Lisbon travel guide: everything you need to know - Times Travel (2024)

Lisbon travel guide: everything you need to know - Times Travel (1)

When to go, what to do, and why you'll love it

  • What to do
  • Where to stay
  • Food and drink
  • Don’t miss

Friday December 29 2023, 09:00am

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The Portuguese have a word that conveys a feeling of yearning, nostalgia and melancholy: saudade. It’s not a word with a direct translation in English, but you’re sure to understand it after a single visit to Lisbon. You’ll feel it long after you got lost in the tangled lanes of the Alfama or browsed the shops on the grand Avenida da Liberdade. You’ll be overcome by it when you remember that late-night seafood dinner washed down with vinho verde, on the banks of the River Tagus, or the sweetest pastel de nata enjoyed on the grass of the Praça do Império. It’ll overtake you on your commute as you recollect the rattling old trams that took you up and over the city’s hills. When you’re ordering pints in the pub, months after your holiday, you’ll drift back to the night that started with sunset co*cktails on a rooftop bar and ended listening to fado music in a candlelit bar. The good news is that there is a simple cure for those suffering from saudade — simply, to return to the city.

Main photo: Vintage yellow tram in Lisbon (Getty Images)

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Our top tip: just get walking. A meandering wander might lead you to such treasures as a church covered in blue-and-white azulejo tiles, a tiny art gallery housed in a converted grocery shop, or a shady plaza with a flea market selling local crafts. A good way to give some structure to a walk is to amble between Lisbon’s miradoures — points on the city’s hills offering spectacular views over its red rooftops and pastel buildings. Many have pretty gardens and kiosks serving drinks. One of our favourites is the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, accessed by creaking funicular.

A wander might lead you to such treasures as a tiny art gallery in a converted grocery shop

A walk in Belém should take in the Unesco-listed Jerónimos Monastery*; built during Lisbon’s Age of Discovery in the 16th century, the complex is home to magnificent limestone cloisters. A few minutes’ stroll east is one of Lisbon’s shady botanical gardens, a good spot to rest on sunny days. And if the weather doesn’t encourage walking, check out some of Lisbon’s many art museums, among them the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (for modern pieces) and the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian* (a private collection with more than 6,000 artworks).

Where to stay

Lisbon’s emergence as a serious style destination over the past few years has meant that accommodation is available for every taste, from small, architect-designed boutique hotels hidden down quiet lanes to multi-room giants with swimming pools, spas and rooftop bars.

Alfama* is the place to base yourself for a traditional Lisbon experience, with terracotta-roofed heritage hotels tucked along alleys echoing to the sound of fado music. Be aware that the streets are cobbled and hilly — a challenge if you’re bringing a wheeled suitcase.

If you’re after nightlife, Bairro Alto* is your spot. There are more bars and restaurants here than you could possibly try in a single visit. Revellers often mingle outside, enjoying their drinks by the street art for which the area is famous; if you can, book rooms on upper floors to escape the noise.

Best budget hotels in Lisbon

Príncipe Real*, just a little bit north, is just as fashionable, with plenty of bars, independent shops and art galleries. The neighbourhood of Baixa* in central Lisbon has a very different feel, with wide streets and handsome 18th-century buildings; many of the city’s luxury hotels can be found here.

If there is one thing that everyone travelling to Lisbon must try it’s the pastel de nata — a delicious tart of gooey egg custard and flaky pastry. It’s believed to have been created at the Jerónimos monastery in Belém; since 1837 the neighbouring Pastéis de Belém has made up to 20,000 tarts a day, using the monks’ secret recipe.

Lisbon’s cuisine is rich in seafood, flavoured with the spices brought back from former colonies

Away from baked goods, Lisbon’s cuisine is rich in seafood, sometimes flavoured with the spices brought back from Portugal’s former colonies; try bacalhau (salt cod) and açorda (bread and shellfish soup). The city goes big on sardines; available to buy in colourfully decorated tins, they also make great souvenirs. Meat-eaters should look out for piri piri rotisserie chicken and rice; bifana (a sliced pork roll); and alheira (a smoked sausage). A good place to sample all of these and more is the Mercado da Ribeira, a market hall turned gourmet food court with 40 kiosks. Between meals, don’t miss the chance to drop into one of the city’s tiny ginjinha bars to knock back a shot of sour cherry liqueur with the locals.

Don’t miss

Many visitors’ experience of the River Tagus (Rio Teju) is to peer at it from on high at one of the city’s many miradoures. It’s worth getting a closer view though. Numerous boat trips — from commuter ferry rides to sunset sails on yachts — allow you to appreciate the city from the water. Stops along the way might include the imposing 110m-tall Santuário de Cristo Rei statue, modelled on Rio’s Christ the Redeemer.

On shore, the Ribeira das Naus is an old boatyard turned promenade and river beach with a kiosk serving food and drink; it’s a great place to see out the day with a chilled cerveja. Riverside is also one place in the hilly city where you might want to go for a cycle; hire a bike from the Parque das Nações and pedal west along the reassuringly flat cycle path to the museum district of Belém. Views of the red suspension bridge, Ponte 25 de Abril, will accompany you for much of the route; to get up close visit Experiência Pilar 7, a multimedia museum and viewing platform devoted to the structure.

Lisbon’s position on the Atlantic means that the city is subject to fog and drizzle even in summer — bring a jumper and raincoat. Also bring trainers to tackle the hilly, cobbled streets. May, June and September are great times to visit, with good weather but fewer crowds than July and August. A trip on historic Tram 28 is often cited as a must-do, but its popularity means long queues and standing-room only; hop on between 7am and 8am or catch it at its last stop, Campo Ourique, to bag a seat.

Take me there

Inspired to visit Lisbon but yet to book your trip? Here are the best packages from Tui* and British Airways*. These are the best tours of Lisbon from our trusted partners*.

Lisbon travel guide: everything you need to know - Times Travel (2024)
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