Joana’s Insider Guide to LISBON - Part 1!
Farah's wine and travel writer Joana here! Having lived in Lisbon for ten years I am excited to share with you my insider tips and tricks to enjoy the city! This post is the first of a four-part series about Lisbon travel. We will start with the basics - when to go, how to get around, what neighborhood to stay in- and then explore eating & drinking in Lisbon and then finishing off the series with ideas for some easy day trips from the beautiful capital city. I hope you enjoy it!
While wine Enthusiast deemed Lisbon one of the 10 best wine travel destinations for 2019, covid complicated the world’s travel plans to visit this incredible city. The good news is that Portugal’s vaccination is well on its way and we’re planning to open up right on time for the spring/summer season – so I’m inviting you again.
In case you’re already opening new tabs and looking for flights, let me give you some tips so you can make the best of it!
HOW MUCH TIME DO I NEED?
You could get a good sense of the city in 3 days. You can stay in a hotel or an AirBnb right in the center and explore the heart of the city either walking, ubering or taking public transports (subway, bus, trams, train). While hilly, Lisbon’s center is totally walkable.
If you want a full experience, stay for a week and take time to visit peripheral towns like the wondrous Sintra, the fisherman’s beach town Cascais (below) or even do day tours to explore different parts of the wine region.
When considering which days to come, know that a lot of establishments close on Sundays in Portugal and restaurants usually close on Mondays.
HOW SAFE IS THE CITY & COUNTRY?
The Global Peace Index considers Portugal to be the safest country in the European Union and the third safest in the world (behind Iceland and New Zealand), so it is safe to say we’re safe. You can decide to come alone or in a group of two or more people and feel confident and at ease either way.
WHERE TO STAY
Every neighborhood is safe to stay in and walk around at night. You can either stay in the old town and feel the more historic Lisboa like Alfama or Mouraria, go for a hip area like Principe Real and get a more modern vibe or stay in the core of the city in places like Chiado or Rossio. Each one is a possibility with its own charm. Rachel’s previous post gives you a deep dive on Principe Real, Chiado, Rossio and Alfama - so here are a few more!
This is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Lisbon, the Moorish district. Increasingly popular, the neighborhood still holds most of its essence and character. You can feel its history of poverty, diversity and street culture while you walk the cobblestone streets and listen to the fado music being sung a little bit all over the place.
Located between Downtown and Belém, Alcântara is the neighborhood that spreads along the river where you can find spots like Docas (a dock with several cool bars and hip restaurants), the LxFactory (a renovated factory building complex that’s been converted into shops, offices, restaurants and more) and the Lisbon south bridge. It’s a trendy neighborhood where you can absorb design, fashion, food, art and culture.
HOW CAN I GET AROUND?
Unlike most European cities, the Lisbon airport is right on the border of the city. You can take a taxi or an uber and be in your hotel in 15 minutes (depending on traffic). This is great because even if you decide to stay for only a weekend, you can get the most out of your stay without losing time coming to and from the airport.
Lisbon is a walking city. Although it is known for its seven hills, you can walk from one side to the other easily and you’ll enjoy it because every corner has something interesting to see. Remember to choose comfortable shoes because there is a lot of up and down and the city is mostly built on cobblestones.
The underground metro is clean, safe and really easy to use. It is open everyday from 6:30am to 1am, including weekends and holidays.
You also have a great bus system and the yellow little trams (eléctricos, in Portuguese), which you can hop on for need or just for fun of being in one. All transportation is very affordable and you can either buy tickets as you go or buy a general ticket for unlimited trips in one day.
Renting a Car
If you’re considering renting a car, I would advise against it since there isn’t much parking in the city, the drivers are more aggressive than any other part of Portugal, and many streets are narrow and hard to drive by.
On the other hand, if you’re considering traveling outside of the city, rent a car - it’s fairly inexpensive and the streets are great to drive through. You can take the highway pretty much everywhere and it’s a smooth and beautiful ride wherever you go.
BEST TIME OF YEAR TO VISIT
The climate in Lisbon is very mild with no extreme temperatures. I mean it can get cold in the thick of winter and pretty hot in August but other than that it is very similar to California’s weather, as I understand. The two tricky month are January as its rain can be a drag and August because of the heat and a lot of businesses are closed (August is the month that most Portuguese people go on vacation).
Other than that, it is amazing all year round – maybe February to March is slower and less crowded, but, then again, every month has its own charm.
Thanks for reading everyone, check back soon for my posts about eating out, Lisbon style! - Joana