Portugal’s capital city, Lisbon, is situated along the south of the country’s west coast, and offers the visitor a good mix of museums, historic buildings, eclectic music and nightlife, and squares and cafés to watch the world go by. The Tagus River empties into the Atlantic here, and the city itself is warm and sunny for 90% of the time between June to October. 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.
Hostel prices – Dorm rooms are about $10-18 USD per night, while private rooms with a shared bath average around $50 USD for a double. My favorite hostel in the city is the Goodnight Hostel (located downtown). I highly recommend it – they even have free sangria and soup.
Budget hotel prices – Prices start from $35 USD per night for a double room (in a Pensão, for example), but closer to $60 USD is more common.
Average cost of food – You can find snacks in bakeries for around $2 USD, light meals and sandwiches for around $8 USD, and fast food for around the the same price. If you want sit-down meal with drinks, you’re looking at spending closer to $20 USD, especially in the touristy downtown area. There are many local places where you can find meals for around $15 USD with a drink. Groceries will cost around $40 USD for a week’s worth of food.
Transportation Costs: An all-day ticket for the metro costs $7.50 USD. Taxis are expensive and cost $20 USD from the airport to Lisbon center. The bus is the most economical option at $1.80 USD per ticket.
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.
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 $23 USD 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.
Top Things to See and Do
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.
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.
Explore 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 $12 USD 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.
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 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.
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.
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 Barrio Alto neighborhood, it offers a good view of the city at the top and a small restaurant where you can eat.
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.
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.
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.