Lisbon is the second oldest and one of the least expensive capital cities in Europe… that is, if you manage to steer clear of tuk-tuks, tourist traps, and pick pockets.
If it’s your first time visiting, you’re in for a treat! - The city is as modern and colorful as it is rich in culture and history… and one week here just was not long enough.
Keep reading for some tips on what to know before you go, the best times to visit, and unique things to do… that aren’t riding tram 28.
What To Do
There is SO much to do in Lisbon… and, consequently, so much that I haven’t done yet.
This list contains mostly things I did do and see, (as I don’t really find it ethical to write about things I’ve never experienced for myself), however, I did include some of the things I’ll definitely be going back for.
Some of them were missed due to lack of time, poor weather, or, in some cases, sheer ignorance of their existence, soooo, in an effort to make sure you don’t make the same mistakes I did (ie. not researching properly ahead of time) here are, in no particular order, the best things we did in Lisbon… and a few that are still on my list!
First and foremost…
eat your weight in Pastéis da nata
If you eat ANYTHING in Lisbon, let it be these… and lots of em.
As the story goes, these sweet, crumbly, delicious egg tarts, otherwise known as pastel de nata, originated at the Jerónimos Monastery in Belém.
The nuns and monks at the time used high quantities of egg whites to starch their clothing… and then used the leftover yolks in desserts. Thus, the birth of this heavenly treat - (pun slightly intended)!
The monks began selling these pastéis de nata to raise money for the Monastery, and did so until 1834 when it closed. The secret recipe was sold to the owners of the local sugar refinery, who then opened the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém in 1837.
Today, you can get pastel de natas pretty much anywhere in Lisbon, but, supposedly, those served up by Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém are the best. They may be the best, but they also win the award for the longest lines… and we tended to steer clear of those on this trip.
Wherever you go for this yummy treat, get one for each hand… and add some cinnamon or sugar for good measure!
Visit the lx factory
In 2008, an abandoned industrial complex by the river got a serious makeover, and Ta-Dahhh!… the LX Factory was born.
Today, the historical complex is home to several cafes, restaurants, shops, a super cool bookstore, bars… and, my personal favorite, art! Lots of art - including an amazing trash, bumblebee sculpture by Portuguese street artist, Bordalo II.
If you’re a fan of urban art, you won’t want to miss this colorful and buzzing area.
There is also a flea market here on Sundays… something I wish I had known about earlier. If the timing is right, you should definitely check that out… and then let me know how it is! ;)
hunt for street art
The LX Factory isn’t the only place where you’ll find cool street art. As a matter of fact, Lisbon has, on more than one occasion, been called an “open air art exhibit.”
As if the tiled facades and terracotta roofs aren’t swoon-worthy enough, massive murals tastefully bring back life and color to once drab and deteriorating walls all around the city.
Street art isn’t entirely legal, but it is supported by Lisbon’s city council. Artists present them with their ideas and the council decides if the project will be allowed.
Whether or not this goes against the rebellious sentiments underlying urban art is still up for debate. Regardless, it’s pretty cool that Lisbon’s street art is mostly legal, supported by the government… and literally everywhere.
Visit the MAAT
The Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology, located just beside the Tagus river (and not far from the LX factory) is not your average Portuguese building.
We decided to just enjoy the MAAT from the outside, but if you’re a big archi buff you might want to actually go IN the museum, too.
The steps in front are a nice place to people watch and soak up the sun… or you can walk up onto the roof for a great view of the river and the 25 de Abril bridge.
After visiting the MAAT, we walked over to the LX Factory, and found a pretty insta-worthy swing along the way.
Get your culture on at Lisbon’s Unesco sites
If you make it all the way out the the MAAT, you might as well swing over to the Belém Tower and the Jerónimos Monastery, too.
They are about a 25-30 minute walk away from the MAAT, so, no, not superrrr close, but definitely much closer than sayyy Alfama, (which would take you about two hours by foot).
The Belém Tower was built on the shores of the Tagus river in the 1500’s to defend the city, and, the Monastery, as previously mentioned, is the home of THE pastel de nata! Both are now UNESCO World Heritage sites and two of Lisbon’s most iconic monuments.
We sadly didn’t make it to either due to poor planning, dicey weather conditions (and, if I’m being totally honest, HUNGER!), but definitely plan on making the trip next time!
Keep in mind that there is a small admission fee for both of these sites.
go on a free walking tour
If I’m being totally honest with you, I’ve never been a big fan of big group tours.
I typically prefer to explore new places solo and at my own pace… however, I’ll admit, after going on several Christmas Market tours last winter, I realized that I’ve been seriously missing out on a gold mine of information.
Instead of just going around “seeing” a bunch of things, walking tours allow you to learn about what you’re seeing - the history and meaning behind a city’s architecture, foods, and traditions. They’re also a great way to meet people if you’re travelling solo… (and to get your steps in)!
Unfortunately, the timing and weather conditions didn’t work out in our favor… but NEXT TIME a Lisbon walking tour is at the top of our list… (right after a day trip to Sintra).
The tour we planned to do was run through a company called Civitatis, an online travel company that operates in over 770 destinations and offers over 17,000 activities.
They have four free walking tours in Lisbon (as well as some other pretty cool activities and Lisbon must haves):
Walking Tour of Lisbon takes place everyday at 10am, 11am, 2pm, and 4pm. This tour visits some of the cities most emblematic locations like the São Pedro de Alcântara viewpoint and Santa Justa Elevator.
Walking Tour of Alfama typically takes place daily at 10:30am and 11am. It explores Lisbon’s oldest district and includes stops at the Lisbon Cathedral and Portas do Sol viewpoint.
Walking Tour of Mouraria typically begins daily at 11am. On this tour, you’ll visit the Medieval Moorish Quarter, the birth place of fado and the neighborhood of Graça, an area known for its miradouros and panoramic views.
Walking Tour of Bairro Alto & Chiado takes place daily at 3pm. On this tour you’ll explore the most bohemian areas in Lisbon, visit the areas oldest coffeehouse, and follow the route of the emblematic (and instaworthy) yellow Elevador da Bica.
Each tour takes about 2.5-3 hours and is (almost) totally free!
Here’s the catch - Though booking the tour itself won’t cost you anything, it is customary to give your guide a tip at the end. Most guides work exclusively on tips, so keep that in mind when deciding how much you will give.
Book your spot ahead of time by visiting Civitatis.com or clicking any of the tour links above!
Visit rossio lisbon square
This lively square is literally in the heart of the city.
It was renamed Pedro IV Square in 1874 when the statue of Dom Pedro the IV was put up, but most residents still refer to it as Rossio.
Like most city squares, this is where life happens.
When we visited, there was a market going on with loads of stalls selling flowers, food (and also giving samples), drinks (mulled wine), jewelry, tiles (of course), products made of cork, and other handicrafts.
Fun fact: Did you know that Portugal is the biggest cork producer in the world? So don’t be surprised when you see (tourist) shops filled with cork bags, wallets, bracelets, and other knickknacks you didn’t know existed in cork form.
The second time we visited the square, we witnessed a big group of med students utilizing what was hands down the most effective fundraising method I’ve ever seen.
First year students in yellow t-shirts sat on the ground, while older students in black cloaks stood behind them. They sang song after song and were dancing and clapping… and before long the music and energy had drawn a big crowd.
One of the students walked around to on-lookers explaining who they were, why they were singing, and what they were raising money for. He told us, “if you make a donation, we throw you a big party.” So of course we did.
For each donation, there was lots of clapping and cheering… always followed by another song.
Street performances by cloaked student troubadours, or tunas are pretty common around Portugal… and in this square in particular. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll catch one yourself!
watch a fado performance
If you skim the web for things to do in Lisbon, I guarantee you that “Fado + Dinner Show” will come up. Fado is traditional Portuguese music that is very melancholy and sad, which, for whatever reason, seems to pair best with dinner and drinks.
These dinner and a show combos are super popular among visitors to Portugal and, thus, a pretty common way for tourists to get ripped off… which is what almost happened to us…
More on that here: Travel Tales - Fado Problems and Hair Flips Solutions
Long story short… We decided late in the afternoon on Andrew’s last day in Lisbon that we would go for dinner and a fado show to celebrate his birthday that night. We did very little (ie zero) research on where to go or how to avoid getting scammed, soooo, basically… we nearly fell into one of the aforementioned tourist traps.
Side note: Are you noticing a theme here? I literally did not plan annnything prior to this trip!
Thankfully, after a little hair flip action and some Oscar worthy acting from Lindsey and Andrew, we got our money back and left to find a more affordable spot to get our fado fix.
We soon found a buzzing little hole in the wall restaurant. There was a bit of a wait, and they were still charging a per person cover at the door to reserve tables, however, 100% of this money went towards our bill at the end.
Our experience here was much more intimate and cozy… and budget friendly.
The fado singer found out it was Andrew’s birthday and gave him his own little encore. I wish I had photos of this because a picture is worth a thousand words, but I don’t… so HERE’S A GIPH INSTEAD… which has to be worth at least a million.
Despite the little mishaps along the way, our dinner + fado evening ended up being one of my favorite nights of the whole trip, and proof that you CAN get a good meal and a fado experience without spending an arm and a leg.
eat your heart out at the time out market
The Time Out Market is a fairly new concept that got it’s start in Lisbon in 2014.
On one side, there are shops and bars, a music venue, and you can get a taste of the best restaurants in the city. The other side is home to the city’s most well known (and according to Time Out), longest-running vendors of meat, fish, fruit, and flowers.
As the Time Out Market has increased in popularity, so have the prices, but, in my opinion, it’s still well worth a visit… that is, if you go early and can actually find a spot to sit.
There are so many delicious food options, and we had a lot of them… but my FAVORITE dish by far was the tuna tataki from Confraria - it was TA DIE FOR!
Side note… and a pro tip for my fellow females with small bladders: If you so happen to need to use the toilet while you’re here (which you probably will if you, like me, eat your heart out AND split a bottle of wine with your girlfriends) go to the bathroom upstairs!
When the market gets busy, the line for the women’s bathroom on the first floor gets atrociously long… so long that I felt it imperative to give you fair warning in this article!! I didn’t realize the upstairs bathroom was a thing until I went back to the market a second time… so, yeah. Sharing is caring.
This is currently the only Time Out Market, however, the publishing company is opening another one in Miami in two days! (May 9, 2019).
Several other Time Out Markets are due to open in the next couple of years in major cities around the world (including London, Prague, New York, Montreal, Boston, and Chicago)!
WATCH THE SUNSET AT A rooftop bar
There are loads of popular rooftop bars around the city, like Rio Maravilha (located at the LX Factory), Park, SkyBar, TOPO… the list goes on.
We went to Park around sunset, and, as you can imagine, it was packeddd.
If you look carefully in the picture below, you’ll see the partial heads of all the people in front of me taking the same photo.
Good view: yes
Pricey drinks: also yes
Best thing I experienced in Lisbon: not quite
get a free view at a miradouro
Want to save yourself a few bucks? Skip the bars, grab a bottle of wine, and head to one of Lisbon’s many Miradouros instead!
These viewpoints offer stunning (free!) views of the city, and are a great place to watch the sunset, or to just stop and chill after a day of exploring. Street performers often play music in these areas, too… making them an even more appealing alternative to overcrowded (and often overpriced) rooftop bars.
Miradouro de Santa Luzia is one of the most popular viewpoints (and is located conveniently on the way to my favorite wine bar in the city, Alfama Gourmet).
Try the local wine
Okay… let’s be honest - Trying Portuguese wine probably should have been right up top with eating your weight in pastel de natas… but now it’s coming in at the "LAST BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST” spot on the list.
Portuguese wines, like ports and vinho verde (or green wine), are made from varieties of grapes that aren’t really found anywhere else in the world. It’s also unlikely that you’ll find these wines being sold anywhere else in the world at such bargain prices… so get your fill of it while you can… and while you’re at it, get yourself a cheese plate, too!
Pro tip: The best wine bar we visited in Lisbon was Alfama Gourmet.
We were able to try and learn about so many different Portuguese wines and had great chats with the owner Nuno… all while watching Tram 28 occasionally breeze by the window. We also tried Ginjinha shots here, a traditional Portuguese liquor served up in a tasty little chocolate “shot glass.”
Read more: The Best Wine Bar in Lisbon, Portugal
So what’s the deal with Tram 28?
OKAY, I’ll admit it! We DID take the tram! ONCE!
We were actually on our way to visit Alfama for oneee last wine date, and didn’t want to brave the neighborhood’s steep hills after several days of walking around the free of charge stair master that is Lisbon.
We saw the tram pulling up to the stop just ahead, so we thought, “Eh, why not!? When in Lisbon!”
It was fun and exciting for the first couple minutes, and, after that… it was a tram… a super bumpy tram. To be honest, I don’t see what all the hype is about. I much preferred the view OF the passing tram… from the wine bar… with a cheese plate…
Not pictured: me nearly falling over while trying to record this time-lapse.
Pro tip: If you DO have a “When in Lisbon” moment and decide to take the tram, for the love of green wine, please don’t do it in the middle of the day… and if you DO decide to take it in the middle of the day, don’t get on in the city center when it’s already packed with people (and possibly pick pockets) - I personally never had an issue with this, but, according to the interwebs… and the locals who told me to wear my backpack on my chest, it is in fact a thing.
When To Go
Peak season in Lisbon is from June to August, so this, in my opinion, is when you most definitely should not go.
The weather may be nice during this time, but the cues and crowds are not. For a more enjoyable experience, go just before or after this period - from March to June or September to October. The weather will still be warm and the city will be much less busy.
The best way to explore Lisbon is definitely by foot. You get to explore all of the random side streets and alleyways, pop in to random shops and restaurants at a moments notice, and get a gnarly uphill workout free of charge.
On that note - Bring good shoes!!
Uber is also a great option when you have a bit further to go to reach your destination (or when the weather isn’t great).
We opted for getting an Uber from the airport and when going from our AirBnb in Alfama to the Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology (MAAT) - (solely because it was raining, all the way on the other side of town, and it would have taken us an hour to get there by foot)… otherwise we pretty much always walked.
Heading to another city in Portugal?
After visiting Lisbon, we headed to Porto by bus, and (once we found the bus stop and figured out how to print our tickets) found it to be pretty straight forward.
We were there within 3.5 hours and then had a 5 minute ride from the bus station to our AirBnb once we arrived. Tickets cost 17 Euros one way (34euro RT) and can be booked on Rede Expressos website.
Another option is flying or taking the train.
Flights between these cities may be cheap, but when you factor in the extra baggage fees, time spent getting to the airport, the hassle of going through security, and then repeating that whole process again on the other end, you might as well just take a bus.
Taking a train is the fastest option (though not by very much - 3 hours as opposed to 3.5 by bus). It’s also the most expensive. The cheapest regular tickets are 25Euros one way, but can sometimes be purchased for a discounted rate. Visit Comboios De Portugal for more information regarding specific train times and ticket prices.
Story time/Pro tips for taking the bus:
When you get to the bus station at Lisboa Oriente, don’t make the mistake of going to the train station side… you’ll miss your bus and end up waiting another hour til the next one.
I realize I may not be selling this right now… We did have a pretty rough start, but I promise the bus is the most cost and time effective means of getting to Porto.
We were running late, the signage at the station was really poor, so when we got there, we had no clue where to go. Hopefully you can learn from our mistakes!
If you walk allllll the way to the far side of the parking lot (where all of the buses are), you’ll find another smaller building - This is where the information desk for the bus station is located, and possibly the same snarky information desk lady we never got answers from.
In this building, there’s also a red machine. The red machine is your friend.
If you booked your tickets online, go STRAIGHT to the ancient red machine and enter your booking number. Then your tickets will print and you might actually get some help from someone in terms of which bus stop platform you should go to.
We had to have the printed ticket for our bus from Lisbon to Porto, but, for whatever reason, on our way back to Lisbon, showing the tickets on our phone was fine - (The Porto station signage was also much better… in that there actually WERE signs).
Play it safe and always at least try to print the tickets from the red machine if you can!
Also, BYOS… in which case, the S obviously stands for snacks!
The bus does make a few pit stops along the route, but none of them are very long.
The official language spoken in Portugal, which may seem like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised by the number of people who think they can get by with Spanish here because of the proximity to Spain. Not the case. Here’s a quick little Portuguese lesson before you go.
Hello – Olá (oh-LAH)
Goodbye – Adeus (ah-DEH-oosh)
Please – Por favor (poor fah-VOHR)
Thank you (male) – Obrigado (oh-bree-GAH-doh)
Thank you (female) – Obrigada (oh-bree-GAH-dah)
It took me much longer than I would like to admit to figure out the meaning behind this pronunciation difference.
You didn’t think I’d give you all that info without some handy dandy directions did ya? Here’s an interactive map to help you get around while you’re in Lisbon.
If you have questions about what we did, where we stayed, or just want more Lisbon tips, feel free to leave a comment below or contact me directly!
Enjoy your time in Lisbon!
Planning a trip to Lisbon?