There’s Something About Lisbon: A Guide

I’d never had a strong desire to visit Portugal until I first visited Lisbon. Check out this guide to one of Europe’s most underrated cities - and learn why I’m eager to return to Portugal again and again. There’s something about Lisbon. | http://passportandplates.com

When a friend of mine first suggested going to Lisbon, my initial reaction was a lukewarm, “sure, why not?” I’d never had a strong desire to go to Portugal, but tickets were inexpensive and it would still be warm in September, so we decided to do Lisbon on a budget.

I consider Portugal to be one the most underrated countries in western Europe. Besides some enthusiastic surfer friends, I’ve never heard someone say “I really want to go Portugal”. Sometimes it gets lumped with Spain, as in “I’m going to SpainAndPortugal”, but there seems to be a general lack of enthusiasm about it within the tourist circuit. In fact, up until I actually went to Portugal, I was one of those people. But trust me on this – you should definitely consider Portugal for your next Europe trip. The stunning contrast and cohesiveness of old meeting new, of historical meeting modern, is something that it is so well integrated into Lisbon’s culture and way of life, and makes it a city worth exploring for weeks on end.

Why go?

In one line: perfect weather, delicious food, historical landmarks and beautiful beaches at really affordable prices. It is easy to enjoy Lisbon on a budget. While I was only able to spend four days in this glorious city, I could easily return and stay for another week. Only then would I begin to truly experience what Lisbon has to offer.

 

Perfect weather:

I visited Lisbon in mid-September, where it was a balmy 75 degrees (that’s 24 Celsius for the non-Americans) every single day. Having just come from cold and rainy Amsterdam, it was clear that fall had already hit Europe, but in Lisbon, it was a perfect spring day every day – just be sure to pack some layers for evenings, as they got a bit chilly.

I’d never had a strong desire to visit Portugal until I first visited Lisbon. Check out this guide to one of Europe’s most underrated cities - and learn why I’m eager to return to Portugal again and again. My guide to Lisbon on a budget. | http://passportandplates.com

 

Delicious food:

Fresh cod, padron peppers, and the heavenly pasteis de nata…nope, no bad meals to be had. Did I mention that everything is really cheap? This giant fresh fish sandwich cost me less than 5 euros. This is Lisbon on a budget made easy (and delicious).

I’d never had a strong desire to visit Portugal until I first visited Lisbon. Check out this guide to one of Europe’s most underrated cities - and learn why I’m eager to return to Portugal again and again. My guide to Lisbon on a budget. | http://passportandplates.com

Now that’s what I call a sandwich!

 

Beautiful beaches:

Being from Southern California, I rarely visit a place just for its beaches. However, I have to admit that the Lisbon beaches left me wishing that I’d made more of an effort to incorporate beach time. Portugal also happens to have the best waves in Europe, so it’s a surfer’s paradise.

I’d never had a strong desire to visit Portugal until I first visited Lisbon. Check out this guide to one of Europe’s most underrated cities - and learn why I’m eager to return to Portugal again and again. My guide to Lisbon on a budget. | http://passportandplates.com

 

The Must Do’s:

Explore ancient castles:

Castelo de São Jorge: The wall of this Moorish fortress is the last standing defensive wall in Lisbon. Within it, you’ll find an entire neighborhood, consisting of the citadel, castle, and ruins of the former royal palace. You can easily spend half a day here, exploring all the nooks and crannies. You’re also treated to stunning views of Lisbon – specifically Alfama – and it’s particularly glorious on a sunny day.

 

Shop and people-watch:

Take the tram to Praça do Comércio, the large and beautiful commercial square located on the water. Sit and enjoy the sun and Tagus river views for a while before walking down the main shopping road. Here, you’ll find blocks upon blocks of restaurants and shops. Tip: Don’t forget to stop at Santa Justa street – you can take the lift all the way up to the ruins of the Igreja do Carmo church.

 

Get lost in Alfama:

Tiny cobblestone streets and alleys line the historical neighborhood of Alfama, home to Fado music and picturesque rooftops. Wander through the streets here without a map – you’ll come across the cutest cafes and décor. This is also the best neighborhood to listen to Fado, as the best Fado bars are here.

 

Go to a live Fado show:

Melancholic but beautiful is the best way to describe the traditional Portuguese music style known as Fado. There are many small restaurants and bars that offer live Fado as long as you eat (or drink), meaning you can make it work if you’re in Lisbon on a budget, so don’t miss out on the experience. It’s enchanting, to say the least.

I’d never had a strong desire to visit Portugal until I first visited Lisbon. Check out this guide to one of Europe’s most underrated cities - and learn why I’m eager to return to Portugal again and again. My guide to Lisbon on a budget. | http://passportandplates.com

The feels.

 

Ride Tram 28 around the city:

Tram 28 is the worst kept tourist secret for traveling in Lisbon on a budget. The tram takes you though the majority of the cool neighborhoods such as Baixa, Graça, Alfama, and Estrela. Some people use it to get to Castelo de São Jorge, since it’s a fairly steep climb all the way up, but I recommend you buy a 24-hour pass (€6) and start at Martim Moniz station. Tip: If you don’t board where the tram line starts, you’re in for an hour-long packed journey standing up, so get on the tram and grab a seat fast. Best believe I got a seat both ways!

 

Browse eclectic goods at Feira da Ladra:

If you happen to be exploring Alfama on a Tuesday or Saturday, you’re in luck! The Santa Clara flea market is a large and busy market filled with rows upon rows of stuff – everything from sunglasses to records to clothing. I nabbed a pair of €5 sunglasses here, but it’s a fun place to explore even if you don’t want to buy anything. A great spot to enjoy Lisbon on a budget.

 

Discover the ancient monastery in Belem:

Take the bus to Belém, known both for its famous pastry shop and its Gothic monastery, Mosteiro Dos Jeronimos. Dos Jeronimos is a UNESCO World Heritage site with a deep-rooted political, architectural and cultural history. Tip: Get here early – the line for tickets gets pretty long pretty quickly! Note that the area around the monastery is well worth exploring. Skip the line and admission fee at Torre de Belem, but meander alongside the Tagus River for shops, people-watching, small restaurants and photo-worthy backdrops.

 

Take a day trip to Sintra:

If there’s one thing I regret about my trip, it’s not spending enough time in Sintra, the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage city an hour outside of Lisbon. Thanks to our leisurely pace, my friend and I made it here late in the afternoon and were only able to visit one of the palaces: the wacky-colored Palacio de la Pena. You have the option of walking up the steep road up to the palace (obviously the cheaper option if you’re traveling in Lisbon on a budget), but we were lazy and short on time so we took a tuk-tuk instead.  The castle grounds are huge and you can easily spend a full day walking through the castle and around the surrounding Parque Natural. Come here for the day or two and see Sintra at your own pace.

 

Brunch and browse at LX Factory:

I would have never found LX Factory if it weren’t for a friend of mine who studied abroad in Lisbon. While it’s further from the city center than most tourists venture, it is worth the trek. Once a collective of industrial factories, this area has since been renovated to a “creative island” of shops, cafes, and small businesses. This is a beautiful spot to enjoy a real (American) brunch, as well as discover a bit of the underground art scene.

 

See ultra modern Lisbon:

Remember earlier when I said that Lisbon cohesively intertwines old and new? Well, that’s definitely not the case at Parque das Nações, Lisbon’s modern “new city”. This municipality was created for the World Expo in the 1990s, and is home to a spectacular mall, the Lisbon aquarium, and lots of new offices, hotels, and apartment buildings. I didn’t feel like I was in Lisbon anymore! Frankly, there isn’t a whole lot to do in this area but it’s a surprisingly peaceful place to spend a few hours walking around – there’s also a cable car to ride if you’d like.

 

The Must Eat’s:

“Pitéu!” That’s what the Portuguese say about delicious meals…and boy did I eat plenty of things worthy of that exclamation! Unfortunately, I didn’t dig as deeply into the food scene here as I would have liked, but if there are two foods not to be missed in Lisbon, they are the salt cod (bacalhau) and the famous egg custard pastries (pasteis de nata) from Pasteis de Belém.

 

As Marias Com Chocolate:

If you have a sweet tooth, then this homemade fudge and chocolate shop is right up your alley! My friend and I stumbled upon this place while looking for a café to have breakfast. After eating some forgettable sandwiches, we opted to try some fudge for dessert, and we were very impressed. The women at this tiny shop make all the fudge from scratch, and you can tell. They also have cookies, chocolate and a bunch of other snacks. If you find yourself in Alfama, don’t say no to dessert!

 

Nata:

I’m usually the last person to tell you to eat at a chain restaurant, but Nata is a solidly delicious choice that can be found all over Lisbon. Not only is their cod sandwich to die for, but it’s a bargain at less than €5 (I did say that Lisbon on a budget wasn’t too difficult!), and is guaranteed to leave you satisfied. Don’t forget to grab a pastel de nata (egg tart) for dessert.

I’d never had a strong desire to visit Portugal until I first visited Lisbon. Check out this guide to one of Europe’s most underrated cities - and learn why I’m eager to return to Portugal again and again. My guide to Lisbon on a budget. | http://passportandplates.com

This was so good it got posted twice.

 

Mascote da Atalaia:

Although I suggest listening to Fado in Alfama, we ended up at this place in Bairro Alto since we were meeting some friends for dinner. The Fado here is beautiful and intimate – we were seated directly in front of the stage and really got the full experience. The food options here are on the more expensive side, so not exactly in keeping with ‘Lisbon on a budget’, but I have to admit – they were really good. I wasn’t too hungry and opted to have just the heavenly fresh cheese (queijo da Serra) and spiced potatoes. Even if you don’t go to Mascote, make sure you try queijo da Serra at least once.

I’d never had a strong desire to visit Portugal until I first visited Lisbon. Check out this guide to one of Europe’s most underrated cities - and learn why I’m eager to return to Portugal again and again. My guide to Lisbon on a budget. | http://passportandplates.com

Healthy dinner choices for the win!

 

Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau:

I’m pretty sure this place doesn’t serve anything besides their signature codfish croquette, but that doesn’t matter. A traditional croquette doesn’t actually have cheese, but I like their version made with Serra da Estrela cheese much better than any of the others I tried. They’re quite overpriced at €3.50 a pop, but how often are you in Lisbon? Be warned: you WILL get cheese all over yourself (unless you’re one of those magically dainty eaters #jealous), so take a bunch of napkins!

 

Mercado da Ribeira:

Nothing makes me happier than finding out that a city has a gourmet food hall. At Mercado da Ribeira, you can access amazing eats at one central location, thanks to the market’s partnership with some of Lisbon’s best restaurants and chefs. I opted for a prego no pão (steak sandwich) with chips, but you could come here every single day of your trip without running out of options to try.

 

Mercado de Santa Clara:

Remember when I told you to go to the Feira da Ladra market? Well, this is where we went directly after the market to get homemade Portuguese food. The family was cooking up a storm, and I ate a giant plate of delicious sardines and grilled veggies. I have no idea if the same vendors are always there, but if you want an authentic home cooked meal, check it out!

I’d never had a strong desire to visit Portugal until I first visited Lisbon. Check out this guide to one of Europe’s most underrated cities - and learn why I’m eager to return to Portugal again and again. My guide to Lisbon on a budget. | http://passportandplates.com

 

Brunch at LX Factory:

I mentioned LX Factory earlier as a fun place to explore and eat. I came here for Sunday brunch, and let me tell you – what I ordered at Café Na Fabrica was enough food for two people, easy. It was very American (a mix of carbs, eggs, more carbs, fruit, and more carbs), but I’d been traveling for a month at this point and wasn’t about to say no to a little taste of home. There are plenty of cafes at LX Factory, so you can always eat a smaller meal here if you wish.

I’d never had a strong desire to visit Portugal until I first visited Lisbon. Check out this guide to one of Europe’s most underrated cities - and learn why I’m eager to return to Portugal again and again. My guide to Lisbon on a budget. | http://passportandplates.com

So. Much. Food.

 

Pasteis de Belém:

Do NOT leave Belem without trying these egg tart pastries. This is not a joke. I even made my friend try them despite her stomach queasiness. They’re that good. I probably ate close to half a dozen that day (oops) but these will absolutely be the best egg tarts you’ve ever had in your life. Tip: The to-go line moves quickly, but if you want to dine-in, tables are up for grabs inside. Just hover near people who are finishing up. A ton of tourists were waiting to be seated by the host in one section and the line there was long.

 

Park Bar:

I didn’t actually eat at Park, but man do I wish I had. I did come here and dance the night away to some cheesy 90s’/00’s music though…which is exactly why I would come back here again and again. Park is a chill rooftop bar and restaurant with spectacular views of Lisbon. The “secret” entrance is through a parking lot, so let’s just say there aren’t too many tourists up there. Trust me on this, you don’t want to miss it.

I’d never had a strong desire to visit Portugal until I first visited Lisbon. Check out this guide to one of Europe’s most underrated cities - and learn why I’m eager to return to Portugal again and again. My guide to Lisbon on a budget. | http://passportandplates.com

Views from Park

 

Where to Stay:

I stayed at this Airbnb. It was inexpensive, easy to find, and located in the heart of Alfama – perfect for staying in Lisbon on a budget. I don’t think I would have spent enough time wandering through this area if I wasn’t staying here, so I’m really glad I did. Sign up for Airbnb and get a $20 credit here. Other good central areas to stay are Bairro Alto, Baixa Chiado or Cais de Sodre.

There are very few cities that I’ve been to that I would consider “perfect” cities, but Lisbon truly is one of them. Budget friendly and beautiful with a sense of joie de vivre, I know that my first visit won’t be my last. As I said before, there’s something about Lisbon.

 

Have you traveled in Lisbon on a budget? Did I miss any of your favorite places in this guide? Share in the comments below!

I’d never had a strong desire to visit Portugal until I first visited Lisbon. Check out this guide to one of Europe’s most underrated cities - and learn why I’m eager to return to Portugal again and again. My guide to Lisbon on a budget. | http://passportandplates.com

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  • I have an obsession with buying cheap sunglasses abroad. Totally buying a pair when I go to Lisbon and also using this complete guide!

    • Me TOO! Probably because I have a habit of losing sunglasses haha. Glad you liked the guide – I hope you get to go soon 🙂

  • 20 Something Detour

    My next big stop is Lisbon! Thanks for the handy hints, I’ll be sure to have another look at this right before I go. Great blog! Feel free to check out my blog The 20 Something Detour 🙂

    • Awesome! You’re going to LOVE it. Let me know if you have any questions. It’s a great city! And thanks 🙂

  • I freaking love Lisbon! My sister did her study abroad there and on a whim, I decided to surprise her for her 21st birthday. Little did I know it would be the best week of my life! I dream about Prego sandwiches and Pasteis de Belem every single day. Those egg tarts are on my top ten food moments! Did you go to Bairo Alto as well? My sister and I both suffered a robbery while we were there drinking (I got my cellphone stolen and she had her camera stolen) but I still love it 🙂

    • That’s awesome that you spent a week there! Minus the robbery part. But yes, I went to Bairo Alto but didn’t spend as much time there as I would have liked. For such a small city, there’s a ton to do / see! And YES to pasteis de belem…I’m drooling just thinking about them!

  • Stephanie Rose

    Wow, the colors are so vibrant!! That castle looks amazing too. That would be my first stop!! Spain and Portugal aren’t on my bucket list, but the more I read about them, the more interested I am.

    • Yeah, the Sintra castle is mind-blowing! It looks like it belongs in Candy Land. I’m biased because I spent a month in Spain and LOVED it and clearly like Portugal as well. They’re both gorgeous countries with tons of history and good food if you ever decide to go 🙂

  • Svetoslav Dimitrov

    Wohoooo, what an amazing guide you have written! And Lisbon looks so cosy and quiet! Plus the surfers’ waves and delectable food at reasonable prices – a heaven! Let’s get packing.

    • Thank you! And yes some parts are quieter and some are really busy. It’s nice that you can find both options there! Definitely add it to your list 🙂

  • Christina

    I agree with everything you said! Portugal is definitely underrated. We also decided to visit partly because a cheap airfare came up and we definitely fell in love with the country. Can’t wait to go back.

    • Same! i wanted to go somewhere that was warm in September and was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. The good part about it being underrated is that there weren’t too many tourists there either 🙂

  • Hannah Rollings

    I went to Lisbon (and Portugal) for the first time last summer and LOVED it! It was much more different to Spain than I expected. The food scene is spectacular. We loved Mercado da Ribeira and scoffed down gambas and jamon there more than once. I’m a bit gutted i didn’t get to LX Factory. It sounds great! Such a great and extensive guide. Pinned!

    • How funny, I went last summer as well! And yes, I initially expected it to be an extension of Spain (more or less) and was pleasantly surprised. I definitely want to go back and dig deeper – and eat more haha! Thank you!

  • Luxitality

    I’m all about melancholicly beautiful music!! I looked up Fado and that is SOOOOO on the list if I ever make it to Lisbon!!!

    • Yesssss you would LOVE Fado then! It would be right up your alley and there are so many amazing places to listen to it in Lisbon 🙂

  • 2travellingsisters

    Sintra and Belem are the two places that will top on my Portugal itinerary, but then I might just plan a trip there just to relish on the food :D.

    • Hahah I’m totally guilty of planning visits around the food! I wish I’d spent more time in Sintra – you need a full day there at least. I hope you get a chance to go soon!

  • This is an absolutely fantastic guide! I only went to Lisbon once and fell head over hells for the city (and a very cute hostel owner, but that’s another story!!) and would love to go back. We made it to Sintra but lost all of the photos… definitely moving this up the priority queue now!!

    • Thanks Cassie! Haha it’s easy to fall in love with the city (and a cute hostel owner I’m sure 😉 )! Such a shame about the photos but I guess that means you’ll have to go back and take more 🙂

  • I’m headed to Lisbon for a week in September too. I’m looking forward to some sun, awesome food and roading the narrow streets!

    • Awesome!! You’re going to love it. It’s such an amazing city and the weather in September is perfect 🙂

  • Saiful Islam Opu

    Wow, cool! Lots of colorful activities! Thanks for writing such this informative post. Have you been to Bangladesh? bit.ly/1TsGbyc

  • That was funny reading your intro paragraph because “I really want to go to Portugal!” It’s on my short list of places to hit this year. I’ll keep your tips in mind when I go! http://www.petitesuitcase.com/

    • Haha that’s awesome! You clearly have good taste because Lisbon is a GREAT city (and I imagine the rest of Portugal is pretty awesome as well). I hope you make it over this year as planned 🙂

  • KB

    I’ve always heard good things about Lisbon and Portugal in general. This is an informative and good read. Lots of solid photography too! Thanks.

    • Thanks, I’m glad you liked the post! I definitely recommend visiting if you get the chance – it won’t stay a hidden gem for long!

  • I never underrated Lisbon (Portual, in fact). I have always felt it is one of the best places in Europe to experience all you’ve mentioned…my favorite would be beaches.

    I hope to be there one day ☺️

    • Hahah well you are certainly smarter than I am! I’m glad I ended up there by accident since I didn’t know any better. I hope you get a chance to visit soon :). It really is one of the best places in Europe!

  • Sónia Dias

    Loved your post, especially because all the good things we mention about my beautiful city :).

    • Thank you Sonia! Lisbon is seriously SUCH an amazing city! You’re very lucky to live there. I really want to go back and explore more of Portugal too 🙂