WHY VISIT LISBON?
all the reasons why i fell in love with this city
Why visit Lisbon? I found myself asking myself this question as I planned my last trip through Spain. With a few days to spare, I considered stopping into the Portuguese capital for a few days. I was hesitant at first. I have always loved Spain and was reluctant to try something outside of the country that I considered my second home.
What I didn’t expect was to fall in love with Lisbon instantly, wishing I had planned for much more time in this beautiful city. Now, whenever someone asks me where I see myself in five years, my mind immediately jumps to a vision of myself standing at an easel next to a window. The view from that window? The bright orange rooftops of Lisbon’s skyline.
I’ll be the first to admit, there are few places in the world that I don’t fall in love with. I love new cities, mysterious streets to wander, and the prospect of meeting people, learning languages, and soaking in all the splendors of a new culture.
Yet I have never found a place in this world that can match the spellbinding beauty and the genuine warmth of Portugal. Lisbon is beautiful in a humble way. It is a city that is far from flashy, or glamorous like some of its neighboring western European capitals. Lisbon is quietly charismatic, harboring a rich beauty beneath a weathered, and well-loved surface. There is a unique feeling of belonging in this city, that I rarely experience as a traveler in a new place.
So why visit Lisbon? Here are the top five parts of this city that make it one of my favorites in the world.
If cost is giving you reservations when considering why you should visit Lisbon – considered your worries assuaged. Having lived in Italy, and having spent quite a bit of time in Spain, I’ve grown quite accustomed to finding affordable food, drink, and lodging. Particularly in comparison to what I’m used to paying for while living in the States. I found Lisbon to be the most affordable out of the western European countries that I’ve spent time in.
I paid 20 euros a night for a 4-night stay at the single best hostel I’ve ever visited – We Love F’cking Tourists. The hostel itself is cozy, clean, and constantly buzzing with life and laughter. But far and away the best part of my stay here was the amazing staff and all the incredible people I met. I seriously have not met friendlier hostel staff who treat you like family. If you meet Marcos and Annabel during your stay here, you will know exactly why they are probably two of my favorite people.
Food in Lisbon is also very affordable. While of course some dining options may be more expensive than others, you can easily find a decent sit-down meal for 8 to 15 euros. If you’re looking to really save money hit up a supermarket like Pingo Doce. You can buy enough bread, meat, and cheese to make sandwiches for a week for less than 10 euros. Seriously, my friend who lives in France was running up and down the grocery store aisles exclaiming about how cheap everything was. Oh and also hit up the wine aisle. 2 euro wine. For an entire bottle. It exists. Thank me later.
I spent very little money on transportation while in Lisbon because it is so easy to get around on foot. The only transportation I paid for was to and from the airport, and for a day trip out to Sintra. An Uber from the airport into the heart of Lisbon was about 9 euros (a 15-minute ride) and a one-way metro pass is only about 1.50 euros.
a spectacular international food scene
something for everyone...
If there’s one thing I don’t take for granted after living in Italy (where you ONLY eat Italian food), it’s a good international food scene. While Portugal is known for its seafood (the fried cod (or bacalao is amazing!) there is a huge variety of restaurants and cuisines that make it a food lover’s paradise. From bakeries selling fresh Pastel de Nata, to hip vegan brunch restaurants, to tapas bars, to African fare (try Cantinho do Aziz in the Bairro Alto!) there is something here for everyone.
If you do visit Lisbon – you MUST visit one of my favorite places to eat in the entire world – Time Out Market. This food hall features a curated collection of over 40 Michelin star restaurants all under one roof. There is anything from American style burgers, to fresh-made sushi, to traditional Portuguese fare. Come with a group of friends and order a little bit of everything for everyone to share and try. I seriously still have dreams about this place.
kind, beautiful, welcoming
After traveling through countless countries I’ve gotten used to being treated as a tourist and a foreigner. I think one thing I’ve grown accustomed to is feeling like an outsider at times, and struggling to find opportunities to connect with locals. Lisbon, and Portugal really as a whole, are the exceptions to that. I felt like a welcome friend to all the locals I met in this city. From cafe owners to Uber drivers, to groups of elderly men chatting in the streets, I met so many locals who always met me with a warm smile and a friendly Bom dia!
You’ll find that most Lisbon locals (known as Lisboetas or Alfacinhas) speak perfect English. Probably better than many Native-English speakers I’ve come across. They are quick to say hello when you walk into a cafe or a store, making it very easy to strike up a conversation. I’ve gotten Portuguese lessons from a store clerk, and met a friendly group of school kids who crowded around to watch me draw in a museum.
If I could only give one reason to answer the question Why visit Lisbon?, it would be for its incredibly kind people. The absolute warmth you are met with here is second to none. It’s the reason I always dream of returning to stay there more permanently. Who wouldn’t want to be neighbors with people as wonderful as that?
It's Easy to Get Around
AND FILLED WITH THINGS TO DO!
Lisbon has a compact city center in comparison to what you would find in Paris, Madrid, or London. You can get anywhere in downtown Lisbon in less than 30 minutes on foot. Lisbon albeit hilly is very walkable. From the beautiful Alfama neighborhood, the spectacular Castelo de San Jorge, and Praça do Comércio, to the upscale Bairro Alto and Pink Street full of vibrant nightlife – there is a never a dull moment or view in this city. In my book, the perfect city has a rich culture to experience, beautiful architecture, thoughtful museums, and lively nightlife. Lisbon has it all.
Check out the app CityMapper if you’re looking for a next-level navigation app to find your way around this city. Read more here for my favorite Travel Apps for Europe
art, history, and shopping
For art and architecture lovers like me, the beautiful colors of the azulejos facades that line the tiled sidewalks will steal your heart. Be sure to check out the Gulbenkian Museum – featuring an incredible global art collection. The Carmo Convent – an archaeological museum in the ruins of a gothic temple is also a unique historical stop. If you’re feeling a shopping day – Chiado, Baixa, and Principe Real (the most affluent of the three districts) all offer lots of designer stores, boutiques, book shops, and esplanades.
You’ll also find that Lisbon’s public squares are always buzzing with life. There is always an opportunity to experience the richness of Portuguese culture in this city. No trip to Portugal would be complete without experiencing Fado – a passionate performance by singers and musicians rooted in Portuguese tradition. There are countless locations and a wide variety of Fado performances you can see. I visited the Chapito with a group from my hostel and it was one of the most spectacular performances I’ve seen.
And in case you were wondering, Lisbon’s nightlife is right on par with some of my favorite larger cities – but the best part is, everything is much closer together making it easier to get around on foot. Bairo Alto is filled with hundreds of bars that stay open until 2 AM. After that – you’ll need to head to Cais do Sodre. This is where the infamous Pink Street is located, with clubs and bars that stay open until 6 AM. Don’t be like me and stay out until 6 AM the day before you have to get up early for a day trip. Just don’t.
outside of the city center
Lisbon holds even more to see outside of its city center. Hop over to Belem – it’s a ten minute Uber or tram ride. Here you can see the famous tower on the water, or the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos – an incredible monastery. Just across the water is the city of Almada. It’s easily spotted with its Christ the Redeemer statue, that can be reached by ferry.
great day trip locations
just a train ride away...
the westernmost point of europe
Speaking of things outside of the city center, the city’s locations is another reason why visiting Lisbon is a good idea. Lisbon is surrounded by some beautiful day trip locations. I took a day trip to Cascais and Sintra – and saw the most exquisite castles, and one of the best sunsets of my entire life.
Cascais is a sleepy beachfront resort town and is home to the Cabo da Roca – or the westernmost point of Europe. I have never seen bluer waters than from this viewpoint. A drive along this coast gives you a chance to see some breathtaking cliff views. If you’re looking for a prime coastal hiking trail – give the Praia das Macas a Cabo da Roca a try. The views are spectacular – but come prepared, it is about 11.5 miles out and back and can be quite steep in some parts.
Sintra has got to be one of my favorite towns anywhere in the world. Located about thirty minutes driving outside of Lisbon, the town is filled with castles, summer palaces, and parks. I recommend visiting the Quinta da Regaleira, the Pena Palace, and the Monseratte Palace for a diverse collection of exquisite architecture, and beautiful lush gardens that you can explore for hours on end. A day spent in Sintra is something out of a fairytale.
For the adventurous and outdoorsy type – Portugal is known to have some of the world’s best surfing locations. Nazare – about a 90-minute drive from Lisbon – is known for its epic 10-story waves, making it one of the best spots in the world to surf. If you’re looking to learn to surf, there are beginner-friendly locations in the towns of Baleal and Foz do Lizandro.
small towns to explore
And for those who are more like me – a lover of quaint, small towns to explore for a day, Obidos (one hour by bus from Lisbon) and Coimbra (two hours by bus from Lisbon) are two unforgettable destinations. Both are filled with beautiful medieval and baroque architecture, charming cobblestone streets, and loads of castles, churches, and pockets in the city fabric to discover.
so why visit lisbon?
Well because, it really has it all – beautiful weather for 270 days out of the year, kind people, a beautiful and exciting city fabric, an incredible food scene, and a prime location to visit some of Portugal’s best spots. I’ve visited many places that I fell in love with, but Lisbon is a place where I finally felt like I was home. I’ll be back soon no doubt – come join me!