How to choose the best area to stay in Lisbon by purpose of travel
What is the first thing that comes to mind when looking for the best area to stay in Lisbon? Probably location, right?
Most recommendations for where to stay in Lisbon factor the most central location, regardless of why you’re visiting, how long you’re staying, and how you plan to travel around (Car? Bus? Metro? Walking?).
Before you book that hotel that seems to be in the perfect spot, let’s assess why you are visiting and how are you planning to spend your time in Lisbon.
In Lisbon for a business trip
Whether you’re in town for a business meeting or a conference, chances are your interest in networking or getting to know the city depends on how much free time you’ll have.
Business trips are usually quick and to the point – you’re here to work, not indulge in sightseeing.
Lisbon doesn’t exactly have a business or a financial district, at least not defined as such. We usually split the city into old and new, residential and touristic.
For the traditional business travelers, it all boils down to convenience. A decent hotel with enough amenities for comfort, close to public transportation, not too far from the location where you’ll be doing business (time is money), and within walking distance from restaurants (preferably with enough options for variety).
Business travelers’ best bet is one of these three areas (depending on time management and whether you’d like to include some time off to do a little sightseeing):
- Oriente – the area is 30% chain hotels and offices, 10% restaurants and shops, including one shopping mall, and 60% residential. It’s 10 minutes away from the airport, but it’s the furthest from the city center (on average, half-an-hour away by car and bus, and about 10 minutes by train).
- Saldanha/Marquês de Pombal – a semi-balanced area with big chain hotels, offices, some restaurants and cafes, and private homes. Close to Metro’s Blue and Yellow lines and buses (including the airport shuttle)
- Baixa – a bit more touristic than the previous areas, but close to Metro’s Blue and Green lines, train stations (Rossio and Santa Apolónia), lots of cafes, restaurants, and bars (although most of them cater to tourists, so be aware of tourist traps)
One-time-off trips: in Lisbon for a big event
Think huge events that (will) take Lisbon by storm, like the Web Summit or the Eurovision 2018.
Since you’re in Lisbon to attend an event, your needs are slightly different from the typical business traveler and a little closer to a tourist’s needs.
Like the business travelers, chances are your schedule is packed, and you have to keep a close eye on your calendar. However, because your whole day doesn’t revolve around the event, you’d also like to take some time for sightseeing (and you probably even booked an extra day just for that).
Events attracting big crowds usually happen in one venue in the city: Altice Arena (formerly known as MEO Arena, formerly known as Pavilhão Atlântico).
The venue’s location is excellent to get crowds away from the city center but is not the best place to stay because it’s far away from Lisbon’s downtown.
My advice is to stay close to Baixa-Chiado. The city is pretty walking-friendly, so you can visit 80% of the must-see spots in your free time from there. You’ll also be very close to transportation to and from the Oriente venue (metro, buses, and train in Santa Apolónia).
You’ll also be close to restaurants, bars, and shopping (including a couple of chain supermarkets).
I would strongly recommend that you don’t stay in areas like Alfama and Mouraria. You can explore them on a walking tour.
The last thing you want is to hike up a cobblestoned street after you’re exhausted from conferences or concerts. Alfama isn’t the greatest with public transportation besides bus and tram. Baixa-Chiado is mostly flat, and trust me, you’ll want flat ground after an exhausting day.
If hotels near Baixa-Chiado are full, find accommodation near the other stations of Metro’s Blue Line – Restauradores, Avenida, Marquês.
Visiting Lisbon as a tourist
Overtourism is becoming an issue, and gentrification in Lisbon is now a reality.
Tourists are mostly attracted to the (so-called) authentic neighborhoods like Alfama, Graça, Mouraria, Bairro Alto, and (more recently) Príncipe Real and Cais do Sodré.
The downside is that this authenticity is now a fabrication to attract even more tourists, causing evictions and a very unsustainable lifestyle for the struggling residents (who, eventually, move out).
Complaints about noise after hours and drunken foreigners ringing the wrong apartment doorbell in the middle of the night have become too frequent.
As much as I’d like to tell you these are the best places to stay in Lisbon to get the pulse of the city, I’d be lying to you. You can experience that just by taking a stroll through any of these neighborhoods in the early morning. Besides, those cobblestoned alleyways and stairs are tough to manage when you’re dragging a trolley behind you.
You’ll have a better experience if you stay in one of the extremes – Belém, in the West, or Oriente, in the East.
Considering you will probably only spend time at the hotel in the morning for breakfast and at night to sleep, and you don’t mind a little commute, both areas are well connected to public transportation that will take you directly to or close enough to all must-see spots:
- Bus 728’s route by the river connects Oriente to Belém (and vice-versa) with strategic stops near Metro stations at Santa Apolónia (Blue Line), Terreiro do Paço (Blue Line), and Cais do Sodré (Green Line), and close to many must-see spots along the way;
- Despite Belém not having (yet) a Metro line, it’s served by the urban train (Cascais Line to Cais do Sodré), trams, and buses to the city center. Plus, the location near the river is a bonus if you enjoy running, biking, or other outdoor activities;
- Oriente is closer to the airport (10 minutes away) and is served by Metro (Red Line), buses (including the express bus 782 to and from the city center during rush hour on weekdays), and urban, suburban, and international trains. It has shops, restaurants, and the urban park Parque das Nações.
Longer stays: in Lisbon as a digital freelancing nomad
Lisbon is an excellent destination for digital nomads, especially since tech events like the Web Summit made the Portuguese capital its headquarters from 2016 to 2028.
The café culture also helps. In most places, even those without a WiFi connection, you can stay for as long as you want for as little as €0.60 for an espresso. Many of these places are a mix of family’s and students’ hangouts and digital nomads’ workspace.
Choosing the best spot to live in Lisbon is a little trickier, though. Short-term rentals become too expensive for someone staying for a couple of months. The price of long-term rentals has gone up significantly since Lisbon became a popular tourist destination.
Investing in a public transportation pass is not an option. Being close to important day-to-day facilities like a supermarket (and, for most, a coworking space) is essential.
Areas like Alcântara, São Bento, Santos, and Madragoa are some of the favorites for digital nomads – they’re not entirely remote from other members of the digital nomad community. They’re close enough to locals to not make you feel entirely like a foreigner.
There you’ll find cafés with good WiFi, coworking spaces, small family-owned grocery stores, and just enough authenticity, so you don’t feel like you’re disturbing life in the city.
Notes on accommodation in Lisbon
Overtourism is becoming a problem in the city, but the locals don’t blame it on tourists. The current law favors short-term rentals over long-term rentals, with significantly better tax benefits for the first one.
It’s not surprising that most property owners want to make the highest profit, especially if they have a property in one of the hot zones for tourists. For that reason, long-term leases aren’t renewed.
Ridiculous prices range from €400 a month for a bedroom in a shared apartment to €1,000 a month for a studio apartment not bigger than a closet in Bairro Alto.
Property owners get cocky to the point of bragging how they’ll find tourists who don’t mind paying those prices – and, most of the time, they will.
Despite a visible economic recovery in Portugal, there’s a gap between the Portuguese’s average income and rent prices, particularly in Lisbon and Greater Lisbon.
But that’s a problem local authorities have to fix, not tourists.
However, you can contribute to the balance between locals and visitors while visiting Lisbon, especially if you’d rather rent an apartment for a week instead of staying in a hotel.
Since July 1st, 2017, all rentals in Portugal listed on websites like Airbnb, Booking.com, or Homestay must be officially registered with the Tourism Office. That’s one license per property, not per user account on the platform.
This way, the property owner is forced to pay taxes so that, in a way, you as a visitor contribute to the local economy. It doesn’t solve all housing problems in Lisbon. Still, it’s a start to fix the accommodation crisis and the opportunistic efforts of some.
Owners can no longer list a property without this number. If one of these websites list an unregistered property, they will be fined.
Before booking, look for a registration number that looks like this 12345/AL (AL stands for alojamento local)). On Booking.com it’s usually mentioned in the Fine Print section, and on Airbnb is mentioned in the description.
Some apartment owners add the information to the property’s photo gallery.