Portugal’s capital city, Lisbon, is one of my favorite cities in the world. If I was stuck here forever, I would be a happy man. It’s incredible. 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.
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.
Visiting and traveling through Lisbon has become a lot more popular in recent years. It’s become the “it” city thanks to it’s inexpensive cost of living. It’s not the hidden gem it used to be but I don’t think it’s lost it’s magic, especially if you visit during the shoulder season.
Settle in and enjoy a city where no one rushes, meals last a few hours, and everyone has a smile on their face!
This travel guide to Lisbon will give you everything you need to plan the perfect trip to the city.
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Lisbon
1. Walk around the Old Town
2. See the Belem Tower
3. Walk through the Jardim Botanico
4. Hit the beaches
5. Explore the Castle of St. George
Other Things to See and Do in Lisbon
1. Berardo Collection Museum
The Berardo Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art has a wide selection of works by Warhol, Picasso, Dali, Duchamp, Bacon, Pollock, and many other artists. Its permanent and temporary exhibits have works representing dozens of modern movements from the past century. While I’m not a huge fan of modern or contemporary art, this is an excellent museum if you are. Admission is 5 EUR.
2. Ride the “elevator”
For some sweeping views of Lisbon’s skyline, ride the Elevador de Santa Justa. It’s a century-old elevator located in the city that connects to a 45-meter-tall viewing platform. The elevator was originally steam powered and connects downtown to the Bairro Alto neighborhood. It offers a gorgeous view of the city and has a small restaurant where you can eat. A ride costs 5 EUR but is free if you have a Lisboa Card (the city’s tourist pass).
3. Visit the Praça do Comércio
Commerce Square is Lisbon’s biggest and most popular square. Located along the riverfront, it’s the former location of the royal palace (which was destroyed in the earthquake of 1755). Two marble columns from the palace are still standing and the square is now home to lots of local shops. The people watching while sitting down with a book or refreshing gelato is excellent.
4. Check out Se de Lisboa Cathedral
Constructed on the grounds of a former mosque, this Roman Catholic cathedral was built to celebrate the defeat of the Moors in the mid-1100s (a conflict that came about after a failed Crusade to the Holy Land). It’s been partially rebuilt over the years due to earthquakes and is now an amalgamation of Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque architectural styles. While I’m not a huge fan of 12th-century Romanesque construction, the cathedral was very peaceful and beautiful. Be sure to dress appropriately as it is a place of ongoing worship.
5. Ride the trams
To get a sense of what life in Lisbon was like in the 20th century, hop on one of the yellow “Remodelado” trams. These old-fashioned trams are a fun way to explore the city and see the historic old town. While the city also has modern trams, enjoying the charm of the old-fashioned trams is a cheap and easy way to add some character to your visit. (They’re free to ride with the Lisbon Pass too).
6. See a Fado show
Fado is a local type of music that originated in Lisbon. It’s a rather haunting, mournful style often focused on the hardships of the poor or life at sea. The music first appeared in the 19th century and was popular with the working class (especially sailors). The word “fado” likely stems from the Latin word for fate, which is why many of the songs focus on the inevitability of misfortune and suffering. While melancholic, the music is also beautiful and poetic. To enjoy some traditional fado music, head to Clube de Fado, Tasca do Chico, Parreirinha de Alfama, or Senhor Vinho.
7. Visit the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos
This UNESCO World Heritage site is a must-see when visiting Portugal’s capital. The monastery took over 100 years to build and was designed in the Manueline style (also known as Late Portuguese Gothic). The monks were primarily involved with helping sailors and mariners who anchored offshore, which is why there are many maritime designs and influences in the architecture. While it is no longer an active monastery, you can still tour the massive buildings and grounds. Admission is 10 EUR.
8. 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 (an important figure in the early Portuguese Empire). At 52 meters tall, it depicts Henry holding a small caravel, along with other heroes of Portuguese history. The monument is shaped like a ship’s bow and projects out above the water across the Tagus River. Within the monument is a museum with small historical and cultural exhibitions. On the seventh floor you can look out to the Atlantic. Admission is 6 EUR.
9. 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. Its main square is a lovely place to relax and get accustomed to the laid-back ambiance of Lisbon. Down the hill is Praça das Flores, a non-touristy smaller square with some of the city’s most inviting outdoor cafés. Both are beautiful places to relax and read or enjoy a small lunch while people watching or enjoying a good book.
10. Visit Batalha Monastery
Built in 1388, Batalha is a town located just 90 minutes by car from Lisbon. The town is home to Batalha Monastery, officially known as the Monastery of Saint Mary of the Victory. It’s one of Europe’s greatest Gothic masterpieces and makes for a popular day trip from Lisbon. The monastery took over a century to build and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walking through the gigantic gothic doorway and seeing the towering interior (which is lined with 16th-century stained-glass windows) is absolutely breathtaking. Admission is 6 EUR.
11. Enjoy a patel des nata
This delicious custard-filled pastry is a Portuguese staple. You can find them all over the city — usually for around 1 EUR. They’re traditionally served warm and with cinnamon, paired with a coffee or hot drink. If you’re looking for an authentic experience, check out Pastelaria Versailles. They’ve been around since the 1920s and make some of the best in the city.
12. Take a day trip to Sintra
Lord Byron, writing in the 18th century, said that Sintra was “perhaps in every respect the most delightful in Europe.” If you are visiting Lisbon, be sure to visit Sintra. It’s a charming town with cobblestone streets and traditional painted buildings filled with family-run cafes and unique shops. Wander the town on foot and check out the historic town hall, the bustling shopping streets of Rua das Padarias, and the church of Igreja de Santa Maria (which dates to the 15th century and is a National Monument). Don’t miss the brightly colored Pena Palace and the Moors Castle. They offer wonderful views of the city. The train from Lisbon takes about 40 minutes and costs around 5 EUR.
13. Visit MAAT
The Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology is the city’s newest museum. Its mission is to showcase contemporary artists, architects, and thought leaders via traditional exhibits and workshops while also revitalizing the waterfront neighborhood. They have rotating exhibits on music, philosophy, contemporary art, and much more. The building is a massive and futuristic-looking structure located beside an old industrial power plant (which you can also tour). Admission is 5 EUR.
Lisbon Travel Costs
Hostel prices – Dorms with 8-10 beds cost around 14 EUR per night while dorms with 4-6 beds average 18 EUR. Expect prices to be slightly higher in the busy summer months (upwards of 20-25 EUR per night). Free Wi-Fi and lockers are standard, and most hostels have kitchens too. If you’re on a budget, stay at a hostel with free breakfast to save money.
Private hostel rooms start at 40 EUR per night though 50 EUR is more common.
Budget hotel prices – Mid-range budget hotels start from around 60 EUR. These generally include free breakfast and Wi-Fi. Most three-star hotels can cost about 115 EUR a night (they often include a free airport transfer as well).
If you are looking to get immersed in local life, use Airbnb. Entire apartments start at 40 EUR a night while private rooms and shared common spaces (bathroom, kitchen, living room) start at just 20 EUR.
Camping is an option if you don’t mind staying outside of the city or want to spend a few days near Sintra or Cascais. The closest campsite is about a 40-minute bus ride away. A basic plot (a flat space for a small tent without electricity) costs around 11 EUR a person. Pitchup.com is a useful platform for finding parks and campgrounds across Europe.
Food – Eating on the go is the best way to spare your budget in Lisbon. Try the prego (beef sandwich) or the bifana (pork sandwich). You can find them at local cafes for just 5 EUR. A basic fast food meal (think McDonald’s) costs around 6-7 EUR.
If you want a nice sit-down meal with drinks, you’re looking at spending closer to 15-20 EUR (prices are higher in the touristy downtown area). Outside downtown, there are many local places where you can find meals for around 14 EUR with a drink.
For a week’s worth of groceries, expect to pay 35 EUR. That includes basic staples like pasta, vegetables, and some meat.
Backpacking Lisbon Suggested Budgets
On a backpacker budget, you can visit Lisbon for 50 EUR ($55 USD) per day. On this budget, you’ll be staying in a dorm room, cooking all of your meals, drinking during happy hour (or buying your alcohol in stores), doing free activities (such as free walking tours, enjoying the beaches, and exploring the Old Town), and using public transportation to get around.
If you’re on a tighter budget, you can lower this by Couchsurfing, visiting during the offseason, and cutting down on drinking.
On a mid-range budget of 115 EUR ($125 USD) per day, you’ll stay in a budget hotel or private hostel room, eat at cheap local restaurants, use public transportation, visit paid attractions like the botanic gardens and Belem Tower, take the occasional taxi, and enjoy some drinks at the bar. You’ll also be able to take a day trip to Sintra or Cascais. In short, you’re not going to live large but you’ll be able to get by without worrying too much about your daily spending.
On a luxury budget of 275 EUR ($305 USD) or more a day, you can stay in a 4-star hotel, eat out for every meal at mid-range restaurants, drink what you want, and visit as many museums and attractions as you’d like. You can also take taxis to get around and rent a car to go on day trips. This is just the ground floor for luxury though — you can easily spend more if you really want to splash out!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages — some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Lisbon Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Lisbon is the most expensive city in the country — but it’s still quite affordable compared to other European capitals. It’s hard to spend a ton here unless you are splashing out. If you find cheap accommodation, cook some of your meals, and stick to mostly free activities, you’re going to be able to keep your budget intact. Here are some quick tips to help you save money in Lisbon:
- Pick up a Lisbon Card – If you’re planning to visit lots of attractions, it’s a good idea to get a Lisbon Card. It offers free or discounted entry to many attractions as well as unlimited public transportation. Prices start at 20 EUR for 24 hours and there is also a 48-hour card for 34 EUR and a 72-hour card for 42 EUR (which is the best deal).
- Get a bus pass – If you don’t get the Lisbon Card but still plan on using a lot of public transportation, buy a day pass. They are just 10.50 EUR and will save you a lot of money if you’re using the bus/tram/metro often.
- Cook your own meals – Restaurants are cheap here, but eating out all the time can still be costly. If you’re on a tight budget, save yourself some by cooking your own meals.
- Take a free walking tour – If you want to understand more about the history, architecture, and culture of Lisbon then take a free walking tour. They usually last a couple of hours and are a great introduction to the city. Lisbon Chill Out is the original free tour in the city. They have knowledgeable guides as well as a few different tours to choose from.
- Stay with a local – Couchsurfing is the best way to save on accommodation in Lisbon. By staying with a local you’ll not only save money but you’ll get to spend time with someone who can show you to some of the city’s hidden gems and teach you more about the culture and history of Lisbon.
- Skip the taxis – Taxis are expensive, often adding fees for luggage and airport pickups. Simply use the metro or bus system to go where you need to.
- Say “no” to bread – When eating out you’ll often be offered bread and olives. They will be brought to your table before your meal casually. These aren’t free, so politely decline the offer if you’re not interested in paying for them
- Use BlaBlaCar – BlaBlaCar is a ridesharing app you can use to travel in between cities. It’s faster than the bus and usually just as cheap. You’ll have to find a ride, which can sometimes be hit or miss, but the profiles are verified and reviewed so it’s quite safe. Plus, it’s a great way to connect with other locals/travelers. If you are going to go on any day trips, use BlaBlaCar.
- Visit the Berardo Collection Museum on Saturdays – Tourists can get a glimpse of Portuguese businessman Jose Berardo’s personal collection of contemporary art, which make up the permanent exhibits at the museum. Even if you aren’t a fan of contemporary art, the building itself is great to walk through. The museum is free on Saturdays.
Where To Stay in Lisbon
Lisbon has dozens of hostels. In fact, it’s one of the best cities in the world for hostels. There hostels are always rated some of the top in the world and I’ve never had a bad stay here. Here are my suggested and recommended places to stay in Lisbon:
For more hostel suggestions be sure to check out my list of my 12 favorite hostels in Lisbon.
How to Get Around Lisbon
Bus – Buses are the most common way to get around the city (and the cheapest). Much faster and more affordable than riding the trams, the buses in Lisbon are clean and efficient. Tickets cost 1.80 EUR for a single ride.
There are also two tram lines in the city. There are two types of trams, as well: the modern Siemens “Articulado” trams and the historic “Remodelado” trams. Trams start operating from about 5am to 10pm and a single ride ticket cost 2.85 EUR.
Subway – Starting at 1.90 EUR for a single fare, the metro offers a fast way to get from one corner of the city to another. There are four lines and 55 stations. They are very accessible and the information and maps are provided in English so it’s easy to navigate.
Taxi – Taxis in Lisbon start at around 3.25 EUR and increase 0.47 EUR for every kilometer traveled. Most drivers speak English but showing them the address on your smartphone will help. If you’re on a budget, skip the taxis. They get expensive fast.
Car rental – You won’t need to rent a car to get around the city as public transportation is reliable and efficient. If you plan to go on a day trip, you could rent a car to have more flexibility. It will be more expensive than taking the bus or train, but will give you more freedom. Expect to pay around 100 EUR per week for a small car.
Bicycle – If you’re an avid cyclist who likes a challenge, then biking in Lisbon can be fun. For the non-cyclist, it will likely be unpleasant. The city is filled with steep hills and cobblestone streets — hardly ideal for a leisurely ride. Bike rentals start at 6 EUR for one hour and go up to 20 EUR for a day.
When to Go to Lisbon
Peak season in Lisbon is during the summer months of June-August. Temperatures during that time are around 25-28ºC (77-82ºF). This is also the busiest time to visit the city so expect prices to increase. The overall atmosphere during this time is lively and there are lots of places to swim or relax on the beach so it’s still worth visiting during peak season.
Since Lisbon is in the middle of the country and on the coast, you can expect temperatures to not be as warm as the south (where they can be 33ºC (92ºF) during the day). There is often a breeze to keep the weather from getting too hot as well.
If you’re on a budget, the best time to visit Lisbon is during the shoulder season. March to May and September to October are still warm so you can enjoy the outdoors without as many crowds. Prices are cheaper too. It may be a bit rainy, but you can still enjoy the city without much inconvenience.
Winter is from November to February. It gets cold, and tourist crowds have thinned out considerably. Temperatures vary but overall temperature hovers around 15 °C (59 °F). It’s still warmer than much of Europe, so if you’re on the continent and are looking to avoid the worst of the weather, head to Lisbon (or even further south to Faro).
How to Stay Safe in Lisbon
Lisbon is very safe for travelers — including solo female travelers. Violent attacks here are uncommon and petty crime is rare. Pickpocketing is the most common crime so just be aware of your surroundings when you’re in busy markets or when using the public transportation.
You won’t find a lot of travel scams in the city but read this article on 14 major travel scams to avoid just in case.
Additionally, young backpackers here may be approached and offered drugs as Portugal has decriminalized drug use (that doesn’t mean they are legal, just not criminal. You could still face hefty charges or jail time if you’re caught with illegal drugs). Always decline the offer politely but firmly and continue on your way.
The emergency number in Lisbon is 112.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Lisbon Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Lisbon. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engine which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. (If you’re new to Airbnb, get $35 off your first stay!)
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all-around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Sweden, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
- Take Walks – This is my go-to walking tour company. They use exerpt local guides and their tours are always fun and insightful. If you want something more in-depth than your average walking tour, book a tour with Take Walks!
Lisbon Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading to Lisbon, here are my suggestions for the best travel backpack and tips on what to pack for your trip.
The Best Backpack for Lisbon
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Lisbon
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Lisbon Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
The High Mountains of Portugal, by Yann Martel
It’s 1904, and a young man named Tomás has discovered an old journal. It hints at an extraordinary artifact that could redefine history. Hopping aboard one of Europe’s earliest automobiles, he goes in search of this new treasure. Thirty-five years later, a Portuguese pathologist also finds himself in the middle of his own mystery – and the consequences of Tomás’ mission. Fifty years after that, a Canadian senator returns to his ancestral village in Northern Portugal where the century-old quest comes to its conclusion. This is a masterful story that reads like a fable but will keep you hooked the whole way through.
The History of the Siege of Lisbon, by Jose Saramago
Jose Saramago is such a literary icon in Portugal that when he died in 2010, the country initiated two days of mourning. It’d be wrong to not include him in a list of books about Portugal! Here, a proofreader’s deliberate slip changes one singular word in the history of the siege of Lisbon – and thus rewrites the course of history with the 1147 Siege of Lisbon (as well as the proofreader’s own life). It’s a genius story about the differences between historiography and historical fiction, and what happens when you insert stories into the past.
The Book of Disquiet, by Fernando Pessoa
Fernando Pessoa was another prolific Portuguese writer, and when he died he left behind a full trunk of unfinished and unpublished writings. The Book of Disquiet is his posthumous masterpiece. It’s a collection of short paragraphs making up the biography of Bernardo Soares, one of Pessoa’s “alternate selves.” It’s an intimate piece of descriptive narrative, and it’s considered one of the greatest works of the 20th century.
300 Days of Sun, by Deborah Lawrenson
Set in a sunny Portuguese town, this book is about two women who are drawn into a game of truths and lies. Journalist Joanna Millard travels to Faro to escape her stalled career and directionless relationship, and it’s there she meets a charming young man named Nathan Emberlin. Over the course of getting to know Faro and its sometimes-shady underbelly, Joanna learns that Nathan is determined to discover the truth about a child’s kidnapping from two decades before. The search leads her to a novel written by an American author — Esta Hartford — where Joanna discovers that fiction and reality are often not all that different. It’s a thrilling read!
My Must Have Guides for Traveling to Lisbon
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Kristin Addis writes our solo female travel column and her detailed guide gives specific advice and tips for women travelers.
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My best-selling book will teach how to master the art of travel so that you’ll save money and have a more local, richer travel experience.
Lisbon Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Portugal and continue planning your trip: