The “get lost in Lisbon” strategy.
Lisbon: the birth child of Rio, San Francisco and maybe Cuba (?). A city from which a new flavor has emerged every time I visit. It is one of the few cities in Europe that I find approachable on my own. Local guidance is at your fingertips if you are willing to step outside your comfort zone and ask someone on the street for recommendations. Wander the small streets and you are almost guaranteed to happen upon stunning views, parks, street art, shops and restaurants. Nearly every hill you climb leads to a postcard worth view, really, this is not an exaggeration. Lisbon in my mind, is a city of hidden treasure.
Due to this fact I really advocate for the “get lost in Lisbon” strategy for enjoying all the city truly has to offer. HOWEVER, I am here to provide some guidance, as many people are traveling on a time limit, so here we go.
My go to is always Goodmorning Lisbon Hostel. Amazing location, friendly staff, and most importantly, a phenomenal free breakfast cooked up just for you every morning. Did someone say wafflesssssss?! Not to mention that the hostel is practically engineered to bring solo travelers together. So if you are traveling on your own, you’ll most likely have a “squad” after the first walking tour or sangria happy hour. Now, Goodmorning is pretty much the crème de la crème of hostels. So if it’s a little out of your budget or fully booked up, I would also take a look at Goodnight Hostel (yes they were once owned by the same person), and Yes! Lisbon.
All of these hostels are fabulous options and located near the city centre. If you are going to Lisbon for the first time or really only looking to hit the main spots, these are the places I would recommend. Now, that being said….LX Factory, is an area that is a bit more of the beaten path, artsy, hipster vibes, and located right under the “Golden Gate Bridge” of Lisbon. Somewhere between the main city center and Belem. Here, there is a truly BEAUTIFUL hostel called The Dorm. If you have been to Lisbon before, or just looking for a slightly different view/location/experience of the city, this hostel is where you need to be.
Unfortunately and fortunately, my last trip in Lisbon I was told to check out a restaurant by the name of Santa Rita on my first night, aaaaand I ended going back there for dinner every night. One of the many “hidden gems” that I speak of in this city. The restaurant is hardly recognizable from the outside. However once you walk through the unmarked glass doors, you’ll find 3 to 4 very long family style tables, a crowd of locals, and an overwhelming aroma of traditional, cheap, local cuisine. So, highly highly highly recommend this place.
Yet, if your looking for more upscale vibe, I would say that any of the restaurants in LX factory are a safe bet. I would recommend just walking around the area and seeing what stands out to you.
If you really are looking for adventure, also consider taking the ferry across the river, here you will find very local flavor, particularly good for seafood. Check out any of the restaurants near the harbor and you’ll find fresh fish and great prices.
As I said before, Lisbon is a city of view points! For this reason rooftop bars are emerging all over the city. I would recommend Topo Bar. It is located on the roof (lol) of a rather strange mall type thing, located near Santa Justa area (lol, again). But you will not be let down by the cocktails, prices, and view from this hipster spot. Head over there during the golden hour and stay after the sunset to see a number of locals flood through the doors.
Things to do:
If you can, go to Lisbon in June, especially starting around the 10th. This is the season of Sardines!! A staple for all Portuguese cuisine and especially a favorite of Lisbon. In nearly every neighborhood of the city little grills, sangria stands, live music, and more will emerge. These miniature festival grounds are hubs of local culture and fun. Clearly marked by colorful flags, lights, and decor, you MUST check these places out. Don’t be intimidated by all the locals, as everyone is just looking to have a good time, drink sangria, and eat their weight in sardines.
There is also a super cool flea market that happens on Saturday and Sunday, if you ask in pretty much any hostel or hotel you will find info about the location, times, etc.
If you are a fan of parks there are a number of tiny ones all around the city. However, one of my favorites is in the Barrio Alto district, again, ask any accommodation you stay at for details.
I would also recommend the Belem Botanical Gardens, they are a quite and beautiful place to walk around and enjoy one of the famous Pastéis de Belém. If you are looking to catch some rays I highly recommend you take a walk along the waterfront and potentially hop on a ferry across the island. Here, take an uber or taxi to Pria da Mata. This is a beautiful beach and a good way to get a taste of the fantastic Portuguese coastline, especially if you don’t have time to explore the Algarve area.
Of course, please please please keep in mind that these are only a few suggestions. There are many activities to do in Lisbon all of which you will be made extremely aware of at pretty much all hostels and hotels, and which you can also find just by simple google searching “Things to do in Lisbon,” I am just trying to suggest some things that might be a little different from the main checklist items.
Again I would also like to stress that Lisbon is a place that you should WALK WALK WALK, hike up hills, wander through alleys, build up an appetite, drink some sangria, and see where the city leads you. The city really is magical in the way that it seems to lead each and every person to the unique experience they crave.
- Rubber soled shoes, many of the streets in Lisbon are beautiful old cobblestone, which means VERY SLIPPERY. Don’t ruin your trip by slipping on one of the steep downhills or sliding around while trying to hike uphill.
- Pick a couple key stops as a guideline for getting around the city, but don’t stress yourself out by feeling like you NEED to see everything. The most beautiful part of Lisbon are the places you can’t mark on a map, the things that you see while wandering around
- Lisbon is not a “snacking” city. Portuguese dishes are FILLING. If you really want to indulge in local culture, pay attention to when and what the locals do for meals. I would recommend a small breakfast and espresso at the beginning of the day, and then scouting out a place for a hearty lunch. THEN walk walk walk it off to make some room for you next meal.
- Drink sangria, always. Carry a bottle of water.
- Red foods help your body deal with heat! So if your visiting Lisbon in summer, indulge in all the local produce, especially cherries!
- Do not speak Spanish to locals, unless it is your native language, of course. But many Portuguese speak very good English and love to practice! Don’t be afraid to ask questions and engage with the people around you!
- Lastly, if you are looking to get from Lisbon to Lagos (a great beach town in the Algarve area) check our Heaps of Tours. This is a really unique way to see parts of the Portuguese coast that most people miss. Not to mention the great music, wine and company, far superior to that of a bus or train ride.
Digital Marketing Intern, Contributor
Bella's love for traveling started with her mother who was a flight attendant for United Airlines. She loves music, art & is always in search of adventure!