Rick Steves Snapshot Lisbon


By Rick Steves

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With Rick Steves, Lisbon is yours to discover! This slim guide excerpted from Rick Steves Portugal includes:
  • Rick's firsthand, up-to-date advice on Lisbon's best sights, restaurants, hotels, and more, plus tips to beat the crowds, skip the lines, and avoid tourist traps
  • Top sights and local experiences: Relax and people-watch at an Art Nouveau café, or take a trolley tour of the famed colorful hills. Wander tangled medieval streets and museums of ancient art, and sip delicious port with locals at an authentic fado bar
  • Helpful maps and self-guided walking tours to keep you on track
With selective coverage and Rick's trusted insight into the best things to do and see, Rick Steves Snapshot Lisbon is truly a tour guide in your pocket.

Exploring beyond the city? Pick up Rick Steves Portugal for comprehensive coverage, detailed itineraries, and essential information for planning a countrywide trip.



This Snapshot guide, excerpted from my guidebook Rick Steves Portugal, introduces you to Lisbon, the country’s culturally rich capital. Here at the far western edge of Europe, prices are reasonable, the people are warm, and the pace of life slows. Lisbon’s neighborhoods—dotted with museums, inviting eateries, and squares grand and small—are connected by historic trolleys and mosaic sidewalks. Wander through the city’s characteristic downtown neighborhoods like the hilly Alfama, the exotic Mouraria, and the busy Baixa, then head up to the lanes of Bairro Alto at night to find a good fado bar. The grand Belém district offers a look at Lisbon’s historic architecture and seafaring glory, from the 16th-century Monastery of Jerónimos to the Monument to the Discoveries. Or visit the Gulbenkian Museum, the best of Lisbon’s 40 museums, offering 5,000 years’ worth of art.

Day-trip to the touristy but lovely town of Sintra, a former aristocratic retreat that’s dotted with sights such as the fanciful Pena Palace, royal National Palace, and evocative Moorish castle ruins atop a hill.

To help you have the best trip possible, I’ve included the following topics in this book:

Planning Your Time, with advice on how to make the most of your limited time

Orientation, including tourist information offices (abbreviated as TI), tips on public transportation, local tour options, and helpful hints

Sights, with ratings and strategies for meaningful and efficient visits

Sleeping and Eating, with good-value recommendations in every price range

Connections, with tips on trains, buses, and driving

Practicalities, near the end of this book, has information on money, staying connected, hotel reservations, transportation, and other helpful hints, plus Portuguese survival phrases.

To travel smartly, read this little book in its entirety before you go. It’s my hope that this guide will make your trip more meaningful and rewarding. Traveling like a temporary local, you’ll get the absolute most out of every mile, minute, and dollar.

Boa-viagem! Happy travels!


Lisbon is ramshackle, trendy, and charming all at once—an endearing mix of now and then. Vintage trolleys shiver up and down its hills, bird-stained statues mark grand squares, taxis rattle and screech through cobbled lanes, and Art Nouveau cafés are filled equally with well-worn and well-dressed locals—nursing their coffees side by side. It’s a city of proud ironwork balconies, multicolored tiles, and mosaic sidewalks; of bougainvillea and red-tiled roofs with antique TV antennas; and of foodie haunts and designer boutiques.

Lisbon, Portugal’s capital, is the country’s banking and manufacturing center. Residents call their city Lisboa (leezh-BOH-ah), which comes from the Phoenician Alis Ubbo, meaning “calm port.” A port city on the yawning mouth of the Rio Tejo (REE-oo TAY-zhoo—the Tagus River), Lisbon welcomes large ships to its waters and state-of-the-art dry docks. And more recently, it has become a popular stop with cruise ships.

Romans (2nd century BC) and Moors (8th century) were the earliest settlers in Lisbon, but the city’s glory days were in the 15th and 16th centuries, when explorers such as Vasco da Gama opened new trade routes around Africa to India, making Lisbon one of Europe’s richest cities. Portugal’s Age of Discovery fueled rapid economic growth, which sparked the flamboyant art boom called the Manueline period—named for King Manuel I (r. 1495-1521).

On the morning of All Saints’ Day in 1755, a tremendous offshore earthquake rocked Lisbon, followed by a devastating tsunami and days of fires. Chief Minister Marquês de Pombal rebuilt downtown Lisbon on a grid plan, with broad boulevards and generous squares. It’s this “Pombaline”-era neighborhood where you’ll spend much of your time, though remnants of Lisbon’s pre-earthquake charm survive in Belém, the Alfama, and the Bairro Alto district. The bulk of your sightseeing will likely be in these neighborhoods.

As the Paris of the Portuguese-speaking world, Lisbon (pop. 548,000 in the core) is the Old World capital of its former empire, which once had some 100 million people and stretched from Europe to Brazil, and Africa to China. Portugal remains on largely good terms with its former colonies—and immigrants from places such as Mozambique and Angola add diversity and flavor to the city; it’s likely that you’ll hear African music as much as Portuguese fado.

With its characteristic hills, trolleys, famous suspension bridge, and rolling fog, Lisbon has a San Francisco feel. Enjoy all that this world-class city has to offer: elegant outdoor cafés, exciting art, fun-to-browse shops, stunning vistas, delicious food, entertaining museums, and a salty sailors’ quarter with a hill-capping castle.


Lisbon merits at least three days, including a day for a side trip to Sintra. If you have more time, there’s plenty to do.

Day 1

Get oriented to Lisbon’s three downtown neighborhoods (following my three self-guided walks): Alfama, Baixa, and Bairro Alto/Chiado. Start where the city did, at its castle (hop a taxi or Uber to get there at 9:00, before the crowds hit). After surveying the city from the highest viewpoint in town, walk downhill into the characteristic Alfama neighborhood and end at the Fado Museum. From there, zip over to the big main square (Praça do Comércio) to explore the Baixa, then ride up the Elevador da Glória funicular (or taxi) to begin the Bairro Alto and Chiado walk. Art lovers can then hop the Metro or a taxi to the Gulbenkian Museum (open until 18:00, closed Tue), while shoppers can browse the boutiques of the Chiado neighborhood and Príncipe Real. Consider dinner at a fado show in the Bairro Alto or the Alfama. For more evening options, see “Entertainment in Lisbon,” later.

Day 2

Trolley to Belém and tour the monastery, tower, and National Coach Museum. Have lunch in Belém, then tour the Museum of Ancient Art on your way back to Lisbon.

Day 3

Side-trip to Sintra to tour the Pena Palace and explore the ruined Moorish castle.

More Time

With extra days, slow down and relax—spreading the “Day 1” activities over two days. Or use the time to explore and window-shop characteristic neighborhoods and nurse drinks bought from kiosks on relaxing squares. You could also head to the Parque das Nações or take a food tour.

Monday Options

Many top sights are closed on Monday, particularly in Belém. That’d be a good day to visit the Gulbenkian Museum, take my self-guided neighborhood walks, day-trip to Sintra, go on a guided walking tour (see “Tours in Lisbon,” later), or head to Parque das Nações for a dose of modern Lisbon.

Orientation to Lisbon


Greater Lisbon has close to three million people and intimidating sprawl. Most visitors spend virtually all their time in the old city center, a delightful series of parks, boulevards, and squares in a crusty, well-preserved architectural shell. But even on a brief visit, you’ll also want to venture to Belém, the riverfront suburb with many top sights.

Here’s an overview of the city’s layout:

Baixa (Lower Town): Downtown Lisbon fills a valley flanked by two hills along the banks of the Rio Tejo. In that valley, the neighborhood called Baixa (BYE-shah) stretches from the main squares—Rossio (roh-SEE-oo) and Praça da Figueira (PRAH-sah dah fee-GAY-rah)—to the waterfront. The Baixa is a flat, pleasant shopping area of grid-patterned streets. As Lisbon’s main crossroads and transportation hub, touristy Baixa has lots of hotels, venerable cafés and pastry shops, and kitschy souvenir stands.

Alfama: The hill to the east of the Baixa is the Alfama (al-FAH-mah), a colorful tangle of medieval streets, topped by São Jorge Castle. The lower slopes of the Alfama are a spilled spaghetti of old sailors’ homes.

Mouraria: The old Muslim Quarter and the birthplace of fado, this district (next to the Alfama, between the castle and Praça Martim Moniz) is now the center of Lisbon’s international community and emerging as a fun and trendy place to explore.

Bairro Alto (High Town): The hill to the west of the Baixa is capped by the Bairro Alto (BYE-roh AHL-too), with a tight grid of steep, narrow, and characteristic lanes. Downhill toward the Baixa, the Bairro Alto fades into the trendy and inviting Chiado (shee-AH-doo), with linger-a-while squares, upmarket restaurants, and high-fashion stores.

Modern Lisbon: From the historic core, the modern city stretches north (sloping uphill) along wide Avenida da Liberdade and beyond (way beyond), where you find Edward VII Park, the Gulbenkian Museum, breezy botanical gardens, the bullring, and the airport.

Away from the Center: Along the riverfront are several worthwhile areas. Three miles west of the center is the suburb of Belém (beh-LAYNG), home to much of Lisbon’s best sightseeing, with several Age of Discovery sights (particularly the Monastery of Jerónimos)—and you can visit the Museum of Ancient Art along the way. Five miles north of the center is Parque das Nações, site of the Expo ’98 world’s fair and now a modern shopping complex and riverfront promenade (the National Tile Museum is about halfway there). And across the Rio Tejo, Cacilhas (kah-SEE-lahsh) is a tiny and characteristic little port that few tourists visit (an easy ferry ride from the center; from there you can bus or taxi to the towering Cristo Rei statue).


Lisbon has several tourist offices—all branded “ask me Lisboa”—and additional information kiosks sprout around town during the busy summer months (www.visitlisboa.com). The main city TIs have the same hours (daily 10:00-20:00) and are located on Praça dos Restauradores at Palácio Foz (+351 213 463 314; national TI in same office) and on Praça do Comércio (two locations; +351 210 312 810). Another TI is at the airport (daily 7:00-24:00, +351 218 450 660).

Smaller TI kiosks—which can be less busy than the main TIs listed above—are at the bottom of Rossio; across the street from the monastery in Belém; at Parque das Nações, at the riverfront side of the Vasco da Gama mall; and inside Santa Apolónia train station (end of track 3). At any TI, you can buy a LisboaCard (see next) and pick up the free city map and information-packed Follow Me Lisboa booklet (monthly, cultural and museum listings—also available at www.visitlisboa.com, “Publications” tab).

LisboaCard: This card covers all public transportation (including trains to Sintra and Cascais) and free entry to many museums (including the Museum of Ancient Art, National Tile Museum, National Coach Museum, Monastery of Jerónimos, and Belém Tower). It also provides discounts on river cruises, my two recommended city tours, and many museums (including sights at Sintra). You can buy the card at Lisbon’s TIs (including the airport TI), but not at participating sights. If you plan to museum-hop, the card is a good value, particularly for a day in Belém, though it does not allow you to skip lines at busy monuments (like those in Belém). The card is unnecessary if you’re a student or senior, for whom most sights are free or half-price. Carry the LisboaCard booklet with you—some discounts require coupons contained inside (€21/24 hours, €35/48 hours, €44/72 hours, kids 5-11 nearly half-price, includes excellent explanatory guidebook, www.visitlisboa.com). Remember that many sights are closed on Monday—it’s best to buy the card when you can use it for consecutive days.


For complete information on arriving at or departing from Lisbon by plane, train, bus, car, or cruise ship, see “Lisbon Connections” at the end of this chapter.


Free Days and Monday Closures: The Gulbenkian Museum is free every Sunday after 14:00 (and one of the few museums open on Monday). Many major sights are closed on Monday, including Lisbon’s Museum of Ancient Art, National Tile Museum, and Fado Museum, as well as Belém’s Monastery of Jerónimos, Coach Museum, and Belém Tower.

Theft Alert: Lisbon has piles of people doing illegal business on the street. Enjoy the sightseeing, but wear your money belt and keep your pack zipped up. Pickpockets target tourists at popular sights and on trolleys, elevators, and funiculars. Some thieves pose as tourists by wearing cameras and toting maps. Be on guard whenever you’re in a crush of people or jostled as you enter or leave a tram or bus. Beggars are often pickpockets. Teams of pickpockets create confusion and congestion.

Violence is very rare, and you’ll see lots of police stationed throughout town. While the city is generally safe, if you’re looking for trouble—especially after dark—you may find it.

Market Days: Tuesdays and Saturdays are flea- and food-market days in the Alfama’s Campo de Santa Clara. On Sundays, the LX Factory zone, in the shadow of the 25th of April Bridge, hosts a lively farmers market (9:30-16:00; for location, see the “Lisbon Overview” map, earlier).

Pedestrian Warnings: Lisbon’s unique black-and-white patterned tile pavement, while picturesque, can be very slippery. And trams can be quiet and sneak up on you if you’re not paying attention. Even some of the tuk-tuks are “eco” (electric) and can zip up behind you silently.

Laundry: Centrally located 5àSec Lavandaria can usually provide same-day service if you drop off early (Mon-Fri 8:00-20:00, Sat 9:00-13:00, closed Sun, next to the bottom level of the Armazéns do Chiado mall and lower entry to the Baixa-Chiado Metro stop at Rua do Crucifixo 99, +351 213 479 599). WashStation Baixa-Castelo is a small self-service launderette just up from Praça da Figueira (daily 8:00-22:00, Rua da Madalena 231, +351 919 772 701). For locations, see the “Lisbon Center Hotels” map on here.

Ticket Kiosk: The green ABEP kiosk at the bottom end of Praça dos Restauradores is a handy spot to buy a city transit pass, LisboaCard, and tickets to bullfights, soccer games, concerts, and other events (daily 9:00-20:00).

By Public Transit

Lisbon is easy—even fun—to navigate by Metro, funicular, trolley, and bus. And one transit card covers them all.


If you have a LisboaCard (see “Tourist Information,” earlier), you can use it to ride Lisbon’s public transit. Otherwise, buy a Viva Viagem card, which works on the Metro, funiculars, trolleys, buses, Santa Justa elevator, ferry to Cacilhas, and some short-distance trains (on some transit you can buy tickets from the driver, but that’s more expensive). For transit information, see www.carris.pt.

Viva Viagem Card: Transit tickets are issued on the scannable, reloadable Viva Viagem card (€0.50 for the card itself, not shareable—each rider needs one). You can buy or reload the card at ticket windows or machines in Metro stations (touch “without a reusable card” for first-time users, or “with a reusable card” to top up; bright yellow machines accept only credit cards). Keep your Viva Viagem card handy—you’ll need to place it on the magnetic pad when entering and leaving the system.

You can use the Viva Viagem in three ways:

A single-ride ticket costs €1.50 (good for one hour of travel within Zone 1). But if you’re taking even a few rides, “zapping” is a much better deal (see later).

A 24-hour pass costs €6.45 (this version does not cover trains). If taking five or more rides in a day, this is the best deal. If you’re side-tripping to Sintra or Cascais, consider the €10.70 version, which includes trains to those towns (but not the bus at Sintra). Skip the €9.60 version of the 24-hour pass, which adds the ferry to Cacilhas (it’s cheaper to buy that separately).

“Zapping” lets you preload the card with anywhere from €3 to €40 and lowers the per-ride cost to €1.35 for all forms of transit. Figure out how much you’ll need and load it up (estimate conservatively—you can always top up later, but leftover credit is nonrefundable). Unlike the 24-hour pass, zapping can be used for trains to Sintra and Cascais.

Without Viva Viagem: Although it’s possible to pay the driver as you board buses (€2), trolleys (€3—more than double the Viva Viagem price), funiculars (€3.80 for two trips), and the Santa Justa elevator (€5.30), only suckers do that. It’s much cheaper if you get comfortable zapping with Viva Viagem.


Lisbon’s simple, fast, and color-coded subway system is a delight to use (runs daily 6:30-1:00 in the morning). Though it’s not necessary for getting around the historic downtown, the Metro is handy for trips to or from Rossio (M: Rossio or Restauradores), Praça do Comércio (M: Terreiro do Paço), the Gulbenkian Museum (M: São Sebastião), the Chiado neighborhood (M: Baixa-Chiado), Parque das Nações and the Oriente train station (both at M: Oriente), Sete Rios bus and train stations (M: Jardim Zoológico), and the airport (M: Aeroporto). Metro stops are marked aboveground with a red “M.” Saída means “exit.” You can find a Metro map at any Metro stop, on most city maps, and at www.metrolisboa.pt.

Sightseeing by Metro: To make your sightseeing commutes quicker and easier, link sights on the same Metro line. For example, Praça do Comércio, Rossio, and the Gulbenkian Museum can be laced together by Metro faster than via taxi. You can even sightsee as you travel: All Metro stations have wonderful, museum-worthy tile panels. The blue line between Parque and Colégio Militar/Luz has some of the best art; with a 24-hour transit pass, you can hop on and off and explore as many stations as you like.

Buses and Trolleys

Buses and trolleys usually share the same stops and routes. Signs for bus stops list the bus number, while signs for trolley stops include an E (for elétrico) before or after the route number. Though Lisbon’s buses are fine, for fun and practical public transportation, ride the trolleys (and funiculars—see later).

Like San Francisco, Lisbon sees its classic trolleys as part of its heritage, and has kept a few in use: Trolleys #12E (circling the Alfama), #18E (to Ajuda, north of Belém), #24E (to Campolide), #25E (to Campo de Ourique), and #28E (a scenic ride across the old town) use vintage cars; #15E (to Belém) uses a modern, air-conditioned version. Make sure you have a ticket or pass and that you validate your Viva Viagem card as you enter...or risk a big fine on the spot. Trolleys rattle by every 10 minutes or so (every 15-20 minutes after 19:00) and run until about 23:00. Most pickpocketing in Lisbon takes place on trolleys, so enjoy the ride, but keep an eye on your belongings.

While lines #28E and #12E seem made-to-order for tourist use, they are often unbearably crowded. If you can deal with the often-overwhelming crowds (see the tips, next), these trolleys can work as hop-on, hop-off do-it-yourself tours. For a stop-by-stop rundown, see “Touring Lisbon by Trolley” in the next section.

Crowd-Beating Tips: Lisbon’s trolleys are an absolute joy...if you’re sitting down and looking out the window with the wind in your face. But if you have to stand, you won’t be able to see out the (low) windows, and you’ll spend the jostling ride trying to steady yourself. At peak times, hordes of tourists wait at trolley stops (particularly at starting points) and pickpockets abound. To enjoy a trolley with fewer crowd frustrations, consider these strategies:

1. Rather than being determined to take a particular trolley at a particular time, keep an eye on trolleys as they roll by. If an empty trolley pulls up, hop on and take advantage of the open space.

2. Consider waking early and making a trolley ride your first experience of the day. Trolleys “open” before any museums, so if you arrive in the early morning you can beat the tourist crush, get a seat, and see the city wake up. Late departures (after dinner) also have fewer crowds.

3. Ride line #24E, which runs a less-touristy route and can be less crowded.

4. Take a private trolley tour (see “Tours in Lisbon,” later).

5. If you’ll be going to Porto, wait to enjoy a vintage trolley there: Porto’s trolleys are just as memorable as Lisbon’s and have fewer crowds.


Lisbon’s funiculars include the Elevador da Glória (linking Avenida da Liberdade to the Bairro Alto) and the Elevador da Bica (rising from Rua de São Paulo, near the river, to the Bairro Alto). Funiculars depart about every 10 minutes.

By Taxi or Uber

Lisbon is a great taxi town. Especially if you’re with a companion, Lisbon’s cabs are a cheap time-saver; groups of three or four should taxi everywhere. Rides start at under €4, and you can go anywhere in the center for around €6. Window decals clearly spell out all charges in English. Be sure your driver turns on the meter; it should start at €3.25 and be set to Tarifa 1 (Mon-Fri 6:00-21:00, including the airport) or Tarifa 2 (€3.90, a little more per kilometer; for nights, weekends, and holidays). More than one piece of luggage can be charged at €1.60 each. If the meter reads Tarifa 3, 4, or 5, simply ask the cabbie to change it, unless you’re going to Belém, which is considered outside the city limits.

Cabs are generally easy to hail on the street (green light means available, lit number on the roof indicates it’s taken). If you’re having a hard time flagging one down, it’s likely because you’re standing near but not quite at a taxi stand. Ask a passerby for the location of the nearest taxi stand: praça de taxi (PRAH-sah duh taxi). They’re all over the town center.

Lisbon is also an excellent Uber town. The ride-sharing app works here just like back home; it’s at least as affordable as a taxi (often cheaper, except during “surge” pricing); and the drivers and their cars are generally of great quality. If you’ve never tried Uber abroad, do it here. Sit in front and talk!

Tours in Lisbon

▲▲Touring Lisbon by Trolley

Lisbon’s trolleys—many of them vintage models from the 1920s—shake and shiver through the old parts of town, somehow safely weaving within inches of parked cars, climbing steep hills, and offering sightseers breezy views (rubberneck out the window and you die). You can use the following trolley lines as an inexpensive way to tour the city. As you board, swipe your Viva Viagem card or pay the driver, and take a seat (zapping tickets are good for an hour, and a 24-hour pass comes with unlimited hopping on and off).

Be aware that lines #28E and #12E are often jam-packed with tourists. Trolley #24E runs away from the central tourist zone and can be less crowded. For tips on riding the trolley, including avoiding crowds, see “Getting Around Lisbon,” earlier.

Trolley #28E

Trolley #28E is a San Francisco-style Lisbon joyride (runs about 5:45-23:30; after 21:15, service is limited to stops between Estrela and Graça). The following are notable stops from west to east:

Campo Ourique: The Prazeres Cemetery, at the western terminus of route #28E, is a vast parklike necropolis with good bridge views, dense with the mausoleums of leading Lisbon families and historic figures dating back to the 19th century (daily 9:00-17:00).

Igreja Sto. Condestável: The first stop after the cemetery is next to an angular modern church. Hiding just behind the church is the Mercado de Campo de Ourique, a 19th-century iron-and-glass market that’s now a trendy food circus (see here).

Estrela: Two stops later, the trolley pulls up in front of another large church (on the right). The 18th-century, late-Baroque Estrela Basilica has stairs winding up to the roof for a view both out and down into the church (€4, daily 10:00-18:00). Across the street is the gate into Estrela Park, a cozy neighborhood scene with exotic plants, a pond-side café, and a playground.

Assembleia da República: At the next stop, you’ll see a garden poking up on the left behind a high wall (which hides the prime minister’s residence). Next up is the huge, stately Assembly of the Republic building—home to Portugal’s parliament. Soon after, the trolley enters a relatively narrow street at the edge of the Bairro Alto.


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On Sale
Apr 11, 2023
Page Count
184 pages
Rick Steves

Rick Steves

About the Author

Since 1973, Rick Steves has spent about four months a year exploring Europe. His mission: to empower Americans to have European trips that are fun, affordable, and culturally broadening. Rick produces a best-selling guidebook series, a public television series, and a public radio show, and organizes small-group tours that take over 30,000 travelers to Europe annually.  He does all of this with the help of more than 100 well-traveled staff members at Rick Steves’ Europe in Edmonds, WA (near Seattle). When not on the road, Rick is active in his church and with advocacy groups focused on economic and social justice, drug policy reform, and ending hunger. To recharge, Rick plays piano, relaxes at his family cabin in the Cascade Mountains, and spends time with his son Andy and daughter Jackie. Find out more about Rick at http://www.ricksteves.com and on Facebook.

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