Famous for phenomenal food, Fado and free-spirited festivals, Lisbon offers fun for folks of all ages. In our last post, we focused on the landmarks that define Lisbon. In this more comprehensive guide to Lisbon, we’ll include useful info on trip-planning, can’t-miss dining options, sweet summer events and a few gorgeous getaways just outside of Portugal’s capital city.
Are you fired up? Fantastic. We hope you fall in love with Lisbon, as we did.
- Getting There
- Getting Around
- Where to Stay
- Where We Slept
- When to Go
- Dining & Imbibing
- Music & Nightlife
⌲ Planning Your Trip
By train: Lisbon has 4 main train stations: Rossio, Barreiro, Cais do Sodre & Santa Apolonia, the largest and main terminal. Santa Apolonia connects Lisbon with Porto, other large cities in north and east Portugal, and international destinations such as Madrid and Paris. Click here for timetables & ticket prices.
The best way to explore Lisbon is on foot, as many of the key sights are close to one another. Our advice: have a plan, but also plan on getting lost!
travelhelix tip: Lisbon is wonderfully-walkable, but it’s also called the City of Seven Hills for a reason! If you choose to explore primarily on foot, wear comfortable shoes, and be prepared for steep inclines.
Other modes of transportation in and around the city:
- Hop-on, hop-off tourist bus (several company options)
- Trolley (street-car)
Where to Stay
Before you book your accommodation, we recommend first getting familiar with the different neighborhoods – known locally as bairros. Each bairro offers a feel that is unique and distinctly different from those surrounding it. Here are the main bairros to be familiar with:
- Bairro Alto – the undisputed center of nightlife. If you’re coming to Lisbon to party, this is your area.
- Chiado – a popular shopping and theater district, just south of Bairro Alto.
- Baixa – the heart of Lisbon. Within Baixa, there’s no shortage of bars, restaurants, shops & plazas, including the famous Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square).
- Alfama – Lisbon’s historical center, known for sightseeing, St. George’s Castle and phenomenal views. Consider staying here if you’re interested in a quiet, laid-back experience, but be prepared for the steep streets and stone staircases that serve as your pathways home.
We found this map of Lisbon’s bairros to be quite helpful:
Where We Slept
Our phenomenal Airbnb on Rua da Prata in the Baixa district could not have been better located. We were a short walk down to Commerce Square, a tuk-tuk ride away from the Alfama & St. George’s Castle, and completely surrounded by countless bar & restaurant options.
When to Go
The height of Lisbon’s tourist season lasts from late May through early September, although many locals flock to the beaches for their own summer holidays during the months of July & August. But in the month of June – Lisbon truly becomes alive like none other.
Here are a couple sweet festivals to check out if you find yourself in Lisbon this coming June.
Festas de Lisboa: June 1-30, 2018
This month-long series of celebrations & entertainment draws tens of thousands of locals & tourists into the streets of Portugal’s capital city. We were fortunate enough to experience Festas de Lisboa with A’s parents in 2017, and encourage anyone considering Lisbon for a holiday to visit in June for this incredible cultural experience. Visit their website or Facebook page for updates and a complete schedule of 2018 events.
mark your calendars: the 5 winners of the annual sardine painting competition will be announced on May 31st!
Rock in Rio Lisboa: June 23-24 & 29-30, 2018
This iconic rock festival was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1985 and first came to Lisbon in 2004. Now alternating between South America & Europe, 2018 will mark the 8th time that Rock in Rio will call Lisbon’s Parque da Bela Vista home.
2018 lineup: Muse, Bruno Mars, The Killers, Katy Perry, The Chemical Brothers & more. Buy tickets here.
Summertime, and the Lisbon’s easy…
⌲ While You’re There
Lisbon has done a praiseworthy job of commemorating its rich history with statues, monuments & parks that live through the ages. Check out our guide to Lisbon’s landmarks, which provides background and an easy-to-follow itinerary for visiting 8 of the city’s top sights.
Here’s a visual sneak-peak into what you’ll find on this sightseeing extravaganza:
Dining & Imbibing
If you’ve read our culinary guides to Madeira, Matosinhos or Porto, then you may have already heard us describe Portugal as a culinary paradise. Fortunately for all of us, Lisbon is no exception. We hope you enjoy our top 2 recommendations for dining in the Portuguese capital!
Currently one of the top-ranked restaurants in Lisbon, DaPrata 52 offers petiscos (tapas or family-style eating) in a small, intimate setting. They pride themselves on freshness, flavor, and a farm-to-table concept that incorporates only locally-sourced ingredients. Simply put: they’re focused on doing things the right way, for a small group of patrons, emphasizing quality over quantity. We respected the approach!
travelhelix tip: DaPrata 52 is a 5-minute walk from Commerce Square in the Baixa district. Make a reservation online, as they are often booked out a week (or more) in advance. We had no reservation, and waited about 30 minutes to get a table. It was well worth the wait!
“by far the best Sangria I’ve ever had in my life” – A’s Dad
Sacramento do Chiado
Sacramento do Chiado offers great food & cocktails in a dimly-lit, elegant ambience. Their trademark: “Strawberries of Sacramento,” filled with condensed milk and topped with white and black chocolate fondant.
travelhelix tip: Sacramento is a 15-minute walk from Commerce Square in the Chiado district. If you’re in Lisbon on business, suggest Sacramento for dinner and you’ll be sure to impress, plus you’ll be close to the action of Bairro Alto for after-dinner drinks.
“are you gonna finish that strawberry?” – A’s Mom
Music & Nightlife
Find a Forum for Fado
Nothing evokes the emotion of Portuguese culture quite like Fado: a melancholy musical genre that has been plucking at the heartstrings of listeners for nearly 200-years. To truly experience Fado, is to hear it sung live, and Lisbon has many venues that offer an evening of Fado, either along with your meal, or a post-dinner drink.
Just south of St. George’s castle in the Alfama neighborhood, we enjoyed a delicious meal at Pastel do Fado while soaking in our first live Fado experience.
A Few Nightlife Locales
Here are a few more highly recommended hotspots for nightlife:
- Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara – a 24-hour viewpoint that’s perfect for sunset.
- Chapitô à Mesa – great place for pulpo (octopus), cocktails, and city views, near St. George’s Castle.
- Memmo Alfama – hotel with an awesome open-air rooftop & outdoor pool.
- Bairro Alto Hotel – cool bar that attracts a younger crowd.
⌲ Gorgeous Getaways
For anyone traveling to Lisbon for several days, here are a few options for brief & beautiful escapes outside the city.
From ornate palaces & humble stone fortresses to the enchanting forests that connect them, Sintra is an absolute must-visit locale in central Portugal. Most travelers visit Sintra as a day-trip from Lisbon, but this historical & architectural gem can keep you occupied for several days, if you have the time and desire.
getting there: Sintra is 18 miles (29 km) from Lisbon, and easy to access by train, bus or car. Check out our Sintra travel guide for tips on getting there, getting around and recommended sights for both 1- and 2-day trips.
This laid-back beach town is one of the top surf destinations in Europe and in the world. In fact, those within the surfing community know Peniche as the “European Pipeline.”
getting there: Peniche is 64 miles (102 km) from Lisbon, and easy to access by train, bus or car.
Every October since 2009, local Supertubos Beach has hosted the Rip Curl Pro Portugal surf competition, part of the WSL (formerly ASP) Championship World Tour. In 2012 – living in Madrid at the time – A traveled to Peniche to watch this gnarly event firsthand. If you get the opportunity, come check it out!
The town itself also offers some cool opportunities for exploration. From the old fortress to the winding concrete pathways, Peniche is a charming place to spend a few hours wandering.
If you’d like to make it an overnight stay, look no further than hotel & restaurant Faz as Pazes (“to make peace”) for an incredible bed & breakfast style operation.
reflections from A: after picking me up from the bus-stop, José and his wife treated me to one of the finest home-cooked meals I’ve ever experienced. I did not look at a menu; simply told them “start bringing stuff!” 7 courses later, my stomach was full, happy and at peace.
Formerly a fishing village, coastal Cascais is now known for beautiful beaches & elegant resorts that offer windsurfing, kitesurfing and golf. It’s close proximity to Lisbon makes it perfect for a day-trip, although many locals & foreigners choose Cascais as a long-term vacation destination.
We didn’t have the opportunity to try it ourselves, but if you find yourself in Cascais around dinner time, we’ve been told that Hemingway Cascais is a solid dining option.
getting there: Cascais is 21 miles (34 km) from Lisbon, and easy to access by train, bus or car.
Queen of the Sea. The White City. The City of Seven Hills. The Sister of San Francisco.
If the number of nicknames a city has, at all indicates the level of intrigue that you can expect to find, then Lisbon ranks near the top of the list.
It does seem fitting for a city with such a mix of local significance & global influence to have made a name for itself in more ways than one.
So long, for now, Lisbon. We love you, and we look forward to the next time…