A great city for those on a budget, Lisbon is also immensely popular, and for good reason. A small city, every corner has something to offer. There’s history most clearly in it’s castle, as well as in it’s old colonial grandeur, there’s modern nights out to be had, with live music well into the night to get you dancing and there’s delicious food on every street and the sea right on the doorstep.
At a glance rough budgets for a 3 day break, for flights, accommodation, food and sightseeing (based on cheapest flights available).
Mid Range: £230pp
High End: £440pp
So cheap it makes you feel a little guilty. Briefly. Return flights from London to Lisbon can come in as little as £50, substantially less than most train journeys in the UK. Popular times are of course more, but you’d be hard pressed to spend more than £150 getting here and back. Easyjet, Monarch, British Airways, TAP and Ryanair all fly here. Whilst the budget airlines are obviously cheaper, BA do some good priced flights if you want to be able to fit in your seat for the 3 hour flights.
There are some very cheap options in Lisbon if you’re happy to stay in a shared room in a hostel, from as little as £15 per person per night. However, you can also get a nice 3* hotel room for two for £50 per night, so if travelling as a pair, it’s definitely worth the upgrade. £130 per night, the price for a 3* hotel in most capital cities, will get you a 5* luxury experience.
Lisbon has all kinds of cheap eats. Of course, if you want to splash out and spend all the money you’ve saved so far on a gourmet meal, feel free, but do be aware you may be paying largely for a posh room and nice tableware. Some of the best food can be found in plain looking places with reasonable prices. If it’s busy with locals, it’s worth a try is the best mantra here.
The word to know in Lisbon is Petiscos. These are smaller dishes, often served in a café or wine bar, like tapas but emphatically not as well. Often places will just serve one or two specialities, and they are to been seen more as snack meals than as part of a range of dishes. A wine bar with a leg of pork on the counter is not an unusual sight, and they will almost certainly have a dish or two to keep hunger at bay for a few Euros.
It’s not hard to find burger and chips for 6 or 7 euros, and a fresh octopus salad for 7 Euros. Snacks for on the go have to be Pastels de Natas, the delicious custard tart that calls Lisbon home, or Bacalao, a salted cod dish that seems to be sold everywhere.
Budget around 30 Euros per person per day for a reasonable amount of food, 50 to live it up a bit and 15 to 20 if you’re happy to live off pastries and burgers all holiday.
Lisbon may seem like a good summer break, but if you’re British, it may be just a little more sun than you can handle. The city gets really hot in July, August and September and temperatures over 30 degrees are not uncommon. As this is a city you’ll want to explore, maybe find somewhere more “sit on the beach and melt” if that’s the kind of sun you are after. Other than that, Lisbon is a pleasant temperature the rest of the year, with low averages of about 15 in December and January. However, it does rain. A lot. It usually stays warm, and can pass quickly, but those Atlantic winds bring in a lot of rain between November and March.
Things to do
For those who just love to wander about and soak up a cities atmosphere, Lisbon has plenty to offer. Street cafes, live music in tiny bars, waterfront drinks, handsome buildings and delightfully antiquated transport, Lisbon is a lovely city just to be in. Towering over it all is the Castelo de Sao Jorge. This is a nice trip, but with an 8.50 price tag attached, if you are on a tight budget, you can skip it without feeling like you’ve missed out. The castle itself is just a skeleton, and the main thing you get from it is the views of Lisbon.
Given the number of hills around, you can get similar views from elsewhere, notably the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, at the top of the Elevator de Glória, which gives the mirror image of the castle’s, with the added bonus of including the castle in it. This lovely little viewpoint often has a small market and drinks stands in the day, and in summer nights, local DJ’s come down to get everyone dancing.
The area around the castle is definitely worth exploring, even if you aren’t going to the castle itself. It’s very old, and the winding streets reveal all kinds of treasures, from Fado clubs and tiny two seat restaurants to theatres, art galleries and roman ruins. The cathedral is also halfway up the castle hill and free to enter.
Nearly all the museums in Lisbon, and there are many, charge a few euros to get in, and are often worth the money. The Church of Sao Roque has an extensive reliquary, if you like looking at some clearly fake religious-celebrity bones. One excellent free attraction is the Núcleo Arqueológico da Rua dos Correeiros. When building the modern Millennium BCP bank, in it’s foundations the builders found old sections of Lisbon dating back 2,500 years. They now offer free guided tours of this every day except Sundays, at 10am and 2pm.
The nearby suburb of Belem is worth a trip to. You can get a tram or train just a couple of stops and walk back along the waterfront. The walk takes about 45 minutes to an hour, but as you near the city centre there are some swanky new beachfront cafes that you can stop and linger in if the mood takes you. Belem itself has the Torre de Belem, which you can go inside but is incredible to look out just from the outside. There is also the modern art gallery Museo Berardo there, which has free entry to the permanent exhibit, and has a world class collection.
Lisbon’s striking yellow funiculars and ageing green trams are not only a tourist attraction, they also save your legs what can be a genuinely strenuous uphill clamber. A pre-paid pass can be used to pay for these, and any single journey on tram, elevator, funicular, lift or metro costs 1.30. If you are planning on travelling about a lot, a daily pass can be bought for 6.15.