On the way to Lisbon?
I first visited Lisbon back in 2016 and found it one of the most charming cities I’ve been to in Europe. As the ever popular Spain is right next door, Portugal often gets slept on, which is actually a great thing for the curious traveller. What you’ll find in Lisbon is a beautifully preserved city, colourful, hilly, filled with winding alleys and lively streets. I remember spending an entire afternoon just wandering and listening to buskers, which seemed to be at the end of every corner. A truly beautiful city to explore.
While Lisbon is not a big city by European standards, it still has several distinct areas, some more touristy than others. As the tourist infrastructure grows and hostels and apartments continue to pop up around the city, it can be difficult to know exactly where to stay. Not to worry. Along with some Lisbon experts, I’ve unravelled this city for you.
Below is Lisbon mapped out, with an overview of each area so you know exactly where to stay for the holiday you want. I’ve put together some insider tips for you as well to make sure you hit the ground running as soon as you land.
In This Guide
1. Where to stay in Lisbon
2. Day trips from Lisbon
3. Getting Around In Lisbon
4. Getting a Sim Card In Lisbon
5. Safety in Lisbon
Where To Stay In Lisbon
Map of Lisbon
Above is a map of all the main areas covered in this guide. As you can see Lisbon isn’t large, but there are several areas to stay that run along the water. All of them are great in their own way. Let’s break them down.
When it comes to seeing the sights Baixa is probably the best area of Lisbon to stay. It is home to many of Lisbon’s most famous landmarks and brimming with trendy shops, modern cafes and more touristy restaurants. Located right in the centre of the city, it extends from the Tagus River to Avenida da Liberdade, and is well connected to the other areas of the city.
Baixa was largely destroyed during the great fire of 1755 and then rebuilt in the late 18th century by the first Marquis of Pombal. For this reason, the area is often called Pombalina and exudes 18th century charm. You can spend days wandering Baixa’s streets and plazas.
One place not to miss is Frutaria on Rua dos Fanquerios. It’s the perfect spot for a healthy snack to get you through a long afternoon of sightseeing, plus they do amazing breakfasts and brunches, perfect when nursing a bit of a hangover.
Things to see in Baixa
- Avenida da Liberdade, a stately kilometre of the city characterised by 19th-century architecture and pavements covered in mosaics. It is full of cafes, monuments and gardens.
- Praça do Comércio, which used to house the Royal Palace and is now a smorgasbord of classic buildings.
- Arco da Rua Augusta, an attractive baroque triumphal arch.
- Rossio Square, dating back to the 13th century and flanked by Rossio Train Station and the Dona Maria II National Theatre.
- Restauradoes Square, named to commemorate those who rebelled against Spanish domination in 1640, it has a grand obelisk dedicated to the restoration of Portugal’s independence at the centre of the square.
- Livraria Bertrand, the oldest bookstore in the world.
- A Brasileira, a famous cafe where the poet Fernando Pessoa used to go.
Stay in Baixa if you…
- Are interested in the history of the city and want to visit its most famous streets and squares.
- Are planning on passing your days shopping and popping into Lisbon’s little cafes and restaurants.
- Have a passion for architecture.
Where to Stay in Baixa
For the Backpacker – Yes Lisbon Hostel
Located right in the centre of Baixa, this modern backpackers is located in a gorgeous historic building just steps from the Praça do Comércio. It has lots of different accommodation options in terms of dorms and private rooms, and has delightful social spaces. The staff are friendly and the hostel organises lots of social activities, so it is a great place to stay if you want to meet other travellers. You can find the best rates here.
For the Budget Traveller – My Story Charming Hotel Augusta
With an amazing view of the triumphal arch, step out of this three-star hotel and you will find yourself right in the centre of the ambience of the Baixa district. Each room is fully equipped, so this hotel makes a comfortable sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of the street, and their varied buffet breakfast is a great way to fuel up for the day. You can find the best rates here.
For the Luxurious Type – Hotel Avenida Palace
Located in a gorgeous 19th century building overlooking Restauradores Square, this five-star hotel boasts amazing views of São Jorge Castle from the centre of the city. The décor in the rooms and the common areas is all 19th century charm, like being transported back in time. Its lounge hosts local musicians, and serves traditional 5 o’clock tea daily. You can find the best rates here.
If you are wondering where everyone is on Saturday night, the answer is probably Bairro Alto. This is the bohemian corner of Lisbon, often compared to Paris’ Montmartre district. It is full of restaurants, cafes, bars, tattoo parlours, and of course historic landmarks surrounded by graffiti and hanging laundry. It can feel a bit quiet during the day, but comes alive at night with many traditional fado houses, but also bars, gay clubs and live music venues.
Portugal is famous for its wine and port, but while out and about in Bairro Alto make sure you also try the ginjinha, a sour cherry liqueur. I always get mine with a cherry that is delicious once it has soaked up all the booze. Make sure to visit bar Pavilhão Chinês, which is both a bar and a museum, Pop Out the Can, where you can enjoy the work of upcoming artists while sipping a cocktail, and Park, for a sunset drink, Jazz, and panoramic views of the city.
That doesn’t mean that there is nothing to do during the day. Bairro Alto is home to many of Lisbon’s most beautiful gardens, as well as some of the city’s most interesting museums. It has the Puppet Museum, which displays more than 1,000 puppets from all over Europe, and the National Museum of Ancient Art with an eclectic collection of paintings, sculpture, jewellery and decorative arts from Europe, Africa and the Orient.
The best way to move between Baixa and Bairro Alto is the Santa Justa Lift. Opened in 1902, it is 45 metres tall and was built by the same architect that designed the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It has an observation deck at the top which offers an amazing view of the Baixa area.
Things to see in Bairro Alto
- Garden of São Pedro de Alcántara with views over Baixa and of the Tagus River and São Jorge Castle.
- Garden of Santa Catarina, which offers more excellent panoramic views.
- Estrela Basilica and Garden, a 19th-century botanic garden full of interesting plants next to this gorgeous neoclassical basilica.
- Church of Sao Roque, which may look bland from the outside, but inside is one of the most exquisitely decorated Catholic churches in Europe.
- Sao Bento Palace, a monastic complex that now serves as the seat of Portuguese parliament.
Stay in Bairro Alto if you…
- Have a passion for the nightlife and plan to spend your trip partying like a local.
- Want to visit some of the most interesting and quirky museums in the city.
- Are looking for some green getaways from the packed city.
Where to Stay
For the Backpackers – No Limits Bairro Alto
A fully-stocked backpackers with everything we have come to expect from the best European hostels. It offers a variety of shared and private accommodation options. It is an excellent base for visiting Bairro Alto’s bars and clubs, and located close to the elevator for exploring other parts of the city too. You’ll find the best rates here.
For the Budget Traveller – Hotel Borges Chiado
An excellent three-star hotel on the outskirts of Bairro Alto near Chiado, it is located next to a number of great cafes and restaurants and has its own amazing terrace bar. It’s a very short walk from the door of the hotel to Bairro Alto’s hot nightlife, but that extra distance gives you a bit more quiet when you are done for the night and the locals are still partying. You’ll find the best rates here.
For the Luxurious Type – Portugal Boutique Hotel
A gorgeous four-star hotel located in one of Lisbon’s beautiful historic buildings, it is right in the middle of Bairro Alto’s cafés, restaurants and nightlife. The street doesn’t really start pumping until about midnight, so start the night early in the hotel’s own restaurant with excellent Portuguese food and a great selection of wines in its wine bar. You’ll find the best rates here.
Alfama is the oldest part of Lisbon. It was inhabited by the Romans, who left behind a gorgeous Roman Theatre, by the Visigoths, by the Moors, and is now an authentic fishing neighbourhood. It is a warren of winding medieval alleys overlooked by wrought iron balconies covered with flower pots. Maintaining an older air than the rest of Lisbon, it was largely unaffected by the great earthquake of 1755 which destroyed much of the city.
While having some of Lisbon’s top tourist attractions, Alfama is a local district, populated by families that have lived here for centuries. It does, however, have a trendy modern waterfront development peppered with sleek restaurants and trendy bars.
When in Alfama, make sure to treat yourself to a Fado evening, where you’ll be serenaded by fado singers during your meal. A favourite spot is Mesa de Frades, located in a former Chapel, which adds another layer of atmosphere. It is open until the wee hours and also serves great traditional Portuguese food.
Things to see in Alfama
- Roman Theatre Museum marking the history of some of the area’s earliest settlers.
- Fado Museum dedicated to the classic Portuguese music that was born in Alfama.
- Museum of Portuguese Decorative Arts located in the Palácio Azurara, which is full of tiles, furniture, jewellery and drawings from the 15th to the 19th centuries.
- Church of Santa Engracia, also known as the National Pantheon, a domed church built over the course of centuries.
- São Vicente Church, a spectacular 16th-century monastery with an exceptional tiled interior.
- São Jorge Castle, not just for the castle itself, but the views of the city including the terracotta roof tiles and the cruise ships anchored in the bay.
Stay in Alfama if you…
- Are looking for the traditional heart of the city.
- Are hoping to live like a local.
- Have a passion for music and want to immerse yourself in Fado.
Where to Stay in Alfama
For the Backpackers – This is Lisbon Hostel
Nestled in a restored 19th century building, this hostel features a rooftop terrace with panoramic views of the city, and lots of activities organised by the staff including surf classes and yoga lessons. Best rates here.
For the Budget Traveller – Alfama Riverside
Comfortable and convenient, this affordable hotel is right on the Alfama riverfront. It is also on the side of the district closest to Baixa, so is an excellent base for exploring Lisbon’s downtown as well. Breakfast is the only meal served in the hotel, but there is no shortage of quality restaurants and bars just a short walk from the front door. You’ll find the best rates here.
For the Luxurious Type – Santiago de Alfama
A 5-star boutique hotel with the kind of large rooms you would expect from top-end accommodation. It also has three different restaurants on site. The hotel boasts fantastic views, and is just an 8-minute walk from São Jorge Castle and its panoramic views of the city. If you want something to impress, this is your spot. You’ll find the best rates here.
Belém is far from the centre of Lisbon, tucked away in the southwestern corner of the city, but occupying the mouth of the River Tagus, it is central to the lifeblood of Lisbon. This is the port from which Portugal’s various explorers set sail.
The sumptuous Jerónimos Monastery was built in this quarter in the early 16th century and is surrounded by a raft of impressive historic monuments and museums. This includes the Belém Tower, the Maritime Museum and the unmissable Berardo Collection.
While in Belém, the one place that I always visited was Pastéis de Belém. This used to be a small shop attached to a sugar cane refinery. It is now a famous shop for getting your Portuguese egg tarts, one of my favourite desserts in the world, invented there in 1837.
Things to see in Belém
- Jerónimos Monastery, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture from 1502. It is also home to the National Archaeology Museum.
- Belém Tower, a UNESCO listed defense tower built in the early 16th century and later converted into a lighthouse and customs centre.
- Bernado Collection Museum, an impressive collection of more than 900 works representing all the main artistic movements of the 20th century.
- Maritime Museum, one of the most visited museums in Portugal telling the history of Portuguese sea travel and exploration.
- Belém Palace, Lisbon’s royal palace since 1723, it was converted into the presidential residence in 1910. It boasts beautiful architecture, historic interests and gorgeous gardens.
- Tropical Agricultural Garden, sheltering thousands of rare endangered species of exotic plants.
Stay in Belém if you…
- Have visited Lisbon before and are looking for a different experience a bit more off the tourist track.
- Have a passion for the history of maritime travel and exploration.
- Want to visit the sites, but have a more tranquil experience than the hustle and bustle of downtown.
Where to Stay in Belém
For the Backpackers – 123 Embaixador Hostel
This hostel is simple, clean and affordable in the centre of Belém. It has a range of accommodation options, and a very social vibe, which makes it a great place to meet other travellers who have decided to base themselves in Belém. Good access to public transport means it is easy to explore the rest of the city from this base. You can find the best rates here.
For the Budget Traveller – Casa Amarela Belém
Close to Jerónimos Monastery, this is the perfect place to feel at home in Belém with rooms featuring either a balcony or garden views. There is a fabulous garden and terrace for those wanting to take a break from intense tourism, but still soak up the atmosphere of the district. You can find the best rates here.
For the Luxurious Type – Altis Belem Hotel and Spa
This luxury 5-star hotel has a fantastic waterfront location and its own Michelin Star restaurant. It also features indoor and outdoor pools, a spa and a rooftop sun deck. This is the perfect place to stay if you are looking to mix a cultural city break with some relaxation and pampering. You’ll find the best rates here.
Parque das Naçoes
Park of Nations is a newer area in the city, created for the 1998 World Expo that Lisbon hosted. It is a modern and vibrant corner with many beautiful open spaces and public areas. In the northeastern part of Lisbon, it is accessible from the central city via the Vasco da Gama Bridge. It is full of restaurants, bars, theatres, parks and has a large shopping mall.
One of the highlights of the area is the Oriente train station, designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. This modernist station has a bright glass and steel structure in the form of a tree, one of the key landmarks to check out while in the area.
One place to pass the day here is the Oceanário de Lisboa, which is the second largest Aquarium in Europe. Just the structure alone is impressive, and it has a huge variety of exotic sealife.
This area also has Vasco da Gama Tower with an observation deck offering stunning views of the city and ocean, and the 11-mile Vasco da Gama Bridge, the longest overpass in Europe. It also is home to a number of beautiful Gardens.
Park of Nations also has the benefit of being close to the airport, so it is a good place to stay if you have foolishly booked yourself on an early morning flight.
Things to see in Park of Nations
- Oriente Train Station, an active train station connecting the area with the city and an architectural masterpiece.
- Oceanário de Lisboa, the centrepiece of the 1998 world fair themed around the future of the oceans, it is the second largest aquarium in Europe and has a gigantic five million litre tank.
- Vasco Gama Tower, at 145 metres, is the tallest in Lisbon.
- Vasco Gama Bridge, the impressive 11-mile bridge, which is hard to miss as it offers the only access to the area.
- The Boardwalk, four of the most beautiful waterfront miles in the city.
Stay in Park of Nations if you…
- Need good access to the airport but still want to make the most of your time in Lisbon.
- Love marine life and want to spend your time with the fishes.
- Are travelling with family and are looking for a fun, family-friendly experience.
Where to Stay in Park of Nations
For the Backpackers – Oriente DNA Rooms
There are not a lot of hostels in the area, but Orient DNA Rooms does a good job, offering a range of accommodation options and a friendly atmosphere. Built in 1978, it is clean, fresh, and has all the facilities expected from modern hostels. Not a party hostel. You can find the best rates here.
For the Budget Traveller – Olissippo Oriente
A 4-star hotel at a 3-star price, it is just 500 metres from the Oceanarium and a 4-minute walk from the train station, providing excellent access to the rest of the city. The onsite restaurant offers an excellent combination of Portuguese and international cuisine, so there is something for everyone. There is also a beautiful shaded terrace coffee bar. You can find the best rates here.
For the Luxurious Type – MYRIAD by Sana Hotel
This riverside 5-star hotel is a futuristic oasis in the city and is fully equipped with restaurant, bar, indoor pool and spa. The hotel offers its own evening entertainment and is an excellent venue for larger groups travelling together. The breakfast is one of the best in all of Lisbon. If you’re looking to enjoy Lisbon in style, look no further. You’ll find the best rates here.
Day trips from Lisbon
If you have the time, there are some amazing areas to visit just outside of Lisbon that make an excellent day trip. My favourites are Cascais and Sintra.
About 30 minutes by train from central Lisbon, Cascais is a beautiful beach resort popular with locals and tourists alike. It has sandy beaches and lots of restaurants and cafes. The water is calm for swimming, but be warned, it is also freezing! The little town just inland of the beach is beautiful but quiet. It does have a number of restaurants serving excellent fresh fish.
To get there, take a suburban train from Cais do Sodré station ins central Lisbon, which is accessible on the Green Metro line. They leave every 20 minutes during the week.
A rural district just outside the city, again about 30 minutes on the train, it couples forested hills with fairytale castles. This is an excellent day trip if you want to do some walking and get away from it all. If you look hard, there are also some excellent local art galleries that are worth visiting. If you don’t have much time, make sure Quinta da Regaleira is first on your list. It combines the best of Sintra with both beautiful scenic walks and a romantic palace.
To get there, take a suburban train direct to Sintra from either Rossio Station of Oriente Station. They leave every 20 minutes during the week.
Central Lisbon, including Baixa, Bairro Alto and Alfama, is relatively compact, and because of bad traffic, it is best explored on foot.
When going further afield to the likes of Belém and Park of Nations you can take affordable public trams, which are quite slow, but are also a great way to see the city. The tram ride up the steep hill to Bairro Alto is always an adventure.
If you are looking to get around a little faster, the Metro covers much of the city and is cheap, but is almost always jampacked, so be prepared. Last service is around 1am. If you are looking to go anywhere further than that, there is a good electric train service to the towns and villages along the Portuguese Riviera.
Of course, Lisbon also has its share of taxis and Ubers. This is not the quickest or cheapest way to get around during the day because of the heavy traffic, but is ideal when returning home in the wee hours. Be careful when taking a taxi to or from the airport as there is a law that allows drivers to tack on an extra 50% if your luggage weighs more than 66 pounds.
When travelling to and from the airport, the Metro is usually the best option. The red line connects the airport to Saldanha station in just 15 minutes. From there you can change to another line that will take you to the city centre in less than half an hour, or to a number of other lines taking you elsewhere in the city.
Getting a Sim Card
Portugal has three main mobile networks, MEO, Vodafone and NOS, with the first two offering the best coverage across the city. All the networks offer affordable prepaid packages that offer good data that you can use for the duration of your trip. Prepaid purchases are generally quick and do not require a lot of paperwork.
Probably the best place to pick up a Sim is the arrivals hall in the airport, where all the carriers have kiosks with staff that speak excellent English. There are also stores all over the city.
Don’t forget to ensure that your phone is unlocked before travelling so that you don’t have any problems using a SIM from a different network. Also don’t forget to check the details of your home package, as you may be able to use your home data in Lisbon at no extra charge.
Lisbon is pretty much a safe city, with a low crime rate, especially when it comes to violent crime. Your biggest concern should be for pickpockets and opportunistic thieves who will target unattended belongings.
Most areas are safe during the day, but there are a few that should be avoided after dark. The areas around Martim Monix and Intendente, near the centre, can be a bit scary to walk through alone after dark. The area of Cais do Sodre is safe during the day, and quite busy with bars up until about 1am but after that it should be avoided as there are often groups of young people that can tend to cause a bit of trouble.
However, Lisbon overall is very safe and as long as you exercise common sense you shouldn’t have any problems.