later than the bus. It’s your call!
If you didn’t want to start the day with a trip to the monastery - although I highly recommend you do - you could also add in a stop at the Museu dos Coches in Belém, exhibiting the history of Portuguese royal vehicles.
Throughout the summer, the monastery opens at 10am, so I recommend getting there as soon as it opens! If you struggle with earlier mornings - like myself - there may be a significant queue waiting for you at the door. HOWEVER, while there was an hour-long queue outside the westernmost ticket office and entrance to the monastery, rumours were buzzing around that you could buy your ticket from the second entrance to the building, which I had certainly assumed was just the entrance to the maritime museum next door.
After watching a few people waltz into the building through this entrance, and emerge triumphantly with a monastery ticket, jumping the queue I was currently stood in, I did the same! Double check if this is the case when you get there - my hunch is that the looooong queue is where private tours (some with 50ish people) are told to queue, and other people join because they’re not sure where to go. Granted, the signposting at the monastery could be slightly better! This tip might save you some time though!
You might not want or need much time at the monastery, but I ended up spending far longer admiring this stunning building than I had anticipated. The monastery was probably my favourite part of Lisbon. Allow yourself time to appreciate this gorgeous place.
✴ Bus from Monastery to Jardim Botânico da Ajuda and Palácio da Ajuda (orange line stops 2 to 7) ✴
Not too far from the Jerónimos Monastery are the Palácio da Ajuda and Jardim Botânico da Ajuda, which I regret missing on my trip. From what I have read, I think Ajuda sits atop a hill, so it might be a better idea to catch the orange Belém line from the monastery.
Having not visited, I can’t tell you too much about the palace and gardens, but from the reviews I have read and the pictures I’ve seen, they both look beautiful. The palace boasts a strong 4.5 rating on TripAdvisor, and suggests you might want to spend around 1-2 hours there. The gardens have a slightly lower rating, and a suggested duration of under an hour, so perhaps they are more of a pretty afterthought to the palace; worth taking a walk through, but not a visit outright.
✴ Alto da Ajuda to LxFactory - 30 min walk, or bus (orange line stops 9 to 10 and blue line stops 12 to 16), then a 10 min walk ✴
After a couple of hours of luxury and grandeur, enjoy a downhill walk towards Ponte de 25 abril and the Docas area to visit LxFactory, which was one of my favourite little quirks in Lisbon. It’s a bit out of the way, a bit niche, and not very well known, so it isn’t overly busy (it wasn’t when I visited, at least). LxFactory is made up of buildings formerly used for fabric production, which have since been abandoned and taken over, now occupied by independent and arty enterprises, such as vegan shoe shops, book shops, cafes, and art installations, to name but a few!
Apparently over 200 businesses now occupy the buildings here! LxFactory is perfect for brunch, dinner, drinks, vintage markets, and insta photo sessions.
Thanks to the diverse range of outlets at LxFactory, there’s activity going on here 22 hours a day, from 6am to 4am! The grungy industrial buildings are adorned by expansive works of street art, honestly my favourite part of the area. Somebody described LxFactory as “an instagrammer’s dream”, which is pretty accurate! LxFactory is very unique, but I would recommend searching some images on google or instagram, and definitely check it out if you think it would be up your street!
✴ Bus from Pilar 7 / Docas to Praça do Comércio (blue line stops 16 to 19) ✴
It takes roughly ten minutes to walk from LxFactory around to stop 16 on the blue Tagus line, although the Pilar 7 Bridge Experience might be a worthy stop along the way, if you have the time.
This small exhibit, costing €6 to enter, is open from 10am until 8pm every day and provides information on the history and the engineering behind the famous Ponte de 25 abril, including a viewing platform on its seventh tower. I was slightly disappointed that the viewing platform was the same height of the road on the bridge, and not at the top of the tower like I had assumed! However, despite visiting the exhibit late in the afternoon, I had the place almost entirely to myself. There were a handful of other people there, but it might as well have been empty. Worth a quick look if you’re intrigued.
Otherwise, catch the bus back to Praça do Comércio!
✴ Start the Hills Tramcar Tour from Praça do Comércio (every 20 mins until 7pm) ✴
I really enjoyed riding the Hills Tramcar Tour all in one go, so I’ve included it in this itinerary as its own attraction! While I had already explored a lot of the areas the tram runs through, some worthy stop offs you might want to check out include Graça, Portas do Sol, Chiado and Camões!
If you visited the Bica Funicular on day one, you may have already passed through areas of Chiado and Camões, on the Bairro Alto side of the tour. Graça and Portas do Sol are two observation points on the Alfama side, with great views over the south east of Lisbon. From sunrise to sunset, views over Lisbon are always beautiful.
✴ Visit Elevador Santa Justa ✴
Having enjoyed the Hills Tramcar Tour from start to finish, you should find yourself back in the centre of Lisbon. Another attraction I missed out on was the Elevador Santa Justa, which provides views over the whole of Lisbon. If the sun is starting to set by the time you come to the end of day two of my itinerary, I can only imagine Santa Justa would be a beautiful spot to watch the sun go down. You’ll have to find out for yourselves and let me know!
(Please excuse any ugly formatting issues with the next couple of images - I don't know why the editor isn't behaving! If anyone is familiar with Wix troubleshooting please hmu!)
The third and. final day focuses on the eastern side of the city, as well as the purple Olisipio bus line, which travels to the. north east of Lisbon. A quieter day than the previous two, you might be able to squeeze in anything you missed earlier on!
✴ Visit Castelo de São Jorge as soon as it opens (9am during the summer) ✴
Before hopping on your first bus of. the day, you can't leave Lisbon without a visit to the Castelo de São Jorge! I highly recommend visiting the castle as soon as it opens, as it gets incredibly busy, especially during peak season.
I am not a fan of early mornings (or mornings at all, really), but I was very glad I made the effort to get to the castle before it opened. The gates open at 9am, by which time I had already bought my ticket - does anyone else feel triumphant when they're first in the queue for something?
I spent a good two hours wandering around the castle, and it didn't start to get really busy until about 10.30am, so I. had plenty of time with the castle almost entirely to myself - perfect for those tourist-free photos! The views over Lisbon are perfect in the mornings, as you have the sun behind you, and you can also manage a fair bit of walking without getting too hot. I really took my time with wandering around, so you might not even need the whole two hours. The picture below shows the difference between the crowds at 9am and 11am - hence why I would recommend arriving early!
✴ Walk south down the hill towards the river ✴
After your visit to the castle, take a walk through the charismatic streets of Alfama and down to the seafront. Hopefully it will still be relatively early in the day, meaning the streets are still cool and not too busy! Plus, starting at the castle guarantees a downhill walk, wherever you’re heading!
On the way, some worthwhile stops include the Miradouro the Santa Luzia, the Pantheon, and Sé (the name of Lisbon’s cathedral). There are a number of Miradouros / observation decks in the hills of Alfama, but, having passed them by on numerous occasions, it was always the Santa Luzia which was busiest! This isn’t too surprising, however; the views are beautiful, especially at sunset, and the small garden with its vine-laden pagoda provides plenty of gorgeous photo ops! It’s also easily accessible via a number of tram routes, and on foot if you’re exploring Alfama.
If Santa Luzia really is too busy, you still have Sol just around the corner (another observation point, included in the itinerary for day two), where you are still guaranteed great views over the east of Lisbon.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get round to visiting Sé or the pantheon, with the exception of walking past the cathedral on a couple of occasions. I would highly recommend you ensure you have time for these, though - especially the pantheon with its outdoor balcony!
✴ Catch the bus from Casa dos Bicos to Estação do Oriente (purple line stops 3 to 11) ✴
After an easy walk down to the river, it is the purple Olisipio line on which day three is focused. I caught the bus from Casa dos Bicos to Estação do Oriente, as the transport nerd in me fancied visiting a rather photogenic rail station – I would FULLY understand if this isn’t your thing, however! Between the city and the rail station are a number of other attractions, however, including:
Museu do Fado, including exhibits relating to Fado – traditional Portuguese music which originated in Alfama,
Museu do Azulejo, Portugal’s renowned national tile museum, exhibiting the history of the country’s decorative ceramic tiles,
Oceanário, Lisbon’s aquarium, which is also the second largest in Europe, and
Pavilhão de Portugal, an iconic feat of architecture in Parque das Nações.
Shortly after Estação do Oriente, the Olisipio line makes a stop at Campo Pequeno – Lisbon’s bullring. As well as accommodating bullfights, Campo Pequeno is now a multi-purpose venue, including shops, cinemas and restaurants. I didn’t visit the bullring, nor did I have much desire to, but it might be worth a stop if you fancy it!
✴ Bus from Estação do Oriente to Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara (purple line stops 11 to 18) ✴
After Estação do Oriente or Campo Pequeno, hop back on the purple line to São Pedro de Alcântara, another observation point with gorgeous views over the city, and of Castelo de São Jorge! This was another spot I missed out on, but what better way to bring your three days in Lisbon to a close! From here it isn’t too far to walk back into the city centre for some final night drinks and dinner!
✴ Walk down towards the city, or catch the bus back to Praça do Comércio (purple line stops 18 to 19/1) ✴
Thank you so much for sticking around to the end of my lengthy post this week, even if you just enjoyed scrolling through the photos of this beautiful city! Please let me know if you'd like me to put together itineraries for some other locations - I really enjoyed re-planning a few days in Lisbon!
For more Lisbon inspiration, check out my favourite sights in this beautiful city!