What to See and Do in Lisbon, Portugal

In celebration of my 40th birthday we decided to take a big trip! And after a lot of research and weighing pros and cons about the best places to travel as most of the world was just starting to open back up post COVID, we landed on Lisbon, Portugal. This turned out to be one of our favorite destinations ever, and I want to tell you all the reasons we loved Portugal so much!

We chose Portugal because:

1. Flight prices are typically on the low end, especially for Europe.

2. It’s an affordable country to visit – accommodations, food, transportation… everything is cheap in Portugal.

3. Portugal is one of the closest European countries to the U.S. Short and easy flights!

4. Anderson speaks Portuguese!

5. We could experience both a vibrant city vibe (our favorite!) in Lisbon and then drive 3 hours south and stay at some of the most famous beaches in the world in The Algarve.

6. Southern Portugal has one of the mildest winters in Europe!

I’m going to do several posts – this one all about Lisbon, another one with all the details about the beaches in The Algarve, then a short one about Belem. And then I’ll also write a post about Sintra, a fairy tale town full of castles and right outside of Lisbon.

Lisbon is known as the City of Seven Hills, and we definitely felt like we were walking up hill most of the time – ha! But we do think that walking is the best way to explore the city, especially Alfama, which is the oldest part of the city and our favorite area. So start training with your treadmill on a high incline if you’re planning to visit Lisbon! Because of all the hills, Lisbon has a system of bright yellow trams that make it easier to get around. We rode those several times, and we also took the metro a few times and found it easy to navigate. Walking was still our favorite though… well except for that one night when I got our directions and dinner reservation wrong and we had to walk up and down the same old, uneven set of 100+ steps several times. Oops!

What we ate:

One of the highlights of our time in Lisbon was, of course, the food! There are so many healthy, fresh options everywhere, and breakfast turned out to be our favorite meal each day. The best breakfast/brunch spots we tried were Dear Breakfast, Nicolau, and Fauna & Flora. We also happened upon a quirky Brazilian dinner place called O Boteco and tried a bunch of delicious options at Time Out Market. Before our trip, we watched the Lisbon episode of “Somebody Feed Phil” and Kingston begged to try the pizza place featured in the show. It was in the middle of nowhere, and we walked over a mile to get there but the boy had his pizza and was so excited about it. #worthit In between all the yummy meals we ate a lot of pasteis de nata, Portugal’s most famous dessert/pastry. We figured we needed to sample as many as possible, so we could come back and report the best places to buy them. 🙂 The pastel de nata is a custard tart, but that name doesn’t do it justice! The pastries have crisp, puff pastry crusts and are filled with a velvety not-too-sweet custard filling. After trying all of them that we could find, we all three agreed that the absolute best were from a pastry shop called Manteigaria. And lucky for all of us, there are Manteigaria locations all over Portugal!

Where we stayed:

When I started looking for a place to stay in Lisbon I had a few requirements: 1. I wanted a comfortable, spacious property near the city center 2. for under $200 per night 3. and it had to have a balcony! Once we decided to stay in the Baixa neighborhood (because of it’s central location) it was easier to narrow down our choices. Then I came across the Villa Baixa Luxury Apartments and realized they checked off all our boxes! We stayed in the Deluxe Studio and loved it. If you’re planning a trip to Lisbon, definitely consider this property! They did a great job mixing the historic building with a clean, modern style. I included some pictures of it below, so you can see the whole apartment. We loved standing out on the balcony at midnight on New Year’s Eve and celebrating with everyone on the balconies of the surrounding buildings!

What we saw:

Because Lisbon is so hilly, the people have developed creative ways to get from one neighborhood to another without having to walk up hundreds of steps. Our apartment was right next to a really popular outdoor elevator called the Santa Justa Lift. We didn’t ride it but stood on our balcony and watched people wait in long lines to take the elevator from the Baixa neighborhood up 147 feet to Bairro Alto. The elevator has been in operation since 1902, and at the top there’s an overlook that gives fantastic views across the area. If you don’t want to wait in a long line to ride, you can just take the stairs up to the observation deck. Funiculars are another popular way to get up the city’s steep hills. They’re essentially cable railways that go up and down steep hills. There are three funicular railways in Lisbon, the Glória, Bica, and Lavra. The Bica Funicular is the most famous tram that takes riders up and down a steep incline. It has been in operation since 1892! Each route is also possible to walk. The streets are steep, but they make for great vantage points for photography. You’ll see a bunch of pictures of the Bica Funicular below. It’s the area with the yellow cable cars, stone steps, and lots of graffiti.

Also just a few blocks from our apartment, the Rua Augusta Arch is a triumphal arch-like, historical building and often photographed spot. It was built to commemorate the city’s reconstruction after the 1755 earthquake that destroyed most of the city. I didn’t realize this until we were in the area, but you can ride an elevator up into the arch and walk around on the roof giving you gorgeous views of the city. If you haven’t noticed a theme yet, Lisbon is full of high points that look out onto beautiful views all over the city. The Rua Augusta Arch is found at the end of Rua Augusta (Lisbon’s main pedestrian street) and faces Comércio Square.

Lisbon is known for its intricate tile work. Unique tiles are literally everywhere – they cover the walls of train stations, homes, restaurants, public murals, and fountains, churches, and are even on the streets – a feast for the eyes (and my camera!) everywhere we looked. There was so much to take in! Even the laundry hanging on clotheslines in front of tile building was beautiful.

Okay, time for a confession. I don’t enjoy spending time inside old churches. And there are SO MANY old churches in Europe. I mean so, so many. Don’t get me wrong, they’re beautiful. And I know they can be meaningful for some people, but my family just doesn’t want to spend hours inside them. We went to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and okay, it was amazing! Truly. But everything after that just feels like another old church. And there are so many other incredible sites to take in! So, we typically skip them or just peek our heads in, oooh and ahhh, and move on. But Carmo Covent was an exception! It’s a former medieval convent turned cathedral that was mostly destroyed during the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. Now it serves as a small archaeological museum, with pieces from all periods of Portuguese history. The most fascinating thing about the building is that while the roof collapsed during the earthquake, the gothic arches still stand. So when you walk inside you’re actually in an open air courtyard. The place is beautiful and was a short walk from our apartment.

The famous Pink Street was lame, but Green Street (Rua Verde) was one of my favorite spots! We happened upon both locations while walking somewhere else and were glad we didn’t make a special trip to Pink Street. But Green Street was a fun surprise. I took a lot of pictures, so you’ll see it below! It’s “green” because the tiny street is lined with/covered in plants. Both the smallest (Livraria Simao) and oldest (Livraria Bertrand) bookstores in the world are in Lisbon! We loved the long and complex fado mural along the Escadinhas de São Cristóvão (Steps of St. Christopher). Fado is the music of Portugal and is widely celebrated in Lisbon. I got our dinner reservations wrong one night (it was on my birthday :)) so we ended up at a local place with live music. It was a happy mistake!

We almost didn’t make it to LX Factory. It wasn’t until we drove back into Lisbon after being in The Algarve that we made time for it, and I’m so glad we squeezed this in before making ourselves go to bed before our 2:00am flight home! LX Factory is a historical industrial complex that’s full of artsy shops and unique restaurants. We especially enjoyed all the murals, Ler Devagar – a fun bookstore, and Landeau Chocolate where we had the legendary chocolate cake that is considered by many to be the best chocolate cake of all time!

Since we were visiting Lisbon at New Year, all the Christmas decorations were still up all over the city. That and the people roasting chestnuts in some of the busier areas gave everything a festive feel as the sun set in the evenings. If you can visit during the holidays, do it! I think it’s the perfect time, because the weather is amazing and the crowds are smaller than at other busy travel times. Lisbon is on our list of top 5 cities we’ve visited, and we definitely want to go back!

Stay tuned for more Portugal adventures, including a fairy tale village full of castles!