What to See – and What to Skip – in Lisbon

It’s hard to believe it possible in the age of a million travel blogs, but I visited Lisbon before it was the hottest European capital of the year. I didn’t know what Lisbon was famous for, and I hadn’t heard of the best Instagram shots. Instead, I found a great deal and traveled there with good friends.

It’s not hard to find a million great guides to this vibrant Portuguese city. Instead of giving you the typical weekend guide or top list of things to do, here are my best suggestions – and what you can totally skip.

A glass of Portuguese wine with a view of Lisbon.

A glass of Portuguese wine with a view.

Skip Bar-Hopping in Bairro Alto for a Glass of Wine with a View

In the early 2010s, Lisbon gained notoriety as an excellent city for an all-night experience. There are plenty of clubs in Belém if that’s your scene, but most people opted to hop through local hole-in-the-wall and dive bars in the hip Bairro Alto neighborhood. I had a great time exploring Bairro Alto by day and night – and a few hilarious stories from a late night in Belém.

Skip the crowds, cover charges, and raging hangovers all together. Instead, opt for a glass of world-class Portuguese wine with a view.

If you’re unfamiliar with Portuguese wine, start with a wine tasting class. Once you’re in the know, grab a reservation at Sky Bar. This luxurious hotel bar has stunning views of most of central Lisbon, located atop the Tivoli Hotel near the Jardim Botânico. If wine isn’t your style, they have a full bar and plenty of artistic cocktail options.

Where: Sky Bar – Av. da Liberdade 185, Lisboa – Open 5pm-1am most days.

Coffee and an egg tart – the breakfast of Lisbon champions.

Coffee and an egg tart – the breakfast of Lisbon champions.

Skip Continental Breakfast at the Hotel for Local Brunch

One of the greatest conveniences of hotels is that breakfast is often included. They make it super easy to grab a bite before setting out into the city, often with familiar dishes from home. Unless you’re lucky, continental breakfast is almost always a homogenized experience – no matter that you’re in the heart of one of Portugal’s foodie capitals. Whether you stay at an Airbnb (my preferred accommodation) or a hotel in Lisbon, go explore in search of breakfast!

Skip the mass-produced buffet and claustrophobic breakfast room. Instead, opt for a gourmet, locally sourced brunch from a local restaurant. Food is usually made to order and feature local flavors and favorites. In the country that invented the egg tart, why would you ever have scrambled eggs for breakfast?

Five amazing brunch spots in Lisbon:

  1. Palace Chafariz D’El Rei – Moorish architecture and Portuguese pancakes, what’s not to love? Find them at: Tv. do Chafariz de El-Rei 6, Lisbon.
  2. Café do Monte – Within eyesight of panoramic Lisbon views at Miradouro da Senhora do Monte, they have a cool Bohemian vibe to start your day. Find them at: Rua de S. Gens 1, Lisbon.
  3. Deli Delux – Home baked croissants and fresh squeezed orange juice; perfect fuel for a day of sightseeing. Find them at: Av. Infante Dom Henrique Armazém B, Loja 8, Lisbon.
  4. Café Tati – If you need a bigger portion to start your day, their generous egg-based plates will be perfect for you. Find them at: R. Ribeira Nova 36, Lisbon.
  5. Kaffeehaus – Strong Austrian influence in Lisbon means you can get a stellar Frühstück at this or several other coffee shops in the city. Find them at: R. Anchieta 3, Lisbon.

Want to savor even more delicious flavors? Consider taking a walking food tour of Lisbon that allows you to sample many culinary options.

One of Lisbon's many trams.

One of Lisbon’s many trams.

Skip an Uber or Taxi for the Local Trams

There are always plenty of ways to get around a city. With one as hilly as Lisbon, you’re looking at significant climbing and descending through the course of a day’s sightseeing. It might be tempting to stop walking and grab an Uber or Taxi, but choose public transit instead.

Skip car transport. Instead, hop aboard one of Lisbon’s vibrant yellow trams. With five main routes, they knit the city together and cut out some major climbing.

The most common routes for sightseeing are the E15 – connecting central Lisbon to Belém – and E28 – through the popular Alfama district. Tickets cost €2.85, or you can buy a Viva Viagem pre-paid ticket, which makes a single tram journey only €1.40. Another option is to use the trams as part of your sightseeing plan, by taking a hop-on/hop-off tour that includes the tram system.

The view – and local art – from the Jardim de São Pedro de Alcântara.

The view – and local art – from the Jardim de São Pedro de Alcântara.

Skip the Castelo de São Jorge for the  Jardim de São Pedro de Alcântara

The Castelo de São Jorge is a popular, tried and true sight worth seeing in Lisbon. It offers great views of the city and plenty of history. There are even some great walking tours that include a stop in the medieval Moorish castle. But, as a man once said “you’re better off living in the hole looking at the palace than living in the palace looking at the hole.” (That man was Karl Pilkington in An Idiot Abroad.)

While the Jardim de São Pedro de Alcântara is by no means a “hole,” it is one of my favorite recommendations for Lisbon.

Skip the views from the castle. Instead, enjoy a view with the castle in it.

The terraced garden of Jardim de São Pedro de Alcântara gives you spectacular views of the city. Additionally the garden is perfect on hot days, where the trees provide shelter from the beating sun, and fountains play gently in the background. Artists set up along the cast iron fence that runs the perimeter, giving the whole place a distinctly Parisian vibe with signature Lisbon views.

Looking for other must-do activities?

Edit: This post was updated in November 2016. The original post was from May 2014.

Breakfast photo by Jessica Spengler and Jardim de São Pedro photo by Luca Moglia, both via Flickr.

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