Portugal – Budget Travel In Lisbon

affordable daily specials

This is a guest post from Zara Quiroga. Zara and Ashray run the travel website Backpack ME, where they share tips and inspirational stories in the shape of posts, photos and videos. With their different cultural backgrounds (Portugese and Indian), they want to inspire anyone to travel, no matter where they come from.

Lisbon on a Budget

Lisbon is one of the most affordable capitals you are likely to find when traveling around Europe. Yet affordability is not the only factor making Portugal’s main city an enjoyable destination. Sitting by a river and close to the sea, Lisbon is home to great cuisine, unique architecture, friendly people and moderate weather all year long.

These are just some of the reasons to make a trip to Lisbon. There are many more.

Ashray and Zara in Lisbon
Ashray and Zara in Lisbon

Here are some tips to best enjoy your trip to Lisbon on a budget or, like many, simply enjoy good deals and making the most of your uros!

TRANSPORTATION

Public Transportation:

Public transportation is the best way to get around Lisbon on a budget. Public transportation in the area of Great Lisbon consists of metro, buses, trams, funiculars, trains and even boats that cross between Lisbon and the suburban areas on the other side of the Tagus river. To visit the most popular touristic sites you will mainly end up using metro, buses, trams and funiculars.

Although one can buy individual tickets on board or before getting in any of the above, 7 Colinas Card is the way to go to save money! You can purchase it at any stall with the a sign reading Carris (which is the name of the company operating the yellow buses, trams and funiculars) or at the entrance of the metro stations (both at the ticket counter or in the machines). The card itself costs a mere €0.50 and you can recharge it depending on your needs. If a single ride on a bus would cost €1.75 on board, it costs only €1.15 using the 7 Colinas Card. To add to the advantages, you need to only pay once and can board different buses and even the metro consecutively. Find all the info here: http://www.carris.pt/en/transport-tickets/.

There is a newly opened metro station connecting Lisbon’s airport with downtown and the entire city, making it much cheaper than before to get into town – get your 7 Colinas card as soon as you land! Although the metro doesn’t work 24 hours, there are buses going around all day and night long.

public transportation in downtown
Public transportation in downtown

Taxis:

Taxis are not a cheap option to go around and you should keep in mind that, whenever you carry luggage, the driver will put it in the trunk for you and this will add an extra of €1.6 to your total fee.

Car rental:

If you consider renting a car and do some road trips departing from Lisbon, please take into consideration that Portugal has an excellent highway system, but it is paid at considerably high fees. A trip between Lisbon and Porto on the highway (“autoestrada” in Portuguese – identified as letter A followed by a number and name of destination) won’t take you much more than 3 hours, but can easily set you back on €20 just for tolls. Add to that an approximate €35 for fuel for an average vehicle and there you go, €55 gone in just a few hours!

The alternative to this is to take “estrada nacional” which is the national free road network, going through cities and towns. If you are not in a hurry to reach a specific destination, this can surely be a more entertaining way to get acquainted with the Portuguese landscape and settlements. Also, taking the “estrada nacional” (roads are marked with N followed by a number and name of destination) you will have many more options of places to stop at for coffee or a bite. The 24/7 stations found along the highway sell limited food and beverage choices at inflated prices.

ACCOMMODATION

There is plenty of variety when it comes to budget accommodation in downtown Lisbon and also in less touristic, but still interesting and pleasant areas.

If you plan to stay in for a little while and want to have your own space, I’d recommend looking for rentals at Airbnb or Roomorama. For a more traditional stay in pure Lisbon style, you might want to look around the older areas of Alfama or Baixa Chiado. They won’t necessarily have the most affordable options, but you will be in the centre of action and will end up saving money going around.

FOOD

There are plenty of places to eat at in Lisbon, from cheap corner bars (commonly called “tascas”), to medium restaurants serving typical dishes (“cozinha regional”) to high end haute cuisine hot spots.

“Pastelarias” are the ever present pastry shops where many locals have breakfast, but also lunch and other meals, as many serve a daily special called “prato do dia” or “menu” (when including more than just the dish).

affordable daily specials
Affordable daily specials

“Prato do dia” can be had at pastry shops and restaurants and the options commonly include a variety of dishes to choose form. You can either combine a main dish with soup, beverage and desert or coffee (into a “menu”), or have the main dish alone. A daily special can go for as little as 3 euros in certain places (specially if you’re having a “mini-prato”, that is, a smaller serving of the daily special), although they will more commonly be above 6 euros if you take the full deal. In some busy spots, specially pastry shops and not as much proper restaurants, you can save a little by eating standing an the counter – if you sit at a table, a dish can be around €0.50 more expensive.

Popular pastry shop with outdoor seating and views over Baixa Chiado
Popular pastry shop with outdoor seating and views over Baixa Chiado

Outdoor seating areas are very popular in the touristic spots, specially in the big squares around Baixa Chiado. The setting is lovely, but keep in mind that when you eat/drink outside, the prices tend to be higher than if sitting inside (either at the table or counter) – this surcharge would normally be mentioned in the menu.

If you are a DIY kind of traveler and would like to take advantage of Lisbon’s green areas and go for a picnic, you’ll find good ingredients and ready made food in supermarkets. I used to do this all the time while working in Lisbon, as long as the weather was sunny.

NIGHTLIFE

It is rather easy to enjoy the nightlife of Lisbon on a moderate budget. Our country loves drinking and produces a lot of wine and beer, and so these drinks are not as expensive as you might find in other European countries.

You can easily get draft beer for €1 or €2 but for this you shouldn’t ask for a beer (“cerveja” in Portuguese), you should ask for an “Imperial” which is beer by the glass (usually 25cl).

If you like drinking and hanging out and prefer avoiding paying a cover charge to get inside a club, I’d recommend heading out to famous Bairro Alto or the more recently pumping area of Cais do Sodre, where cheap places to drink are common.

Amalia the greatest icon in fado music
Amalia the greatest icon in fado music

In Bairro Alto or Alfama, you’ll even find places with live Fado (the traditional Portuguese music that many tourists like to hear live when they visit) without cover charge. Most travel agents will recommend you to go to a restaurant with a live show, but those treats are costly. Head to a down-to-earth bar (“tasca”) with live Fado  that you’ll come across in the alleys of Alfama and pay only for whatever you eat or drink. Believe me, this feels like the real deal and you shouldn’t miss one of these shows when you come to town. Whether you like the music genre or not, it is a great cultural experience!

Hoping you’ll make it to Lisbon sometime soon… Boa viagem!

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21 thoughts on “Portugal – Budget Travel In Lisbon

  1. I love Lisbon! I didn’t actually now that there was a price difference between sitting inside and outside, that explains why they all stand by the bar.

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  2. Great tips for saving money in Lisbon. I’d just add that after several problems with public transport tickets, I’ve found the only truly integrated ticket, apart from the Lisbon Card (city tourist card) , is Zapping.

    This is a card you top up with cash, not tickets, so you are free to spend that money on any form of public transport in the city by validating your card at the start of your journey.

    In the past, I’ve lost money by loading up Sete Colinas cards with several journeys only to find they weren’t valid on the metro. I’ve also had to buy a different Viva Viagem card for trains and one for the metro, all very confusing and frustrating.

    The easiest option is definitely Zapping.

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  3. Bookmarked:)! Very cool & informative post – food, drinks & music on a budget? Sounds like my kind of town… Looking forward to roam around in Lisboa, hopefully sooner than later!!

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  4. I have never been there, so I can’t say something for sure. But in general I liked the description of this place. The only sad moment is a necessity to pay taxi-driver for the luggage., but it’s not so important) Thanks a lot for the review!

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  5. Pingback: Travel Like A Pauper, Eat Like A Prince – Budget Travellers Eating Tips
  6. Nice post. You include everything like accommodation, food, transport etc. in your post. This is very helpful post to guide someone who wants good travel within his budget. Thanks Zara Quiroga for writing budget travel in Lisbon.

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  7. Dear Zara,
    your post is awesome
    I will be in Lisbon next week-
    for the down to earth place in alfama- where would you suggest?
    I am on a tight budget and would love to enjoy local fado- instead of paying 16 Euro going to Fado in Chiado..
    Look forward hearing from you.

    Cheers,
    CM

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  8. We always, whenever possible, walk everywhere when we visit a new place. We rarely catch public transport, even if tuk tuk drivers in India and SE Asia can’t believe we’d actually want to walk from one place to the next! Now that we’re housesitting in France we’re back to eating healthily and my wife has started doing yoga again. Travelling is great, but it’s hard to stay healthy which is why we’re enjoying our downtime, getting back on the straight and narrow.

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