Vacationing can be an expensive venture, but savvy travellers know how to suss out the cheap deals and mix free fun with pricy attractions. Sometimes just knowing which days the museums are free can save a fortune in entrance fees, and many neighbourhoods in old cities are as much an amble through history as the priciest tour on a bus. If you enjoy walking and have some flexibility in your schedule, you can often make visiting even the costliest cities easier on the pocketbook. Lisbon has steep entrance fees, but by visiting some of the attractions listed here you’ll still see the city – but for a fraction of the cost.
Creativecommons.org/ Alain GAVILLET
Tram 28: Skip the tour bus – this local tram goes through the more picturesque areas of the city and the price is minimal. You’ll pass through the Alfama district, have an excellent view of the city and the Sé Cathedral and can stay on the tram all the way to St George’s Castle. You can choose to pay the fee to enter the castle, but walking down the hill is even better as you’ll get a free tour of Alfama.
Tram 15: This tram provides 30 minutes of lovely scenery, and although you probably wouldn’t take the tram just for the view, it’s a great way to get to Baixa.
Alfama: You can walk up, but as the tram is fun anyway, why not get a lift to the top of the neighbourhood and walk down? It is believed that this area has been occupied since the seventh century BC, and the narrow, winding streets certainly attest to it dating back to well before modern vehicles. This is a very old residential area and uneven walkways, odd-shaped doors and hanging laundry tell the story of the residents better than any guide book.
Chiado: This was a highly fashionable district in the late 19th century, where artists and poets went to feel inspired and commune with friends. Although a fire did serious damage in 1988, the reconstruction has been carefully done to preserve the fading elegance of the quarter.
Baixa: The 1755 quake destroyed the downtown area, but it was redone in the modern, grid pattern that was coming into style at the time. The gridiron pattern created with 250-year-old architecture makes for a delightful mix of modern stores and old family businesses. Look down as you walk and you’ll see the traditional Portuguese black-and-white patterns in the paving.
Belém: West of the centre, Belém is easily reached by tram and it is where you’ll find many of the city’s museums and monuments. The waterfront neighbourhood is a fun place to wander around, and for a small fee you can climb the stairs of the Belém tower to get an aerial view of the city.
Churches and Monasteries
Monastery of St Jerome: This incredibly ornate and peaceful place is in the Belém neighbourhood and can be reached by a scenic tram ride from the city centre. Built for the Heironymite monks during the reign of King Manuel I, the monastery is an excellent example of the Manueline style of architecture that is unique to Portugal. The monastery is free on Sundays.
Sé Cathedral: A Romanesque cathedral built on the grounds of the city’s main mosque, it was raised in celebration of the defeat of the Moors in the 12th century. This is a quick visit if you’re in the Baixa neighbourhood and the cathedral is free, although the cloister and sacristy do have a small charge.
Igreja de Sao Roque: A stunning example of what happens when you mix baroque design with lots of money can be found in the Chapel of St John the Baptist inside the church of St Roque. The chapel is made from alabaster, lapis lazuli and marble, adorned with rich paintings and other religious pieces. Show up on Sunday before 2pm and all the splendor is yours for free.
Variable Cost Adventures
Creativecommons.org/ Anna Pickard
Feira da Ladra: The name means “Thieves’ Market” and it was probably the best place to rid yourself of illegally gotten gains at some point in history. Now it’s a fabulous mix of tourist stuff, flea market treasures and the occasional handmade art piece. There’s no entrance fee, but you may be tempted to buy some of the curious things that can be found only there.
Jardim do Principe Real: A 150-year-old garden that is a favourite hangout for families and seniors. Go there on a Saturday morning to get fresh produce at the market and do some people watching for a while. The price of a cup of coffee gets you a spot at a table and an hour of quiet entertainment enjoying the fountain and the breeze through the ancient cypress trees.
Rua Augusta: This is the main pedestrian shopping street, and depending on your self-restraint, it can be free – or cost a small fortune. Even if you aren’t a fan of shopping, this is the place where you’ll find the highest concentration of buskers, artists and street performers. If you can find a place to sit, it’s an excellent place for watching tourists and locals go about their day.
The View From the Top
Creativecommons.org/ Noel Portugal
Miradouro de Nossa Senhora do Monte is the highest point in the city and has an old chapel in addition to some great views. From the wall you can see St George’s Castle, the Carmo Convent, Monsanto, the Tejo Estuary and the Mouraria neighbourhood. An information panel near the wall points out all the structures you’re looking at.
Santa Luzia is another excellent viewpoint from which to enjoy the city. From there you can see the National Pantheo, St Steven’s Church and the towers of St Michael’s Church. It’s also the perfect spot to look down into the labyrinthine streets of the Alfama district, showing you what you’ll be walking through if you haven’t yet visited the neighbourhood.
Miradouro Sao Pedro de Alcantara can be climbed to while visiting Chiado and it’s a combination viewpoint and tourist-friendly spot. There are often street musicians playing and little shops to browse through. If you don’t mind taking a taxi back to your hotel, it’s also one of the best places to watch the sunset on a clear day.
Creativecommons.org/ Pedro Ribeiro Simões
A lot of the most popular attractions have one free day a week (or sometimes a month) that can save you from paying another entrance fee.
The Museu Nacional do Azulejo (The Tile Museum), the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga (Ancient Art Museum), the Museu dos Coches (Coach Museum), the Modern Art Centre and the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum are all free on Sundays. The gardens of the Gulbenkian are always free and they don’t mind picnickers. If you have a means to get out of the city, the Sintra National Palace is also free on Sunday and it’s a sight that’s even worth paying for if you can’t catch the free period.
The Oriente Museum is free on Friday between 6pm and 10pm. The Museum of Design and Fashion is always free, as are most exhibitions at the Museu Berardo.