Lisbon is not an expensive capital city when compared to the rest of Western Europe and, apart from roaming it’s picturesque streets and marveling at the typical buildings (which you can do for free!) there are many tasty, exciting, culturally enriching and plain fun things to do… for 5 Euros or less!
Here are some tips for you to enjoy Lisbon as locals would, without spoiling your travel budget.
Cross the River on a local ferry boat
Bordering the South of Lisbon, the Tagus River is one of the biggest rivers in Europe – in fact, like a famous Portuguese poet wrote once, “it is a river that aspires to be a sea“! It is one of the most iconic elements of the Lisbon landscape.
Many people that work in Lisbon live in the suburban cities on the other side of the river, and cross into downtown everyday by boat. Why take an expensive boat cruise when you can actually cross to the other side of the Tagus for only €1.20 each way?
Where: Go to Terreiro do Paco and get into the ferry terminal right in front of the famous Praca do Comercio square. Enjoy the ride and explore “the other side” that is also part of the life of Lisbon people, way beyond the touristic experience. Metro Terreiro do Paco.
Treat yourself to a famous pastel de nata
If there is something Portuguese people love (and do well!) that is pastries. Although most tourists go after the popular “Pastel de Belem” (custard tart) exactly where these pastries where originally created, Belem itself, the truth is that they are good pretty much all over the city.
As a mid morning snack, I’d recommend a visit to the charming Confeitaria Nacional, where a pastel de nata and a latte can be enjoyed for €2.3. The setting is reminiscent of a scene from the last century and I can assure you the ambiance is more relaxed than the one you’re likely to find in Belem, where tourists make insane queues to get hot cakes. www.confeitarianacional.com
Where: Confeitaria Nacional in Praca da Figueira 18B. Metro Rossio.
Ride the Famous Electrico 28
If you’ve ever seen a postcard or photo from Lisbon, there is a very big chance you noticed the trams that populate the typical streets of Lisbon. These trams are not only picturesque, but also still widely used by locals to get around the city.
The most touristic of them all is “Electrico 28”, a vintage tram with the number 28 that goes uphill on a truly scenic route that lasts for about 40 minutes and ends at Sao Jorge’s Castle. You’ll pass a ton of narrow streets, the most typical of Lisbon’s neighborhoods and finish the trip at a castle that can’t be missed when visiting this city. On a regular 28E tram this trip will cost you only €2.85. But beware of the “touristic trams” that, for a similar route with some slight detours and a live commentary, will cost from €16 upwards. You can read a lot of information about Lisbon online and jump in the tram to enjoy a ride full of photographic opportunities. Very worth it!
Where: trips start at Martim Moniz bus stop. Metro Martim Moniz.
Take a stroll with warm roasted chestnuts
During Autumn and Winter, the streets of downtown Lisbon are populated with roasted chestnut vending carts that make for the warmest and nicest treat for the cold weather. The chestnuts are tasty, yes, but what makes the whole experience charming is eating them while roaming around the streets of Baixa Chiado and Rossio, people watching and marveling at the details around.
12 heart warming chestnuts roasted on the spot cost €2.
Where: everywhere in downtown Lisbon during colder months.
Sip a cappuccino with the best view of Lisbon
Once you’re on top of the hill and, perhaps after you visit Sao Jorge’s Castle, it’s time to sit down and relax. You can do so while sipping a frothy cappuccino in what year after year I have come to realize is, quite probably, one of the best views over Lisbon: Chapito a Mesa, a restaurant inside an original arts and circus school called Chapito.
The restaurant is not cheap at all for meal times, but it is still affordable for an afternoon coffee for about a couple of euros. Also, the view is best enjoyed during the day, and as the sun goes down over the building rooftops, the river and the boats passing by. http://chapito.org
Where: Rua Costa do Castelo, 7 (walking distance on pleasant walking cobblestone streets, from Castelo de Sao Jorge)
An alternative night at the movies, in Cinemateca Portuguesa
The Cinemateca is the national museum of film. Every month, different programs are presented, including national and international movies from all times.
Not only there tends to be a beautiful selection of movies (and film related exhibitions), the most expensive tickets will only set you back by €3.20 (cheaper for film students and members).
See the program here: http://www.cinemateca.pt/
Where: Rua Barata Salgueiro, 39. Metro Restauradores.
Get cultural… if you’re 30 years old or younger!
If you’re into other cultural programs apart from film, Culturgest might be the place to look for! Conferences, art exhibitions, theatre, dance and music are part of their daily program and people under 30 years only pay €5, no matter what the standard price of the show might be. www.culturgest.pt
Where: Rua Arco do Cego Piso 1, Edificio Sede da CGD. Metro Campo Pequeno.
Drink beer in a naughty setting
One of Lisbon’s most recent nightlife hot spots is Pensao Amor. In the past, this place used to be a brothel that welcomed sailors arriving to Lisbon in search of comfort and human touch. Now-a-days, after a glam revamp, Pensao Amor (that translates into Love Inn) caters to a hip clientele that finds in this alternative setting a cool place to hang out.
Drinks are expensive but you can still have a draft beer (“imperial”) for €4. This might be twice as much as in neighboring bars, but the red light ambience and novelty are paid for and, not only sometimes they have live music, there’s also an erotic library and a naughty sex gift shop on site. www.pensaoamor.pt
Where: Rua do Alecrim, 19. Metro Cais do Sodre.
Bairro Alto: where the streets are the venue!
You know nothing about Lisbon’s nightlife until you visit Bairro Alro. Bars, pubs, restaurants and any other establishment that serves drinks line up in the narrow streets of this typical neighborhood of Old Lisbon. Here, no one really cares about what bar you’re going to, because the streets are the venue and that’s where everyone hangs out, mixes, drinks and parties. Beer goes for as little as 1.5 euros, just check out the boards usually placed outside the cheapest bars.
Where: Metro Baixa Chiado – walk a little bit uphill towards Praca de Camoes square, follow the crowd and you’re there!
Fado, the sound of Lisbon
Fado is the most typical music genre of Portugal and thoroughly enjoyed in its live form by many tourists visiting Lisbon. No wonder that fancy restaurants have found that set dinners with live Fado shows are a great source of income. But you don’t need to spend a lot of money on such places, where you’re more likely to be immersed in a touristic atmosphere, rather than on a down to earth fado night. The latest can be found in small restaurants and bars that we call “tascas” and there are plenty of those in the streets of the Alfama neighborhood. Just walk around and look inside any place where live music comes from. Fado singers and musicians won’t be looking as fancy, places will be cramped, but food and music will still be amazing and I can assure you that, if there is a “real deal”, this is probably it. 5 euros won’t buy you dinner, but it’s good enough for a Portuguese glass of wine, that combines with Fado to perfection.
I hope these recommendations are useful for your next trip to Lisbon.
While it’s normal that travelers do touristic activities, it is a great complement to the local experience to explore beyond the surface and, even better, if you don’t need to splurge while at it!