That picture is Lisbon, Portugal, taken from the Alfama neighborhood. Have you ever seen such a view?! Portugal is one of my favorite European countries. It is also one of the most underrated, although that may be quickly changing, as Portugal has topped many “2017 Travel” lists and TAP Airlines, like Icelandair, recently initiated a layover program to boost travel. So, GO NOW. Hopefully beating the hype train, Dan and I are getting married in Portugal later this year at a beautiful vineyard outside Lisbon (shout out to Quinta de Sant’Anna)! We are basing in Ericeira, Portugal for our wedding, but we are spending a few days with friends and family in Portugal’s capital, Lisbon, before the wedding and we are so looking forward to showing off Lisbon!
Like Portugal as a whole, Lisbon is a totally underrated European capital. Lisbon is gorgeous, not overrun with tourists (yet), exudes charm, and can occupy one’s time for hours without a single major bucket list site (for example, the Eiffel Tower in Paris). If you are planning a trip to Lisbon, or coming to my wedding (!), you should familiarize yourself with Lisbon’s layout and make a game plan before visiting. Lisbon is very hilly and exploring can be tiresome! For example, something may be .5 miles away, but that .5 miles can be uphill on cobblestone! To avoid killing yourself walking up and down the hills, you should plan your sightseeing one neighborhood at a time and take advantage of Lisbon’s public transportation, including its famous yellow trams!
Once again, Lisbon is very hilly and you must arrange your sightseeing by neighborhood, aiming to hit one neighborhood per 1/2 day (or full day, depending on your time). For tourist purposes, Lisbon has four neighborhoods that you cannot miss: Baixa, Alfama, Chiado/Barrio Alto, and Belem.
Baixa. Baixa is the flat center of Lisbon. Unlike other neighborhoods in Lisbon, Baixa was totally rebuilt after a devastating earthquake and tsunami in 1755. Baixa is now home to expansive , modern squares and wide boulevards. Baixa is also home to the Praça do Comércio and good shopping! Plan to spend at least an hour exploring Baixa, longer if you want to shop or lunch.
Alfama. Alfama is the most picturesque neighborhood in Lisbon. This is the Lisbon that you imagine: old yellow trams winding through tiny streets, clothing hanging from clotheslines, Lisboetas chatting and playing in the street, and some of the most beautiful views Lisbon has to offer. That being said, the Alfama is also home to the Castelo do São George and certain parts are very touristy. Its best to see the Castelo do São George and then wander away from that area, after visiting the castle, of course! And with regard to Alfama, Alfama is extremely steep. If you have any mobility issues at all, you should take a taxi to Castelo do São George and explore from there. Allow at least a half-day to explore Alfama, and take a camera!
Chiado/Barrio Alto. Chiado and Barrio Alto are hill neighborhoods to the right of Baixa (when facing the Tagus River). Chiado is the area directly above Baixa and, like Baixa, is home to lots of shops and some of Lisbon’s best restaurants. Barrio Alto is even higher up than Chiado, and is home to even more restaurants, including my favorite, 100 Manerias, and many “hole in the wall” bars! Chiado is a nice neighborhood to explore during the day; Barrio Alto is a good place to explore at night! Allow a half-day to cover both neighborhoods.
Belém. Belém is located about 3 miles west of Lisbon proper, at the mouth of the Targas river. Belém is home to upscale residences and many of Lisbon’s most well-known famous sites, including the Belém Tower, the Monument to the Discoveries, and what may be my favorite site in Lisbon, the Jerónimos Monastery. You cannot walk to Belém from Lisbon proper (unless you have hours) but you can take the tram or a taxi. Belém is also one of the most touristy parts of Lisbon and there can be lines. Plan to spend at least a half day in Belém, longer to see everything.
As I mentioned, Lisbon is short on “bucket list” sites, but BIG on charm! If I must make a list of Lisbon’s sites, these stand out:
São George Castle. Certainly not the greatest castle in Europe, but the São George Castle is interesting and has amazing views of Lisbon! Plan to spend at least an hour exploring the São George Castle in Alfama. Also watch your wallet – pickpockets love this area.
Elevador do Santa Justa. A beautiful outdoor elevator linking Baixa and Chiado. Probably not worth the line or entrance fee, but pretty to see. You can get the same view from the Chiado viewing platform (behind the Carmo Convent) for only €1.50. Speaking of which, if you are in this area, the Carmo Convent is worth visiting.
Jerónimos Monastery. By far, my favorite “site” in Lisbon and a must see on your trip! The Jerónimos Monastery is completely stunning, including its connected chapel. Well worth the €10 entrance fee (or free with the Lisbon Card). The below video is of its fountain, with the huge monastery in the back.
Belém Tower and the Monument to the Discoveries. Like the Jerónimos Monastery, both the Belém Tower and the Monument to the Discoveries are towers in the Belém neighborhood. The Belém Tower dates back to the 1500s and is Lisbon’s ceremonial water entrance. In contrast, the Monument to the Discoveries is from 1960 and commemorates the Age of Portuguese Discovery – the explorers who actually used the Belém Tower when exploring the World from Belém. Directly in front of the Monument to the Discoveries is a pretty awesome map of the World explaining Portuguese discoveries! You can ascend both towers but I think both are more fun to look at from the outside. Expect longer lines to ascend the Belém Tower, for whatever reason.
Portuguese food is completely delicious, and Lisbon is probably the best place in the country to try a wide variety of Portuguese foods. Being on the Atlantic Ocean, seafood is quite popular throughout Portugal, as is pork (unrelated to its Atlantic location). Portuguese specialties that you cannot miss include sardines (fresh and canned), pastel de nata (an egg custard tart), bifana sandwiches (pork sandwich), Ginjinha (a sour cherry liquor) and all of the seafood, among other things! If you are really a culinary traveler, a number of tour companies offer food tours of Lisbon that will allow you try a variety of the most popular. Look for a few more posts on my favorite Portuguese foods and restaurants!
Portuguese wine is also delicious and often a great value! Definitely order Portuguese wine when in Portugal! Also, wine bars are a popular concept, where you can try various glasses of wine (staff is very happy to help choose) accompanied by cheese, meats, sardines, or sweets! Wine bars are very popular in the Barrio Alto neighborhood and make a great dinner spot if you are not starving!
In addition, Portugal has an array of top-rated restaurants, many of which are gaining popularity throughout the culinary world. Of the many restaurants in Lisbon, 100 Manerias and MiniBar by José Avillez are probably my top picks. Reservations mandatory at either. For a less expensive, more casual option, the TimeOut Lisbon Market tops by list (formally known as the Mercado da Ribeira. Again, more mosts on these spots to come!
TIPS FOR VISITING LISBON
Lisbon is extremely hilly. DO NOT WEAR HIGH HEELS. Anywhere. Definitely bring comfortable walking shoes and, if you are mobility inclined, plan to take taxis, Uber, or a tuk-tuk (a small car powered by a bicycle (with a driver included)) around town. To use Uber, you will need some sort of data plan (ask your cell provider before leaving home if you plan/need to use a car to get around).
Lisbon can get very hot during the Summer months. I recommend sightseeing early in the morning and taking it easy in the afternoon, when temperatures are the highest. Even though its hot, it can cool down a lot in the evening. Bring a light cover-up (a scarf, cardigan, etc.) if you get cold easily.
Lisboas, and the Portuguese in general, do not eat dinner until late by US standards (around 9:00 p.m.). Many restaurants do not even open until 7:30 p.m. Plan accordingly, or bring snacks.
Popular Lisbon restaurants book up in advance. If there is a popular place you really want to visit, make a reservation before you leave home.
The Lisbon Card is a tourist-friendly card that includes free entrance to a number of places and discounts on others. I recommend looking into the Lisbon Card, but running the numbers before purchasing. The Lisbon Card allows you to skip some lines, but not all lines. Seniors get a 50% discount automatically on most attractions.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Hotel Palace Avenida: R. 1º de Dezembro 123, 1200-359. T: +351 21 321 8100. E: reservas@Lisboa, Portugal. We stayed here in March and are staying here again in August before our wedding. The hotel is a tiny bit dated but the service is excellent and more than makes up for the datedness. Tip – book directly with the hotel. We booked directly with the hotel and were rewarded with an upgrade, strawberries, chocolate, and complimentary sparkling wine!
Lisbon: Official website of Lisbon.
São George Castle: Open daily 9:00 – 18:00, until 21:00 March – October. €8,50/person entrance. Not included on Lisbon Card. Reachable via Tram Line 28, stop Miradouro Santa Luzia.
Elevador do Santa Justa: Open 7:00 – 23:00. €2,80/person. There is often a line.
Jerónimos Monastery: Closed Monday. Open Tuesday – Sunday 10:00 – 17:30, 18:30 in the Summer. €10,00/person, €12,00/person combo ticket with the Belém Tower. Accessible via Tram 15, Belém Station.
Belém Tower: Closed Monday. Open Tuesday – Sunday 10:00 – 17:30, 18:30 in the Summer. €6,00/person, €12,00/person combo ticket with the Jerónimos Monastery. Accessible via Tram 15, Belém Station.
Monument to the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos): Open 10:00 – 17:30, 18:30 in the Summer. Accessible via Tram 15, Belém Station.
ON A BUDGET
Lisbon is very budget friendly, and has lots of budget hotel options, from lower starred hotels to hostels to Airbnbs. For the best deals, I recommend checking booking.com, hostelworld.com and/or Airbnb. However, make sure that you are staying in a central, tourist-friendly location (or realize otherwise).