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Solo Traveler's Guide To Lisbon - Things To Do Alone


20 February 2020
Solo Traveler's Guide To Lisbon - Things To Do Alone

By Genta Kulari, an art and speech therapist who made the solo move to Portugal from Albania five years ago to complete her studies in Lisbon.Edited by Elodi Troskie

When I first moved to Lisbon, it didn’t take me long to fall in love with the beautiful capital of Portugal. Lisbon is colourful, inviting and culturally diverse, with a fascinating history and a lively arts and cultural scene, perhaps as a result. This is one of the safest and most affordable cities in Europe, making it one of the best destinations for solo travellers. When I first moved to Lisbon, it was a solo mission, but the city welcomes you with both arms wide open. Having come here by myself, I’ve got a few tips to share with anyone looking for a solo trip to Portugal. Here’s my solo travel guide to Lisbon along with a few suggestions for the best things to do in Lisbon alone.


Safety And Getting Around


One thing I will say is that it’s pretty easy to get lost in the city, especially if it’s your first time visiting Lisbon. As romantic as the many hills and winding narrow streets may be, they make it pretty difficult to find your way. There are so many incredible sites and experiences in Lisbon that you won’t find in your guidebook, so I highly recommend getting someone to show you around the city to give you that insider’s intel on all the most interesting spaces in the city. Luckily, the public transport makes it very convenient and easy to get around Lisbon. The metro covers most of the city and is well-connected with the trains. You can also make use of taxis, although the metro will cost you much less. The trams are quite popular among tourists, but they’re not quite as practical. Because they don’t reach the outer areas of the city and are usually so overcrowded during peak hours, I much rather recommend making use of the metro. In terms of safety, Lisbon is a dream. The biggest problem you might encounter is getting pickpocketed in the busy areas of the city centre, but even that is very rare. Safety is often one of the most important considerations for solo travellers when planning their next adventure, so in this regard, Lisbon is a great option!

When To Visit


The summer months of June, July and August have always been the most popular time for tourists to travel to Europe, and with good reason: the weather is amazing, social calendars are packed with music festivals, concerts and other cool events, and that carefree holiday feeling lingers wherever you go. If you plan to do a lot of sightseeing and enjoy being surrounded by fellow travellers, summer is definitely the best time to visit Lisbon. Most of the big events take place between June and early September, so there are tons of things to do in Lisbon during summer. But don’t take winter out of consideration completely. Portugal’s climate is significantly warmer than many other European countries, so Lisbon doesn’t have to change its ways entirely to adapt to the colder months. You’ll find that most of the social and cultural events are similar in summer and winter with the only difference that, in winter, everything takes places on a much smaller scale to accommodate indoor venues. A benefit of visiting Lisbon in winter is that you won’t encounter the massive crowds traveling here in summer, which is perfect if you’re looking for non-touristy things to do.

Where To Stay



Lisbon is built on seven hills, each offering a different view of the city. If you’re trying to decide where to stay in Lisbon, the go-to neighbourhoods are Baixa Chiado, Cais do Sodre and Rossio. These areas are generally quite touristy and consequently more expensive than residential neighbourhoods. If you don’t mind the high concentration of tourists, these are good options since you’ll be in the heart of the city, located within easy access from all the must-see attractions. I prefer the areas of Mouraria, Alfama and Alameda, because they’re not as well-known among tourists as the neighbourhoods in and surrounding the city centre. Mouraria is a historic neighbourhood with a strong presence of Asian communities, also considered one of the best areas for expats to stay in Lisbon. Alfama is another really interesting area to stay. This was the only neighbourhood that wasn’t destroyed in the big earthquake of 1755 so the historic architecture and ancient, narrow streets are well-preserved by the city. If you’re looking for a vibrant nightlife and immersing in the locals’ way of socializing, Alfama is the perfect fit for you.

What To Do At Night


Lisbon’s nightlife is largely centered around cultural events and celebrations. If you’re looking for the bar and club scene, rest assured that Lisbon won’t leave you high and dry. But with its international cuisine, multitude of art shows, live music and street performers, there’s so much more to nights in Lisbon than bar hopping! Chapitô is a really cool cultural space that forms part of the Chapitô circus school. There’s always something going on here, from poetry recitals and local musicians performing to art expos and dance classes. Another cool place to visit in Lisbon at night is Terreiro do Paço, also known as Praça do Comércio, a historic square with beautiful 18th century architecture that used to be a trade center many years ago. Nowadays this space is used for social events like music shows, theater performances and live-streamed sport events. The square is a must-visit, both for the picturesque views during the day and the can’t-miss cultural events at night.

Sightseeing


My favorite thing to do in Lisbon is exploring the different hills to find cool new spots to see the city from above. I find myself going back to the Graça district again and again. This neighborhood has a slow-paced, local feel to it - the kind of place where store owners befriend you and cafe waiters remember your regular order. Graça is popular among the younger crowd and is home to a wide variety of cool, new restaurants, alternative bars and cafes as well as a bunch of amazing street art. The viewpoints here are incredible. The Miradouro de Nossa Senhora do Monte viewpoint, the highest peak in Lisbon, offers a breath-taking panoramic view of the city. Another area I love walking around in is he ancient neighbourhood of Alfama. This district has a very interesting history and has evolved from the poorest region of the city to one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Lisbon. The narrow cobblestoned streets don’t accommodate cars, so the best (and only) way to explore this area is on foot. A cool place to visit around here is the Castelo de Sao Jorge, the ancient castle that has been declared a national monument where you can learn more about the history and heritage of Alfama.

Festivals


There are a couple of interesting cultural festivals that take place throughout the year, mostly during the summer. One of the biggest annual events in Lisbon is the St Anthony Festival, also known and better described as the Lisbon Sardine Festival. St Anthony’s legacy as the patron saint of matchmaking has earned him these massive celebrations taking place in his remembrance in June every year. Where do the sardines come in? There are a few stories floating around about how fish became such an integral part of this festival. Lisbon is an incredible place to be during the celebrations of the St Anthony Festival. You’ll find block parties all over the city, to which visitors are heartily invited to join in on, and a hotpot of other cool street-side activities like movie screenings, free dancing lessons and local performers. If you’re visiting Lisbon in summer, you’re guaranteed to have the one unforgettable experience after the other!

Shopping


As one of Europe’s most affordable destinations, opportunities for shopping in Lisbon are not to be missed out on! The city might not be the biggest on markets and street-style shopping, but even the high-end stores and luxury brands are lower priced here than in most other major European cities. Lisbon’s main shopping street is Rua Augusta, located right in the heart of the city. This picturesque cobblestoned street starts at the Praça do Comércio, which I mentioned earlier, and will take you all the way to Lisbon’s famous Arch of Augustus. You’ll find international fashion brands like Zara and H&M, as well as a variety of exclusive boutiques. If you want to shop for souvenirs to take home, you’ll find everything you need in Rua Augusta. For wine shopping, head to the Alfama neighbourhood, which is home to a bunch of really affordable wine and liquor stores. A great place to shop for fresh, locally sourced produce is at the Feira da Ladra, a flea market that sets up shop on the waterfront at the National Pantheon every Saturday and Sunday.

Beaches


Lisbon has a handful of really great beaches, all of which are particularly popular among surfers. The first is Carcavelos, a beautiful white sand beach easily accessible from the city centre by a short train ride. I’d say this is the most popular beach among tourists because it’s so close to the city, so it’s usually quite busy, especially over weekends in summer. Other cool beaches are Cascais, a little coastal town just outside of Lisbon, and Boca do Inferno, a rocky, cliffside shore that is sometimes referred to as the ‘mouth of hell’ because the waters are so deep. These two spots offer amazing views with their natural parks and hiking trails. Probably the best beach for surfing is the seaside resort of Nazaré, where you’ll find some of the biggest waves in all of Europe, so it’s not for beginners! You’ll have to drive about 90 minutes out of Lisbon to reach Nazaré, but you’ll be rewarded with an idyllic, tourist-free beach.

Weekend Trips


The best part about traveling by yourself is that you’re not dependant on anyone else; you can pack up your bags and move on to your next destination whenever you want! I strongly recommend branching out to the towns and smaller cities surrounding Lisbon. Two must-visit places outside of Lisbon’s city center are Sintra and Cabo da Roca. Sintra is a small resort town at the foot of the Sintra Mountains, less than an hour’s drive from Lisbon. My favourite thing about Sintra is its mystic atmosphere. The beautiful castle and old-worldly buildings will make you feel as though you’ve walked into a fairy tale! Cabo da Roca is the most western point of the European continent, making it a popular tourist destination. There aren’t any trains going directly to Cabo da Roca, but you can take a bus from Lisbon. The scenic trip will take just over an hour. You’ll be surrounded by beautiful landscapes all the way to the point at Cabo da Roca where the earth ends and the ocean begins - something absolutely incredible to see.