The Backpacker’s Travel Guide to Lisbon | Portugal

I’ve sometimes used the term “love at first sight” to describe the cities I’ve traveled to. For Lisbon, it was quite the opposite. My love affair with Lisbon was more like a slow burn. The longer I spent in Lisbon, the more I grew to love its diverse neighborhoods and mix of historic charm and cultural character with its gritty feel and alternative personality. It takes a while to truly get to know Lisbon. It has received a ton of hype in recent years, and my expectations were sky-high. Hopping off at the bus station away from the historic city center, I was welcomed with graffiti-ed walls and a feeling that I was back in the dodgier neighborhoods of New York City.

From its breathtaking viewpoints to its maze-like historic neighborhoods, I grew to love Lisbon. Not a single day here felt wasted, even if all I did was wander aimlessly through its cobbled streets and narrow alleyways. Portugal’s vibrant capital offers a unique mix of vintage charm and a trendy, alternative vibe to it. It’s home to stunning architecture from all throughout its storied past. The cuisine is delicious and the nightlife is sizzling. Despite being Portugal’s largest city, it never felt too crowded or chaotic, maintaining a relaxed coastal lifestyle.

For backpackers, Lisbon is truly a dream. It remains one of the more budget-friendly destinations in Western Europe, while boasting a treasure trove of things to do and neighborhoods to explore. From medieval fortresses and cathedrals, to repurposed factories and abandoned scenic restaurants, Lisbon has got range. Here’s everything you need to know before taking on this incredible city, which slowly worked its way up to becoming one of my favorites in the world.

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Table of Contents

Is Lisbon Worth Visiting?

The limelight has been shining on Lisbon and Portugal of late, and one has to wonder if it really lives up to the hype. Personally, I can’t think of anything to dissuade you from visiting Lisbon. It’s a perfect blend of old-world charm and a modern mindset. If I could narrow it down to the top five things I loved about Lisbon, these would be it.

Variety of Neighborhoods

Like many big cities, Lisbon is home to diverse neighborhoods. I truly believe that those who don’t like Lisbon simply haven’t found the right neighborhood for them. Each neighborhood has its own unique personality, from the narrow, hilly alleyways of Alfama to the small-town vibes of Belem.

Incredible Food

Lisbon is a foodie’s paradise, with some of the freshest seafood you’ll find in Europe. I was eating good in Lisbon. Once you have your first bite of a pastel de nata, you’ll never look back.

Modern and Alternative

Along with it’s rich history that dates back to the Roman Empire, Lisbon is quite progressive and trendy. An example of this would be the revitalized LX Factory, a former factory now home to trendy boutiques, restaurants, bars, and more. While many of Lisbon’s tourist neighborhoods center around the historic old towns, Lisbon is far from a boring, historic European city. Lisbon is f***ing cool.

Convenient and Affordable Public Transportation

Seeing all of Lisbon’s various neighborhoods is a breeze with its extensive public transportation system. Some parts of Lisbon are easily walkable, but to get a complete feel for this city, the trains, buses, and trams will show you all of what Lisbon’s got to offer.

Sizzling Nightlife Scene

Well, duh. Lisbon knows how to party. Whether you’re looking for a big, booming club along the river, or a cozy bar with live Fado music, there’s something for you in this city with a bumpin’ nightlife scene.

Overall, I’d say Lisbon is a city that has something for everyone. The history, culture, and stunning views speak for themselves, but dig a little deeper and you’ll discover the little things that make Lisbon special. From having a favorite cafe for your morning pastel de nata, to memorizing the trolley system so you know how to get up to your favorite sunset spot on the fly, Lisbon starts to feel like home very quickly.

How To Get To Lisbon

From the United States, flights to Portugal are among the cheapest transatlantic voyages you’ll find anywhere. From elsewhere in Europe, Lisbon is as well-connected of an airport as it gets. Budget airlines like RyanAir and EasyJet frequently fly to Lisbon and elsewhere in Portugal. Skiplagged is a great resource for finding cheap flights.

Of course, if you’re traveling by land, there are plenty of options. From Spain and other cities in Portugal, taking a bus is the best way to get to Lisbon. Rede Expressos is the main bus company that services Lisbon, although backpackers loyal to Flixbus will find several daily departures to Lisbon on there as well. There is also a decent train system in Portugal, and all railways lead to Lisbon.

Before you go, it’s always a good idea to have travel insurance handy.  I use SafetyWing to keep me covered throughout my travels for as low as $45 a month.

How To Get Around Lisbon

Getting around Lisbon is a breeze. Although I’m a big walker, Lisbon is quite spread out and hilly. It feels nice to hop on a bus or train and rest the legs a bit. Luckily, Lisbon has an excellent public transportation system and a reliable network of buses, trains, and trams that run all over the city center and beyond.

The metro has four lines and runs until 1 AM, and is great for getting around the city’s major stops. Buses are more comprehensive, covering almost every part of the city. Some buses run through the night. Trams are the most aesthetic way to get around Lisbon, and are much more than just a pretty face. Be sure to hop on Tram 28 through the historic Alfama neighborhood all the way up to the castle. While most people will stay on one side of Lisbon, there are also ferries that can take you across the Tagus River.

It’s easy to buy tickets and passes for public transportation at metro stations and major bus and tram stops. Some shops and kiosks will also sell tickets and passes. Overall, public transportation in Lisbon is excellent and reliable. It’s a great way to explore the city and get around quickly and efficiently. Most, if not all, of the lines are also on Google Maps, so it’s easy to figure out. I didn’t need to know much about the buses, metros, or even intercity trains beforehand as they all showed up on Google Maps. I’d recommend taking advantage of this and saving money on Ubers and taxis, although those are also affordable in Lisbon.

Where To Stay in Lisbon

Lisbon has many vibrant and diverse neighborhoods, each with its own character and attractions. I truly believe that those who don’t like Lisbon simply haven’t found the right neighborhood for them. Here are some of the best neighborhoods for travelers in Lisbon.

Baixa: This is the heart of Lisbon and a great place to stay for first-time visitors. It’s a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood with plenty of shops, restaurants, and historic buildings.

Alfama: This charming neighborhood is one of the oldest in Lisbon and is known for its narrow streets, colorful buildings, and traditional fado music. It’s a great place to explore on foot and get a taste of Lisbon’s rich cultural heritage.

Bairro Alto: This lively neighborhood is known for its nightlife, with plenty of bars, clubs, and restaurants. During the day, it’s a great place to explore the narrow streets and historic buildings.

Chiado: This upscale neighborhood is known for its high-end shops, elegant architecture, and cultural attractions such as museums and theaters. It’s a great place to experience Lisbon’s more sophisticated side.

Belém: This neighborhood is located to the west of Lisbon’s city center and is known for its historic monuments and museums, including the iconic Torre de Belém and the Jerónimos Monastery.

Hostels in Lisbon

Home Hostel Lisbon was my favorite place I stayed in Lisbon. This hostel is on the higher end as far as budget goes, but it was totally worth it. It was highly recommended to me by other travelers, and despite being out of my usual price range, I decided to take their word for it. I did not regret it and it remains one of my favorite hostels in the world. It’s a beautiful property with a central location in the Chiado neighborhood, close to plenty of bars, restaurants, and the sea. Public transportation will get you anywhere you need to go around the city, and you’re in walking distance to Lisbon’s most beautiful historic neighborhoods like Alfama and Bairro Alto.

The highlight of staying at Home Hostel are the nightly dinners led by the beloved matriarch of the hostel, Mama. Each night, guests can sign up for a family-style dinner in the banquet room, complete with bottomless drinks for two hours. Trust me, it’s easy to get your money’s worth during those two hours. Five nights a week, the absolutely adorable and legendary Mama cooks the meals and sits at the head of the table. She makes a toast at the end, followed by a toast from any traveler who volunteers. It’s a great way to have an amazing meal, make some new friends, and get drunk at the same time. It’s a multi-tasking traveler’s dream.

They also run tours to Sintra and do walking tours every morning, another way to meet the other guests. I can’t speak highly enough of Home Hostel, so if it’s in your price range, it is the only place I’d recommend staying in Lisbon.

For a full list of hostels in Lisbon, check out Hostelworld to compare hostels and browse through reviews.

The Best Things To Do in Lisbon

Like I said earlier, Lisbon has got range, y’all. Whether you’re an aimlessly wanderer like me or like to seize the day, Lisbon has got something for you.

Explore the City’s Historic Neighborhoods

Lisbon’s historic neighborhoods are the holy trinity for travelers. The neighboring districts of Bairro Alto, Chiado, and Alfama are the perfect place to serve as your home base for exploring the city. One can spend days walking around aimlessly. Alfama and Bairro Alto are full of winding streets, colorful buildings, and traditional Portuguese tiles. Chiado is a more high-end shopping neighborhood, but also great for walking with all of its roads lined with beautiful architecture and colorful buildings.

Wander through the narrow alleyways, stop at a cafe or restaurant, and simply take in the atmosphere of the city. There are breathtaking viewpoints all throughout these neighborhoods. Just be prepared for some sore legs since you will be going up and down hills constantly.

Explore the Neighborhood of Belem

Belem deserves its own bullet point because I truly adored this neighborhood. This historic district is located on the outskirts of Lisbon, a bit further away from where most tourists will wander. It is easy to reach via public transportation and one can spend an entire day visiting its main attractions or simply enjoying the views along its boardwalk. Some of its most iconic landmarks include the Belem Tower and Jeronimos Monastery, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. One can climb up the Belem Tower, a 16th century fortress that is among Lisbon’s most famous landmarks. The Jeronimos Monastery is a gorgeous building, also famed for housing the tomb of the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama.

Aside from sightseeing, Belem is also known for its delicious food and desserts. Portugal’s iconic pastry, pastel de nata, originated in Belem, and I’d recommend visiting Pasteis de Belem for one of the best pastel de natas in the country. Its a sweet custard tart usually topped with cinnamon or powdered sugar. Be warned, they can be addicting.

Castelo do Sao Jorge (Saint George’s Castle)

The castle is located on a hill overlooking the historic center of Lisbon and provides stunning panoramic views of the city and the Tagus River. The castle has a rich history dating back to the 11th century, and it was a royal palace for centuries. Visitors can explore the castle’s many towers, ramparts, and courtyards, and learn about the castle’s significance in Portuguese history. The castle offers some of the best views of Lisbon and the surrounding area, making it a popular spot for taking photos and enjoying the sunset.

Miradouro do Graca

This is perhaps my favorite viewpoint of Lisbon. The views from here are spectacular. It’s pretty small and tucked away, but if you can squeeze yourself into a spot atop the wall, it’s the best place to see the sunset. There’s a small cafe with outdoor seating if you’d like to sip on some wine or coffee while you wait for the sun to dip beneath the horizon.

Visit the Trendy LXFactory

LX Factory is a creative and cultural hub located in an old industrial complex in Lisbon. The area has undergone a transformation in recent years, with many abandoned warehouses and factories being converted into trendy shops, cafes, bars, and art galleries. I really dig the vibe at LX factory, with its industrial and gritty aesthetic. Exposed brick walls and graffiti contrast with the hip boutiques and vintage stores. Trendy restaurants serve international dishes and Portuguese classics, and it’s a great spot to sip on wine or beer.

LXFactory also hosts events such as art exhibitions, local markets, and even live music and concerts. It’s a popular destination among both locals and tourists, and is an exemplary display of what I mean when I refer to Lisbon’s uniquely creative personality.

Take a ride on Tram 28

This iconic yellow tram takes you through the heart of Lisbon’s historic neighborhoods, offering a glimpse of the city’s charm and beauty. It’s just irresistibly cute, you can’t help but take a picture of it every time it chugs past you. Sometimes I would ignore the tram just to feel more like a local, but one simply can’t deny just how adorable it is.

Take a Day Trip to Sintra

Sintra is a small town located just outside of Lisbon and easily accessible by public transportation. Many tour companies also offer tours there if you’re looking for a convenient way to visit. Sintra is famed for its stunning architecture, gardens, and charming small town vibes. I was surprised which how much there was to see and do in Sintra. The most famous attraction is the Pena Palace, a colorful castle that is one of the most unique buildings in Europe. It’s high up on a hill and surrounded by a forest that is perfect for hiking and finding some tranquility.

Pena Palace is the highlight, but there is much more to do in Sintra. I regret taking only a day trip, as I didn’t have time to visit everything I wanted to see. I’d recommend trying to squeeze in Quinta de Regaleira, another palace with beautiful gardens and stunning architecture. The Moorish Castle is located close to Pena Palace and offers breathtaking views of Sintra and the countryside, although there isn’t much to see within the 9th century castle itself.

Visit The Beaches Near Lisbon

While Lisbon itself doesn’t have many nice beaches, Portugal’s stunning coastline is just a short train ride away. I’d recommend visiting Cascais, easily accessible by train from the Cais do Sodre train station. Portugal is famed for its beaches, and if you don’t have time to visit the otherworldly Algarve Coast, the beaches close to Lisbon are an adequate alternative.

Treat Yourself At The Time Out Market

Time Out Market is a food hall that is a must-visit for foodies. It’s home to food stalls and restaurants offering some of the best food and drink in Lisbon. Time Out Market is a relatively new concept conjured up by the famed travel company Time Out, and Lisbon is their flagship store. It’s a great way to experience Lisbon’s local culinary scene, although it is a bit more high-end and can cost a pretty penny if you want to take full advantage of its offerings.

Catch Sunset at Miradouro Sta Luzia

Located in the Alfama neighborhood, this is one of the best sunset spots in the city. The vibe here is laid-back, with a local street musician playing some relaxing tunes and a few wine carts selling cheap glasses to enjoy the sunset with.

Panoramico de Monsanto: Abandoned Restaurants with Panoramic Views

For a unique sunset spot unlike anything else in Lisbon, Panorâmico de Monsanto is where it’s at. This former restaurant and viewing point is located in Monsanto Forest Park. The restaurant was built in the 1960s but has been closed since the 1990s. The building still stands, now a canvas for street artists to decorate. It remains a popular spot for locals and tourists alike to enjoy the views and take some photos.

These are just a few of the many things to do in Lisbon. I’m only scratching the surface because Lisbon truly is a treasure trove with countless things to discover. Whether you’re interested in history, culture, food, or simply enjoying the city’s laid-back vibe, Lisbon has got plenty to offer.

Budget Travel Tips for Lisbon

Unfortunately, Lisbon is no longer a budget-friendly destination. As any local will tell you, prices have skyrocketed in recent years. The rest of the country is still relatively affordable, but the touristic centers of Lisbon will drain your wallet without you noticing.

Compared to other Western European cities, Lisbon remains relatively budget-friendly. Prices for accommodation, food, and attractions are generally lower than in other major European cities like Paris, London, or Amsterdam, but in general, don’t visit Lisbon with the expectation of sticking to a tight budget.

Stay at Hostels or Couchsurf

Accommodation is one of the biggest costs of travel, and I wouldn’t say Lisbon is particularly cheap in this regard. When I visited in the offseason, hostels ranged from 30-50 euros per night for a dorm room. It’s cheaper than other cities like Amsterdam and Paris, but still much more than I expected. The hostel scene in Lisbon is incredible, and serves as much more than just a place to rest your head at night. They also offer a community of travelers, and often have facilities that further help you save money. From laundry services to common kitchens, it’s easy to get bang for your buck while staying at a hostel.

For a full list of hostels in Lisbon, check out Hostelworld to compare hostels and browse through reviews. Many hostels also often volunteer opportunities where you can stay for free in exchange for work as a receptionist, housekeeper, or content creator. Worldpackers is an excellent platform for browsing through opportunities across the world, and you can get $10 off your membership by signing up through my link.

Take Advantage of Public Transportation

Public transportation in Europe is a godsend, and Lisbon is no different. For short visits, it is a great way to see as much of the city without relying on expensive taxis. Even for longer visits, buying a public transportation pass will quickly recoup any costs. Lisbon is also a walkable city, especially if you plan on sticking in the main historic neighborhoods of Chiado, Bairro Alto, and Alfama. Walking is free, and a perfect way to experience the charm of Lisbon in all of its glory.

man walking on road near vehicles

Visit During the Low Season

The cost of accommodation in Lisbon can increase drastically during the busy summer season. I’d recommend visiting during the shoulder seasons of early spring and late fall, or even winter if weather isn’t much of a factor for you. Visiting during the offseason also means less crowds and cheaper flights, so it knocks out several birds with one stone.

Eat Locally or Cook Your Own Meals

Eating out in Lisbon can be expensive, but there are plenty of places to buy small but filling snacks. Bakeries are an affordable place to fill up, and supermarkets are by far the best way to stick to your budget in Lisbon. I love food, but I wouldn’t consider myself a foodie traveler. I’d only eat out rarely in Lisbon, and fill up with pastels of bacalhau (cod) otherwise.

Overall, Lisbon can be considered an affordable destination for budget-conscious travelers, while still offering plenty of options for those looking for a more luxurious experience. However, as with any destination, prices can vary depending on the time of year and the area you are visiting, so it’s always a good idea to do some research and plan accordingly.

Nightlife in Lisbon

Lisbon has a vibrant nightlife scene, among my favorite in all of Europe. There are plenty of options for all tastes and preferences, but Lisbon knows how to get down. Here are some of the best areas and venues for nightlife in Lisbon:

Bairro Alto: This historic neighborhood is known for its lively bars and clubs, particularly around Rua da Atalaia. The area comes alive at night, with music pouring out of every bar and people spilling onto the streets. It’s very popular among backpackers and younger locals, so expect a younger crowd here. The drinks are cheaper than the fancier clubs of Lisbon, and it’s a great place to meet people if you’re a solo traveler. Many hostels will host their pub crawls here, and there’s an Erasmus Bar for international students.

Cais do Sodré: This waterfront area is home to some of the city’s trendiest bars and clubs, particularly around Rua Nova do Carvalho. The area has undergone a transformation in recent years and is now a popular destination for both locals and tourists. It’s the place to be if you’re looking for a big club with people dancing late into the night and early morning.

Pink Street: This street in Cais do Sodré is famous for its pink cobblestones and is home to several popular bars and clubs, including Musicbox and Pensão Amor.

LX Factory: This former industrial complex has been transformed into a trendy arts and culture hub, with plenty of bars and clubs offering live music and DJ sets. Although one can visit LX Factory during the day, it really comes alive at night. I’d recommend coming here for dinner and checking out the few bars in the area before moving onto a livelier neighborhood for some proper dancing.

Rooftop Bars: Lisbon is famous for its rooftop bars, offering stunning views of the city and the Tagus River. Some popular options include Park, Sky Bar, and Silk Club.

Fado music: Fado is a traditional Portuguese music style that is often played in restaurants and bars throughout the city. Alfama is particularly known for its fado houses, where you can enjoy a traditional meal and listen to live fado music in a cozy atmosphere.

Overall, Lisbon is an incredible city offering something for any type of traveler. It is a can’t-miss destination for any European backpacking itinerary. It’s easy to see why many travelers fall in love with this city, and I have no doubts that you will, too.

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