Discover the best areas to stay in Lisbon for first timers, couples and young families. And once you've done that, check out our Lisbon food guide.
The Best Areas to Stay in Lisbon
Terracotta tiles cascading down steep hillsides, pastel-washed buildings, grand neo-classical architecture, cafes, restaurants and bars spilling customers out onto sun-kissed sidewalks. Lisbon, one of Europe’s most famous old capitals, is renowned equally for its beauty, its culture and its laid-back ambience.
Once slightly overlooked on the mainstream tourist trail, in the last couple of decades Lisbon’s popularity among foreign visitors has enjoyed a renaissance. The boom in budget airlines across Europe has put it firmly on the city break map, attracting everyone from trendy young hipsters drawn to the famous nightlife, to cultural aficionados eager to soak up the famous architecture and picturesque skylines.
Like all major cities, Lisbon is a patchwork of different neighbourhoods, all interconnected to make up a rich tapestry, but each offering its own unique charms and attractions. In this guide, we’ve picked out six of the best districts to stay in Lisbon, outlining the best of what each has to offer the would-be visitor.
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BAIXA: THE BEST AREA IN LISBON FOR FIRST TIMERS
Baixa is the bustling heart of Lisbon, the central administrative and commercial district stretching back in a broad rectangle from the waterfront. In a city famous for its hills, the name ‘Baixa’ or ‘low’ tells you that this is one of the few relatively flat areas to be found, sandwiched left and right by the steep hills of the Alfama and Bairro Alto districts.
Like much of central Lisbon, Baixa was devastated by the 1755 earthquake. Responsibility for rebuilding the district fell to the Marques de Pombal, who set about creating a neoclassical gem - broad straight avenues lined by grand buildings, interspersed with stately plazas and parks, including Parque Eduardo. So famous has Pombal’s work become that it has even earned its own name, Pombaline architecture.
Today, Baixa is as much a tourist hotspot as it is a commercial centre, with bars, restaurants and hotels competing with shops and offices. The central location and transport links make this a great base for exploring the rest of the city - just jump on one of the numerous escalators up the hillsides! There are plenty of sights right on your doorstep, such as the stunning riverfront former royal park, the Praça do Comércio, and Rossio square with its famous train station. And you'll be within walking distance of many other tourist attractions. This is as close to a "city centre" as Lisbon gets.
Top tip: look out for the marvellous 19th century Santa Justa Elevador.
CHIADO: THE BEST AREA IN LISBON FOR YOUNG FAMILIES
Chiado vies with Baixa as being considered the true centre of Lisbon, though it is more of a cultural hub than a commercial centre. Smaller, more compact and quainter than its larger neighbour, Chiado is where you will find a sizeable selection of the city’s best museums, theatres, churches, art galleries and other cultural attractions.
A leisurely sightseeing walk takes in star attractions such as the São Roque Church and Convento Do Carmo, while the area is dotted with picturesque tree-lined squares where you can take the weight off for a while and watch the world go by. For those interested in culture and history, the National Museum of Contemporary Art and the Archaeological Museum are worth a visit.
Chiado has no shortage of bars and restaurants of its own which give it a distinctly touristy feel, but if you are looking for more high octane nightlife, the Bairro Alto is just a short elevator trip away up the hill.
ALFAMA: THE BEST AREA IN LISBON FOR COUPLES
Alfama has a reputation for being the prettiest neighbourhood in Lisbon and a glimpse of the old city that existed before the 1755 earthquake wreaked its havoc. Sprawling down the slope of the hill from the São Jorge Castle down towards the river, Alfama escaped the devastation relatively unscathed. As a result, it survives as a living timecapsule of the old medieval town, a warren of narrow winding cobbled streets, tight-packed houses and terracotta-tiled rooftops.
Alfama is definitely the neighbourhood to stay in if you like atmosphere and history. Heading up the hill towards the castle gives some of the best views Lisbon has to offer. Key attractions include the National Pantheon, the São Vicente da Fora Monastery which is now a museum, the 12th Century cathedral and the castle itself.
Be warned, though - staying in Alfama means you will be doing a lot of walking, as many of the steep narrow streets are inaccessible to vehicles.
BAIRRO ALTO: THE BEST AREA IN LISBON FOR NIGHTLIFE
In contrast to ‘low’ Baixa, Bairro Alto is literally ‘the high district’ occupying a hilltop across the valley from São Jorge Castle. Built around a central grid of densely packed streets, Bairro Alto is famous as Lisbon’s nightlife hotspot, with seemingly every building in the central block serving as some kind of bar, club or food joint.
If you’re drawn to more alternative, bohemian neighbourhoods, Bairro Alto is ideal. Seemingly asleep throughout the day, there is relatively little to do except browse the abundant graffiti and street art, although there is a smattering of interesting and unique boutique shops, especially away from the centre.
But it is at night that Bairro Alto comes into its own, with weekend’s especially melding into one long party. One for younger revellers looking to dance the nights away (and sleep all day, which is the only time it might be quiet enough to sleep!)
PRINCIPE REAL: THE BEST FOR LGBTQ+
A modern, urbane, cosmopolitan district, Principe Real has a growing reputation for being home to the city’s hottest and hippest destinations. Cool bars, high quality restaurants serving cuisine from all over the world and an eclectic mix of super-chic and off-beat shops make Principe Real a great alternative to some of the more obviously touristy parts of the city. It is also known for being Lisbon’s main LGBQT+ friendly hub.
Located behind Bairro Alto if you are walking from the river, Principe Real is a great base if you want to enjoy the nightlife or the main tourist bustle further down the hill without being so immersed in the middle of it all. It’s also a neighbourhood worth exploring and enjoying in its own right.
Shoppers are well catered for by the choice of independent shops, as well as the Embaixada mall. Principe Real is also well served by squares and gardens, many of them surrounded by excellent bars, cafes and food stalls - the Principe Real gardens themselves are well worth a visit, as is the Praça das Flores square for a laid-back local feel. This area is also home to the Science and Natural History museum.
CAIS DO SODRE: THE BEST AREA IN LISBON FOR GETTING OFF THE BEATEN PATH
Most old port towns have a waterfront area that once carried a certain reputation. In Lisbon’s case, this was Cais do Sodre. But in recent times, this once seedy red-light district has undergone a significant makeover, without entirely losing the down-at-heel edge that attracted adventure-seekers to it in the first place.
Arguably Cais do Sodre’s biggest draw is the riverfront, nowadays transformed into an attractive promenade surrounded by warehouse conversions. There are restaurants, bars, clubs, and plenty of affordable accommodation options, making Cais a decent challenger to Bairro Alto’s title as Lisbon’s main nightlife hotspot.
Cais do Sodre is also an excellent base if you want to explore further afield across the wider Lisbon area and beyond. It is home to a major rail terminal with links to cities throughout Portugal, and you can also easily cross the river Tejo to explore the far side. So, whether you're looking for day trips from Lisbon or more unusual things to do elsewhere in Portugal, staying here will make life easier for you.
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