Visiting Lisbon

If you google “visiting Lisbon”, you’ll find plenty of things to do in this town. Brady and I have also hosted more people here in Lisbon in the first 6 months that we lived here than we did in literally years of living in San Diego (another place people go for vacation), so I think we have this itinerary pretty well down.

A few caveats: Our friends tend to be dorks. Computer geeks, history buffs (in the most niche ways imaginable), general nerds – which is awesome, but it might mean this list isn’t for you. We’ve had people come visit who had literal hours as a port of call on a cruise, and others stay for a week and a half. I’ve tried to give my honest, no-bullshit assessment about what’s worked for us – and our weird, dorky friends – and how long you should expect to budget time for.

“I don’t want to do touristy things”

Lisbon is a Real (Capitol) City, but it also thrives a lot on tourism. I’ve heard people say they want to visit Lisbon but “avoid the touristy things” – which you can do, but that’s just called suburbia, and you probably have that in whatever place you’re visiting from. It’s like visiting New York City, and deciding to spend all of your time in Staten Island. (Please never actually do this.)

The reality is that Lisbon (called “Lisboa” here) is old. Like, really, really fucking old. And you’ll want to see some of that old stuff, which means you’re going to probably want to do some touristy things – and that’s okay. Nothing wrong with that. Lisboa has so much to offer in terms of art, history, culture, and people – if you get stuck on the “not doing tourist things” thing, you’re actually gonna miss out on a lot.

We have churches, cathedrals, museums (modern art, ancient art, military, religious, asian, money, pharmaceutical, tiles, horse carries, naval boats, earthquakes – you name it, we have a museum for it.)

It’s all going to depend on what your interests are, what your body can handle (a lot of walking here), and how much stuff you want to cram into whatever time you have. (Also bear in mind that if you’re coming from anywhere other than Europe, the jet lag once you get here will likely crater the first day or so for you. 10+ hours flight plus 5+ hours time differences is a bitch.) Give yourself a day (if you have it available) before trying to do all the things. If you don’t have that time because you’re here on a short trip, the coffee here is very good, and also they sell Red Bull.

So let’s get to it. This page will be updated and added to over time.

Museums and Attractions

Tip: Whenever possible, order tickets online before trying to visit the museums and attractions. The queues are usually quite long. Most places will give you a digital ticket with a QR or barcode that they can scan in.

Quake Museum – it’s an immersive museum about the famous earthquake of 1755. It’s a timed event, and can seem cheesy in the first few rooms, but stick with it – some of the smartest, most cynical people I know have learned a lot and had a great time. It’s not the cheapest museum in Lisbon at a pricy 30 euro per person, but worth it if you have a few hours and some spare cash. Time spent: ~1.5 hrs

The SĂ© – The SĂ© is the Lisbon Cathedral in Alfama, and the self-guided tour is really interesting and inexpensive. Very cool if you’re into old textiles and/or phylacteries. You can do this one in ~45 minutes or less, depending on your own interests.

Museu do Aljube – This is the museum of struggle and resistance in Portugal. It’s not an easy visit, by any means, and for such a small place, plan for 3+ hours, and probably a solid hour to have a word with yourself and whatever country you came from. It’s difficult, but if you’re a history buff (or actually just want to understand how things happened the way they did) I highly recommend it. It’s also very inexpensive – I want to say 3 euro. I don’t recall, but it’s not more than 5.

Oceanário de Lisboa – The Lisbon Aquarium is very, very cool. The first room you get to is a japanese-designed zen room that I could live in for my entire life. So incredibly calming. The rest of the Oceanário is very well done, and you can do it in ~3 hours at a comfortable pace. Outside of the marine animals, there are a bunch of really interesting recycled/reclaimed art pieces that strive to provoke conversation about conservation.

Lisbon Zoo – This is a lovely zoo, where you will be greeted by peacocks and pea-hens walking up to you without fear before you even pay the entrance fee. It’s about 30 euros, and I’d budget 3 hours tops. It’s also very accessible via the Lisbon Metro Vermelho (red) line, which makes it very cheap to get to if you’re close to a metro station.

Castelo de SĂŁo Jorge – This castle is within Lisbon city limits, and if you go anywhere with an unobstructed view, you’ll see it there on the hill. It’s self-guided, so you can spend as much or as little time as you’d like, but probably 2 hours there is plenty.

Sintra – amazing full day trip, or a half day trip if you don’t need to see ALL of the castles and palaces. Palácio Nacional da Pena (Pena Palace, which we lovingly call the penis palace) is absurdly charming, with bright colors that make it look like it came right out of a fairy tale. There is also the ruins of a moorish castle (Castelo dos Mouros), a gothic mansion (Quinta da Regaleira) with lovely gardens and a Knights Templar initiation well, and an Arabian inspired villa with intricate latticework stone carving and tranquil gardens (Monserrate Palace). You can read up more on the sights in Sintra here.

BelĂ©m Lots to do and see here, from the Torre de BelĂ©m (Tower of BelĂ©m) to the PadrĂŁo dos Descobrimentos (Monument of the Discoveries), and try the world famous PastĂ©is do BelĂ©m. PastĂ©is (the creamy egg tart you’ve probably heard of) are everywhere in Portugal, but locals claim you can taste the difference in BelĂ©m (and I kind of agree).

Tip: Don’t bother waiting in line to get inside the Tower of BelĂ©m. It’s not really worth the wait or the cost – the outside is way more interesting.

The Tower of Belém and the Monument of the Discoveries are pretty close to each other along the Tagus river and they only take a half hour to enjoy, tops.

You can also check out the Mosteiro dos JerĂłnimos, a very cool 16th century monastery, the Planetário de Marinha (Planetarium, which I haven’t yet been to but am very excited to visit), or stroll through the Jardim Botânico Tropical (tropical botanical garden) and grab a coffee.

You can pick and choose from these things as they’re all walkably close, but if you plan to make the whole day of it in BelĂ©m, make sure you wear comfy shoes as it is a lot of walking.

Boat Tours – I personally love boats, and the boat tours offer a great way to see and learn in a relatively short time. Plus they serve wine! The tour guides will take you along the Tagus river and give you some history about the things you see. They also offer a neat view of the BelĂ©m Tower and the Monument of the Discoveries from the river-side. We usually do the antique-style boats just because we think they look neat, but there are also party cruises and more standard boat rides available. Even if you end up with the worst tour guide in the world, it’s a relaxing way to spend a few hours.

Praça do ComĂ©rcio – Yes, it’s touristy, but it’s also a great place to people-watch, and there are often markets or concerts going on. The restaurants along the praça are all pretty decent (if a little overpriced), and it’s a nice place to pass an hour or two when the weather is nice. If you watched the (not very good) movie Heart of Stone with Gal Godot, the car chase in Lisbon ends here. The Beer Museum has a surprisingly good prego, but I personally avoid the pastĂ©is de bacalhau “com queijo” (codfish cake “with cheese”). The cheese makes it taste a bit like feet, IMHO.

Places to Eat and Drink

Many of the local restaurants don’t have websites, and lots don’t take reservations (and usually don’t need them.) Most places take credit cards, but you should always ask if you’re not sure. I only know of one on this list that is cash-only, and there’s an ATM right nearby. To ask if a place takes cards, it’s usually easier to ask “Multibanco?” versus the longer way of asking if they take “cartĂŁo do credito”.

Tipping is not required, but is always deeply appreciated. Portugal is a one of the poorest countries in the EU and the minimum wage is low.

  • 10% is considered a very good tip, and over-tipping can make you look like you’re throwing money around.
  • Always check the receipt – more touristy places will have a “suggested tip” (usually 8% or so) in larger print than the actual total. You don’t have to pay the suggested amount, but make sure you factor that in, else you could end up tipping 10% on top of the already calculated total-with-tip.

There are usually vegetarian (if not vegan) options at most restaurants, but gluten-free can be harder to find. (Those places do exist tho.)

Alfama Rio – (Closed Sundays) Unassuming restaurant with amazing authentic Portuguese food. Most of the servers there don’t speak a lot of English, but they will still try to help you out and get you what you want. Some of the best food we’ve had in all of Lisbon, and some of the best people. If you come after 5PM, Sandra will be there and she’s fluent in English. Vasco isn’t fluent, but he’s getting better every time we see him. If you go without us, tell them Alison and Brady sent you! I usually do the burger, the frango salada (salad with shredded chicken and a light sesame dressing), or the prego, while Brady usually has the pica-pĂŁo, but we’ve never had a bad meal there ever.

York Burger – (CASH ONLY – Closed Tuesdays and every last Thursday of the month.) Their burgers are actually not all that great (Alfama Rio’s are better, IMHO), but their chicken and their hot dogs are top notch. That’s not why you go though. It’s a family run place where the two brothers and one sister are absolute clowns and you will adore them. They play a lot of practical jokes on customers, and we love them for it.

Crafty Corner – This is very much an ex-pat bar, which is good and bad in its own way. The staff is wonderful and they speak English. Food is solid and their craft beer selection is fantastic. Decent food as well. (I usually do the garlic shrimp and garlic bread.)

Bonjardim – Order the chicken. Trust me. Their frango assado is amazing, but go easy on the piri piri sauce, it packs a punch. (I always suggest putting a little on your plate and then dipping the chicken into it to gauge your spice tolerance.) Another bonus, the food comes out lightening fast, since they are roasting chickens all day long. Also fairly inexpensive, given the quality of the food and the fact that it’s so close to the touristy center of town.

Clube de Fado – If you are coming to Portugal, you should probably listen to some Fado. There is no shortage of places to go to listen to Fado, but my favorite (which has been a hit with guests) is Clube do Fado in Alfama. One word of VERY SERIOUS WARNING: when the lights drop, shut the fuck up. Don’t move. Listen. They will get very angry at even a whisper, as fado is a highly revered and cherished type of music here. If you aren’t ready for that kind of commitment, go to a less formal fado place – there are plenty around. The food is very good, but on the more expensive side. No formal wear is required, but try not to dress sloppy.

Cinco Lounge – This place is hipster AF, but the servers are delightful and their cocktails are all bespoke and wonderful. (One of the servers remembered us from when we had visited the year before!) I don’t think they serve food, but right across the street is a fantastic bear bar (gay bar) that’s super chill with lots of outdoor seating, if you want something a little less complicated.

Carnal Gastrobar – Great modern Mexican fusion restaurant with really fun decor, delicious food and incredible coffees/desserts. We chatted with the chef. Turns out he is Mexican and his long-time girlfriend (who is the mother of his child) is Portuguese. They met in culinary school in Chicago and then moved to Lisbon together. He texts her in Spanish and she replies in Portuguese, but they still understand each other. They can get pretty busy, so reservations might not be a bad idea for larger groups.

Lisboa Bar – Up a flight of what feels like never-ending stairs is a tiny bar that’s always busy. Good drinks, super friendly bartenders. No food, but we met our first friends there. Try the 1755 – it’s delicious.

Break SĂ© – (Takes cards but prefers cash) Lovely little brunch place up the hill in Alfama with the only decent nachos we’ve found here. Lots of egg dishes, a decent club sandwich. Very friendly staff.

Noobai Cafe – (NOW takes credit cards! But also there’s an ATM right outside) This place is one of our favorites. The food is always great, the view overlooking the Tagus is fantastic, and the staff is always lovely. They have a rolling roof that they can extend for when the rain storms come out of nowhere, and outdoor misters for the hot summer days. My current favorite there is their “manga e frango” dish, which is a chicken and mango salad with a very subtle garam masala dressing. They open at 4PM, and they can get a little crowded so plan on making a reservation if you have a larger party.

Outro Lado – (Takes cards) This is a really cute location with an excellent beer selection right in Alfama. It’s tucked away up an archway you could easily miss, but the service is always friendly and the food is quite good. They only have petiscos (snacks) but what they have is actually quite nice. I’ve seen a projector inside and a DJ table, so they might open that up for sports events or celebrations, but it’s generally a pretty low-key vibe. Google and their website don’t agree on their operating hours/days though so keep that in mind.