Lisbon, Portugal Guide | The Golden Girl Blog
Happy Friday! Today I’m taking you back to Portugal with me with my updated Lisbon guide!
Back in August, I made my second trip to Lisbon with my friend Whitney to scout out the finishing touch details for for our second Atlas Adventures group trip together: Atlas Adventures Lisbon! (Remember our Paris trip last year? This is round two!)
If you’ve been following for a while, you know my first time in Lisbon was several years back for a brand partnership with a travel planning app called Noken. (Truly still a career highlight. What an amazing trip!) Sadly, Noken is no longer. 😭 But I forever have them to thank for introducing me to Portugal.
Today, I’m updating my guide (which will still include my 2018 reccos and photos) with my most recent recommendations! I’ll be heading back to Lisbon again next week for the big Atlas Adventures Lisbon trip–with 30 ladies in total! (If you missed it, learn more about the trip and how you can sign up for the next one right over here!)
Below you’ll find my recommendations on where to stay, what to do, where to eat, and more. For a list of things I packed with me for Portugal in August, you can see this LTK post. For the chilly weather photos you see below, those are from 2018 so pretty much everything is old, but I’ll link similar where I can and I’m hoping to get a packing list up for our fall trip next week.
To see behind the scenes videos and stories from our trip, head over to my Instagram story highlight titled, “Lisbon.”
What to expect from Lisbon?
I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from Portugal my first time there–I’d heard incredible things, but nobody had really told WHAT exactly made it so incredible. My best way to sum it up would be this: It has the romance of Paris, the hilly charm of San Francisco, if San Francisco was 2,700+ years old and covered in beautiful azulejos.
You’ll find a great culinary scene with everything from sceney-chic rooftops to charmingly packed neighborhood bistros with tables spilling out into the streets–and of course, you can’t forget the warm and friendly people.
Did I also mention it’s wildly less expensive than its neighboring, more popular European destinations? Have I convinced you to visit yet?
Getting to and from Lisbon:
I flew TapAir and while I had heard mixed reviews, I haven’t had a problem so far! (I’lll be flying them again next week). They have the best flight routes (direct from Chicago) and the fare was fairly reasonable. The planes were new and clean, and because they’re part of Star Alliance, I get United points! Yes, they’re a European airline, so they do things differently, but that’s to be expected anytime you aren’t flying a US airline. At the time of my flying there were no testing/vaccine requirements, however, masks were required on the flight at all times, so just a heads up to make sure to have some masks on you.
On checking luggage: I carried on both trips to Lisbon, which is obviously easier to do if you’re there in warm weather and don’t require as many layers. I always try to carry on to Europe whenever possible because the chances of something happening to luggage are high and in general I just loathe the extra waiting around checked luggage requires. I may plan to carry on there and then bring a packable duffle with me for extras to check on the way home. (Seeing as I’ll be home, I’m not that concerned about my luggage getting stuck somewhere for a few days, but if that happened on the trip, that would be a massive pain!) Just my two cents!
Another thing: Make sure you account for extra time going through the passport check AFTER airport security. I didn’t know there was another check, spent too long in the lounge area, and then was frantic waiting in line for the last passport check to get into the international gates.
On speaking Portuguese: I am often asked about language barriers in each country I’ve visited, and both times I’ve been to Lisbon I have found getting around not speaking Portuguese is very doable. I always think it’s a good idea to learn a couple basic phrases that you’ll be using a lot, like “Hello” (“Olá”–like Spanish!), thank you (“Obrigada” if you identify as female, “Obrigado” if you identify as male–although I’m not sure the protocol for pronouns outside of these!) I also found that sometimes if you can’t communicate in English, Spanish is often understood! (My broken Spanish came in handy a couple times, haha!)
On getting around the city: Uber everywhere–it is SO cheap. Lisbon’s metro system isn’t as robust as say, Paris or London, and honestly, it’s so walkable that we walked pretty much everywhere and took Ubers if we were in a hurry or tired. It’s so inexpensive that it’s very feasible to take your own Uber to Sintra or Cascais, even, if you don’t feel like being tied to a train schedule. You definitely don’t need a car!
What to expect for weather: Obviously this depends on the time of year, but Lisbon as a whole is quite warm! The first time I visited was in November and it rained the entire time, which a local told me is their rainiest month, but it’s also not SUPER common to have that much rain. I’d say it was still warm November weather by Chicago standards though, I wore a medium-weight coat the whole time. (I brought my trench coat and J.Crew Daphne topcoat.) As always, check the weather and use your best judgement.
My most recent visit, we went in August, and it was so beautiful, but hot! Think light airy dresses and a couple nights I brought my leather jacket out as it does get cool in the evenings!
What to pack: While the fall photos you see here are several years old (so very little is linkable) you can still get an idea of the outfits I brought! You can see what I packed for my summer Lisbon trip right here.
View from our balcony at the Bairro Alto hotel
Enjoying a snack and wine break on the terrace at Bairro Alto Hotel
Where to stay in Lisbon:
In terms of a general area, I would look to stay around Bairro Alto, or Biaxa/Chiado. These neighborhoods are in the heart of the action and easy access to everywhere you want to be, have tons of great bars, restaurants, and shopping. There are plenty of AirBnB’s to choose from, and I’ve also had great stays at the following hotels:
If you want a luxury experience, look no further than the Bairro Alto hotel. This is where we’re staying for our Atlas Adventures Lisbon trip (and where Whitney and I stayed back in August on our scouting trip!) It was WONDERFUL. The hotel is not only beautiful and historic, but the breakfast was phenomenal, and they have two outdoor terraces that have such beautiful views of the city and the water. (Breakfast was always a highlight of the day!)
The service here was also impeccable–everyone was so lovely and helpful. I loved the balcony off our room, the rain shower, and the Le Labo products! Don’t miss their rooftop terrace for a nightcap–it’s a great place to end the night every night!
My second recommendation (where I stayed my first visit a few years ago) is the four star Lisboa Carmo Hotel. The prices are reasonable, super clean, great service, and the decor was adorable.
Must-do’s in Lisbon:
On Ricardo’s Tuk Tuk! You can book a tour with him via WhatsApp or Instagram. See his business card above & tell him I sent you!
See Lisbon via Tuk Tuk:
Tuk Tuks are a great way to get around in Lisbon. Some Tuk Tuks just function like cabs do, but others will give you actual tours! I highly recommend doing a tour with Ricardo–who we just happened to approach in a sea of Tuk Tuk’s because his Tuk Tuk was the cutest and he was wearing a Hawaiian shirt so we thought he looked fun. 😂 I turned out to be one of our favorite things we did in Lisbon, so much so that we hired him twice to take us to different areas of the city. Which brings me to my next point…
Tram running through Alfama
Alfama has lots of cute spots to pick up cute souvenirs and postcards!
Bar Terraço de Santa Luzia is a cute little tucked away terrace restaurant above the lookout point. A great spot to stop for a drink or snack!
Explore Alfama and Graça:
Alfama is the oldest district in Lisbon and is probably my favorite area of the city. Graça is the neighborhood that flows into it, further up the hill. It’s got charming crooked cobblestone streets lined with historic houses, tons of beautiful tiles (called Azulejos) and a bit of grit to it, too. The biggest draw to this neighborhood is definitely the architecture as well as the beautiful viewpoints and lookouts that give you some of the best views of the city. To me it felt like an old world, European San Francisco!
Getting to Alfama:
You could walk, Uber, Tuk Tuk OR take the tram! The trams that run through the city are absolutely adorable, and a beautiful way to see the city. (You definitely feel like you’re transported back in time, they are OLD!) My first visit to Lisbon we took the tram, but last time I was there, we walked from Bairro Alto hotel and it took about a half hour.
Tips for visiting Alfama:
Ride the tram early to avoid the crowds, and as always–keep your belongings close. Take the tram at Martin Moniz, and make sure you’re getting on tram 28 (we made the mistake of getting on the wrong tram–which was 110% my fault. You can pay in exact change or buy a ticket from the little magazine stand (or in the station), which is the best way to go if you plan on taking it home!
Choose shoes with traction for your day exploring in Alfama. (Think sneakers, or boots with decent soles, not slick sandals or ballet flats.) You don’t want anything slippery as the cobblestones can be SLICK because they’re so smooth and worn down, especially going down the hills. (For example, I love my Rothy’s flats and wore them all over the other Lisbon neighborhoods, but they aren’t a good choice for Alfama!)
Don’t miss one of the most beautiful lookout points in the city (pictured above): Miradouro de Santa Luzia. There is also a cute little terrace restaurant where you can sit and enjoy a glass of wine or a snack if you walk to the end (on the side of the church) and follow the small staircase.
Another thing that Alfama is known for is live Fado music, so if you explore here during the day (which I’d recommend so you can see all the views), you may want to plan to come back at night for some Fado! (If you’re not familiar, Fado is a form of Portuguese music that you’ll typically find in pubs and restaurants–it’s known to be incredibly beautiful with a melancholic undertone). I have yet to check out a spot for Fado, but here’s a roundup of the best Fado spots in Lisbon.
Beautiful square in Alfama
Windows with clothes lines in Alfama
Taking the tram to Alfama
The charming streets of Alfama
Old church in Alfama
Belem is right on the water, and where Lisbon’s famous landmarks and UNESCO World Heritage sites are. That said, it’s a bit far from the center of town, so it’s not walking distance. We hired Ricardo again to take us around Belem in his Tuk Tuk and it was the best! If you’re in Lisbon on Sunday, try and do Belem on that day, because a stop at LX Factory is a must–and on Sundays, they have a super cute outdoor vintage market set up with tons of vendors. (It would be fun on any other day too, though!)
We rode past the famous Belem Tower, and the beautiful Monastery, also known as the birthplace of Pasteis de Nata: little egg custard filled tarts that Portugal is famous for, which were invented by the monks here–you’ll find these delicious tarts EVERYWHERE about the city. Most famous though is the Pasteis de Belem, opened by the monks in the 1800s. The line here gets OUTRAGEOUS, but this is another time when Tuk-tuking with Ricardo (or another tour guide) comes in handy, because he can skip the whole line and order for you!
It’s a fun experience to go inside and look around, and of course, you MUST sample a Pastel de Nata, because when in Rome. (They were delicious. BUT, truth be told, I liked the ones from Manteigaria even better! 😬 So I encourage you to do lots of taste testing throughout your trip. 😉)
Another tip: Do not miss the adorable “Sexy Pineapple” cart slinging fresh pineapple juice and piña coladas in front of Belem Tower for an entertaining experience. They were cracking us up and the fresh pineapple was delicious!
Monastery in Belem
Pastel de Nata from the Pasteis de Belem! (This beautiful wall is on the side of the building!)
The Sexy Pineapple stand outside Belem Tower! 😂
Cute flower cart at LX Factory
Whitney and I both bought art prints from Barbara Sereno, who had a booth at the Sunday vintage market at LX Factory!
Baixa and Chiado districts:
Baixa and Chiado are different neighborhoods, but are close together and flow into one another. Baixa is comprised of wide avenues, grand plazas, and popular tourist attractions, while Chiado is popular for shopping and cafe-going.
Sights to see in Baixa & Chiado:
There’s the beautiful and historic square “Praca do Comercio”–which has been the commercial center of Lisbon for centuries, and originally the site of the Royal Ribeira Palace until it was destroyed by a massive earthquake in 1755. Don’t miss the view through the Arco da Rua Augusta–which looms over Lisbon’s main plaza, created as a tribute to Lisbon’s recovery after the 1755 earthquake, fire, and tsunami. You can take the elevator to the top for 5 euro!
There is a famous bridge here, the Elevador de Santa Justa bridge. (The designer was a student of Gustave Eiffel!) You can pay to go up in the actual elevator, but the free view is just as good if you explore up the steps behind the Convento do Carmo! (That’s where the photos of me on the stairs were taken!)
If you follow the stairs down from that point, you’ll also hit a rooftop restaurant and bar called Carmo Rooftop, which is a great spot to take a break and enjoy a cocktail with a view!
The overlook on the stairs behind the Convento de Carmo and the Santa Justa lift
Same spot, three years later! (Outfit linked here)
Head to the Flea Market:
If flea markets are your thing, Lisbon has a great one! From old vintage tiles to housewares to clothing and jewelry, you’ll find it all here! Located in the Campo de Santa Clara, open Tuesdays and Saturdays–make sure to bring cash! You can read more details here.
What to eat/drink in Lisbon:
The restaurant scene in Lisbon is absolutely top-notch. Whether you’re looking for traditional Portuguese fare, or something trendy and modern, you can find it in Lisbon. If you’re not familiar, I would say the food in Portugal is similar to Spanish food, but obviously unique in its own right! Because it’s right on the water, seafood lovers will fall in love with the cuisine, but those who don’t like seafood (ahem, me) will find plenty to eat, too. They are also known for their cured meats and cheeses, as well as delicious wine. Vinho Verde is probably the most famous varietal from Portual–a very drinkable white wine! I really loved all the red wine we had as well–I couldn’t tell you what it was, we always just asked for our waiter’s favorite “Vinho Tinto” and they never steered us wrong!
That being said, here are some of our favorite things and places to eat/drink while you’re in Lisbon!
Amazing views, food, great cocktails and wine! I’d say their food was elevated casual with a Portuguese infusion. The steak was definitely a standout!
A fun, buzzy atmosphere–they have the CUTEST rooftop! (I didn’t get a good photo!) so definitely start out on the roof for a drink before making your way inside. They had a great live band when we were there and it was packed and lively!
Very highly recommended and it did not disappoint. A very cool “place to be seen” vibe but unpretentious–a must-do spot for drinks, we didn’t eat, but the food looked great!
Praia no Parque:
Maybe one of the more unique restaurants I’ve ever eaten at in terms of atmosphere. This place is a VIBE–from the super extra decor to the cocktails. The food was also delicious! Rumor has it that things turn up as the night goes on! (But this was our last dinner and we couldn’t hang, so I cannot confirm. 😂)
Bairro do Avillez:
A multi-restaurants-in-one concept by esteemed Portuguese chef José Avillez. We only ate in the Pizza restaurant, but I think anywhere you can get in will be great! It’s housed in a beautiful big building and the restaurants kind of flow into one another. You’ll enter through what feels like a traditional tavern that opens up into a huge great room, with the pizza restaurant up a back staircase, overlooking the room from above. It’s a very fun vibe, and the pizza was phenomenal.
This place was an absolute TREAT of an experience. I think it might have been my favorite meal in Lisbon. We very much leaned into a “ladies who lunch” vibe here and loved every minute. (It would also be fantastic for dinner). I would recommend trying to go on a Friday, because each Friday they open the largest bottle of wine I have EVER seen in my life. (Seriously, it’s as big as an adult human). It’s always a different Portuguese varietal, and you get to take a Polaroid photo with it as your souvenir. 😂
As far as the food goes, we shared the most amazing chilled grilled vegetable salad and a mushroom fettuccini and it was divine. Heads up: it’s pricey. (Think white tablecloth type spot) but worth every penny. If we don’t make it back on our next trip I will be very sad.
Vigário in Alfama was super cute and cozy for breakfast
Coffee break at Break Cafe in Alfama
Cute spots for breakfast in Alfama:
While most hotels have breakfast included, you may find yourself wanting to venture out for the first meal of the day! In that case, I have a couple reccos. The first is Vigário in Afalma, where we ate during my first trip–it was as delicious (I had a great egg scramble!) as it is quirky and cute. The second place is where we stopped for an iced coffee break on my most recent trip was, appropriately named, Break Cafe. We didn’t eat here, but the food looked great! It was also really adorable inside!
Maria do Carmo (Lisboa Carmo hotel restaurant)
If you happen to be staying at the Lisboa Carmo hotel (where I stayed on my first trip), their hotel restaurant is a solid option if you’re exhausted and not looking to venture far out! Their menu also caters well to vegetarians/vegans! The decor is chic, and they had amazing live music–it wasn’t overly busy, and our bartender/server was an absolute gem. I would call this modern Portuguese cuisine, which is exactly what we were in the mood for–it really hit the spot!
Time Out Market:
While they now have a Time Out Market in Chicago, the original is in Lisbon! If you want to sample a bunch of different local restaurants–this is a very fun and easy way to do so.
Essentially, it’s just what it sounds like–a GIGANTIC market full of vendors of all sorts–flower vendors, butcher shops, you name it–but then you hit the massive restaurant mecca–with dozens of restaurants and tables upon tables of communal seating. It’s basically every foodie’s dream. They’ve got lot’s of Portuguese specialities, but also pizza, burgers, ceviche, you name it! It gets VERY busy, so definitely try and hit it on a weekday or an off-hour. We didn’t go this most recent time, so I’m not sure if the restaurants I tried back in 2018 are still there–but I doubt you can go wrong with any of the spots in the market!
A very cool collective of converted factories and warehouse buildings that now house tons of restaurants, bars, shops, and more, in Belem. I would definitely try and hit LX factory after sightseeing in Belem–either for lunch, dinner, or a drink. I will say that we ate at a place called MatchaMama (solely because it looked the cutest) and it was HORRIBLE so definitely don’t go there 😂 However, we should’ve listened to Ricardo’s recommendation and ate at 1300 Taberna, which he said was his favorite spot in LX Factory–so I’d definitely check that out instead!
ALLLL the Pasteis de Nata:
I am not a pastry person in any stretch of the imagination–but I DREAM about Pasteis de Nata. (So many of you told me on Instagram that I couldn’t miss them, but I was skeptical.) They are DIVINE.
They’re these little egg custard filled tarts that Portugal is famous for–you’ll find them EVERYWHERE about the city. Most famous is the Pasteis de Belem, which is a famous bakery–rumored to be the most reviewed restaurant in the world–it’s been around since 1837! The line here gets OUTRAGEOUS, but this is another time when Tuk-tuking with Ricardo (or another tour guide) comes in handy, because he can skip the whole line and order for you! Truth be told though, I liked the ones from Manteigaria even better! 😬
Again, all Fall outfits you see here are many years old (not linkable) but the here’s the current version of my coat and turtleneck, sneakers here (read this post for my current favorite white sneakers)
Embrace the Quiosques!
There are these cute little kiosk bars around the city that sell drinks and snacks–it’s the best spot to take a break and rest your feet for a bit while admiring the beauty of the city around you and people-watching! (Some have Sangria, like the Quiosque do Carmo, which was a treat!)
Other Lisbon restaurants/bars that were recommended:
Taberna da Rua das Flores: An old school tavern serving delicious small plates. This is one of the most popular spots for tapas, so get there early.
Cervejaria Ramiro: Classic seafood spot. Come for the authentic, buzzy environment and the shellfish.
Café de São Bento: A hidden steakhouse in an intimate lounge setting, serving up Portugese-style steak drenched in pepper sauce. The menu is limited here, so make sure to come with carnivores.
Gin lovers: Drink and dine among beautiful architecture in this space founded by gin fanatics in 2012. Cocktails are pricey but the cool vibe is considered worth a visit.
Park: Casual rooftop bar on the sixth floor of a car park. It has a pnaoramic view of the city and the 25 de Abril bridge.
Fado Na Morgadinha: An old-school restaurant that is rumored to involve all guests in its Fado performances.
The Old Pharmacy: A wine bar that was once a pharmacy. The interior hasn’t been touched and now wine bottles line its medicine shelves.
Shopping in Lisbon:
My friend Valerie, who is a travel writer, told us we could NOT miss this charming Portuguese pottery shop. We wished we had packed larger suitcases so we could’ve taken more beautiful pieces home with us! If you’re looking for a one of a kind souvenir, this is a great place to stop. I picked up two little espresso cups here and they were the perfect piece of Portugal to take home. They have two locations as well.
Probably my favorite store in Lisbon, A Vida Portuguesa is an authentic gift shop in a beautiful vintage setting that has a little bit of everything. Locally made soaps, books, doo-dads and best of all–textiles. Cassandra and I stocked up on locally made rugs to the tune of 25 Euro each! This is a must-see, and they have a few locations spread throughout Lisbon!
Trips from Lisbon:
Depending on how much time you have and how much you want to accomplish, there are a lot of great places to visit from Lisbon. We took the train to Porto (which is only about 2.5 hours)–I would HIGHLY recommend not missing Porto. I’ve been asked which city I like better, and I honestly can’t decide. They are so different. Lisbon is bustling and big and Porto is tiny, quaint and charming. You can see my Porto guide from 2018 here. One thing I wish we’d had time to do is a Duoro Valley River Cruise, which is highly recommended for wine lovers!
So many of you recommended to take a trip to Sintra, but sadly we have never had enough time! Sintra is known for it’s castles, colorful palaces, and beautiful gardens. It’s a quick day-trip from Lisbon! Ubers are quite inexpensive, so that’s probably the easiest option to get from Lisbon to Sintra, but there is also a train! If the weather is nice, I highly recommend stopping for a leisurely lunch by the sea at Bar do Fundo or Nortada. (About 20 minutes outside of Sintra, you’ll need to Uber but it should only cost you about $10!) There is also a beautiful beach right there if you’d like to walk down to the beach after lunch!
A smaller beach town about 35 minutes from Lisbon. Also doable to Uber. (It should cost about $20) Or you could also take the train! During high season the beaches are PACKED, but there are lots of beaches to choose from–the further out you get from the main town center, the less crowded they will be. The main old town of Cascais is very cute–lots of restaurants and shops.
If you’re looking for a less busy/touristy beach experience, Bar do Guincho was recommended by locals–it’s a pretty beachside restaurant on Praia do Guincho that is popular with the local crowd as it’s a great surfing beach, but also does tend to be windy. (It was also in a James Bond movie!) As the best beach reccos probably change depending on what time of year you’re visiting, I’d recommend talking to your hotel concierge and getting their intel!
I hope this guide was helpful! As you can see, I’m a big fan of Portugal and think it’s a must-visit. Happy trip planning!
Fall in Lisbon photos by Cassandra Eldridge