A big goal of mine this year was to travel to a country I had never visited before—and do it alone. I had always found the idea of exploring a foreign country on my own terms (aka without friends or family) appealing but would somehow find excuse after excuse not to make it a reality.
After my plans for a solo trip in 2016 fell through, I decided assuredly that 2017 would be the year I tried again. I was especially excited about traveling to Europe, because the last time I had visited was about a decade ago on family vacation. One could say, the lust for travel was real.
When I finally arrived in Lisbon a few weeks ago, I checked in at my hostel immediately and started exploring Downtown Lisbon until my feet began hurting. There was just so much to see and do in this beautiful city.
Not only is this vibrant capital rich in culture and history, but I also found that it’s bursting with personality and charm. I talked to some of the friendliest people, ate my weight in pastries, and explored to my heart’s content.
Not to mention, I felt completely safe traveling alone and getting around from place to place. Most people there speak English and public transportation is top-notch!
From its colorful street art to its elaborate tiles, Lisbon is characterized by so much eclectic beauty. I feel as though I saw a lot in one week…but heck, I’d go back in a heartbeat.
If you plan on visiting Lisbon soon, be sure to check out my guide on what to see, eat, and do! I made such great memories in Lisbon and want to share with you the best highlights from my trip.
Lisbon is pleasantly a huge foodie destination! Huuuge. You’ll eat your weight in seafood and pastries, but you’ll also burn a ton of calories walking up and down the steep hills.
Here’s a tourist hotspot that I wouldn’t mind going to over and over again. Inside the Mercado da Ribeira is a giant food hall that opened in 2014. This venue, also known as Time Out Market, boasts over 30 bars, shops, and food vendors (e.g. Sea Me, Manteigaria, Conserveira de Lisboa) representing the best flavors and characteristics of Lisbon. A few of the restaurants are owned by Portugal’s top chefs, including Henrique Sá Pessoa and Alexandre Silva.
I spent a good half-hour hemming and hawing before ordering lunch. In the end, I went with the pork confit from Alexandre Silva, and I did not regret it one bit.
*The market opens at 6am and closes at 2pm!
Pastéis de Belém is the #1 source for pastel de nata (traditional Portuguese egg tarts) and the OG of all bakeries that sell this dangerously addicting pastry. Crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside, each tart costs only 1,10€ a piece.
The take-out lines at Pastéis de Belém move rather quickly, so don’t be discouraged if you see a a ton of people outside the shop. My suggestion is to purchase your freshly baked tarts and take them to Afonso de Albuquerque Square, where you can relax and enjoy your pastries in the shade.
Another institution specializing in pastel de nata is Manteigaria. My absolute favorite! Not only is Manteigaria up there with Pastéis de Belém, but it’s also popular among locals and tourists alike. The tiny shop is located in Chiado, so you don’t have to go all the way to Belém for your daily fix of authentic egg tarts. I actually preferred the pastel de nata from Manteigaria!
In fact, I loved the tarts so much that I bought a few on my last night, popped them in the fridge, and packed them in my carry-on for the flight back home.
If you ever get a chance, stop by Casa da India for dinner in Bairro Alto! It’s a busy seafood restaurant that’s worth the wait in line. My friend and I came here after our Sintra tour and shared the grilled polvo (octopus) and seafood rice. Yum!
If you’re hoping to taste authentic bacalhau—an iconic Portuguese dish—look no further than Restaurante Laurentina. I stopped by this local establishment after visiting the Gulbenkian Museum and enjoyed a quiet lunch date with myself. A variety of salted codfish is served here, and most of the customers are locals and regular patrons.
Owned by Home Lisbon Hostel, Nicolau is a trendy brunch spot that caters to the young millennial crowd. It offers an assortment of breakfast foods and healthy options, including acai bowls, avocado toast, and specialty pancakes. Along with these typical brunch foods, the café serves burgers, salads, and other entrées.
I came here for breakfast with a friend and we really enjoyed the food and the casual atmosphere. There’s normally a long wait at Nicolau, but we were seated right away. Definitely show up early if you can!
Cruzes Credo – affordable lunch options; located next to Sé de Lisboa (Lisbon Cathedral)
A Cultura do Hambúrguer – cheap and popular; known for its unique burgers; located in Bairro Alto
Mini Bar – José Avillez’s gourmet bar/restaurant; casual atmosphere; fusion-style small plates; interesting tasting menus; pricer than “budget”; great for dinner out with friends; unique dining experience; located in Chiado
Landeau – famous for its chocolate cake; located in LX Factory and Chiado
OhBrigadeiro – various flavors of brigadeiro; cute dessert spot; located in LX Factory
Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau – specializes in codfish cakes (not my favorite, but interesting experience); located in Baixa
Fado (traditional Portuguese folk music) can be quite expensive in Lisbon, so my friend and I opted for a mid-range fado restaurant called Maria da Mouraria. I don’t have much to say about the food there, but I thoroughly enjoyed the fado performances and the romantic ambience.
If you couldn’t tell, the Portuguese love fish. (Emphasis on “love.”)
While I missed out on the original Conserveira de Lisboa, Lisbon’s most well-known purveyor of preserved fish, I was able to buy a can of tuna and a can of mackerel from their kiosk at the Time Out Market. In addition, I stumbled upon a sardine shop by the name of Loja das Conservas on my walk back from Cais do Sodré to Praça do Comércio. I loved how each vintage-styled tin came wrapped in beautiful paper packaging.
Oh, the lively streets of Baixa and Chiado! If you enjoy shopping, you’ll find a plethora of retailers and boutique shops in these neighboring commercial hubs. From vintage clothing to designer brands, there’s really something for every kind of shopper in Baixa and Chiado. Foodies will also love this animated area of downtown Lisbon.
Memorable shops: A Vida Portuguesa, Anchieta 16, La Outra Face da Lua, and Armazen do Chiado (shopping center).
Bairro Alto, the center of Lisbon nightlife, is also famous for its really steep hills. Every night, this shabby but chic part of town turns into the loudest and most festive of them all. During the day, Bairro Alto is a relatively quiet neighborhood. At night? It’s a mecca of bars and restaurants where people of all ages come to party and socialize for hours on end. I loved the energetic atmosphere at night and had a lot of fun people-watching in Bairro Alto!
Once an industrial complex, LX Factory is now a trendy gathering spot for young couples and twenty-somethings in Lisbon. One or two hours is more than enough time to see all the shops, cafés, and murals in this small urban strip. If you get a chance to swing by LX Factory, be sure to check out Rutz, MoreThanWine, and Livraria Ler Devagar (a giant library + cafe).
Lisbon’s main boulevard is a trendy stretch of calçada portuguesa, designer shops, and elegant buildings—one metro ride away from Baixa. I enjoyed a leisurely stroll along the tree-lined street and came across this beautiful pool via Instagram!
Arco da Rua Augusta is a stone arch that stands in the center of Praça do Comércio, Lisbon’s waterfront square. I passed through this area several times and came here for the relaxing riverside views. (And photo ops.)
*Interesting historical tidbit: Rua Augusta Arch and its surrounding buildings were built to commemorate Lisbon’s recovery from the Great Earthquake of 1755.
Due to all the oncoming traffic on Rua Augusta, I had a hard time catching an Uber from Praça do Comércio. I found that Rossio Square or Praça da Figueira were much easier and safer pick-up locations for the Uber drivers.
That said, both Rossio Square and Praça da Figueira are a short walk from the arch. Also known as Praça Dom Pedro IV, Rossio Square is one of the main plazas of Downtown Lisbon. It’s a popular meeting point for free walking tours and holds a lot of historical significance. At Praça da Figueira, you can easily hop on the tram, the bus, or the metro to your next destination.
I recommend booking a stay in this general area, as it’s a great reference point for navigating Lisbon. It’s close to all the main tourist sites.
The great thing about researching beforehand is that you learn which tourist spots to avoid. And while Elevador de Santa Justa is a pretty piece of architecture, locals seem to view it as a tourist trap.
Instead of waiting in line and paying 5€, I’d recommend taking a picture of the Santa Justa Lift and heading over to Elevador Baixa instead. Take this elevator to the third floor (correct me if I’m wrong) and cross the street over to a grocery store called Pingo Doce. Inside Pingo Doce, take Elevador Castelo to Zambeze Restaurant, and bam! You’ve got a free, unobstructed view of Lisbon just beneath the São Jorge Castle.
Another alternative is to take the back entrance of Carmo Convent from Bairro Alto and go up the stairs to Bellalisa Elevador. This restaurant offers a nice view of the city as well. Not to mention, it’s connected to the overhead walkway of the Santa Justa Lift!
I came here to watch the sunset with a friend and had know idea how windy it would be that night. We had the most amazing view of the river and the 25th of April Bridge, but man, taking pictures was a STRUGGLE!
In fact, the wind knocked my sunglasses right into the Tagus River…RIP.
If you want stunning views of the city, I’d suggest taking an Uber to Lisbon’s highest lookout point, Miradouro da Senhora do Monte. This is a beautiful spot located in the Graça District of Lisbon and a lot less crowded than Miradouro das Portas do Sol (still my favorite viewpoint). I started the day in Graça and walked my way down to all the major sites in Alfama.
Here’s the route: Miradouro da Senhora do Monte – Miradouro da Graça – São Jorge Castle – Miradouro das Portas do Sol – Sé de Lisboa.
Out of all the residential areas I visited, Alfama was my favorite. I definitely lost track of time wandering its cobbled streets and soaking in the best views of Lisbon.
While I didn’t spend the whole day in Belém, I stayed there for a few hours with friends from the hostel. We hopped on the 15E from Praça da Figueira and got off at the Cultural Centre of Belém. First, we toured the inside of Jerónimos Monastery and observed the cloisters, as well as the cathedral. We then visited Padrão dos Descobrimentos and stopped by Belém Tower, a Moorish-style fort. I chose not to go inside, as the line was long and I started getting a headache. (Of all the days to be sick!) But before leaving, I had to swing by Pastéis de Belém. A game-time decision, if you ask me!
In the future, I hope to check out the National Coach Museum (Museu dos Coches) and the Berardo Collection (Museu Colecao Berardo).
I booked a day trip to Sintra with the Wanderers Tour and it was the most relaxing trip ever. There were seven other girls in my group—mostly from another hostel—and we all got along well. Our tour guide, drove us from place to place in a cute yellow van, and it was quite a memorable experience.
We first stopped by Guincho Beach in the seaside town of Cascais and then drove to Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of mainland Europe. It gets really windy here so make sure to bring a sweater. Also, the views were absolutely breathtaking!
As we drove through Sintra National Park, we stopped by other viewing points along the way. We were also given an hour to explore Quinta da Regaleira, which happened to be my favorite part of the trip! This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the most mysterious palace in Sintra. It’s beautiful and spooky at the same time, given all the grottos and underground walkways. I know Sintra has tons of castles, but this one is a must-see.
At the end of the tour, we strolled through a commercial area and tried Sintra’s signature pastries (travesseiros and queijadas) from Piriquita. Overall, the Sintra trip was a blast! It covered a lot of ground, and I never felt rushed.
If you’re traveling solo and/or prefer leisurely tours, I highly recommend this one.
On my second day, I took a free walking tour of Downtown Lisbon with the Wild Walkers. Our tour guide met us in Rossio, took us to Bairro Alto, and ended the tour at Cais do Sodre. In two hours, she had hit all the essential points and given us a quick glimpse of Portuguese history and culture. Overall, I enjoyed the tour and recommend it as a first or second-day activity in Lisbon.
Things that come to mind: visiting Igreja da Madalena, sampling egg tarts from Manteigaria, and stopping by the “Pink Street.”
*Extra info about Wild Walkers: Their Chiado/Bairro Alto tours take place Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Their Alfama tours take place Tuesday and Thursday.
With a 5€ admission fee, you get a lot of bang for your buck. I would suggest spending half an hour on the Modern Collection and at least two hours going through the Founder’s Collection. I highly enjoyed the latter and recommend it to any museum enthusiasts out there.
This museum can easily be done in one hour. In fact, I came here about 50 minutes before closing time and saw just about everything. Since tile art is so unique to Portuguese culture, I’d say the Museu Nacional do Azulejo is definitely worth a visit.
Home Lisbon Hostel is on a quiet corner of Baixa, where everything is pretty much within walking distance (e.g. the Metro, shops, restaurants, tourist attractions). I’m so glad Home was my first hostel experience. The beds were comfy and the bathrooms were well-maintained.
What really stood out to me was the friendly and welcoming staff. They have 24-hour reception and the staff is willing to help you with anything you need. If you’re looking for a hostel, I encourage you to stay at Home Lisbon Hostel. It’s really easy to meet people here and there are plenty of activities to sign up for. “Mamma’s Dinner” is a must!
Having racked up Chase Ultimate Rewards points, I booked the rest of my stay at Brown’s Central Hotel (first two nights at the hostel and last four at the hotel). I only had to walk four minutes from Home Lisbon Hostel to get there and three minutes from the hotel to Rossio Square. I loved the clean, modern vibe of this hotel and the fact that egg tarts were served at breakfast (obviously).
So wait. Why did I stay at a hostel and then a hotel? Well, the all-female dorm at Home Lisbon Hostel was booked for the rest of the week. Plus, I didn’t mind getting some real alone-time. If I wanted, I could always hang out with the people I had met at the hostel. Win win!
Lisbon offers all the modes of public transportation! Metro, tram, bus, Uber, Aerobus (1x24hr pass = 4€), taxi, and tuk tuk (eco-friendly options available).
Would I visit Lisbon again? Yes! (Probably for the egg tarts alone.) In the future, I also hope to explore other regions of Portugal, such as Porto, Lagos, and Algarve!