Lisbon has the rhythm and perks of big city – a wide public transportation network, shopping districts, infinite restaurant and bar offer, lots of stores, bright lights and busy streets - but is as warm and welcoming as a small city. It has a fascinating juxtaposition of modern buildings and wide streets, with traditional neighborhoods where narrow three-story buildings are covered in colorful tiles.
Generally more affordable than other European capitals, Lisbon is a budget-traveler's gem. You can enjoy an authentic luxurious vacation without breaking the bank. Here's how:
Book your trip in shoulder-season. Take advantage of off-season deals offered by hotels and airlines and visit Lisbon in the fall or winter. Climate and the fact that the city is much less crowded are also compelling arguments to go in this time of the year. Portugal - and Lisbon - have one of the warmest winters in Europe, with temperatures averaging the high-50s / low-60s in daytime. And the early fall can be considered an extended summer, as some of the best beach days in Costa da Caparica (15min away from Lisbon across the bridge) are saved for October. Also, the milder but still warm temperatures of fall, low-80s and 70s, are ideal for walking around the city.
Walk and save up on transportation. Despite the hills, Lisbon is a very walkable place and small pedestrian-only streets and stairways often offer shortcuts between bigger streets. This is a great way to explore the city because you will actually see more - instead of being underground in the metro, and you will not be limited to the trolley carts or bus routes. Organize your trip according to the different neighborhoods for more efficiency. And another advantage of walking is that you will likely be surprised by beautiful photo-ops in hidden corners along the way.
Choose free activities. Sure, the most popular attractions in Lisbon won't be free and it is definitely worthwhile to pay and wait in line to see Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Belém. But there are many ways to save money. For example, did you know that all public museums are free on the first Sunday of each month? And there are plenty of off the beaten path free museums, like the Museum of Filigree, the Museum of Heal, the Museum of Sport or the Museum of Money, and the Archeology section at Casa dos Bicos is free too - which means that you pay nothing to see part of Lisbon's underground ancient Roman wall.
Find free alternatives to popular attractions. The Castle of Sao Jorge and the Santa Justa Lift are famed for their breathtaking views over the city, but they are also expensive and often crowded. Save time and money and marvel at the city from its many viewpoints (miradouro), or grab a drink in one of the rooftop bars scattered around the city. There is a reason Lisbon is called the city of 7 hills, afterall! Anywhere with a higher elevation offers you a clear view of Lisbon's roofs with the river in the background. The best choice is the viewpoint in the old Graça neighbourhood named after the poet Sophia de Mello Breyner, which has a gorgeous view of the city and Castle Hill, and a small café.
Avoid tourist-traps. When visiting Lisbon, this should be on your mind the whole time: do not enter any restaurant that has someone holding the menu at the door. This is common in the most touristy areas and the quality of the food will not match the price you pay. The city has an extremely diverse offer, with food from all around the world and price points than range from the neighborhood eatery to luxurious haute cuisine. And, in all honesty, the best and most authentic Portuguese cuisine is found in the most average-looking tascas and cervejarias.
Buy your souvenirs from local markets. From antiques to vintage to fresh independent creators, Lisbon has plenty of markets where you will find cool and unique items at bargain prices. The most popular flea market is Feira da Ladra, near the National Pantheon and the Lisbon Cathedral, functioning every Tuesday and Saturday morning. There is also an antique market in the Principe Real garden, across the street from Portuguese higher-end boutiques inside the Embaixada mall. A hip alternative is Anjos70, in the emerging neighborhood Intendente. This is an independent and nonprofit cultural center housing artists and entrepreneurs that hosts a monthly arts and fashion market housing over 100 upcoming designers, brands and artists. All these are good options to bring an original Lisbon souvenir back home.
Have picnics in parks instead of going to busy restaurants. Eating out in Lisbon is fairly affordable, and for dinner and lunch alike prices are reasonable. But if you really want to travel on the cheap, you can pack lunch and eat in a public park or garden. Portugal is said to have more than 300 days of sunlight per year, so even in the off-season you will be able to enjoy a comfortable meal outside. And, local grocery stores sell all kinds of great local meats, cheese, breads and wines. Places like Jardim da Estrela or the garden at the Gulbenkian Museum are located in the middle of the city and have plenty of benches and tables. And in case you're surprised by a rainy day, the restaurants located near business centers like Saldanha, Amoreiras or Marquês de Pombal, usually offer affordable corporate lunch menus on weekdays.
With nonstop flights to Lisbon leaving from 7 US cities, including the new routes from Chicago, San Francisco and Washington DC, the capital of Portugal has never been more accessible. And now that you know how to visit Lisbon on a budget, what are you waiting for - book the trip!