Lisbon City Guide
Portugal has been on our bucket list for many years now, and when we saw a airfare deal for this summer, we had to book tickets!
We chose to start our adventure in Lisbon which is the coastal capital city of Portugal. With it's narrow colorful streets, delicious pastries, fantastic wine, and friendly locals it's no wonder that Lisbon is one of Europe's hottest destinations right now. We loved wandering around and getting lost in it’s many narrow, meandering streets. Come with a curious eye and open heart - Lisbon will reward you!
Read on for some of our favorite spots and experiences - we hope you love Lisbon as much as we did!
Lisbon is a walkers dream with all it’s quaint streets and wonderful architecture around every corner. The city itself has many hills though, so be prepared to hike uphill/downhill to burn off all those calories from the amazing pastries you’ll be eating! (more on those pastries later!)
You can also opt to take the trams around town - which consist of either the historic “Remodelado” trams or the modern Siemens “Articulado” trams.
The Remodelado trams are the quaint yellow trams that rattle and screech through the narrow streets of Lisbon - of which the most scenic route is the E28, which crosses the Alfama district.
The Articulado trams have a higher passenger capacity but are confined to the flat sections of the city and only operate along the E15 route, which connects central Lisbon to the Belem district. So if you’re looking to get to Belem, the E15 tram is a good option.
A 24 hour public transport pass is €6.30 and includes all trams, metro and buses in Lisbon. The only way to get this is through the Viva Viagem reusable card, which costs €0.50 for the initial purchase of the card and can be bought from metro stations in town. This is a much better deal than the €2.90 per tram ride cost and recommended if you’re going to be doing public transport.
Tip: An even better plan is to get the Lisboa card. For €19, you get 1 day unlimited access to public transport (including Sintra) and free entrance to all the major spots like Belem Tower, Jeronimos, etc.. You can buy 2 or 3 day passes as well.
Uber also works very well in Lisbon - if you’re in a group of 2 or more, it might be more worthwhile to take Uber since it drops you off right where you want to go.
best Photo spots
Granted UNESCO status in 1983 - Belem Tower is one of the most striking icons of Lisbon. It was originally planned to be a lighthouse, but due to it’s strategic position it was eventually built as a defensive fortress in the early 16th century. It’s one of the 7 wonders of Lisbon and receives over 500,000 visitors per year. So get there early before it opens if you want it alone like the picture below.
Located near Belem Tower, the Jeronimos Monastery is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was built in celebration of all the successful Portuguese voyages around the world. Construction started in 1500 and was completed 100 years later! King Manuel I selected the Hieronymite monks to occupy the monastery, whose role was to provide spiritual assistance to sailors who departed from the port. They diligently performed this role for over 400 years until 1833.
Inside you’ll find the tomb of Vasco da Gama and the famous double-tier cloister area. In fact, when Portugal joined the European Economic Community - the formal ceremony was held in the cloister.
If you want to get in and have a moment to yourself before the crowds fill the place - make sure to get in line 30-40 minutes before open. Like most places in Lisbon, everything opens quite late - in this case 10 am. So get there at 9:30 am - there will most likely already be a line!
Tip: If you have the Lisboa Card - this will allow you to skip the line and go right in at open. Also, Jeronimos Monastery is closed on Mondays.
National Azulejo Museum
One of the reasons many people come to Portugal is for the gorgeous tile work or azulejo on display all over the country. The world azulejo is derived from the Arabic word az-zulayj (polished stone) from the time the Moors occupied Lisbon and large parts of Portugal from 711 to 1179. While the rest of Europe was interested in frescos, oil paintings, and sculptures - Portuguese artists were more interested in becoming masters in the art of azulejo. The golden age of azulejo art (16th to 18th century) came during Portugal’s colonial expansion. Through the enormous wealth being created from China, Brazil, Goa, and the East Indies - the rich commissioned palaces, churches, and monasteries to be built and covered with beautiful tile scenic art.
The museum here houses over 500 years of some of the best tile art made. You’ll see how the colors of the tiles changed over the years. In the 17th century - green, yellow, blue and white were popular due to Italian influence. 100 years later - blue and white became popular due to the craze of the Chinese porcelain. Red didn’t become in vogue until the 19th century due to the technical difficulty of the high temperature.
For some reason, this museum hasn’t quite been included on the typical tourist must do list - so you’ll mostly have the whole place to yourself. There is also beautiful cafeteria on the ground floor with lovely tile work throughout.
Take a picture with the famous yellow tram or funiculars
The “lifts or elevators” in Lisbon are also called funiculars. They help both locals and tourists navigate the steep and long slopes you see all over Lisbon.
The two most popular lifts are the Elevador da Gloria and the Elevador da Bica. The one we preferred for taking that iconic shot is the Elevador da Bica since it only travels up and down one street a short distance. As always, get there early morning if you want to get a shot with the tram alone.
The tram parks on the corner of Largo Calhariz and R. da Bica de Duarte Belo until it fills up and then goes back down.
Rooftop of Verride Palácio Santa Catarina
If you like grand city views - the Verride Palácio Santa Catarina has you covered with it’s rooftop bar that has 360 degree views of Lisbon. Enjoy a refreshing drink and witness a beautiful sunset at this laid back, and at least for now, hidden spot.
The Most Beautiful Canned Fish Store I've ever seen
Hands down - whoever created the concept for the O Mundo Fantástico da Sardinha Portuguesa (The Fantastic World of Portuguese Sardines) store is a genius. The Willy Wonka inspired wonderland is a true sensory overload and a smart way to sell canned fish as souvenirs! Kudos!
Explore the charm of Alfama
Alfama is the oldest district in Lisbon and the only one that survived the 1755 earthquake - so you get to really see how it looked back in the day. The name Alfama comes from the arabic word ‘al-hamma’, which refers to baths and fountains. In the 19th century, the Alfama water was famed for it’s medicinal mineral quality. Fado, the famous traditional Portuguese music, was born in Alfama - so you’ll probably hear the music streaming out of random restaurants and cafes.
We loved just wandering around and getting lost in all the lost-in-time alleyways and corridors.
Where To Stay
This former family palace used to belong to the noble Belmonte family and has its origins traced as far back as 1449. There are also Roman towers dating back to 130 BC and Moorish towers from the 7th century on site here. Ideally located in Alfama next the Castelo de Sao Jorge - some of the views from the tower rooms are spectacular. There are spectacular original Portuguese tile artwork pieces all over the property, some dating back to the 1700’s. If you’re looking for something different, where you’ll feel like you’re the only one in this massive property - give Palacio Belmonte a look.
This was one of our favorite places to hang in the afternoons, as music streamed in from the street artists playing below.
Located in Lisbon’s hipster Chiado neighborhood - this remodeled beauty has one of the best pools in the city and beautiful blue and white Azulejo tiles in some of the suites. It used to be the home of a Portuguese count and after many different owners - the Dutch owners worked with well known architect Teresa Nones da Ponte and designer Andrew Previ to transform it into the jewel it is today.
The queen’s suite is especially stunning with it’s extensive tiles, ceiling crown work, silk wall panels, and stunning bathtub.
Book a room at Verride Palacio Santa Catarina here.
Located just off the central Avenida Libertade - this edgy hotel had a modern feel to it compared to the other hotels in Lisbon. All the rooms had slatted windows with modern glass walled showers along with having a sustainability policy. We loved how there were always giant jars filled with delicious gummy treats in the lobby for the taking. The service was also top notch - the concierge and front desk were always there to help with a giant smile!
Where To Eat
Portugal is famous for it’s egg based pastries and oh boy did we partake in those! The most famous type are the Pastel de Nata - which were invented by monks in the 18th century at the Jerónimos Monastery in Belem. At the time, egg whites were used to starch the nun’s white habit tops leaving a large amount of egg yolks. The resourceful monks decided to use the extra egg yolks to create these delicious custard tarts!
Here are some of our favorite spots in Lisbon for these delicious egg tarts!
Best Pastel De Nata: Fabrica de Nata
If you research the internet for the best Pastel de Nata in Lisbon, the 3 most popular spots are: Fabrica de Nata, Pasteis de Belem, or Manteigaria .
We tried all three places and after much consideration - our favorite spot was Fabrica de Nata (which also has a shop in Porto). Their egg tarts were always fresh, soft, and creamy with the perfectly flaky dough having a small pinch of salt in them giving it a perfect contrast with the sweet custard.
Best overall pastries: Chiado Caffee (Rua do Loreto 61)
We were reluctant to try Chiado Caffee as it was only few steps away from the famous yellow tram stop in Chiado and was sure it was going to be some kind of tourist trap. Boy, were we wrong about that! Every single pastry we ordered was outstanding, fresh, and full of eggy yumminess! There were also a decent number of locals in there!
For some fantastic ceviche as well as other dishes from Peru and South America - make sure to check out A Cevicheria. The crazy octopus looming over you on top is enough to go!
Time Out Market Lisbon
A couple years back, Time Out transformed one of the city’s oldest market into a beautiful light-filled foodie court. Since then, some of the best chefs and restaurants have spent time operating stalls here to the delight of locals and tourists alike. Let your eyes and nose guide you when you’re there - but if you want some recommendations we loved the seafood at Sea Me, the interesting croquettes at Croqueteria, the pastel da nata at Manteigaria, and the inventive food of Alexandre Silva.
Piri-Piri Chicken at A Valenciana
Make the trek out to A Valenciana for their juicy, charcoal grilled Piri-Piri chicken. The skin is so crispy and bursting with flavor. Make sure to pair with their excellent fries!
Copenhagen Coffee Lab
Being from San Francisco, a coffee town, I always try to find the specialty coffee shops when I travel. At Copenhagen Coffee Lab they’ve got a wide variety of light, medium, and dark roasted coffees. They’ll also make it via V60, Aeropress, French Press, or Espresso.
SINTRA DAY TRIP
Sintra is home to some marvelous palaces. It’s an easy train ride from Lisbon and totally worth spending a night if you have the time. There was a heat wave in Lisbon and Sintra when we visited, so we were only able to see Pena Palace.