I'm completely falling for Lisbon. I would actually move there. Not right now literally as I'm still getting settled from my last move but maybe one day. Every time I visit a new place, I keep a mental note of where it ranks on the live-worthy index. Lisbon ranks high on the scale for many reasons. Great vibes, close to the sea, uh-mazing architecture, cultural diversity, an up and coming food scene, friendly people and good overall quality of life.
On top of everything, there seems to be a rejuvenation boom taking place all around the city. A combination of new real estate projects and developers refitting existing buildings while retaining the stunning Portuguese facades. Some speculate that its the country's recent adoption of a residency by investment (Golden Visa) program sparking the efforts. But native Portuguese remain the largest buyers which is a good sign. Whichever the reason, you get a sense that there's interest in the coastal capital.
I've put together a comprehensive guide on where to go and things to do in Lisbon for when you visit next. My city guide to Lisbon will help you decide which highlights to check out. It's less crowded than Rome and Paris and offers the same, if not more, sights and experiences to be had.
First things first, Is Lisbon Safe?
I found Lisbon to be really safe! And I’d definitely recommend solo travel to Lisbon if finding a travel partner is an issue. Lisbon is very walk-able and has a thriving night life too.
My Top Travel Tips for Lisbon
- Lisbon is hilly with many uneven (but beautifully tiled) sidewalks. Bring really comfortable shoes
- The currency is Euro (in case you're stuck in the 1990s)
- Lisbon is not the most expensive city but it's certainly not cheap. Standard meals are not less than 25 Euro a person unless you're eating fried fish wraps or hotdogs everyday at the Petiscos (fish eateries)
- You have to try the Petiscos 🙂
- Lisbon is a very inexpensive Uber city. I don't know how the business model for Uber works in Lisbon (it HAS to be different) but I never had a bill higher than 4 euros. If you're not a fan of Uber, Portugal is blessed with a well connected transport system. There are even tuk tuks!
- Gluten free in Lisbon can be tough so I would suggest to stick with salads and meat/fish
- Google Maps is very helpful and so is Zomato, the food app, for finding restaurants and reviews
- WiFi in hotels and restaurants is excellent. I even UPloaded a heavy video to YouTube. Something I haven't been able to do in Italy the first three months I moved there. Read Moving to A Small Town in Italy
- Don't forget Sintra! Many go as a day trip but I highly recommend spending more than a day here. Read Sintra, More than Just A Day Trip
- Many focus their visit on the neighborhoods of Chiado and Bairro Alto. But there is SO much more to Lisbon
Here are 7 Awesome Things to Do in Lisbon:
1. Get lost in Alfama
Getting lost on the narrow and hilly streets of Alfama was one of the highlights of my trip to Lisbon. I took so many colorful pictures, my camera’s memory was zapped by the end. You’ll see long staircases with street art decorating the sides, never ending arrangements of patterned ceramic tiles, iron balconies with bright flower pots, tall multicolored buildings and little restaurants grilling fish. Every once in a while, you’ll catch a great view of the river and the iconic red roofed homes. Somehow you never stay lost for too long. Just head down one of the steep staircases and you’re magically on the main street again.
2. Sao Jorge Castle
Perfect for you that Castelo de Sao Jorge is located right in Alfama. Uphill walking is necessary but its totally worth it. The castle is included on most itineraries for Lisbon but I definitely would not classify it as a tourist trap. The expansive views are really lovely and the grounds leave you with lots to explore. Climb up the castle to get even better views
3. Fado in Bairro Alto
Fado is a Portuguese pastime. Don’t leave Lisbon without catching a soulful performance. Most of the popular Fado houses are located in Bairro Alto. My personal favorite is O Faia. The food is delicious (try the trio of bacalhau). The lively crowd a good mix of ages and restaurant staff very welcoming. On a second trip, I patroned A Severa which is the oldest and most prestigious Fado house in Lisbon. However, the prices and cover are seriously ridiculous and the staff snooty. I found it to be a bit stiff too with a slightly senior citizeny audience. So skip this place.
Once you’re done with dinner and the show, stick around in Bairro Alto. It’s one of Lisbon’s liveliest neighborhoods and a great spot for bar hopping. You’ll see.
4. Head to Cinco Lounge in Bairro Alto for cocktails
Portugal has caught up with the trendy cocktail scene. In party into the night Bairro Alto, Cinco Lounge serves up some of the city's best libations. Good music and dim lighting set the mood. Next, head to Pink Street aka Rua Nova do Carvalho in Cais do Sodré.
5. Rua Augusta Arch
I was really taken aback by the magnificence of this structure. As you approach it from Chiado (another must see neighborhood in Lisbon), you'll understand why. After admiring the architecture of the Rua Augusta, cross through the arch and head straight to Praça do Comércio and then to the waterfront. Street performers play live music in the evenings and the atmosphere is relaxed. But I recommend getting to the arch before sunset as you don't want to miss its' details.
6. Walk down Avenue de Liberdade
From Chiado, head toward Avenue de Liberdade via Rossio Square. Don't forget to check out the Dona Maria II National Theatre and iconic wavy mosaic tiles in the square. Even better, catch a show at the theatre later on. Walk down the middle of the avenue under the canopy of trees and stop at the little eatery in the middle. You can't miss it. Wine and some pastries will do you good. Continue on for some window shopping.
7. Last, but certainly not least, is Mercado da Ribeira aka Time Out Market Lisboa
A huge warehouse by the Tagus River full of stalls operated by the city's best chefs and eateries. Mercado da Ribeira is a foodie paradise with a slightly upscale farmers market-cum-food court feel. One side is literally a market for fresh fruit, veggies, fish etc and the other side dedicated to eateries with open seating. The style reminds me of the Embarcadero in San Francisco.
My husband and I found ourselves here on three separate occasions over the course of a week while in Lisbon this year. Beware it does get crowded so try to get there early at meal times or on the tail end. My personal favorite stalls are Tartar-la (the best salmon tar tar I've ever had). Croqueteria in the back corner for a little pregame before the main meal, Cozinha da Felicidade for fresh takes on classics (try the bacalhao with yogurt and dill) and Manteigaria - Fábrica de Pastéis de Nata for some of the best pasties de nata (Portugal's heavenly classic custard tart dessert) in town.
Down the road from the Time Out Market, is the EDP building. It's not really a site per say but I found the architecture of this office building modern and stunning which made for some really cool trick photography. Check it out.
Other Things to do in Lisbon
- The Santa Justa Lift in Chiado and Aguas Livres Aqueduct are other great view points in Lisbon
- Torre de Belem or Belem Tower - a 16th century limestone tower built as part of Lisbon's defense system on the Tagus River
- Igreja de São Vicente de Fora - Monastery of São Vicente de Fora just for the architecture alone!
- Museum of Design
- Visit the hand made tile shops! You'll love putting them on your wall
Some activities you may want to skip in Lisbon
I recommend not taking the Yellow Bus Tour. I personally did not go on it. Then how can I write about it? I spoke to several people who did as well as read the reviews. It is a poorly run service with buses operating in much farther intervals than stated. On top of that, most of the people said their headphones for the audio guide were broken and the bus so overcrowded with barely functioning air conditioning in the peak of summer. Maybe its a better experience in the cooler months, I don't know.
Tram 28 - this one might be tougher to skip. The tram takes you through several neighborhoods and through the iconic narrow and hilly streets of Lisbon. But, locals who use the tram are being seriously put out by tourists who hop on just for the ride. Each tram only fits about 20 people and runs every 15 minutes or so. I saw an elderly woman waiting on line for more than an hour in the dead of summer. How do I know? Because I was right behind her waiting to get on the tram too. It was obvious the streets were too steep for her and the only thing she wanted to do was get home. I felt pretty sh*tty when I realized I had just contributed to the problem. Don't make my mistake.
Instead of the two listed above, try one of the Tuk Tuk rides around town.
Where to Stay in Lisbon:
5 Star/Luxury – Hotel Avenida Palace
Hotel Avenida Palace is an absolute treat to stay in. Prominent and centrally located right near Rossio Square, the regal interiors and furnishings of the hotel will take you back in time. The rooms, while not huge, are beautifully appointed with renovated bathrooms that are better than most in Europe. Book via the hotel's website vs one of the platforms. They will most likely upgrade you and offer free drinks at the bar. That's what they did with us.
Mid Range: Vincci Liberdade Hotel
Vincci Liberdade is a boutique hotel with a 4 star rating. A great and quiet location just off Avenue Liberdade. It's wonderful for business travelers in need of excellent wifi and speedy service. We stayed in the corner room on the top floor and both the room and bathroom were very spacious and modern. All the amenities you could need plus double terraces. An excellent choice in Lisbon.
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