There’s no denying, thanks to increased popularity, Lisbon has become more expensive in recent years. Thankfully, it’s still a very rewarding city to visit on a budget, even if you only have one day in Lisbon.
With a warm and dry climate year-round, there are plenty of ways to enjoy your time in Lisbon out and about in the city rather than having to pay for museum tickets to escape the rain.
Lisbon is such a gorgeous city, you don’t have to pay a cent to explore its beauty. Lose yourself in the city’s quaint cobblestone streets. Many are so steep they afford the most spectacular views from the top. Hang out in picturesque city parks and stroll around some of the city’s most famous landmarks.
Walk the Route of Tram 28
Tram 28 is one of the most famous attractions in Lisbon. Riding these yellow trams isn’t free and they’re often overcrowded and full of pickpockets. Experience what makes Tram 28 so special, without paying anything on a self-guided walking tour of the Tram 28 route.
Tram 28 route runs from Martim Moniz to Campo Ourique, passing through the popular tourist districts of Graca, Alfama, Baixa and Estrela passing many of the most famous and beautiful spots in the city – it’s like a quick tour of Lisbon’s highlights. The total route is around 7km.
Exploring the route on foot, you can stop at places that interest you and explore the area slowly from street level rather than from a crowded tram as it hurtles through the narrow streets.
It will take a couple of hours to walk it, but think of the time you’ll spend queuing to get on the jam packed tram at each stop you jump off at.
Visit the Praça do Comércio
On the Tagus River banks, the main city square is one of the most scenic attractions in Lisbon. The largest royal square in Western Europe and second-largest in the continent after St. Petersburg’s Palace Square. Surrounded by bright yellow Pombaline style buildings, is the Triumph Arch – Arco da Rua Augusta, a symbol of Lisbon’s recovery from the catastrophic 1755 earthquake.
The famous Equestrian statue of King Joseph I, the King of Portugal at the time of the earthquake, takes centre stage. A commemoration of the efforts King Joseph and his minister, Pombal, made in restoring the city.
You’ll notice, however, that he’s facing towards the estuary – away from the city of Lisbon. Some locals believe this is a sly hint to the fact King Joseph I and his family deserted Lisbon when the earthquake hit, instead, fleeing to Belém for safety.
You’ll also find Lisbon’s oldest café in Praça do Comércio, “Martinho da Arcada,” in business since 1782.
The Praça do Comércio is one of the highlights of the city, and it’s totally free to visit.
Visit One of Lisbon’s Free Museums
Many museums in Portugal are free to residents and citizens on Sundays and public holidays. But visitors to Lisbon also have a vast array of museums to choose from all free of charge.
These are a few museums in Lisbon you can visit for free.
Museu do Dinheiro (Money Museum)
Discover the history of money around the world, including pre monetary currency, the production of banknotes and coins and money’s role in citizens lives throughout history. The exhibition offers visitors an engaging multimedia interactive experience. See the Museu do Dinheiro website for opening hours and exhibition information.
Berardo Collection Museum (Museu Coleção Berardo)
Visit Lisbon’s most acclaimed modern and contemporary art collections for free. The collection acquired by Portuguese businessman Joe Berardo, with assistance of friend Francisco Capelo, whose own collection is seen in the Lisbon’s Mude Design and Fashion Museum is considered one of Europe’s best collections.
See works by some of the biggest names in contemporary art, including Warhol, Picasso, Dali, Duchamp, Magritte, Miró, Jackson Pollock, and Jeff Koons. See the Museu Coleção Berardo for opening hours and exhibition information.
MAAT Museum (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology)
One of the most striking landmarks of modern architecture is a worthwhile visit on it’s own to simply walk around and appreciate the beauty of the structure. It also affords some of the best views in Lisbon. However, if you happen to be in Lisbon on the first Sunday of the month, you can see the exhibitions inside for free. See the MAAT website for more information.
MUDE Museu do Design e da Moda (Fashion and Design Museum)
A must see for anyone interested in design and fashion. Another acclaimed collection, see over 1000 design objects and over 1200 couture pieces by famous names such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood, and Yves Saint Laurent including a famous Jean Desses gown that Renee Zellweger wore to the 2001 Oscars and Christian Dior’s landmark 1947 New Look.
See design trends from around the world including classic pieces embracing innovative design in furnishings, glass, and jewelry from 1937 to the present. See Mude Design and Fashion Museum website for opening hours.
Discover the past lives of Lisbon and more than 2500 years of history as you climb down to the Núcleo Arqueológico da Rua dos Correeiros.
See overlapping structures ranging from the Iron Age to the Pombaline period. You can take a free 45 minute guided tour of the ruins beneath Lisbon or you can explore the underground world of Baixa on your own. See the Núcleo Arqueológico website for opening hours and tour times.
Climb up to the São Jorge Castle
Towering over the city, São Jorge Castle is hard to miss. With evidence of the fortification dating back to the 1st century BC, it is one of the oldest landmarks in Lisbon. It was expanded in the 11th century by the Moors, and once again expanded and improved by King Alfonso I in the mid-12th century.
You’d have to pay to enter the castle (approx. €10), but you can walk up to the castle and walk around its exterior walls for free for one of the best viewpoints of Lisbon. From the castle walls, you can snap some of the best photos of Lisbon from its best angle.
Head to the Beach
Lisbon isn’t exactly on the coast (it’s on an estuary) but it’s close enough. There are a ton of beaches you can visit on day trips from Lisbon, and, obviously, hanging out on the beach is totally free.
The best beaches near Lisbon are Praia de Carcavelos, Praia da Conceição in the town of Cascais (which also has great coastal walks that are free), and Praia de Santo Amaro de Oeiras.
Unfortunately, none of these beaches are walkable from Lisbon (the nearest beach, Praia de Santo Amaro de Oeiras, is 17km away). However, the train fares are as low as €1.55 each way, which is totally worth it for a full day of free relaxation at the beach and spectacular coastal walking.
Stroll Around the Alfama Neighbourhood
The Alfama district is the oldest neighbourhood in the city, and the only neighbourhood to survive the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755. Wandering around Alfama, you get a real feel of what the ‘old’ Lisbon must have been like.
Historically, The Alfama was associated with poverty and poor conditions. However, as Lisbon became an international tourist destination, Alfama shrugged off its less-than-flattering reputation to showcase itself as one of the most charming and quaint areas in the city.
The best way to explore the Alfama is to aimlessly wander the steep cobbled streets, stopping to take in each panoramic viewpoint, and see how the historic neighbourhood continues to survive by reinventing itself alongside lifelong locals with restoration projects, a modern cafe scene and independent boutiques.
Lisbon’s Famous Viewpoints (Miradouros)
As it’s on a steep hill, Lisbon has no shortage of viewpoints overlooking the colourful city. The Portuguese word for viewpoint is ‘miradouro‘ so if you search this in Google Maps you’ll see results of place names with Miradouro in front. Chances are you’ll already be close to a viewpoint or two.
The viewpoints are particularly popular at sunset as you get expansive views of the sky as well as the city. However, the viewpoints are great to visit at any time of day. If you want to visit without crowds, try the afternoon when it is hottest, you’ll probably be the only one there.
For some of the best viewpoints in the city, head to Miradouro de Santa Luzia, Miradouro da Senhora do Monte, and Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara.
The Monument of the Discoveries
In the Belém neighbourhood of Lisbon you’ll find the 52-metre tall Monument to Discoveries. The monument celebrates the Age of Discovery and the explorers who lead the way in Portugal’s overseas expansion and building the Portuguese Empire.
The design represents a ship’s prow, and you’ll find the figures of over 30 prominent people who played an important role in Portugal’s expansion carved into the monument. Just in front of it you’ll find a huge marble map of the world, showing the routes of Portuguese ships during the Age of Discovery.
There’s an option to pay to enter the monument, which includes some exhibition space and an elevator to the top of the monument, but this really isn’t necessary. The best bits of the monument can be viewed for free from the outside.
See Lisbon’s Version of the Golden Gate Bridge (Ponte 25 de Abril)
Okay, so it’s not actually called the Golden Gate Bridge – it’s called the Ponte 25 de Abril the 25th of April Bridge. But it’s undeniable that the bridge in the Belém neighbourhood looks strikingly similar to the iconic San Franciscan one.
The Bridge’s name has a complicated history. When it was built in 1966, it was named Salazar Bridge, after the Portuguese dictator. When he was overthrown, the bridge was renamed to celebrate the date of the revolution, the 25th of April.
The 25th of April Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge are similar in length (2.5km), were built by the same company, and are painted the same colour. The only noticeable difference is the gaps on the main arches – in San Francisco, they’re square, and in Lisbon they’re a diamond shape.
You can’t actually walk across the bridge, but it’s worth walking along the river from the Monument of Discoveries to get closer to it and snap some photos with the iconic statue Cristo Rei on the southern banks of the Tejo.
Explore Lisbon’s Street Art
Although the street art scene isn’t as widely known as the scenes in Berlin and London, street art in Lisbon is surprisingly great – even more so because it is not as well known so even more rewarding.
Following the 1974 revolution, the city’s walls became covered in political murals almost overnight. Today, street art has become such an important part of the city that artistic graffiti is sponsored by the Lisbon City Council.
There are so many fascinating street art pieces in the city that it would be impossible to list them all, but to start, head to Travessa dos Fiéis de Deus. Here, you’ll find a piece recalling the leftist propaganda that covered the area in the 1970s. For another stand-out piece, head to Calçada do Menino Deus, where you’ll see a clever piece that used the street’s cobblestones to create a mural of Fado superstar Amália Rodrigues. You can find some more street art locations here.
Catch a Free Fado Show
Lisbon is the birthplace of Fado, the soulful melancholic genre of music that can be traced back to the 1820s. Catching a fado performance should be on everybody’s Lisbon bucket list. Unfortunately, there are a lot of fado tourist traps that charge a fortune.
It might be easy to think that fado only exists nowadays in overpriced tourist restaurants, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, there are quite a few places in Lisbon that offer free fado performances.
The locals’ favourite is Tasca do Chico. This beloved fado institution, open since 1993, has free fado shows every night at 8pm. You can make a reservation, or just show up (but make sure you get there early as it’s very popular.). As you watch the fado, it’s customary to order some drinks or a round of tapas, but you can just order something very cheap (like a beer) to catch the free performance.
As you can see, there is so much to do in Lisbon for free. Whether you’re lounging on the beach, checking out the views of the city from a miradouro, or enjoying the sounds of a free fado performance, a trip to Lisbon doesn’t have to break the bank.
About the Author
Ella is the author behind the travel blog Many More Maps, which is all about fitting travel around the 9-5. As a tried and true budget backpacker, she loves nothing more than travelling the world on as little money as possible. When she’s not working in London, you’ll find her on a free walking tour or frantically researching the best free things to do in a city before she arrives there. Her favourite countries to travel in on a budget are Portugal, Russia and South Africa.