Alternative Lisbon Travel Guide
Updated January 2024
Written for those who have already ticked off the major tourist attractions or those who don’t have any interest in them. I’ve curated these Alternative Guides after 7 years of living in and travelling around Portugal. I realised that after my first trip to any of the cities here (and sometimes during the first trip) I longed to get more, to break away from the usual route. I started walking further, taking back streets and pestering the natives and asking them for their secret places to go, eat and drink so that I could find a way to experience the “real” Portugal.
In 2020 I moved to Cascais and after three years with Lisbon on my doorstep I’m ready to start sharing a few of the sights and activities that will leave you feeling a little bit closer to Portugal by the end of it.
LISBON : A TRICKY CITY TO GET TO KNOW
Lisbon is a tricky city to get to know. It’s not particularly big, at least not when you compare it to the mega cities like New York or Bangkok, but its popularity is soaring and it doesn’t look like it’s stopping any time soon. Everyone is talking about Lisbon which means planning your trip can be pretty overwhelming. Everyone has their own ideas and the sheer number of options available leaves you realising you simply can’t do everything. Another reason it’s tricky to put together an itinerary for Lisbon is that the city is evolving rapidly. New restaurants, bars, experiences and activities are popping up constantly so it can be hard to get a handle on what’s out there right now.
Planning a trip to Portugal but don’t know where to start?
Here’s where I hope I can help. I’ve been living in the Lisbon region for 3 years now. I live in Cascais, 30 mins from the centre of Lisbon which I visit for work and play several times a week. My friendship group is mainly based in Lisbon and after 3 crazy years I finally feel like I’m starting to get a grip of the city. I still have so much to discover about Lisbon and I find new spots very frequently so I’ll keep topping up this guide.
Before we get started I wanted to touch on the point I mentioned above. Lisbon’s tourism scene is booming. Not only that but the city has become a temporary home to a hoard of digital nomads and a mammoth number of immigrants and retired folks. Thousands of people are flocking to Portugal for a new life and Lisbon and its people are getting the brunt of it. The increasing rent and property prices are causing upheaval for the native Lisboetas. Portugal has been home for me for 7 years and I too am experiencing the fallout from it but I can’t even begin to pretend that I am dealing with the same crises that the real locals are.
With this in mind please seek out local, family-run businesses, accommodation, restaurants, activities etc. Support small-businesses. Try to book accommodation and activities directly where possible.
Other ways you can look after this beautiful city so many of us choose to call home:
Be respectful to workers, in all areas. It is those on the frontline (shops, restaurants, public transport, road workers, etc) that are suffering most with the sudden influx of tourism and a huge increase in population. Always be respectful.
Be Patient. Lisbon is still a relatively small city and some processes here take longer than you expect. Everyone is doing their best. If you’re used to things being done quickly it can be frustrating but use this as an opportunity to slow down. Patience is a virtue. (I still have to remind myself this sometimes).
Take your litter with you. Please don’t leave your rubbish on the streets. Recycle in one of the many points across the city. Portugal has a great recycling system.
Blue: Cardboard and Paper
Yellow: Plastic and tin
Black: General waste.
Leave the city cleaner than when you found it.
Learn at least some basic language. Don’t automatically assume everyone speaks English. Lisbon is an international city and most living there do speak good English but that doesn’t mean they should have to. Always make an effort to speak a little Portuguese.
Excuse me – Com licença
Please – Por favor
Sorry – Desculpe
Where is the… ? Onde é…?
Can I book a table for 2 at 8pm? Posso reservar uma mesa para duas às 8h?
Good morning – Bom dia
Good afternoon – Boa tarde
Good night – Boa noite
Thank you – Obrigado/a (m/f)
You’re welcome – de nada
Do you speak English – Fala Inglês?
If you want to learn some more phrases download the free language app Memrise.
WHERE TO STAY IN LISBON, THE ALTERNATIVE AREAS
The majority of tourists stay in the central parts of town such as Chiado, Bairro Alto, Rossio etc, and for good reason – those spots are in the middle of it all. The other popular place to stay is Alfama because it’s the oldest neighbourhood in Lisbon and arguably the most charming; but it’s also overrun with Airbnbs so it’s losing a little bit of that authenticity.
The very obvious reason to stay in these neighbourhoods is the fact they are in the middle of it all so don’t let the fact they are busy put you off but for those of you wanting to get away from the crowds a little and don’t mind not being right in the centre consider these alternative stay options…
Let’s look at some other areas you could stay in Lisbon.
Where to Eat & Drink in Lisbon
This is probably the hardest part of the guide to write because there are simply just too many options. You could pick any cuisine from around the world and it’s very likely Lisbon has it hidden somewhere. I’ll include a few quirky restaurants but the main theme of the restaurants below is good Portuguese food.
You’re going to see some restaurants mentioned time and time again such as Ramiro because it’s an old school classic and well-loved Portuguese staple. These restaurants are definitely worth visiting but don’t worry if you can’t get a table because there are so many tasty dining experiences to be had in Lisbon.
A note on TimeOut Market… by all means poke your head in, maybe grab a cocktail or a pastel de nata but unless you have lots of time don’t waste one of your meals here. Sacrilege when there is so much choice in the city.
Quirky Restaurants in Lisbon
With the increase of social media and Lisbon’s booming popularity I see more and more quirky places popping up all over Lisbon.
For the love of Tascas
If there’s one thing I love about Lisbon’s food scene it’s the seemingly never ending wish list of tascas I have. Tascas are typical Portuguese restaurants, usually basic and cheap (although it is getting harder to find proper cheap places now) and more popular with locals. You can expect typical Portuguese dishes and jugs of wine in a basic setting with a warm atmosphere. As I mentioned already, there is no shortage of tascas in Lisbon but not all tascas are equal. Add these ones to your list…
A great tip for cheap drinks and snacks in Lisbon is the cute quiosques that are dotted all over the city. Since the weather is good year round in Lisbon it’s great to have so many of these alfresco options. As a rule of thumb quiosques are generally cheaper than most of the bars in the city and have a range of beer, wine, basic cocktails and salgados (salty snacks). Some offer larger dishes and varied drinks options too. These are my most regular quiosque hangouts.
To Food Tour or not to Food Tour
It can be hard to know whether to dedicate one of your afternoons to a food tour or not. One of the pleasures of Lisbon is wandering around and seeing what you can find and I definitely recommend taking some back streets in search of tascas and unusual restaurants. However there is also no one that can introduce you to Lisbon’s food scene better than a local so consider booking a food tour while you’re there.
This Food + Fado Tour is a great way to skip the touristy fado shows, see the real deal and chow down on some authentic grub while you do it. Or taste a range of petiscos (Portuguese tapas) at sunset at this Food + Wine Tour.
Rooftops of Lisbon
So. Many. Rooftops. There is always a new rooftop being announced in Lisbon and it’s impossible to visit all of them. These are the most unique ones I’ve found so far.
Calçada do Combro 58, 1200-123 Lisboa
Touristy no doubt, but also a cool concept. Park is literally in, or rather on top of, a car park. You have to climb the car park stairs to find it. It has great sunset views and a fun vibe.
Praça Dom Luís I 30, 1200-275 Lisboa
My most frequented rooftop because of ease. Java is located in Cais do Sodré so it’s super easy to get to. It has a lovely list of cocktails and isn’t too OTT. Great pre-dinner drinks spot.
Calçada Livramento 17, 1350-188 Lisboa
Great view of the bridge and a much more laid back vibe. A little bit bohemian and a good choice for lunch.
My Nightlife Picks
If you want to do the real late night thing the best option is LUX. Several floors of music and dancing including a rooftop terrace but don’t even think about arriving before 1am. If you’re in Lisbon during the summer keep an eye out for Lux’s bi-weekly live music sunset events.
Sexy Wine Bars
When you want a change from the cheap tasty stuff to the fancy tasty stuff Lisbon’s got you. Here’s a couple of wine bars to get acquainted with while you’re in the city.
While in Portugal sign yourself up for some wine tastings. There are no wineries in the immediate Lisbon area but you don’t have to go far to taste! In central in Lisbon Adega Belém does cellar tours and tasting without leaving the city.
Quinta da Folgorosa
1 hour north of Lisbon and an amazing half day trip to add into your itinerary. Quinta da Folgorosa winery offers a great tour that will take you to a unique tasting spot – a windmill. Thoughtful tour and some really special wines and snacks.
BEST ALTERNATIVE EXPERIENCES IN LISBON
Sail at Sunset
Get out of the city and on to the water for a sailing on the Tejo. This is a beautiful way to spend an evening. If you’re lucky you’ll spot dolphins too! I haven’t used this company personally yet so do your research before booking.
Fado and Food with The Locals
Fado is one of those cultural experiences everyone wants to witness but the truth is it’s not easy to find authentic fado in Lisbon. My personal favourite is Tasca do Chico but there is no way of predicting when Fado will be playing. An alternative option is to join a Fado and Food tour with a local guide from Devour.
Book a Padel Game
Is it just me or is padel taking over the world? It’s been a popular sport in Lisbon for years but it seems it’s peaking right now. I only started playing a few months ago but I’m hooked. If you’re travelling with family or friends why not spend a couple of hours playing padel? There are some really unique places to play – have a look at these courts under the famous bridge for a unique experience.
Markets and Lisbon go together like port and cheese and here are a couple of long standing favourites amongst locals.
Feira da Ladra
Campo de Santa Clara, 1100-472 Lisboa
The best flea market in Lisbon, every Tuesday and Saturday in Campo de Santa Clara
Belém Antiques And Crafts Market
R. Vieira Portuense, Lisboa
Every 1st and 3rd Saturday of the month in the gardens of Jerónimos Monastery
R. Rodrigues de Faria 103, 1300-501 Lisboa
Contemporary market in the industrial turned arts and restaurant complex. Every Sunday.
Visit the Oldest Bookstore in the World
For another fascinating stop to add to your Lisbon itinerary visit Bertrand bookstore – ‘the oldest bookshop in the world’.
If you’re anything like me you need a bit of nature every day. If busy city life is tiring you out head to Jardim da Estrela and chill out under some palms in the park for a while
OLIVE OIL TASTING D’OLIVA
On my first ever tour of Lisbon ‘Portuguese for a Day’ Tours introduced me to this special shop. D’Olivial is a cute boutique store selling Portuguese products AND olive oil tasting. No need to book, just head to the shop and ask to try.
Getting out of Lisbon, best small towns & villages
If you’re in Lisbon for more than a few days it’s likely you’ll want to explore further afield. Most people head to Sintra and Cascais. Both are great options but Sintra in particular is crazy busy right now. If you want some place authentic with fewer crowds hire a car and drive to then have a peek at some of my choices below.
1 hour south close to the gorgeous Arrábida you’ll find Azeitão. A fantastic day trip from Lisbon and chance to see a different part of Portugal. Also home to a couple of great wineries!
Costa da Caparica
Caparica is a beach town south of the river. The town itself is not pretty but the coast has a lot to offer. Whether you want a family beach day, surf lessons or a boho party on the sand Caparica has everything you need for a beach holiday. My favourite spot? Head to Praia Irmão for long summer beach days, stunning sunsets and epic summer parties.
A way to get out of the city and into nature quickly. Malveira takes you into the forest and provides plenty of epic hiking trails.
Azenhas do Mar
This unbelievably cute little seaside village is built into the cliff. It features a sea pool and some great restaurants. Book a table at Água e Sal (ask for one outside) and choose anything on the menu. The clams here are delicious.
BEST REMOTE BEACHES TO VISIT NEAR LISBON
Hoping for some beach time while you’re in Lisbon? Most people have heard of Cascais (my home!) and that’s where they’ll head for some time on the sand. But during the summer the town beaches in Cascais can get unbearably busy. Most don’t realise that Lisbon is in fact surrounded by gorgeous beaches. All of these are within an hour’s drive from the city centre…
Praia do Guincho (Cascais)
One of my favourite beaches in Portugal. This huge sweeping bay is surrounded by sand dunes and backed by hills. It can get super windy (great for kitesurfing) but it‘s a real natural gem. Thanks to its size, it never feels too crowded here, even in the summer.
Praia da Adraga (Sintra)
I kinda feel like I shouldn’t mention this. It’s definitely not a secret but it’s rare people will make the drive from Lisbon to go here. I love the wild feeling of it. There is also a fantastic seafood restaurant on the sand.
Praia do Magoito (Sintra)
Another long stretch of windswept beach. Even in peak summer you can find a space to lay your towel. The beach bar at the top offers an unbeatable view for a post-dip beer.
Fonte da Telha (Costa da Caparica)
Probably the most secret of my favourite beaches that I’m willing to share is this calm oasis just 45 mins out of Lisbon. Located right at the end of Costa da Caparica.
Praia do Ribeiro do Carvalho (Sesimbra)
Big claim but this is the most beautiful beach I’ve visited in Portugal (I’ve visited a lot). This whole stretch of coast is a shimmering blue beauty but Ribeiro do Carvalho in particular is out of this world. There is a moderate trek down to the sand. Don’t attempt it in flip flops. There are no services here so take your own water and make sure you bring everything back up with you.
There we have it an “alternative” travel guide and itinerary ideas for Lisbon. I’m finding new spots every week so this guide will keep evolving.
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