How to enjoy Lisbon on a Budget

In this post I will offer you tips on how to enjoy Lisbon on a budget.  Your biggest expenses will be your flight and lodging.  I will offer suggestions for how to save on both.  I will also make recommendations on how to save money on dining, tourist sites, and local transportation.

Planning in advance is key to enjoying Lisbon on a budget

The earlier you can begin planning your trip means the more likely you are to find deals on flights and lodging. 

Can you start planning and making reservations a year out? 

Every room in town at every price point should be available to you one year in advance.  You will be able to pick the best room that fits your budget.

 

How to get to Lisbon on a budget

I would start with the flight.  Book a transatlantic flight on TAP Air Portugal rather than on an American carrier.

TAP flies out of Newark, JFK, Boston, and Miami. Chances are, you can find a cheap domestic flight on a US airline to one of these US hub cities and then  combine it with the transatlantic flight on TAP at a better price than doing the entire trip from your hometown to Lisbon on a US carrier.

How far in advance can you book your flight?  A year?  You might find a $600 roundtrip transatlantic flight on TAP. Other airlines with good deals to Europe include Ireland’s Aerlingus and Dutch KLM

Also, all three of these airlines allow you a free 48 hour layover in their home cities (Lisbon, Dublin, Amsterdam)  if you are continuing on to another destination.

If you are coming from within Europe, try Vueling or RyanAir.

How to save money on local transportation

If you are traveling light, with say – just a backpack, take the metro from the airport.  Buy a Viva Viagem card for 50 cents, and load a few dollars onto it.  Each metro ride costs 1.80.  Even from the airport!

If you come baring lots of luggage, that will not work for you. 

How to save money on lodging in Lisbon

Lodging on a budget can be found easily in Lisbon.  First, The cheapest option for lodging is Couchsurfing.  You can stay with a local, who may or may not have time to show you around, for free, if you join the Couchsurfing network.

There are many hostels in Lisbon, and some of them are rated among the top hostels in the world. 

Check hostelworld and read the reviews carefully to find out whether you are getting a party hostel or a quieter dorm with possibly an older crowd.

See my article Lisbon’s most popular hostels by neighborhood

There are plenty of non-chain hotels offering rooms in old buildings with no elevator for under $80 a night.

AirBnB has some great deals particularly if you can book well in advance.  Also, AirBnB owners are likely to offer huge discounts (as much as half off) if you are willing to book their property for a whole month.

Speaking of months, July and August are the hottest and most crowded months in Lisbon. 

Prices will be highest in July and August.  May / June and September / October are the shoulder seasons.  These months offer milder weather, smaller crowds, and better prices.

I would recommend trying to find accommodations near a metro stop, and I prefer to be on flat land rather than at the top of a hill.

How to save money on food in Lisbon

What are your budget options for meals in Lisbon?  First, try to find a hotel or hostel that includes breakfast in the price. 

Then, you can buy produce, vegetables, breads, cheese and wine at grocery stores rather than always eating in restaurants. 

Minipreço, Bomercado, and Pingo Doçe are examples of small chain grocery stores.   There are also mom and pop grocers all over the city which may offer even cheaper options.

If you keep your eyes open, you can find a few great deals right around Rossio Square.  For example, Buffet Livre de Leão, Rua 1 de Dezembro , All you can eat for 9 euros. 

Also facing Praça do Figueiro, you will find several small, open-air lunch counters serving different pastries and small sandwiches for under five euros.

Also in the Baixa neighborhood, you can fill up on seafood rice at Marisqueira Uma for under 15 euros.  A good splurge if you are on a budget.

You could try Cantina das Freiras.  This humble cafeteria run by nuns donates every penny you spend (likely to be six to eight euros) to charity.

The food is fine and filling.  And you can sit on their rooftop terrace with views of the 25 of April Bridge. 

The Cantina is located at Travessa do Ferragial, 1.  Find the small alley, look for a huge wooden door with a tiny, handwritten sign.  Enter and go to the top floor.

O Prato do Dia – A homestyle lunch should run you 8 euros or less and fill you up. Basically, this is the daily special.

In general, bread, olives, cheese, etc. are not free.  They will cost you as much as 5 euros before your meal starts.  You can decline them by saying “Não, obrigado.”

Doner Kebab – the fast food of Europe.  Hot pita bread, lamb or other meat, red and white sauce, and a small salad.  The Turkish Doner Kebab resembles a Gyro or Shawarma and will fill you up for 5 euros.   Where to find them?  Europe’s best fast food – the Doner Kebab – In Lisbon!

Sardines and Bacalhau. These are the staple foods of the Portuguese common man.  They will be priced cheaply, as long as you are not in a tourist trap.

While no one would say crab and shellfish are particularly cheap, it is cheaper to enjoy in Lisbon than where you live, or in any other European country. Want to know more about seafood in Lisbon?

For instance, Baía do Peixe, Praça do Campo Pequeno offers a seafood rodizio – all you can eat seafood for 22 euros.  Maybe the 22 euros is steep for your budget, but it is still a good deal!

Free activities that will help you enjoy Lisbon on a budget

Lisbon-Chill-Out-freetour.com offers a free walking tour at 10:00, 11:00, and 4:30 This tour leaves from Praça Luis de Camões. 

Also, Takefreetours.com has daily tours at 11 am and 3:30.  The tour leaves from Restauradores Square and lasts 2.5 hours. 

Takefreetours.com says, “We want everyone to get to know our city regardless of their budget.”

But know that guides on these tours work for tips only.  You give what you can, but even a generous tip is still less than what you would spend on other tour companies.

Jardim do Principe Real and Largo do Carmo are great places to relax outdoors.

Sé Cathedral, Igreja de São Roque, Igreja de São Domingos, and Igreja de Santo    António.  Free admission to these beautiful, centuries-old churches.

Feira da Ladra – The Thieves’ Market, a flea market that pops up every Tuesday and Saturday at Campo de Santa Clara.

Finding and enjoying all of Lisbon’s miradouros (scenic viewpoints) is free. 

So is looking for examples of azulejo tiles.  In order to get started, try the Mosteiro de São Vicente de Fora (free). 

Also, nearby you will find the André Saraiva’s modern mural, made up of 52,738 hand-painted tiles. 

And look for Fabrica Viuva Lamego on Largo de Intendente (square) near the Intendente Metro station.  

And, for 5 euros, you can enjoy the National Museum of Azulejos.  Built in the old Convento da Madre de Deus, the museum has one of the largest ceramic collections in Europe. 

The fabrication process is covered, and you pass through a timeline spanning of 500 years of tile art.  Also included is the stunning St. Anthony’s chapel inside the museum.  Buses 718, 742, 794 stop in front of the museum.  Admission: 5 Euros 

The beaches are free.  Transportation to get there will cost a little.  Transportation from Cais do Sodré station to Cascais via train is a 42 minute trip.  You need two 2.25 euro tickets, or free with a Lisboa Card.  For schedules on the train to Cascais.

Another option is the beach at Costa da Caparica.  From Praça Areeiro (metro green line), Take TST bus 161 and ride until the final stop in Costa da Caparica.  The ride can take 45 minutes or longer depending on traffic.  Tickets are 3.20 euros each way.  For schedules check TST buses.  TST buses do not accept Viva Viagem cards.

A slightly quicker trip to Costa da Caparica is the ferry (1.30 euros each way on the Viva Viagem card)  from Cais do Sodré to the bus station across the river in Cacilhas, where you can catch the 135 or 124 TST buses.

For more information on free things to do in Lisbon, see my article, A guide to free things to do in Lisbon, Portugal

Free admission to Lisbon’s  museums

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos - Jeronimos Monastery, Lisbon
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos – Jeronimos Monastery, Lisbon

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos – free every Sunday from 10am until 2pm.  One of the best sites in Lisbon. 

Take the E15 Tram or the 128 bus, or from Cais do Sodré station take the train toward Cascais and get off at Belem.

Belém Tower – free every Sunday from 10am until 2pm.  One of the best sites in Lisbon.  Across the street from Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. 

If doing both on the same day, go inside the monastery for free and enjoy the tower from outside.  You won’t have time for free admission to both.

National Pantheon – tombs of presidents, poets, artists, and explorers.  Free every Sunday from 10am until 2pm  Offers panoramic views of Lisbon. 

To get here, take Tram 28, or the metro to Santa Apalónia Station (Blue Line), or buses 12, 28, 34, 35, 704, 745, 759. 

National Coach Museum – A collection of antique carriages, coaches, and other wheeled vehicles –  free admission on Sundays from 10am til 2pm.

Oriente Museum – showcases Portugal’s relationship with Asia over the centuries.  Free Fridays from 6pm – 10pm.  Located at the Alcântara Dock, Avenida 24 de Julho.  Take Tram 15 or 18, or  bus 728, 732, or 760

Museu Berardo – Private collection of modern art includes Picasso, Dali, Max Ernst, Piet Mondrian, Joan Miró, Magritte, and Warhol.

Free on Saturdays, or 30% off with Lisboa Card.  located in Belém at Praça do Império. Bus 714, 727, 728, 751, get off at Mosteiro dos Jeronimos stop.  Tram 15, get off at Centro Cultural de Belém.

Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation – Free on Sundays after 2pm. Children under 12 always free.

With more than 6000 works of art dating from ancient to the 20th century, the collection also features European masters, Rubens, Van Dyck, Monet, and Renoir.  Every Sunday after 2pm admission is free. 

Located at Avenida de Berna 45A.  By bus: 716, 726, 756 (Avenida de Berna), 746 (Avenida António Augusto de Aguiar), 713, 742 Rua Marquês de Fronteira. 

Closest metro stations are São Sebastião (Blue line, Red line) and Praça de Espanha (Blue line)

Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology (MAAT).   Free first Sunday of every month.  Children under 12 do not pay.

Located on Avenida Brasilia in Belém, Buses 201, 714, 727, 751 or Trams 15 and 18.  Get off at Altiho (MAAT).  

What is the Lisboa card and is it worth it?

The Lisboa Card might be a great way to save some money, depending on what you would like to do while in Lisbon.  It provides free admission to all of the historic sites in Belém – the Torre de Belém, the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, and the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. 

It also allows free admission to the Elevador da Santa Justa and Tram 28, and the Museu dos Azulejos. 

Discounts are offered at the Fado Museum and the Gulbenkian Museum.  It even offers discounts at the UNESCO Heritage sites in Sintra – the Sintra Palace and the Quinta da Regaleira, if you can make time to get to Sintra within your three days that you hold a pass.    

The 24 hour Lisboa Card costs 19 eu for an adult, 12 eu for a child.  A 48 hour Lisboa Card is 32 eu for an adult and 18eu for a child.  A 72 hour Lisboa Card costs 40 eu for an adult and 21 eu for a child.  A child is between 4 -15 years of age.

The card can be purchased at the  Lisbon Welcome Center, Foz Palace  tourism office next to Rossio station, or at the airport. You can also buy the card online.

You can either activate the card at the airport, using it on the metro ride to your hotel, or, if you need a day or so to relax and  recover from your travels, you can wait to activate the card.  Your window of time does not begin until you actually activate the card.

 All public transportation is free with the Lisboa card, including the trains to Sintra, Cascais, and Belém.  You get deeper savings with a longer ticket and a busier itinerary.

Other things that will eat away at your budget include how much you drink how much you will spend on gifts and souvenirs.

Conclusion – You can enjoy Lisbon on a budget!  In general, Portugal has lower prices than the United States and  the rest of Europe.  For a capital city, it is very economical. 

If you plan in advance, look for discounts, find free or cheap ways to entertain yourself, and don’t indulge like a drunken tourist, you can have a great vacation in Lisbon for little money.

As a caution though, I do encourage you to splurge on some seafood, to eat a few pasteis de nata, to try a four euro bottle of wine in the grocery store, to pay to go into the Jerónimos Monastery, and to take the train to Sintra to go see the castles.  You will love Portugal!

Interested in reading more about Lisbon?  See my post, 25 things to see or experience in Lisbon