Where to Wander in Lisbon

We missed out on Brazil in South America but we knew we had Portugal down as our first European destination. We expected a culture change and once we heard the language we knew it was a whole new world. Every time we tried to do something typically tourist in Lisbon we felt like we were being foiled. So we just ended up wandering.

Lisbon laundry

Lisbon's older bairros offer charming streets and laneways for wandering.

We wandered into the streets of Alfama on a Sunday afternoon and marvelled at the narrow streets and staircases, colourful tiles and views of the city. Few people must have dryers in Portugal, for vivid hanging laundry completes the aesthetic. In our neighbourhood, the Bairro Alto bars beckoned us to cheap sangrias in the street. People move at a slow pace anyway because of the hills and slippery stone sidewalks. It’s not even very hot here for July: the highest temperature we experienced was 25°C.

Lisbon Lisboa skateboarding

Skaters use space in Bairro Alto

Lisbon is both easygoing and hip at the same time. Our hostel bedroom featured Colleen Moore wallpaper and a balcony where we could check out the neighbours. A young couple gave each other haircuts on denim washing day and the elderly woman staring out her small window, perhaps at the noisy dog drawing our attention down to the Union Jack Mini Cooper parked in front of a flash renovated apartment house. While some residents looked like exports from Williamsburg, Brooklyn or San Francisco’s Lower Haight (and we did meet a guy from SF), others wore shorts and summer hats while they poked around shops in Baixa and Chiado.

Bairro Alto sunset

We enjoyed sunsets from our balcony and views over the city.

Strutting down the outside street mall of Rua Augusta, we were reminded of our tourist status.

“Hashish? Coke?”

Guys shoved such wares under our noses as we tried to read our map. This practice took us back to Cartagena where we were constantly accosted in this way. It continued into the night in Bairro Alto, by hustlers competing with the restaurant touts. We were, however, reminded of the cosmic shift in our location when we approached a crosswalk. Waiting for the traffic for the opportune time to pass, we were pleasantly surprised when the first car stopped for us. This was power over cars we hadn‘t felt in some time.

Modern tram Lisbon

One of Lisbon's more modern trams in Belem

Belem felt different, full of museums, monuments and wide open spaces. We spent some time in the Modern Art Museum, which was free and contained some excellent works by well-known artists. Views of the 25th of April Bridge allowed us a closer look: the beautiful suspension bridge is the same colour as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, but the design mimics the Oakland Bay Bridge of the same builders.

jesus tiles Lisbon

Religious pictures are a popular subject for the tiles that decorate buildings' exterior walls.

In general we loved Lisbon the most when we wandered away from the well-known tourist haunts.

Tram 28 crowded Lisbon

The packed 28 tram is a tourist favourite - see the major sights for €2.50


  • While it's always good to speak at least some of the local language, Portuguese is not on the lips of most travellers. Relax - at least some English is spoken pretty much everywhere and Portuguese people are generally friendly.
  • Skip the 28 tram (€2.50) and explore some unique shops, even if you don’t buy anything.

tile alcove lisbon

  • Shun the recommendations with lines out the door. Enjoy the grungy and unusual aspects of Lisbon instead.
  • Plenty of free lookout points exist around the city. Try Alfama and the Bairro Alto and head up the stairs.
  • Lisbon has world-class museums closed only on Mondays. Visit the Museo do Fado, Museo do Chiado and any of the attractions in Belem

Lisbon urinal

  • Most restaurants have an interesting custom of bringing 'couvert' to your table. These are usually a bread basket, butter, cheeses, olives, ham and/or pate. Check the menu for prices as even that half-pat of butter can run you €1.
  • Ignore anyone asking you if you want drugs on the street. White foreigners are often targeted.
  • If you use the Metro or train system, keep the green card for recharging or pay € .50 for a new one unnecessarily.
  • AskMe Lisboa centres are located around the city, offering help with accommodation, activities, maps and other information.
  • Try green wine and sangria. The former is actually a refreshing white wine while the latter is cheap and delicious.

Lisboa lavanderia

  • Head out to the relaxing beaches west of the city for a few days, including Cascais, Estoril and Guincho. We’re relaxing in Cascais as we write this. The temperate weather is comfortable, but very breezy. Northern Portugal awaits…

We have one more day in Lisbon after our trip to Porto. Which of your favourite spots in the city have we missed?


  1. Claire 21 July, 2011 at 21:07 Reply

    I haven’t seen too many bloggers write  on Portugal, so this is a cool post. It is on my list to experience, but I need to wait until the price is right!

  2. Mark 14 July, 2011 at 08:20 Reply

    I’ve been living in Lisbon for 8 years and I must say those hash dealers are very well known and unavoidable downtown.  They’re actually all of the same Gypsy family, it seems.  They’ve been there for years and can’t get arrested because supposedly what they’re selling is not real hash.  So their only crime is false advertisement, and tourists who end up buying their “product” obviously won’t go to the authorities to complain about it afterwards.  This page explains it all better: http://www.lisbonlux.com/crime.html

    Lisbon is not one of those cities to see from a tourist bus.  It’s a place that demands wandering, and you’ve missed its essence and beauty if you don’t just “get lost” on the streets.

  3. Jeremy Branham 14 July, 2011 at 02:01 Reply

    Love Lisbon!  One of my favorite cities in Europe!  I didn’t experience some of the things you did in Lisbon though – no hash or coke for me!  I thought it was an incredibly diverse and reminded me a lot of my experiences growing up in the South.  I found that the people there were some of the best English speaking people I have met in all of Europe.  As for other things to do, wander the streets is a great idea.  Wander the Bairro Alto area which is hip and young.  Also, I really enjoyed the Gulbenkian Museum though it was a bit difficult to find at first.

    I can’t wait to go back to Lisbon!  Upon my first visit there, it is one of the best cities I have ever visited!

    • Geert @ Inspiring Travellers 14 July, 2011 at 06:36

      It is a great city – glad you agree! =) I loved learning about the mix of people there and their history.

      Hopefully you got that we didn’t actually accept the hash or coke, haha

      Have not heard of the Gulbenkian Museum – what is it?

  4. Sonja 10 July, 2011 at 20:01 Reply

    Thanks for the great post – appreciate the tips! can’t wait to hear about you adventures in Porto. We are headed to Portugal at the end of the month. Do you mind sharing where you stayed while in Lisbon as well as Porto?

  5. inka 10 July, 2011 at 07:08 Reply

    Great summery of what and what not to do in Lisbon. If you have a chance travel north to the border with Galicia/spain, enjoy medieval towns and the best ‘carabinieri’ (king prawns) you will ever taste, not to mention other seafood and fish. Did I miss it or did you listen to any fados?

  6. Katharina @ Kate goes Global 10 July, 2011 at 05:28 Reply

    I went to Lisbon last month and loved it! One thing I really liked about the city (particularly) were its miradores! I loved the Mirador de Graça, which has a small bar were you can drink a beer or a coffee. Sunsets are spectacular! There’s also the Mirador de Santa Luzia, which is said to be one of the most beautiful ones in the city. 

  7. Sherry 8 July, 2011 at 18:42 Reply

    I have not been to Lisbon, but I do want to visit. The two things that I’ve been highly recommended to do are: 1) Go to a fado bar to  watch the show. 2) Skip the tours and just take in the city by simply walking in it.  By the way, the view from your balcony is spectacular, especially with that sunset.

  8. yTravelBlog 8 July, 2011 at 18:32 Reply

    I wish i can remember the name of the place we went to but it was an old church on a hill somewhere (yeah I know helpful) The Church had been converted to a beer hall/beer garden. It was beautiful with great views. There was a beerfest on there when we went. We had a great time, the highlight of Lisbon. Hope you can find it

  9. http://www.lisaoverman.com 8 July, 2011 at 08:18 Reply

    I loved my visit to Portugal. You’re right the people are SO friendly and the fish, cheese and fresh options, amazing. I fell in love with the tile work. I ended up buying a tile mural and accent tiles for my kitchen.

  10. Krista 8 July, 2011 at 00:42 Reply

    I lived in Portugal as a nanny and was so dirt poor that all I could do was wander the streets as well. :-) I absolutely LOVED it!! :-) I lived in Porto and Coimbra/Miranda de Corvo, but never made it to Lisbon. I’d love to wander there one day. :-)

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