I LOVE LISBON. I cannot say it enough. I cannot wait to go back to Portugal and spend more time just hanging out in Lisbon, eating all of the bacalhau I can eat and listening to fado late into the night.
When we were planning our trip to Lisbon, we didn’t have a lot of “must see” or “must do” activities. Everyone we spoke to told us to just wander around the city and enjoy it, there was nothing we really HAD to do. I love this kind of itinerary – when you don’t have to pre-plan museum visits or buy tickets or stand in long lines or wade through crowded tourist groups. We were just going to enjoy the city and take it all in. And because Lisbon is rather small, you can see a lot in just a few days.
Getting There: We flew in from Marrakech which is a short flight and it’s easy to do a combined Morocco/Portugal trip. It is very quick to get from the airport to the city center of Lisbon via taxi. Tip: Go to Departures area at airport and get a taxi there. It’s much less busy than Arrivals door and there are a ton of taxis waiting around.
Where to Stay: We stayed in Baixa which is central part of Lisbon. This neighborhood was perfect because we were close to many sights and restaurants, as well as to the train stations. It’s a bit touristy in this area due to its proximity to some major sights, but that’s the only real downside. Other neighborhoods that are worth checking out: Rossio, Chiado, Barrio Alto, and Alfama.
We stayed at Baixa House which is a collection of rental apartments. We loved it here. We wanted to move in! Each morning we had fresh bread delivered, and everyday the fridge was restocked with breakfast food and other goodies (yogurt, fruit, juice, cheese, ham, cake). Our apartment had two bedrooms, a nice kitchen, bath, and a spacious living area. There was also a washer/dryer which was key since we were in the middle of our trip and needed some clean clothes! There was also a guest book with some tips and recommendations for other travelers and we found this very useful. Of course we also left our own recommendations before we departed!
Things to Do:
Since wandering is the best way to explore Lisbon, it’s helpful to take a walking tour to get your bearings and become a bit more familiar with the city.
- Chill Out tour – This was a recommended walking tour though we didn’t end up checking it out. A good way to get sense of neighborhoods like Alfama, Baixa, Chiado and Barrio Alto. Suggested for beginning of your trip.
- Eat Portugal food tour– I cannot say enough good things about this tour! Best way to learn about culture and language is through food! It’s a perfect way to do a walking tour, while eating and drinking and meeting cool people. Definitely the best thing we did in Lisbon. The tour is a small group (8 people, tour lasts about 4.5 hours). To reserve, email Celia at firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve. Cost 85 euro per person.
On the food tour we visited:
#1 Portugal Wine Room (where we tried different kinds of port) in Baixa
#2 Sour cherry brandy at a kiosk in the Praca de Comercia, served in a plastic or a chocolate cup (obviously you should have it in the chocolate cup!)
#3 Loja das Conservas, a shop selling tinned fish where we tried it prepared a few different ways (and then we all made plans to come back to the shop later to buy more!)
#4 Fabulas in Chiado, sat outside in a lovely back patio and enjoyed a variety of dishes while learning all about Portugal from our hosts. Had vinho verde to drink, and enjoyed olives, tapenade, cheese, pumpkin jam, bacalhau w chickpeas, octopus salad, shrimp, and bacalhau a bras (serious comfort food)
#5 By The Wine, really cool wine bar/restaurant. Drank rose and red, dined on steak sandwiches (delicious)
#6 Manteigaria in Barrio Alto where we watched the custards being made and enjoyed a fresh pastel de nata as soon as it was ready (Also, the best pastel de nata is found here, in my opinion)
- We did the Yellow Bus tour (Tagus tour) and it was actually pretty great. We did this our first day and was a good way to see a lot of the city in a short amount of time. Especially recommend if you want to visit Belem which is a bit further from city center. The bus allows you to hop on and off whenever you want so we were able to explore the Parque Edouard VIII as well as sights in Belem like the Torre de Belem and the monastery. Frankly, I dont think you need to go into any of these places, but rather just walk around and enjoy from the outside. Also in Belem is the famous bakery Pasteis de Belem which sells the pastel de nata (custard tarts) that are huge in Portugal. There will likely be a line here as it is very popular. We tried a tart here here and one at Manteigaria in Barrio Alto. I preferred the latter and that shop is really small, not super crowded! Regardless of which bakery you visit, you must try these while in Lisbon.
- Yellow boat tour – Don’t do a yellow boat tour. Lame.
- Take the famous Tram 28 around town. It’s a charming (and inexpensive) way to see Lisbon and can take you up many of the steep hills if you don’t want to walk. Tip: Watch out for pickpockets, especially in very touristy areas. I got pickpocketed outside our rental apartment building when we arrived and luckily noticed and snatched my wallet back. I felt safe in Lisbon generally, but you have to be careful in certain areas. The tram and Rua Augusta are popular with pickpockets.
- Visit the castle of Sao Jorge at the top of Lisbon. Go late in the evening for gorgeous views of the city and no crowd. Also it’s a bit of hike uphill to get there. There’s an elevator on Rua da Fanqueiros near the Portugal Wine Room which will take you up a few streets. Then walk across the street and you will see another elevator to the castle (it’s near a grocery store). These elevators will save your life!
- Fado – It would be a shame to not experience fado while in Lisbon. To me, it’s like the blues music of Lisbon and it is taken very seriously. Most fado happens in Alfama, where there are many cafes and restaurants with fado performed nightly. We went to Mesa de Frades in Alfama for dinner and fado the night we arrived. The dinner was 45 euro with multiple drink refills included and we had a table for the fado performances. We had a 9:30 dinner reservation, fado started around 11:30 and went until about 2:30am. You have to make a reservation at Mesa de Frades, it’s very small and gets packed quickly. But it is also beautiful and romantic and totally worth getting a table so you can see fado there. Bela was also recommended, and it’s across from Mesa de Frades. More of a low key appetizers and drinks place with local singers. For more about fado, see here and listen here
Food & Drink:
- FISH: Do try some tinned fish! Do eat sardines. And you won’t be able to escape codfish! But it’s so good!! Especially Bacalhau A Bras – dish made with potatoes and eggs (ultimate comfort food).
- Pastel de nata (custard tarts) – Pasteis de Belem or Manteigaria in Barrio Alto (or one of their other locations). Try them both and see which you like better. My vote is for Manteigaria!
- There’s also a steak sandwich that is popular and very good.
- Restaurants to check out: Sea Me (FRESH seafood and sushi dishes), Fabulas (delicious seafood/Portuguese dishes), Pateo 13 (outdoor grill restaurant, really cool atmosphere with picnic tables on the street and very cheap too), and Esperanca Se (Italian food, mostly pizzas and pasta. Located in the Se which has many little cafes, good place for lunch near the cathedral.)
- Park – Bar set on top of a parking structure, nice views. Not very expensive for cocktails (5-6 euro). Trendy, young crowd.
- Barrio Alto is the nightlife area – people spill onto the streets from all of the nearby bars and restaurants
- More recos on places to eat, drink, and hang out here