I’m definitely putting Lisbon on my ‘favourite cities’ list – I just loved it. It’s so colourful, the architecture is gorgeous, the food was fabulous and the people are so friendly. Travelling to Lisbon? Here’s my guide to help you navigate this fabulous city.
Lisbon is built on seven hills and sits on the river Tagus, which is the longest river in the Iberian Peninsula. The Tagus is 1,007 km long, and passes through Spain, the border between Portugal and Spain and of course Portugal, where it then flows into the Atlantic Ocean near Lisbon.
Getting around Lisbon
There is a metro, which is very easy to navigate and inexpensive, buses and trams. The trams get really crowded but they are also quite frequent. There are also taxis and tuk-tuks – which are popular with tourists as they also offer guided tours. Be sure to purchase a Viva Viagem rechargeable card (like a London Oyster card) as this works out the cheapest for travelling. A three-day pass is only €15 and gives you unlimited access to the metro, trams and trains and is excellent value for money.
These are the main areas to explore and sight-see within Lisbon: Bairro Alto, Chiado, Ribeira das Naus, Baixa, Alfama and Belém. And of course you can also go further afield and visit Cascais, Estoril and Sintra which are around 30 minutes on a train from Lisbon.
Bairro Alto means the ‘high neighbourhood’ and dates back to the 16th century. It’s also the place to go for nightlife as it has the highest concentration of bars. Take the metro to Restauradores then get the Glória Funicular to Bairro Alto – or walk, like we did. Be warned – it’s very steep!
At the top, you’ll discover a viewing platform called Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara where you’ll be able to view Lisbon from above. When we visited there was also a little market with lots of stalls selling everything from food to jewellery. Then, explore the narrow streets and make your way down to Chiado.
Chiado claims to house the oldest bookshop in the world, Livraria mais antiga do mundo. It also has Lisbon’s smallest funicular – Elevador da Bica – which was opened in 1892. Take a walk along Calcada do Duque, a series of steps from Largo Trindade Coelho to the bottom of Calcada do Carmo where you will see a wonderful view of the castle.
Baixa is in Lisbon’s centre with Rua Augusta being the city’s longest pedestrianised street, which runs from Rossio to Praça do Comércio and all the way through Baixa. If you’re in to shopping, this is the place to be.
Start at Restauradores and Praca dos Restauradores, which is a large square commemorating the restoration of the Portuguese monarchy in 1640. The obelisk has important dates engraved on it and the statues represent the Spirit of Independence and Victory.
One of the most notable sights is Elevador de Santa Justa, which is a Neo-Gothic iron lift, offering scenic views over Lisbon as well as taking visitors to the Carmo ruins via a walkway.
Praça do Comércio was once the grand entrance to Lisbon until the earthquake in 1755, which destroyed many medieval buildings. Over the last few years it’s undergone a revival and has regained its stature. Apparently cars used to be able to park in the square!
To the east of Praça do Comércio Lisbon lies Alfama, which has the oldest buildings in Lisbon as it suffered the least damage in the earthquake of 1755. In fact, its medieval streets have remained intact. This area is home to the Sé, a cathedral built in the 12th century and is Lisbon’s most important and iconic religious buildings.
Another iconic building that’s located in Alfama is São Jorge Castle, a Moorish castle that sits on a hill overlooking Lisbon and the river Tagus. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to go inside as the queue was so long. If you’re able to, try going during the week.
Ribeira das Naus
This is the riverside area of Lisbon and stretches from Praça do Comércio all the way to Belém. You can either walk (although it’s just over 9km) or cycle as there is a cycle lane. Hire a bicycle or even an electric bike for a fun excursion.
There are a few cafes and restaurants along the route as well as some food and drink stalls, plus plenty of places to sit along the river and soak up the atmosphere. You’ll also get a great view of the Cristo Rei or Christ the King statue as well as the 25 de Abril Bridge, which connects Lisbon with Almada.
This area is also home to the TimeOut market, which is packed full of food and drink stalls as well as some restaurants were you can sit down and watch the chefs at work. In one part there are also meat, fish, vegetable and stalls selling fresh flowers – like a traditional market.
I loved the ‘wine with a view’ stall! We actually passed two along the riverside. Such a clever idea and so cute too. This one was close to Belém.
If you’ve not walked or cycled along the riverfront to Belém, then get there by train from Cais do Sodre. There’s lots to see in Belém, and the Torre de Belém was the highlight for me. Unfortunately on the day we visited it was closed due to a strike by the workers so we couldn’t go inside. The tower, built in 1514 – 1520 combines Moorish, Renaissance and Gothic architecture and is simply stunning.
Head across the road to Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, a monastery and abbey built in the 16th century. Due to it being the Easter weekend, the queues were so long we didn’t get to go inside. The gardens were lovely though and there were some food stalls selling tasty treats.
And speaking of queues, the queue a couple of minutes up the road at Pastéis de Belém was also really long. We did go inside and have a little walk around but opted not to wait to taste the original pastel de nata, which they call pastel de Belém.
Where to stay
Like all cities, there are plenty of options when it comes to accommodation. Whether you’re looking for a high end hotel, a hostel or an AirBnB, you’ll be spoilt for choice in Lisbon. We stayed at the luxurious Corinthia Lisbon, which is a fabulous 5 star hotel with a spa and it was fabulous. If you’re travelling on a budget, here’s six of the best hostels in Lisbon for you to choose from.
Where to eat
There are 4,058 Lisbon restaurants listed on Tripadvisor so you’ll not go hungry. However if you want to ensure that you get a table at the places you really want to try, I recommend booking in advance. The Portuguese, like most Europeans, like to eat quite late so if you eat fairly early then you should be ok but if you want to eat from 8pm onwards then definitely make a reservation.
These are the restaurants we were recommended by people who’ve visited Lisbon or who are from Lisbon:
Pap’Açorda – situated in the TimeOut market. Great food and excellent service.
100 Maneiras (the bistro) – situated in Barrio Alto. Loved this restaurant and would definitely go back! Food was excellent, great ambience and good service.
Tasca da Esquina – a bit out of the way but worth it. We went for lunch and sat outside on the terrace. Tapas-style portions, fresh seafood and good service.
Ibo (the restaurant) – situated in Ribeira and right on the waterfront, Ibo specialises in seafood. Lovely ambience, good food and service.
Vicente by Carnalentejana – situated close to Cais do Sodre, this is a really lovely cosy little restaurant with great decor. The food was really nice, service was a bit slow but we would go again.
We had almost four days in Lisbon to explore. Only going for a weekend? Then read 2 days in Lisbon for all the must-see places.