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48 Hours in Lisbon… and a Warning.

by Ellie Cleary

Sometimes places can be too much of a good thing, and become a victim of their own success. Our Lisbon travel blog looks at our first visits to Lisbon in 2016 and revisiting in 2019, and advice for those wanting to practice responsible travel in Lisbon. 

This post contains compensated affiliate links – please see our editorial policy for our full disclosure. 

Revisiting Lisbon

A lot can change in three years. Lisbon has held a soft spot in my heart for a while: It was my first stop in 2016 after leaving my full time job: I packed my bags, boarded a train (or two) and arrived from Amsterdam at Lisbon Oriente train station. At the time, there were grumbles and whinings that the growth in tourism to Lisbon was getting a bit too much.

Fast forward three years and the grumbling has turned to screaming. In recent years, only Japan has seen a steeper increase in visitor numbers than Portugal, which most of the Overtourism concentrated in Lisbon and Porto.

The problem is this: In the 90’s, Portugal courted tourism and in many ways tourism has contributed positively to the recovery and growth of Portugal’s economy, lifting it to levels comparable with the rest of Western Europe, while remaining cheaper and more attractive to visitors compared to, say, Spain or Italy. The campaigning worked, and visitors began flocking to the city.

Visiting in June 2019 we felt overwhelmed. By the sheer number of tourists and lack of locals in the Aflama district – the old part of the city. We wouldn’t be the first to point out that Lisbon looks at risk of becoming the next Venice as locals can no longer afford to stay in the old city, and it becomes an open air museum reserved for AirBnB profiters and tourists.

This Lisbon travel blog covers:

  • Responsible Travel in Lisbon
  • Tips for how to make your trip have a positive impact
  • Things to do in Lisbon
  • Where to Stay in Lisbon
  • Best Day Trips from Lisbon

Responsible Travel in Lisbon (The Warning)

Speaking to locals it became clear relatively quickly, that not all are as in-love with Lisbon as I was. Like many places, especially capital cities in western Europe, tourist arrival numbers have risen drastically over the last few years.

Lisbon is now the fastest growing city for visitor numbers in Southern Europe, and that is not necessarily music to the ears of residents. An estimated 4 million overnight visitors—6.5 times the city’s population—stayed in Lisbon during 2015.  And that’s not including the day trippers or cruise visitors.

Locals are starting to protest to the city that there are simply too many tourists.  Their streets are beginning to get overcrowded. The biggest complaint that I heard was that those who live in the city centre (particularly those near the castle) can no longer get on the trams to go about their day to day life because those trams are full of visitors, eager to have the experience of riding one of Lisbon’s vintage trams. But this is just one symptom of a bigger problem.

The cruise terminal has been given recent approval to expand by the government and city of Lisbon, and one has to wonder: how long is it before the Venice Syndrome sets in. Creating responsible travel in Lisbon looks set to be a challenge.

responsible travel Lisbon

Lisbon Cityscapes – image courtesy Flickr / Pedro Ribeiro

What is the message in this?

It’s certainly not that taking trams is bad. A key part of responsible travel, and no less so in Lisbon, is to take public transportation wherever possible. The message is to be aware that visitor numbers are starting to put pressure on this city.

Resolution to this problem cannot come from travellers alone, although it does help for us to be aware of the issue. Avoiding Airbnbs and choosing hotels instead (see our recommendations above) helps to avoid the issue of inflated property prices and locals being pushed out.

Ultimately, the city authorities and tourist boards need to weigh up what is best for their city, take action accordingly, and resolve issues of poor planning. One must hope that Lisbon won’t wait until that time is too far in the past. For further perspective on the problem, this article lends additional perspective.

Lisbon Responsible Travel Tips

Overtourism is a complex issue, but we do believe that we all have it in our hands to do something positive for the destinations we choose to visit. Here are some simple responsible travel tips for visiting Lisbon:

  • Think carefully about whether you want to visit Lisbon. There are many other beautiful cities in Europe that are less crowded as Lisbon (we don’t recommend Porto as an alternative based on what we’ve heard).
  • If you do decide to visit, visit outside of the peak season (summer – particularly July and August) and avoid weekends if you can, when Lisbon gets busiest.
  • Avoid AirBnb’s & Apartments in Lisbon. Much of the anger about tourism in Lisbon is caused by renting out of apartments to tourists at triple the rate (than would be offered to locals), effectively causing locals to be priced out of their own city. Alfama is becoming affordable only for affluent tourists. Stay at hotels and support local jobs instead.
  • Don’t even think about buying original tiles at a Flea Market – many walls have tiles missing because they can be sold for a pretty price at local markets to visitors who don’t know better.
  • Avoid wheeling your bags around the cobbled streets which are delicate – given the amount of stairs in Lisbon, we suggest packing light (!) and preferably into a backpack.
  • Support local operators who are promoting sustainable tourism such as Lisbon Sustainable Tourism
  • Choose sustainable hotels such as the Inspira Santa Marta, Corinthia Lisbon, or NEYA Lisboa hotel who invest into social and environmental responsibility.
  • If you want to stay away from the crowds, you’ll want to limit your time spent in the Alfama district, and definitely stay clear of riding the old trams.
Old Lisbon photography - Lisbon Tram

Old Lisbon Trams

48 Hours in Lisbon – Travel Blog – Things to Do

Sometimes the only real way to get the flavour of a city is to come back to it several times over.

I’m lucky that on my 2016 trip to Portugal, I got to visit Lisbon on three separate occasions – each were short but sweet visits. Lisbon also holds a special place in my heart: It was the first city that I visited since going full time with this travel blog. Lisbon welcomed me off a long train journey from Amsterdam as a fresh full-time “digital nomad”.

My weekend in Lisbon offered insights into the Portuguese cultural scene, eateries, history and castles galore, but it also showed me a less than charming side to this beautiful city (see above).

This Lisbon travel blog is a starting point for exploring the city, with recommendations on where to stay in Lisbon, the best things to do, as well as tips on how to avoid the crowds and support responsible, sustainable travel in Lisbon – in an easy way! If you have suggestions to add to this guide – drop me a line in the comments at the end of this post.

Sunset in Lisbon

Watching the sunset over the Tagus River

First Impressions of Lisbon

My Lisbon trip started with my arrival on the night train to Lisbon from Amsterdam.  I stayed the night in a hostel with incredible views out over the river Tagus, the 25th of April bridge, and over to Cacilhas.  The second time I visited for an evening with the Surfcamp I was staying at south of the city—you can read about my experience surfing here.  The third and final time was on my way out of the country, when I stopped for a last night and some final nata pastries in this beautiful city.

What held my gaze again and again, on the first and subsequent visits were the narnia-esque street lamps, attached at right angles to the old, colourful and tiled houses on narrow twisting streets.

What stays in my memory the most is the experience of sitting on the grassy mound of Miradouro Santa Catarina (update 2019 – the Miradouro Santa Catarina is currently closed, for construction it looks like…)  watching the fire fade out of the evening sky, listening to the sounds of guitars and singing and the chatter between friends—tourists and locals alike—all around me.

Eating bolinhos de bacalhao and drinking red wine as I listened, all of Lisbon was spread out below before us.

If every city has a signature sound, then Lisbon’s is the sound of jamming musicians on guitars.

Responsible Travel in Lisbon.

Jamming on the steps of quiet corners of Lisbon, while drinking local craft beer. 

Things to do in Lisbon

2 Days in Lisbon is a short time to explore the city, but is the perfect time to give you an initial flavour of Lisbon! Here are some of our favourite things to do in Lisbon to help you get the most out of your weekend trip.

Sao Jorge Castle

Off the beaten track it is not, but the Sao Jorge Castle is great way to get a perspective on the city.  The view is well worth the climb to see the moorish architecture in this fort. I walked up the hill, which provided a great work out for my calf muscles.  On your way up, there are plenty of opportunities to take some pictures of some of the old style trams that run up and down.  Why not take the tram? See above for our responsible travel tips.

Take the Ferry Across the Tagus

Another great way to gain perspective is to take to the water and to take the ferry across the river Tagus to the Cacilhas. Ferries run regularly from a number of terminals in central Lisbon, including the Cais do Sodre in Alfama.

Visit the World’s Oldest Bookshop

One of the things that struck me about Lisbon was the books. The Livrarias were everywhere, on narrow streets, downstairs at train stations. Lisbon is home to the oldest bookshop in the world, Livraria Bertrand. Opened in 1732, it holds the Guinness record as the world’s oldest bookstore still in operation today.

Lisbon blog, 2 days in Lisbon

The Belem Tower in all its splendour

See the Torre de Belem

A short trip from Lisbon, the Tower of Belem was being built as part of a series of fortifications designed to protect the natural port of Lisbon. Inspired by the return of intrepid Portuguese Explorer, Vasco de Gama from the East, it includes beautiful elements of design from Venice, Morocco, and even India. To get to Belem you can take a train from the Cais dos Sodre station, or take electric tram number 15.

Explore Jeronimos Monastery

Next to the Belem Tower, the Jeronimos Monastery is a UNESCO world heritage site and the final resting place of Vasco de Gama. Built between 1501 and 1800 over 300 years, the monastery includes diverse architectural styles and the Church of Santa Maria inside is truly unique.

Eat your way Around Lisbon!

To explore Lisbon is to eat your way around it.  From sweet Nata pastries and flans to great cod dishes, cheese and wine, Lisbon is a food-lovers’ paradise.  Lisbon is packed with characterful eateries, my only word of caution would be to avoid the overly-touristic (and subsequently overpriced) cafes around Rossio main square where the trams up to the castle leave from.

On my first morning I enjoyed breakfast in a local coffee bar on Praca Luis de Camoes – enjoying a latte and a pastry for the bargain price of Euro 1.50.  In the evening I discovered a cheese bar on the Rua das Flores that specialises in everything wine and cheese (two of my greatest joys in life).  An option that seemed to be very popular with locals and visitors alike, although of a less ‘authentic’ vibe, were the new Time Out food halls next to the Cais do Sodre—containing stalls inside serving everything from Portuguese Cuisine, to Pizza, gourmet hot dogs and everything in between.

Where to Stay in Lisbon

Over my trips to Lisbon, I stayed in different hotels, ranging from budget to luxury. Here are some of my favourites that I recommend!

Responsible Travel in Lisbon.

Views over the Tagus from Hostel Lisb’on.


On my first visit I stayed in hostel Lisb’On, a budget hostel, which I liked most for its views. This simple hostel with dorm rooms is located steps from the Cais do Sodre and has incredible views out over the Tagus and to the 25th April bridge, from big, bright windows.

Check rates and availability for the Hostel Lisbon here!


Inspira Santa Marta is a certified eco friendly hotel as well as a 4* hotel set a short walk from the historical centre of Lisbon – it gets rave reviews all round, not least for its vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free menu options. Its rooms have even been designed according to Feng Shui principles, and its spa is heavenly. The only problem.. you may not want to leave your hotel room!

Check rates and availability for Hotel Inspira Santa Marta here


On my second overnight visit I chose something different and stayed at the Corinthia Hotel Lisbon.  Normally I try to avoid ‘chain-style’ hotels (Corinthia is a small chain of hotels, owned by a Maltese family), in favour of staying in locally owned establishments.  The Corinthia Lisbon caught my attention, as they had been named most sustainable hotel in Lisbon for 2 years running, and won numerous other accolades for their innovative energy programs.

As one of the largest (and older) hotels in Lisbon, their challenge had initially been to reduce costs through reducing the building’s energy consumption.

Responsible Travel in Lisbon

Huge comfy beds at the Corinthia.

In 2015 the hotel was awarded as Europe’s leading ‘Green Hotel’.  Over the last few years they have reduced their energy usage by 22 %. The best part: now other hotels are starting pay attention and follow their lead. If this type of commitment to sustainability spreads to more hotel operators, then it will be good news for responsible travel in Lisbon.

The hotel is located in a less-touristic neighbourhood of the city, near the Jardim Zoologico. It’s well connected to Lisbon’s easy and efficient Metro system. The rooms in the hotel were luxurious, the quality of the food was great, and the club lounge on the top floor of the hotel offers views out across the city.

Check rates and availability for the Corinthia Hotel Lisbon here

Search rates and availability for all hotels in Lisbon here!

Day Trips from Lisbon

If you find yourself with more than 2 days in Lisbon, there is plenty to explore outside of the city. Here are some of our favourites:

Lisbon travel blog

The Pena Palace at Sintra

Explore Sintra Castle

For those who love a good castle, they don’t come much better than Sintra. Set in the greater region of Lisbon, Sintra rises up like a colourful dream from fairytale mountains and forest mists. Located to the North of Lisbon city, and a former royal sanctuary, Sintra is a resort town in the Sintra foothills. There’s more than one palace in Sintra – the most famous (and colourful) is the Pena Palace.

Although Sintra is easily accessible from Lisbon by train or bus, to get the full Sintra experience it is better to spend a night in Sintra – that way you can get up early and have the palaces to yourself before the coach tours and day-trippers arrive!

Search for hotels and B&B’s in Sintra here!

travel blog lisbon a visit to the beaches of cascais

Visit the Cascais

Cascais is a coastal resort town, to the Northwest of Lisbon and south of Sintra. Easily accessible from Lisbon city, its a popular spot for weekend holidays (so note, you’ll get much better deals if you can avoid visiting at weekends, especially in summer), known for its beautiful beaches and lively marina.

Cascais was originally a small fishing village, and this pretty historic town still seems a world away from the busy streets of Lisbon. The beaches in the centre of Cascais tend to be the busiest but are sheltered from the wind and offer safe swimming. Explore the museum district, head out for a cycle along the estoril coastline (stunning!) and simply sit back and relax in one of the courtyard cafes.

Cascais was also voted as one of the top Sustainable Destinations in recent years in light of its commitment to environmental preservation. If you can spend a few extra days in the Lisbon area – a trip to the Cascais is highly recommended!

We recommend the boutique hotel Pestana Citadela Cascais – set in a quiet part of town and beautiful designed!

Check rates for hotels in Cascais here!

Have you been to Lisbon? Did you find it overcrowded? What did you love the most? Let us know in the comments below.

Read more about Travel in Portugal on Soul Travel:

Learning to Surf with DreamSea Portugal

Night Train to Lisbon

A Beginner’s Guide to Cascais

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October Summary & November Travel Plans. - Soul Travel Blog November 29, 2016 - 7:08 am

[…] 48 Hours in Lisbon… and a Warning […]

Andrew at Nomad Capitalist May 20, 2017 - 9:17 am

I found your site doing some research about visiting Lisbon again when my team moves there later this year. It’s been nine years since I was last in Portugal but I remember loving it. Surely I’ll be following a few of your tips!

I really did the responsible travel angle, though. Far too often, nomadic travel is all about hostels and the digital nomad lifestyle, with little regard for nice hotels and none for the environment. It’s nice to see a growing movement that supports responsible travel without the guilt. Thanks for your work.

Ellie May 23, 2017 - 2:19 pm

Hi Andrew, thanks for stopping by. What a beautiful place to move your team to! Lucky them ;). Yes I agree with you, sometimes as nomads we could do more to embrace local culture and sustainable development as opposed to sticking to our own habits regardless of where in the world we are. It’s an interesting discussion for sure! Enjoy, Ellie

Sebastian November 30, 2017 - 12:09 pm

Yeah. I will fly to Lisbon this week and I am even more thrilled now! Thanks!

Gabby March 3, 2018 - 5:46 pm

Loved your blog! We visited Lisbon last year and had so much fun whilst we were there. I definitely want to go back – it’s so filled with culture and had an air of relaxation to it. We mainly walked around or used public transport very early on to avoid the sardine like trams thank goodness.

If you’re ever in Lisbon again you should give Sintra a shout! It’s only 30 minutes from the city by train


Ellie March 14, 2018 - 10:52 am

Thanks Gabby, definitely hope to return to Lisbon… one of Europe’s most beautiful cities I think! Happy travels,

John September 2, 2018 - 9:38 pm

Hi, I am researching for 3 of us are going to Lisbon in Oct. I would love to get any tips sights, restaurants etc. Is there any special travel issues we should be aware of. DO you know any other web sites I can go to to research more/?

Mario December 26, 2018 - 1:01 am

Lisbon is packed with turists these days so expect long queues for anything that is slightly popular, overcrowded streets that cause you stress and artificial souvenir shops everywhere. Also, Lisbon became very expensive over the past years featuring currently in the 100th most expensive cities in the world. If you want to have an authentic cheaper experience you should go somewhere else in Portugal (e.g. Aveiro, Coimbra, Guimaraes, Nazare, Obidos, Evora, Tavira, Lagos, Vilamoura).

Ellie January 14, 2019 - 7:44 pm

Hi Mario, thank you for your suggestions! That is indeed sad to hear that not much is being done to manage the crowds in Lisbon and the artificial souvenir shops :-(.

Robin January 1, 2019 - 10:51 pm

Lisbon became a bit too popular lately. It is still a rather nice city with good weather but it is a bit messy and overcrowded, especially in the city centre (Chiado and Baixa). If you want to have a relaxing non-stressful time, maybe Lisbon should not be your top choice.

Ellie January 14, 2019 - 7:40 pm

Hi Robin, that’s sad to hear honestly but probably not surprising given the overall tourism numbers in Europe. Thank you for your input I know it will be helpful for other travellers. If you have suggestions of places that people looking to experience Portugese culture can visit instead we would be happy to hear them! Thanks and happy travels.

Pedro February 20, 2019 - 5:52 pm

I have to agree with the previous comments. Lisbon used to be a nice place to visit but it changed completely over the past 5 years. Now it’s just an artificial and stressful city packed with tourists everywhere. It became the perfect place to have coffee at Starbucks, have fast-food at international food chains or expensive dinners at the latest Butanese restaurant, cross thousands of useless souvenir shops full of made in China products, queue for anything slightly interesting while pickpockets do their job, squeeze and bump into other tourists in overcrowded side walks and not being able to meet and talk to a single Portuguese resident with a non-tourist job. It also became a very expensive city with dinner costing 40 euros/person and hotels averaging 100 euros/night. If you want to experience the Portuguese culture and gastronomy for 1/3 of those prices then run away from Lisbon as fast as you can. I hate to say this but overtourism killed Lisbon and its authenticity. I’d recommend other places in Portugal that are still not that popular such as Braga/Guimaraes/Geres/Coimbra/Aveiro in the North, Sintra/Guincho/Cascais/Evora/Sesimbra/Arrabida/Comporta close to Lisbon or Costa Vicentina/Algarve (Lagos, Tavira, Vilamoura) in the South.

maria April 2, 2019 - 11:23 pm

Be aware of scams in Lisbon. The latest one is a bunch of kids dressed up as if they were part of a NGO asking tourists for donations to assist poor people. It’s all fake and it’s a big scam. Also be aware of pickpockets because they are very professional and they are pretty much everywhere in Lisbon. Hate to say this but unfortunately my city is no longer the nicest place to visit.

October Summary & November Travel Plans. | Soul Travel May 7, 2019 - 7:52 pm

[…] 48 Hours in Lisbon… and a Warning […]

Dee June 6, 2019 - 7:24 pm

Great tips, especially about avoiding AirBnbs and vintage tiles.. how horrid that people actually steal them off local buildings to sell.

Night Train to Lisbon: Amsterdam to Lisbon by Train | Soul Travel June 12, 2019 - 11:57 am

[…] our Lisbon Guide for tips on where to stay in Lisbon, responsible travel tips and things to do in Lisbon as […]

Bitoque June 17, 2019 - 5:14 pm

The city center is becoming a theme park and, step by step, houses in the old neighborhoods are being replaced by short term rental houses and airbnb things. The real typical shops, restaurants and bars are being replaced by fake-typical shops, souvenir shops, fancy mainstream like bars and restaurants.
Lisbon real soul is slowly decaying and being transformed into a fake soulless city center.
Yes. It’s good to keep the town live and also good for the economy, but my feeling is that Lisbon real soul is vanishing and, in some years, we’ll have almost empty neighborhoods filled with beautiful fake facades hiding airbnb things and fancy food restaurants that have nothing to deal with the real Lisbon.

19 European Destinations to Visit in 2019 | Looknwalk June 21, 2019 - 3:08 pm

[…] has become a firm favorite on European travel itineraries: it’s hard not to fall in love with Lisbon . From the beautiful tiled houses and steeply climbing streets, there’s a view better than the […]

Patti August 10, 2020 - 9:12 pm

We are a group of four that are planning a month long stay in Portugal. My thanks to you for this blog post and thank you to all those readers that post useful comments and information, too. We have traveled to several cities around the world and I immediately understood what you mean. Unfortunately, the same can be said of all tourist destinations worldwide. We visited Amsterdam (stayed in Purmerend), Prague, Copenhagen and Munich. Did a bit of everything; apartment rentals, Airbnb and hotels. We traveled to New Zealand last year for 3 weeks and when we traveled the South Island, kept to the west side, but you can’t not visit Auckland, Wellington and Queenstown. Even with all the tourists, I’m glad we did.

Unfortunately, in Lisbon, for a 30 night stay, hotels are about 16 times as expensive as Airbnbs, even the expensive apartments in the Alfama and surrounding areas.

I’m the one charged with planning and researching our trip. So far, I’ve decided it will be in late April, if traveling is somehow back to normal. But even with COVID-19 I’m afraid there will be tons of us tourists. I will consider carefully making our base camp outside of Lisbon, and many of the places offered in the comments sound extremely viable.


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