We arrived in Lisbon at peak hour. The traffic was really heavy, and finding our way to the rental office to return our hire car was quite a challenge and rather stressful. After a week in Portugal, Simon had adapted to driving on the wrong (right!) side of the road but navigating a big city was very different from cruising around the countryside! After choosing the wrong lane on a massive roundabout and circling it a few times, we finally managed to take the correct exit and drop off our car nearby. What a relief! No more driving for us; we were more than happy to take public transport after that!
Lisbon was the last stop of our Portugal vacation before flying home to Australia. So far we’d had an amazing time and we didn’t quite know what to expect from the country’s capital. Big cities can often be a bit chaotic and sometimes lacking in character.
Our first hour in Lisbon was indeed chaotic which put us off a bit to begin with. But Lisbon is full of character and it is ever so charming. As we began to explore Lisbon, we quickly forgot about our unpleasant arrival into the city.
Lisbon’s cobblestone streets are hilly, windy, and lined with houses decorated with colourful, tiled walls. Iconic vintage trams work their way through the streets. The nightlife is buzzing, the wine is flowing, the food is mouth-watering and the weather is perfect! In fact, there really isn’t much to dislike about this incredible city.
If you decide to include Lisbon on your next European trip, here are some tips to help you plan a perfect few days there.
How to get to Lisbon city centre from the airport?
If you fly into Lisbon instead of driving there, it’s very easy to get from the airport to the centre of town. You have three options; taxi, metro or bus.
Taking a taxi is the easiest but not the cheapest option, at an average of €25 for the ride. Taxis also charge extra for each piece of luggage that you have.
The Airport is connected to the city by the red metro line. You will need to change to the green line in Alameda to get to the city centre. A regular one-way metro ticket will set you back 1.45€, but you will need to buy a re-loadable Viva Viagem card (0.50€) the first time you use the metro. This can then be used throughout the public transport network during your stay.
The Aerobus Line 1 runs from the airport to Cais do Sodre train station. You don’t need to change buses and a regular one-way ticket costs 4€ per person.
How to get around Lisbon?
That’s by far our favourite method of transport. Not only is it free but you get to explore more parts of the city that way. Yes, Lisbon is hilly but believe me, you’ll need to burn off the calories from all the Pasteis de Nata you’ll be eating!
If walking is really not your thing then Lisbon’s public transport is pretty decent. There are many ways to get around, trams, subways, ferries, and commuter trains. They will all transport you cheaply and efficiently. Once you’ve bought the Viva Viagem card mentioned above, you can recharge it as required. To do this, select the option to add “zapping” credit which can be used with any type of public transport.
Tip: If you are planning to visit a few attractions in Lisbon, a great option is to get the Lisbon Card. It not only includes access to up to 26 museums and monuments but it also gives you unlimited public transport! It costs €19,00 for 24 hours, €32,00 for 48 hours and €40,00 for 72 hours.
You’ll find taxis everywhere and compared to the rest of Europe they are relatively cheap. Uber is also available in Lisbon.
Yes there are tuk tuks in Lisbon! But they are an expensive tourist trap and should be your last resort.
What to do in Lisbon?
Get lost in the Alfama District
The Alfama District is the oldest district in Lisbon and the best one to get lost in! Wandering around the Alfama is a real delight. It’s full of beautiful old buildings and narrow streets, making it a great place for photography. If the walk up the hill is too much, be sure to stop for a break, have a cup of coffee or a glass of Portuguese wine and marvel as the trams squeeze their way through the narrow streets. It’s so much fun to watch!
Check out the views from the walls of Castelo de São Jorge
As you keep climbing up the old streets of the Alfama, you will eventually reach the São Jorge Castle. The castle overlooks the city, providing fantastic panoramic views from its walls. The castle was built by the Moors in the 11th century and is mainly now in ruins. The views alone make the climb up there worth it.
Go up the Elevador de Santa Justa
The Elevador de Santa Justa is an old 19th-century elevator that provides a quick and easy trip up the steep hill from the Baixa district to the Largo do Carmo. The lift is made of wrought-iron and its structure is adorned with beautiful neo-gothic arches and geometric patterns.
Today the lift is a major tourist attraction and one of the most unique sights in the city. At the top of the lift is a platform that gives you 360 degrees panoramic views across the historic centre of Lisbon.
Explore the attractions of Belém
Get out of the city centre and head to Belém, just a short tram ride away. You’ll need at least half a day to explore Belem. While there, be sure to check out the impressive Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, the Torre de Belém, the Jardim Botanico and the Padrão dos Descobrimentos.
Indulge on Pasteis de Nata
Pasteis de Nata is a delicious Portuguese egg tart pastry that is sold all over Lisbon. You just have to try one and when you do you’ll be hooked! It all started in 1837 when the pastry shop “Pastéis de Belém” started baking this delicacy, using an ancient recipe from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos nearby. The shop is still open and some say that it’s the best place to try them. But we thought the place was too busy, had terrible service and the pastries there weren’t better than anywhere else we tried in Lisbon.
Check out the views from the many Miradouros “viewpoints”
Because Lisbon is so hilly, you’ll find many viewpoints across the city. Those viewpoints are called Miradouros. Some of the best views can be seen from Miradouro Largo Das Portas Do Sol, Miradouro Da Graca, Miradouro Da Senhora Do Monte and Miradouro de Santa Luzia.
Explore the Baixa & Rossio districts
The Baixa district is the heart of Lisbon and is flanked with magnificent plazas, grand avenues, and stunning tiled buildings. After an earthquake completely destroyed this part of the city in the eighteenth century, it was entirely rebuilt by the Marquis of Pombal. Baixa has a lively and vibrant atmosphere and with many stores and restaurants, it is very busy during the day.
The Rossio district is right next door and together they form Lisbon’s lower city. Both have plenty of landmarks worth checking out, such as the Praça do Comércio, Arco da Rua Augusta, Núcleo Arqueológico, Praça da Figueira, Rossio Square, the Carmo Convent ruins and many more.
Admire the beautiful Azuleros
The Italians love their walls with painted frescoes but when it comes to the Portuguese, it’s all about the Azuleros. Azuleros are traditional ceramic tiles depicting scenes from Portuguese life. The Moors started the craft in the eighth century and as Portugal became the main tile producer in Europe, Azuleros increasingly gained in popularity. They can be still found all over Lisbon. Some of the best places to see them are the Museu Nacional Do Azulejo, the Monastery Of São Vicente De Fora, Queluz National Palace and the Fronteira Palace.
Take a day trip to Sintra
Sintra is a picturesque town only a short train ride from the centre of Lisbon. There are numerous castles and mansions to visit in Sintra but the cherry on the top is the Palacio de Pena. This stunning palace was built by a German prince after marrying a member of the Portuguese royal family. It has extensive gardens and a stunning design. Sintra is the perfect day trip from Lisbon.
Take a vintage moto-sidecar tour
A fun way to spend a morning or afternoon in Lisbon is to take a sidecar tour! You’ll get to check out all the best parts of the city without working up a sweat! We took a sidecar trip with Bike My Side and it was a highlight of our time in Lisbon. Highly recommended!
Enjoy the nightlife in the Bairro Alto
The district of Bairro Alto is where you’ll find the best nightlife. By day it’s sleepy but by night the party is in full swing as many small and quirky bars open up. If you’re on a budget, look out for happy hour for some really cheap beer and sangria!
Do some shopping on Rua Augusta
Rua Augusta is the biggest pedestrian street in the city and runs through the heart of Lisbon, from the city centre, through to the Arco da Rua Augusta on to the Praca do Comercio, finishing at the waterfront. You can shop at the many international boutiques that line the streets or simply enjoy the mosaic pavements and the outdoor cafes.
How many days to stay in Lisbon?
Lisbon is such a fun city that we really recommend staying at least three days. There is so much to see there and soaking up the atmosphere is a great way to enjoy the city. If you can afford to stay longer, do it! You won’t be bored!
Where to eat?
This restaurant has rustic, simple, and relaxed decor. It serves small tapas dishes, all made to order at very reasonable prices. They also have a good selection of delicious Portuguese wines!
Nova has a stylish interior, yummy tapas and some really good wine, with service to match!
Toma La Da Ca
This is a simple, family-owned restaurant serving authentic Portuguese dishes, such as fresh grilled robalo or dourada, steak and squid.
Belcanto is a Michelin star restaurant serving impressive, inventive, delicious and beautifully presented dishes. It’s not cheap but if you want to indulge, try their tasting menu that consists of their most popular dishes paired with wine.
Where to stay?
This Art Deco hostel overlooks São Pedro de Alcântara and Tagus River and offers both modern dormitory rooms and private suites. Some have balconies with river views. Prices start from €18 for a dorm room and €138 for a suite. Click here to check the latest prices.
This hotel is just steps away from the Alfama old town and 150 metres from Praça do Comércio’s bus, tram and metro lines. The hotel is newly renovated, offering stylish rooms. It is surrounded by trendy bars, shops and restaurants. Prices start from €129. Click here to check the latest prices.
This new five-star hotel has a central location, a cozy atmosphere and modern amenities. Prices start from €180. Click here to check the latest prices.
Tip: Avoid staying in the Bairro Alto district unless you are only in Lisbon to party! It’s really noisy at night and you’ll get no sleep!
Other Accommodation Options
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