I’ve been to Portugal a couple times before, but I’ve only passed through Lisbon. So, I was thrilled last month when one of my best friends from California invited me to join her for a girl’s trip in the city! Lisbon is just a short flight away from Amsterdam, so I hopped on the plane for a long weekend of exploring Lisbon’s tiled houses, delicious food, and beautiful scenery. Lisbon has recently been gaining popularity on social media, and has also been attracting a lot of expats as a newly established hub for tech startups. It’s a great destination to add to any European itinerary, and can easily be explored in 3 days (though I recommend 4, so you can also add in a day trip to the beautiful town of Sintra). Read on for my Lisbon travel guide, which covers some of the best eats and activities that Lisbon has to offer…
Left to right from top: colorful buildings in Barrio Alto (first three photos), Praça do Município, Livraria Antiga do Carmo, wine at Portas do Sol, hanging laundry in Alfama.
At a glance…
Best time to visit – March through October, temps are warm or hot
Getting around – trams, trains and Uber
Currency – euros, most places take credit cards
Where to Stay
Lisbon’s most famous neighborhoods are Baixa (literally ‘downtown’) and Chiado (the shopping district). Barrio Alto and Alfama are both older parts of town, with steep streets and tiled buildings. The latter are picturesque but busy, as they attract crowds and nightlife. When considering where to stay, decide if you want a quieter part of town and if you don’t mind the hills in Barrio Alto or Alfama (pro: city views, con: uphill walks!).
The Independent – for a budget stay in an ultra-trendy space – one part hostel, other part suites, The Independent is truly unique and quirky. You’ll have a hard time finding another place in the city that’s both affordable and chic. If you’re looking for stylish accommodation on a budget, don’t hesitate!
Brown’s Central Hotel – for a straightforward stay with easy access to the city’s main sights – Brown’s is consistently rated highly by guests. It’s a sure crowd-pleaser: close to shops and restaurants, clean, modern, and affordable. Also check out: Brown’s Downtown hotel.
Hotel Vincci Baixa – for easy access to the old town at a reasonable price – I booked my Lisbon trip fairly last minute, so Vincci Baixa was one of the few hotels that had availability. Luckily, it turned out to be great! In terms of location, it doesn’t get much better – I was just steps away from Alfama old town, one of the most central walking streets of Lisbon (Rua da Prata), and around the corner from the water.
H10 Duque de Loulé – for a beautifully designed boutique hotel with a killer rooftop – check out H10 Duque if you want to have a memorable stay in the city. The rooftop alone is worth a visit, but you’ll be even happier making this chic hotel your home base to explore from.
Corpo Santo Historical Hotel – for 5-star treatment and a central location – whether you’re traveling as a couple, with friends, or as a family, Corpo Santo Lisbon is the perfect choice. Bonus: the ultra-comfy beds and daily afternoon wine hour. You won’t leave here without feeling pampered.
Santiago de Alfama – for the boutique hotel treatment and historic vibes – Santiago de Alfama feels a bit tucked away in the hills of the old town, which makes it feel even more like a gem. I stumbled upon this hotel when I made an appointment at their downstairs spa, which is a treat in itself. Since it’s perched high up, the views from the hotel and surrounding walking streets are unbeatable. Plus, you’ll feel accomplished from the uphill walk every time you return from a day exploring the city!
Dear Lisbon – a series of houses, each renovated with suites for the ultimate luxury experience – Dear Lisbon offers some of the most incredible options in the heart of the city. From their Palace Chiado property located in a former noble house; to their Gallery House art space turned hotel; to Charming House, a palatial home with a riad-style pool, you will dream of their luxurious villas for years to come.
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Where to Eat
Pastel de Natas are famous Portuguese pastries that can be found all over Lisbon, and not to be missed. Portuguese food consists of a lot of seafood dishes (think cod, shrimp and octopus), soups and stews, and hearty meat dishes. Meals are eaten slowly and savored starting later in the evening, and it’s pretty typical for restaurants not to open for dinner until after 7pm!
Dear Breakfast – if you’re looking for a photogenic brunch, look no further. I wish I could’ve walked out with the furniture and flatware at Dear Breakfast, but I managed to refrain myself. Don’t be shy with your order, you’ll want to try everything on the menu here.
The Decadente – We loved the atmosphere at this trendy restaurant located inside The Independent hotel. Note: you’re looking for local cuisine, fun surroundings, and great drinks, this will definitely fit the bill. If you want the meal of your life, go elsewhere. But at the very least, stop upstairs at their sister restaurant next door, The Insolito, for drinks and a panoramic view of Lisbon.
Time Out Market – a must when you visit Lisbon. This food hall is packed with a variety of restaurants serving fresh local cuisine. Bring friends so you can try a few different dishes. Also, don’t forget to grab some freshly baked Pastel de Nata pastries on your way out!
Pistola y Corazon – We were sad to have missed Pistola y Corazon during our time in Lisbon, as it was highly recommended to us by friends! This Mexican restaurant is known for having flavorful tacos and margheritas, making it a great place to grab drinks too. Take a lesson from us and arrive early; we saw the line out the door at 9pm and ended up scarfing down dinner at Time Out Market instead.
Comoba Lisboa – we stumbled on this airy breakfast & brunch café a few blocks from our hotel, and it had just opened. The staff and owner are unfailingly friendly, and everything they dish up is fresh, unique, and super tasty. They even make their own almond milk in house. Don’t miss their chai latte!
Pasteis de Belem – you can’t visit Lisbon without having their famous Pastel de Nata pastries – made properly, these mouthwatering treats have a flaky outside and melt-in-your-mouth custard inside. The original Pastel de Nata pastries came from Pasteis de Belem and they supposedly still make the best in town. (So you’re pretty much obligated to determine for yourself if it’s true.)
A Cevicheria – another spot that’s constantly packed – but worth the wait. Go here for the ceviche, or splurge on their tasting menu. Don’t worry, there’s tables outside to sip cocktails while you wait to feast.
Where to Drink
Portas Do Sol – probably the best spot in town to watch the sunset with a drink in hand. Order a bottle of wine and kick back while you watch the light fade over the orange rooftops. Afterwards, head to dinner!
Pensao Amor – this bar is set in an old-style building that used to be a brothel, and the decor is an ode to its crazy history. The interior decor features pops of red and vintage posters of burlesque dancers. Definitely an experience.
Le Consulat – inside this hotel you’ll find a whiskey and cocktail bar, winehouse, and upstairs terrace serving drinks in the summer. If you want options, this is the spot to go!
What to Do
Explore Barrio Alto & Alfama – both are older parts of the city with plenty of tiled houses and colorful streets. Don’t miss either of these neighborhoods for their tucked away cafés, shops, and endless photo opps! One of the most famous photo spots in Lisbon is an old-school tram in Barrio Alto – here’s a google maps pin for the famous Bica Lift tram photo spot.
Pamper yourself – Lisbon is definitely a walking city, so there’s no shame in pampering yourself after a couple days of walking. Book a massage at a local hotel – I recommend The Beauty Bar located inside Hotel Santiago de Alfama.
Go shopping – if you’re looking for high-end shopping, hit Avenida Liberdade; for small boutiques: Barrio Alto, Embaixada and Praça do Principe Real. I loved shopping at Mini by Luna for gifts and some beautiful pieces to add to my wardrobe.
Go bar-hopping – the nightlife scene in Lisbon is definitely worth experiencing. Besides those listed above, you can also explore Barrio Alto, Cais do Sodré and the Largo de Santos area for bars and clubs.
Go on a day trip to Sintra – this picturesque town in Portugal is definitely having a moment, and for good reason. Sintra is a short train ride from the center of Lisbon, and numerous castles on hilltops await here. It’s the perfect day trip. Click here for my guide to visiting Sintra castles.
More Things to do in Lisbon
I wish I had known about the Lisbon card before our trip – it provides free entrance to 23 museums and doubles as an unlimited ticket for public transport. I also included a recommended trip to Sintra (the castle town, as mentioned above!) with a stopover in Cascais (another beautiful town in Portugal). And a sunset sailboat trip along the coast, because…why wouldn’t you? It pays to plan ahead since Lisbon has gotten such an influx of tourism recently!
My top 3 favorite Lisbon photo spots