Portugal is one of the most affordable travel destinations in western Europe. Its capital city, Lisbon, is the one place to stay in a luxury hotel, eat at upscale restaurants, and indulge in the vibrant nightlife – all on a reasonable budget.
Lisbon is the oldest European city, and has been described as a “living museum.” Yet right away you can feel the essence of the city, a brilliant blend of historical landmarks, architecture, and culture alongside all of the modern sophistication and amenities. Take away the big city pretentious attitude and inflated prices, combine it with a whole lot of charm, beauty, and diversity – and that’s Lisbon.
I spent 48 hours here, and here are my recommendations for where to sleep, eat and explore.
Opting for 4 or 5 star hotels isn’t usually my first choice on a trip to a European city, but when a night costs at least 2-3 times less than a typical luxury hotel – starting at €120 – I’m all in. Avoid the big name chains and check into one of Portugal’s small brand of luxury hotels like Hotel Olissippo’s – which are scattered around the city.
I was impressed with the thoughtful and modern style rooms, quality breakfast, and the welcoming Portuguese friendly service. This is the place to go ahead and splurge for room service — a nice bottle of local wine and cheese plate will set you back a whopping €20.
If you’re into the more boutique hotel thing, there are perfect options all within the €100-200/night range.
- Lx Boutique Hotel – Offers whimsically decorated rooms with city or river views and themed murals throughout.
- Solar do Castelo – Set inside the walls of the hilltop Moorish Castelo do St. Jorge, this chic hotel in a former 18th-century mansion has a modern annex and is less than 10 minutes from the city center.
- Altis Avenida Hotel – this elegant hotel is close to shops and cafes at Praça do Comércio, with sleek rooms and suites and a rooftop terrace offer w/ panoramic views.
Must SEE and DO.
Lisbon is all about the views, most of which overlook the beautiful Tagus River with the 25 de Abril Bridge in the distance. And there are so many steep hills, seven to be exact, with historical landmarks that offer up a different perspective of the city – you won’t run out of chances to bust out your selfie stick.
It’s hard to miss the St. George’s Castle, dating back to the 5th century, once you arrive into the center of Lisbon. If you want the exercise with a worthy view as the reward, I suggest walking to the top.
Simultaneously, you’ll immerse yourself in the oldest and historic neighborhood, called the Alfama – a quaint area with winding cobblestone streets, traditional restaurants, with clothes hanging outside of windows and residents milling about. It’s truly a charming neighborhood best discovered on foot!
To zip around quickly and hit the other ‘must do’s in less than 2 hours, hop in a tuk-tuk for about €40-50. You really can’t beat the price for a personal tour with a local that’s away from the crowds and offers you the novel experience of riding in a tuk-tuk if you’ve never done so.
Cable cars (or trams) stop off at the most important and historical sites, take route 28 for €2 and get a feel for the local public transport system, although nowadays it’s a big tourist attraction with people packed in like a can of sardines. Disclaimer: The lines to get on may detour you straight away if you don’t have the time, or patience.
Venture to the Terreiro Do Paco and dive right in to the vast history of Lisbon at the Lisboa Story centre. Well worth the €7 – walk through in less than an hour for a fun and creative mixed media experience, including a movie remake of the day an earthquake devastated the city in 1755.
Just steps away climb to the top of the Augusta St. Triumphal Arch for a stunning 360 city view. Look down below on the hustle and bustle of Lisbon’s Baixa district – a shopping haven for the fashion minded.
The street art scene is booming in Lisbon, and has become a popular destination for talented graffiti artists. Vibrantly colored and thoughtful pieces are scattered across the city which adds an edge to the modernized yet ancient city.
If you want to see some of the best art up at the moment, fork out €20 for an awesome 4 hour street art tour that will surely impress.
EAT from the SEA.
Portugal is a seafood lover’s paradise, and is at the core of their diet. For centuries they’ve been perfecting the art of its preparation – simple and super fresh ingredients – what a concept! The Portuguese have managed to make codfish, a basic white fish, into a national dish with over 1001 variations.
All of the food in Portugal is based on the Mediterranean diet – so it’s all about the bread, cheese, olives, and of course – wine.
Portugal has a massive wine industry, and is an iconic symbol of their identity. Different regions produce an incredibly diverse variety of reds, whites, rose’s, ports, and greens. Yes – green wine or ‘vinho verde’ is unique to Portugal and has a delicious effervescent quality.
It quickly became my drink of choice, and with a glass starting at just €2 (bottles €4) – it’s literally than cheaper than water.
With limited time in this culinary mecca, I sought out a local foodie for recommendations on where to go. Note that these are definitely on the upper end of the spectrum, but if you have only a couple days to taste the best of what Lisbon has to offer, here you go!
Modern Portuguese cuisine with an upscale cocktail bar.
*If you want the best deal, go for lunch and get the pre-fix menu including wine for €19.
Price range €21-40
2-star Michelin chef Jose Avillez offers Portuguese cuisine in an upscale environment that still embodies the romanticism of the old Chiado neighborhood.
Price range above €41
Café de Lisboa
The most casual restaurants of Chef Jose Avillez’s where you can dine on a beautiful piazza for lunch, dinner, snack, or a drink at anytime. from 12pm-12am.
Price range €11-20
NIGHT full of LIFE.
You can’t come to Lisbon without listening to Fado, a musical experience that won’t have you jumping up to dance – but instead will tug at the heart strings.
There are several Fado houses in the Barrio Alto neighborhood but for a more traditional show while you have dinner, head to the Alfama neighborhood.
Grab a drink and tissue, then make your way to the trendy Bairro Alto hood for vibrant nightlife that has people spilling out onto the streets until sunrise. Most bars serve nice cocktails from sizes L to XXL for €5-7, which can be a little dangerous if you’re not careful.
*Check the calendar at – Lx Factory: a creative hub and serves as a stage for a diverse events related to fashion, publicity, communication, fine arts, architecture, music, etc. You also find a mixture of restaurants and alternative shops here, as well.
If you only have 48 hours in Lisbon, or in any city – try my travel methodology and pre-book accommodations, so you can hit the ground running.
Fortunately, Lisbon is a fairly small and approachable city you can easily explore on foot, cable car, or tuk-tuk.
Skip the rental car, unless you have more time and can escape to the sea for world famous beaches in Ericeira or to Sintra for a glimpse at surreally beautiful castles – both of which are super close and you won’t want to miss!
Lisbon is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and charming cities where you can afford to treat yourself to the finer things in life. But know, in 48 hours you’ll barely scratch the surface of this European gem that absolutely has it all.