19 December, 2019

Your Travel Guide To Lisbon: Where To Stay, Eat, Drink & Explore

19 December, 2019

Planning a trip to Portugal’s capital? These are places you can’t miss in Lisbon.

Known for custard tarts, strong coffee and colourful tiled buildings, Lisbon is (arguably) one of the most vibrant cities in Europe. As the capital city of Portugal, it exudes character, combining a strong sense of heritage with progressive thinking and quirky touches. Whether you’re looking to explore historic cathedrals and ancient ruins, or keen to make the most of the food, wine and buzzing music scene (we recommend both!), there’s no shortage of things to do. Take note of some of our top picks below, but also make sure to follow the sun down cobbled alleyways you come across yourself – you’re sure to discover hidden gems along the way.

How To Get There:

There’s no direct flight if you’re travelling from Hong Kong, but there are plenty of stopover options. Starting at $4,000 return (depending on the time of year), you could end up going long haul for a real bargain. Plus, if you get a night-time flight, you can sleep on the way there and wake up for a (close to) full day in Portugal.

When To Go:

Lisbon has gorgeous weather all year, so you don’t have to worry about which month is the best to go. Saying that, August is the time Lisbon locals travel out of the city for their own holidays as the temperatures rise, so it’s a great chance to explore the city at a quieter time. It’s the only time of year when rush hour barely exists!

Getting Around:

Lisbon is one of Europe’s least expensive capital cities, so most transportation is exceptionally good value. The Viva Lisboa card will let you use unlimited transport options (including the metro, bus, tram, and elevators in the city centre).

  • Metro: The metro is the main transportation system, with lines running from the airport all the way to your favourite late night spots in Baixa. You can get tickets here.
  • Tram: If you’re not in a rush and looking to explore the city whilst you travel, the tram is a favourite for visitors and locals. There are two tram lines in the city, the modern-style Siemens “Articulado” trams or the historic “Remodelado” trams. Whilst it’s a beautiful experience, be prepared for queues over rush hour.
  • Bus: If you’re in a rush to get to your location, the buses are faster than the trams, and several lines run through all parts of the city.
  • Bike: Lisbon consists of a lot of uphill and downhill, so if you’re keen to cycle, we’d recommend hopping on the semi-electric Jump Bikes (run by Uber, you can use the app to unlock them throughout the city).
  • Tuk tuk: These open, airy colourful tuk tuks are fun but a bit of a tourist trap. They’ll overcharge visitors, but if you’re looking for a quick trip, it can still be a fun experience.
  • Train: This is the best option if you’re travelling to towns outside of Lisbon. Places like Cascais, Sintra or Estoril are all easily reached.

Itinerary Advice:

As a compact and convenient city, you can explore a good portion of Lisbon highlights in three or four days. You could do Alfama, Baixa, Cais do Sodre and Chiado on one day, Belem and a night out in Bairro Alto on another, and wrap up with Parque das Nações, Estrela or Príncipe Real. If you’re able to spend a bit more time, we’d recommend combining a trip to Lisbon with some time out of the main city. If you’re keen to keep Lisbon as your base, it’s easy to take day trips to beaches and farms in the surrounding region (there are great options just an hour’s drive away). Everything can be reached using public transport, but it’s also easy to hire a car and Google Map your way around.

Beaches Near Lisbon:

If you’re looking to escape the city a bit, it’s worth knowing that there are four very distinct coastlines close to Lisbon – and each one offers something different. The two most convenient to Lisbon are the Cascais-Estoril coastline (west of Lisbon) and Costa de Caparica (south of Lisbon). If you have a rented car and are open to travelling slightly further, it’s worth checking out the Serra de Sintra coastline or the Serra da Arrabida – as both offer more secluded options.

If you’re after a day trip, these are the easiest beaches to get to: the Praia de Santo Amaro de Oeiras (~20 minutes away), the Praia de Carcavelos (~30 minutes away), or the Praia da Conceição (~60 minutes away – the main beach of Cascais). You can easily hop on the Lisbon-Cascais railway to reach all three, and they’re well suited for solo travellers, couples and families alike.

Where To Stay:

Four Seasons Lisbon
This historic hotel is a well-known icon in the city for good reason. The space epitomises luxury, with beautiful, spacious rooms, decadent amenities, and the five-star service you’d expect from the Four Seasons. Inside, you’ll find classic architecture paired with art-deco elements, and collections of contemporary local artwork lining the halls. From the room and private balcony, you’ll have incomparable views of the city, with Lisbon’s iconic hills and brightly tiled buildings spread out before you. With a central location and many city sights just steps from the hotel, you can unwind after a day out at the spa, or head to one of the restaurants. The spa features quality treatments, an indoor pool, sauna and steam room, all paired with attentive, personalised service. The gym is state of the art, with a Pilates studio and a proper running track on the roof! The alfresco breakfast, lunch and dinner option is a bonus, and the quality of food may just be the best in the city.

Villa Baixa
Whether you’re travelling solo or in a group, these Lisbon Luxury Apartments are ideal if you’re looking to spend more than a week in the city. Affordable and conveniently located, the space offers all the basic necessities you need for a longer stay. With traditional touches, you’ll find beautiful Portuguese tiles produced in the famous Viúva Lamego factory, and thoughtful additions in each room. In terms of location, it’s a five-minute walk to Baixa-Chiado Subway station, and a two-minute walk from the tram or bus. Plus, it’s only a 30-minute drive from Lisbon Portela Airport, so you can zip in and out with ease.

Lisbon Cheese & Wine Suites
The name says it all: you’ll be welcomed to your room with Portuguese cheese and wine – and that’s everything we’re really looking for. This spot offers visitors a “handmade hospitality”, promising an authentic experience in the city. You’ll find beautifully-decorated rooms, friendly local staff and a gorgeous breakfast. Located in the chic and central Santos design district, the locals working here will give you tips on all the hidden spots. Plus, it’s a quick bus ride away from major sightseeing attractions like Castelo de S. Jorge, and a five-minute walk from the tram and bus stop.

Where To Eat And Drink:

For Brunch or Lunch:

Fauna & Flora
Looking for all-day brunching? Expect stacks of fluffy pancakes, creamy avo toast, fresh fruit juices, cocktails and more at this Instagram-approved haven. With its own herb garden, eco packaging and tons of natural light, this is an ideal brunch spot. We recommend the Iberica toast and homemade ginger lemonade!

Bowls & Bar
Where all-day breakfast comfort food meets a flower shop and aperitif cocktails. Specialising in packed lunch bowls, this contemporary spot stocks everything from home-cured salmon and poached eggs, to vegan bread and crisp salads. Offering limonade of the day and mango mimosas, it’s the kind of place you could go to for breakfast and find yourself still there when 4pm hits.

A Floresta do Salitre
If you’re looking for an authentic dining experience, this is it. Packed with locals, you’ll find homemade bread, steaming soup, just-off-the-grill fish and plenty of wine. With a no-frills approach to lunch, there’s a real sense of community and family here. With a passion for food, you can expect wine from the owner’s friend’s vineyard, typical Portuguese flavours and decadent desserts dressed down to the basics.

Banana Café
Though this is a chain restaurant, there is something homely about it. With an outdoor, sidewalk setting along Av. da Liberdade, this is a great pit stop when cycling around the city. Think poke bowls, veggie wraps, fresh smoothies, strong coffee and cold beer.

La Paparrucha
With a rustic vibe, this Argentinian grill restaurant and bar is known for good meats and good views. With a terrace offering tree-lined views across the city, it’s a good place for lunch, dinner or drinks. If you want an outdoor or window seat, it’s best to book ahead.

A Cultura do Hambúrguer
Looking for a cheap and cheerful lunch option? These perfectly charred burgers are under HK$80 and will leave you completely satisfied. Make your own with exactly the ingredients you’re craving, or pick from one of the specials. All the favourites feature on the menu, but there are also more alternative options like the Minha Mãe (alentejo, onion confit, and eggplant sauce with bolo do coco bread). Takeaway is available!

For Dinner:

Varanda at Hotel Ritz Four Seasons
With outdoor dining, five-star service and the freshest, local ingredients – Varanda makes the top of our list. We have to admit that this was the best meal we had in Lisbon, though the prices are as to be expected for the quality. Pick between a gorgeously-grilled octopus salad, steaming white wine mussels, and the most decadent seafood platter you’ve ever seen. No matter what you go for, you won’t be disappointed. Pair it with a bottle of Esporão Reserva, a rich, buttery white that pairs perfectly with the fresh flavours. It’s also a beautifully secluded spot to indulge in a weekend brunch – especially if you’re celebrating a special occasion.

Cervejaria Ramiro
With over 9,000 incredible reviews on TripAdvisor, we knew this place was worth checking out. Indulge in caught-this-morning prawns and lobsters the size of your face. Whilst it does have a two-hour wait most nights, if you happen to be staying at Four Seasons Lisbon, the concierge staff offer guests a sneaky little queue skip (it’s an exclusive offer that no other hotel has, and kind of makes you feel like you’re friends with royalty).

Taberna da Rua das Flores
Though once hole-in-the-wall, this is another no-reservations spot. Opening at 5pm, it’s best to head over for an early dinner to avoid waiting. With Mediterranean flavours, you can expect dishes like tuna tapas with homemade secret sauce, and swordfish with sweet potato. The menu also has veggie and gluten-free options.

Time Out Market
This market is great if you’re travelling with a bigger group of friends and want to try out a bunch of different types of food. It’s a big canteen-style market with stalls overflowing with food and drinks. It’s also the first market in the world where each dish and drink has been carefully tested (with only four or five star ratings making the cut) by an independent panel of experts. Open all hours of the day, it’s quickly become a hub for tourists and locals.

Mesa de frades
You can’t leave Lisbon without experiencing a live fado performance. The classical Portuguese music arrives as the final course to the meal, letting you sit for hours sipping on a frequently topped up glass of red. The set meal here is €60 and you get unlimited house wine and beer, with a starter, main and dessert. Located in an old converted chapel with tiled walls preserved from the 17th and 18th century, this is a homely, friendly restaurant. Though we must admit, the food wasn’t the best, the ambiance, quality of fado, and accommodating staff make it worth checking out.

For Drinks:

For an introduction to Lisbon’s nightlife, head to bohemian Bairro Alto, the neighbourhood that offers a real alfresco drinking culture. Nightlife in Lisbon doesn’t kick off until about 1am, so plan accordingly!

Hot Club of Portugal
This famous, historic club is one of the oldest Jazz bars in Europe. With a combination of local performers and big-name guests, the intimate cellar setting gets packed early. Head over around 10pm to get a drink and find some seats near the front. Live music is played every night except Sunday and Monday.

Cafe Na Fabrica
Located in LX Factory (worth spending a full day at!), this is a lively outdoor spot that hosts incredible live music on Saturday nights. With homemade iced tea, Portuguese gin and a buzzing, welcoming vibe, it’s easy to spend a few hours here. It also recently added in a #veganhappyhour, so it’s worth trying some plant-based nibbles.

For an epic view and a long lunch, head to Park, a rooftop bar located on top of a four-storey parking garage in the middle of the city. Music ranges from Brazilian beats to jazz, with outdoor movies, themed parties and house DJ sets keeping the energy high late into the evening.

Musa da Bica
For beer drinkers, Musa da Bica offers a bunch of beers on tap, bar food and knowledgeable staff who can recommend you drinks based on your personal preferences. It’s just a 10-minute walk from the infamous Pink Street, so it’s worth tying the two together.

Chapitô à Mesa
Proudly claiming to have “The 7th best terrace view” according to Trip Advisor, this is a great rooftop bar in Lisbon. Located right below the walls of Sao Jorge Castle, Chapito offers an awesome view of the city and river. The outdoor space has a friendly atmosphere with a mixture of locals and visitors, and it’s busy by 5pm most days. If you go for cocktails and decide to stay for dinner, there are plenty of Mediterranean and Portuguese options to choose from.

Casa Independente
Set in an old mansion with a large, beautiful patio (kind of like an inner courtyard), this hidden bar and resto combines a laid-back bohemian vibe with classic Portugese touches. Get comfy on one of the mismatched chairs, sipping on a G&T and munching on tapas whilst live music plays energetically in the next room.

For Coffee or Dessert:

Café A Brasileira
Translated as “The Brazilian Lady Café”, this is the only place in Portugal that still sells a special Brazilian blend coffee. You’ll find locals ordering an espresso, finishing it standing by the counter before heading back out. With a rich history and a story to tell, this is where musicians, artists and writers used to gather and drink before the area became well-known to tourists. Keep in mind that it’s worth going for the coffee, not the food.

Pasteis de Belem
We couldn’t write a Lisbon guide without including our favourite pastry! Pasteis de Belem is actually a protected brand of custard egg tart – so there’s no other recipe quite like it. Legend has it that it’s the ancient Jerónimos Monastery recipe from the 16th century, and the only three people alive who know it are the current head chefs. It’s open every day of the year with over 30,000 custard egg tarts sold a day. Though there can be up to a two-hour wait (only skipped on select private tours), it’s worth it.

Gelateria Nannarella
On a private tour with a sugar-loving local, we found out about a little hidden Lisbon secret: Nannarella. We quote him, tucking into his double scoop, when we say this is “the best ice-cream in Lisbon”. The natural gelato comes in countless flavours, with generously sized scoops going for under HK$25. The selection changes on an almost daily basis, so it’s worth popping by a few times during your stay!

Where To Explore:

Vintage Moto Sidecar Tour
Strap on your helmet and get ready for an exhilarating tour of the city with a local tour guide (this is one of the only tours that gives you the chance to miss some of those two-hour queues).

LX Factory
Packed with pop-up markets, exhibitions, shops, cafes, concerts and parties, you’ll find live music, rooftop restaurants, and shops selling everything you can think of at this industrial-style space.

Feira da Ladra
Think of this flea market as Lisbon’s equivalent to Hong Kong’s Ladies Market – selling everything from vintage table ornaments and second-hand books to silk handkerchiefs and quirky knickknacks.

Monsanto Park
Escape the crowds and explore one of Lisbon’s biggest parks, with secluded walking trails lacing through a forest of almost ‎2,500 acres.

Cortiço e Netos
Looking to take a tile home? This is the most extensive collection of Portuguese industrial tiles, many of which are now discontinued. As a family-run business, it’s been operating for two generations, selling decorative and colourful ceramics to the many who fall in love with Lisbon’s aesthetic.

Bertrand Chiado
This is the oldest bookstore in the world! It’s been operating since 1,732 and today offers a large collection of books and a cosy café. Though the English book selection is limited, it’s worth popping by if you’re in the area.

The National Museum of Contemporary Art
Located in the Chiado neighbourhood, this government-run museum was created in 1911 and re-inaugurated in 1994. Helena Almeida’s “Pintura Habitada” (translated to inhabited painting) is a favourite.

The Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT)
This new art museum hosts national and international exhibitions with contributions by contemporary artists, architects and thinkers.

An iconic Arabian Palace turned into a concept mall. Set in Principe Real, this landmark boasts a range of shops and restaurants focused on Portuguese culture. Head to the inner courtyard on Tuesdays and Sundays to catch a live Fado concert.

Belém Tower
This 16th-century monument is a representation of Portugal’s Age of Discovery. Climb up the narrow, winding staircase to soak in views of the Tagus river (the tower is closed on Mondays).

Jerónimos Monastery
Also known as the Hieronymites Monastery, this former monastery showcases the history of Lisbon through Gothic architecture, expansive courtyards and beautifully maintained gardens.

General Tips For Exploring Lisbon:

  • Go on a walking tour of downtown Lisbon – many are completely free! It’s the best way to take in the city’s rich history. Sandeman’s Free Walking Tours is one we definitely recommend.
  • Skip the tourist trap of the Santa Justa Elevator and go to take in the views on the stairs right next to Carmo Convent.
  • Take an Uber or Taxi up to the Castle d. San Jorge but make sure to walk down and get lost in the Alfama district, one of the oldest areas. You’ll find lots of little artisanal craft shops and a hearty number of gelatarias. None will disappoint.
  • Make the most of the day trips from Lisbon. Sintra is a great option!

Featured image by Julian Dik on Unsplash, Image 1 taken by Tania Shroff at Rio Maravilha in LX Factory, Image 2 via Getty, Image 3 via Four Seasons Lisbon, Image 5 via Fauna & Flora, Image 6 taken by Tania Shroff at Four Seasons Lisbon, Image 7 via Chapitô à Mesa, Image 8 via Pasteis de Belem, Image 9 via Café na Fábrica at Lx Factory.

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