We’d like to start by congratulating you on your choice of cities. Europe is covered with capitols that promise to please and having to choose between them can be maddening. But Lisbon – ahhhhh Lisbon. This stunning city is one of our absolute favorites in all of Europe (hence why we wrote a post about it) for more reasons than we can count.
We’ve compiled a list to help you find all the ‘fixe’ spots to hang, ‘beleza’ plazas to explore, and ‘importante’ historical landmarks to see! It’s possible to do everything below in about 3 days, but to give yourself some time to relax and a chance to visit an outdoor quiosque (or twenty) with a cerveija or vinho verde, we feel 4 days is the perfect amount of time. Sadly your amigos, Katie & Stefan, can’t be there to guide you personally but we’ve come up with a pretty solid list to ensure you have the absolute ‘TOP’ time in this magical city.
First you need to download a song to listen to either while you’re packing for your trip or on the plane to get you in the right mindset for your travels: “Lisbon” by Slim & The Beast.
GETTING THERE: Lisbon is mainland Europe’s westernmost capital city and is home to Humberto Delgado Airport (LIS), also known as Lisbon Airport or Portela Airport. It’s located a convenient 7 km (4.3 mi) northeast from the city center and services locations across the globe. Lisbon Airport has non-stop passenger flights scheduled to 142 destinations in 52 countries. Direct flights offered from New York (JFK) & Newark (EWR) in the USA ring in at under just 6 hours, & countless quick flights from dozens of European cities make Lisbon an easily-accessed city to add to your must-visit list. TAP Air Portugal offers the highest number of flights to & from Lisbon, but beware that although their ticket prices are tempting, their customer service can be an absolute nightmare. We have flown them a few times and their planes & overall in-flight experience was pleasant, but dealing with the company during the Pandemic was nothing less than horrific. Luckily there are several other airlines offering daily flights to Lisbon so you don’t have to deal with TAP Air if you don’t want to.
Getting Around: Lisbon is separated into several neighborhoods which we’ve sectioned out below. Uber is a very common means of transport offering cars, scooters, & e-bikes, there is a clean & efficient Metro System that covers a decent amount of the city (however, it’s a little pricy), private Tuk Tuks are also available for hire by the hour or by the day, the iconic Lisbon Tram can be ridden in several areas of town, and of course there are Taxis for hire just about everywhere. And although the city is built on several hills that requires a bit of climbing, we highly suggest just slipping on some comfy shoes and tacking this town by foot! There are just so many hidden gems tucked away off the beaten path that you are sure to miss if you insist on taking taxis or Ubers everywhere.
The best way we’ve found to maximize your sightseeing without wearing yourself out is to pick a neighborhood where you will begin, then use the Google Maps app to enter in which destinations you want to see. Play around with the order (you can drop & drag destinations) until the flow makes the most sense. Use the Metro or Uber to get to your first location if need be, then explore the rest on foot. Once you’ve exhausted an area, scoop another Uber or take the Tram/Metro to the next area of interest! This will save you time and money which we all know is a major win when traveling.
NEIGHBORHOODS: If you’d like to jump to a section of this post based on the neighborhood, just click one of these links below to take you straight there:
ALFAMA & GRAÇA | Baixa-Chiado | Cais do Sodré ROSSIO
Bairro Alto | Principe Real | LX FACTORY | BELéM
Alfama & Graça
The city’s oldest neighborhoods and arguably the most picturesque. Winding alleys meet with secret courtyards and hidden cafes in the most charming manner. You can get lost for hours roaming the calçadas (the Portuguese name for the tiled sidewalks) and while doing so you’re bound to stumble upon historic ruins, insane lookouts, and the most charming array of homes. Although it’s a bit east of the downtown area, it’s a great place to stay and there are tons of amazing Airbnb’s or boutique hotels to choose from.
Points of interest in Alfama & Graça:
- Castelo de São Jorge – beautiful old castle that sits on the top of the hill in Alfama. It costs something like 10euros to enter but the views are insane. Maybe go early to avoid the crowds, later in the day you can end up having to wait for up to an hour to enter
- Just wander the streets and get lost in the ‘becos’ (alleys)! Alfama is full of tiny alleyways and winding staircases.
- Miradouro de Santa Luiza – A perfect place for a coffee and Pastel de Nata or quiche overlooking the red roofs and Tagus River.
- Sé de Lisboa Catedral – Just around the corner from the Miradouro de Santa Luiza is my personal favorite church in all of Lisbon (Katie). It’s situated on a corner where the trolleys whiz by and it’s just so picturesque. I think it’s free to go inside too!
- Panteão – Just around the corner from the Sé church. It’s basically the White House of Lisbon where back in the 1700’s all the government meetings took place and decisions were made for the city. You can pay like 5euros to go inside and climb up to the top!
- Miradouro da Graça – our personal favorite lookout in Lisbon. It’s a climb but if you take the stairs route, there’s tons of local street art along which helps make the climb more bearable. And bonus!: There’s a Quiosque at the top that sells alcohol, coffees, and snacks. Or just bring your own bottle of wine or a few beers for sunset (since it’s legal to have open containers in Portugal!)
- Fado – You’ll hear it everywhere you go…FADO! It’s the local music of Portugal and is played with a funny round guitar that kind of looks like a banjo. Alfama has hundreds of locations where you can listen to live Fado.
Our Favotie Restaurants in Alfama & Graça:
- O Vinhaça – Down a tiny alley, this restaurant can only seat about 8 people and serves up some delicious local Portuguese food! Try the spicy shrimp appetizer (camarão picante) and the tuna tartar!
- Gosta do Castelo – Hidden behind a discrete door in a quieter part of Alfama, this cozy place gives a nod to old Lisbon in an atmosphere of vintage decor with a warm welcome. The mix of flavors of Bruno Marques’ Portuguese and Mediterranean cuisine are accompanied by a large selection of wines across Portugal from small farmers.
- Alfama Cellar – Another great option for local Portuguese food in a quant, cozy setting. The area where this restaurant is located is also super cute!
- Yak & Yeti – If you are looking for international food, this place has the best Nepalese/Indian cuisine in all of Lisbon! Family owned & run, the small dining room is cozy and the wait staff is extremely kind. We recommend the garlic naan bread and the veggie samosas!
Baixa-Chiado, Cais do Sodré, Rossio, Bairro Alto, & Principe Real
Considered by many as the ‘hub’ of Lisbon, these five neighborhoods overlap one another so we grouped them together to make it easier to navigate! Most likely you won’t even realize if you’ve left one and entered another 😉 Boasting dozens of beautiful praças (plazas), historic buildings & fountains, you will encounter more cafes than you can imagine, all sprawled out into the streets (oh, and tons of shopping too)!
Points of interest in Baixa-Chiado, Cais do Sodré, Rossio, Bairro Alto, & Principe Real: Important note: these are listed in sequence on purpose as a suggested walking tour, which is our absolutely favorite way to explore the city! You can simple add these places into google maps in this order and create your own personal walking guide:
- Praça Dom Pedro – Start here! A beautiful open plaza with two fountains at the center. Traditional Portuguese tiles in wave designs cover the ground. Grab a coffee and either a pastel de nata (custard tart) or a tosta mista (ham & cheese toast) to give yourself some energy for the day.
- Rua Augusta – When you leave Praça Dom Pedro, walk toward the river along the pedestrian-only walkway called Rua Augusta. Make sure to look to your right when passing the cross-streets and you’ll get an awesome view of the Santa Justa Lift. Built by the same architect as the Eiffel Tower, there’s usually a line to ride in the elevator and honestly, it’s not that exciting. We recommend admiring it from afar instead 🙃 There are tons of shops and restaurants in this area (most are pretty touristy) but it’s still fun to see! At the very end you’ll notice in the distance the Arco da Rua Augusta (seriously amazing). Walk through the Arch and out into the open plaza which brings you to your next destination.
- Praça do Comercio – A huge open plaza right along the river with a big-ass statue of a guy on a horse in the center. It’s where all the boats brought their goods back in the day from other countries and it’s a major landmark of the city. If you walk to the water’s edge you’ll find the tiniest little beach with a gorgeous view of the Ponte 25 de Abril Bridge (remind you of a familiar San Francisco landmark?) and the Santuário de Cristo Rei (reminiscent of the larger statue in Rio de Janeiro). Walk west along the riverbank walkway towards the bridge for about 5-10 minutes until you reach the next stop.
- Quiosque Cais do Sodré – We love this little kiosk right on the water. Stop for a beer or some Vinho Verde and enjoy the views and the people watching.
- Time Out Market – Just on the other side of the Cais do Sodré Metro Station is a very well known market called Time Out. It’s gotten a little pricey with tourism increasing in the last few years, but it’s still something to check out! It’s a giant open market with over 20 food vendors and bars where you can pick what you want to eat/drink and then share a table with others. Highly recommend stopping at Mantegeria for a traditional Pastel de Nata and a Ginja shot (traditional cherry liquor)!
- Elevador da Bica – Behind Time Out Market is a very famous ‘Elevador’ which is a trolley that sits on an angle and rides up & down the steep hills. You can catch the trolley here to the top or walk along side it on the designated walkway.
- Miradouro de Santa Catarina – Lisbon is full of beautiful viewpoints and this is another not to miss. The Quiosque at the top serves cheap drinks with a beautiful view of the bridge and river.
- Convento do Carmo – From the Miradouro, walk up to Rua do Loreto and turn right (east) and walk along for maybe 10 minutes, passing the Praça Luis de Camões until you hit Calçada do Sacramento street and turn left. Continue until you reach a small plaza where you’ll find the famous Carmo Convent. During the earthquake of 1755, basically everything in Lisbon was turned to rubble. This convent is one of the only remaining original buildings but the roof caved in, leaving only the trusses of the roof. It’s absolutely beautiful and is worth the entrance fee to go inside and see the ‘convertible convent’ on a sunny day or lit up at night! And bonus, out front in the little plaza there is yet another quiosque and on the weekend there’s usually live music!
- Topo Chiado – After the convent, walk around the corner to this epic rooftop bar/restaurant for insane views of the city and Alfama with the Castelo Sao Jorge on top!
Must-eat/drink in Baixa-Chiado, Cais do Sodré, Rossio, Bairro Alto, & Principe Real:
- Cais do Sodré Quiosque – Located at the edge of the Tejo River, it’s the perfect place to enjoy a cerveja in the sun and give your feet a break from all the walking.
- A Brasileira – You can’t pass by this coffee shop without wanting to stop in for an afternoon café or an early afternoon drink. Located in the heart of Chiado, A Brasileira is a literary, architectural, and artistic treasure that is part of Lisbon’s history. Open since 1905, renowned Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa was a frequenter at this establishment and you can see how he might be inspired by the ambiance in this historic café.
- Rosa da Rua – This cozy restaurant is set in a historic building near Principe Real and has the most insanely delicious Portuguese buffet. Now before you skip ahead, hear us out! It’s not your average buffet. Prepared in small portions and served steaming hot, the food is fantastic and so is the atmosphere! Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.
- Time Out Market – An awesome concept: 26 restaurants, 8 bars, a dozen shops and a high-end music venue, all with the very best in Lisbon (everything from steak, sushi, sweets, live performances, etc.) & also home to some of the city’s best known (and longest-running) market vendors of meat, fish, fruit and flowers.
- Cafe Janis – Lively tropical all-day café in an authentic corner of Lisbon, frequented by Lisbonners and travelers alike, who make it their haunt for early coffee, tasty lunch or late drinks.
- Explore on your own! There’s literally hundreds of restaurants and bars throughout this zone, just use Trip Advisor to search for something you’re in the mood for! Pro Tip: don’t fall for the corny restaurants along the main drags. They’re usually overpriced and under-deliver on flavor & ambiance.
LX Factory: ( pronounced ‘El Sheesh’ in Portuguese)
In a land all of its own, this factory-turned-market place is pretty funky and very unique so if you have time, it’s definitely worth a visit! Located between Belem and Cais do Sodre in an area known as Alcântara. The space takes up about 2 city blocks and has been transformed into a hipster flea market teaming with bars, restaurants, live music, pop-up shops, and vintage second hand stores. A perfect place to visit, day or night!
*HOT TIP: Katie & Stefan’s favorite way to reach LX Factory is by E-bike or electric scooter! They are available all over Lisbon and have a pedal-assist feature, allowing you to get from Point A to Point B in record time. These bicycles are pretty inexpensive and allow you to see more of the city than if you were sitting in a taxi or standard Uber. We suggest renting the bicycles near Cais do Sodre area and riding them along the paved bike path the follows the Tejo river all the way to LX Factory (about a 10 minute ride).
Located a few miles to the West of downtown Lisbon is a beautiful area along the Tejo River called Belém. There are a few stunning things to see here if you have time! It’s a 15 minute Uber from the center of town, or find an e-bike or scooter and take them along the river! In the end it probably takes the same amount of time to bike as an Uber car.
Points of interest in Belém:
- Torre de Belém – One of my favorite buildings in all of Lisbon. This is also one of the only remaining original buildings after the earthquake of 1755. It was used as the checkpoint for boats leaving and returning to Lisbon during the era of conquistadors. It’s stunning to see in person, especially at sunset. There’s also a string of bars/quiosques along the water here to grab an app and a drink and enjoy the view of the river & Torre de Belem.
- Padrão dos Descobrimentos – Just a short walk (or scooter ride) east of the Belém tower is a beautiful statue called Padrão dos Descobrimentos. It’s massive and was erected in memory of the great conquistadors of Portugal.
- Praça do Império – Just across the street from the Torre de Belém (take the underground passage to avoid a perilous street crossing) is a beautiful plaza with an impressive fountain that frames the Jerónimos Monastery behind it.
- Jerónimos Monastery – A short 5 min walk (there’s a tunnel that takes you under the busy road) across from Padrão dos Descobrimentos is the Neo-Gothic white church called Jerónimos Monastery. If you can go during operating hours, it’s STUNNING on the inside! And this is where several of the famous Portuguese conquistadors like Vasco de Gama are buried.
Must-eat/drink in Belém:
- Pastéis de Belém – A 3 minute walk from the Monastery is the original pastelaria where the Pastel de Nata was invented in 1873. You can walk into the ‘take away’ bakery and grab a Pastel de Belém to go! Don’t forget the packets of cinnamon and powdered sugar.
- Mister Tapas – A staple eatery of the waterfront area! This food truck started as a tiny three-wheeled truck and serves up the best Maracuja (passion fruit) Mojito and some tasty tapas! The guys who work this funky food truck are super personable and they play the best music 😉
- Wine with a View – The cutest, smallest mobile wine cart parks itself just across from the Belém Tower and offers copas (glasses) of wine to-go. Not sure if we mentioned this yet, but in Portugal, as most of Europe, it’s legal to drink in public (awesome, we know).
- O Prado – Down the same street as the Pastry shop and Jerónimos Monastery is this cute little hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Serving up traditional Portuguese foods with the option to dine on the calçada and enjoy watching the people & trains as they pass.
Lisbon is a city full of endless exploration opportunities! We hope our guide has helped get you on the right track to seeing all the incredible things this city has to offer!
2 thoughts on “An Essential Guide to Lovely Lisbon, Portugal”
Great photos of Lisbon.
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Thank you so much! 🙂