My landing at Lisbon Airport will be etched in my mind forever. Landing just as the heavy sun was setting, the plane swooping low over the city and with stretching views of miles of sandy beaches and clear blue sea, I felt a surge of excitement about my forthcoming stay in a new city.
Having strolled through arrivals I was collected by my friend Peter and we took a bus to the centre, where we met his cousin Lourenzou. Darkness had fallen by the time I started my first walk around the city. Lisbon looked beautiful – the steep, narrow cobbled roads of the Bairro Alto district a huge contrast to the wide tree-lined avenues and impressive well-lit buildings of the Baixa area. Unfortunately the two charming boys I was with, despite their apparent familiarity of the city, had limited detailed knowledge of city sights. Their guided tour consisted of, ‘This is a nice fountain’, ‘This is an old church’ and ‘This is a quite a famous park’. And I thought I hadn’t needed a guide book…
We met some Portugese friends of Lourenzo’s at a small ‘tasca’ – a word used for an informal, simple, cheap eatery with a good range of alcohol available. A popular place for people of all ages to meet. This one had strobe lighting but charming staff and I had delicious spinach soup and a litre of wine (shared) all for €7.
Half a litre of wine later, confidence levels up, I stated boldly that I wasn’t a fan of Christiano Ronaldo (I was probably slightly more verbal about it). It was met with a painful silence and I shrunk a little in my chair. Turned out, probably unsurprisingly, that everyone there was a huge fan of his and, in addition, one of the boys piped up that he was in fact Christiano’s (pronounced Christianu Ronaldu) cousin. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t, but with a build like he had I wasn’t going to put up a fight. Later, I spoke to one of the boys from dinner who had apparently played football with Christiano when he was younger. He dismissed all my claims of Christiano’s arrogance and told me he was a really great guy, who ‘loved every one’ but was and will always be ‘just a big kid’. Right… Looking back I was probably just seen as an incredibly gullible foreigner and they had all taken me for a ride.
After that night I wisely tended to steer clear of expressing my views about Ronaldo, though found out that there were a lot more Portugese who are huge fans of Jose Mourinho (of which I am much more inclined to agree, probably due to my Chelsea bias) and are not so bothered by Ronaldo. I, for one, have not changed my opinion about the Real Madrid player.
Luckily for me, Lisbon and my consequent travels to Sintra and Saixo had much more to offer than famous footballers. In my opinion Lisbon is massively under-rated or perhaps simply not known enough about. I find people often surprised when I suggest a weekend break to Lisbon but easily persuaded to go after a brief description of what the city has to offer. When I think of Portugal I think of the lovely, generous people, the stunning old architecture, the laid back nature and the strong air of tradition ingrained in Portugal’s pervading culture. I cannot recommend it enough.
Fly to Lisbon
Best airlines to take from London to Lisbon are:
Cheapest flights are usually Easyjet, though TAP Portugal sometimes has some good deals. British Airways are the most expensive but of course the most comfortable.
Prices are from £70 return. Book early to keep the prices down.
Tip: The landing at Lisbon airport was perhaps one of the most beautiful landings I have had. The airport is very close to the city centre so you fly right across the city, and can therefore admire the aerial view, including stunning shots of the beaches and the sea as you land.
From Lisbon Airport to city centre
Ideally located right by the city centre, travel into the centre is super easy and takes no time at all.
Number 44, 745, or 83 will pick you up from Arrivals and go past the major avenues uptown and end up in the old city center.
Journey time: 20 mins
Note: Large baggage won’t be allowed on, so this is only for those travelling lightly.
If you have quite a lot of luggage it may be better to take the AeroBus/Shuttle. Tickets can be bought on board. Buses come every 20 mins.
This shuttle stops at convenient places like Entrecampos, Avenida da Republica, Avenida da Libertade, Rosso and Praca do Comercio.
They’ll be waiting outside the airport. Trips to the city centre cost between €10-15. Pretty good going.
Tip: Make sure the metre is running when you get in. They add may extra for luggage.
Tip: Taxis are cheap in Lisbon.
Transport in Lisbon
Train station Sintra
Lisbon is ideal to walk around. There is very little need to use public transport unless you travel to Belem or make trips to the beaches at Cascais, Estoril etc or fancy a day trip to Sintra. In that case this is useful to know:
Rossio Station: Lisbon’s most central station, take the train to Sintra from here
Cais do Sodre: for trains to Cascais, Estoril and the tram to Belem (number 15) passes here
Oriente Station: the main station. Lots of trains pass through here.
If you do not want to walk there are plenty of buses and trams (known as ‘electrico’) around, run by Carris. The easiest way to pay for this is through buying a rechargeable card ’7 Colinas’ (Viva Viagem) card. It will cost €0.50 and then you charge money onto this called by ‘zapping’ at stations, bus/tram stops or kiosks.
Tip: If you get the Lisboa card, public transport is free (see ‘SEE’)
Lisbon Poets Hostel €
Rua Nova da Trindade, nr.2
5th Floor, Chiado
Prices: Mixed dorms: 18/22 euros. Private Rooms: 50/60 euros
Lisbon is known for its exceptional hostels. Lisbon Poets Hostel is one of the best. It’s great if you
want to meet other travellers and stay in a clean, comfortable, fun place. Its modern, the staff are
very helpful and friendly and it’s very centrally located. And the great thing is they now have private rooms so you can meet new people and still have some privacy.
Oasis Lisboa €
Rua de Santa Catarina, 24 1200-402 Lisbon
Tel: +351 213 478 044
Prices: €25 double room (shared bathroom)
Again don’t be put off by the word ‘hostel’. This one is pretty exceptional and has private rooms, which are very good value for money. If you can, go for “Colleen” room, it had a small terrace with views of the city. Oasis Lisbon has a lovely bar and terrace, which makes it a great place to have a drink (their mojitos or morangoskas are pretty good).
Pensao Royal (the Royal Guest House) € – CT recommends
Rua do Crucifixo N.50 3º Andar
Tel: (+351) 213 479 006
Price: €40 – €60 Double room
Pensao Royal has indeed a royal location, situated in the Baixa area, very close to the Alfama district and many other sights. Breakfast is included – and the brother and sister duo who run the place always make sure the breakfasts are huge and delicious. They will really look after you and give you plenty of city tips. The rooms are in bright colours of red, pink or blue. There is free wireless internet.
Warning: you’ll have to climb a number of flights of stairs to get there. Don’t go by first impressions as from the outside it doesnt look like much.
Lisbon Dreams Guest House €
Rua Rodrigo da Fonseca 29, 1250-189, Lisbon, Portugal
+351 21 387 23 93
Price: from €38 euros for a double
This small, artsy guesthouse is exceptionally well-priced and centrally located close to Avenida
Liberdade. Bathrooms are shared but maximum 5 guests to a bathroom and brand new modern
bathrooms have recently been put in. Towels, bathrobes and slippers provided. Wifi free of
charge. Breakfast is included.
York House Hotel €€€
Rua das Janelas, Verder, 32, 1200-691
Price: From €60 – €250. Average: €110 for a double room.
A 10 minute walk from downtown Lisbon (though plenty of buses run), this historical boutique hotel
is perhaps a little pricier than City Turtle’s usual mid-budget recommendations, but it is good value
for money. This old converted convent has 32 rooms: choose between the Classical, Designer or
Superior rooms, each with its own charm and style. There is a peaceful courtyard where you can
have breakfast and relax and the area is very un-touristy. People have complained about the uneven
stairs and the lack of a lift but if these things don’t bother you and you want a ‘different’ experience,
York House Hotel is the place for you.
Opened April 2011 and is especially good for longer term stays.
There are 19 apartments, designed by local artists and designers.
Prices start at €35 per person per night.
Nice way Palace
Rua Sotto Mayor, 22, Sintra 2710-628
Recently opened, this beautiful old building offers large dorm room for those on a tight budget but also comfortable double ensuite rooms for €50 per room per night, breakfast included. A self-catering option is available as well, since there is a communal kitchen.
Travel: Take Tram 15
Lisbon’s most historic area and worth spending at least a day or half a day if short for time.
Journey time: 15 mins from centre of Lisbon along the river.
Key sights include:
*Tower of Belem
Avenida da India
Open: 10am-6pm (Oct.-April), 10am-6:30pm (May-Sept.), Closed Mondays
Entrance fee: €4
This tower, built in 1515, was a starting point for many of the voyages of discovery and served also as a fortress to guard the entrance to Lisbon’s harbour. It’s impressive, standing tall on the river and definitely worth a visit.
*Padrao Dos Descrimentos
Built in 1940, this monument symbolises the celebration of Portugese maritime discoveries around the world. Next to it you’ll find a huge marble map of the world on the ground, showing you which countries the Portugese discovered. It is well done, with nice detail.
Praca do Imperio
Open: 10am-5pm (Oct.-April), 10am-6pm (May-Sept.) (Closed Mondays)
UNESCO World Heritage Gothic Monastery – absolutely beautiful and a must-see. A symbol of Portugese power and wealth during the Age of Discovery.
Igreja de Sao Roque – off the beaten track
Largo Trindade Coelho, Bairro Alto, 1200, Lisbon
A lovely ruined 16th Century Jesuit church with views over the city. It is off a cute little square, just next to the Bairro Alto. A hidden gem.
The Baixa area
Known as downtown Lisbon, this area was completely rebuilt after the Great Earthquake of 1755, and
the result is beautiful. Stroll down the wide avenues, while admiring the neoclassical buildings and sit
on one of the squares while sipping a coffee at one of Lisbon’s typical Cafes.
- Comercio Square – this huge waterside square is also known as the Palace Square. This is where the palace was before it was ruined in the earthquake.
- Rossio Square – this is one of the most lively squares in the city, filled with cafes and two beautiful baroque fountains.
- Santa Justa Elevator (Elevator of Carmo) – a landmark of the city. This strange elevator, which connects the Baixa (lowest area of the city) to the Bairro Alto (highest area) was built by an apprentice of Gustave Eiffel who built the Eiffel Tower, hence the slight similarities.
The windy streets of the Alfama
The Alfama area
This is known by most as the medieval area, and since it survived the earthquake of 1755, much is still in tact. Wander through the narrow alleyways, admire the breathtaking views, enjoy the tiny squares and their churches and take in the white-washed houses. Perhaps the best way to get to know the Alfama area is just to lose yourself in the myriad of streets and just drift. It’s even more wonderful because it is never overrun by tourists. If you’re lucky you’ll hear the popular and traditional ‘Fado’ music pouring from little taverns, for the Alfama area is where the Fado singers got their inspiration.
Key sight is, of course:
Castello de Sao Jorge (the Castle)
The castle can be seen from most places in Lisbon, so your climb up the hill to the castle will be more than worthwhile considering the views of the city. Watch the peacocks and the ducks in the gardens. On your way up I also recommend to go into the Se Cathedral.
TIP: Lisbon Card
May be worth while if you are staying in the city for a short while and want to see as much as possible.
24 hours Lisboa Card: 17 euros
48 hours Lisboa Card: 27 euros
72 hours Lisboa Card: 33.50 euros
Offers free or discounted entrance to more than 80 of Lisbon sights, tours and museums.
All bus, metro and tram travel is free, as are the ‘Elevadores’ (elevators), including the Elevador de
Click here to see what you get and buy the card online:
What’s so wonderful about Lisbon is that it’s a city where you can do culture, have fun and chill out on the beach or go surfing all in one long weekend (or obviously stay longer and take your time).
While most people wouldn’t think of Lisbon as a beach destination, it actually offers a wide range of beaches – for surfers, for sun-worshippers, for those who want to dance on the beach and for those who want to escape the crowds.
Lisbon truly has it all, and it won’t cost much as return trips to these beaches won’t cost you more than €10.
Some of the best beaches:
A beautiful beach, but not ideal for sunbathers. The waves and the wind here however, make it a fantastic place to wind-surf and surf.
Get there: train from Cais do Sodre station
The beach is lovely here, however you should also come here to walk around the charming up-market town, with lovely winding roads, pretty boutique shops and tiled houses.
*CANNOT LEAVE without trying the best ice cream ever: Santini (Valbom, 28, Cascais)
There is another Santini in Lisbon (Rua do Carmo, 9, Lisbon), but this is the original.
TAMARIZ (Estoril) -
Get there: train from Cais do Sodre station, get off at Estoril
Journey: 30 mins
Conveniently located close to Lisbon, the beach is filled with locals and tourists a like in the summer months. It has a mildly sophisticated feel and Estoril’s famous casino is nearby. During the summer months it also turns into a summer club at night, so come here to dance the night away.
Closest beach to Lisbon, you’ll be here in 15 mins from Cais do Sodre station. Bask in the Lisbon sun amongst the locals, who come here for some R&R. It is a small beach, but has some bars and cafes and is worth it if you want to catch some quick rays after a morning of sight-seeing.
Day Trip (but worth staying the night if you have time)
Don’t miss this stunning fairytale town, nestled high in the mountains north of Lisbon.
Travel: 30 mins by train from Rossio train station
Palacio da Pena
Commissioned in 1839 by Ferdinand II and summer residence of Portugese royal family until 1910.
Palacio de Monserrate
Quite a bizarre palace, with exotic grounds and garden even more so.
Castlos dos Mouros – Castle of the Moors
Walk up the long, winding stone staircase to the beautifully preserved 8th century Medieval Castle. Unreal views of the surrounding countryside.
Warning: Sintra is known for its microclimate, so don’t expect as much sun as Lisbon
Calçada do Combro, 2 (Bairro Alto). Open: Mon-Sun 10:00 to 21:00.
I’ve always loved flower shops. Apart from the smell and colours there is something so very special
about flower shops. Now admittedly you may not necessarily want to buy flowers while on a
weekend break. Enter Flower-Power. Do you like the idea of having a freshly-pressed juice of the
day and a delicious, light (but adventurous) lunch, surrounded by fresh flowers? Then this is your place.
Even if you just stop by for a coffee or to buy some delicacies from their gourmet shop, you won’t be
Chaminés do Palácio’ €€
Largo de Sao Domingos 11
One of Lisbon’s secrets, hidden in the Palace of Independence, near Rossio Square. Its name’s literal
translation is ‘chimney’s of the palace’: a restaurant which serves good, original food in a wonderful
setting. A perfect place to come for lunch. The palace walls are decorated with beautiful blue
azulejos (Portugese tiles) and are definitely worth a look.
Restaurante Spot São Luiz €€
Rua António Maria Cardoso, 58, Chiado & Baixa
Opening Hours: Mon – Sat 11:00 – 01:30, Sun 11:00 – 23:00
Great place to come for brunch (€20).
Restaurant Cabacas €
Rua das Gaveas 8-10, Lisbon 1200-208
The best steak experience ever in the heart of the Bairro Alto. Come here for the incredible raw steaks which they serve on a sizzling hot stone, accompanied by sauces and chips. And all for €8. And a litre of wine for €3.95. It is better than a bargain. Ok, the interior is not great – very simple and they could have done something about the lighting. But to be honest, that barely matters once your steak arrives.
São Cristóvão €
Rua de São Cristovão 28-30, Alfama Lisbon.
Phone (00351) 914752102.
Opening hours: 12:00 to 24:00, also on Sunday
A place if you want something different. Come here for cheap but excellent Cape Verdean and
African dishes (lots of Angolan). It is a favourite place for the locals, so go find out why.
‘A Camponesa de Santa Catarina’ €
Rua Marechal Saldana, 23/25, Lisbon
Call to reserve: 213-464-791
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 12:30-3pm, 7:30-11:30pm
Another Bairro Alto gem and a local haunt, close to the Mirador Santa Catarina. They serve
excellent Portugese dishes but if you want to be more experimental go for the specials, you will be
surprised by the unusual mix of flavours. For roughly €15 you can get 2 courses and wine. Book in
advance to avoid disappointment.
Recommended: ‘Picanha no forno’ (oven-roasted meat), € 10,50.
XL restaurant €€€
Calçada da Estrela 57, 1200 Lisbon
Tel: 213 956 118
Near the Assembleia de Republica (big parliament buildings) and the Estrela Square,
this ‘splash out’ dining experience is on the high side of mid-budget but certainly not a rip-
off. A combination of cosy atmosphere, a diverse mix of people and excellent food, as well
attentive service make this an ideal dinner destination.
Recommended: steak or sealed scallops
Cais di Ribeira €€
Cais do Sodre Armz A-2, Lisbon
Opening Hours: Wed-Fri and Sun noon-3pm, Tues-Sun 7pm-1am
Fish lovers are in luck. Not only is Lisbon the place to eat fish, but Cais di Ribeira’s
generations-old recipes complement the fresh fish perfectly. This is a small, cosy and
unpretentious place, overlooking the Tagus river in the Bairro Alto. Perfect for a dinner at
the beginning of a fun night out.
Rua da Moeda, 1A, Lisbon 1200
In the up-and-coming Santos area, Yasmin is a modern, trendy and relaxed restaurant,
which serves a mixture of Portugese and Asian food. The menu is original, with unusual
mixing of flavours, and will prompt you to experiment and steer away from your usual
*Go for the ‘degustation’ menu – €32 for the chef’s choice of 2 starters, 2 main
courses and desert. Wonderful.
Tulhas Bar & Restaurant (also known as ‘Tasca do Xico’) €
Rua Arco do Teixeira 8, Sintra
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Telephone: +351 219245790
With a mixture of good food and lovely ambiance, this place is a real gem.
Ask for the specials of the day.
Set menu €8.50 for soup, bread and 2 tapas
G-spot Gastronomia €€€
Alameda dos Combatentes da Grande Guerra, 12, A/B, Sintra
Tuesday through Saturday
Lunch: 12:30 – 15:00 pm
Dinner: 21:30 pm – 22:30 pm
Known by many as the number one restaurant of Sintra, this restaurant is slightly more upmarket, as is the price.
While there are a few consistent options on the menu, the innovative menu does change weekly.
In general, bars on Rua da Barraca (in the Bairro Alto) are great fun. Shots are super cheap if you want to get ready for a big night out and Happy Hour is usually till 11pm (averages prices: Caipi €4 XL, Mojito €4, sangria €1.50).”
Cinco Lounge €€
17-A rue Ruben A. Leitao, Lisbon (Near Princepe Royal, very close to the Bairro Alto)
Opening Hours 9pm – 2am
Cocktails are not more than €8 and they are truly the best cocktails in town (‘Green Destiny’ is amazing), a step up from the plastic cups in Bairro Alto. The barmen are experienced cocktail makers, so watch and learn. A sophisticated place to enjoy Lisbon’s buzzing nightlife.
Bedroom Bar €€
Rua do Norte 86, 1200-285
Opening Hour: Mon-Sat 21h-3h
A trendy place with, surprise surprise, beds all around to lounge on. Low-lit, with vintage wall paper, this Bairro Alto bar is an ideal place to chill and chat with friends, while DJs playing electro music will keep you from falling asleep..
Chafariz do Vinho €€
Chafariz da Mãe d’Água a Praça da Alegria, Lisbon
Tel: +351 21342-20-79
This is the place to try the wines of Portugal and the world, set in a unique 18th century aqueduct which is also a national monument.
The wines vary in price and the tasting dishes (there is a great selection of Portugese tapas) to accompany the ‘vinho’ will not disappoint.
Pavilhao Chines €€
Rua Dom Pedro V 89-91, Bairro Alto
Tel: +351213 424 72
Opening hours: from 18:00 – 02:00
The New York Times called it the ‘mother of all flea market bars’, and this place is truly filled with kitsch and bric a brac. It lends for a unique experience.
This is an ideal place to come and have a chat and a drink, be it a cup of tea or a cocktail, while taking in your surroundings.
Doca do Bom Sucesso, Lisbon 1400
The name of the bar is the coordinates of its location – in between the Belem Tower and the Monument of Discoveries. It’s on the river, pretty swanky – and as trendy during the day and at night. Ideal for a nice drink after a day of sight-seeing.
Portas do Sol €
Largo das Portas do Sol, Castelo (take Tram 28, it stops right by it)
Opening hours: Sun – Thu 10:00 – 00:00, Fri – Sat 10:00 – 02:00
You’ll know why they called this place the Sun’s Doors when you get there.
If you want good views over Lisbon, both during the day and at night, this is the place to be.
The location is stunning, right under Saint George’s castle and right by ’Miradouro (View point) das Portas do Sol’, the vibe is casual, and its also a fun place to come to sip a cocktail as the sun sets. Long lunches here are ideal too.
In one of the Biarro Alto alleys – Not sure of the address (look for black and bright green writing on the window)
Fieis is a Brazillian bar, recognisable by the black and green writing on the window. Literally huge
plastic glasses for €7.50. The XL cocktails will keep you going all night – amazing. The place itself isnt
spectacular but you can just leave once you’ve got your cocktail, and wander around the Bairro Alto,
drink in hand!
R. Mal. Saldanha 1, 1200 Lisbon.
Love it. This bar/restaurant used to be an old pharmacy museum (hence the name and the décor)
and before that a palace. It’s original and fun. Cocktails have appropriate names like ‘Paracetamol’
and you can sit outside on their patch of lawn in funky comfortable chairs and enjoy a warm Lisboan
evening. The food is also very good and unusual here: I definitely recommend the tasting menu.
Very close to Miradour (view-point) Santa Catarina, which is beautiful.
Bairro Alto Hotel Bar €€€
Praça Luís de Camões 2, 1200-243 Lisbon
It may be a little pricey, but come here to admire the beautiful views of the Tagus river and the city. I love this rooftop bar, the waiters are all very friendly and you can balance out an expensive drink with a good value steak and wine in one of the Bairro Alto alleyways afterwards.
Sky Bar €€€
Hotel Tivoli Lisboa
Opening hours: 5pm-1am
Wow. Everything about this bar, from the design to the cocktails, is modern and beautiful.
The name says it all; come here to enjoy a relaxing atmosphere and a splendid view of the
city. It’s hip from the early evening till late at night, with djs and live bands on Thursdays,
Fridays and Saturdays. Only open during the summer months, so make sure you don’t miss it.
Brunch on a Sunday is pretty good too.
LUX Fragil €€
Av. Infante D. Henrique, armazem A Cais da Pedra a Sta. Apolonia, Lisbon 1950-
Opening times: till 7am
Down by the sea front, this club is the most popular in Lisbon, amongst locals and tourists a like.
Its huge, with numerous levels and a mix of music – dance the night away till the early morning
and watch the sun come up on the lovely roof terrace. Saturdays are the night to go. A must do if you want to hit the dance floor. People have been turned away before, so dress well and behave
Rua da Misericórdia 14 1249 Lisbon
Near the Praca Luis de Camoes, you’ll find this rather stuck-up place. Don’t go here
necessarily for the people (they’re pretty sophisticated but can be quite aloof) and don’t go
here if you’re on a tight budget. Do go here, if you want to treat yourself and have a drink
with the most beautiful view of Lisbon.
The prices are a guide and are subject to availability and change.