With over 20 million passengers passing through the city’s airport annually tourism in the Portuguese capital is booming. Regardless of its up-and-coming status there is something about the getting lost in the cobbled streets here that makes you feel like you are discovering Lisbon for the very first time. Being based just 3 hours from Lisbon means I have had managed to squeeze in several short trips to the city over the last few years . I always use my time in Lisbon to hunt out the best experiences for a memorable and meaningful trip.
I set out to create a travel guide that is focused on local experiences rather than Lisbon’s ‘top attractions’ so haven’t included sites such as Castelo de São George, Torre de Bélem and Mosteiro dos Jerónimos . A quick google will give you all the info you need on these. Instead I’ve created an easy going itinerary that reveals some hidden gems, immerses you in real Portuguese life and encourages you to find some treasures of your own.
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Lisbon’s international airport has two terminals. Terminal 1 (the bigger of the two) caters for all incoming flights and links directly to the metro system. Terminal 2 deals with some departures (mainly budget airlines) and can only be accessed by a free shuttle from terminal 1. Shuttles are every 10minutes and take about 5 minutes. Always check your ticket before departure to ensure you have the right terminal.
Lisbon’s public transport is excellent. Hop off your flight straight onto a metro and you’ll be in the city centre in less than half an hour. If the idea of lugging your bags around the metro system sends sweaty shivers down your spine or you’re traveling in a group book an Uber on arrival.
WHERE TO STAY
If you only have a short time in Lisbon I recommend staying in one of the central neighbourhoods with easy metro access. This means getting around is quick and stress free. When booking your accommodation look for places to stay in Bairro Alto or Baixa-Chiado and you’ll have the heart of Lisbon on your doorstep. If you want to stay a little further away from the bustle but remain central try Alfalma. There really is an abundance of good accommodation options in Lisbon. I’ve included a few I have personally stayed in below.
Palácio Camões Serviced Apartments – modern apartments with views over Lisbon’s red roofs and the river Tagus. Walking distance to some of Lisbon’s best restaurants and nightlife.
Lost Lisbon Chiado House – clean and comfortable private rooms with quirky themes. Close to both nightlife and shopping.
Santa Justa Prime Guesthouse – located close to Rossio metro in the shopping district. Rooms have original tile details and views towards the Santa Justa lift.
DINNER + FADO
Once you’ve checked in head out and about to get your bearings. If you are ready to jump straight into some Portuguese cuisine see if you can book a table at Estrela da Bica or make your way to this bustling street. Alternatively try Boa Bao for asian flavours
If you’re lucky, post dinner you’ll find yourself at tiny Tasca do Chico listening to live fado music for free. This unassuming little bar gets packed to the rafters but don’t rush off if you can’t get in straight away. Grab a beer from the bar until you can squeeze in for a show. It’s worth it! Feeling suitably cultural? Ask for a shot of the local spirit/ fire water Medronho before you call it a night.
WHAT IS FADO?
Fado is a melancholic genre of music that originated in Lisbon during the 1820’s. The Alfama district is the true home of Fado in Lisbon so head there for the full experience. Look out for smaller restaurants popular with locals to get the real deal. Listen to rainha do Fado (queen of Fado) Amália Rodrigues who remains the best-selling Portuguese artist in history.
EARLY BIRD EXPLORING
My number one travel tip is to wake up early. You’ll experience the destination without the overwhelm and start your day off with the best intention. Pre 10am is always a good time of day to enjoy the usually crowded spots to yourself. Praça do Comércio looks particularly beautiful early morning as does the river Tagus.
PASTEL DE NATA TIME
Anytime is pastel de nata time but I do love one with my morning coffee. Portugal’s pastéis de nata are famously addictive and Lisbon is home to the best ones in the country. We always buy our pastéis from Mantegaria but any pastelaria that makes them fresh daily will do a good job. The most famous Pastéis de nata in Lisbon are in Bélem but be prepared to queue.
BRUNCH + COFFEE
Lisbon is home to some seriously good coffee and brunch spots. Fill up on matcha pancakes, breakfast burritos or poached egg on corn frittas at Comoba. Alternatively find your closest Copenhagen Coffee Lab and devour a cardamon bun. If you are in the mood for something more simple keep an eye out for a traditional Portuguese snack bar serving up croissants, toasties and strong espressos.
GET LOST IN ALFAMA
Use the afternoon to explore the city. Whether you take the famous tram 28 or set off on foot make sure you spend some time getting to know the real Lisbon. If you get a chance go get lost in Lisbon’s oldest neighbourhood Alfama. Alfama’s narrow streets have been home to fisherman throughout history and local life still thrives there today. Despite its popularity the neighbourhood remains unspoilt and you really can catch a glimpse of real Portugal Amongst local life you can expect to see decorative tiles, ice cream coloured houses, quaint restaurants and pottery shops.
When it all gets a bit too hot or head to one of the cities look out points for a late afternoon drink. Enjoy a cocktail atl Noobai (Miradouro de Santa Catarina) or see if you can find a table at the impressive Terraço (Miradouro Santa Luiza) and soak up the views.
EAT + DRINK IN BAIRRO
If you’re a foodie book a reservation ahead for a table at Taberna Rua Das Flores. This cosy restaurant delivers mouthwatering Portuguese fusion dishes from a seasonal menu. For more restaurant ideas see our Lisbon Eats Guide.
There is plenty of restaurants to be found serving tasty regional dishes. Try a glass of Alentejo red paired with some creamy sheep’s cheese and olives at Artis Bar. Or enjoy Pica-pau out of terracotta dishes in one of Bairro Alto’s many tabernas. Make your cocktail wishes come true by ending your night at Ta’berna.
BÉLEM BY BIKE
Time to explore the outskirts of Lisbon. And what better way to do it than on a personal electric bike or scooter. Lisbon has hundreds of these dotted around and you usually only have to stroll a couple of minutes to find one. Choose your transport of choice and download the Gira electric bike app or Lime Scooter app to get started. This is such a fun way to get around and the experience makes for great memories. These are best used along the water where there is smooth tarmac and plenty of space. Cycle or scoot under the golden gate-esque bride along the river to Bélem. On your journey you’ll enjoy waterfront cafes, street performers and the wind in your hair.
OVER THE CITY? HEAD TO THE BEACH INSTEAD
Had enough of city life? Then it’s time to head to the beach for the morning. Yep Lisbon has some stunning stretches of sand just 40minutes away by train. Make your way to Cais do Sodre train station and grab a €5 return ticket to Cascais. To do this you’ll need to buy and load a Viva Viagem card (€0.50) at the ticket machine. Trains to Cascais are approximately every 30 minutes.
The train station level ticket machines gets extremely busy. Use one of the escalators to the metro station below and buy your ticket there instead.
The former fishing village of Cascais is now a cosmopolitan beach destination and one of the richest municipalities in Portugal. The area really pulls in the crowds as summer approaches so brace yourself if you are planning a trip in the mid summer months. Don’t let it put you off though Cascais has some stunning beaches and if you can’t find a piece of sand under the picturesque cliffs at Praia de Rainha head west coast beach Praia do Guincho for a blast of fresh air.
Have a chill, take a dip and soak up some rays before indulging in the “World’s best ice-cream” at Santini’s. Admire the palm fringed ocean walkway towards the harbour walls and take a stroll around the Fortaleza da Nossa Senhora da Luz. Finish off with a stroll back to the train via the most perfect bougainvillea framed houses you have ever seen. You’ll find yourself working out how you can own one for yourself.
Either stay in Cascais for a seafood lunch or head back to Lisbon and check out this backstreet gem. Loja das conservas encourages you to challenge your perception of tinned fish by cooking up a menu of delicious small plates using one of Portugal’s great assets. This makes a perfect afternoon beer spot to escape the crowds.
TILE SPOTTING AND SOUVENIR SHOPPING
You’ve done some solid exploring by now and hopefully you’ve relaxed into Lisbon. Spend the afternoon revisiting your favourite spot or find a new area to explore. Embark on a journey through Lisbon’s hidden streets in search of colourful tiles and ceramic shops or sniff out a new wine bar with a view.
With travel becoming more accessible than ever before more of us are jumping on cheap flights and sharing our experiences with the world. Unfortunately the growth of social media has put pressure on us to travel a certain way. I’ll be writing a post on this soon but in the meantime I just want to point out the importance of planning your trip for you and not for social media. Remember that quote comparison is the thief of joy? The same applies for travel.
If religious architecture is your thing then go tick off those beautiful church boxes, if you are a foodie at heart hunt down those secret local restaurants, if you love photography go and find the perfect vistas to capture the moment. Give yourself time to get to know the destination you’re traveling to, do and see what interests you not whats popular at this moment. Enjoy being in the moment (even if it isn’t picture perfect) and you’ll leave with the best memories.
Of course if there is a super popular tourist attraction you don’t want to miss then you should absolutely include that in your itinerary too but don’t feel like you should see something because everyone else has seen it or because ‘Culture Trip’ says you should. Aim to arrive at top tiered attractions early and you will almost always be able to enjoy them with less people around. Use our guides to help plan your itinerary and then give yourself freedom to go with the flow when you arrive.
Don’t forget to book your stay in advance for the best choice of rooms in Lisbon.
MONEY: Although some bar, restaurants and shops do take card many of the smaller places do not so carrying a combination of cards and cash is best.
I always travel with Transferwise. Transferwise is a prepaid card and app that you can hold and transfer multiple currencies on. Simply top up using the app and transfer between currencies whenever you like. I have been using Transferwise since we moving to Portugal in 2016 and I have saved hundreds of pounds compared to using my UK bank account.
TIME ZONE: GMT+0 (same as UK)
LANGUAGE: European Portuguese
Lagos is a popular destination for British holidaymakers (and many other nationalities) so many bars and restaurants have staff that can speak good English. Having said that there are also many smaller, local bars that do not. If you do take a day trip to one of the less touristy towns and villages in the Algarve don’t expect them to speak to you in English. Most Portuguese (as any nationality) will appreciate you making a small effort when it comes to learning their language so even if it is a simple bom dia (good morning!) you should try you best while you are visiting beautiful Portugal.
Here is some very basic phrases and words to start with…
Do you speak English?
I speak a little Portuguese
Eu falo/a um pouco de Português
If you enjoyed our Lisbon 48 hour guide or you are looking for some more restaurant ideas while in the Portuguese capital you’ll love our Lisbon Eats Guide.
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Since moving to Algarve almost 3 years ago we have been exploring Portugal. Looking for some more inspirational destinations in Portugal. Have a peek at our travel guides and start planning your Portugal itinerary.