Where to Stay in Lisbon

Michael Catford | May 2, 2019  in

A Local’s Guide to the Best Places to Stay in Lisbon

Despite being one of the oldest cities in the world (predating London, Paris and even Rome), it’s only been in the last couple of decades that Lisbon has exploded as a tourist destination. Where once it was a somewhat sleepy city that largely kept to itself, it now draws in visitors from around the world, and boasts some of the finest boutiques and shared accommodation in all of Europe.

But as a large city with a lot to see and do, figuring out where to stay in Lisbon Portugal can be a tricky task. The best area to stay in Lisbon will depend on your unique situation – are you looking for the best place to stay in Lisbon as a tourist? The best area to stay in Lisbon with family? Or perhaps the best area to stay in Lisbon for couples?

Whether it’s your tenth or your first time in Lisbon, where to stay can be confusing. So to simplify your search, we’ve identified the 10 areas that offer visitors the very best of this gorgeous city.

Where to stay in Lisbon: the 10 best areas

So, which of Lisbon’s districts are best? We’ve broken our list of 10 areas into two categories:

  • The five best sightseeing areas: For an exciting, fun and adventurous stay.
  • The five best residential areas: For a quiet, relaxing and authentic stay.

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the five areas that offer the best fun, excitement and sights of the city, and the five areas that will allow you to experience Lisbon like a local.

The 5 Best Sightseeing Areas for a Lisbon Tourist to Stay

It is believed that Lisbon was first settled way back in 1200 BC, and the wealth of history is obvious when you walk the ancient streets. Magnificent buildings and important landmarks greet you at every turn, with cute cafés, restaurants, bars and shops often hidden behind the historic stone facades.

No matter what floats your boat, be it history, shopping, architecture, sport, nature or art, there’s something for everyone in this city. And if you’re in Lisbon to check out all it has to offer, the following districts are the best launching pads for days filled with fun and adventure. These are the best neighborhoods to stay in Lisbon for tourists.

1. Baixa

 - Photo by Christophe Schindler
Praça do Comércio – Photo by Christophe Schindler

Directly translating to ‘low place’, Baixa is Lisbon’s grand and historic city centre. After a devastating earthquake in 1755 the area was reconstructed, with disorderly streets changed into a perfect grid pattern, giving the area the elegant look it enjoys today. Architecture fans may notice the wood lattice on many of Baixa’s buildings – this is actually one of the world’s first anti-earthquake measures, which was tested by having soldiers march around scale models of the buildings before they were built.

Baixa is unsurprisingly the most popular destination for tourists, and along with some of the city’s most famous landmarks it also offers a terrific array of accommodation options, from 5-star hotels to some of the world’s best hostels. Prices are higher here than elsewhere, particularly over summer, but if you’re only in town for a short amount of time this is the best location to stay in Lisbon.

2. Chiado

Found nestled on a hill to the west of the city center, Chiado takes Baixa’s history and adds some serious culture. If you’re a museum, gallery or theater nut you need to look no further, with endless art exhibitions and historic buildings dotting the district. Between the National Museum of Contemporary Art, the National Theatre of São Carlos and Luís de Camões Square, culture vultures will be in heaven. This is also a heaven for shopaholics, with all manner of multinational brands and independent boutiques taking up residence on Chiado’s cobblestone streets.

Prices will be almost as high as Baixa, and there are far more boutique hotels than any other form of accommodation here, but if you’re more interested in culture and retail therapy than beautiful buildings Chiado makes for a wise choice.

3. Alfama

Sao Jorges Castle - Photo by Pedro Grão
Sao Jorges Castle – Photo by Pedro Grão

Lisbon’s oldest quarter, the district of Alfama, east of Baixa, is filled with steep streets that offer stunning views of the surrounding area, leading up to Sao Jorge Castle at the very top. Coffees and handcrafted knickknacks are sold out of cute little storefronts throughout the district, which is serviced by the famous tram 28. If you’ve got the leg strength, this is the perfect area to aimlessly wander about.

Between the gorgeous narrow streets, the stunning views and the wealth of landmarks, this is the best part of the city to stay in Lisbon for keen photographers. It is one of the few areas of the city to escape the 1755 earthquake largely unharmed, so architecture enthusiasts will also be treated to some exciting discoveries here. Don’t let Alfama’s reputation as a poor fisherman’s village fool you though; the tourist presence means tourist prices are charged here too.

4. Bairro Alto

Bairro Alto - Photo by Slovenčina
Bairro Alto – Photo by Slovenčina

Bairro Alto, literally ‘the upper quarter’, is Lisbon’s late night entertainment district. As the city’s bohemian and alternative quarter it boasts a wealth of boutiques, bars and restaurants, many of which are covered in street art. Quiet by day, the party starts as the sun goes down, and rarely finished before the sun comes up. In fact, at the peak of summer it will feel as though there is just one constant street party rolling over from day to day, week to week.

While perhaps not the best area to stay in Lisbon for families, Bairro Alto is ideal for young and solo travelers who are looking to check out the Portuguese party scene. The juxtaposition of centuries-old houses covered in graffiti also makes this a super interesting place to photograph. Because it’s not as touristy as some other parts of the city, Bairro Alto offers some excellent value accommodation, particularly in hostels.

5. Avenida da Liberdade

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A wide, palm-lined avenue that splits Lisbon in two, Avenida da Liberdade is home to the most prime of Lisbon real estate, and the finest Lisbon retail therapy. For shopaholics looking for what neighborhood to stay in, Lisbon’s version of the Champs Elysees is ideal. Behind the towering billboards and shiny stores, you’ll find imposing embassies and consulates, each one larger and more beautiful than the last. The mile-long street is also a short walk from Baixa and many of the city’s major attractions.

Being home to Lisbon’s most expensive real estate, don’t expect to find a particularly cheap bed on Avenida da Liberdade. But if you’re looking to splurge on your trip to Lisbon, there’s no place better!

The 5 Best Residential Areas for a Lisbon Tourist to Stay

For many travelers, visiting a new city isn’t just about seeing its sights. It’s instead a chance to learn about a different culture and to find out what day-to-day life is like for residents. If you’ve got a little bit of time to spend in Lisbon, why not spend it living like a local? There are many residential areas that remain perfectly positioned for exploration of the city, offering great insight into what the real Lisbon feels like, as well as a far more economical stay when compared to the more touristy spots.

The following five areas are close to the city center but remain largely residential, offering a quiet, relaxed and well-connected stay; perfect for an extended visit or a romantic getaway.

6. Graça

View from Miradouro da Graca - Photo by Nahália Segato
View from Miradouro da Graca – Photo by Nahália Segato

Where is the best area to stay in Lisbon for a truly local experience? Graça arguably claims the title. Found to the north of Alfama, this is residential Lisbon at its vibrant, friendly, gorgeous best, where locals watch the world go by out the front of the coffee shop, and neighbors share shouted conversations from doorways across the road. A relatively youthful area, here you’ll find bars and restaurants as cool as they are authentic. The street art scene is also gathering pace, which makes walking the district a delight.

Speaking of walking the streets, Graça is one of Lisbon’s highest points, so get ready for a leg workout. The low prices of the area have seen it transform into a student hot spot of late, and make accommodation here some of the cheapest in central Lisbon. Graça isn’t short of landmark sites either, most famously two of the city’s best lookouts – Miradouro da Nossa Senhora do Monte and Miradouro Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen.

7. Estrela

The district of Estrela is found on prime riverside land to the west of the city center. Peaceful and wealthy, this is a residential neighborhood for some of Lisbon’s most well-to-do residents and has been ever since nobility chose this as their home as the city expanded in the 1700s. Large townhouses and mansions dot the area, many of which serve as embassies and consulates. The highlight for visitors is the magnificent Basilica da Estrela, while the Estrela Gardens (Jardim da Estrela) next door are the perfect place to sit back and enjoy the magnificent views of the Portuguese capital, sitting at the very top of one of the city’s seven hills.

While this is a largely residential neighborhood, with stately homes come stately prices, so Estrela isn’t the best choice for backpackers. But if you’re wondering what area of Lisbon to stay in to see how the other half live, you can’t do any better than here.

8. Principe Real

Draped over one of the seven hills of Lisbon, Principe Real is found just past one of the city’s most famous viewpoints, the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara. And it’s perhaps because of this that the area has retained a distinctly local flavor, as most tourists reach the Miradouro then turn around to head back into town.

Despite being in the center of Portugal’s biggest city, Principe Real has an almost village feel to it. Expect smiles from shopfronts, bustling farmers markets, family picnics, and locals chatting over coffee. Its residents are a mix of old timers who have been there since the beginning and upper middle-class types who appreciate the perks of a strong community. Local life centers on Principe Real Park, with regular community events held around its famous cypress tree.  This is also one of the best places to stay in Lisbon Portugal for treasure hunters, as the antique, boutique and fashion shopping here is amongst the best in the city.

9. Belém

Belem Tower - Photo by Pixabay
Belem Tower – Photo by Pixabay

On the banks of the Tagus River a couple of miles to the west of the city center, Belém has the perfect balance of local and tourist vibes. Not many visitors choose to stay here, allowing the area to retain an authentic feel, but there are a wealth of sights, sounds and experiences for a tourist to enjoy. This is Lisbon’s museum quarter, featuring the Maritime Museum, Planetarium, Electricity Museum, Coach Museum and Archaeology Museum, to name just a handful. It’s also the site of the famous Belém Tower, a medieval monument that casts its shadow across the surrounding Tejo Estuary.

But once all the day visitors have gone, Belém turns into a quiet and charming place that begs to be explored. Originally the city’s main port, it has since been transformed into a fresh, tranquil and tree-lined suburb filled with parks and meeting places. Because of this, it is perhaps the best place to stay in Lisbon with family, particularly if you’re looking to holiday at a more leisurely pace.

10. Parque das Nações

Oceanarium - Fish tank - Photo by Nahália Segato
Oceanarium – Fish tank – Photo by Nahália Segato

Lisbon might be one of the oldest cities in the world, but that doesn’t mean that visitors can’t enjoy a more contemporary side to the capital, all shiny beauty and mod cons. The redeveloped Parque das Nações, found on the city’s northeast coast, offers exactly that. Having been reborn for the 1998 World’s Fair, the area has come to represent the modern Lisbon, an innovative, vibrant city with one eye on the future.

This isn’t the Lisbon shown on postcards. You’ll be struck by the modern architecture and plentiful green spaces designed for community use. The incredible Oceanarium makes for the perfect family day out, while the waterfront Camões Theatre puts on all manner of performances throughout the year. This is also the perfect place for a day trip around the Tejo Estuary, a favorite of European bird fans. Safe, vibrant and family friendly, Parque das Nações forgoes the city’s past, and focuses on its future.

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