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I left my heart in Lisbon. It is hard to recall such a captivating city that we instantly adored. We knew Lisbon was for us as soon as we started wandering around the gorgeous old town – enjoying fantastic (and inexpensive!) food and drink, and hopping on many trams that took us through historic highlights and coastal towns.
Portugal’s capital is a melting pot of arts, cuisine and culture and somewhere we enjoyed very much. So here is our lowdown on Lisbon, (…and unlike us, please do not attempt to eat your bodyweight in pastéis de natas as nothing good will come of it…)
Things to do in Lisbon
Grab a 24 hour travel pass / Carris pass
First things first – if you are in Lisbon for more than a few hours and you’ve just arrived, start your trip by buying a 24 hour travel ticket from the Metro ticket dispensers at the airport, which you can immediately use on the express train straight into the heart of Lisboa.
Lisbon’s transport system is one of the best networks we’ve encountered in Europe and as such, investing in a 24 hour travel pass (€6.40 at the time of writing in August 2020) allows you unlimited access to all trams, buses and the airport train, plus the historic funiculars and the beautiful Santa Justa lift (which is €5 alone normally for admission).
1. Tram 28 in Lisbon
If you do only one thing in Lisbon (especially if you are on a budget), we’d recommend you see the length and breadth of the city via the historic Tram 28 (which is also included on the 24 hour pass mentioned before – bargain!).
We loved riding on the 28 Tram so much that we practically jumped aboard every day we were in Lisbon. The best bits are when the tram squeezes into narrow side streets where there is only centimetres between you and the edges of houses, or catching the first glimpse of the sea and coast at Alfama.
For tips on riding Tram 28 – read our full guide for travelling on Lisbon’s historic tram >
2. Alfama / Miradouro de Santa Luzia
Lisbon’s oldest neighbourhood and arguably it’s most pretty, Alfama is an idyllic area situated atop one of Lisboa’s numerous hills with sea views and incredible lookout points showcasing the sea of terracotta roofs the capital has become renowned for.
A treasure trove of cobbled streets, rustic taverns and alfresco dining, Alfama has it all and is a perfect hop-off point whilst aboard Tram 28. One of our favourite spots in the entire city can be found high up in Alfama – Miradouro de Santa Luzia, an opulent observation point with postcard picture views from its pergola and floral garden.
3. Lisbon Funiculars
Not just one funicular but several! The best way to travel and navigate the long streets is to take one of Lisbon’s funicular railways (also included in the 24 hour pass, meaning more cash saved for pastéis de nata!)
The Elevador da Bica only lasts just over a minute but the views are stunning and it is a top trip as you coast past bar patrons, having drinks in bars just inches away from the funicular line – you are so close, it is almost tempting to grab their beers from their hands.
The Gloria Funicular (from 1885) was also near to our hotel and is similar, running up and down a steep hill in Santo Antonio – alas, it doesn’t seem to be stored indoors at night so it is covered in lots of graffiti and tags. We’ve also included the Lisbon funiculars in our world’s best funiculars blog >
4. Time Out Market Lisbon / Mercado da Ribeira
In a word, ‘nom’! In London, we were aware of Time Out as a weekly magazine that recommends the best in events, news and food and drink but in Lisbon, they’ve taken it a step further. Here they have curated a selection of the best food stalls and kiosks in Portugal, sharing the very best of local dishes and overseas gourmet offerings.
We loved it here although it was quite quiet and there were no queues when we visited in the aftermath of covid-19. The prices are a little more expensive than some of the local bars and restaurants, but it nice to have have such a superb and salivating selection under one roof.
Our personal highlights here included the cod croquettes from Croqueteria, the daily specials from Marlene Vieira (from codfish fritters to seafood rice) plus it’d be remiss if we didn’t mention they had a pastéis de nata stall (Manteigaria) that took some beating. One of Lisbon’s cheapest happy hours can also be found here, with 0.80c beers at the bar just outside the main entrance.
5. Santa Justa Lift / Carmo Lift
This elegant elevator was opened at the turn of the last century in 1899, as a way of linking the upper and lower towns and oozes neo-gothic glamour (there is something very satisfying about the lift interior and metal guard door clunks into place). The ride lasts around 15 seconds and takes you around 45 metres up – although the views in the lift can be rather obscured. We also didn’t have to queue that long to get in but in peak times the queue can be quite long. The fare to go up to the viewing deck costs €5 per person, but it is free if you have the 24 hour transport ticket.
At the time of writing (August 2020), the top level observation deck was out of action for maintenance and social distancing purposes but you can still see nice views from the area immediately where you exit the upper level of the Santa Justa lift and you are allowed to walk freely around, taking pictures.
6. Lisbon’s Pink Street
We’ve heard of Spanish Pink as a shade but not Portugese pink. Highlighting the diversity of Rua Nova do Carvalho and its long line of bars, clubs and noted nightlife, Lisbon’s Pink Street used to be a notorious red light area, a popular meeting place for sailors and streetwalkers (insert your own joke about ‘sea-men’ here). Since then, the area has gentrified and the street was painted pink around 10 years ago to highlight the area’s transformation.
We never got chance to visit Lisbon’s Pink Street by night but we visited during the day to cool off in some of the bars after a sun drenched trip to Belém and can wholeheartedly recommend the beautifully bizarre Sol e Pesca fishing tackle shop and bar, as frequented by the likes of food god Anthony Bourdain and also featured on Channel 4’s The Travel Man in the UK. The menus are delivered on fishing rods and the canned fish food selection was amazing – read more about our visit to Sol e Pesca >
Beautiful Belém is a short tram ride away from downtown Lisbon (jump on tram 15). Located on the banks of the River Tagus, there is much to see and do here (and eat), from the incredibly ornate Belém Tower (a 16th century coastal fort with a viewing point that wouldn’t look out of place in Disney) through to the Padrão dos Descobrimentos monument just a few steps away from the tower, depicting the Portugese age of discovery.
For foodies, join the long line of hungry punters fervently queuing up for pastéis de nata from world famous Pastéis de Belém (founded in 1837 and still going today – the queue is totally worth it). Afterwards, if you still have room, head next door to an unassuming cafe bar called Os Jerónimos to try an amazing local speciality – the bifana (a pork sandwich). This one of the best bifana’s we tried on our trip – say hi to Carlos from us, Os Jerónimos’ formidable host and a very friendly guy.
8. Bairro Alto Neighbourhood, Lisbon
Beautifully bohemian Bairro Alto is one the city’s oldest neighbourhoods (dating back to the 16th century) and it also happens to be Lisboa’s night-time nirvana. Whilst a quite an unassuming neighbourhood to explore by day, in the evening, the shutters come up and the cobbled streets and alleyways come alive with a bevy of bars, restaurants and street-lights.
Don’t worry if you aren’t sure where to go – just follow your noise or listen for the chatter of bar patrons. We would say that we found there were quite a few bar touts trying to get us into their establishments but they were very polite and instantly backed off if you said no.
9. Praça do Comércio Main square
All roads in Lisbon seemingly lead to the pretty Praça do Comércio. Formerly the home of the Royal Ribeira Palace until it was destroyed in an earthquake in 1755. The Square focal point is the incredible arch of the Lisbon Arco Triunfal da Rua Augusta and a statue of King Jose I on horseback. Unlike a lot of main squares, there is oodles of space here and it doesn’t feel too cramped. The sides are lined with a few bars, cafes and historical buildings and it a nice place to jump on the number 15 tram to Belém.
10. Lisbon Street Art
We’ve recently featured Lisbon in our 20 of the best street art cities in the world blog – indeed, it feels like the whole city is an alfresco art gallery and you encounter incredible artistry and illustrations at every turn (and also quite a bit of graffiti, especially by the tram lines).
The Bairro Alto district is one of the best neighbourhoods to stumble across Lisbon street art, especially at night when the bars and restaurants come alive. Other artistic alleyways and hotspots can be found along R. São Pedro de Alcântara, Rua de São Boaventura and Rua da Vinha.
11. Lisbon rooftop bars
Lisbon’s streets are a joyful place to wander around, but Lisboa from above is even better. There are lots of rooftop bars all over the city that offer amazing views of the terracotta buildings and the ocean, and are perfect to watch the sun go down after a day of walking up and down Lisbon’s hills – check out our guide to the best rooftop bars in Lisbon >
12. LX Factory
Old industrial estates and warehouses converted and transformed into new hip and happening hangouts is nothing new, but LX Factory does it with such charm and pizazz that it isn’t hard to be captivated. With a wide range of eateries, bars and even a hostel to stay at, you could easily spend a whole afternoon and / or evening at LX Factory, sitting in the shadow of the 25 de Abril bridge.
Our LX Factory favourite has to be the Ler Devagar bookstore, which not only houses not only a treasure trove of Portugese and English language books but also a brewery bar and cafe, plus bookcases so beautiful that they wouldn’t look out of place in a museum. Ler Devagar is certainly one of the coolest places in Lisbon.
13. Lisbon food tour
One of the highlights of our trip to Lisbon was booking onto an evening group food tour. Food tours are a great way to learn more about Portuguese cuisine and you get to visit local spots away from the crowds that you might not find by yourself. We did a Petiscos and wine food crawl with Food Lover Tour (petisco means a delicatessen or a snack), and enjoyed eating a selcetion of tapas in the traditional neighbourhoods of Principe Real and Madragoa.
Here is a short video we made of the tour:
14. Ginjinha bars
Ginjinha is a sweet cherry liqueur made by infusing ginja berries in alcohol, which is very popular with the locals. The drink originated in Lisbon and is served in a shot form which you sip slowly from – you can order your drink “com ginja” (with a cherry in the glass) or “sem ginja” for one without. Each shot usually costs around €1.20.
There are several tiny traditional Ginjinha bars in town – we visited Ginjinha Sem Rival after seeing Phil Rosenthal visit on his Netflix show, and then headed over to nearby Ginjinha Espinheira which originally opened in 1840. There are also a few Ginjinha bars towards the Bairro Alto neighbourhood where you can buy your shot of Ginjinha in a small chocolate cup!
15. Quiosques / Lisbon Park Cafes
It took us all of 20 minutes after arriving in Lisbon before we’d discovered our first ‘quiosque’ in Lisbon. These are essentially those little cafe bars in parks that serve ice cold beer at super cheap prices (often with daytime and evening differential pricing) in the shade of trees or parasols. We visited several of these, generally around early afternoons when we’d be coming back from say Belém or Alfama and wanted a cooling respite on the way back to the hotel.
These can be found all over the city but there were several quintessential quiosques within walking distance of each other along Avenida da Liberdade, under the shade of trees and in such historic and regal surroundings.
Where to stay in Lisbon
We stayed at the four star H10 Duque de Loulé – a gorgeous boutique hotel located in a recently renovated historic 18th century building. The hotel is located a few minutes walk from a metro station, which was about 2-3 stops away from the main part of town (it is also easy and flat if you want to walk into town). We also found Ubers taxis were super cheap in Lisbon and won’t cost much more than two of you getting the metro.
We booked the cheapest standard room which was affordable and chic in design, with a view of the city and the ocean. Plus a bonus was that on the top floor there is a rooftop bar terrace with pretty blue and white geometric tiling. Our only gripe about this hotel was that our room was located next door to the cleaners storage room so it could be rather noisy early in the morning when we wanted a lie in.
On a budget?
Here are some highly rated hostels in a good central location:
Goodmorning All-Inclusive Hostel
Award winning hostel in a central location, with an option to book an all-inclusive rate (3 daily meals and FREE beers and sangrias).
Lisboa Central Hostel
Highly rated hostel located in the heart of the city in Marques de Pombal and close to many sightseeing spots. Offers both private and dorm rooms with a fully equipped communal kitchen and common room.
Looking for something nice that won’t break the bank? Check out these mid ranged price hotels:
Hotel da Baixa
Highly rated and elegant hotel located in Lisbon’s historic centre just a short walk from the iconic Santa Justa Elevator.
Heritage Avenida Liberdade
4-star hotel is housed in an 18th-century building with fitness centre and a swimming pool.
Looking to splash the cash? Here are some highly rated 5 star hotels:
Tivoli Avenida Liberdade
Luxury 5-star hotel set in a 1930s building on Avenida da Liberdade, with rooftop bar, outdoor round pool and 2 restaurants.
Myriad by SANA Hotels
Luxurious and modern riverside hotel with bar, indoor pool with spa and fitness facilities.
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