Those of you who’ve been to Lisbon already will know just how magical this city is. And if you’re yet to go, then you’ve got a serious treat in store for you! Read up on my best tips, tricks and recommendations for your next trip to the Portuguese capital and see what wonderful treats await you here.
If I had to name one European capital that just better and better every time I go, it’d have to be Lisbon. And I’m not the only one who thinks this way either. I’ve come across so many travel reports on the internet from people who’ve been here. They write about a city that’s unpretentious and slightly rough around the edges, yet puts you under its spell in no time at all. Take the time to explore the narrow, streets that twist and snake their way around the seven hills and you’ll keep on coming across new sights, beautiful scenes and a glimpse of the terracotta rooftops huddled together beneath the sun. When you add to that a beautiful, temperate climate and fantastic surfing opportunities and day trips by the beach, you’ve got a truly winning combination on your hands!
Connections between Lisbon and Ireland are regular, but the only airport that features direct flights to Lisbon is Dublin. The cheapest options are with Ryanair, but if you don’t fancy flying with them then there are also plenty of flights operated by Aer Lingus too.
Lisbon’s airport is just 10km from the city centre and there are excellent connections with public transport. If you want to get to the historic city centre, then there are two options. You can take the subway towards the city by hopping on the Red Line towards São Sebastião. If your hotel is more towards the Old Town and centre, then just change for the Green Line at Alameda and continue further south. It’s a super easy subway system in Lisbon, so if you need to get somewhere quick then it’s a great option to keep in mind.
You could also take the Aerobus, which is slightly more expensive than taking the subway, but if it’s your first time here and you want to get a feel for the city before arriving at your destination, this is a great way to watch the scenery and cityscapes. The journey takes around and will bring you along the impressive Avenida de Liberdade straight into the city centre!
Getting around Lisbon
I’m not gonna lie – Lisbon is a hilly city. Unless you’re really going for a super leg workout you might find that some days you might not exactly fancy the walk up that one steep street. Luckily Lisbon has plenty of transport options to help you get around. But before I get onto that, I have one more tip: get yourself a Lisbon Card. Not only will you have discounted entry to over 20 museums and sights, but you’ll also be able to use public transport for free, helping you to save some extra pennies!
One of the most iconic ways of getting around in Lisbon are the bright yellow trams. You’ll often see them making their way up and down impossibly tight and narrow streets, which can sometimes be quite the sight to behold! The no. 28 line acts as a great way of getting a feel for the city, almost like a tour bus. However, you’ll find that you won’t be the only tourist who’s had this idea – it’s quite a popular choice with visitors to the city, but it’s still pretty fun if its your first time. Sometimes if there’s just a single track you’ll find multiple trams on the same line, and when you start throwing in ambulances or fire engines with their lights on you can imagine the skill it takes to navigate the narrow roads!
In addition you’ve also go busses, funicular railways and the subway which I’ve mentioned before. Another typically Lisbon way of getting around are elevators, or elevadores – but I’ll describe those in more details later. :)
Where to go in Lisbon
Lisbon is bursting with history no matter where you go. As you can expect there’s a whole wealth of sights to get stuck into, so I’ve gone from neighbourhood to neighbourhood to see what makes them stand apart from each other and give you a quick overview of the top sights and experiences!
When it comes to neighbourhoods, this is one of my personal favourites. Alfama is the city’s oldest and most historic neighbourhood; the charm and wear of the old townhouses will whisk you away to times long gone. It’s here where you’ll find loads of restaurants serving authentic Portuguese food, and more often then not you might hear the sweet sound of traditional fado music drifting from cosy taverns. Fado means “fate” in Portuguese – the lyrics often convey a sense of longing and heartache, and melodies’ Moorish touches make it seriously enchanting to listen too. I recommend to spend at least one evening experiencing some fado if you really want to get an insight into Portuguese culture. Head to Tasca do Faime d’Alfama – it may be small, but it’s incredibly popular with the locals. Arrive in good time, get a nice glass of wine and just let the incredible music and atmosphere work its magic!
At the top of the hill just to the north of Alfama is the mighty Castelo de São Jorge. The fortifications can be traced all the way back to Moorish times and has served as a garrison and royal residence during its long and eventful history. It’s a fair climb to get there, but you’ll be rewarded with fantastic views of the city all around. I recommend coming here either early during the day or later towards the evening as it can get very crowded otherwise. You do have to pay for entry, but see if you can join one of the guided tours while you’re there – who doesn’t love a bit of history! While you’re up in these parts of Lisbon, you should also check out the cathedral and also soak up the views from Miradouro de Santa Luzia.
Bairro Alto is another great place to get a feel for Lisbon’s character. The grid-layout can be a bit confusing sometimes, but the townhouses are typically Lisbon – beautiful Portuguese architecture with generous smatterings of murals and graffiti. You can get a few snaps of some of the iconic yellow funicular trams that slowly make their way up the impossibly steep slopes. Things can be a little quiet during the day, but you’ll still definitely get a sense for the area’s arty atmosphere thanks to all the trendy shops and cafés. I recommend checking out the viewing platforms at Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântrara or Miradouro de Santa Catarina.
However, Bairro Alto’s true strengths come out once the sun has set. This area has some of the best nightlife in all of the city, with loads of bars and a very lively atmosphere. Some of my favourites are the super artsy Pensão Amor and Park, which features a rooftop terrace with breathtaking views of the city (especially awesome during the summer!). Come here early for the sunsets!
The neighbourhood of Belém is great if you’ve got an itch for culture – and if you’re feeling peckish too. Those scrummy egg tarts from Portugal originated here, and it’s definitely worth buying a couple to take with you from the legendary Pasteis de Belém. They always go down a treat, and if you haven’t tried them yet then you’re seriously missing out. Just around the corner from the bakery is the stunning Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, a stunning example of Portuguese Gothic architecture and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cloisters are absolutely stunning and it’s worth checking out.
Down by the waters of the River Tagus you’ll find the beautiful Tower of Belém, another UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the city’s icons. Built as part of a network of river defences to protect the city, the tower is a great little place for a romantic stroll. You can go inside the tower, but personally I would save the money you would’ve spent on entry and buy some of those egg tarts – just sit yourselves down by the river, enjoy a little picnic and enjoy some romance by the river!
Baixa Chiado is wedged in between the Bairro Alto and Alfama and serves as the city’s most ‘central’ district. It’s here where you’ll find the grandest avenues, best shopping opportunities and famous squares. At the southernmost end is Praça do Comércio, one of the largest and grandest squares in Europe. Mighty statues, colonnaded arcades and city gates attest to Lisbon’s wealth from the days of seafaring and trade. Rossio Square is also another famous square, this time towards the north.
Close by you’ll find the Elevador de Santa Justa, which to me is another typically Lisbon way of getting around. Remember what I said about getting tired of walking up and down all those hills? The people of Lisbon had the genius idea of building a massive lift to get people to the top of the hill. The result is this incredible 19th century lift that reaches almost 50 metres and mimics that Gothic-style architecture you might find on a cathedral spire, all while being fashioned out of metal. It might be a bit touristy, but it’s served such an integral part of local life in the city’s history that’s it’s well worth checking out.
Gurutip: There’s a hidden lift in the city that opened up recently, but will save you a lot of effort! It’s tucked away in a supermarket called Pingo Doce and will bring you from the Baixa neighbourhood down below to just outside of Castel de São Jorge, which can make the journey there a lot easier!
Day trips from Lisbon
Need a day chilling out by the beach? No problem – Lisbon is a great starting point for exploring some beautiful beaches and delightful coastal towns. If you love surfing, then you’ll be glad to know that the popular beach at Carcavelos is just 20 minutes away from the city. Estoril and Cascais, which are two very popular seaside resorts, can be easily reached by train from Lisbon. The coastal route it takes is especially pretty so it’s well worth checking out if you’ve got a slightly longer stay in Lisbon planned.
It’s also well worth planning a trip to Sintra as well. There are regular connections from Rossio station and takes less than an hour to get there. It’s here in Sintra where you’ll find the legendary, multicoloured castle named Pena Palace. Its location perched on top of the hill and its different coloured sections are pretty incredible to see and you’d be missing out if don’t see this awesome palace at least once.
Culinary treats in Lisbon
There are a few Portuguese specialities you should definitely try when coming to Lisbon. Take pastries for example – you’ll find them all over the city, not just in Belém! How about some ovosmoles, thin wafers with a melt-in-your-mouth filling? Or perhaps some travesseiro de Sintra, made with almonds? One of my favourites are papos de anjo – the name translates to “angel’s double chin”. You’ll probably get one if you eat too many as well; made with lots and lots of whipped egg yolks before being baked and boil in syrup, they’re certainly a guilty treat!
If you want to eat for reasonable prices, then you should pop into one of the many tascas in the older parts of Lisbon. You’ll find lots of traditional Portuguese dishes on offer there and it’s not uncommon to see the owner of the restaurant there in person as well. Places such as the Restaurante Cerqeira and Toma Lá Dá Cá may not look like the most stylish places, but things won’t get much more authentic than this. You’ll see locals having the craic with the owners and the prices are so reasonable that you can dine like a king without having to break the bank.
Nightlife in Lisbon
Lisbon doesn’t just have loads of bars – you’ve got lots of opportunities to party outside and enjoy the wonderful climates – and maybe get to know a few of the Lisboetas along the way.
Order a glass of excellent Portuguese red wine, grab a little bit of tapas to go with it, and maybe even try some of the famous Ginjinhacherry liquor. As well as the fado music I’ve mentioned before, you’ll be bound to come across some more up-beat samba beats as well. Bali Bar, situated in the Bairro Alto area, features plenty of live music and excellent mojitos. You could show your moves at the Bairro Latino, where incredible salsa dancers show their stuff and the music plays on until the small hours.
If you want a drink with a view, then grab at cocktail at Topo. This ultra-chic venue offers fantastic views over the rooftops of Lisbon and there are even jam sessions every Sunday.
Fall in love with Lisbon
If this is all sounding like your cup of tea, then trust me – just go for it! Lisbon will never disappoint and it truly is one of those cities that you’ll be happy to keep on coming back to. Be sure to keep checking back for my most recent Lisbon deals and you’ll be sure to find great prices for city breaks to Lisbon! :)
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