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Set on seven hills overlooking the River Tejo, Lisbon is sometimes called the San Francisco of Europe, but I think that takes away from its own distinctive charm. The hills are certainly similar, and it shares a golden light, but much of the wonder of Lisbon comes from its history. Most of the city was destroyed in the massive earthquake of 1755, and while parts of the old city remain, it is the post-earthquake pombaline buildings that characterise the city, with pretty balconies, open squares and undulating cobbled streets. Like Porto, it’s a city you can enjoy by simply wandering, stopping at miradouros to take in the views, and eating your weight in custard tarts. It’s an enchanting place to be.
Things to do in Lisbon
Alfama is one of the most beautiful and atmospheric parts of the city, characterised by its narrow cobbled streets that snake up and down the hill. It feels like a village within the city, and when you veer off the main tourist trail, you’ll likely see many locals going about their day, selling produce from their windows or going for a daily stroll. There are lots of plaques on the walls of Alfama celebrating local characters from the past and present – read their descriptions to get a feel for the area’s vibe. And don’t miss the miradouros (more details below) for some of the best views of the city. Alfama is next to Graca, which is also worth a wander.
Enjoy the view at the miradouros
Lisbon knows the beauty of its city and there are lots of purpose-built miradouros, put there simply to enjoy the views. Some of the best are: Miradouro da Graça (also know as Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen’s Viewpoint), which is in Graca next to Alfama; Miradouro de Santa Luzia in Alfama; São Pedro de Alcântara near Principe Real; Portas do Sol in Alfama; and Castelo de São Jorge.
Do a Secret City Trail
Secret City Trails are discovery games where you solve riddles and follow clues to find your way around a city. They provide little bits of information about all the places you visit, and tend to cover a mixture of well-known tourist sights and more hidden, local secrets. Both Steve and I love games, so we did two while in Lisbon and found it to be a fun way to explore the city. My only complaint is that sometimes the riddles/clues weren’t accurate (luckily you can cheat and reveal the answer, so you’re never completely stuck) and I also think they’re overpriced, especially if there are just two of you. They cost in the region of 20 euros. The two walks we did were made in conjunction with Time Out, but they now seem to have disappeared from the site. There are other Lisbon options here.
Enjoy the street art
There’s some excellent street art in Lisbon, especially around Alfama, Graca, Barrio Alto and LX Factory. Good spots include: Shepard Fairey’s murals on Rua da Senhora da Glória and Rua Natália Correia; all around the LX Factory; and Calçadinha da Figueira. The Secret City Trails were great for pointing out lots of things we’d have otherwise missed.
Go to LX Factory
Loads of people recommended we go to LX Factory and it just went to show how well they know us as it’s exactly the kind of place we love. It’s a renovated industrial complex housing a well curated selection of restaurants, boutiques and event spaces. There’s also some excellent street art in there, and a weekly market on Sundays. I’ve included some of the restaurants and cafes in the section below.
Browse Ler Devagar
Ler Devagar is in LX Factory but it deserves its own point as it’s one of the most excellent bookshops I’ve ever been to (and I am obsessed by beautiful bookshops). Housed in an old printing factory, it’s an extraordinary space with floor-to-ceiling books across multiple levels, ladders to reach the higher shelves, and an area filled with antique printing machines. There’s a full programme of events, plus a cafe, and when we were there, they were hosting a mechanical sculpture exhibition. It’s a dream for book lovers.
Ride tram 28
Tram 28 runs from Campo de Ourique to Alfama, passing by lots of major sights and offering a fun way to get an overview of the city. The only problem is, it’s super popular, so not ideal if you have a buggy. We gave it a miss this time, but loved it when we were there in the past. I think it’d be less busy and you’d get a good spot it you started in Campo de Ourique rather than the central stops.
Hang out in the park
Lisbon has some gorgeous parks, including Jardim da Estrela where we spent a lovely afternoon hanging out with Otis. It’s home to a little library where park goers can rent out books. Other park options include Monsanto Park, which is three times the size of Central Park, or Parque das Nações, which is next to the aquarium, a science museum and a cable car that runs beside the river.
Explore the shops
Lisbon has tons of stylish boutiques and shops. We found many we liked in the LX Factory, and there are also many concentrated around Principe Real, including these two concept stores: Embaixada and Real Slow Retail. Also have a look at Lisbon’s oldest bookshop, Livraria Bertrand.
Visit the flea market
If you love a flea market, don’t miss Feira da Ladra, which takes place every Tuesday and Saturday at Campo de Santa Clara.
Pose with Pessoa
Pessoa fans can visit his bronze statue outside A Brasileira cafe and pose with the famous poet (as modelled by Steve above!).
Stroll the botanical gardens
Steve and I always seek out the botanical gardens in a city, so were delighted to stumble across Lisbon’s version when in Principe Real. The lush gardens cover 10 acres and feature plants from five continents. It’s a beautiful place to go for a walk.
Walk pink street
Once upon a time this was Lisbon’s red light district, but now the brightly coloured street is a popular nightlife spot, perfect for bar hopping. It’s also an excellent photo opportunity!
Drink ginja from a chocolate cup
Ginja is a Portuguese cherry liqueur that pairs perfectly with chocolate, so some sweet genius came up with the idea of serving it in a little chocolate cup. It’s a delicious treat to pick up when exploring the city. We bought ours from a little stall in Alfama, but there are stalls selling it all around the city. It costs €1.50.
Listen to some fado
Fado is the traditional music of Lisbon, a raw and emotional genre that has been recognised by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. You can listen to it in many places throughout the city, but most are in Alfama. Go for a quick listen in a bar, or opt for a fado restaurant where you can eat a traditional meal alongside a 3-hour long fado performance. We didn’t go this time, but when we were in Lisbon before, we went to the atmospheric Mesa de Frades, a little restaurant built in a former chapel in Alfama.
See the funicular at Rua de Bica
For one of the classic Lisbon photos, head to Rua de Bica de Duarte Belo, a steep street that has a funicular running along it. The combination of views, cobbles and a cute little train make for the perfect photo.
Take a day trip to Sintra
Sintra has a magical fairy tale quality that surpasses even Lisbon. The hilltop village is a warren of villas, palaces and turrets hidden among the forests. Many of the buildings are in a state of decay, which only adds to its charming mystery. The Palácio Nacional da Pena is one of the most iconic attractions there, but you could also simply wander its streets. Parking is in short supply, so you might be better off getting the train there from Lisbon. Or you could join a tour, like this one that also takes in Cascais and Cape Roca.
Do a tour
As with Porto, Get your Guide has a huge range of tours in Lisbon. Here are a few that look good, and you can find loads more on their site.
Family travel in Lisbon
Many of the options above would be suitable for families (we did them all with Otis), but for some extra family-friendly activities, a good day out would be to the Parque das Nações where you could visit the Lisbon Oceanarium, which has a reputation as one of Europe’s best aquariums; the cable car next to the Oceanarium; and the Pavillion of Knowledge, an interactive science and technology museum.
Below are a few family-friendly tours and tickets you can do from Get your Guide.
Where to eat in Lisbon
Time Out Market
The Time Out Market is housed in the same building as the traditional Mercado da Ribeira, but is a much more contemporary affair. There are around 40 kiosks by different Lisbon restaurants, including Ground Burger, Sea Me and Zero Zero. Most of the places are quite meat or fish heavy, but there are some good veggie options. The building itself is striking, and the whole place has a good vibe, especially in the evenings when they have live music.
I’ve already talked about this in the Porto section, but it was my favourite custard tart in all of Portugal. There’s a stall in the Time Out Market, and another in Chiado.
We enjoyed a couple of pastries in Tartine while Otis slept. I’d been told it served some of the best baked goods in town, and it definitely lived up to my hopes.
Padaria da Esquina
The star of the show at Padaria da Esquina in Campo de Ourique is the bread, but I also had an excellent banana and chocolate cake. It’s a good place to try local and regional specialities like bolas de Berlim and pão de Deus, a sweet roll encrusted with coconut.
A Janela da Voz
A Janela da Voz is a cafe housed in the old labour movement building in Alfama. It’s a bright, light space with a local vibe, serving brunch, cakes and coffee.
This little cafe, Esplanada ,in the Principe Real park is a sweet oasis just off the main street. It serves a simple snack food menu, and is also a good spot to simply grab a drink on the patio between your wanders.
Mercado de Campo de Ourique
For a less touristy option than the Time Out Market, try the locals’ favourite, Mercado de Campo de Ourique. The indoor market has been there since 1934 but was recently refurbished into a more hip incarnation. It sells fresh produce, including fish, meat and veg, and also houses lots of stalls that use that produce to make an array of different cuisines, from pizzas to pastries to burgers and sushi.
By far the best ice cream we tried in Lisbon was at Gelateria Nannarella. The tiny little shop serves inventive flavours, and even the smallest size includes two flavours (in my opinion, an essential feature for all ice cream shops!).
Both our phones died on a walk in Graça, and we were all super hungry, so stumbling across this little veggie restaurant was a welcome surprise. It has a cosy, neighbourly feel and serves a daily set menu alongside a snack menu, including things like croquettes and guacamole.
Nicolau and Basilio
Nicolau and Basilio are run by the same people, and both have a classically hipster-health-food aesthetic, serving lots of instagrammable bowls. The food is good and includes lots of treats, such as pancakes, alongside the healthier options. Nicolau has the benefit of outdoor seating, but it also often has a huge queue to get in, whereas Basilio, just a 5-min walk away, is a lot quieter and still attractive inside.
Unfortunately Park was closed when we went, but I can see that it would be a perfect place for a cocktail overlooking the city. It’s situated on top of a multi-storey carpark (like Franks in London). It’s open in the day as well as at night, but is closed on Mondays.
I preferred Nannarella, but Santini also does a good cup or cone, including some interesting seasonal flavours, all made with natural ingredients.
Pastéis de Belém
If you want to try the original custard tart, head to Pastéis de Belém in Belem. The only problem is the queue tends be insane. We gave it a miss this time, but did brave the 30-minute queue last time we were there, and the tarts were delicious.
Mez Cais Lx
We had some excellent Mexican food at Mez Cais in LX Factory. The tacos had inventive flavours, and Otis loved his veg-filled quesadilla. For another Mexican option, I also heard good things about Pistola y Corazon in Cais do Sodré.
I fell in love with brigadeiros in Brazil and you can find them all over Portugal too. This cute cafe, Brigadeirando, in LX Factory specialises in them and also makes lots of other delicious cakes. They were some of the best we found in Portugal.
Also in LX Factory is Wish, a hipster-style cafe where you’ll see lots of people on laptops, although there are some seats were they’re specifically not allowed. It’d be a good place to work remotely. The coffee is excellent and they also have a good selection of cakes.
Accommodation in Lisbon
The Visionaire Apartments
The Visionaire Apartments offer a stylish and unique place to stay right in the heart of Lisbon. The whole place is a contemporary take on a merchant’s house of the XVI century, filled with tapestries, textiles, pottery and artefacts, that all combine to create a mixture of Portuguese style accented with African and Asian influences. It’s beautifully done and we were smitten with our room, which had high vaulted ceilings, a four-poster bed, and intriguing ornaments, like a spinning wooden globe and an ornate cloak on the wall.
The common area is also beautiful – a library room filled with antiques and offering a quiet place to relax and read while overlooking the busy Figueira square. Coffee, tea and biscuits are available for guests and they operate an honesty system for a shared mini bar and selection of food. A free-of-charge self-service laundry room is also a bonus, especially if travelling with children or as part of a longer trip.
We stayed in the Visionaire Suite, which is the most beautiful of all the rooms, largely because of its incredible ceiling, but the other apartments are equally as stylish. You can choose from one and two-bedroom apartments and attic studios. The apartments would arguably be better for travelling with young children as then you’d have somewhere separate to put the children to bed while you stayed up later. We got around this by putting Otis’ cot in the huge bathroom at the start of the evening and then moving it into our room once we were ready to sleep too.
It’s well kitted out for families, and you can request a baby bundle, which includes a cot, push chair, high chair, baby bath, changing mat, and a toy box, full of lovely wooden toys.
Rooms start at €130 per night. Book your stay now.
Martinhal Chiado is a dedicated family hotel right in the centre of Lisbon. They have big resorts on the Algarve and in Cascais, but this is their only apartments-only hotel. It’s a dream for families who want the convenience of a family-focused hotel, but who don’t want to compromise on style or luxury. I’ve been somewhat wary of family hotels thus far as I imagined something somewhat garish and loud, but this place was beautiful, and the convenience couldn’t be beaten. It’s like having a stylish city-centre apartment, but with room service and childcare on hand.
The apartments range from studios to large two-bedroom apartments that sleep up to six. It’s an old building, so they’ve made clever use of space and each room is unique, some offering bunk beds in the lounge while others have twin beds in a separate section of the open-plan living space. And they all have kitchens, including a washer/dryer, which we found super useful.
Ahead of your stay, you can order from a whole menu of baby items, including strollers, high chairs, a baby monitor, baby bath, potty etc. And there’s a shared playroom with a ball pit and lots of toys.
In addition to all that, there’s a free kids club that runs all day from 9:30am-6pm, so you can explore the city child-free if you like. You can also pay a charge for the evening baby club, from 6-10pm (€8.50 per hour). Or you can opt for babysitting in your own room for €20 per hour.
There’s also an on-site casual restaurant, which serves kid meals, but there are so many other great places in the area, we only went there for breakfast, which was included with our stay.
Rooms start at €275 per night. Book your stay now.
Getting to and around Lisbon
We drove to Lisbon from Santa Cruz on our Portugal road trip, but if arriving by aeroplane, there are few options for getting into the city centre:
- The Aerobus departs every 20 minutes from 8 am–11 pm and takes around 45 minutes, depending on where you’re going. A one-way ticket costs €4 (€2 for children between 4 and 10) and €5.40 return (€3 for children).
- The metro takes and costs €1.45. You can use the Viva Viagem or 7 Colinas card.
- Local buses cost €1.85 for a ticket ( or €1.45 with a Viva Viagem or 7 Colinas car).
- A taxi costs around 20 euros. You buy a pre-paid ticket at the taxi rank, so you’ll know the exact price before you agree to the journey.
Getting around Lisbon
Once in Lisbon, it isn’t worth having a car. Parking is really expensive (from €20-35 per day) and it’s no fun driving around the city. Plus the public transport is excellent. You can use the historic trams, or jump on a train, bus or metro. This article is useful for explaining how to use the Viva Viagem card, which you can use on most of Lisbon’s public transport network.
We personally didn’t use any of the public transport as we were happy walking everywhere. However, one thing to bear in mind when walking is that the city is full of hills and steps, which aren’t reflected on Google maps, so you often unexpectedly find yourself at the bottom of a steep incline or a set of 100+ steps. If you want to avoid steps, you can look at the car route on Google maps, which will show you an alternative route. We sometimes did this, but also often ended up carrying Otis up the stairs in his pushchair, which was quite intense!
If doing a day trip to Sintra, bear in mind that having a car can be hinderance. It’s hard to find parking, and driving around Sintra isn’t ideal as there are lots of coaches and traffic/competition for parking at the main sites. For that reason we didn’t go to the Pena Palace this time round as it would have taken at least 20 minutes from the centre and we weren’t sure we’d get a parking space once there, which didn’t sound appealing with Otis. We went last time we were in Sintra, so it wasn’t a priority. If you do want to go to the palace, I’d recommend taking a taxi or tuk tuk, or hopping on the 434 bus, which makes a loop from the train station to the National Palace, Castelo dos Mouros and the Pena Palace. That way you don’t have to worry about parking. If you’re heading to Sintra from Lisbon it’d probably be easier to take the train than drive. This post is useful for details about how to get to Sintra from Lisbon.
Disclosure: Please also note all our accommodation in Lisbon was gifted by the hotels, so that we could review it. All opinions are our own.
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