Lisbon is one of the most beautiful and underrated cities in Europe. Despite being Portugal’s capital city, it doesn’t feel as crowded or busy as many of Europe’s other major cities. Having lived in Lisbon for a couple months now, I’ve gotten a good feel for both the touristy and the local attractions Lisbon has to offer. So although there is plenty to do in Lisbon, I’m gonna boil it down for you and list my favorite sights, restaurants, and activities in case you have a limited time to stay.
Start your day off right with a delicious breakfast. Portugal has great food and if you want an authentic start to the day, stop at the first little bakery you see for breakfast on-the-go and grab an espresso and the typical Portuguese pastry called “Pastel de Nata,” which you have to try while in Portugal. Here’s a picture of the custard-filled pastry.
If you’re anything like me though, this probably won’t be enough food to keep you going, especially with a day of sightseeing ahead. That’s why my second suggestion is to check out my favorite breakfast/brunch spot (they serve breakfast food until 12) just off of Avenida da Liberdade. It’s named Champanheria do Largo (Address: Largo da Anunciada 20) and apparently has good Portuguese food to eat for lunch and dinner as well. With a peaceful outdoor patio under the trees, overlooking Lisbon’s cobblestone streets and one of the city’s funiculars, it makes for a great place to eat at any time of the day. Their breakfast options include some of the best coffee I’ve had in Portugal, various pastries, pancakes, eggs benedict, and oatmeal. I tried their toast with scrambled eggs and farinheira, a Portuguese smoked sausage, and an iced coffee with soy milk.
2) Praça do Comércio
From Champanheria do Largo it’s a straight shot to Praça do Comércio which overlooks the Tagus River and is the largest of Lisbon’s plazas. You can read about its interesting history here: http://www.aviewoncities.com/lisbon/pracadocomercio.htm
On your way there you’ll walk through the impressive Arco da Rua Augusta, which was built to commemorate the reconstruction of Lisbon after much of the city was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake.
As I said, the plaza overlooks the Tagus and the 25th of April Bridge, which is often compared to the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a pretty area with plenty of upscale cafes to relax in while enjoying the view.
3) Explore the Alfama District
About a 15-minute walk uphill from Praça do Comércio is the Alfama District. This district is known for its steep and narrow cobblestone streets filled with restaurants and boutique stores to explore. I’d suggest doing so without a map and just getting lost between the colorful old buildings. Eventually you’ll either run into the castle of São Jorge (view of Lisbon from inside the castle pictured above) or a “miradouro,” an outlook point for a gorgeous view of Lisbon and the Tagus. My favorite miradouro in the area is Miradouro de Santa Luzia, lending views like this one.
The castle of São Jorge is a moorish castle at the highest point in the city. It has an interesting history and if you have the time, I’d recommend paying the fee to go inside São Jorge and wander around. There’s even a restaurant inside with the same view pictured above.
Although a Francesinha sandwich originally comes from Porto, you’ve gotta try one if you don’t have time to get to Porto. That’s why I recommend making the easy walk down from the Alfama district to Restaurante Velho Macedo (Rua da Madalena 117) for traditional Portuguese dishes, including the Francesinha.
If you’re on a budget and don’t care what style of food you’re eating, there’s also a great little Italian restaurant in the area, Pizzeria Romana al Taglio (Rua da Conceição 44). It has delicious and authentic take-away pizza for as low as €2.50.
5) Elevador de Santa Justa and Carmo Square
Though I’ve never personally gotten on this 19th century lift (since there’s generally a line during peak season), I’ve been told the view from the top is one of the best views of central Lisbon. I’d recommend going to the top for the outlook point and then staying up there to check out Carmo square and the ruins of Carmo church. This Gothic church was destroyed by the 1755 earthquake, leaving it roofless. It is now an archaeological museum that regularly holds events like movie nights in the ruins and art expositions. If you’d rather relax, Carmo square has an outdoor cafe perfect for enjoying Lisbon’s sunny weather.
6) Have drinks and snacks at an outdoor cafe
Since I’ve been living in Lisbon for a little while and want you to live like a local, next I’m taking you to “my neck of the woods.” Head toward Avenida da Liberdade; just past Praça dos Restauradores (and the Restauradores metro station if you’re using public transportation), you’ll find the street lined with outdoor cafes such as Banana Cafe. They all have outdoor kiosks with tables sitting on typical Portuguese calçada (mosaic black and white) tiles. Many days of the week they’ll have DJs playing, live bands performing, or Latin dance parties. This is where many locals come in the late afternoon or evening to relax with friends after work. The pace of life is slower in Portugal, and with such a packed day you’ll want to slow down and take it all in at a place like these.
7) Check out local parks
A short (but steep) walk from Avenida da Liberdade will take you to two parks that are quiet and uncrowded, despite the fact that they’re in the center of Lisbon. Go to Jardim do Torel and Jardim Braancamp Freire to lay in the grass and take in that Portuguese sun. There’s a cute little gelato shop (Mú – Gelato Italiano at Campo Mártires da Pátria 50) next to Jardim Braancamp Freire that even has dairy-free options, and there’s another outdoor cafe inside the park where you’ll find reasonably-priced coffee and drinks.
8) Watch the sunset from Hotel NH Collection Lisboa Liberdade
This upscale hotel has a rooftop bar that’s open to all and, in my opinion, it’s one of the best places to watch the sun as it sets over Lisbon and the Tagus. Drinks, though more expensive than at the kiosks on Liberdade, aren’t too pricey and offer a great quality and variety of choices. And, while in Portugal, trying both Port wine and vinho verde are must’s, so why not sip on one of these while watching the sunset from a gorgeous rooftop bar?
Now it’s time for some authentic and well-priced Portuguese food at Cantinho de São José (R. São José 94). This place is always filled with locals and has the freshest, best Portuguese food I had in all of Portugal. They’ll start you off with traditional favorites such as bolinhos de bacalhau (cod fritters) and bread with toppings like Queijo de Azeitão (a type of sheep’s cheese), sardine pate, and tuna pate. The three main courses I’ve tried so far include octopus rice (arroz de polvo), fried cod (bacalhau assado), and salt cod with eggs and potatoes (bacalhau à braz). They were all absolutely delicious and the fish was prepared perfectly every time.
If you’re tired of Portuguese food from lunch and want to change things up, my absolute favorite restaurant in Portugal is actually a Kebab restaurant called Sulaman Kebab (Rua das Pretas 7) that’s really cheap but ALWAYS delicious. Everything I’ve had is great but their Kebab menu for €5, which includes a traditional kebab, fries, and a drink, is my personal favorite.
10) Take a nap and hit the bars
Portugal has a fun and thriving nightlife scene. However, their timetable slightly differs from what I’m used to, since they generally stay out until 7 or 8 in the morning. So after dinner I’d suggest taking a nap and then taking your time getting ready before hitting the town because things don’t get started until around 12 or 1 am. First, head to Bairro Alto and wander in and out of the plethora of bars in the area. It’s also common to go in a bar to grab a beer or a cocktail and then gather on the street to drink with friends and make friends with those passing by. The bars in Bairro Alto close around 3 am, and from there most people either go to the “pink street” (Rua nova do carvalho), which is literally a street painted pink and lined with bars, or they go to a club. On the pink street my favorite bars are Pensão Amor and Espumantaria do Cais. My favorite clubs, which are all along the Tagus, are Lux Club and K Urban Beach. The clubs can get a little pricey though, so if you’re on a budget I’d suggest going to the pink street. Either way, be ready to chat and dance until sunrise.
Lisbon is a magical and beautiful place to live, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. Feel free to message me if you want any more advice! Have fun!