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top five guide: lisbon, portugal

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

Lisbon city center 2023

Welcome to Portugal's historic, tiled, and hilly capital city! Lisbon has long been a must-visit for any European traveler, thanks to its charming and colorful architecture, rich cultural heritage, vibrant nightlife, and beautiful seaside setting. In many ways (though perhaps chiefly visually), Lisbon reminds me of San Francisco. Both have a kind of bohemian vibe-meets-city-energy atmosphere, a distinct architectural aesthetic, a strong culinary scene, and relaxed coastal charm. Regardless of your stance on San Francisco, Lisbon is worth a visit to see for yourself.

Here are my top five tips for a trip to the Lisbon:

Bairro Alto neighborhood Lisbon, Portugal street 2022

1: where to stay

Like many larger cities, Lisbon is filled with several distinct neighborhoods that all have their own character and vibe. If you are a first-time visitor looking for the best place to stay, to explore, or go out, look no further than the Bairro Alto neighborhood. While it's known as one of the best party districts in town, there is much more to the steeply cobblestoned streets of this bohemian district. That said, when booking a hotel or AirBnB stay, make sure to ensure that noise from late night street parties won't waft up to your window.

Lisbon cobblestoned street 2022

2: walking tour

If you have read any of my Europe posts, there is a good chance you are aware of my deep affection for Rick Steves, AKA the Europe Travel GOAT. The Rick Steves Audio Europe app is one of my greatest travel companions, and it is filled with immensely helpful (and often entertainingly nerdy) knowledge for most European destinations. The app includes a Lisbon walking tour, which I highly recommend downloading and taking day one of your trip. You'll get a brief but comprehensive overview of the city's main historical sights and most interesting neighborhoods.

Lisbon pasteis de nata Manteigaria pastries 2022

3: classic portuguese eats

While Portuguese food might not be as mainstream as Spanish or Italian cuisine, you'll no doubt become a fan by the time you leave. You can't leave without trying one (or ten) of the country's famous egg custard pastries, known as pasteis de nata (pictured; try some at Manteigaria). Another local favorite is salted cod (bacalhau), which you can find cooked in every way imaginable, as well as tinned fish. Both pair quite nicely with the local favorite wine, Vinho Verde. Another popular drink to sample is ginjinha, a sour cherry liquor you can buy shots of directly from shop windows on the street.

Miradouro Das Portas Do Sol viewpoint orange roofs Lisbon Portugal 2023

4: scenic viewpoints

I'll start off with the bad news: Lisbon is a hilly town, which means you're likely to break a sweat climbing around its picturesque and narrow streets. But there is good news: you'll get a solid workout in, and great hills promise great views. If you put in the steps (you can also cheat by taking a streetcar, I won't tell), you will be rewarded with beautiful vistas across orange rooftops and shining sea waters. I recommend visiting Miradouro Das Portas Do Sol and Miradouro Santa Luzia for some truly Instagram-worthy shots.

Cascais Portugal City Center Cobblestoned Sidewalks

5: day trips

While Lisbon has no shortage of things to do, it's worth venturing a bit outside the city limits for a change of pace and scenery. Cascais (pictured), an idyllic beach town that has historically been used as a royal retreat, is a mere 30 minute car ride away from the city and happens to be one of my favorite places in Portugal. Sintra, another royal sanctuary, is a 30 minute drive inland (or a convenient hourlong train ride). Come here to explore the old Moorish castle and famously quirky and colorful Pena Palace.

You can't always do it all, so one thing we didn’t do but wish we had:

More exploration of Lisbon's nooks and crannies. The magic of cities like these is that you never really know what is around the next corner. I could spend weeks wandering all around the steep and cobblestoned streets here (and my health would probably be better for it). We haven't found too many "hidden gems" yet, but I know they are out there!

Have a great trip! Feel free to leave a comment with your own favorites. You can also find these recommendations (and more!) in map format by following me on the Out of Office app.


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