Paris, check. Rome, check. Barcelona, check. So you’ve ticked most of the biggies from your European bucket list but you’re craving an equally charming city-break adventure? You’ve come to the right place. Let me introduce you to Lisbon!
Lisbon in a Nutshell
With its wide boulevards, pastel coloured houses, vintage trams and winding cobbled backstreets, Lisbon is a city of effortless European charm. It’s built upon 7 hills, providing visitors with spectacular panoramas from every angle of the city. There is a slice of history around every corner and the quaint piazzas and al fresco eateries set the scene for the romantic city-break you’ve always dreamt of. Lisbon is a 2 hour and 20 minute flight away from London and with the airport just 15 minutes from the city centre, it’s an incredibly accessible European destination.
In my opinion, Lisbon is a seriously underrated city on the continent and if you choose to discover it, you’ll feel like you’ve hit the jackpot.
Top 5 Things to do
- Visit Castelo de Sao Jorge
If you’re tight for time in Lisbon, make sure the Castelo de Sao Jorge is on the top of your hit list. Located in Lisbon’s picturesque old-town district of Alfama, this magnificent Moorish castle sits on a hilltop overlooking the entire city. You can expect to find 360 degree views of Lisbon, a whole castle complex to explore and exotic peacocks scattered around the beautiful castle grounds. Entrance costs 8.50 euros per person
- Explore Alfama
After you’ve visited the Castelo, spend the day in the district of Alfama and get lost amongst the winding cobbled streets, narrow alleyways and colourful pastel buildings. This is the oldest and most iconic area of Lisbon, with plenty of bars, cafes and Fado clubs for a true slice of Portugese culture. Whilst you’re in the area, be sure to visit Se Cathedral, one of Lisbon’s most famous churches that dates back to 1150. Entrance to Se Cathedral is free, but donations are encouraged.
- Spend a Day in Belem
If you have more than 1 day to spend in Lisbon, spend a day in the trendy area of Belem. It’s a little further out from the city centre, but there is so much to do and see here (it’s 10 minutes by taxi from the city centre or you can hop on the on the number 15 tram).
The Mosterio dos Jeronimos
Start your day in Belem by visiting the showstopper; the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos. Marvel at the magical Harry Potter-like cloisters of this UNESCO-listed monastery and prepare to be wowed by the beauty of the cathedral.
Torre de Belem
Next, cross the road over to the striking Padrao dos Descobrimentos sculpture and enjoy a beautiful waterfront stroll down to the Torre de Belem. This world-heritage listed fortress was cleverly built in the shape of a battleship to deter attackers from invading the city. Jutting out into the Rio Tejo, its tower offers an incredible panorama to the city. Entrance to the Monastery and Torre de Belem costs only 12 euros per adult in a combined ticket.
Travelista Top Tip: Visit Belem on Sunday to get free entry to the Mosterio dos Jeronimos from 10am – 2pm, and you’ll also catch the Sunday market opposite.
Pasteis de Belem
If Ladurée do the best Macaroons in Paris, this place does the best custard tarts in Portugal. Tourists and locals alike come from all over the city for these delicious sweet treats, which are known to be the best in the city. Either pick up a box of 6 to take away or sit inside with a coffee or a hot chocolate.
- Book a Side Car Tour
Without a doubt, the most fun and unique way to see the city of Lisbon is by booking a retro side car tour! I got to experience this during my trip to Lisbon and it was without doubt the highlight of my trip. The tours are perfect for 1 or 2 people and you can switch between the back of the motorbike and the side car.
Your personal guide takes you all over the city from North to South and East to West and it’s the perfect introduction to Lisbon. If you fancy this, I would advise taking the tour on your first day and then going back to revisit the spots you liked in your own time. Book your tours with Bike My Side. A 3 hour tour costs only 150 euros for 1 or 2 people.
- Go up the Elevador de Santa Justa
Another great introduction to the city is to go up the Elevador de Santa Justa. This rickety neo-gothic elevator was designed by Gustav Eiffel’s apprentice is Lisbon’s only street lift. Get here early to beat the crowds and enjoy a spectacular view across Lisbon, right from the heart of the city. Entrance is only 5 euros per person.
How to get around
With its iconic tram network circulating the city, getting around Lisbon is easy. If you’re staying in central Lisbon, many of the main sights are in easy walking distance but there are also some other options.
Tram 28 – No trip to Lisbon is compelte without hopping on a vintage tram. The number 28 goes past all of the top sights and touristy areas and provides a ready made tour for visitors. Pickpocketing is very common on the 28 so take extra care of your belongings. Buy a 24 hour ticket for 6 euros or make a single trip for only 2.85 euros.
Tuk Tuks – When arriving in the city, it won’t be long til you spot the colourful tuk tuks whizzing around which are reminiscent of the type you’d see in Bangkok. These tuk tuks are a fun way of getting around, but are geared towards tourists and will cost more than a regular taxi. If you’re making a short trip, don’t pay more than 5 euros per person.
Taxis – There are no shortage of taxis in the city and operate with the usual green light / red light availability system. The taxis are on a meter and can be flagged down around the city.
Metro – Lisbon also operates a 4-line metro system which is a quick and cost efficient way to get around the city. The metro runs from 6.30am til 1am and a single ticket costs only 1.40 euros.
Tipping – Service charge is not included in restaurants and bars and it’s customary to tip between 5%-10% of the total bill price.
Food – At the heart of every Portugese menu is meat and fish, cooked in a variety of ways and served with rice, potatoes or chips. They’re big on seafood and dried salt-cod is a well-known dish. When eating out, waiters will typically bring out ‘couvert’ of bread, olives and other appetisers. If you eat this, you will be charged for it, but if you send it away you won’t be charged.
Coffee Culture – Similar to the rest of Europe, coffee is enjoyed at leisure and you’ll struggle to buy any coffee ‘to go’ in Lisbon. Instead, take 5 and enjoy a sit-down coffee in one of the many cafes and order a Portuguese custard tart for good measure.
Fado Music – Dotted around Lisbon, and in the Alfama area in particular, you’ll find Fado clubs. Fado is Portugal’s answer to Flamenco but without the dancing. Fado groups are typically made up of a band of men and a lead female singer and the tone of the music is very sad and sombre. Fado is an intrinsic part of Portugese culture and well worth experiencing. There is even a Fado Museum in Alfama.
Ginjinha – Ginjinha is Lisbon’s signature liqueur made from ginja berries (sour cherries). Its sweet and sugary in taste and is served as a shot. You’ll find street stalls selling ginjinha and you might be offered it as an aperatif in restaurants.
Where to Stay
Pousada de Lisboa – A fabulous boutique hotel situated right on the famous Praca do Comerical. This hotel has an incredible location, friendly staff and features contemporary design in a historical building. Stay tuned for a full hotel review. Rates from 169 euros per night.
Pestana Palace – A palatial and characterful hotel situated in a residential area 15-minutes from the centre of Lisbon. A good option if you want a luxurious retreat away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Rates from 158 euros per night.
Where to Eat
A few tried and tested recommendations;
Grapes and Bites – A romantic little wine bar serving great cheeses and tapas in the Barrio Alto area. Buzzing atmosphere, great service and live music. Booking recommended. Rua do Norte, 81, r/c Barrio Alto, 1200-284 Lisbon.
Pombalina – A super casual and friendly café close to the Se Cathedral. Stop here for the best hot chocolate and a tasty custard start or a quick lunch. R. do Comércio 2, 1100 Lisbon.
My Video Guide
What did you think of my guide to Lisbon? Are you planning a similar trip or has this post inspired you to go? If you enjoyed reading this post, I’d love to know! So please leave me a comment in the box below. Jess x