All Articles Our go-to guide to Lisbon’s Old Town

Our go-to guide to Lisbon’s Old Town

Where to eat, play, stay, and more.

Jo Piazza
By Jo Piazza 23 May 2024 5 minutes read
Sunrise above Alfama's red-tile-roofed buildings in Lisbon
Image: Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

Lisbon is one of those cities that truly defies expectations. Picture this: cobblestone streets winding through hilly neighborhoods, stylish boutiques on every corner, and architectural wonders that grace the skyline. And let's not forget about the locals, who might just be some of the friendliest on the continent.

My husband surprised me with an unexpected Lisbon trip on my recent birthday and it did not disappoint. During my recent jaunt, I was surprised by how effortlessly I could explore the city on foot. And when my feet got tired, I discovered excellent (and highly 'grammable) forms of public transportation that included brightly colored trams, funiculars, and elevators (yes elevators!) that got me where I needed to go. Granted, those charming hills and cobblestones might deter cyclists, but there's a picturesque waterfront path that's worth exploring on two wheels.

The heart of it all is the Old Town, comprised of the delightful neighborhoods of Baixa, Chiado, Bairro Alto, Alfama, and Belém. They are filled with tiny corner bistros, cobblestone and tiled streets, bookstore bars, and hidden alleys.

Here is everything you need to know to discover the best that the oldest and most charming part of the city has to offer.

Check into

Rooftop view overlooking Lisbon at night
Memmo Alfama Hotel
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

The Memmo Alfama Hotel came recommended by our friends from home and it is a truly perfect boutique hotel with a bar and restaurant overlooking the city. Even if you aren’t staying here (and you should for their red-tiled infinity plunge pool alone), treat yourself to a happy hour at their Terrace bar and restaurant to soak in the sunset views of the city and the sea.

On the other side of the valley, near the fabulous shopping street of Rua da Escola Politécnica, is the quiet and simple Montecarmo 12. It’s an affordable no nonsense stay with outstanding breakfast and comfortable rooms. Start your morning here with a stroll to the Jardim do Príncipe Real—a small oasis of kiosks and comfortable seating surrounded by some of the most interesting shopping in the city.

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Explore on foot, tram, or tuk tuk

Sun hitting stone building with window cutout
Castelo de S. Jorge
Image: Sharon H/Tripadvisor

Exploring Lisbon is best done on foot and I always recommend getting your bearings of the city with a wander first.

Before descending into the narrow cobblestone alleyways, take in the neighborhood from above at one of the many miradouros, or lookouts. The Miradouro da Graça offers the perfect vantage point to look out over the burnt orange roofs of Old Town.

Definitely take a ride on the iconic Tram 28, which whirls its way through the narrow streets of Alfama, Baixa, and Graça. This historic tram offers a scenic journey past major attractions like Sé Cathedral, São Jorge Castle, and the Miradouro da Graça viewpoint.

For a fun and convenient way to explore the old town, consider hopping on a tuk-tuk. These mini vehicles (most of them decorated to match the city’s elaborate tiles) roll through the narrow streets with ease and provide a personalized sightseeing experience with knowledgeable and often hilarious local guides who will take you to hidden gems. Make sure to negotiate for the price. They will always start high.

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Dig into

Plate of seared fish atop vegetables
Bairro do Avillez
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

Bairro do Avillez is a one-stop shop for all kinds of dining. There's a taberna (tavern), a pizzeria and a páteo (patio) where the seafood is fresh out of the sea and the garlic butter is still sizzling when it reaches your table. All of the menus are created by famed chef José Avillez who is constantly changing the menus to create local twists on all kinds of dishes. The atmosphere is fun and friendly and the waiters are happy to guide you through the kinds of food Lisbon has to offer. We made this our first restaurant stop and it set the stage for everything else to come.

You may think the name Time Out market is a little cheesy, and it is. But the Time Out Market Lisboa is surprisingly authentic, and you can easily spend an entire afternoon or evening eating your way through it. The market features stalls from some of the city's top chefs and restaurants. Sample traditional Portuguese dishes like bacalhau (salted cod), pastéis de nata (custard tarts), and grilled sardines, or indulge in international fare from around the world.

Wine lovers won't want to miss By The Wine, a chic wine bar housed in a former 17th-century chapel. Choose from an extensive selection of Portuguese wines by the glass or bottle, accompanied by gourmet cheese and charcuterie boards.

Tucked away on a charming cobblestone street, Taberna da Rua das Flores is known for its creative twists on traditional Portuguese cuisine. Enjoy small plates of petiscos (Portuguese tapas) made with locally sourced ingredients, accompanied by a selection of fine Portuguese wines like the vinho verde and the douro.

See the sights

Band playing inside cafe with bookshelves along the wall
Menina e moca
Image: Sungmi K/Tripadvisor

If you go to one museum in Lisbon I can’t recommend the Museum de Aljube enough. Once a political prison during the authoritarian regime, the Aljube is a symbol of resistance and resilience. As you wander through its halls, you'll encounter powerful exhibits that shed light on the experiences of those who fought against oppression. From personal testimonies to historical artifacts, each display serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made in the name of freedom. Through educational programs, lectures, and cultural events, the museum continues to foster dialogue and promote social justice in contemporary society.

Take a breather in Menina e moca, a charming bookstore bar with tiny tables inside, inexpensive cocktails and beers and a well-curated selection of books in both Portuguese and English. There is also live music every Tuesday. The staff is happy to recommend both books and drinks and sometimes they are even game to play cards or dominos with you if things are slow.

A visit to Lisbon's old town isn’t complete without catching a traditional Fado performance. Fado, Lisbon's own music genre, blends mournful tunes with lyrics reflecting the city's history and culture. Many restaurants in the area offer Fado shows along with tasty Portuguese dishes.

Fama d’Alfama offers up a Fado experience that locals and travelers both enjoy. Their prices aren’t elevated like a lot of the touristy places in the area and they have a simple but delicious menu of croquettes, octopus and salted cod to accompany the soulful singing performances. Another truly excellent Fado destination is Parreirinha de Alfama which has been a mainstay in the city since 1939. The food portions are huge (including their hearty seafood stews) and they get some of the city’s top singers. With low ceilings and tables so close together you might elbow your neighbor, this is a truly intimate and truly unique experience.

Go for cocktails

Interior of restaurant and bar with black-and-white checkered flooring, and red stools along bar
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

For the finest cocktail in Lisbon look no further than the Red Frog. A self-described “speakeasy” not far from the botanical gardens, you might need a reservation. If you’re in the neighborhood early to shop, stop at EmbaiXada’s excellent gin bar for a daytime libation. It’s a repurposed embassy now turned into a pop-up with several different artisanal retailers as well as a few spots for a drink or a snack. It’ll give you a great taste of what the neighborhood offers before you stroll out for more.

Rocco is an outstanding restaurant but also a great spot for high-end drinks after dinner. A perfect place to splurge on a good bottle of Portuguese wine.

Everywhere you go in Lisbon you may encounter “kiosks”, usually parks that serve beer and the famous “Ginjinha” liquor—a sour cherry sipper. Late into the evenings, mellow crowds and sometimes musicians gather to relax, drink, and enjoy the night. You’ll really feel like a local when you find a good one.

Jo Piazza
Jo Piazza is a bestselling author, podcast host and award winning travel journalist. Her travel memoir, How to Be Married, documents her travels around the world to discover how cultures on five continents build healthy and happy long term commitments.