To spend a day in Lisbon is to spend a day reacquainting oneself with life’s simplest, most unimpeachable pleasures. Ocean views, perfectly prepared seafood, soulful music, and diverse watering holes are in abundant supply throughout the city’s photogenic, undulating terrain. Charm oozes from every brightly painted facade and street mural. Poetry is apparent in every Portuguese phrase, regardless of whether you speak a whit of the language.
In short, Lisbon is an enchanting seaside destination unto its own, but there’s more even a short drive from the city. Though dwarfed in size by its Western European neighbors, Portugal is chock-full of cities, islands, and hamlets that are all deserving of spots on your bucket list. Just don’t let them go unexplored for too long.
Romantic getaways, solo travel, beach vacations, foodies, anyone whose “out of office” email auto-reply is a hard line in the sand
We’ve enumerated about a dozen reasons why you should run, not walk, to Lisbon (or to your departure city, anyway), but it gets better: The crown jewel of Portugal is a somewhat affordable destination. A hotel will scarcely cost you more than $150 nightly, with plenty of boutique options at the $100 price point. Perhaps because there’s no shortage of seafood in sight, meals won’t break the bank, either, with an average day of eats not exceeding $75.
Lisbon, like many popular vacation destinations in Europe, isn’t a place where travelers need to worry about violent crime, and the majority of threats come in the form of pickpocketing or classic out-of-towner scams (price gouging, essentially). It’s also a city that’s welcoming of LGBTQIA+ visitors, and of solo females. But anecdotal reports of casual racism are woefully common. While those reports almost never involve overt violence or criminal behavior, it can certainly feel like a shock to a Black person’s safety.
Lisbon has a Mediterranean climate with warm, dry summers and chilly, wet winters. Summer high temps range from 78-83° F most days, though heat waves can push that higher. In the winter, most days are in the high 50s/low 60s F, but at night it can dip into the 40s. Winter can also bring as much as 10 days of rain in the average month.
Summer is the most popular time for a reason. The streets come alive, the weather is lovely, there’s hardly a cloud in the sky, and it’s the perfect weather for heading to nearby beaches. But, of course that means a lot more people and slightly higher prices for accommodation. Winter, on the other hand, can be very atmospheric with its cloudy, drizzly days and empty streets. For a compromise, come in spring or fall.
Skip the taxis. They aren’t cheap in Lisbon and you generally don’t need to take one when trams, buses, bikes, and your own two feet work just as well.
Try the menu of the day. This set menu, usually three courses, offers a great value for lunch or dinner.
Visit during the first Sunday of the month. That’s when many of the city’s major museums offer free admission.
Seafood, in its myriad forms, is king here, and it should be eaten as frequently as possible for maximum vacation bliss. Seaside dining is plentiful, too, so don’t miss your chance to indulge in many waterfront meals. There’s also a formidable array of world-class chefs with unique restaurants in Lisbon to satisfy any foodie, but eating traditional Portuguese food is a divine experience (see also: excellent canned fish you can take home, and legendary pastries unlike any you’ve ever tried before).
A basic room in Lisbon will generally run you under $150 per night, though there are plenty of luxe options that cost more. Hostels abound and offer both dorms and private rooms for the more budget conscious. Vacation rentals are also a great deal, with rates starting at around $50 per night (though watch out for cleaning fees and other extras).
Arroios is the hipstrict of Lisbon, teeming with local shops and restaurants, plus street art galore and the city’s cool kids (it's also where the locals go for a fun night out). If it’s a more laid-back experience you’re seeking, look to Estrela, full of green spaces and hidden gems like cozy cafes and craft-beer bars (though you’d likely need to go the vacation rental route to stay here, as hotels are relatively few). Principe Real is probably the most gay-friendly corner of the city and a lovely place to stay. Lastly, and perhaps the most well-rounded option, Chiado offers convenience, lots of shops and restaurants, and a great ambience for any visitor to Lisbon.
Hope you packed some comfortable shoes! Walking is often the preferred mode of transportation in Lisbon, and the city’s seven famous hills are sure to have you working up a serious sweat. There’s always the metro, which is a great option if you’re headed somewhere outside of the downtown core. And you’ve no doubt seen the funiculars that help folks traverse those steep hills without getting winded; they’re lovely, though perhaps not as efficient an option as one might think, as they’re often used as a means of recreation. In terms of accessibility, Lisbon has its limitations, but the city center is flat and easy to get around. Check out accessibleportugal.com for help navigating the city with ease.
The official name of the airport in Lisbon is Humberto Delgado Airport (LIS), though it’s just as often called Lisbon Airport or Portela Airport. It’s a bit more than four miles from Lisbon’s city center and the primary hub for TAP Air Portugal. It’s also a focus city for easyJet, Ryanair, and Wizz Air.
Lisbon Airport has its own Metro station on the city’s subway network. It’s the terminus of the Aeroporto – Saldanha line, otherwise known as the red line. A single journey ticket costs €1.50 and a day pass costs €6.40. Travel time from the airport to downtown Lisbon is about 20 minutes. The city’s bus system also stops at the airport, but there’s a maximum baggage size allowed—so if your luggage is bigger than 50x40x20cm you won’t be able to take the city bus. A taxi ride to downtown takes 20 minutes or less with fares around €20. Uber rates to the city center start at about €10.
Take an hour-long train southeast to Sintra, home to the beautiful Palácio da Pena, a brightly-painted castle and a cultural icon of Portugal.
Take an hour-long ferry from Setúbal in Lisbon southeast to Tróia, an immaculate beach region where you can spot dolphins, eat seafood, charter a boat, and play amid the dunes, cliffs, and lagoons that are the trademarks of the region.
Rent a car and drive 45 minutes south (and cross Europe’s longest bridge) to Sesimbra, a peaceful fishing village where you can check out the Sesimbra Castle, enjoy a beach day, get out on the water, and simply enjoy a quiet day outside the city.
Drive 45 minutes northwest to the wine region of Cheleiros, full of lovely countryside and villages that complement the wine-tasting experience.
Take a 2.5-hour train ride north to Aveiro, a beautiful, quaint fishing town where you can try some of the classic flavors of Portuguese cuisine.
Fly an hour north or take a 3.5-hour train ride to Porto, an incredible city that’s the birthplace of port wine, boasts a lovely collection of beaches, has great food, and is home to a welcoming bunch of locals.
Fly 1.75 hours southwest to Madeira, a hidden gem of an archipelago with much to see, do, and taste despite its diminutive size.
Fly 2.5 hours to the Azores, another archipelago that’s a bit like Portugal’s Hawaii (if Hawaii were extremely affordable and only popped up on jet setters’ radars in the last decade), teeming with lush forests, world-class hiking, and, of course, gorgeous beaches.
Fly 1.5 hours to Marrakech, the crown jewel of Morocco, a city that’s complex and a joy to get to know.
Lisbon hasn’t made as many appearances in books and movies as some of its European neighbors, but for a glimpse of the city before you visit, you can catch scenes of Lisbon in Amália (about the famous fado singer), Lisbon Story, the No Reservations Lisbon episode and in Love, Actually.
For a literary look at Lisbon, check out The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, Night Train to Lisbon, or The Return.