If you’re looking for a European city with excellent food, heaps of charm and affordable prices without the crowds, Lisbon is your place! Portugal’s capital city has had a bit of a facelift in recent years, and the time to visit is now, while it’s still relatively untapped by the tourist market.
What to Expect
If you’re travelling in the summertime, you can expect warm sunny weather, long days and late sunsets and a nice cooling breeze from the ocean. Locals are friendly and interested in tourists – they aren’t sick of them yet! Great food is easy to find, and you can enjoy pretty fancy food at half the price of other European cities. The city is clean, with cobblestoned streets, decorative tiles and daunting hills that lead to beautiful views around every corner. Even in the height of summer, you won’t experience the kind of crowds you’ll see in cities like Venice or Barcelona, as the city is still relatively new on the tourism map. Now is the time to book your trip!
Flights from South Africa to Lisbon can be picked up for as little as R5000 return, depending on when you travel and how far in advance you book your trip. The shortest routes from South Africa to Lisbon are with Taag Airlines who fly via Angola 3 times a week, or through major European cities like Paris or Amsterdam. Sign up to airline newsletters to have special offers and discounts delivered to your inbox – I’ve picked up many cheap flights this way!
South African passport holders have to apply for a Schengen visa. If you are flying straight to Portugal, you will apply through VFS Global. But if you’re planning to visit any other European country during your trip, you’ll apply through the country in which you are spending the longest amount of time. If you travel frequently, it’s worth applying for an extended multiple-entry visa. Here is my guide on how exactly to apply for an extended multiple-entry Schengen visa.
When to Go
From June to August, during the height of summer and peak tourist season, temperatures hover around 25 °C – 35 °C. The cool breeze from the Atlantic offers a welcome break from the heat. If you want to avoid the seasonal visitors and cash in on out-of-season hotel rates, the ideal time to visit Lisbon would be the beginning (May/June) or the end (September/October) of summer. June sees a month of festivities, with street parties, festivals, and concerts across the city.
Where to Stay in Lisbon
I stayed with friends in the Principe Real neighborhood, where the streets are lined with trendy bars and the city’s hottest restaurants. The city is small, and from here you can walk pretty much everywhere – just be prepared for the hills! There are lots of nice holiday lettings in the area so if you’d prefer a villa to a hotel, Lisbon is the place to be!
For my last night in Lisbon, I stayed at The Lumiares Hotel & Spa, which is centrally located in fashionable Bairro Alto. The hotel has modern and luxurious larger than average rooms, a beautiful rooftop bar and a stunning and tranquil spa. I stayed in a beautiful 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom studio, complete with a fully equipped kitchen kitted out with Smeg appliances, Nespresso machine and electronic blackout curtains. Hotel guests are spoilt with custard tarts and wine in the room, a complimentary cocktail at the rooftop bar, which has expansive views across the terracotta rooftops of the city and a very good complimentary breakfast.
What to Do in Lisbon
Since my friends had just moved to Lisbon at the end of 2018, I wanted to spend my full week exploring the city with them, leaving my itinerary entirely in their hands. I didn’t do any day trips from Lisbon to surrounding Porto, Faro, or Madeira, leaving those for my next trip! With a full week in Lisbon, I really had the opportunity to walk the streets and get under the skin of this lovely city. It is even better to walk around if you know a bit of Portuguese. If at all you’ve more time on hand, you could learn portuguese in Lisbon and try practicing it with the locals to see how well you understand this lovely language.
Walk the City
‘The City of Seven Hills’ as Lisbon is known (understatement of the century), is small and walkable. While you’ll definitely feel the burn making your way up one steep hill after the next, at least you’ll be rewarded with either an exceptional view or a delicious bite to eat – or both – at the top. I spent hours and hours every day just walking, enjoying the beauty of the mosaic sidewalks and tiled walls along with bites of croquetas de bacalao (traditional salted cod and potato cakes) and glasses of vinho verde (a refreshing ‘green’ wine) along the way. The city has a lovely kiosk culture, where you can sit and enjoy a bite or a drink out in the sunshine.
Libson Highlights You Shouldn’t Miss
- The beautiful Alfama Neighbourhood
- The colourful Sintra Castles
- The quirky LX Market
- The classic Lisbon trams (you can ride 28 for the novelty value)
- The Torre de Belém (Belém Tower)
- The National Tile Museum
- Stunning Rossio Square
- The beach at Caxias
- The fishing village of Cascais
- The sprawling Mercado de Santa Clara (Santa Clara Market)
- The intricate domes and spires of the Basílica da Estrela
- The Santa Justa Elevator
- The view over the water at Quiosque Ribeira das Naus
- The sunset view from Topo Chiado
Eat, Eat, Eat
Food is a huge part of Portuguese culture, and you are spoilt for choice in Lisbon – whether you’re looking for traditional food or a more modern take on Portuguese classics. It’s imperative to tuck into at least one pastel de nata (a traditional custard tart) and one croquetas de bacalao (traditional salted cod and potato cakes) per day.
Where to Eat in Lisbon
- For a quick taste of the best Lisbon has to offer, head to the Timeout Market which, although touristy, is a great way to taste a bit of everything.
- To really get grasp of Lisbon’s food scene and have the opportunity to learn about the role that food plays in Portuguese culture, I highly recommend the Lisbon Roots, Food & Cultural Walk with Taste of Lisboa. The 4 hour tour is hosted by a passionate local, who offers real insights and takes you off the beaten path to the local spots you otherwise probably wouldn’t know to visit. The tours are small, with groups of 12 people max, and stop at 7 spots, leaving you feeling completely satisfied.
- Restaurante Ponto Final was one of my food highlights while in Lisbon. Located in Almada, across the river from Lisbon, this adorable little restaurant is right on the water, and offers exceptional local specialities and great local wines. It’s not super cheap, but I can’t recommend visiting Restaurante Ponto Final highly enough.
- A Cevicheria is one of the city’s top spots, so expect to wait for a table. It’s actually quite enjoyable though, as the bar serves excellent pisco sours to enjoy while you wait. Again, not cheap, but well worth it.
- Tapisco is an accessible Michelin Guide restaurant serving modern Spanish and Portuguese food. If eating Michelin is on your list of priorities, I’d definitely recommend cashing in on the opportunity to do so for around €40 for lunch.
My next visit to Portugal will include a couple of days in Lisbon, before I explore further afield. I really loved my time in Lisbon and I would say it’s the best European city I’ve ever visited. I’ve pinned all the spots I’ve recommended in this post on a custom Google Map.