Portugal oozes beauty at the turn of a corner, but its real beauty, the haunting kind, comes from its soul.
The Portuguese people are some of the kindest I’ve come across in my travels. The food is created with attention and love. The language gives us soulful, not-quite-translatable words like, “saudade,” perhaps best described by writer Manuel de Melo as, “a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.” Even the tiles are storytellers.
Lisbon, Portugal’s capital city, is the heartbeat of the country. It’s also one of the oldest cities in the world, predating even Rome. You won’t get a true sense of that history though, thanks to the 1755 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that leveled most of the city.
What does remain, however, is a city of old souls who value tradition, art, and creativity and are putting those facets of life to use in modern ways.
So go to Lisbon. Get lost in the tiny, winding streets of Alfama. Stop and listen when you hear the heartbreaking sound of Fado music radiating from one of the cafes.
Eat fresh seafood. Sip on a bica (Portuguese espresso) in the park and watch the day begin its shuffle with a creamy pasteis de nata in hand.
Try ginjinha, a sweet cherry liqueur, from a kiosk or a lady selling it from her window. Cheers to the city with a glass of vinho verde as you look out over a sea of rooftops.
Wander inside the cathedrals and see how they’re works of art. Ogle the graffiti, the artful sermons on the street. Take a trip to the seaside and watch the waves crash into the rocky cliffs.
Before you go, scroll down to get my practical tips on where to sleep, eat, and visit in Lisbon.
Lisbon Guide and Travel Tips
Wear comfortable shoes | Lisbon is not the place to wear your 5” stilettos. The city is made up of seven hills and it’s rare that you’re not climbing up one of them.
Getting around is easy | Given that you’re comfortable with hills, the city is quite walkable, at least in the city center near Biaxa, Chiado, Alfama, Bairro Alto, and Principe Real districts. Otherwise, the metro system is cheap and reliable. Uber is also widely used and very affordable. Like many places around the world, the app is facing scrutiny from the local taxi drivers, but we had only great experiences using it.
Beware of pickpockets | They are everywhere, especially crowded tourist sights, trams, and metros. We witnessed a pickpocketing and subsequent chase right in front of us nearby the Santa Justa Elevator and heard many more tales of stolen goods.
Tip a little, not too much | At restaurants it’s ok to add 5%-10% on to your bill if the service was great. If you’re paying by card just ask the server to add on the additional amount. However, in general, tipping is not expected, even for taxis.
Be mindful of over-tourism | Lisbon is one of those cities that has blown up in popularity recently. And with that comes new struggles for some locals. That’s not to say you shouldn’t visit (you should!), just be conscious of renting an overpriced Airbnb in a neighborhood where locals can’t afford to live anymore (Alfama, is one). Or using public transportation (Tram 28, ahem) as your personal sightseeing tour. Walk the route instead. You’ll get to know the city better and may even stumble upon some hidden gems.
Wondering where to stay in Lisbon? Here are a few picks in the most central neighborhoods.
Hostel Petit Lusa
Memmo Principe Real
1908 Lisboa Hotel
Prefer Airbnb? (Use this link to get $40 off your first stay.)
You’ll find great, affordable espresso drinks at any bakery around town. If it’s a flat white or cold brew or any other third wave coffee drink you’re after, you’re in luck because Lisbon certainly has its fair share of hipster coffee shops too. Here are a few of the best coffee shops in Lisbon.
(Click to open as Google Maps pin, then save to your list of places or create a custom map)
Copenhagen Coffee Lab (multiple locations)
Fábrica Coffee Shop (multiple locations)
Eat + Drink
We enjoyed every meal we had in Lisbon, or anywhere we visited in Portugal for that matter. From quick bites to fine dining, here’s where to eat in Lisbon.
Pasteis de Belem for the famous original egg custard tarts called pasteis de nata. Skip the long line by getting table service instead.
Manteigaria is another popular spot to get pasteis de nata in the city center.
Landeau Chocolate specializes in seriously delicious chocolate cake. (multiple locations)
Duque Brewpub for local craft beers.
Winebar do Castelo local wine and food at the footsteps of the castle.
BA Wine Bar do Bairro Alto for wine in Lisbon’s party neighborhood.
Park Rooftop Bar for great views with your drinks.
Pizzeria Romana al Taglio for a quick slice of pizza with plenty of vegetarian and vegan options.
Graça 77 vegetarian food in a cool, residential part of town.
A Cevicheria for ceviche and drinks in a modern setting.
Agua Pela Barba for amazing fish tacos and good vegetarian options too.
Cervejaria Ramiro a popular seafood spot.
Das Flores authentic Portuguese pot cooking. Only open for lunch.
Bairro do Avillez the fine dining hotspot from famous Portuguese chef Jose Avillez.
Taberna Rua das Flores for typical Portuguese food.
Restaurante Alma a Michelin-starred spot in Chiado.
Sr. Lisboa for tasty tapas near Avenida da Liberdade
See, Shop, Do
The best thing to do in Lisbon (like most places, in my opinion) is wander. Here are a few things to look out for along the way.
Catch the view at a miradouro | You can get a bird’s eye view of the city at one of the many miradouros (lookout points) around the city. My favorite spot is Miradouro de Nossa Senhora do Monte located in the Graça neighborhood for its sweeping views and smaller crowds. Go for sunset.
Listen to fado | Fado is the traditional melancholic music of Portugal. We didn’t get a chance to visit, but we’ve heard great things about the dinner and fado performance at Sr. Fado. Or you can simply walk around Alfama at night and hear fado from the streets.
Discover the local wine and ginjinha | Portugal has great, affordable wine from multiple regions around the country. Vinho verde (green wine) is a popular, refreshing, slightly bubbly sip perfect for summer time. Try Port with your desserts or on its own before or after a meal. And lastly, don’t leave Lisbon without trying ginjinha, a sweet cherry liquor that you can find for 1 euro per shot at kiosks all over town.
Sample some sardines | Sardines are very popular all over Portugal. In Lisbon, you can find the salty snacks all over town decked out in cool, artistic tins that make a statement in and of themselves. Tip: they make great souvenirs!
Admire the azulejos | Portugal is famous for azulejos, the beautiful tiles that line buildings, streets, churches, and metro stations.
Buy better souvenirs | Shop locally made goods alongside cool, international brands at Entre Tanto or The Embaixada in Principe Real. For unique Portuguese gifts with a design focus, head to one of the A Vida Portuguesa outposts.