If it's your first time to Lisbon, I hope you're excited for a memorable time. I recently went to Lisbon for a short trip with a couple of friends. I was ill prepared due to a lack of research on my part, but I had the best time accidentally finding amazing places to eat and visit. So, here is a guide to some great places to go, where to stay, and what to expect.
We decided to go on a trip to Lisbon during the first week of March because it's the start of spring there. If you're coming from a cold town, it'll be a great break from the cold weather by visiting Lisbon between the months of March and May or September and October. From March to May, the foliage is beginning to blossom, people are lounging or walking outside, and you can break out your spring attire since the weather is getting warmer.
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The quaint and beautiful city is filled with old hilly cobblestone roads, narrow sidewalks, and short colourful buildings decorated with wrought iron railings. It looks like a place right out of a European painting.
The locals are receptive to foreigners. It's a touristy city without being overly crowded unlike New York City's Time Square or London's Soho, where walking through crowds can be nearly impossible.
It's also one of the most affordable travel destinations. The cost of food, clothing, and travel in Lisbon is pretty inexpensive while it's still of good quality. Your time in Lisbon will be a memorable and enjoyable vacation of a beautiful city filled with history and culture. What better place to go than Lisbon?
Where to Stay
I chose to book a room at The Lumiares Boutique Hotel & Spa after comparing prices on TripAdvisor and making sure the ratings were 5 out of 5. Since I was traveling with friends and my husband, we wanted to spend time together outside of touring around Lisbon. So, we looked for hotels that would provide common areas where we could hang out for coffee or a glass of wine to unwind.
Since each soundproof suite at The Lumiares has a stylish and inviting family room and kitchen, there's plenty of space to invite friends over to meet up at your room before heading off on a day's adventure. Or you can come back and unwind together over some free wine from the mini fridge even after the bars are closed.
It's currently at a competitive rate of £160 per night for a Queen size bed suite, but we were able to find it cheaper at around £95 per night when we booked in February. I recommend you look to book your rooms in advance during off peak times using sites such as TripAdvisor to get the best deal.
TIP To Save Money
If you're coming to Lisbon after being in another part of Europe, book the hotel while in Europe, not before. We found that it was cheaper to book a room while your mobile or laptop is physically in Europe than outside of it (as opposed to the States of the United Kingdom). I'm not entirely sure why but our friends in France had a far cheaper rate to choose than we did trying to book in London using the same website, so they booked a room for us.
The great deal about this beautiful suite at The Lumiares - besides the rainfall shower, the beautiful balcony, and separate partition for the toilet within the bathroom - has to be the kitchen for me. With the SMEG kitchenware and a Nespresso, the first round of mini bar items are all free including the wine, beer, and cola. I don't know about you, but I love being pampered with free items, especially from the sacred word "mini fridge".
In addition to the suites that make you feel at home, The Lumiares provides top quality services including excellent room service and it has the best location right in the heart of Bairro Alto.
The Lumiares also has a rooftop bar, a restaurant, a spa and a fitness centre that includes a sauna. I noticed that even locals came to the bar inside the hotel so you didn't feel separated from the townspeople despite staying in a hotel. What more do you need?
When to Visit
If you're visiting in the warmer weathers from March to May or September to October,, you're in for a treat. The weather was gorgeous the entire time we were in Lisbon. Cloudless, blue skies were all we woke up to each day, and the sun warmed up the air everywhere we went.
The breeze from the river was just enough to keep us cool. There are over 30 or so lounge chairs along the water for the public to just come and hang out. People enjoyed lounging around outside so much that there wasn't a single empty seat left. But no need to worry if you can't find a seat here.
There are plenty of restaurants or areas along the water where you can take a seat and watch the sunrise and sunset. I grabbed some gelato from Fiori Gelateria nearby and walked along the river on the road called Cais Gás.
What To Pack
Lisbon, like many of Europe's urban cities, is a very walkable city. It's easier and possibly faster to walk to places than to take a cab. Considering the city's roads are not built on a grid system and are narrow, it takes a bit of time to get from one place to another by car.
I never knew Lisbon was all hills. With this in mind, sneakers and a water bottle were a necessity everywhere we went. So don't forget to pack at least one pair of durable walking shoes.
Here are the things I wish I packed based on the weather and activities:
Sunglasses / Hat - The sun is out 100% and there are is no cloud coverage, so be very careful especially if your eyes or skin are sensitive to the sun.
SPF / Sunscreen - For the same reason as above, you SPF should not be optional underneath Lisbon's cloudless skies. Carry it around with you on your excursions.
Sneakers or Comfortable Walking Shoes - I'm so glad I usually wear sneakers on vacations because if I had brought flip flops or sandals on these long uphill walks on cobblestone, I would have twisted an ankle or tripped and fallen. Also, my feet would have been in so much pain. Be aware that you're going to be walking a bit if you follow my itinerary so make sure you stay comfortable.
Layering Clothes - During these spring/fall seasons, the afternoons are warm while the mornings and evenings can get a little chilly. With the wide range of temperatures, you may be too warm one moment and cold another moment. It was easiest for me to wear a thin shirt and put a thick vest over that when I left the hotel in the morning and then just take the vest off when the afternoon hit.
Jacket - If you plan on being out during the early mornings and late evenings, make sure you bring a jacket in these seasons. Once the sun is gone, the temperature can drop to a jacket-necessary temperature. I made sure to bring a thin poly filled parka when going our after dark.
Dressed Wear / Going Out Outfit - I won't tell you what to wear since that's up to you, but based on the environment, I will tell you what to avoid. Stilleto heels are not ideal when walking on cobblestone. If you'll be wearing heels, choose a wedge heel. Since there is a bit of hilly cobblestone roads to walk on, you may want to wear shoes that have a decently gripping sole and are comfortable to walk in.
Water Bottle - Since there's a good amount of walking using this itinerary, a full water bottle becomes a necessity. Also, I've mentioned in previous posts that Europeans like to provide you will small 4-6 ounce water glasses at restaurants and aren't too keen to refill these as soon as they're empty. To stay hydrated, I kept a water bottle in my bag at all times.
Camera - There's so much depth to the views of buildings and landmarks in Lisbon. Cameras on your phone work fine, but if you want to capture the depth and details of monuments and architecture, I highly recommend you bring a professional camera such as a DSLR. Don't worry, you won't stand out. Plenty of tourists are snapping pictures using their DSLR cameras in Lisbon.
Lisbon has that European culture of relaxing and taking your time. The people of Lisbon really know how to slow down and enjoy life. If you're coming from a very urban town, take the time to walk around and enjoy the sights. We want to cover many sightseeing opportunities, but without feeling overwhelmed because that's the atmosphere of Lisbon - enjoy life. With that in mind, take a stroll around Baixa (the historic and commercial centre of Lisbon) & Chiado (the shopping district of Lisbon).
Praça do Comércio.
Praça do Comércio.is located in Baixa (the historical centre of Lisbon).. It was once called Terreiro do Paço because it once held the Paços da Ribeira (Royal Ribeira Palace) until it was destroyed in 1755 by the great Lisbon earthquake followed by a tsunami and fire that destroyed most of Lisbon.
There was a massive effort to rebuild this area thereafter. Portuguese architect Eugénio dos Santos was in charge of designing Praça do Comércio, the place of Portugal's wealth and commerce.
In what you don't see anymore due the great earthquake of Lisbon and in what you still see standing to this day, there's so much history as you walk along this courtyard. You can walk under the Arco do Triunfo and also spot the monument of King Jose the first right in the middle of this area. It's a sight you don't want to miss so bring out those cameras.
Time Out Market
If you're about ready for lunch or just want a place to snack or drink, you can't skip a trip to the Time Out Market. What is this you ask?
Time Out. Does that ring a bell? You're right!
It's THAT Time Out Magazine! Back in 2014, the Time Out Lisbon team decided to create take on this project of creating a market. Since then, it's flourished into an iconic place for locals and a massive tourist spot.
This iconic market is essentially a gigantic food court. "Food court" makes me think of quick, cheap, gross food in America. Not the case here. Well, it is cheap and quick, but the farthest from gross.
This is gourmet-style food that's cooked fresh right then and there in each food stall. Each of the 26 restaurants have everything made to order. With this in mind, each restaurant specialises in a handful of dishes, but made to perfection. For example, one restaurant will only make samosas while another will only make squid ink pasta and another makes pork belly over couscous. Has this got your drooling yet?
With 26 restaurants to choose from, you will be exposed to a variety of different ethnic foods. And you won't be disappointed by any of them since each are vetted to get into this market.
If a meal is not what you were looking for, then you can check out one of the 8 bars where you can ask the bartender for recommendations on their favourite red wines and try something you've never had before. Or you can experiment with a beautiful flight of port wines.
My friend was itching for dessert, so he make sure to try a few of the dessert stalls. Whatever your palate desires, you're going to find it here. So, make sure you come hungry.
Elevador de Santa Justa
The Neo-Gothic style lift was originally built in the early 1900s to connect the higher streets of Carmo Square with the lower streets of the Baixa (historical centre of Lisbon). Lisbon is a very hilly town, which makes transportation from one end to the other strenuous. This lift was meant to alleviate some of that challenge.
After renovations, it reopened in 2006 to the public and is now a tourist spot. Go to the top floor for a panoramic view of Lisbon. Get your cameras ready.
Teatro de Nacional Dona Maria II
The Queen Mary II National Theatre was originally the Estaus Palace built in the 1450s for foreign dignitaries and noblemen to stay while visiting Lisbon. Despite surviving the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755, it was destroyed by fire in 1836. When rebuilt by architect Fortunato Lodi, it was made into a modern theatre in the 1840s with a Neoclassical design.
It's an impressive, beautiful building and also continues to hold live performances. Come to watch a performance, or if you want a guided tour, they also provide that option as well.
There's been a growing movement of authentic Italian food penetrating into the Lisbon food scene. These restaurants are providing truly traditional and freshly made home style Italian cooking. Hearing about this, we had to try it out for ourselves.
Through a friend's recommendation, we came upon Il Matriciano and oh boy, were we in for a treat.
There's no doubt that the pasta is made fresh in-house by the chef. Each and every dish was so simple in ingredients but stayed authentic to Italian cuisine. The spaghetti was so simple with probably just a handful or ingredients, but was made to taste like perfection. We just couldn't get enough of the delicious food, so we ordered plate after plate after plate.
It's one of those few restaurants in life that remain in your memory for years to come.
On your second day, grab an uber or cab to the town of Belém, a quaint and historical town right along the Tagus River. With its colourful buildings and wider sidewalks and roads, it feels a bit more of a lively urban town with a relaxed atmosphere.
Originally a fabric company back in the mid-1800s, it eventually became an abandoned factory once the company moved locations. Fast forward a few decades later, a private investor decided to revamp the entire building where it now holds over 200 different cafés, restaurants, shops, and office spaces. There's so much culture to see here.
Get your bags ready for gifts to take back home with selections from famous chocolates, trendy clothing stores, home accessories, and so much more.
It's open 7 days a week from 6 o'clock in the morning until 4 o'clock in the afternoon. You want to book tickets to the LX Factory in advance in order to secure your spot. If you book with Tripadvisor, you'll be able to cancel 24 hours before your ticket time.
You can probably spend an entire afternoon eating a variety of food from sushi to crepes to burgers to gelato. Then, walk around shopping and touring this culturally historic and artistic venue.
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos
The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, a former monastery of the order of Saint Jerome was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983. Bring this construction to completion took 100 years, and is a prime example of the Portuguese Late Gothic Manuel style of architecture.
When you enter, you can purchase a €12.50 ticket at the self checkout kiosk and make your way through the entire colossal monastery.
It's so breathtaking and jaw dropping to see all of the details in the moulding and the columns. It truly amazes me how beautiful the architecture is while having far less modern technology to them them build back in the 1500s.
Within the monastery is the church called Igreja de Santa Maria de Belém. It's a separate tour so you have to queue again, but it's attached to the monastery.
Still to this day, the church is used regularly for service. The intricately detailed mouldings on the walls are another display of the Portuguese late gothic Manuel style of achitecture while the massive stained-glass windows are beautiful 18th century paintings of the apostles.
Since you're in the twon of Belém, there's one place you have to stop by before heading back and that's the famous Pastéis de Belem.
Pastéis de Belém has a fascinating history branching from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. The 1820 liberal revolution resulted in shut down of all monasteries and convents, leaving the clergy and labourers without a means to survive.
In order to survive, one person from the monastery offered sweet pastries for sale at this shop and eventually became famous. To this day, the secret recipe has not changed.
Since there are plenty of restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating in Belém, we grabbed some egg tarts at Pasteis de Belém and sipped wine for a few hours at a shop outdoors, enjoying the blissful sun.
Sea Me Peixaria Moderna
Since you're visiting Lisbon, a city right along the water, you have to take advantage of the freshness of the seafood. I had dinner at Sea Me Peixaria Moderna in Barrio Alto after a friend who frequents Lisbon recommended it. I have to say I've never had an experience quite like it.
You're warmly welcomed by the host to sit at a long wooden table with benches along either side that gives the place a communal eating atmosphere. Then, you can either order off of the menu or you can walk over with your server to the tables of fresh caught fish and choose your catch of the day to be cooked for you.
We had to try these fresh scarlet prawns also known as Carabineros. They're as sweet as langoustines and similar in flavour, but larger and have a more tender texture.
We can never pass up fresh raw oysters on the half shell either, which were fantastic and fresh.
If you're an adventurous eater and love seafood Sea Me is the perfect place to go to try out different creatures of the sea that you haven't tried before.
Nightlife in Lisbon is a memorable way to end your day. We went to a rooftop bar, which had a very chill vibe. It was a place to lounge inside or outside, grab a creative cocktail with friends, and enjoy the music the live DJ was playing.
The uniqueness of the Park Bar comes from it being a car park rooftop that was converted into a bar. I was afraid it was going to be some type of rave nightclub, but it actually turned out to be quaint with all of the greenery inside and out with the romantic spotlights to make the trees glow.
The Park Bar's hours of operation are from 1 o'clock in the afternoon until 2 o'clock in the morning.