Nestled on the coast of the Atlantic, Lisbon is a vibrant capital city rich with history, art, and culture. Full of old-world charm, labyrinth-like streets, and pastel hillsides, it’s easy to see why over half a million people choose to call this city home.
Flying into Lisbon Airport — Portugal’s main international airport — is simple and accessible through many major airlines as well as several low-cost alternatives. The easiest and most inexpensive way to get into the center of Lisbon is via the metro (red line). It takes about 25 minutes and passes can be purchased at the airport. Purchase one way for €1.90 (~$2.21 USD), or buy a day pass which allows you to access the metro, bus, trams, and trains for €6 (~$6.98). Another way to reach the city center is via Uber or taxi from the airport to downtown Lisbon for about €15-20 (~$17.46-23.27) or the Aerobus that operates three routes to main areas of the city which run about every 20-30 minutes. The areas surrounding Lisbon have an excellent and affordable transport network that can get you to popular day trip destinations like Sintra, Cascais, or Mafra. However, a rental car can be useful when exploring further destinations like Setubal, Sesimbra, or Evora.
Hop aboard the number 28 tram which passes through the popular districts of Graça, Alfama, Baixa, and Estrela for one of the best tours of the city. The small Remodelado tram — dating back to the 1930s — screeches through the narrow streets, giving riders a unique perspective of charming neighborhoods. Stop at Feira da Ladra (often thought to mean “Thieves’ Market”), a major cash-only flea market, open Tuesday through Saturday, from 9a.m. to 6p.m., that boasts an eclectic mix of housewares, clothing, antiques, and media. Browse the endless treasures, have lunch at one of the many food vendors, and experience the culture of this lively bazaar.
Other must-see sights along the route include The Basílica da Estrela‚ an impressive domed basilica, the ancient Carmelite convent, and the nearby Jardim da Estrela, a peaceful park frequented by local families.
For architecture and history buffs, stop at São Bento Palace, a neoclassical Portuguese parliament building started in 1598 and completed nearly 350 years later. The beautiful grounds and impressive façade can be admired year-round; however, the interior is closed to the public and can only be visited via themed guided tours on the last Saturday of the month. Tickets are free, but only
50 spots are available each tour, so be sure to book your tickets in advance.
Immerse yourself in daily life in the Graça district, a lively Portuguese district that is home to many family-run shops. Take the steep walk up to Miradouro da Graça, a breathtaking terrace that offers dramatic, panoramic views of city rooftops, and the Tagus River beyond.
Intendente is the most diverse and multicultural area in Portugal. Once a drug-ridden, red-light district, this neighborhood has been flooded with hipsters, immigrants, and artists for decades — all who have contributed to its stunning evolution. Intendente Square proper is surrounded by historic buildings and small bars serving petiscos (similar to tapas) and was named the hottest neighborhood in Lisbon by a number of international press outlets last year.
For night owls, check out LXFactory, a historically industrial complex open until 2 a.m., providing an array of retailers and restaurants. For another late-night adventure, head to the narrow streets of Bairro Alto, as they come alive with funky bars and hip hangouts. The district has enforced a closing time of 2 a.m. to maintain some order, and this is when most carousers head to Cais do Sodre.
If you’re travelling with a young family, be sure to check out Lisbon Oceanarium, the perfect place for a rainy day. It’s home to colorful anemones and corals, starfish, fluorescent jellyfish, dragonfish, exotic frogs, penguins, and playful sea otters. In the massive circular central glass tank, you will see sunfish, manta rays, and sharks circling right before your eyes. It is in the hyper-modern Parque das Nações, the suburb built from scratch on the waterfront for Expo 1998 next to the futuristic Gare do Oriente station.
Be sure to explore Praça do Comércio, a large square shadowed by exquisite buildings, with one side open to the Tagus River. Lisboans still call it by its old name, Terreiro do Paço, or Palace Courtyard. It was the symbolic location of the Portuguese empire, where kings lived, and where precious spices and colonial goods were traded for gold. It is also a great starting point for exploring Lisbon via the hop-on-hop-off double-decker buses.
Parque das Nações is a revived area on the Tagus River lined with green spaces, outdoor art, and spectacular modern buildings. Nearby are popular waterfront restaurants and the glass-roofed Centro Vasco da Gama, with shops and cinemas. Kid-friendly exhibits lure families into the Knowledge Pavilion, while the Telecabine Lisboa cable car offers majestic vistas.
Portuguese cuisine is straightforward and flavorful with an array of the freshest seafood, juiciest steaks, and richest wines available. Life is short, eat dessert first by stopping into a Lisbon pastelaria where you can buy the classic pastéis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts). A favorite: Pastéis de Belém. They have been making the tarts since 1837 and are rumored to make around 14,000 per day.
Another foodie favorite, Bistro 100, is a two-floor restaurant in an art deco mansion in the busy Bairro Alto district. Perfect for high-end dining with dishes featuring squid and octopus, rack of lamb, and the accompanying fine wines. The owner, Maneiras Ljubomir Stanisic, was born in Sarajevo, fled the war to Portugal as a boy and is now a celebrity chef. Other Lisbon hot spots include non-Portuguese cuisine which you can try at Pistola y Corazon Taqueria, a hip Mexican restaurant known for their tasty tacos, tequila, and mezcal selections.
Another international favorite in Lisbon is Boa-Bao, a new Asian street food restaurant inspired by the 1920s Saigon markets. Offering a wide range of cuisine and a drink menu that resembles a stamped passport, Boa-Bao serves a refined, authentic version of Asian market favorites.
Thirty minutes west of the city, the seaside resort of Estoril, with its Grand Casino, was founded in 1935 for the amusement of Lisbon’s upper class. At the beginning of the second world war, Lisbon was an important escape route from Europe, and nearby Estoril unexpectedly became an international destination for refugees. Hotel Palácio sheltered the likes of Salvador Dalí, Antoine du Saint-Exupéry, Ian Fleming, the Duke of Windsor, and Wallis Simpson.
For diehard fans of the one and only “Material Girl”, steal glimpses of Madonna’s 16,146-square-foot Portuguese palace where she and her family reside. The home — an 18th-century Moorish Revival mansion just outside of Lisbon — boasts four bedrooms, seven bathrooms, a guesthouse, and a caretaker’s cottage. The home is located in the historic Quinta do Relogio estate on the breathtaking hilltop village of Sintra, about 30 minutes from Lisbon by car.
United Airlines offers daily nonstop service from Dulles International Airport (IAD) to Lisbon Portela Airport (LIS).