The ultimate insider’s guide to Lisbon
If anyone ever asks me what is my favorite place in the world, it is Lisbon. It is always Lisbon. Lisbon is a city that captivates you in every sense of the world. The texture sensation as you bite into your first pastel de nata, the sounds of street buskers as you walk through Chiado, the unmistakable smell of sardines roasting in the air and that is just day one. The following insider’s guide to Lisbon will prepare you for the hipster capital of Europe as you’ve never seen it before: through the lens of a wannabe Lisbonnese insider that spent a summer wandering through the streets of Lisbon.
I pretty much spent my summer writing about Lisbon, looking for hidden gems, exploring every neighborhood and chasing sunsets. When I was working for a Tour Agency in Lisbon as an Online Marketing Trainee, a huge part of my responsibilities included Lisbon related content. Lisbon is one of these cities that keep surprising you; there’s always something going on. I owe a huge part of my knowledge regarding this insiders guide to Lisbon to my Lisbonnese friends, my international flatmates and any other locals/insiders that I have met along my way.
Guide to Lisbon: Neighborhoods
Bairro Alto: The bohemian nightlife quarter of Lisbon. There are many little pubs around the area, and it’s the most touristic place where people party every night! So before considering Bairro Alto, keep in mind that it might be noisy during the night.
Baixa & Chiado: It’s commonly known as the “downtown” among the locals since it’s the heart of the city. More commonly tourists stay in this area as this place is full of hotels and hostels.
Príncipe Real: One of the most charming neighborhoods of Lisbon and extends north to Bairro Alto. It’s generally quiet and has gorgeous gardens and parks.
Alfama: Personally, I consider Alfama the most beautiful neighborhood in Lisbon! It’s a very historic district and one of the few that survived the earthquake of the 18th century. Even if it’s beautiful, I wouldn’t recommend staying here as the transportation is quite bad and the tram 28 is usually packed with tourists.
Avenida de Liberdade: The most popular street with luxurious designer shops. A short breath away from center with good metro connection.
Belem: Belem is home to some of the most important monuments and museums, and it’s the last Lisbon neighborhood before the beachside suburbs. Although, Belem is away from downtown with no metro station. (but plenty of bus and trams connections).
Saldanha: The best residential area for me in Lisbon is Saldanha. It’s only a 10-minute metro ride away from the center and has two metro connections. The one has a direct metro connection to the airport. It has beautiful parks, and it is a lot less touristic and very well connected.
Getting Around Lisbon
Walking: Despite being hilly, walking up and down the steep streets of Lisbon, you will always come to a miradouro, a beautiful square, an alley where the neighbors talk to each other from their balconies, and that’s how you will experience the authentic feeling of Lisboa.
Public Transportation: Lisbon is a very well connected city. There are a metro, buses, and trams that take you around all the areas in Lisbon. Usually, I check google maps before going to my destination and often, it’s reliable. Use the VivaViagem card, choose the zapping version and top it up with money. I would recommend getting a day pass for only €6.
Uber & Cabify: I consider uber to be reasonably cheap in Portugal and convenient especially after a night out.( Claim a Free Ride using my referral code)
Tip: Forget about Hop On, Hop Off buses. Get a day pass of public transportation and use the iconic tram 28 to explore the historic neighborhoods of the city and some of the best attractions.
Insider’s guide to Lisbon -Things to avoid in Lisbon
Lisbon is one of the most popular destinations for traveling and so there are many tourist traps around the city. The first time I visited Lisbon,I did many things wrong for the main reason – I did not know- ! We were reading the lonely planet and following the advice offered by the book. After living in the city, I am now able to see beyond the Lonely Planet travel book,
The Fado Houses
So fado is, of course, important in the portuguese culture -not denying it. However, spending €50-60 on a fado performance while dining at a mediocre to a lousy restaurant – that’s crazy! After Portugal became such a popular touristic destination, many restaurant owners turned their restaurants to fado houses to attract more visitors. Therefore, I would advise doing good research before booking a fado place. Also, note that sometimes you need to book some days in advance for the actually good ones.
2. Taking Tram 28
No doubt that tram 28 is the cutest tram ever! However, there is this massive queue of tourists waiting to hop on the Tram to get a “city tour.” I love tram 28 but only got to use it when it was less busy and not over-crowded. Sometimes, people wait as much as one hour to get into the tram – no kidding! However, did you know that it is the only mean of transport for locals living in hilly Alfama? (many of those who are at an older age). I can only imagine how hard it is for these people to not be able to use their only mean of transport. Instead, use the red hop on, hop off bus which will also ensure that you get your own seat and follows just the same route.
3. Elevador Santa Justa
There is a massive queue of tourists waiting for the old elevator. I get it – it looks cool. However, why would you pay €5 for a 20-second ride? Did you know that there is also another way to make it to the top? You can enter through Largo do Camo for free and not waste your time or money! Also, If you still want to have the elevator experience, you can use the zapping metro card and pay less than €1.20 for the ride instead of spending on the spot.
4. Elevador da Gloria
As this particular spot in Lisbon is quite steep and hilly, the locals decided to make this “elevator” so that people will use it during their daily commute to work. Heck, that was my way to work every morning, and since it was so packed by curious tourists who wanted to experience this incredible experience for €4 for a 2-minute ride, I had to hike my way up because the queue was so long. It is more considerate to think of other locals that are in real need of the tram. And that applies to tram 28.
After talking with some people, I heard about some crazy stories about taxi drivers overcharging. Also, that is something that is happening everywhere, so that’s why I always avoid using one. Instead, use Uber or Cabify.
6. The “hashish” sellers in the streets
It’s very common to see sketchy guys around the city trying to sell you “hashish” as they name it. If you are wondering why these guys don’t get arrested, it’s because they don’t sell hashish, but compressed bay leaves so police technically arrest them. Avoid any guys approaching you in the street and don’t buy anything from them.
7.Torre de Belem
People say it’s the most emblematic tower in Portugal – they are right! It has a rich history, and it is gorgeous. What they don’t tell you is that there is, of course, a huge queue, it’s crowded and once getting inside there’s absolutely nothing to see apart from the main terrace and the primary staircase.
Best things to see – An Insiders guide to Lisbon
Now that you know which places to avoid, I will summarize the best things to see in Lisbon as I am trying to keep this guide as practical as possible. So in my opinion, these are the best things to see in Lisbon:
Castelo de São Jorge
The Moorish Castle of São Jorge is strategically located on the highest hill in Lisbon and is overlooking Alfama and Tagus River. From the top of the castle, you get some panoramic views of the entire city and the Tagus River.
Praca do Comercio
Located in the most central area of Lisbon, this emblematic square has traditionally painted buildings lining the three sides, and a statue of King Jose positioned in the center. Don’t miss the views from Rua Augusta Arch which is located right in front of the square.
Belem used to be the harbor and departure point of the Portuguese ships during the Discoveries Era. It has the most important historical monuments, beautiful gardens, and views of the river. Don’t miss out on Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Torre de Belém and Padrão dos Descobrimentos.
LX factory is also known as the hipster miny city in Lisbon. It includes everything; restaurants, cafes, bars, vintage shops, bakery and much more! It’s very close to the Belem area so that you can stop on your way to and from Belem.
Alfama is my favorite neighborhood in Lisbon for a nice walk. It has colorful buildings with attractive tiles and patterns. Also, most people staying in Alfama are locals who spent their entire lives there, so you get to experience this local vibe. If you visit Alfama during Tuesday or Saturday, don’t miss out on the biggest flea market in Lisbon – Feira da Ladra
Parque Eduardo VII
A beautiful park which is close to Marques de Pombal. Stunning views of Lisbon and a great place to take some stunning photos.
Lisbon is also home to the largest indoor aquarium in Europe that has over 450 species of fish, marine mammals and birds. It would be best if you had at least several hours to explore the aquarium and don’t miss on the opportunity to visit tone of the most impressive aquariums in the world – you will surely like it.
Food habits by locals
- Portuguese people love to sit down to drink and eat, especially when friends and family accompany them.
- Breakfast is usually no more than a bica ( espresso) with a sweet cake or croissant.
- Lunch is the biggest and most important meal of the day while dinner is generally lighter.
Food Scene in Lisbon
Portuguese Cuisine is essential to the locals. The Portuguese love seafood and especially bacalhau. There are hundreds and hundreds of recipes with bacalhau, sardines and other fish. Even If you don’t like Portuguese cuisine, Lisbon has an incredible food scene with cuisines from all over the world. Whether you are looking for Asian Cuisine, Portuguese or European Cuisine there must be a place for you.
An essential app which is used among the locals in Portugal is zomato. It has been a life savior during my stay in Portugal and most of the times has proved to be right. It shows you any restaurants around the area depending on your budget and any other preferences.
- Sherpa Mo Mo: Nepalese Restaurant close to Martim Moniz. Incredible curry for only €5
- Restaurante Cerqueira: Portuguese Cuisine
- La Paparrucha: Argentinian Buffet-Style Restaurant with great views of Lisbon and has a lunch offer deal for €14
- Tascardoso : Traditional Budget Friendly Portuguese Restaurant
- O Piteu da Graça: Popular among the locals, homemade food and friendly atmosphere
- Cruzes Credo: Tiny restaurant in Mouraria where you can enjoy a three-course dinner for only €10
- 100 Mondatitos: Spanish Chain of Restaurants with cheap tapas. Every Wednesday all tapas are only €1
- Buddha Sushi: Located in Bairro Alto. A package of sushi costs as low as €4 and €10 all you can eat lunch deal!
- Sushi-san : Good value for money sushi in Saldanha
Tip: Did you know that there is an Illegal Chinese in Lisbon that not many people know about? I had one of the most delicious Chinese meals of my life there! Check out this blog post to find out more.
Locals and visitors love pastel de nata in since they are so delicious! This egg tart pastry can be found almost in every corner in Portugal. From supermarkets and cafes to that specialize in pastels de nata! The travelers favorite is Pasteis de Belem. Some would argue that pasteis de Belem is a major touristic trap, but I assure you – they are delicious! My local friends prefer Manteigaria and I believe they are equally delicious. Although, the first pasteis are sooo far away from the centre and have a huge queue so that’s why I always choose Manteigaria since it’s more accessible and you don’t have to wait! If you have a really sweet tooth, try Fabrica da Nata even If they is not my favorite.
One thing I love about Lisbon is how casual and fun, a night out can be. Of course, If you like something fancier, there are some cocktail bars and night clubs too.
- Bairro Alto: It’s one of the most popular hotspots during the night. The Erasmus Corner is filled with international students and visitors from every country. Generally, this area has cheap drinks – imagine a beer can be as cheap as one euro! I am not going to recommend any bars since I am convinced that they are all pretty similar between them.
- Cais do Sodre: Also known as the Pink Street – It used to be the meeting point for criminals, sailors, and prostitutes resulting in a terrible reputation. A few years ago, this street had been transformed into the Street you see today. It has some of the poshest bars and nightclubs in Lisbon, such as Pensão Amor , (that’s where I had the most expensive cocktail in Lisbon for €12 – whoops) where there is also a live performance usually. Also check out Bar do Cais for a wine tasting and try espumante : the sparkling wine of Portugal.
- Rooftop Culture: Lisbon is home to some of the greatest rooftop bars. There’s great music, friendly atmosphere and of course great views. I am a rooftop enthusiast so I have been to the best rooftop bars in Lisbon. My favorite by far is Park, followed by Topo , the rooftop bar at Hotel Mundial and Lost In for bohemian vibes!
- Nightclubs: After having your drinks in Bairro or Cais, you should definitely check out the club scene. Most people go clubbing between 1-2 am so don’t go too early! Some of the most popular clubs are K Urban Beach, Musicbox , Lust in Rio and of course Lux is the best.
Tips for Lisbon Nightlife:
- The most famous club in Lisbon is Lux which is mostly known for its electronic music. It also has various floors with different music. It’s important to dress well and remember; it has been visited by numerous Portuguese celebrities.
- Casa Independente: If you are looking for an alternative bar I recommend visiting this place that looks like a palace close to Intendente Metro Station ( Green Line)
- Avoid wearing high heels in Lisbon – I know heels are an important part in a girl’s wardrobe but the two pairs I have brought me with have never been worn! Instead, platforms or flatforms might work just fine.
Culture & Fado
Almost always something is going on in Lisbon, so keep an eye on any events and festivals. During the month of June each year, Lisbon turns into an exhilarated state of happiness. It’s the most celebrated festival of the city and is celebrated in the streets with colorful decorations. There is loud music, food & drink stands everywhere among the narrow streets of Alfama, Se, Graca, Bica, Bairro Alto and many others. The biggest night by far is the 12th to 13th of June when St. Anthony is celebrated.
Fado is an essential part of the Portuguese culture and a unique type of music. It can be melancholic and dramatic or have a happy tone. These days, fado is an experience offered to the tourists mostly; the equivalent to the flamenco shows in Spain. I would avoid the famous fado shows that can cost up to 50 euros with a mediocre dinner included.
As Lisbon is known as the city of the seven hills, there is almost everywhere a good miradouro ( that’s how you call a viewpoint in Portuguese). It is very typical for people in Lisbon to have a drink in the evening while relaxing at one of the many many miradouros and one of the most relaxing things to do. Everyone loves miradouros ; tourists, international people,students and locals. So a visit to Lisbon requires to visit at least one of them! Here are my favorite miradouros in the city:
- Miradouro de Santa Catarina: Really popular especially during sunset hours. Hundreds of people gather and even if it’s not very high, it’s the most popular miradouro.
- Miradouro das Portas do Sol: Located in the historic Alfama. Definitely the best sunrise views
- Gracia: Grab a drink and enjoy the magnificent views
- Miradouro de Santa Luzia: The most romantic miradouro
- Miradouro da Senhora do Monte: The highest miradouro in Lisbon – best views from above
Gardens & Parks
Something that not many people know when visiting Lisbon is that it has some stunning parks and gardens spread through the entire city. If you want to read more about the parks in Lisbon, check out this blog post! These are the main parks & gardens you can visit during your stay in Lisbon If you are looking for a natural place to relax, read a book or even exercise.
If you are staying in Lisbon for an extended period, don’t miss out on visiting some nearby cities and make the best of your stay. Sintra is the most beautiful place I have ever been to, and it’s only 40 minutes away from Rossio. Even If I had two days to spend in Lisbon, I would still definitely go to Sintra since it’s magical! I have already written a blog post with guidelines on how to make the best of your visit to Sintra!
Now that I have concluded the insider’s guide to Lisbon, I would like to thank all those who contributed to the creation of this practical guide and all the friends I made during my stay in Lisbon! If you are visiting Lisbon soon and have any questions, don’t hesitate to post a question below!
Where to Stay
- Lisbon is well connected so as long as you stay close to a metro station, you can’t be much wrong!
- My favorite location to stay short term in Lisbon is Baixa-Chiado.
- Avoid staying in Bairro Alto as it gets really noisy during the night.
Airbnb has grown to be one of the most popular travel websites in the world. It’s generally the cheapest option If you are planning to book a trip to Lisbon. (Here’s a €35 credit for your first stay!)
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