Edited by Elodi Troskie
Lisbon is uniquely built on seven hills that serve as natural landmarks separating the different parts of the city. This means that Lisbon’s neighborhoods are quite diverse, so some areas might be better suited for your needs depending on what is most important to you when looking for accommodation. Do you want to live in a historic and romantic but very touristy city center, or are you looking for a more local experience on the outskirts of the city? This guide will tell you all you need to know to decide where to stay in Lisbon! Here are my favorite neighborhoods in Lisbon.
Graça is one of Lisbon’s oldest neighborhoods is one of my personal favorite areas of the city. Graça is situated on top of the highest of Lisbon’s seven hills, offering an incredible view of the city. My favorite viewpoint in this district is the Miradouro de Santa Graça, from where you can see the entirity of central Lisbon as well as the picturesque Castelo de Sao Jorge. Graça is the perfect place to stay in Lisbon if you want to experience the best of Lisbon’s cultural scene. Its street art, off-beat live music gig venues, interesting restaurants and laid-back nightlife make this neighborhood especially popular among the younger crowd. This is also where Portugal’s famous fado music had its origin - the almost haunting music of a solo singer accompanied by a classical guitar that is so characteristic of bars in Portugal. If you’re looking for an unforgettable fado music experience, Graça should be the first stop on your list.
Alfama has a fascinating history as the only neighborhood that survived the massive earthquake of 1755. Alfama used to be the city’s poorest district, but over the past few decades it has grown to become one of the coolest, trendiest neighborhoods in Lisbon. The narrow cobblestone streets and historic buildings bring a magical, old-worldly feel to this area. Because the streets are so narrow, cars can’t really drive around here, so get ready for a lot of walking! Alfama is the best neighborhood to stay in Lisbon if you have an appreciation for the history and heritage of Portugal, but you’re also looking for a lively nightlife. During the summer, there’s always some street party or celebration happening here. The locals are a friendly bunch and are really inviting towards foreigners visiting Lisbon, so it’s easy to make friends and get a feel of local life. A must-visit attraction in this area is the medieval castle, Castelo de Sao Jorge. The castle dates back as far as the eight century and has been declared a national monument in Portugal. Not only will the castle make the coolest Instagram pictures of your entire trip, but your view of Lisbon from up there will leave you breathless.
Baixa, located right in the heart of Lisbon, is the city’s most central neighborhood. As can be expected of the city center, this area is very touristic, which might not appeal to travelers who want to explore Lisbon off the beaten path. But if you’re looking for a variety of leisure activities and good places to shop, Baixa will be the perfect fit for you. If you stay in this part of Lisbon, you’ll be within easy access from all the city’s major transport hubs, making it very convenient to get to and from the airport or to take a weekend trip to one of the smaller coastal towns in the surrounding area. After the earthquake that destroyed most of Lisbon in the 18th century wreaked its havoc in the city center, the district was entirely rebuilt. Although Baixa is packed with modern restaurants, chain stores and international fashion brands, the artistic, colorful yet antique atmosphere so typical of Portugal hasn’t been driven away by the new developments. A must-visit place in Baixa is Praça do Comércio, a historic square used to be a trade center but is now used for music concerts, theater performances and other cultural events. This is one of my favorite places in Lisbon! The main shopping street, Rua Augusta, is just down the block from Praça do Comércio.
Mouraria has an interesting history as a port town that served as the city’s connection to Brazil and Northern Africa. What I love most about this neighborhood is that it’s still relatively undiscovered by tourists. The residents around here are mostly locals along with a handful of long-term ex-pats. Mouraria is a popular area for ex-pats to stay in Lisbon because of the strong presence of international communities, particularly Chinese, Pakistani, and Turkish. This is also the best place to stay in Lisbon for all the self-proclaimed foodies out there! The international cuisine in Mouraria is something you can’t miss out on. The culinary influences from Asia and North Africa will have you drooling all day long. Mouraria beautifully portrays Lisbon in its most natural state with the warmth of the local community and the postcard-worthy scenes of historic streets, colorful tiles, street art, and quirky eateries.
The Alameda district is centered around the Alameda station on the green and red lines of the Lisbon Metro. The neighborhood itself is home to many Portuguese university students, who prefer this area because it’s so quiet and peaceful yet doesn’t lack in nightlife activities. Alameda has a handful of gardens and public parks that make for the perfect study break spots, especially during summer and spring. I suggest staying in this neighborhood if you’re looking for an alternative, laid-back Lisbon experience. The hub of trendy, artistically-appealing bars and restaurants make it easy to befriend locals, which is a great way to be let in on all of Lisbon’s hidden gems! Expect to meet a lot of hipsters and quirky artists, and prepare for vintage shopping, street performers and even impromptu tattoos. If you want to see the creative, youthful side of Lisbon in all its glory, you’ll love Alameda.
Sintra is a small resort town about an hour’s drive from Lisbon’s city center. Although it’s not inside the city itself, I want to include it in this guide because I think it’s a must-visit destination when you’re visiting Lisbon. Located at the foot of the Sintra Mountains, this scenic town is one of the most beautiful places in the world. With its exotic gardens, dark evergreen forests and historic castles, Sintra is Portugal’s fairy tale village. The town center has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and draws massive groups of tourists every year. Sintra is home to Palácio Nacional de Sintra, an iconic Moorish-style palace with arabesque courtyards and 15th century hand-painted tiled walls. Another must-visit site in Sintra is the monastery, Convento dos Capuchos, hidden away in the woods on the outskirts of the town. This building dates to the 1560’s when it used to house a number of friars. I strongly recommend visiting Sintra, even if it’s just for a weekend escape from the city. It’s easy to get from Lisbon to Sintra. There are trains leaving from Lisbon’s Rossio station every half an hour, and a round-trip ticket will only cost a few Euros.
Cabo da Roca
This is another place that’s not located in the city itself but can be reached so easily by public transport that it deserves a spot on the list of Lisbon’s best neighborhoods. Cabo da Roca is the most western point on the European continent, so it’s quite a special place to visit. The trains from Lisbon don’t directly go to Cabo da Roca, so unless you rent a car, I recommend taking the bus. The journey by bus will take about an hour, just a little longer than going to Sintra. As a bonus, the ride to Cabo da Roca is beautiful - you’ll be staring out the window for the entire trip! Once you get there, you’ll immediately be greeted by the breath-taking view of the ocean. Standing at this point where the earth stops and the only thing you see is water is a feeling I can’t describe. You can even get a certificate to show your friends and family back home that you made it all the way to the edge of the continent - a really cool way to remember this experience.
One of the best things about staying in Lisbon is how close you are to the amazing beaches surrounding the city. The most popular beach is Carcavelos, an idyllic stretch of white sand just a few minutes from the city center. Beautiful as it may be, this beach is usually quite busy because it’s so popular among tourists. So, if you want to stay in a beachy area that won’t be as busy, I suggest Cascais, a small coastal village just outside the city. This atmospheric beach town will transport you onto the set of a European rom com - another must-visit destination for weekend getaways from Lisbon. Cascais is known for its rocky waters and merges with the cliffside beach, Boca do Inferno. This spot is also known as Portugal’s ‘mouth of hell’ because the 90 degrees cliff plummets right into the deep waters below. It may sound a bit scary, but it’s one of the most beautiful natural sites in Portugal, and is especially popular among surfers looking for big, challenging waves. Apart from the swimming and surfing opportunities, there are a few really incredible hiking trails - must-do if you’re looking for cool outdoor activities around Lisbon.
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