Lisbon has a charming culture and friendly people. The best way to get to know the picturesque City of Seven Hills is to stroll up and down its winding streets, following your feet and slipping through the narrow alleys of such historic neighborhoods as Alfama. Follow the sounds of Fado instead, and you may find an old tavern full of locals drinking the sweet, traditional Ginginha liqueur. When it’s time to eat, look for a tasca, a cheap restaurant that serves homemade food. Prepare to be surprised by Lisbon; you never know what wonders you’ll find around the next corner.


Photo by Aayush Gupta/Unsplash


When’s the best time to go to Lisbon?

Lisbon’s Mediterranean climate draws many tourists in August, though the days are hot and most locals are away on their own vacations. The early summer months (June, July) are milder and very festive: popular feasts draw crowds, streets filled with the smell of sardines, bars and restaurants remain open late into the night, and you’ll find live music in gardens and neighborhood squares. Take advantage of the long days to spend an afternoon enjoying the view from one of the city’s many terraces. September is quieter, and you’ll also find wonderful natural light, changing colors, and plenty of events.

How to get around Lisbon

The Lisbon Portela Airport is the main international gateway into Portugal. TAP is the national Portuguese airline, though several low-cost airlines (including Easyjet and Vueling) also fly into the city. Renting a car can be pricey if you are traveling alone or during high season: gas is expensive, many highways have tolls, and parking in the city is difficult. Do not fret, however, as a subway line and a network of buses, taxis, and shuttles connect the airport to downtown.

Within Lisbon, the transportation options include buses, subways, taxis, Uber, Cabify, trains, and the classic yellow trams. The easiest move is to put money on a green card (Viva Viagem) and use this for every form of transportation. Trains take you to beaches and villas, including Sintra and Cascais. Ferries enable you to cross the river and see Lisbon from the other side. Be sure to check out the famous municipal elevators like Lavra or Santa Justa: historic lift systems that make this city’s steep hills more navigable.

Can’t miss things to do in Lisbon

Back in the day, Cais das Colunas—where the Tagus River meets the Praça do Comércio plaza—was the official entrance to Lisbon, used by heads of state and other prominent figures. Here, looking out on the water, you can see the April 25th Bridge and the monument to Christ the King. To your right is Ribeira das Naus, the waterfront promenade. Now, turn your back to the river and take in one of the most palatial squares in Europe, in which you’ll find Lisbon’s oldest café, Martinho da Arcada. In front of you, the Triumphal Arch of Rua Augusta leads to a beautiful pedestrian street.

Food and drink to try in Lisbon

Portuguese cuisine is diverse and delicious. Try a hearty winter dish like cozido à Portuguesa (meat, potatoes, white beans, and often soup). In summer, nothing beats the grilled fish and seafood. Ask for amêijoas à bulhão pato (clams with garlic, white wine and cilantro), and don’t forget the toasted bread with butter. If you are in a hurry, head to a snack bar and ask for a bifana (pork) or prego (beef) sandwich. When it comes to drinking, Portugal is known for its wine, and Lisbon is no exception. If you want a local liqueur, try Ginginha, Favaios, or Moscatel de Setúbal.

Culture in Lisbon

Lisbon is filled with centuries-old churches, palaces, and mansions. Get the basics on Lisbon by participating on an Intro to Lisbon walking tour, led by a local historian, from AFAR’s partner, Context Travel. Museums dot the city—don’t miss Museu Nacional do Azulejo, Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, or the MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology). You can experience art inside the museums, inside the galleries, and even out on the streets—take a walk to check out the painted buildings at Avenida Fontes Pereira de Melo, near Marquês de Pombal. For a more literary experience, head for the neighborhood of Campo de Ourique, where the poet Fernando Pessoa once lived and where grafitti-ed excerpts of his poetry live on.

In the summer, you can listen to jazz in the gardens and free concerts in the squares. Keep an eye out for dance festivals and the three-day music festival, NOS Alive. Throughout the rest of the year, Lisbon hosts a number of festivals for international film—French, Italian, Spanish—and independent cinema. Finally, the food festivals are a great way to explore local products and regional cuisine.

Local travel tips for Lisbon

After a night out, hungry revelers go to Fábrica de Pastelaria Azevedo e Vidal at Avenida Almirante Reis, 149, or to Panificadora São Roque on Rua da Rosa, near Bairro Alto. If you get lost, just follow the smell of warm cakes and merendas (ham-and-cheese-filled pastries). For sweeter cakes, make the trek to Rua Belém and look for the line outside Pastéis de Belém. Find a table and ask for at least two custard tarts (pastel de nata) per person. (Hardly a secret, but so good!)

Guide Editor

Kevin Raub is a Lisbon-based travel and entertainment journalist.

Rita Alves was born in Lisbon and deeply loves the city.

Read Before You Go
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Resources to help plan your trip
A tasca is a traditional Portuguese restaurant, and the best tascas in Lisbon are typically found in the old neighborhoods or away from the city’s most touristy areas. Tascas serve home-style food in large portions and at cheap prices, and are great places to meet Lisboetas (the name given to residents of Lisbon).
If you only have one day in Lisbon, it has to be a perfect one. Enjoy the unique light of Lisbon and stroll around the neighborhoods and along the river. Listen to fados in a local tavern. And at the end of the perfect day, enjoy the sunset over the red rooftops of Lisbon while dining on fresh seafood.
It’s impossible to miss the cafés and pastry shops in Lisbon. Many of them boast years of history, with past habitués such as the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. Ask for a “bica” (small cup of strong coffee) and you will sound like a true Lisboan.
Lisbon is an old city, so you will find many old neighborhoods in which you can meet true Lisboans and glimpse their daily lives. From Martim Moniz, a diverse community that has recently gentrified, to the once-industrial Parque das Nações, the city’s picturesque and lively neighborhoods await exploration.
Lisbon is rich in art and culture. Visit palaces and the cathedral, and hear concerts in gardens and live music in bars. Enjoy art galleries and the colorful tiles at Museu Nacional do Azulejo. (Note that many Lisbon museums are free on Sundays till 2 p.m.) Art can also be found in the streets or parking lots, where the walls are covered with street art. Lisbon’s cultural offerings are many.
An easy day trip from Lisbon (just 45 minutes by train), the town of Sintra is like something out of a fairy tale. This UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts various castles, tunnels, gardens, and estates to explore, and even a mystical Initiation Well! Remember to stop at Sintra’s famous Piriquita cafe and try traditional cakes such as travesseiros and queijadas. Make sure to go prepared—even if it’s warm in Lisbon, it can be cold in Sintra.
Nazaré is a colorful fishing village with an awesome view from the Sitio of Nazaré, up on the cliff and reached via an 1889 funicular. Admire the traditional costume of fishermen and women, with their colorful shirts and petticoats. Another bright element is the small beach cabanas, striped and colorful. And enjoy the fresh fish!
A beautiful, historic city, Lisbon is ripe for exploration. Go back in time at landmarks like the Jerónimos Monastery, or simply stroll the steep, narrow streets of old neighborhoods, following the sounds of fado down cobblestoned alleyways.
There are some experiences that you shouldn’t miss: Taste a custard tart (the famous pastel de Belém), visit the Jeronimos Monastery, listen to fado (Portuguese folk music), and stroll through Lisbon’s alleys, Rossio Square, and the narrow streets of the Bairro Alto and Alfama. There is also time to visit some museums or the castelo.
Lisbon contains all of the usual international brands, especially along Avenida da Liberdade, but it is also said to be the least expensive of the major European cities. If you seek authentic souvenirs and goods, you’ll find unique local wares in the Feira da Ladra flea market or the shops of the central Bairro Alto district. Bring home jewelry, wine, cork products, leather, or traditional Portuguese delicacies.
From refined and stylish hotel bars to rustic neighborhood tascas popular with students and workers, we’ve rounded up Lisbon’s best places for sipping port, beer, tea, coffee, and vinho. We’ve found the best bars, cafés, and terraces to drink in this hilly Portuguese capital.
Lisbon offers a concentrated slice of Portugal’s rich culinary culture, with everything from riverside cafés and neighborhood tascas to Michelin-starred destinations. Seek out the fresh seafood, unique cheese, and famous custard tarts.
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