Destination Guide: Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon is one of the most underrated cities in Europe, but Portugal’s capital has been getting much more attention in the last view years: It has a lot to offer from historic buildings and museums to fairy tale castles and beaches and great food and nightlife. It’s easy to explore, the city is compact, locals are friendly and prices are lower than in other European cities. There is plenty to love – I’ve fallen in love with the city that reminds me so much of my first love – San Francisco! Find out why you should go, where to stay, eat and party, what to see and do and how to get around in my Destination Guide Lisbon – all you need to know about Lisbon on one page and in under 5 minutes!

Why you should go: Lisbon is a beautiful city, sitting on the hills along the Tejo river. The neighborhoods feel distinctly different, depending on where you go – from the magnificent, treelined Avenida Liberdade and grand squares to the old town of Alfama under the castle; from the bustling nightlife in Bairro Alto to the quieter, residential neighborhoods.

Portugal has a proud history and Lisbon tells the story well. The Lisbon Story Center is one of the best city museums I’ve ever seen. The Castlelo S Jorge offers great views over the city and the Old Town of Alfama is great to explore on foot, by street car or tuk tuk!

Some of the most interesting tourist sights are in the suburb of Belem – the Jeronimos Monastery  was built during the Golden Age of the Portugese explorers and the fantastic Museu Coleção Berardo next door sets a modern art counterpoint.

Just like in other European capitals, you’ll also have no shortage of great restaurants and bars for entertainment or stores to do some shopping. I especially enjoyed the many, little neighborhood restaurants, looking out over green parks that offer great food and drink at very affordable prices – a fraction of what you’ll pay in Paris or London!

Arco da Rua Augusta

But wait, there is more: Lisbon makes for a great vacation because there is so much to see outside the city, too! You can visit a fairy tale castle in the mountains at Sintra.

Or you can have a relaxing day on the beach in Cascais – both are just a train ride away, making it one of the few cities that allow you to find history, nature, beach relaxation and city fun, all in one place!

And what makes Lisbon so inviting and has me returning over and over is how friendly the locals are – you won’t find the jaded service staff caused by over-tourism in other popular European destinations. English is widely (and happily!) spoken, making it easy to get around without feeling bad about not speaking the local language. 

So, if you haven’t been, you should move Lisbon to the top of your list and try it out for yourself. If you are not convinced, check out more details why you should visit Lisbon!

Where to stay: Lisbon is a compact city and has good public transport, making it easy to get around on foot, using trains or buses. 
What makes picking your hotel a little more difficult is the landscape – the city is spread over a number of hills, so while the map might show your hotel just a few blocks from the places you want to see, it might be a steep climb of a few hundred steps between. So, here is my advice to select your location: 
If you are planning to see the tourist sights, staying along the Avenida Liberdade or East will make it easy to get to key sights and the shopping area.
If you are planning to enjoy the dining and nightlife options, you’ll want to be close to the Bairro Alto (which is on the opposite side of a steep hill) and you are better off staying in Principe Real, near the Cais do Sodre train station or to the West of Bairro Alto. The ibis Liberdade and the Holiday Inn Express Av Liberdade are both near the Principe Real neighborhood and inexpensive – click on the links for a detailed review and photos!

You can find some of my favorite hotels in the table below, most of them in the three areas described above. Many of the Western chain hotels are outside the core area and I’d avoid them for the convenience. 

HotelCategoryLocationChain/RewardsGreat for
Sofitel Lisbon Liberdade5*Ave LiberdadeAccor LeClubLocation, Luxury, Rewards
InterContinental Lisbon5*Marques de PompalIHG Rewards ClubLuxury, Rooms, Rewards
Corpo Santo Lisbon5*Cais do SodreLuxury, Style, Location
Pestana Cidadela Cascais - Pousada & Art District4*CascaisLuxury, Style, Location
Lx Boutique Hotel4*Cais do SodreStyle, Location
Holiday Inn Express Lisboa Liberdade3*Marques de PompalIHG RewardsLocation, Value, Rewards
Ibis Styles Lisboa Centro Liberdade Ne3*Marques de PompalAccor LeClubValue, Rewards
Hotel ibis Lisboa Liberdade2*Marques de PompalAccor LeclubLocation, Value, Rewards

I do receive a small fee, if you decide to book through the link, at no cost to you – thank you for supporting my blog!

If you want to stay close to the nightlife, renting an airbnb is your best bet – there are few major hotels in the Bairro Alto and Principe Real. Renting an apartment allows you to “stay in the neighborhood” and get a great feeling of the city you are visiting. You can sign up for airbnb through my referral link and get a discount on your first stay!
Sintra and Cascais are easy to visit on a day-trip. If you want a little beach getaway as your trip, consider staying in Cascais which is a wonderful, little beach town!

Pestana Citadela Cascais

Where to eat: My favorite area to go out to eat is Principe Real, just North of the Bairro Alto. You’ll find beautiful restaurants around little parks, like Pao de Canela, with friendly service and without the tourist crowds in Bairro Alto. There are also fun bars that will surprise you with the quality of the food, like Jobim my Nr1 recommendation in Lisbon – the taste and texture of every single dish we ordered was surprising, unique and a joy to eat!

You can easily spot popular bars and restaurants in the area – many sell drinks through a bar window to the street and have crowds waiting outside with a dink. Coyo Taco is one of these places that sells margaritas outside and tacos inside. Having lived so long in California and traveled a lot to Mexico, I wasn’t expecting much – and was positively surprised how tasty they were! 

If you are planning to party, the Bairro Alto has so many bars and restaurants, I recommend my well-worn strategy to “go and look” – check out the places, see the crowds and find one that fits your taste. We started one evening at The Old Pharmacy – a cosy wine bar with nice appetizers that makes for a good start into a romantic evening out!

If you want to pick from a wide range of local foods, all in one place, head for the Timeout Market for lunch – it’s a huge market hall with stalls offering all kinds of foods and my mouth was watering before I finished a loop through the place. Try to go a little outside typical meal times – it does get very crowded!

How to get around: Lisbon is a compact city and if you don’t mind the hills, you’ll be able to get around on foot to many of the sights. There is also good public transportation, with trains and buses getting you from the airport into the city and around the sights. Daytrips to Sintra (from Rossio Station) and Cascais (from Cais do Sodre station) are best done by train – it’s less than 1h to each and you don’t have to worry about traffic or parking (the latter being almost impossible in Sintra!). You can purchase Viva Viagem cards that allow you to store value and ride the buses and trains in Lisbon as well as the trains to Sintra and Cascais. You can purchase them at any train or subway station.

The old trams that rumble around the city may not be the fastest way to get around, but they are fun! They are so popular that they get very crowded, which can take away some of the fun. If you want to try it out, go early or late to make sure you get a seat with the view of the city – instead of just some other passengers back! The ride on tram line 28 through historic Alfama is the best route for a nostalgic look at the city!
Taxis have a bad reputation in Lisbon and visitors are likely to fall to one of the scams, Ridehailing services are reliable, easy and inexpensive – the ride from the airport into the city is around EUR10 and rides around downtown are less. New users can sign up for uber here and get a free ride!

Explore More: To get a “lay of the land” and see where all the hotels, restaurants and sights are, check out my map below and plan your visit to Lisbon! Click on the box in the upper right corner for a full map! Where are you going to stay? What’s your number one thing to do? Or have questions – feel free to comment below and I’ll help with your trip!



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