A short city-guide of Portugal’s capital
Lisbon is a charming and surprising city. The capital of Portugal is the favorite destination for tourists and travelers who choose to visit the country. It is still one of the cheapest capitals of western Europe, safe and with a pleasant climate.
The city offers good transports, good touristic infrastructures, excellent gastronomy and a huge variety of cultural attractions. With all these qualities, it is not a coincidence that, in the last years, Lisbon has been bringing more and more tourists and expats from all around the world. On the other side, though, many young Portuguese are leaving the country because of the crisis and unemployment.
Although it is located on hills, the city invites you to walk, mostly, through the neighborhoods of the center like Graça, Alfama, Baixa, Chiado, Bica, Bairro Alto e Príncipe Real. The beautiful architecture and the short distances between spots make your visit even more enjoyable and less expensive.
Tips about the city
Arriving from the airport
The easiest and cheapest way to reach the city is the metro. Another option is the bus service Aerobus. If the metro stations or the bus routes are too distant from your destination, you can book a taxi through Uber app. The airport offers free wifi for one hour.
If you want to move around by public transports during your stay, you better buy Viva Lisboa card and top up as Zapping (make sure you say it to the ticket seller; it could be a challenge for new visitors) and includes all kind of transports (metro, bus, elétrico, train and boat). Click here to check how it works.
Lisbon offers several types of accommodation (hostels, hotels, Airbnb), for different tastes and pockets. As it has a good transport network and its touristic circuit is relatively small, any place within the central area of the city is a good option.
To make traveling easier, pick a place near a subway station. Alfama can be a good option for accommodation in the characteristic area of the city, while the Bairro Alto, due to the hustle and bustle of its nightlife, should be avoided – if you want to have a good night’s sleep.
Best time to visit
Summer in Lisbon is quite dry and sunny. If the goal is to enjoy the beaches of the city and the surroundings, better plan your trip between the months of July and September. But get ready, because you will find the city full of tourists.
The beginning of autumn, the city is full of chestnuts sellers on the streets, sold hot and roasted in small stalls. Delicious!
Winter in Lisbon can be considered mild by European standards. If you are renting an apartment, make sure that you have a heating system, as it is not common in the old buildings of the city.
Popular Saints Feast
From the 12th to the 13th of June, Lisbon celebrates the day of Santo António, one of the patron saints of the city. The custom is to roast sardines in the streets, surrounded by music and animation, especially in the neighborhoods of Alfama and Bica.
On Liberdade Avenue there is an allegorical parade of every neighborhood of the city; on June 13th, a procession of the church of Santo António de Lisboa starts at the foot of the Cathedral, where the saint was born.
New Year’s Eve
During New Year’s Eve, concerts and fireworks take place in Praça do Comércio. It’s really pretty but, remember, no public transports can help you to go back home during the night and taxis are not enough; so, if you don’t live in the city center, organize an alternative transport for your way back.
Top things to do
Praça do Comércio
Praça do Comércio, also known as Terreiro do Paço, is the central square of Lisbon, where many activities take place, like concerts, festivals and official events. It used to host Paço da Ribeira, the residence of the kings from 1511 till the earthquake of 1755 when it was destroyed. Marquês de Pombal was the responsible of the reconstruction plan of the city and the central area was rebuilt and, since then, this area is also called Baixa Pombalina. The square is enclosed by buildings that create a nice architectural complex.
In one of its sides, the square opens to Tagus river, in Cais das Colunas, from where you have a beautiful view of the Ponte 25 de Abril and the statue of Cristo Rei, at the other side of the river. From Praça do Comércio you can reach various spots in a short walk distance.
Baixa de Lisboa ou Baixa Pombalina
Baixa goes from Praça do Comércio to Praça D. Pedro IV (Praça do Rossio) and Praça da Figueira, and from Cais do Sodré and Chiado to the hill of Castelo of S. Jorge; it is dominated by straight and perpendicular streets, with all sort of shops and restaurants.
Elétrico 28E is a tram that runs between Campo de Ourique (Cemitério dos Prazeres) and Martim Moniz. It stops by many nice spots of the city: Graça, Alfama, Antiga Sé, Baixa, Chiado, Bairro Alto, Estrela and Campo de Ourique. It is a great choice to taste a bit of the charm of the city, from the windows of the elétrico, going up and down narrow streets and magic atmosphere, both during the day and evening.
Be aware that during summer time and festivities, elétricos are crowded with tourists. Careful: really expert pickpockets! Check here for the timetable.
Antiga Sé (Old Cathedral)
Antiga Sé is located on the slope that links Baixa to Alfama. The romanesque cathedral was built in 1147, year of the Christian recapture of the city. The church went through many additions and changes till the beginning of 20th century when it was eventually restored in its medieval look.
Panteão Nacional (National Pantheon)
Panteão Nacional is located in the Igreja de Santa Engrácia, in the neighborhood of São Vicente. It hosts the burials of distinguished personalities of Portuguese history, like Infante Dom Henrique, Pedro Álvares Cabral, Amália Rodrigues and the famous football player Eusébio.
Museu do Fado
Fado is the music of Lisbon, a heritage of Portuguese culture. The Museum of Fado, in Praça do Chafariz de Dentro, in Alfama neighborhood, is dedicated to the history and to the tradition of Fado. The visit can be a good warm-up before a night in the numerous casas de fado of the city. This is an experience that we highly recommend!
Príncipe Real e Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara
Praça do Príncipe Real is a charming square with grass and trees, in the Misericórdia neighborhood, close to Barrio Alto. You can have a coffee at the green kiosk, enjoying the sun, or have a meal at the bars and restaurants of the area.
Walking up through the Rua da Escola Politécnica, you find yourself at Largo do Rato. Going down in Rua Dom Pedro V, have a break at the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara and enjoy the stunning view of the city.
Parque Eduardo VII and Jardim Amália Rodrigues
From Baixa, through Avenida Liberdade, you reach park Eduardo VII, located behind Praça Marquês de Pombal. A steep field in the middle and two sidewalks made with Portuguese stone. Here, a huge national flag and the Monumento ao 25 de Abril fly from the panorama of the city.
Behind the flag, you can sit on a bench in Jardim de Amália Rodrigues (the most famous fado singer in the history of the country); or you can walk to the pond at its right-hand side and enjoy a snack at the cozy cafeteria.
The neighborhood of Belém is placed on the west border of Lisbon, following the path of the river to the ocean.
Belém flourishes of charming spots and fascinating architecture. Padrão dos Descobrimentos, the stunning Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, and Torre de Belém are just a few.
To reach the area, from Lisbon (city center) you can take a train, a bus or the tram (elétrico).
There, it’ s located also the Palácio de Belém, the official residence of the President of the Republic and the famous Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, serving the delicious and traditional Portuguese pastry since 1837.
Santuário Nacional do Cristo Rei (Sanctuary of Christ the King)
The statue of Cristo-Rei stands out at the other side of Tagus river, in the city of Almada. The area was inaugurated in 1959 and became a site of pilgrimage for Catholics. From Almada, you have a nice view of Lisbon and the Ponte 25 de Abril.
Food and drink
If you want to save money and also enjoy the local cuisine, a good way is to eat in pastelarias (a pastry shop/bakery) and tascas. They serve generous and low-cost portions of the national dishes, together with the famous Portuguese desserts. Barrio Alto and Alfama offer a good choice of restaurants. You can’t miss also Mercado Da Ribeira!
Breakfast in Portugal should be in a pastelaria. The most frequent options are bread, croissants, and typical Portuguese sweets, with espresso (called bica in Lisbon) or coffee with milk.
Where to eat Portuguese food in Lisbon?
Like in many others capitals around the World, Lisbon also has many places and restaurants of international food. But, once there, we strongly advise you to taste the local cuisine.
One first stop could be a visit to Mercado da Ribeira. It’s a traditional food market, with a separated space called Time Out Market Lisboa: the area has been renovated and houses now small sub-restaurants of the city.
As we said before, to savor the local dishes, small restaurants and pastry shops are great low-cost options. For more elaborate meals, restaurants in Bairro Alto, Príncipe Real, and Alfama do the trick.
Fancy a pint? Where to grab a beer
Until recently, Lisbon had little tradition of producing craft beers. In bars and restaurants, the options were limited to Sagres or SuperBock beer, on tap (here called Imperial) or bottle.
Fortunately, in recent years, this has been changing. National microbreweries begin to offer different types and styles of beer with quality local production that gradually spreads through bars and pubs in the city.
Probably to cope with this move, Sagres recently relaunched the Bohemia brand, with wheat beers, pure malt, pale ale, and bock.
Here are some options to enjoy craft beer in the city:
Fancy a Ginginha?
Ginginha is a liqueur made with ginja berries (sour cherries). Quite common throughout Portugal, you can drink it in small bars. The most famous and traditional of them is A Ginjinha, in Largo de Santo Domingo, 8, in Rossio zone. Whenever we pass by, we make a stop to taste the drink.
Here a list of useful resources to help you with your trip.
Lonely Planet Pocket Lisbon (Travel Guide)
DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Lisbon
The 500 Hidden Secrets of Lisbon
Lisbon 55 Secrets – The Locals Travel Guide For Your Trip to Lisbon 2017 (Portugal): Skip the tourist traps and explore like a local : Where to Go, Eat & Party in Lisbon( Portugal Travel Guide )
Night Train to Lisbon: A Novel
Time Out Lisbon (Time Out Guides)
Fado Portugues: Songs From the Soul of Portugal (With Audio CD) (Music Sales America)
Fado and the Place of Longing: Loss, Memory and the City (Ashgate Popular and Folk Music Series)