Where to Stay in Lisbon for First Time Visitors
First visit to Lisbon? Unsure about where to stay? Don’t worry, I’ve got you.
When booking your first trip to Lisbon it’s worth knowing that this city is so incredibly compact that even if you aren’t staying somewhere central things will never be “inconvenient”.
The main districts of Lisbon have different advantages to offer different types of travelers. Read on to find exactly where you fit in.
The Alfama in Lisbon
If you want an authentic, local Portuguese experience that is rich in history as well as architecture, then the Alfama is the way to go.
This is the oldest neighborhood in Lisbon, and staying here like seeing Lisbon in its prime, before the gentrification and influx of boutique hotels.
What’s more, the Alfama is close enough to the city center to reach by foot. You’ll have the best of both worlds at your doorstep; peace and tranquility in the Alfama hills, and chaotic nightlife in the city center fifteen minutes away.
Looking back at my first ever visit to the Portuguese capital I do wish I had made the Alfama my home base. As a photographer and creative, this was definitely the neighborhood most suited to my authenticity expectations.
Chiado in Lisbon
Chiado is the heart of Lisbon; the tourism hot-spot and entertainment haven.
Chaido is a really great, overwhelming, powerful first introduction to Lisbon; spending your first few days in a hotel or Airbnb here puts you right in the thick of the action from the minute you arrive.
In Chiado you’ll shop, you’ll drink, you’ll dine on cuisines from all over the world. These clustered streets restrict access to vehicles, so you can walk freely through the cobblestone alleys soaking in the attractions of the capital.
After three or so days, however, move on! Chiado is in no way an accurate representation of the whole of Lisbon and you must experience community elsewhere while you’re here!
Bairro Alto in Lisbon
Those with an affinity for nightlife will find themselves feeling very at home in Bairro Alto. This is another historic part of Lisbon, but these streets come to life after the sun goes down.
By day, Bairro Alto is actually quite a peaceful and charming little district in which to rent an apartment for a vacation. By night, however, you’ll feel the rattling of the underground bars in your floorboards until the early hours of the morning, combined with the festivities taking place in the streets.
There’s nothing quite like it; and if you enjoy being right in the craziness of the party scenes at all times then Bairro Alto is where to set up camp.
Cais do Sodre in Lisbon
Those who like the nightlife enough to want to be close to it, but not enough to live in the heart of it, should head south from Bairro Alto and into Cais do Sodre.
This is a very small district right on the edge of the Tagus waters, where Bairro Alto feeds down to the infamous pink street.
There are a lot of bars, karaoke venues and live music halls here that bring a lot of fun to the Lisbon center. There are also many great Lebanese, Mediterranean, Indian and Asian restaurants, as well as the massive Time Out Market holding cuisines form all over the world.
Cais do Sodre is the perfect balance of nightly entertainment, great food and close proximity to the water. Definitely a top neighborhood to stay in on your first trip to Lisbon.
Cascais near Lisbon
What I really wish I had known on my first visit to Lisbon is that staying in Cascais and communing to the city each day is not completely outrageous, and actually entirely doable.
Cascais is the beautiful beach town a 40 minute train ride outside of Lisbon. Most visitors to Lisbon will do this town as a day trip at some point during their stay, but if you’re like me and you love being by the beach, then one day never feels like enough.
If you’d prefer a beach vacation with one or two days of city exploring, then make Cascais your home base upon arrival in Lisbon. I ended up making the trip to Cascais and back three days in a row in the summer, just so I could be in the charming village by the water instead of the sticky, hot city.
Alternatively, cut your Lisbon stay in half and instead of your two weeks in the city, do a week in Cascais and a week in the center. Or if you’re only staying a week total, then three days in the city and four days by the sea. This is more than enough time to properly experience both to their essence.
Belem in Lisbon
Families with children traveling to Lisbon for the first time need to be cautions about the neighborhoods in which they book to stay. The districts I’ve mentioned closer to the center are great family friendly places by day, but by night they don’t guarantee peace and quiet before a certain time.
Belem, on the other hand, is further up the west coast and is bound to be visited by you at least once during your trip to Lisbon regardless. It holds some important historic monuments and museums, as well as the best pastel de nata in town!
I always recommend families traveling to Lisbon for the first time look into staying in Belem from day one. It’s safe, residential and considerably more affordable than staying closer to the center.
Airbnb’s are easy to find here, but townhouse/villa rentals are also quite popular and available on booking databases like booking.com.
No matter where you find your solace in Lisbon, make sure you take at least one free guided walking tour through the most historic neighborhoods. They’ll get you one on one with the culture, art and communities that make Lisbon the phenomenon that it is!