Updated: 4/18/22 | April 18th, 2022
When I first went to Lisbon in 2012, I immediately fell in love with it. Hilly, colorful, beautiful, and full of wonderful food – it was everything I wanted. And the fact that it was very inexpensive didn’t hurt either.
Pre-COVID, Lisbon’s secret got out. Tourists flocked here in droves, and it became a magnet for digital nomads. While the crowds are greater and the prices are higher than before, Lisbon’s charm hasn’t been fully lost. The food scene is still excellent (and underrated if you ask me). The bars are lively. And the street scene is always intoxicatingly fun.
Plus, compared to other capitals in Europe, Lisbon is still a bargain.
The city’s 11 neighborhoods all have their own unique characteristics, providing visitors with a wide variety of locales to choose from. From achingly charming Alfama to the always swinging Bairro Alto, there’s something for everyone.
But before we dive in, here are some of the most common questions I get about Lisbon:
What’s the best neighborhood for budget travelers?
Baixa and Rossio are home to many of the city’s hostels, making it a good hub for budget travelers.
What’s the best neighborhood for families?
Modern, somewhat futuristic-looking Parque das Nações is loaded with family-oriented attractions, including the Oceanarium, Europe’s largest indoor aquarium.
What’s the best neighborhood for partying?
Crammed with tiny bars and restaurants, Bairro Alto is the place to go at night in Lisbon.
What is the best neighborhood, overall?
Alfama is a fun place to hang out for a while. It’s old (it survived the big earthquake of 1755) so it still has a timeworn atmosphere. And it’s the best place to pop into a bar to catch a fado concert.
So, with those questions answered, here’s a breakdown of seven neighborhoods with suggested accommodations for each:
Where to Stay for History: Mouraria
Located beneath the walls of São Jorge (St. George) Castle, this hilly medieval district — one of the oldest neighborhoods in Lisbon, along with nearby Alfama — actually means “Moorish Quarter,” because it was once where the Moors resided centuries ago.
Today it has a large Asian population, who go about their daily lives in a neighborhood that oozes with charm and history: its winding cobblestone streets are flanked by medieval buildings. And one of its main historical reputations is that it is the birthplace of fado, a singular Portuguese genre of music that can best described as mesmeric and melancholy.
Best Places to Stay in Mouraria:
- BUDGET: This Is Lisbon Hostel – A great name for a hostel in case you’ve forgotten which city you are in. It has gender-separated rooms, free Wi-Fi, and great views of Lisbon, especially from the terrace.
- MIDRANGE: Madalena – Whether you have a street- or courtyard-facing view at this boutique hotel, it’s going to be a pleasure for the eye. Some of the spacious rooms have balconies; all come with minibars, air conditioning, bathrobes, and in-room coffee and tea. The hotel refers to itself as a “beautique hotel” — but don’t let that turn you off.
- LUXURY: Portugal Boutique Hotel – This sleek boutique hotel has 52 blue-and-white rooms and suites; all come with a pillow menu (where you choose the firmness of your pillow), double-paned windows (for peace and quiet at night), an in-room safe, and free Wi-Fi. There’s also 24-hour room service in case you get the munchies in the middle of the night. During non-nighttime hours, check out the in-house tapas bar or the wine cellar.
Where to Stay for Families: Parque das Nações
There wasn’t much to see here about three decades ago. Then the city deemed this eastern swath the home of Expo ’98, otherwise known as the World’s Fair, and the area was transformed into a modern, somewhat futuristic park. If you’re into contemporary architecture, this is the place for you. If you’re a traveling family, this is also the place for you. The area includes cable cars, Europe’s biggest aquarium, a waterfront promenade (with lots of great public art), and an interactive science museum. It’s also very quiet here.
The Best Places to Stay in Parque das Nações
- BUDGET: Oriente DNA Studios – Affordable, clean, and comfortable, Oriente’s rooms are also pretty basic. Unique perks, though, include a barbecue area. So BYOM (bring your own meat) and start cooking.
- MIDRANGE: VIP Executive Arts Hotel – If you like your hotels crammed with contemporary art, this is your home in Lisbon. Also, for non-biz travelers, don’t be put off by the “VIP” and “Executive” in the title, either: the comfortable rooms and suites are great for small families, and all rooms have lovely views of the river and/or park.
- LUXURY: Myriad – This five-star hotel began life as a lookout tower. But Vasco de Gama Tower now doubles as a luxury hotel. And what a nice one it is! All rooms have incredible views, with in-room espresso machines, plush bathrobes, and bathtubs with massage jets. The hotel also offers babysitting services.
Where to Stay for Partying: Bairro Alto
Literally meaning High or Upper Neighborhood, Bairro Alto oozes with tranquil Portuguese charm. Once the sun goes down, though, the party starts — especially on Friday and Saturday nights, when there are street parties galore. Tiny bars spill out onto the sidewalks, candle-lit eateries serve up local staples, and people everywhere are just in party mode.
During the day, come for the outstanding viewpoints and the awe-inducing Baroque churches. At night, come to wander the narrow 16th-century streets and do a street-party crawl. But don’t wear out the soles of your shoes — jump on the classic funicular (cable car, one of several the city is known for) up or down the hill.
The Best Places to Stay in Bairro Alto
- BUDGET: Lookout Lisbon! Hostel – This fun and social hostel has a ton of organized activities each week — and even free sangria! There’s also a free breakfast buffet. It’s a five-minute walk from Bairro Alto’s bars, vintage markets, supermarkets, and numerous restaurants.
- MIDRANGE: A Casa das Janelas com Vista – Translated as a “House of Windows with a View,” the name of this B&B doesn’t lie. There are windows and there are views. There are also comfortable rooms for resting when your cobblestone-weary feet need a break. They are on the smaller side but come with all the perks you like: free Wi-Fi, air conditioning, and clean en suite bathrooms. Also, the breakfast is bountiful.
- LUXURY: Bairro Alto Hotel – The name of this posh property may seem generic, but there’s nothing commonplace about it. Located just across the borderline in Chiado and housed in an 18th-century building, the elegant and spacious rooms are nice enough that you’ll want to chill out in bed longer than usual. The rooftop is home to one of the coolest hotel bars in town.
Where to Stay for Charm: Alfama
Some of Europe’s most charming neighborhoods include Trastevere in Rome, Mala Strana in Prague, and Montmartre in Paris. Add Alfama to that list. It’s achingly charming, especially when you add in some fado — Portugal’s heartbreaking, melancholic genre of music that you can hear everywhere in Alfama.
The neighborhood was one of the few districts that survived the infamous 1755 earthquake. So, stroll its narrow, hilly streets and get a sense of what pre-quake Lisbon was like. It’s also home to São Jorge Castle, Lisbon Cathedral, and the decorative tile-loaded São Vicente de Fora Monastery.
The Best Places to Stay in Alfama
- BUDGET: Largo da Sé Guest House – Largo da Sé boasts rooms with river views; some have lofts. All have free Wi-Fi, air conditioning, flat-screen TVs, and soundproof windows. The terrace café is a nice place to take in the view while snacking on some cured Iberian pork.
- MIDRANGE: São Vicente Alfama – Situated right on the edge of the neighborhood, this smart and chic property has 22 dark-hued rooms with USB ports, wireless phone chargers, coffee makers, and Bluetooth-integrated sound systems.
- LUXURY: Santiago de Alfama – Housed in a 15th-century palace, the 14 rooms and 5 suites are bigger than your average hotel room. Some have incredible views; all are bedecked with typical (and beautiful) Portuguese tiles.
Where to Stay for Foodies: Cais do Sodré
Translated as “Sodré’s Wharf,” this micro-neighborhood is dominated by the city’s main food market, Mercado da Ribeira, which today is also known as the Time Out Market. It’s a collection of stalls from some of Lisbon’s best restaurants and food purveyors and the place to go for food-loving travelers. The streets surrounding the market are flanked by various bars and restaurants, and street parties break out here seemingly 24/7.
At night, don’t miss Pink Street, a pink-painted pedestrian street teeming with fun-loving people every night of the week.
The Best Places to Stay in Cais do Sodré
- BUDGET: Lost Inn Lisbon Hostel – Despite the name, this hostel won’t inspire you to get lost in Lisbon (unless you want to). Located at the edge of Cais do Sodré, the hostel has private rooms and female-only dorm rooms. Some rooms have balconies too.
- MIDRANGE: LX Boutique Hotel– Bedecked in light pastels, the rooms of LX are cozy and quiet, with all the amenities you’d hope for. The in-house restaurant, Confraria, serves up incredible sushi, sometimes with a Portuguese twist.
- LUXURY: Corpo Santo Hotel – This 75-room spot set in a Pombaline-era building (a Portuguese architectural style of the 18th century) is a chic place to lay your head. Each room is different from the next, but all are decked out in some way to evoke Portuguese history, be it colorful tiles or art depicting a famous scene in the country’s past. Breakfast is included.
Where to Stay for Museum Lovers: Belém
This is the river meets history, where Vasco de Gama and Christopher Columbus embarked and disembarked. It’s where Portugal’s one-time powerful empire set sail for the rest of the world. Today Belém is an aesthetically pleasing part of town that is also crammed with great museums. Be sure to check out the Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology (MAAT), the Berardo Collection, the Folk Art Museum, the National Archeology Museum, and the Maritime Museum, not to mention the Jerónimos Monastery.
Also, next to the monastery is Pastéis de Belém, one of the best/busiest places in the city to get the famous pastéis de nata (egg custard tart).
Best Places to Stay in Belém:
- BUDGET: Terrace Lisbon Hostel – With free Wi-Fi, private rooms and dorms, a well-equipped kitchen, and a shared lounge and garden, this laid-back hostel is perfect for travelers of all stripes.
- MIDRANGE: Hotel Jerónimos 8 – Rooms here are fairly standard but nice enough that you’ll feel right at home however long you stay here. There’s a lovely sundeck atop the hotel as well.
- LUXURY: Altis Belém – Hugging the river, Atlis is a luxurious base for those who want to plant themselves in Belém for a while. The 50 unique rooms have soundproof windows, blackout shades, Egyptian cotton linens, and down feather duvets; some also have balconies. The in-house restaurant, Feitoria, is a Michelin-starred spot serving elevated takes on Portuguese cuisine.
Where to Stay for Shopping: Avenida da Liberdade
It’s not officially a neighborhood, but this long avenue has its very own vibe. Need some designer shoes? A designer handbag? A designer anything? This is the area to shop ’til you drop. The long and wide Champs-Élysées-like street is also a lovely place to stroll. And it’s all very parklike. While the verdant Avenida is bustling at times because of the traffic, it can be very tranquil too.
Where to Stay on Avenida da Liberdade:
- BUDGET: Goodmorning Lisbon Hostel – This hostel is right across from busy Restauradores Square and offers everything you need: comfy beds, spacious and clean rooms, free breakfast, a nice staff, and organized activities and walking tours. There’s also a “Power Hour” (i.e., happy hour) each night.
- MIDRANGE: Alegria A – Hardwood floors, smooth and comfortable bed linens, cozy bathrobes, and fast Wi-Fi make the rooms at this boutique hotel, just a couple of blocks to the west of the Avenida, a pleasant place to stay.
- LUXURY: Hotel Tivoli Avenida da Liberdade – Expect all the perks that come with a luxury hotel like this. The Tivoli also has an impressive in-house eatery, SEEN, and an even more impressive chic rooftop bar with — naturally — outstanding views.
Where to Stay for Budget Travelers: Baixa and Rossio
These two neighborhoods make up much of the city’s main tourist core. Lined with pedestrian streets, there is a lot of Neoclassical architecture here, built after the massive earthquake in 1755. There are tons of eateries, as well as tacky souvenir shops to browse around the district, and the popular Museum of Contemporary Art can also be found here. Be sure to spend some time strolling around the popular Commerce Square.
- BUDGET: Goodnight Lisbon – Not related to the above Good Morning Hostel, this downtown hostel offers free sangria and organizes nights out, as well as a number of walking tours through Alfama, Bairro Alto, and Baixa-Chiado. It’s my favorite hostel in the city.
- MIDRANGE: Brown’s Downtown Hotel – This is a trendy hotel, complete with iMac computers in each room as well as free Wi-Fi. You can’t beat the convenient downtown location either!
- LUXURY: Hotel da Baixa – This luxury hotel boasts a colorful façade, as well as 4K TVs, Nespresso machines, and Bluetooth sound systems. There’s a tasty breakfast buffet offered too!
Lisbon is a fascinating and underrated metropolis. It gets much less attention than other Western European capitals, but I think it should be on everyone’s must-see list. And if you’ve already been, put it on your must-see-again list. It’s worth it.
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Book Your Trip to Lisbon: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Use Skyscanner or Momondo to find a cheap flight. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned. Start with Skyscanner first though because they have the biggest reach!
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the biggest inventory and best deals. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
Looking for the Best Companies to Save Money With?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use to save money when I’m on the road. They will save you money when you travel too.
Need a Guide?
Lisbon has some really interesting tours. My favorite company is Take Walks. They have expert guides and can get you behind the scenes at the city’s best attractions. Their Lisbon in a Day tour is a great way to see a lot if you’re on a tight budget!
Want More Information on Lisbon?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide to Lisbon for even more planning tips!