Lisbon has become tourist mayhem! As you know, I’m not a great fan of overly crowded cities, especially when those crowds solely seem to exist out of random Dutchies, exploring our beautiful planet. In this article I will tell you all about my trip to Lisbon, including some cool things to do while avoiding mass tourism at the same time.
Lisbon is definitely not an off the beaten path experience anymore! The city has become one of the most popular destinations to travel to in Europe. You can’t blame anyone, Lisbon is pretty awesome!
So why book a trip to Lisbon?
The reason is quite simple: I wanted to soak up the very last sunshine before winter kicked in and everything started to get gloomy again. What better place to warm your cold bones than in the Portuguese capital?
Also, I wanted to eat as much seafood as possible. At this point it’s really hard to blame me, isn’t it?
I had to do it. And so, I booked a trip to Lisbon in October. How bad could it be? It’s not summer season after all!
Avoiding tourists in Lisbon
A day in, I noticed it was incredibly difficult to avoid tourists and touristic places. The famous highlights of Lisbon are famous for a reason and many people, including myself, love to get a glimpse of them.
In October you still see a lot of tourists. Definitely less than in the summer season (when I wouldn’t want to drag myself up the steep streets of Lisbon anyway!), but still a decent amount. Neighborhoods like Alfama, Chiado and Bairro Alto, although significantly quieter than normal, are the most popular places to visit.
There are, however, a few golden rules to avoid tourists in general:
- Travel outside of the peak season
- Visit the famous attractions early in the morning or late at night
- Find places locals like instead of checking out must-see locations only.
So, what is there to do in Lisbon? Honestly, I could write up 50 things again and call it a day. Lisbon is amazing and you should visit the city whenever you get a chance! I could tell you to take the train down to Belem, dance (or drink) the night away in Bairro Alto or explore the amazing castle of St. George. However, I’m not going to. You can read about Lisbon all over the internet.
Instead, I’m giving you my top 6 of best things to do in Lisbon. These are the 6 things I would return to Lisbon for, touristy or not!
Top 6 things to do in Lisbon
1.Eat yourself through Bairro Alto
During the day, Bairro Alto is a quiet place but at night, the maze of streets and alleys is the place to be for a jar of sangria, petiscos (Portuguese tapas) or a late-night dinner. At the end of October, Bairro Alto was not as crowded as described to me, however, there’s still plenty to see and do in this popular neighborhood.
Go for grilled octopus or steak with herbs and rice at Cervejaria do Bairro, one of the best restaurants of the area. Although most of the Portuguese I’ve met were incredibly nice to begin with, Cervejaria do Bairro’s staff is amazing! (Rua do Norte 86)
For the best chicken, you go to Alto do Bairro, a tiny restaurant that serves small dishes to go with your wine. Marinated chicken with a house-made peanut sauce, prawns in garlic and super fresh octopus are just a few of the delicious items on the menu. Accompanied by a glass of wine, we tried to test as many as we could. We even came back two days later because we could not get that chicken out of our minds.
Aside from the incredible food and the super friendly owner, the relaxed atmosphere is why you keep coming back here. The restaurant’s slogan is “Our success is to gain one client at a time”. Well, they most certainly did! (Travessa das Merces, 6A)
During the daytime Bairro Alto is great for finding street art, if you look closely there’s something to be found on every corner.
A few other great places:
- BA Wine Bar – for wine tastings and petiscos (Rua da Rosa 107)
- Tapa Bucho – Petiscos and other Portuguese food (Rua dos Mouros 19)
- Cultura do Hamburguer – Burgers, burgers, burgers… (Rua Salgadeiras 38)
- Croissant Gigante – Only the biggest croissants I’ve ever seen (and they are delicious, too!) (Travessa dos Fieis de Deus 59B)
2.Enjoy golden hour to the fullest
I don’t have to tell you that Lisbon wears the golden light well. From all the things to do in Lisbon, enjoying a great sunset can be done without the crowds. Just sit yourself down at ANY place with a view (there are a lot!) and make sure you’re at the right place, at the right time for some amazing shots.
Cais do Sodre
Have dinner with a view at Atira te Aorio. This little restaurant is the place to be during golden hour, when the city lights up in bright orange. (Cais do Gingal 69/70)
Belem is a great place to be as well, when you can look past the tourists. However, de Tower of Belem has never looked this beautiful.
Relax at Cais do Sodre, right next to the metro stop, you’ll find some benches to enjoy the sunset.
Enjoy a romantic evening on one of Lisbon’s miradouros for a spectacular view over the city. You can find a list of Miradouros (or viewpoints) here.
3.Gawk at street art
Lisbon is slathered in graffiti. From the once grimy neighborhood of Alfama to the little streets of Bairro Alto and Castelo, murals are all around! Make sure to pay a visit to the CRONO project, a project happening back in 2010 that put Lisbon on the list of street art cities around the world. Many pieces can be seen on the way to the city when coming from the airport.
Keen to find every cool spot in Lisbon? Remember there’s a give away of 10 annual subscriptions to the GPSmyCity app at the end of this article!
Street art lovers can even take a tour, visiting the major pieces of the city. I found loads of murals on my own, wandering through Alfama, Bairro Alto, and Baixa.
One of the best spots for streets art, is LX Factory (Rua Rodrigues de Faria 103). The former textile factory has turned into a spot for artists and eco-friendly restaurants. The vibe is pretty relaxed, although you should be aware of the fact that mass tourism isn’t really appreciated here. Another great spot is Galeria del Arte Urbana or GAU (Calçada da Glória)
Want to know more about Lisbon’s gorgeous murals? Street Art Lisbon vol. 1 provides the information you need, plus a handy map to help you in your search.
On your way to the castle. Rua de Madalena to Escadinhas de São Cristovão
4.Visit the best coffee places in Lisbon
Coffee, whilst important in many cultures, has a special function in Lisbon as well. Cafes were the place for intellectuals, musicians and writers to meet each other. I was just looking to boost my caffeine levels, and boy does Lisbon have a few great options!
LX Factory is one of the must visit places in Lisbon! Concept stores, cool murals and amazing alternative restaurants attract travelers from all over the world. Wish Slow Coffee House is a laidback coffee place and concept store in one, and you should definitely visit for a delicious cup of intense black coffee. (Rua Rodrigues de Faria 103)
Hello, Kristof is a hip coffee place, initiated by a local who traveled to New York and became inspired by the cafe scene. The interior is a mixture of Nordic interior design with Portuguese influences. Oh, and before I forget, their coffee is amazing! (Rua do Poço dos Negros 103)
Another pleasant spot to crank up your caffeine levels is Fabrica Lisboa They serve strong coffee and the so-called best croissants of the city (however, I think that’s debatable.). The interior looks like a hoarder started living in a thrift store, simply amazing! (Rua da Madalena 121)
Fabrica coffee roasters almost has the same name, but is located in the heart of Chiado. They serve what is probably the best coffee in town, along with an enticing iced tea with forest fruits. What I love most is their African vibe décor, which is simply dashing! (Rua das Portas de Santo Antão 136 or Rua das Flores 63)
Who doesn’t love a great breakfast or brunch menu? At Brunch Café you’re in the right place for savory omelets, delicate croissants or yoghurt with muesli, nuts and honey. I don’t have to tell you they serve strong, delicious coffee as well. (Rua da Alfândega 120)
At Montana Lisboa Café you’ll find yourself sipping hot coffee on the banks of the river Tejo. Although this café is quite small, it’s should definitely be on your list of coffee places to visit in Lisbon! (Rua da Cintura do Porto de Lisboa)
For the best chocolate cake, you go to Landeau! Accompanied with a strong cup of coffee, this is one of the best pit stops to make in Lisbon. (Rua das Flores 70 or R. Rodrigues de Faria 103)
5.Get lost in the tiny alleys of Alfama
Located between the Castle of Saint George and the Tagus river, Alfama is the place to get lost in! It’s the oldest neighborhood in Lisbon and lots of tourist attractions are to be found here.
Most tourists take famous tram 28 to go to Alfama, a smart choice considering the very steep hills. However, I like to walk everywhere (I do so at home whenever I can), so I dragged myself up and down every hill and stairway. Not a great choice given the fact that it was still 30 degrees Celcius in late October, but worth it if you like to explore rather than just visit the different attractions.
This is also the best way to find colorful murals and picturesque photo opportunities. Alfama is known for its street art, the immense flea market, iconic architecture and narrow streets.
Sé or Santa Maria Maior de Lisboa is one of the highlights of this neighborhood. Built between the 12th and 14th century, it’s the oldest church of Lisbon. The building has survived many earthquakes and had to be renovated several times, which, if you look closely, resulted in different building styles.
A must visit is the Sao Vicente de Fora church, a tranquil place in buzzing Lisbon. Buried in this church are the kings of the Braganza dynasty and the former presidents of the country. I personally love the hallways, decorated in blue and white tiles, displaying the fables of La Fontaine. Other highlights are the colorful rooms and altars and the magnificent view from the roof.
When you’re done exploring the labyrinth of Alfama, sit yourself down at a quiosque (kiosk café) at a miradouro of your choice. Famous miradouros in Alfama are Miradouro de Santa Luzia and Miradouro das Portas do Sol.
6.Get in touch with a local!
One of the things that has surprised me most is the friendliness of locals. Although many locals aren’t fans of Lisbon’s overflowing tourism industry, everyone I met was beyond nice. From a hasty street corner conversation to in-depth discussions on culture (and tourism), Lisbon’s locals treated me like their own!
Wherever you are, don’t forget to connect with the people living there. They know the most amazing places. Treat them with respect and they might share some with you!
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Ready to visit Lisbon?
The point of this article is to show you (and probably myself) that the so-called touristy places could be right up your alley, if only you’d know what to expect! Visiting Lisbon has been somewhat of a lifelong dream and I can’t stretch enough how cool it was to finally have made it!
I’m also really happy I didn’t visit Lisbon in summer. I couldn’t imagine dragging myself up every steep hill in searing hot weather! Although it was still 30 degrees Celsius on most days of October, the heat didn’t get overwhelming at any time during my visit. Next time, I’ll probably try to visit in winter, as the weather can be quite mellow then.
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