Below is everything you need to know about visiting Lisbon, Portugal. From important things to know about renting a car, to the best neighborhoods to stay in, there's a lot of information jam packed in between the photos, so be sure to take notes and happy travels!
When To Go
We flew into Lisbon, Portugal mid-May. It rained for the majority of our time there, which we were totally prepared for (hello, travel umbrellas from Target). The rain was a bit of a drag, but when the sun did come out boy, oh boy!! Lisbon was beautiful and boasting the most ideal 70 degree, spring temps.
For our trip through the country, we started off in Lisbon and mapped the following areas: Lisbon to Obidos to Porto to Alentejo to Algarve. We decided the easiest way to get around Portugal was by car. Driving was SO easy and I highly recommend it. Not being bound to train or bus schedules honestly, was the best. We were free to pick up and leave whenever we wanted, we didn’t have to worry about how to get to bus terminals and could easily pull over to explore a town that wasn’t on our initial itinerary! There are a few things to note about renting a car in Portugal.
Renting A Car
Portugal’s highways have tolls, and, a lot of them. We weren’t aware of this when we arrived and were a little freaked out when the rental car agent informed us toll costs could potentially add up to the price of flying! These tolls have to be paid at the post office in the event that you don’t have a “toll tracker”, which just automatically calculates the toll charges and adds them to your final rental bill. So we added on a “toll tracker” to the car and in the end, our bill wasn’t too bad. We ended up paying about $40 in tolls, total.
Driving in Portugal is VERY easy. The highways are new and clean, and oddly, there are hardly any drivers on the road, ever. All drivers drive in the right lane, reserving the left lane for passing cars which makes for the most superb traffic flow. We had some anxiety in Lisbon, as it’s a busy city with tight, curvy one-way roads — even in a mini Fiat those tiny cobblestone roads are no joke — but we got out alive with no scratches or dings and more importantly, no points against us on our rental car bill. Yay!
Where to Stay
We stayed in between Chiado and the Alfama neighborhood in what is called Castelo. We went back and forth about whether or not to stay in the historic Alfama district, but in the end, we were actually really happy we didn’t stay there. Alfama is quite far from the heart of the city and it's VERY hilly, windy streets aren’t the most ideal for a home base. Lisbon in general is pretty hilly, so prepare your thighs!
Castelo is pretty central to everything and we’d recommend the area for your stay. It offers quiet, residential streets and free parking (if you’re renting a car, parking can become a costly issue, so this is definitely a perk). The old castle, Castelo de S. Jorge is a short distance away and the big shopping avenues, good restaurants and must-sees of the Baixa-Chiado neighborhood are all within walking distance.
The only downside is that it is pretty far from Bairro Alto, which is the cool, hipster hood — we loved that neighborhood and would recommend staying there as well. It is “walkable” from Baixa-Chiado (we did it), but it is no short jaunt and requires you to climb a major hill. Bairro Alto is a great 'hood to stay in as far as I can tell, so look into it.
Best Restaurants in Lisbon
We highly recommend wine and tapas at Restaurante Vicente on Rua das Flores 6. Inside the stone walls, the restaurant is cozy and romantic. It has a beautiful bar and tucked away rooms that make dinner really special, and at great prices. Tip: We enjoyed the tapas more than the main course, so go here and order all the tapas. After a total of three weeks on the road, this was one of the best gourmet tapas we had on the entire trip!
Go across the street for a second round at By the Wine. It’s a large wine room built similarly to a modern wine cellar. With thousands of wine bottles lining the ceiling, it’s a cool space that feels buzzy (and busy!) and is quite possibly filled with the coolest people in town. Tip: Make a rezzie if you want a table.
We had lunch at Taberna da Rua Das Flores. It has cute decor (perfect for an Instagram!) and yummy, simple food. We enjoyed the off-tapas menu and loved that they had vegetarian options. Neither of us are vegetarian, but it’s always nice to have a vegetable-focused meal while traveling. Tip: This place is small and fills up quickly. Go anticipating a wait, and enjoy a beer outside while you do.
What to Do in Lisbon
Lisbon is a beautiful city and there is a lot to explore! Here are some favorite hoods for walking and a few things to mark on your map! Our favorite neighborhoods to explore were Bairro Alto and Baixa-Chiado (Baixa and Chiado are two hoods that merge together pretty seamlessly and make up Lisbon central).
- The Carmo Ruins from 1389 are an absolute must. They were one of my top highlights in Lisbon. More than just gorgeous ruins, the old church is home to a small museum, with pieces dating back from pre-history. There were mummies in perfect form, books dating back to like, Jesus?, beautiful pottery, and so much more. Admission was 6 euro. Go, go. We loved it!
- You’ll find the Santa Justa Lift on most travel guides. The lift itself looks like something from Harry Potter and is pretty just to see. The best thing is that you might just stumble upon it while exploring. It’s smack in the middle of Baixa-Chiado. The line to the top of the lift was long, so we skipped it, but then found a workaround to the exact same view! Tip: Avoid the lines and fee and get the exact same view from the Carmo Ruins. There is an entrance to the platform that literally takes you to the lift’s exit at the top. Same view as the lift, minus the lines and 5 euro price tag.
- Chocolataria Equador on Rua da Misericordia 72 is a beautiful, artisan chocolate shop where the most sophisticated packaging and designs meet old-world treats and traditions. This is a great spot for grabbing gifts for people.
- If you’re looking for hipster coffee, Fabrica Coffee Roasters has two locations in Lisbon. They have their own beans which are pretty tasty! We liked the one on Rua das Portas de Santo Antao 136 much better.
We really loved the Bairro Alto neighborhood. It’s full of concept stores and beautiful streets, cool coffee spots and chic restaurants. It sits atop a hill which means there are great views of the city all around. Basically, if we lived in a neighborhood, it would be this one. We spent the day just walking up and down the streets exploring.
- Copenhagen Coffee Lab, Rua Nova da Piedade 10
- Embaxaida (a big concept store)
- Cevicheria (we didn’t go here, but it came recommended and looks pretty cool)
- The Feeting Room, Calcada do Sacramento 26 (also a location in Porto, great store with mens and womens fashion and shoes)
- Vintage Department, Rua da Escola Politecnica 46 (great design store with Moroccan rugs and cool vintage pieces)
From Lisbon, we drove North to Porto, while stopping at the small tourist-y town of Obidos. If you’re strapped for time, I’d recommend skipping both Porto and Obidos. We much preferred the smaller, untouched towns to the East of Lisbon, like Evora, as well as the Alentejo and Algarve regions — two must-visit areas! I’ll be sharing a to-die-for design hotel in the Alentejo region that you HAVE to stay at, as well as a guide to the best beaches in the Algarve later this week!
In the meantime, some people had some questions about my time in Porto, specifically about our Airbnb. So here is the link to our gorgeous Airbnb, which was so nice it was like staying in a hotel. We loved the coffee at The Feeting Room (a mens and womens fashion store with a coffee shop on the 2nd floor). We had a lot of "ok" meals that didn't make my recommendation cut, but Cantina 32, shown above, is a pretty place for some wine and tapas.