Essential Lisbon City Guide
Where To Stay, What To Do,
Nightlife & Music Scene
Lemme tell you about this magical city called Lisbon, Lisboa, City of Lights a.k.a. Portuguese big city awesomesauce. Portugal itself is magnificent, so no doubt their capital was going to be just as amazing as the rest of the country. The moment I stepped foot in Lisbon during my year long backpacking adventure I knew this was my kind of place.
Lisbon Travel Guide Covers:
– WHERE TO STAY IN LISBON
– BEST NEIGHBORHOODS
– WHERE TO EAT
– TOP THINGS TO DO IN LISBON
– NIGHTLIFE & MUSIC SCENE
For starters, let’s take a look at how my first moments unfolded:
Three American girls roll up into Lisbon after a 4 hour bus ride from Porto (check out my Porto city guide here!), with an unquenchable hunger for tacos.
*Types “tacos” in Google Maps*
There she was, shining like a beacon of taco de-light, ‘Guacamole’ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️, $, 8-minute walk’.
FOOD TO TRY:Pastel de Nata
TRANSPORTATION:Tram, walk or Uber
So to Guacamole we giddily went. When people on the road ask me what food I miss most from the States, my answer is always Mexican and Hispanic food. Being from Florida, we are privy to some of the best in the nation. So when I said the taco hunger was real, you know I meant it.
To explain our immense satisfaction with finding a cheap Tex-Mex place in Europe (because let’s be real, authentic Mexican food doesn’t exist outside of North America), we’ll just say I tested every dish on the menu via 3 different visits.
After our taco craving was satisfied, a light rain started as we left. Despite the greying weather, it was our first evening in Lisbon so we took the long way back to our Airbnb, strolling along the riverside.
And that’s when we came upon a peculiar building, with a message literally sprawled across its facade for all to read:
“Have a mission, plan ahead, question everything, assume nothing, roll up your sleeves, study the past, take risks, dream higher, welcome change, have an amazing haircut, laugh, be curious, pay attention to details, make mistaeks mistakes, think sideways, do things with passion, don’t forget to play, take it to the edge, breathe.
Creativity takes courage.”
And then…I cried.
I was PMSing okay, emotions were running high. But when we came upon that building whose purpose I’m still unsure of, in all it’s Pinterest quote-worthy glory, it was during a time I was hardcore ‘doubting/second-guessing/this is rubbish/what-are-you-even-doing’ at every creative move I attempted to make. Then by complete chance, the building with its holy grail of inspiring words, snapped me back from drowning thoughts of mediocrity.
Creativity takes courage. Stop the self doubt, try your damndest to make whatever it is you’re trying to make work, and risk looking ridiculous doing so, but just do it (is that a Nike copyright infringement? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯).
So within the first hour, I found tacos and my new life motto. And just like that, I instantly fell in love with Lisbon.
Where to Stay in Lisbon
After 2 separate visits and 3 different accommodations, I was able to get a pretty good grasp on the best places to stay in Lisbon. The main factors to think about are location and whether you prefer something in the main tourist hub and walking distance to everything, or something with a more local feel, a bit further from the city centre.
Location Option No. 1:
Barrio Alto is a picturesque neighborhood in the heart of Lisbon and while somewhat quiet during the day, is home to the highest density of bars in all of Europe.
Even though Bairro Alto comes alive at night, if you stay on the outskirts of the neighbrohood like we did, you can avoid the throngs of loud drunk tourists.
Airbnb That Won’t Break the Bank
The location for our first Airbnb was PERFECT (See the listing here)! Although the number 23 tourist tram is loud on the street below – at all hours of the day – you can’t beat being able to walk to everything you’d want to see in the city centre of Lisbon.
Also the Airbnb was decorated in Beatle decor. An all around win if you ask me.
For the Social Budget Traveler
The reality is that for many travelers, Lisbon is a party destination. If you prefer the social aspects of traveling but on a backpackers budget, then I’d suggest one of the many hostels in Barrio Alto or Alfama.
We stayed a few nights at the G Spot Party Hostel and although the unimaginative name is cringeworthy, it was a great hostel. Equipped with very new and clean facilities, the hostel provides daily pub crawls and nightly group dinners.
Location Option No. 2: Mouraria
A rarity in the city centre of Lisbon, Mouraria is home to a diverse, community driven enclave of local residencies. With Lisbon attracting large number of visitors, it’s hard to find the authentic areas, where the OG locals still reside. Mouraria is that exception.
Once considered a slum, the area is teeming with young entrepreneurs opening trendy, and incredibly delicious eateries. Be forewarned though, it is far from most of the main tourist attractions but if you don’t mind a solid 30-35 minute walk to places, and prefer a more local vibe than consider staying here.
Although Mouraria was easily one of my favorite neighborhoods, I’m still hesitant to recommend booking an Airbnb here. Lisbon is yet another city laying siege to the consequences of Airbnb to local populations. The reality is, in most cities, Airbnb drives up prices and possibly forcing the local residents out when they can no longer afford their own rent. I’m not sure what the answer to this is because I’m and avid Airbnb user, but it something we should all be aware of.
Prepare to loosen your belt…
Where to Eat in Lisbon
I don’t know about you, but when I travel food is numero uno on my list of things I look forward to most. If I wasn’t almost 6 feet tall I’d probably be obese by now.
Lisbon is a foodie’s dream come true with a mixture of traditional Portuguese restaurants, a thriving brunch culture (check out the best brunch spots in Lisbon here), a plethora of tapas options and trendy eateries scattered throughout the entire city.
Best Overall: The Food Temple
Carnivores, bare with me. But my number one pick for where to eat in Lisbon happens to double as a vegan restaurant. (Don’t eyeroll, I’m a carnivore too. Although I am actively trying to cut back on meat consumption because of the environment and it dying and all). But seriously, do yourself a favor and check out the glorious, incredible, bowl-licking-good The Food Temple before saying “dinner isn’t a real meal without meat” (looking at you Dad).
In what resembles more like someone’s living room, with a bunch of friends cooking in the kitchen, the relaxed atmosphere only further adds to the culinary experience.
The menu is limited and changes every night, ensuring you’re getting the freshest ingredients available. Because of this, it’s an ideal place to share a few plates, tapas style. Also, I went twice it was that good.
Coffee at the Historical Cafe A Brasileira
Fancy a quick cup of espresso to get your day started? Check out Cafe A Brasileira, a Lisbon staple in Bairro Alto that hasn’t changed since it opened its doors over 100 years ago. In the café’s first days, they served myriad of intellectuals, poets and writers who would debate the prevailing issues of Portuguese society at the time.
Although now a haven for exhausted tourists, the espresso imported from Brazil hasn’t been altered since the cafe first opened in 1905.
Best Food Hall: Time Out Market
Not sure what you want to eat? Is everyone is the group craving something different? Then head to Time Out Market where you’ll find some of the best in Lisbon all under one giant roof.
Featuring over 40 restaurants and shops, the concept was created by the journalist behind its namesake Time Out Magazine in 2014. Only the best establishments in Lisbon set up shop here for anywhere between one week to three years
Top Things to Do in Lisbon
Lisbon is the second oldest capital in Europe, wedged between No. 1 Athens and No. 3 Rome. It’s over 3,000 years old and it shows, in the best way possible. Between modern and traditional restaurants, a healthy nightlife and music scene, and architecture to knock your socks off, Lisbon has it all.
Lisbon Sites for History & Architecture Hunters
TAKE A Free Walking Tour
I try to do a free walking tour in every new city I venture into. I’ll start by typing “Free Walking Tour X City” into Google and if possible, I’ll schedule a Sandeman tour as I’ve had wonderful experiences with their tours across Europe. During the tour you’ll learn a bit of history and culture, while checking out some of the top historical sites in Lisbon.
Santa Justa Lift
Meandering through the streets of Lisbon, the walking tour will take you to the lively district of Chiado. Here the guide will stop at the Santa Justa Lift, a 45 meter tall elevator that offers fantastic aerial views of Lisbon from above.
However, don’t get roped into long lines and paying to use the elevator to access the top. The stairs next to it are free and offer almost the same sprawling views.
Carmo Convent Ruins
In 1755, one of the deadliest earthquakes in history occurred on All-Saints Day in Lisbon. Shattering the city at as a massive magnitude 9 earthquake, it killed over 75,000 people and destroyed much of the ancient city.
Occurring during one of the most holy Catholic holidays, people had taken to the streets and packed churches in celebration on that fateful day. Cathedrals and churches across the city were lit by massive amount of candles in celebration. When the earthquake hit Lisbon, the candles set old, wooden infrastructures ablaze and in turn, engulfed the entire city in flames. Flames that would not go out for another 5 straight days.
As if that wasn’t tragic enough, as buildings collapsed and their city was set on fire, many of Lisbon’s citizens ran to the water’s edge to escape the fires and destruction. What they couldn’t have anticipated though, were a series of tsunamis that would either drown or wash them away.
Brief History Lesson: Lisbon After the Earthquakes
The result of the earthquake on not just Lisbon, but all of Portugal, was tremendous. During the aftermath, religious zealots looking to God for a reason, blamed the city’s people for their growing sins that had caused God to punish the city. A Portuguese Inquisition ensued, rounding up potential heretics and ordering them to death.
One of the few notable positive outcomes from the earthquake, was the world’s first scientific study of seismology. Government officials sent around surveys, asking things like if people noticed their animals behaving oddly beforehand, to find any trends that could prevent another future diaster.
The new layout for the city was built on one of the first ever grid systems while wood archways where built in doors and window frames to to dissipate energy from any future earthquakes. Many of these arched frames still decorate Lisbon today.
Today the archeways of the convent ruins purposefully stand as a reminder the deadliest day in Portugal and one that shaped the history of the country forever.
Terreiro do Paço Square
If you’re a fan of symmetrical architecture and gorgeous facades, then don’t miss out on the waterfront Terreiro do Paço square.
The square is centered around an equestrian statue of King Dom José I, built in 1755. The statue is flanked on three sides by impressive government buildings painted in bright yellow and parted in the middle by the The Rua Augusta Arch.
Torre de Belém
Arguably one of the most iconic structures in Lisbon, the Belem Tower was built in the 16th century to protect the Tejo Estuary. Long queues occur for the inside, but the exterior itself is worth the trek out to see.
Monastery of Jerónimos
As one of the most impressive symbols of Portuguese status during the Age of Exploration, the 500 year old Monastery of Jerónimos is a perfect stop on your way back from visiting Torre de Belém. Now a UNESCO site, the lavishly decorated monastery was built from the taxes of imported goods from Africa and the far east as an example to the rest of Europe on how well the Portuguese empire had done in the 1500’s.
Lisbon Sites for the Art & Culture Seekers
With a thriving art scene, Lisbon offers an affordable and unpretentious space for artists to exhibit their work to those looking for a bit of creative flair in their travel itinerary.
Museu Coleção Berardo
A perfect addition to your trek out the Torre de Belém and Monastery of Jerónimos, the Museu Coleção Berardo features some of the top contemporary and modern exhibits in the country and holds the title as the most visited museum in all of Portugal.
P.S.: Tickets are free on Saturdays!
At the recommendation of a friend during my second visit to Lisbon, the LX Factory is now easily one of my favorite places to explore in Lisbon. In a once defunct industrial zone, the LX Factory is a sprawling complex housing over 50 galleries, restaurants, bars, coffee shops and artsy boutiques. Just meandering around is like a walk through an urban art gallery with street art peppered on every exterior wall.
Be sure two check out the quirky two story bookstore Ler Devagar and if you come hungry, I can personally recommend Food A Praca.
Lisbon After Sundown
Walking around Lisbon as the sun set and dusk starts to creep over the city proves Lisbon is Portugal’s ‘City of Lights.’ As the sun dips behind the buildings, a golden glow appears creating a magical ambience through the streets.
Walk Along the Praça do Comércio Waterfront
One of the best places to catch a sunset is along the Praça do Comércio Waterfront with lively restaurants, bars and food shops and a boardwalk where you’ll see many locals getting their evening run.
See The Sprawling City From A Miradoures
One of the best places to take in the sights of the city is one of Lisbon’s many ‘miradoures’ or viewpoints set on top of the hills. One of my favorites and close to the Alfama district is the Miradouro da Graca. Although the climb up the adjacent steep street is tough, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views from the top, especially at night sparkling in the city lights.
Things to Do Near Lisbon
Beach day @ Praia do Tamariz
Need a day to relax, away from the city? Fancy a beach day? Take a train out to one of the nearby beaches where you’ll find locals hanging out on sunny days. Although I didn’t have a chance to head out there, some friends took a 36 minute train ride to Praia do Tamariz and had a lovely day soaking up the sun and saltwater.
Take a Day Trip to Sintra
If you have an extra day, I would highly recommend spending it exploring neighboring Sintra. Tucked away in the foothills of Portugal’s Sintra Mountains, the area will fascinate travelers by it’s colorful palaces and lush forested terrain.
To plan your own visit, check out my Day Trip to Sintra Travel Guide coming soon!
Like I said before, Lisbon is a party city. Whether you’re more into a chill bar scene or an upbeat dance club setting, Lisbon has something for you.
First things first when it comes to drinking in Lisbon, there are no open container laws. Like Berlin, that means you can grab a brewski and walk the streets. It’s actually almost encouraged as locals tend to hang out on the streets and squares, especially on weekend nights.
Where to Find the Best Bars
Walk Around Bairro Alto
Since Bairro Alto has the highest concentration of bars of anywhere in Europe, simply walking the streets of Bairro Alto is a nighttime activity within itself. Pop into a couple bars to get a true taste of Portuguese nightlife.
After the sun goes down, one place you can count on having a party every night is the famous Pink Street of Lisbon. Aptly named Pink Street from the street actually being pink, the area was once Lisbon’s red light district but has now blossomed into the most coveted areas of nightlife for Lisbon.
By far my favorite bar on Pink Street was Pensão Amor, an old brothel right in the heart of the old red light district of Cais do Sodré. The large 3 maybe 4 story bar is a maze of bars scattered throughout with each room featuring different, bold decor.
Castro Bar was near one of our Airbnb’s and after popping in just for a quick drink, we stayed for a few more after we found the cheapest prices for beer in the city coming in at around €2 for the Portugese staple, Super Bock.
Lisbon Night Clubs & Music Scene
As with most party-centric cities, bringing in travelers looking for a good time, a vast variety of clubs exist within the Lisbon music scene.
While some of the clubs are very obviously catered to tourists, a thriving electronic and techno scene hosts musicians and DJs from all over the world.
Before heading out to a club, I suggest always checking out Resident Advisor to see who’s playing to ensure it’s the vibe you’re looking for. Or alternatively, check out new places by using the Resident Advisor app!
In my opinion this place was touristy af and while I was there, only heard top 40 crowd favorites being played. But if that’s your thing, then you’ll be sure to have a good time, along with a massive hangover the next day.
Lux Nightclub is a more traditional nightclub in Lisbon with a beautiful rooftop terrace, overlooking the city and open in the summertime. The basement area played a good mix of techno and other electronic acts with a nice balance of locals and tourists.
Music Festivals in Lisbon:
- Nos Alive
- Super Bock EM Stock
- Super bock Super Rock
- LXM Festival
- VOA Heavy Rock Festival
- Nova Batida
- MIL – Lisbon International Music Network
Have I convinced you to visit the wonderous world of Lisbon yet? Take me with you please. As always, if you have any questions about my Lisbon city guide, drop ’em in the comments below!
Lisbon, Portugal City Guide
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