If Italy and Spain are the big blockbusters of Mediterranean Europe, Portugal is the critically acclaimed indie flick – all people can say are good things, but for some reason, it still goes under the radar! This guide to Lisbon was written by Mimi, a digital nomad who lived in Lisbon for much of last year. This guide to Lisbon includes travel tips for first-time visitors, where to stay in Lisbon, and where to eat in Lisbon!
If you’re wondering where to spend your extra days in Europe, I would strongly suggest Lisbon, Portugal due to how incredibly beautiful it is. You get a little taste of different types of landscapes, from rolling waves to lush hills to dramatic cliffs. Strongly inspired by the sea, the Portuguese take great pride in reflecting the beauty of the oceanside in their architecture, art, and culture.
That said, visiting Portugal isn’t for everyone. Portuguese as a language is notoriously difficult to get a handle on, with people mistakenly believing it to be as easy to pick up as Spanish or Italian.
Portugal also has a bit of a lag in terms of development. The country wasn’t always a democracy – in fact, a coup in 1975 overthrew the long-reigning dictatorship before the government transitioned into civilian rule. As a result of the population slowly adjusting to this drastic change and entering the EU, economic progress in Portugal has been tumultuous.
However, Portugal didn’t become the world’s first global empire for a reason. Maritime exploration played a huge history in Portugal’s development, and you can see how exposure to different cultures and countries has created such an eclectic and vibrant culture in this lovely country.
Travel Tips for Lisbon
The Prices are in Your Favor (Plus Minimal Tipping)
The prices in Portugal are jaw-droppingly low (compared to other Western European countries). This is a boon for
The reason why cost-of-living in Portugal is so low is because Portugal itself does not have a thriving economy; hence why most people either share housing or live in their family homes until they get married.
As for tipping, it’s not really expected in Portugal unless you’re at a very touristy restaurant. Even then, you would tip 5-10% of the bill at max. Just double check your receipt to make sure there isn’t a service charge already included.
Keep Plenty of Cash on Hand
Portugal’s economy has experienced a lot of shakiness, and thus the tourist infrastructure isn’t quite as sophisticated as the infrastructure in other European countries.
ATMs (or multibancos) have become better at reading international debit and credit cards, but restaurants, hotels, and other services will often times refuse payment methods that aren’t through a Portuguese credit or debit card. Thus, it’s always a safe bet to keep a couple of bills in your wallet.
Expect Things to Move Slowly
If you’ve wandered through the Mediterranean Coast before, the laidback lifestyle of Portugal shouldn’t surprise you. Don’t be afraid to slow down and take a stroll instead of a fast-paced clip. Portugal isn’t really known for their big, bustling metropolises, and the large elderly population and lack of young people might be a factor behind why the Portuguese are used to taking their time getting places.
Don’t Be Fazed By the Drug Dealers
Since Lisbon is cheap and teeming with visitors in the summer, you can always expect a vibrant crowd in the nightlife districts. Unfortunately, drug dealers tend to congregate wherever the party is – usually around Pink Street or Bairro Alto. If the drug dealers attempt to sell you anything (and it’s usually fake or weak), be firm and expect that they will be persistent. That being said, they’ll usually give up and leave you to enjoy the rest of your night after pestering you a few times.
Do Drink Yourself Silly on Delicious Wine (and Sangria)
Portugal, otherwise known as the birthplace for
How to Get Around Lisbon
Taxis are a good option to choose from if you’re in the middle of the city, but you will have to ask about the rate up front and provide the address just in case your driver isn’t familiar with English. Thankfully, Uber is readily and cheaply available, so you won’t have to stress about catching a ride in Lisbon.
Like many other European cities, Lisbon also has a well-maintained bus network that will take you throughout the city and even to neighboring cities and villages. Ticket booths are usually available at central bus stations, otherwise, you pay when you board.
If you want to take a couple of day trips and use Lisbon as your home base, trains are an excellent and affordable option. Not only are you blessed with a beautiful, scenic ride, but all trains run by the Comboios de Portugal (CP) are very reliable.
Train tickets can be purchased 60 days in advance, online or at the train station itself. Although train tickets cost more on certain days of the weekend and holidays, you can consider buying the nationwide Portugal Rail Pass. Not only can you cover 3-7 days of train travel in one month, but it also includes free rides on Lisbon’s rails as well!
What to Do in Lisbon
Just because Lisbon isn’t as widely-known as Paris or London doesn’t mean that it’s lacking cultural capital. In fact, Lisbon is bursting at the seams with Portugal’s unique spin on culture, religion, art, and history. Rest assured that even though this list only covers 10 essential Lisbon experiences, there are at least a couple dozen more to check out in Portugal’s capital.
Visit Lisbon’s National Tile Museum
If you even care about taking an aesthetic photo for the ‘gram, you know that beautiful and elaborate tiles are an instant crowd pleaser.
Lisbon’s National Tile Museum specializes in azulejo, or Portuguese ceramic tilework. Known for their eye-catching glossiness and bright colors, azulejo is primarily known for their trademark blue-and-white depictions of historical scenes. In addition to tiles, the National Tile Museum also houses ceramics, porcelain, and faience.
Take A Breather at Rossio Square
One of the main squares in Lisbon, Rossio Square has existed since the Middle Ages and has witnessed as many celebrations as it has executions.
Now, locals and tourists flock to Rossio Square as a popular place to meet up with friends or take the metro. Cafes and shops line the entire square, so you can easily grab a drink and relax by the fountains at Rossio Square before making your way to the next stop.
Dance the Night Away in Bairro Alto
If you have some energy left to burn at night, a trip to Bairro Alto is guaranteed to give you a great time. Bairro Alto is Lisbon’s nightlife district and historically a bohemian haunt of writers and artists. While Bairro Alto shines most brightly at night with its Fado (a type of melancholic Portuguese singing style) houses and never-ending list of bars, plenty of visitors come by during the day to enjoy pastries at one of the many bakeries.
Bargain at the Feira da Ladra
This iconic flea market goes back as far as the 17th century and offers a treasure trove of artisan goods, clothes, antiques, and more. Held every Tuesday and Saturday from dawn to early afternoon, the market stalls are a great place to practice your haggling skills and pick up some nice souvenirs to take home. You most likely won’t spend all day here, but Feira da Ladra is a great place to spend an early morning or afternoon before going on your way.
Admire the Books in the World’s Longest-Operating Bookshop
Holding the Guinness World Record for “Oldest Bookshop Still in Operation,” the Livraria Bertrand or Bertrand Chiado has undergone multiple rebrandings and owners.
However, it has remained in the original location since 1732. Throughout its long and storied history, Livraria Bertrand was an important meeting spot for some of Portugal’s most famed writers and political thinkers.
Marvel at the Porcelain Creations of the Bordalo Pinheiro Garden
Further emphasizing Portugal’s love for ceramics and porcelain, the Bordallo Pinheiro Garden showcases the best of Portuguese quirkiness in their most esteemed art forms.
Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro was an artist who created drawings, ceramics, and comics. He combined his talents and humor to create larger-than-life porcelain statues of animals stalking the grounds of the garden. Don’t be surprised to see a frog peeking out of the grass or a snail slowly making its way up a building’s wall!
Find the Miradouros in Lisbon!
Wanderlustingk editor Karne recommends taking the stairs although you’ll definitely feel the burn! Lisbon is quite hilly,
When In Portugal, Do As the Portuguese Do and Drink Ginjinha
Available at most cafes,
Go for a Spin on Tram 28
While most of Lisbon’s rails and trams are quite modernized, you might spot a vintage-looking yellow streetcar rattling its way through the city.
Tram 28 will take you on a charming journey throughout the beautiful streets of Lisbon. But be warned, queues to ride these trams are extremely long and can sometimes take more than an hour. Another (and healthier alternative) might be to just walk along the Tram 28 route instead! (Note: Be careful of pickpockets on this tram!)
Experience the Glory of Jerónimos Monastery
Located right by the Tagus River, the Jerónimos Monastery exemplifies the artistry of Portuguese Gothic architecture with its somber spires and ornate arches. Since this monastery was not just a religious site tied to the Order of Saint Jerome but also a place for the monks to assist seafarers, naval elements are featured prominently throughout the building.
The South Portal leading to the Church of Santa Maria is considered to be the building’s main entrance, but the Axial Portal is considered to be the most important door in the Monastery due to its ornateness and position in front of the main altar.
Where to Eat in Lisbon
When you see how far Portugal’s history goes with trade, colonialism, and globalization, you can see how Portuguese cuisine resembles a two-way street.
The Portuguese are obsessed with sprucing up Atlantic seafood in anyway possible, having a particular preference for spices imported from Asia. But more importantly, you can sense where Portugal was influential with their own cuisine, with their flavors leaking into Japanese, African, and Brazilian food.
This seafood restaurant is a tourist staple, but one of the good ones. After all, Cervejaria Ramiro specializes in what makes seafood so delicious in the first place. By focusing on the freshness and simplicity of flavors, the kitchen staff is trained to bring out the best in the ingredients such as gigantic prawns, locust lobsters, and savory octopus.
Pastéis de Belém
Pastéis de Belém is a bakery that is another beloved staple of Lisbon. Famed for their pastel de nata, this bakery’s delicious custard tarts topped with cinnamon powder have captured the hearts of thousands of tourists. You can also opt for other pastries such as the meat pies (duck & spinach or chicken), bolo-rei (traditional king cake), and croissants to round out your selection!
Note by Wanderlustingk editor*. If you won’t be visiting Belém, you can head to Manteigueira for fantastic Portuguese custard tarts. You can watch them make these treats in front of you. This shop is a favorite of my friend who lives in Lisbon!
Coelho da Rocha
A traditional Portuguese restaurant, Coehlo da Rocha is perhaps most well-known for their petiscos, or Portuguese tapas. Pesticos can consist of anything from ovos mexidos (scrambled eggs), cod patties, pica-pau sauce with beef, and choco frito (deep-fried cuttlefish). If you’re overwhelmed by the sheer variety of options, place your trust in the waiter and go off his or her recommendations for both the food and wine!
Peixaria da Esquina
Peixaria da Esquina prides itself on its sleek, refined dining environment and its mastery over Portuguese seafood and lobster dishes. Bacalhau, or dried/salted cod and Portugal’s national dish, is a particular star on Peixaria’s menu, but you can also delight over the octopus carpaccio, marinated scallops, and razor clams. Cap off your amazing meal with a caramel and pistachio tart or a creamy chocolate mousse.
Don’t let this tiny cafe fool you. Dom Tacho’s francesinha – a heart attack of a sandwich formed out of thick bread, steak, ham, sausage, and slathered in cheese, sauce, and a fried egg – should be considered the 8th wonder of the world. If that’s not enough to fill your stomach, your francesinha will arrive accompanied by a giant plate of chips. If all these delicious carbs and fats don’t sound like your idea of a good time, you have a healthy selection of other sandwiches and refreshing beers to choose from.
Where to Stay in Lisbon
Since tourism is becoming an increasingly important trade in Lisbon, there is no shortage of places to stay for any kind of budget. To get a better sense of Lisbon and its vibrant local culture, hostels and boutique hotels where you can easily meet other travelers are definitely the way to go. (Editor’s note: Airbnb has become a major issue for locals in Lisbon, so please consider booking a place to stay.)
For those on a budget, Wanderlustingk personally recommends Nest House Lisbon Hostel and Yes! Hostel Lisbon, which she stayed at during her previous trips to Lisbon. Nest House Lisbon is a small boutique hotel located outside of the city center with a great breakfast, comfy beds, and a nice communal space! For a more social hostel with great organized activities, I recommend Yes! Hostel for their communal meals as well as bar nights.
For something hip and trendy, consider staying at Casa das Janelas com Visa. You can stay in the heart of Lisbon at the gorgeous Casa das
Situated in one of the most romantic neighborhoods of Lisbon, the Memmo Alfama is a stunning homage to midcentury architecture and sophisticated hospitality perfect for a special occasion. Featuring crisp lines and chic, minimalist decor, this hotel offers rooms that overlook the Tagus River. During sunset, you can head up to the terrace to enjoy the beautiful views, take a dip in the rooftop pool, or enjoy tasty cocktails at the bar – perfect for unwinding after a long day of sightseeing.
Favorite Day Trips from Lisbon
If you take the rail from Rossio Railway Station, you can easily take the train over to Sintra. Famous for being the home of many castles, cobbled streets, and exquisitely painted buildings, Sintra represents traditional Portugal at its finest.
Before you go shopping in Rua das Padarias, stop by the Pena Palace and Castelo dos Mouros in the hills first!
A fishing town turned beautiful resort in the summer, Cascais is a dream destination for families and young twenty-somethings. There are two distinct coastlines, with calm, friendly beaches in the east and wild, rugged waves perfect for surfing in the north.
In terms of nature, you definitely don’t want to miss the Boca do Inferno cliff formations or Praia da Rainha beach. But if you want to explore the town a bit, check out the Castro Guimaraes Museum, the beachfront promenade to Estoril, or go shopping in the Mercado da Vila market.
Another coastal town, Peniche is home to Rip Curl Pro Portugal, part of World Surf League Tour. As a result, you can always meet fellow potential friends who are hoping to catch a few waves.
Peniche also has a fascinating history, being the birthplace of the delicate bobbin lacework and home of Peniche Fort, intended to defend beaches and serve as a prison during the Estado Novo regime.
Costa da Caparica
The Costa da Caparica isn’t so much a town, but more a strip of more than a dozen perfect beaches. A hotspot for partying, surfing, sunbathing, there’s something for everyone who visits this region.
Favorite Weekend Trips from Lisbon
Evora is perhaps the best representation of multicultural heritage in Portugal. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Evora evokes the splendor of the ancient times with its classic buildings and Roman ruins. The iconic Temple of Diana is an ancient Roman temple that features elaborate Corinthian columns.
You can also visit the Se (or the Cathedral of Évora) to see its asymmetrical towers up-close or the bone-chilling Capela dos Ossos. The Chapel of Bones is built from bones of thousands of bodies exhumed from the city’s graveyard – if the pillars aren’t enough to give you the heebie jeebies, the bones of an adult and child corpse definitely will.
Instead of being surrounded by seawater, Aveiro is located by the edge of a lagoon instead. But don’t expect bogs and swamps – canals weave their way through Aveiro’s gorgeous city design and can be navigated by moliceiros (gondola-style boats). To add to Aveiro’s sense of magic, pastel homes built in the Art Nouveau style and palm trees decorate the city.
For remarkable landmarks, visitors have to check out Mosteiro de Jesus, a monastery with a royal connection and replete with religious art in its museum. Another gorgeous landmark is the Alveiro Train Station. In fact, it might be worth taking the train just to pull into the station and get stunned by the azulejos, beautiful blue tiles that depict Aveiro’s early 20th century history.
If you’re a wine lover, you’d be doing yourself a serious disservice if you skip out on a trip to Porto and the Douro Valley – the most important wine region in Portugal.
There are plenty of day tours that will take you around various vineyards and wineries. Indulge in as much port and green wine as you can! You can also take a boat ride down the Douro River while enjoying a selection of Portugal’s finest foods and wines at the same time.
Esteemed for its golden limestone cliffs, the Algarve occupies Portugal’s southernmost region. Before, fishing villages used to line the low cliffs, but they’ve slowly been replaced by hotels, restaurants, resorts, and golf courses. Thankfully, much of the Algarve’s natural beauty has been preserved.
You should note that since the Algarve is such a popular tourist spot, there may be a lot of younger tourists who are more interested in drinking and partying rather than soaking up the scenery. That being said, don’t let them ruin your enjoyment of the Algarve – it’s still a wonderful place to spend many delightfully lazy afternoons in.
Coimbra is an intellectual’s dream turned into gorgeous city. Portugal’s oldest university, the University of Coimbra, is a World Heritage Site and sits on top of a hill. With a sprawling campus formed of white stone and the lavish Biblioteca Joanina, it’s hard not to admire the reverence the university has for knowledge.
Coimbra is also home to many interesting structures, so make sure to stop by a couple of monasteries and chapels before walking over the colorful Pedro e Inês Bridge.
Interested in learning more about Portugal and what you should know before making a visit to this underrated country? Check out my recommendations and travel tips for Portugal, including 20 things that surprised me about the country!
Author’s Bio: Mimi McFadden is a travel blogger and freelance writer. Originally from California, she has been slow traveling the world since 2013. When she’s not writing, you can probably find her sipping on a pint of craft beer, chasing waterfalls, or planning her next adventure in a foreign land. After living abroad for five years in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Greece, and Portugal she has finally found a home in San Francisco, California. You can find her on Instagram, Facebook, and her blog, The Atlas Heart.