Portugal’s capital city, Lisbon, is one of my favorite cities in the world. If I was stuck here forever, I would be happy. It’s incredible. Situated along the south of the country’s west coast, it has an incredible mix of museums, historic buildings, eclectic music and nightlife, squares, and cafés to watch the world go by. I fell in love with this city when I visited. It had this old, gritty feeling that gave it tons of character. The winding streets with the locals standing on the corners, the wine – I just knew I belonged here. Lisbon is a city that is hard not to love. Don’t breeze through here. Spend a few extra days to really settle in and enjoy a city where no one rushes, meals last a few hours, and everyone has a smile on their face!
Hostel prices – You can find dorms with 8-10 beds at about 9 EUR per night and dorms with 4-6 beds average about 11 EUR per night. You can find private dorms that sleep 2 in a double bed starting at 30 EUR for the cheapest, with most averaging about 50 EUR per night. Most hostels in Lisbon have free linens, free WiFi, and free breakfast. Lisbon has some of the best hostels in Europe but my favorite hostel in the city is the Goodnight Hostel (located downtown). I highly recommend it – they have free sangria and soup!
Budget hotel prices – You can find double rooms in 2-star hotels starting around 41 EUR a night. Amenities include free WiFi, private bathrooms, air-conditioning, and most include free breakfast. Also look for vacancies in a pensão (a family-run inn) for even cheaper prices. Airbnb is very big in the city and you can find a lot of inexpensive listings there. A shared room in Lisbon averages around 15 EUR per night, while an entire home averages around 46 EUR per night.
Average cost of food – You can find snacks in bakeries for around 2 EUR, light meals and sandwiches for around 7 EUR, and fast food for around the the same price (6-7 EUR). If you want sit-down meal with drinks, you’re looking at spending closer to 18 EUR, especially in the touristy downtown area. There are many local places where you can find meals for around 14 EUR with a drink. If you cook your meals, expect to pay 30 EUR per week for groceries that will include pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic food stuffs.
Transportation costs – Lisbon has an extensive public transportation system. It costs 2.85 EUR for the trams and 1.80 for the bus. A day pass costs 6 EUR. For a bus or train to Porto, expect to pay around 20 EUR (though tickets can be as high as 40 EUR). For a cross-country trip to Lagos, expect to spend around 40-50 EUR.
Suggested daily budget – 35-40 EUR / $36-42 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out at cheaper restaurants, cooking some meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
- Avoid taxis – Avoid taking a taxi while in Lisbon as they are extremely pricey. Central Lisbon is entirely walkable and for anything outside the city, take the metro. Additionally, taxis charge extra for bags and going to the airport. Use Uber if you need a ride — it’s cheaper!
- Say no to bread – When eating out, a selection of breads and olives will be brought to your table before your meal. These aren’t free, so just say no!
- Get the Lisbon Card – If you’re planning to visit many attractions, it’s a good idea to get a Lisbon Card which offers free or discounted entry. Prices start at 18.50 EUR and will save you more than that.
- Stay at a pensão – These family-run inns offer excellent lodgings for very little money and are a great alternative to hotels.
- Free museum visits – Most museums are free on Sundays.
- Look for alternative accommodation – Because this is such a popular tourist destination, many hotels have raise prices substantially during the summer months. However, many locals rent out apartments or run small guest houses on sites like Airbnb. These can be significantly cheaper or will at least offer you better value for your money.
- Couchsurf – If you plan ahead, you can usually find a Couchsurfing host in the city. This way, you not only have a place to stay, but you’ll have a local host that can tell you the best places to go and things to see.
- Take a free walking tour – New Europe Tours offers a great free walking tour of Lisbon. Get a feel for the city and learn some of its history. After all, exploring a city on foot is the best way to understand it. Be sure to tip your guide.
Top Things to See and Do in Lisbon
- Walk through the Jardim Botanico – This is one of the best public gardens in Lisbon. In the heart of the city (but hidden away from the surrounding streets) this 10-acre garden is a haven from the hustle and bustle. Bring a picnic or simply wander through and enjoy the exotic plants. It’s open everyday from 9am until 6pm (in the winter) or 8pm (in the summer).
- Check out the Berardo Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art – The Berardo Museum has a wide selection of works by Warhol, Picasso, Dali, Duchamp, Bacon, Pollock, and more, representing dozens of modern movements. I’m not a huge fan of modern or contemporary art, but this is an excellent museum if you are. There are over 1000 pieces here – plenty keep you busy for a few hours. It’s free and open daily from 10am-7pm.
- Explore the Castle of St. George – Located in the historic area of the city, this is probably most high-profile attraction in Lisbon. The oldest parts of the castle date from the 2nd-century, and, while most of it was destroyed over the years, a long extension of walls and 18 towers still stand. You can climb the walls and take photographs of the city from here; you can also sit in the garden and check out the Tower of Ulysses. There’s an entrance fee of 8.50 EUR for the castle and grounds, but if you don’t want to pay to get in, there is a lookout point nearby that also has sweeping views of Lisbon. It opens at 9am and closes at 6pm in the winter and 9pm for the rest of the year.
- Visit the Praça do Comércio – Lisbon’s biggest and most monumental square sits along the riverfront and is a photogenic and interesting place to visit. Most recently renovated in 2010, it’s famous for two marble columns that used to be part of the royal palace. The area is now home to a lot of good shops and is great for people watching or sitting down with a refreshing gelato.
- Walk around the Old Town – Alfama is the historic area of Lisbon. It is filled with narrow, winding streets that make it an bewildering place in which to get lost. I wandered the maze of streets, exploring tiny squares, hidden alleys, and long-abandoned houses while watching locals go about their lives. The area around the castle is beautiful but touristy. For fewer crowds, head to the portion near the Fado Museum closer to the sea. There you will also find a ton of local, hole-in-the-wall restaurants where you can practice your nonexistent Portuguese with little old grandmothers.
- Check out Se de Lisboa Cathedral – Built on the grounds of a mosque, the cathedral was raised to celebrate the defeat of the Moors in the mid-1100s. I just happened to stumble upon this place while walking around, and while I’m not a huge fan of 12th century Romanesque construction, the cathedral was very peaceful and beautiful. Plus, it’s free!
- Ride the trams – Lisbon has those old fashioned trams that make you feel like you are living during the turn of the 20th century. Sitting in them and riding through the historic and well-worn streets of the city was a simple yet unbelievable pleasure. It costs 2.85 for an individual ride.
- See a Fado show – Fado, the local music, is best seen in Alfama. There are a lot of spots down near Santa Apolonia metro stop but wherever you go in Lisbon, there will be a Fado bar. Drink some port and enjoy a night of music.
- Hit the beach – Lisbon has a number of beaches that allow you to lounge under the hot summer sun. Some of the best beaches are Guincho (best swimming area), Meco (peaceful atmosphere), Tamariz (easy to reach from the city center), and Morena (has a fun vibe).
- Ride the “elevator” – For some sweeping views of Lisbon’s rooftops, you might want to take the Elevador de Santa Justa. It’s a century-old and used to be powered by steam. (Now, electricity!) Connecting downtown to the Bairro Alto neighborhood, it offers a good view of the city at the top and a small restaurant where you can eat. A ride costs 2.80 EUR but is free if you have a 24-hour transportation pass. The elevator is open daily from 7am-11pm.
- Visit the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos – The construction of the monastery began in 1502 and the site is the most-ambitious achievement of Manueline architecture. Its UNESCO World Heritage site status reflects its beauty and impressiveness. It is a must-see when visiting Portugal’s capital. It costs 10 EUR to enter (except the first Sunday of the month) and it’s open daily 10am-5:30pm except Mondays. In the summer, it stays open until 6:30pm. (Save a little money when you combine this visit with one to the Belem Tower, paying 12 EUR for both instead of 16!).
- See the Belem Tower – The Belem Tower is Lisbon’s most well-known symbol, built in 1515 originally as a lighthouse. The whole complex consist of a four-story tower, easily visible from a distance. The tower contains Gothic religious statues, typical elements of Manueline decoration, as well as the Portuguese coat of arms, which can be seen on the main facade. It’s open daily from 10am-5pm, except in the summer when it closes at 6:30pm. To tour the inside, it costs 6 EUR. (Or pay 12 EUR for a combo ticket with this and the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos.)
- Check out the Discoveries Monument – The Monument to the Discoveries was inaugurated in 1960 during celebrations of the 500-year anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator. It depicts Henry (at the front) holding a small caravel, along with other heroes of Portuguese history. It is shaped like a ship’s bow and projects out above the water across the Tagus. The rooms within the monument host small temporary exhibitions and you can go to the seventh floor where you can look out to the Atlantic.
- Walk through Comercio Square – This impressive riverfront square was renovated in 2010. Lisbon’s biggest and most monumental square is a photogenic and interesting place to visit with its two large columns, which mark the entrance to the city from the Tagus and the view of the river.
- Relax in Principe Real’s Gardens – From June to October, Lisbon is an outdoor city. Near the Botanical Gardens is the recently renovated Principe Real neighborhood and its main square is another lovely place to relax and get accustomed to the laid-back mood of Lisbon. Down the hill is Praça das Flores, a non-touristy smaller square with some of the city’s most inviting outdoor cafés.
- Visit Batalha – Built in 1388, Batalha is one of Europe’s greatest Gothic masterpieces and a popular day trip from Lisbon. Walking through the gigantic and impressive gothic doorway and seeing the interior of the church featuring 16th-century stained-glass windows is breathtaking. It takes about 3 hours and costs 10-23 EUR to get there by bus. Admission is 6 EUR (it’s free the first Sunday of each month before noon).