Lisbon, Portugal, is truly the hidden gem of Europe! When asked by the tour guides what I knew about Lisbon before visiting, I was sad to say nothing! Besides the early explorers, I did not know much about Portuguese culture until I saw it. I was pleasantly surprised by the capital city of Portugal.
This post contains affiliate links to the experiences I went on. I may earn a commission if you click and purchase the tour.
Before You Go
We were in year two of the global pandemic when I visited, so there were requirements before entering Portugal. It is easier to visit if you’re vaccinated, and you must present a negative COVID-19 PCR test at least 72 hours or Antigen at least 48 hours before departing. In addition, you must fill out a passenger locator card. On the weekends, they checked our vaccination cards to eat inside restaurants because apparently, restaurants can receive fines if not.
Finally, we needed a COVID test to return, and we scheduled a rapid test from the many kiosks around the city. The process was straightforward and organized. They have a QR code on the trailers to schedule.
Update: As of August 2022, there are no COVID entry or exit requirements for US Citizens. Masks are not required in most areas, and no vaccination cards are needed to dine in.
Where to Stay
We stayed right in the heart of the city center in the Chiado neighborhood. It was a perfect location that had at the most a 15-minute walk to all of the other popular areas. We were just up the hill from Pink street, a popular nighttime destination for food and partying.
We stayed at a hotel called Boutique Chiado, and there were many affordable options for Airbnbs and smaller hotels. According to our driver, the Chiado area, in particular, is very LGTBQ+ friendly, and there was significant local shopping there.
Uber is very cheap in Lisbon. From the airport to the hotel it was only 17 euros, and from the hotel to other popular areas, it was about 3-10 euros. You will mostly want to walk because of the beautiful scenery and the walking-friendly city. But beware, there are many steep hills, so make sure you have comfortable shoes on.
The Tram is a popular option and experience when visiting Lisbon. They are conveniently situated around the steep hills and offer a great view of the city. Tram 28 is the most popular tram that passes through popular tourist neighborhoods. We did not ride them this time, but it’s common to see people taking pictures by them!
The Train is another inexpensive way to get to further destinations outside of Lisbon. There is a famous bridge similar to San Francisco’s, and the train crosses that. If you’re interested in going to places like Sintra or Cascais, the metro takes you there easily.
Hop on Hop off Bus
The hop on hop off bus is a great way to combine a tour and transportation in one. I noticed busses that took people to Sintra, Cascais, and Portugal’s version of Christ the Redeemer statue. On the bus, it offers commentary about the history of the places in different languages. The only downside is it stops at 5 pm.
What to Do
We stayed in Lisbon for a total of 5 days, and there was so much we still did not do. You can fill up your schedule pretty quickly, depending on your interest. I would definitely consider Lisbon a fit destination!
Book a Shoot with a local Photographer
I would hands down do this over and over again! I can’t believe I have not done it in my other destinations, but this was my first time. I booked a private session with Prasad, owner of Shoot me Lisboa. He captured beautiful pictures in the famous sites around Lisbon. I suggest doing the morning session, so you have the whole scene to yourself.
Belem is a neighborhood adjacent to the center and is home to the Belem Tower and Padrao dos Descobrimentos. We did this on our own, and it was all we needed. It’s a beautiful scene on the water and perfect for pictures. If you are hungry, you must visit Pasteis de Belem for the famous Pasteis de Belem.
Sintra is a quaint neighborhood that reminds me of what it might have looked like back in the day. It’s home of the National Palance of Pena and Quinta da Regaleira. You must see both! The Palace is coined the cinderella palace and was the inspiration for the movie Shrek!
Quinta da Regaleira is a beautiful property like a maze with its massive garden and the famous spiral well. I also loved the waterfall and the caves. We booked a day tour to Sintra and Cascais that offered us a skip the line entry to the palace and personalized service to a local lunch.
Cabo da Roca
Breath-taking views! You have to visit this site. It’s the most western point of Europe and right above the beach town of Cascais. Cascais has one of the most beautiful beaches and a coastal town that is gaining popularity amongst ex-pats. The president resides in this town. Our tour guide told us he likes to take selfies with people.
Free Walking Tours
I always schedule free walking tours wherever they are offered. I feel like they give the best information and more fun and personalized experience. I like to plan these at the beginning of the trip because the local guide always provides good information on where to go and what to eat. Because it is tip-based, you can tell they put their best effort forward. We took the tour for Barrio Alto, Chiado, and Baixa in English.
We visited the LX Factory area on Sunday. They have a market beginning at 10:30 am with a bunch of artisanal items to buy. The site itself is an artsy location with fun restaurants and other shopping. I think it would be more interesting to come at night since there were many lighting setups around the area. We took an uber to get there.
Portugal doesn’t get the notoriety it’s due for its exceptional wines. I recommend scheduling a wine tasting here. I booked an experience on Viator with From the Vine, a wine tasting bar. It is brand new and the first wine tasting bar in Lisbon. They offer private tasting with the best regional wines of Portugal. It comes with a charcuterie board, and Andre, the manager, showed us a fantastic time.
One tip, if you want to take wines home from duty-free, check them or get wines that TSA can see through, or they will take them!
Take a Boat Tour or Ferry
Lisbon offers beautiful landscapes, and it’s perfect to view from a boat on the Tagus river. We booked a two-hour late afternoon tour where we could view the Cristo Rei Christ Statue from the boat. Some ferries run from one side of the city to the other.
What to Eat and Drink
Lisbon is famous for several items and here is what I recommend you try. Of course, I had other things, but these are specific to this city! One fun fact, the Portuguese invented tempura that the Japanese adopted.
Pasteis de Belem/ Pastel de Nata
Created in Belem, but you can find them everywhere. The convenient and addictive egg tart is very delicious. I suggest you try the ones in Belem first and compare. I liked the original recipe better.
Ginginha is a cherry wine that is supposed to have medicinal properties. People drink it after eating to help with digestion, but it’s very potent. I liked the one at this older location in the center of the city.
Green wine is unique to Portugal and represents the region that it is grown. No, the wine is not green, but it’s a little sourer than white wine. It reminds me of green apples. It’s best with seafood.
Portugal has fantastic seafood, but octopus and cod is a local item here. One of our guides said not to order fish or seafood on Mondays since the fishermen don’t fish Sundays. One popular place for seafood is Marisqueira do Lis, it’s inexpensive, and you can see the fresh fish in the cases. They had giant lobsters!
Time Out Market
If you are with people who have different ideas of food, head over to the timeout market. They offer several food stalls with local Portuguese favorites. Grab seafood, Portuguese steak, or snacks like cod cakes. Leave your cash at home because they only take cards!
Overall, Lisbon is a friendly place. The people are so happy to have people visit and will offer help to anyone that asks. Be careful if you are in a hurry because they will tell you everything! All lifestyles, cultures, and backgrounds will feel welcome here. Don’t forget to have comfortable shoes and be prepared to walk.