Where to Wander in Lisbon

July 7, 2011

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?

Travel Blog Success
Get inspired - For Free!
Tips, Inspiration and new updates, delivered directly to your inbox!


  1. Comment by Deco McDeco

    Deco McDeco Reply July 8, 2011 at 4:29 am

    Sounds like a cool joint, would love to go there one day. Some many things to see and do …

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John July 9, 2011 at 7:40 pm

      There are many streets to get lost in and all of them colourful.

  2. Comment by Krista

    Krista Reply July 8, 2011 at 5:42 am

    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. :-)

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John July 9, 2011 at 7:38 pm

      Haha – you must go to Lisbon if you love Portugal! We’re in Porto now and have yet to explore as we just got in today. =)

  3. Comment by http://www.lisaoverman.com

    http://www.lisaoverman.com Reply July 8, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    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.

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John July 9, 2011 at 7:37 pm

      We do love the tiles! We’re in Porto now and just saw a whole church covered in blue patterned tiles. So interesting – the sidewalks as well.

  4. Comment by roy | cruisesurfingz.com

    roy | cruisesurfingz.com Reply July 8, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    I’ve great things about Lisbon but still haven’t managed to make it over there. Green wine huh, sounds interesting. What did it taste like?

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John July 9, 2011 at 7:36 pm

      It reminded me of a Sav Blanc but that’s a bit simple. It was light white wine, lower-alcohol and inexpensive; refreshing =)

  5. Comment by yTravelBlog

    yTravelBlog Reply July 8, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    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

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John July 9, 2011 at 7:35 pm

      Thanks for the tip – that sounds ace! We’re going to have to ask where that is when we go back in a couple of days =)

  6. Comment by Stephanie - The Travel Chica

    Stephanie - The Travel Chica Reply July 8, 2011 at 11:45 pm

    That Urinol sign is awesome!  Lisbon looks like the type of city I would love to wander around for hours.

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John July 9, 2011 at 7:32 pm

      It was! And it had a line, of course =)

  7. Comment by Sherry

    Sherry Reply July 8, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    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.

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John July 9, 2011 at 7:33 pm

      Thanks, Sherry! We thought about a Fado show but weren’t sure where to go for the best value – maybe an investigation for our last night in Portugal =)

  8. Comment by Cam

    Cam Reply July 9, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    Loving the tips – would love to visit Portugal again sometime soon!

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John July 10, 2011 at 11:33 am

      Thanks so much, Cam! =)

  9. Comment by Katherina

    Katherina Reply July 10, 2011 at 10:28 am

    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. 

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John July 10, 2011 at 11:34 am

      Thanks for sharing those, Katherina =) Not sure if we wandered past those because I don’t know the names of everything in the city but when we get back we’ll look for one to watch the sunset!

  10. Comment by inka

    inka Reply July 10, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    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?

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John July 10, 2011 at 1:22 pm

      Oh, Inka that sounds heavenly – wish we had time to go up there! We did not listen to any Fado but everyone keeps recommending it. Wish I knew the best place!

  11. Comment by Emily

    Emily Reply July 10, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    Vinho verde is so good! My dad buys it in California, and I love the little bit of sparkle it has to it – perfect for summer.

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John July 11, 2011 at 12:25 pm

      It really is! I’d never heard of it before…

  12. Comment by Sonja

    Sonja Reply July 11, 2011 at 1:01 am

    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?

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John July 11, 2011 at 12:25 pm

      Thanks, Sonja! We stayed in hostels in both Lisbon and Porto: Oasis Backpackers Mansion in the Bairro Alto in Lisbon and Magnolia Porto Hostel

  13. Comment by Natalie

    Natalie Reply July 11, 2011 at 5:52 am

    Love the post and the pictures. Would freak me out though if someone offered me hash or coke

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John July 11, 2011 at 12:23 pm

      Thanks, Natalie – oh goodness are they shady. They just hiss at you and then flash the goods in your direction. Creeps me out! We encountered a guy in Porto as well…

  14. Comment by Randy Kalp

    Randy Kalp Reply July 11, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    Young skaters, religious wall art and trams, yep, I’m sold!

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John July 11, 2011 at 8:09 pm

      It’s pretty cool! And we love Porto too =)

  15. Comment by Kris Koeller

    Kris Koeller Reply July 13, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Looks like a beautiful city.  Great photos!

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John July 13, 2011 at 10:56 pm

      Thanks Kris. It sure was fun!

  16. Comment by Jeremy Branham

    Jeremy Branham Reply July 14, 2011 at 7:01 am

    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!

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John July 14, 2011 at 11:36 am

      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?

  17. Comment by Mark

    Mark Reply July 14, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    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.

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John July 14, 2011 at 7:51 pm

      Thanks so much for the info, Mark! Shame they can’t do anything about them because they certainly freak people out.

  18. Comment by Raymond @ Man On The Lam

    Raymond @ Man On The Lam Reply July 15, 2011 at 12:38 am

    I’ve been hankering to get to Portugal for some time — one of my best friends is from there, and they are some of the friendliest people on the planet. Plus they have GREAT food! 

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John July 15, 2011 at 10:00 am

      You’re absolutely right – great people and food!

  19. Comment by Claire

    Claire Reply July 22, 2011 at 2:07 am

    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!

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John July 22, 2011 at 12:59 pm

      Portugal was quite expensive – I don’t think any more than the rest of Europe, though…

  20. Comment by Erin in Costa Rica

    Erin in Costa Rica Reply August 16, 2011 at 12:41 am

    I want the URINOL sign for my house, that is just awesome :)

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John August 16, 2011 at 1:20 pm

      Hahaha…we loved that too!

  21. Pingback: Port wine tasting in Porto :: InspiringTravellers.com - Travel the World

  22. Pingback: Lisbon Travel Guide

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Go top