Lisbon has always been on my travel planning list, but it wasn’t until Salvador Sobral’s victory at Eurovision in 2017 that we stopped planning and took the time to visit this historic yet lively city.
And it wasn’t long before we were asking ourselves why we hadn’t visited sooner.
Lisbon provides its visitors with an eclectic mix of colonial history and cosmopolitan city living which makes the city accessible to most travelers. We left the city, not only wanting to return, but seriously asking ourselves, “why don’t we live here?!”
Lisbon is located on the west coast of Portugal and isn’t far from the most southern and western points of the European mainland. This affords Lisbon with a mild to warm climate throughout the year, getting hotter during July and August.
Don’t wait for Portugal to win Eurovision again before planning your visit (the first victory took them 53 attempts before placing last at the 2018 contest) this city has too much to offer.
Alfama District (The Old Town) – Despite being one of Lisbon’s more touristy areas and being home to tourist attractions such as Castelo Sao Jorge, Alfama has lost little of its charm and remains one of the most picturesque corners of the city. There is a real sense of stepping into history with narrow and winding streets creating a labyrinth on the hillside. Alfama is filled with smaller independent restaurants, souvenir stalls and coffee shops, yet we didn’t experience any overly crowded areas.
Avenida Da Liberdade – This beautiful boulevard stretches from Restauradores Square in the South to Marque do Pombal in the North. The avenue has blend of high end fashion stores, hotels and independent cafes. Café culture is alive and well along this strip, making this a great place to grab a coffee and a Pasteis de Nata. On weekends the Avenue doubles up as an art and antiques market which we casually perused during a quiet Sunday morning.
Praça do Comércio – This square was previously home to a royal palace which was destroyed in an earthquake in 1755. Instead of being rebuilt, the palace was transformed into the Square of Commerce, aptly named as the square housed customs and port related functions from this time onwards. Today, the square has maintained much of it’s grandeur, however the customs houses have largely been replaced by restaurants, bars and a tourist information centre. The square is well visited, although the size of the square means it rarely becomes crowded. During our visit, the Eurovision Village was housed inside the square creating a festival like atmosphere, although the activities available were lacking compared to our previous Eurovision trips.
Principe Real – The area surrounding Jardim do Principe Real is quickly becoming recognized as one of Lisbon’s trendier, quirkier neighborhoods and we loved it here. It’s a great place for some time away from the tourist trail and we spent an afternoon browsing concept stores and fashionable eateries. We were drawn to the area by Embaixada, a collection of boutique stores housed inside a converted Moorish palace. On Saturday, you can also find a small market inside the Jardim do Principe Real which sells everything from vegetables to stylish art prints. We picked up a couple of monochrome prints from the artist at this market. From this neighborhood, it’s a gentle walk down hill towards the ocean and the Mercado da Ribeira which was another highlight (see below)
Mercado da Ribeira – This is one of Lisbon’s oldest and busiest food markets offering a mixture between vegetable stalls, street food and deli counters. There was a huge range of food available making this a great place to eat, drink and soak up the atmosphere. The market can get very busy and crowded which is why this is on the amber list. Lunch times tend to be quieter than evenings which may help you to avoid some of the crowding.
Lisbon Underground – I loved the Lisbon Metro system. It was extremely easy to navigate, and we used it on several occasions during our visit. The Metro is exceptionally clean which is always a bonus. I always recommend that travelers take a private transfer from the airport to the hotel upon arrival. Travelling can be stressful enough without having to navigate a foreign transport system after a flight. We were confident enough at the end of our trip to find our own way back to the airport using public transport which isn’t something I can say for every city we’ve visited.
A note on purchasing Eurovision tickets. Tickets for Eurovision are extremely popular and usually sell out fast. We decided to buy our tickets on a ticketing exchange site. Although I have never experienced any issues purchasing from these sites, I spent a considerable time catastrophizing about what would happen if we were denied entry which put a dampener on some of our time in Lisbon. Don’t let this ruin your travel and make alternative arrangements for the rare occasion where tickets aren’t genuine.
Where to stay
We stayed at the Sofitel Liberdade which is partway up the Avenida Da Liberdade. The rooms are modern and stylish, and the facilities are good. The hotel is well located. The neighborhood is quieter, but still walking distance from the city’s main attractions. There is also a Metro station across the road from the hotel which made navigating the city and getting to Eurovision very easy. The hotel is also close to the Principe Real neighbourhood which we really loved.
The Hotel Jupiter also came highly recommended from other travellers we spoke with, although it is located further from the city centre.
As with all cities, Lisbon is a vast city with many suburbs. Hotels within Lisbon may be far from the city’s attractions. Praça do Comércio and Alfama are a good point of reference and any hotel within proximity of these places is generally well located. That being said, the metro service in Lisbon in excellent and hotels close to a metro station will be best connected.
Cascais – This old fishing village is a short railway journey from Lisbon and is an excellent resort for some quiet after your city break. We chose Cascais over Estoril although both came highly recommended.
Porto – A train to Portugal’s second city only takes 3 hours and is a perfect way to extend your city break to include another city. Porto is home to the port wine cellars for many major brands, many of which you can visit. The city embodies all the charm of Lisbon, but a much smaller number of tourists making this a must see city for those who dislike the tourist trail.
Thanks for reading the blog – let me know what you think the comments below. I’d be keen to hear your recommendations for Lisbon.
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