Lisbon | Portugal : A Quick Guide to Planning Your Adventure

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Lisbon … The lovely City of Tiles.

Don’t miss it 

Get lost in Lisbon’s oldest neighborhood, Alfama, with its narrow, steep and winding cobbled streets. Admire all the beautifully-tiled houses. These colorful ceramic tiles [called azulejos in Portuguese] are all over the city’s buildings — typically arranged in impressive, artistic designs.

 In Alfama, feel the emotion of fado, the traditional Portuguese music. It is often compared to opera, yet it feels so different. Fado is always performed in a group of three — one singer and two guitarists [a regular and Portuguese guitar]. Like opera, it’s very emotional, usually about love and heartbreak. We took a “fado experience” tour through Wild Walkers. It gives you the opportunity to meet and dine with other travelers. It felt like we were dining with old friends.

Pretty Cool

To see Lisbon from above, climb to Castelo de São Jorge for 360-degree views. Be sure to wear comfy shoes; it can be a steep walk to the top of this 11th-century fortress.

For spectacular sea-level views, head to Praça do Comércio [Commerce Square]. It is one of the largest [objective] and most beautiful [subjective] squares in Europe. It’s a fantastic place to grab a coffee, nata or ice cream and simply relax.

Must try food/drink

Our Wild Walkers tour guide said, “You can drink before noon in Portugal and no one will judge you!”

Order a shot of ginjinha from the counter at A Ginjinha. It’s a grab-and-go bar that serves tourists and locals ginjinha, a tart cherry gin. Then, pop into any bakery for one [or two or three or four] pastel de nata. These sweet, custard-filled desserts are a Portuguese stable.

For the ultimate wine experience, make a reservation at the BA Wine Bar in Bairro Alto. The service is exceptional. The staff encourages you to taste multiple wines before deciding on a glass [ ahem, bottle ]. They also craft the most magnificent spread of cheese, meats, olives and bread. Portuguese wine is out of this world. Do not miss this place!

Portugal doesn’t receive enough credit for its delicious food. There is a lot of fresh seafood, fantastic desserts and tasty drinks! My favorite dish is bacalhau [salted cod fish].

Time Out Market is essentially an upscale food market. You can sample foods from popular Lisbon restaurants all in one building.

Here’s a hint

  • Castle-hop your way through the fairytale town of Sintra, which is about an hour train ride from Lisbon. You can buy your admission ticket when you arrive at the first castle. You’ll receive a small discount for visiting three castles — just buy the “multiple pass” at the first stop. [Stay tuned: A post specific to Sintra is coming!]
  • The metro system in Lisbon is phenomenal — very clean and easy to navigate.
  • Join a tips-based walking tour of the city. Highly recommend Wild Walkers!
  • Want a cool souvenir? Head to the Feira da Ladra flea market near the monastery in Alfama. While a lot of the vendors seem to be selling junk, several vendors sell fantastic artwork, jewelry, tiles, etc. You will certainly find a great souvenir to bring home!
  • For the original nata, take a bus or train to historic Belém. You could also walk along the waterfront to Belém. Pastéis de Belém is home to the original nata, and you can even watch them being made.
  • In Belém, there are plenty of museums and historic monuments, plus the popular Belém Tower. I know Belém Tower is high on the “must-do” travel lists, but you couldn’t have paid me to stand in line. Instead, I opted for more natas 🙂  Belém is BUSY. Prepare yourself.

Wish I had more time for

A ride on the famous Tram 28, which begins in the city center and meanders through Alfama. I also wish I had spent a day on the beach in Cascais, a popular beach town just outside the city.

Accommodation

I feel so lucky to have visited Lisbon twice. The first time, I stayed at Lisb’on Hostel in the Baixa-Chiado neighborhood. This hostel has the most magnificent outdoor terrace with one heck of a view. The panoramic view includes the Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge and the Christ the King monument across the water in Almada. The bridge rivals the Golden Gate in San Francisco, and the Christ the King monument was inspired by Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer.

During my second visit, I stayed in the Bairro Alto neighborhood at the New Lisbon Concept Hostel. It’s located near the Avenue of Lisbon, which is home to fancy shopping and upscale restaurants. I stayed in Lisbon for seven nights in total, which was the perfect amount of time to explore the city.

Next stop

Hopped on a train for a scenic ride to the Douro Valley, the picturesque wine region famous for its port wine. Then, spend a weekend in the hilly, artsy Porto, Portugal.

Have you visited Lisbon? Share your experience and recommendations in the comments below.

Planning a trip to Portugal? Check out what to do in Porto, Portugal, Lisbon’s friendly city rival.

Planning a trip to other parts of Europe? Here are a few guides to help you get started.

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17 Comments Add yours

  1. Lisbon is so colorful! I’m going to Portugal in June and I can’t wait to explore Lisbon and Porto now! Thanks for the amazing pictures and article!

    1. You will have a blast! Two amazing cities. Eat lots of natas – they are delish!

  2. Kevin | Caffeinated Excursions says:

    I visited Lisbon almost exactly a year ago and your post is making me feel so nostalgic! Belem and the egg pastries are an absolute must, and so is ginjinha! Such a great city for anyone who loves food 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    1. I absolutely agree! Natas and ginjinha – both so delicious!

  3. Lisbon, Portugal is a place that is high on our list of places to visit. It seems like a place straight out of a fairy tale or a medieval romance. It still retains its pristine charm. Sintra is a place that we would love to spend a lot of time in, have heard rave reviews of the place. Your post is indeed a valuable guide for first-time visitors to Lisbon.

    1. Thank you! Yes, you’ll need to plan a visit because you are right … it’s straight out of a fairy tale! Especially Sintra. It’s a lovely town. I spent a full day (and visited three castles) but I wish I had made it an overnight trip. Happy traveling!

  4. Really good tips and nicely presented. Tiles, colors and architecture are so captivating visually. And Lisbon is on the list to spend some quality time soon. But, most importantly, and being a lover of Port, did you sample a favorite?

    1. You bet I did! I actually stayed on a vineyard in the Douro Valley for a weekend. The ruby from Quinta de Marrocos!

  5. I love the way you layout your posts! It’s great to know what you wish you had more time for. I’ve been to Lisbon once, and it rained the entire time. I really need to go back

    1. Thank you for the kind compliment! I’m sorry to hear about your Lisbon experience … Most of the days I was in Paris it rained as well. You’ll have to plan another trip – it’s a fantastic city!

  6. Danik says:

    There is something about Portugal and their beautiful tiles. I love the whiteness and the patterns of them, espeically when places like the train stations have tiles in (I found this more noticeable in the north of Portugal). And there doorways, facades of buildings are truly beautiful.

    1. I absolutely agree! The tiles are so vibrant. I could wander around all day just looking at them!

  7. I’ve never been to Lisbon, but it’s really high on my list of places to go, more so now after reading this post. Alfama sounds so pretty!

    1. Alfama is so lovely, especially with fado music!

  8. April says:

    I love the detailed write-up! Never been to Europe myself hope we can go in 2 years. I’ll read more of your tips! I love how detailed you wrote it in looking from one attraction to the other! Very helpful especially for first timer.

    1. Thank you! I hope you make it there too 🙂 It’s such a lovely place!

  9. puppy1952 says:

    Just awesome 😎

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