Lisbon is a city of neighborhoods waiting to be discovered and explored. Panoramic views are around every corner. The city is spread across seven hills, giving stunning views over the red rooftops and plazas towards the Tagus River (Río Tajo) as it empties into the Atlantic ocean.
After walking up all those hills, there is no shortage of wine bars, tapas lounges, and terrace cafés to refuel you. You can explore by foot, tuk-tuk, or take the historic trams through the old winding and beautifully cobbled streets.
In this city guide we share our favorite attractions, wine bars & best vegetarian place to eat. Keep scrolling to the end of the post for a map with all our recommendations listed…
Baixa, Lisbon’s city center, is the first city in the modern age developed in a grid format, an update made during the rebuild after the devastating earthquake of 1755. Featuring several gorgeous squares of mosaic cobbles, fountains, and the bustle of vendors we found great joy in simply walking amongst the colorful buildings and admiring the details.
If your trip dates align, be sure to visit the market in Figueira Square on the last weekend of every month. Browse the paintings or crafts, while nibbling on fruits, local cheeses, fresh breads and cured meats. This was our first encounter with the deliciously sour, sweet, and refreshing liqueur called Ginjinha, or Ginja, served in small chocolate cups as is the tradition in Obidos.
While sangria is most often associated with the Spanish, do not be mistaken… Portugal will give them a run for their money any day! While walking among the market stalls we came across our new favourite… White Port Sangria. Mint and cinnamon? Who knew!
Figueira Square is also the terminus where you’ll get your best chance to catch the busy tram 15 to Belém and try the famous custard tarts, Pastéis de Belém. While tram 15 isn’t your only transport to Belém, it’s the most iconic. If you simply can’t make it, the historic Rossio Square is one location where you’ll find a café serving fresh Pastéis de Nata, based on a similar recipe.
If you’re anything like us, once you try one you’ll have to compare both… alternating back and forth throughout your stay to find the ‘true winner’. Good luck!
Praça do Comércio is a majestic square with the stunning and very photogenic Arco da Rua Augusta. Located by the river it feels like the gateway to the city. Tram 15 does stop in front of the Arch, but in high season you are likely to just watch it roll by, completely full.
While in town, check the calendar as there is often some manner of festivities taking place here. We were lucky to soak up some Euro 2016 action playing on a huge screen while locals and tourists alike ate, drank, and cheered their loudest “Força Portugal!”.
EDUARDO VII PARK
If the Praça do Comércio is the gateway arch to the bottom of city, The Eduardo VII Park at the top of the Avenue de Liberdade, is surely its crown with panoramic views over the whole city.
We recommend packing your walking shoes, picking an end and making your way from one to the other. You could begin at the arch you and walk past the outdoor cafes, flea market stalls and designer stores. At the top of Eduardo VII Park you will be rewarded with stunning views of Lisbon and the accomplishment of a nice hill climb. This is a great location to get a work out in, running up and down the park three to five times will get you breathing and your calves burning!
If that’s a bit over ambitious, take a tuk-tuk or taxi to the top and work your way back down with a glass of wine at the river as your reward.
We found Alfama to be a charming neighborhood to explore and walk around, though be forewarned… It’s full of steep streets and cobbled stone steps. It is the oldest district in Lisbon, least affected by the earthquake of 1755, and boasts some gorgeous tiled homes, their fresh washing drying in the Atlantic breeze.
The shady open-air café next to the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora is a nice place to get a view of the city and the old Sao Jorge castle walls. Wine bars tucked along the streets have hundreds of wines lining the walls, and can be enjoyed by the glass or by the bottle. If you are lucky you might catch a small parade or other festivities winding through the streets in this quaint area, particularly in June when the patron saints like Santo Antonio are celebrated.
Bairro Alto is a fantastic stop for happy hour and its vibrant nightlife. Start at the beautiful old church of São Roque and walk down the narrow and twisting pedestrian streets, passing the purveyors of wine and tapas.
You never know what you will find. One afternoon we found turned a corner to see a gorgeous yellow tram and a couple dozen folks laughing and drinking alongside the tracks. Well, poke your head through the half-height stone door beside them and you’ll find one-euro beers being served for alley-side enjoyment. We enjoyed our drinks and the atmosphere outside on the steps as the tram came and went every couple of minutes, navigating the steep climb on behalf of its weary passengers. (This charming street was known as the Bica Elevator, check our map at the end of the post for the exact location!)
Simply being is a lovely way to spend a relaxed late afternoon in Bairro Alto.
Best Wine Bars & Vegetarian Friendly Places to Eat
- Primo Basilico | Pizza with vegetarian & vegan options
- The Food Temple | A cozy find for some healthy vegetarian or vegan food
- Estrela da Bica | Low key with a bohemian vibe, good wine list, and lots vegetarian options
- Terra | Award winning vegetarian restaurant with a calm garden setting
- Jardim dos Sentidos | A charming restaurant with tasty and innovative vegetarian food and a beautiful garden
- BA Wine Bar do Bairro Alto | A tiny and trendy wine bar, worth making the necessary reservations to enjoy the huge selection of Portuguese wines and cheese pairings
- The CorkScrew | A nice wine bar to spend the afternoon or evening watching the people go by through, trying from hundreds of wines, and enjoying tasty tapas.
Lisbon is a modern European city with all the amenities, but it proceeds at its own pace and enjoys a somewhat laid-back west coast style. Meals are long unhurried affairs and even the most popular attractions boast queues no where near the length you come to expect in major Euro enters.
This city is so friendly and hospitable to travellers (budget conscious adventurers can enjoy some of the world’s best-rated hostels) we wished we had more than three nights to soak up the atmosphere.
While many who visit Lisbon have been known to scrap their day trips to keep exploring the city, it is an iconic melting pot of all that is great about Portugal and the country that deserve your exploration. Nearby, be sure to check out the pastries and Torre de Bélem, the growling Boca do Inferno, the fairy tale castles of Sintra, and sip ginja in the the medieval town of Obidos.
Have you visited Lisbon and know of a hidden gem? Are you planning a visit and need a tip? Let us know below…
PORTUGAL CITY GUIDES
If you are planning a trip around Portugal, check out the rest of Sails & Spices Portugal City Guides:
- A Romantic Weekend in Porto
- A Wine Lover’s Dream in the Douro Valley
- Sipping Ginja in Obidos
- Pena Palace in Sintra
- Pastries and Parapetes in Belem