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 insiders guide to Lisbon will prepare you for the hipster capital of Europe like 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. Since I was working for a Tour Agency in Lisbon as an Online Marketing Trainee, a very big part of my responsibilities including Lisbon related content. Lisbon is one of these cities that keep surprising you ; there’s always something going on. I owe a very big 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. Mostly 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 really beautiful 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 definitely Saldanha. It’s only a 10 minute metro ride away from the centre and has two metro connections. The one has direct connection to the airport. It has beautiful parks, 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 is 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 usually it’s really 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 fairly cheap in Portugal and really 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 -The tourist traps
Lisbon is one of the most popular destinations for traveling and sooo there are many tourist traps around the city. The first time I visited Lisbon, I claim to be a really stupid tourist and fell into every damn trap. Literally, we were reading the lonely planet and following the advice offered by the book. After living in the city, I am now able to tell the tourist traps apart and so I am letting you know everything I learned during my stay.
The Fado Houses
So fado is of course really important in the portuguese culture -not denying it. But spending €50-60 on a fado performance while dining at a mediocre to bad restaurant – that’s crazy!
2. The Trams
No doubt that tram 28 is the cutest tram ever! But, there is this huge 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 busier and not over-crowded. Sometimes, people wait as much as one hour to get into the tram – no kidding! Another tourist trap, is paying in the tram which costs triple as much as getting the regular zapping card in the metro station which works everywhere.
3. Elevador Santa Justa
There is a huge queue of tourists waiting for the gothic elevator. I get it – it looks cool. But 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 really want to use the elevator you can actually use the zapping metro card and pay less than €1.20 for the ride instead of paying on the spot.
4. Elevador da Gloria
As the 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 sooo long and I couldn’t bother waiting. Being completely honest with you, I fell into this tourist trap on my first visit in Lisbon and still don’t understand why would anyone pay so much for a ride. If you have the metro pass and you “happen” to be around the area, go for it. But for me, it is definitely one of the biggest scams in Portugal!
After having a talk with some people, I heard about some crazy stories about taxi drivers overcharging. And that is something that 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 really sell hashish but compressed bay leaves so police technically arrest them. Avoid any guys approaching you in the street and definitely 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 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 major staircase.
Best things to see – 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, this emblematic square has traditionally painted buildings lining the three sides and a statue of King Jose positioned in the centre. 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 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 interesting 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 really beautiful park really close to Marques de Pombal. Stunning views of Lisbon and 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. You need 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 they are accompanied by friends and family.
- 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 whilst dinner is generally lighter
Food Scene in Lisbon
Portuguese Cuisine is really important 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 the 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 definitely a place for you.
A very important 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.
Everyone loves pastel de nata in Lisbon and they can’t be wrong about it 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 definitely Pasteis de Belem. Some would argue that pasteis de Belem are 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 reallyy sweet tooth, try Fabrica da Nata even If they are not really my favorite.
One thing I absolutely 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 night. The Erasmus Corner is filled with international students and visitors from every country. Generally, this area has some really 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 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 really bad reputation. A few years ago, this street had been transformed into the Street you see today. It has some of the most posh 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 testing and try espumante : the sparkling wine of Portugal.
- Rooftop Culture: Lisbon is home to some of the greatest rooftop bars. There’s great music, nice atmosphere and of course great views. I am 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 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 there is something 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 greatest 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 a really important part of the portuguese culture and a very unique type of music. It can be melancholic and dramatic or have a really 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 popular fado shows that can cost up to 50 euros with a mediocre dinner included. Discover Lisbon has a really decent fado tour for only 22 euros/20 euros for students that includes appetizers and drinks.
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 at 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 really beautiful 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 of time, 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 make the best of your visit in Sintra!
Also, I have prepared a blog post with 9 daytrips from Lisbon If you are looking for more choices!
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 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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