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The best independent guide to Lisbon
The best independent guide to Lisbon
Lisbon is the stunning capital city of Portugal, and is one of the most charismatic and vibrant cities in Europe.
It is a city that effortlessly blends traditional heritage, with striking modernism and progressive thinking.
As a holiday destination, Lisbon offers a rich and varied history, buzzing nightlife and is blessed with a glorious year-round climate.
This article will show why you must visit Lisbon, and how to get the most from your holiday here.
The Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge spanning the Tejo Estuary
Lisbon is a bustling and exciting city, which boasts a wide selection of activities and fascinating tourist attractions. The city has a welcoming and liberal atmosphere, while still embracing its deep-rooted heritage and extensive history.
Lisbon will appeal to a diverse selection of ages and tourists; it can form a cultural trip, a nightlife extravaganza, a family holiday, a relaxed city-break or even as a base for a beach holiday.
The Portuguese capital is constantly recognised as one of the greatest cities in the world, a claim confirmed by the "Lonely Planet Guides", who named Lisbon one of the world's top 10 cities.
Surprisingly, Lisbon is still one of Europe's least visited capitals, but this is rapidly changing as new visitors discover the allure of Portugal.
Related articles: The top 10 sights and activities in Lisbon - The secret sights of Lisbon
The delightful Torre de Belém once guarded the entrance to the Tejo Estuary
Lisbon takes around three days to discover and is the ideal destination for a weekend city break.
Your holiday to Lisbon could be extended to seven or ten days to include all of the enjoyable day trips in the surrounding region. These day trips could include Sintra, Cascais, Obidos, and Setubal, and all of these can be easily visited using public transport.
Close to Lisbon is a coastline of beautiful sandy beaches, and your trip to Lisbon could also include a few days relaxing on these glorious beaches.
A suggested itinerary for your holiday to Lisbon could include:
A city-break of three days in Lisbon
Day 1 – The districts of Alfama, Baixa, Cais do Sodre and Chiado
Day 2 – The districts of Belem and Alcântara, with a night out in Bairro Alto
Day 3 – The Parque das Nações, and the Estrela and Príncipe Real districts
A week long holiday to Lisbon
Day 4 – Day trip to Sintra
Day 5 – Day trip to Cascais
Day 6 – Day trip to Setubal or Sesimbra
Day 7 – Day trip to Obidos or Mafra & Ericeira
Read our suggested itineraries: 24 hours in Lisbon - 48 hours - 3 days – 1 week
Lisbon extends over seven steep hills; expect a lot of uphill walking!
Lisbon has hot dry summers, pleasant springs and autumns, and mild but possibly wet winters.
The best time of year to visit Lisbon is in the late spring (May-June), when the days are bright and sunny, but the temperatures are not unbearably hot.
The peak season is between June and August, and if you visit at this time of year, you should expect the city to feel very crowded. The weather is suitable for spending time on the beach from May until the end of September.
There can be a significant amount of rain during the winter months (November - February), but the city offers many activities for a wet day.
Lisbon attracts visitors year-round, and tourist attractions remain open for the whole year.
Related articles: When to visit Lisbon? - Activities for a wet day
If this is your first visit to Lisbon, it is recommended to be based close to the historic centre; this covers the districts of Baixa, Alfama, Chiado, Bairro Alto, and the Avenida da Liberdade.
These areas are popular with tourists and are within walking distance of the main sights and attractions. Bairro Alto and Cais do Sodre are the nightlife districts and are ideal if you wish to party, or are part of a stag/hen do.
Alfama is an ancient and characterful district, but the narrow, steep streets can be very draining in the summer heat. The Mouraria district and the Avenida Almirante Reis provide cheaper options for backpackers and budget travellers, but this area is not a place we would recommend our parents to stay.
If you are a business traveller, consider being based in Parque das Nações district, which contains many modern business hotels and is close to the airport.
Related articles: Where to stay in Lisbon? – Baixa district – Alfama district – Belem district
The Parque das Naçoes is the ultra-modern side of historic Lisbon
Lisbon is expecting a sell-out tourist season for 2021, as visitors seek safe destinations within Europe
As Lisbon is expecting a sell-out 2021, it is advisable to purchase flights and accommodation as soon as possible, before prices dramatically rise.
Being a popular weekend city break destination, the flights on Friday evening and Sunday/Monday tend to sell out first.
Rossio plaza is the heart of Lisbon
Lisbon is close to a stunning coastline of beautiful sandy beaches and dramatic natural scenery. Many of the region's finest beaches are only a short bus or train ride away from central Lisbon.
There are two sandy coastlines easily accessible from Lisbon; the Cascais-Estoril coastline (to the west of Lisbon) and Costa da Caparica (to the south of Lisbon).
Slightly further (and needing a rental car to visit) are the wild beaches of the Serra de Sintra coastline and the paradise beaches of the Serra da Arrabida.
Our Opinion: The beaches of the Lisbon region are just as beautiful as the Algarve, there is no need to travel hundreds of miles to find beautiful beaches.
Related articles: Lisbon beach guide - Costa da Caparica
The vast Praia de Carcavelos beach, only a short train ride from central Lisbon
Lisbon is a good choice of destination, if you want to take your family on a city break. There are many children-friendly tourist attractions, such as the Oceanarium, tram rides, Lisbon Zoo, or the Pavilhão do Conhecimento (interactive science museum).
Children will be welcomed in all restaurants, hotels and shops, and the Portuguese have a family-focused culture. Lisbon is a relatively safe city, but the main consideration for children are the very hot summer temperatures.
Related articles: Lisbon for Families
A ride on the number 28 tram will be a highlight of a trip to Lisbon
There are many enjoyable day trips from Lisbon, and these can greatly extend a stay within the city. The most popular day trips are to Sintra and Cascais.
Sintra sits in the cooling hills of the Serra de Sintra and is the setting for many wondrous palaces and villas, which include the Pena Palace and the Moorish castle. Cascais is a charming resort town, which has a delightful historic centre and is surrounded by beautiful beaches.
Other excellent day trips include the pretty beach town of Sesimbra, the magnificent palace of Mafra, the picturesque walled town of Obidos, and the port city of Setubal. All of these destinations can be easily travelled to using public transport.
Related articles: Day trips from Lisbon – Sintra Guide – Cascais Guide – Sesimbra Guide
The magnificent Pena Palace in the Sintra hills
Lisbon is one of Europe's least expensive capital city, and offers exceptional value for food, drink and public transport. Entrance fees to the historical monuments are sensibly priced, but gimmicky tourist activities (Tuk-tuks, bus tours) are expensive.
There are many good-value places to eat and drink, and these tend to be the Tascas. These cheap, no-frills family-run restaurants typically serve a "meal of the day" for less than 7€ and are found along almost every street in Lisbon (and Portugal!)
Overall, Lisbon provides excellent value for money, but accommodation and flights should always be booked well in advance to secure the lowest prices.
Related articles: Cost of a holiday to Lisbon - Traditional meals to try while in Lisbon
Lisbon airport is the main international airport of Portugal and provides direct connections to all major European cities and many of the world's largest cities. The airport itself is conveniently located within the city limits, and the onward travel is extremely easy, by taking either the metro or the Aerobus bus service.
Lisbon airport has two terminals; Terminal 1 handles all international arrivals and most departures, while terminal 2 handles the departures (only) of the low-cost airlines. Terminal 1 is a bit dated but has all the expected facilities of a major international airport, Terminal 2 is very basic, and you will spend a lot of time hanging around in long queues.
Insight: Portugal is a relatively small country, and there is an excellent express train network that connects Porto, Lisbon and the Algarve. It is not that difficult to fly into one of Portugal's three airports (Lisbon, Porto and Faro) and travel by train to a different region of the country.
Related articles: Lisbon airport to the city centre - Lisbon airport guide - Terminal 2 guide
Terminal 1 at Lisbon airport and the entrance to the metro, which is the best way to travel to the city centre
Compared to many other major cities, Lisbon is a comparatively safe city.
The only issues tourists may experience is from pick-pockets or opportunistic thieves, but you should have no issues if you use the same common sense that you would use back at home.
Related articles: Is Lisbon safe?
English is much more widely spoken in Portugal than in Spain, France or Italy. Everyone who works within tourism speaks English fluently, while all transport hubs (metro, railways and airports) have English as their second language.
While dining out, all restaurants have English menus, while most historical sights have descriptions in both Portuguese and English. If you only speak English, you will not encounter any language difficulties during your holiday.
The Portuguese rarely expect foreign visitors to speak any Portuguese, but are always cheerfully surprised if a few words can be spoken!
Lisbon has excellent public transport and inexpensive taxis, and a car is not needed while in the city. Driving in Lisbon can be very stressful due to the erratic driving of the Portuguese, the poor traffic markings and the heavily congested roads.
A car is not needed to visit the popular day trips such as Sintra, Cascais, or Obidos, as there is good public transport to them from Lisbon. A car can be useful if you wish to explore further from Lisbon or into the regions with limited public transport, such as the Serra da Arrábida, the Serra de Sintra or the Alentejo region.
Related articles: The best driving routes of the Lisbon region
A car is needed to visit the Serra da Arrábida coastline
Discover more of Lisbon with our most popular guides
A complete list of all of our Lisbon articles