With postcard-perfect cobblestone streets, the iconic yellow tram and hilltop vistas, Lisbon is as pretty as can be. Portugal’s capital city is set high on seven hills, with an Iberian charm that is unmatched. It’s a dream city for food lovers, famous for traditional tascas (taverns), fresh seafood and pastéis de nata, a sweet custard tart. Step back in time at the 19th-century Mercado da Ribeira or taste the future at Time Out street food market.
Lisbon also offers much in the way of culture and history, with world-class museums and historic monuments. For sweeping views of the city, go to the 6th-century São Jorge Castle. Visitors will also enjoy lively nightlife in the hip Barrio Alto neighborhood and traditional fado (Portuguese folk music). The best thing about Lisbon is its variety, making it enjoyable for couples, families and groups of friends alike.
There’s plenty of scenic drives to take outside of the city limits, from coastal routes along the North Atlantic coast to national parks high in the mountains. Lisbon’s location makes an ideal starting point for exploring more of Portugal by car.
Navigating Lisbon’s busy (and narrow!) roads can be intimidating, but be aware of any differences to what you’re used to and you’ll be just fine. Here’s some important tips for renting a car and driving in Lisbon.
1. Parking spaces in Lisbon city can be tight, so a mini-size car is best for a city break. Roads along the coast can often be narrow and steep, so you will also want a car with easy handling.
2. Drivers in Portugal must carry a current international driving licence, passport, insurance documents, MOT certificate (needed if the car is more than three years old), and car hire documents
3. Speeding is common in Portugal, so stay alert. Local drivers also regularly overtake without warning.
4. The national speed limits in Portugal are 31 mph (50km/h) in urban areas, villages and towns, and between 56mph (90km/h) and 74mph (120km/h) on motorways.
5. If you book a car rental in Lisbon more than 14 days in advance, you can save an average of 18%.
6. Tune into Kiss FM Portugal on 95.8 FM for traffic updates.
In under 30 minutes, you can reach the fairytale town of Sintra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can visit architectural wonders such as the Pena Palace and the Quinta da Regaleira, and snack on local traditional pastries, such as Travesseiros de Sintra (puff pastry with almond). The drive from Lisbon to Sintra is just 28km, but in peak season the narrow hill roads leading to the town can get very busy, and parking is limited.
This scenic road is the main coastal road that links Lisbon to Cascais, and is a beautiful drive from the capital. The 20 mile road takes you past the banks of the Tagus river and from Carcavelos along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Cascais itself is a charming fishing village, with cobblestone streets, a vibrant Arts District and several nearby beaches.
If you have some extra time to explore Portugal when you’re visiting Lisbon, then a trip to Porto is a must. Porto is a spectacular foodie city on the banks of the Rio Douro, famous for producing port. The 314km trip will take about 3 hours from start to finish, but we recommend making a road trip out if it by stopping along the way. Highlights include Sintra, the university city Coimbra and Aveiro, which is known as the ‘Venice of Portugal’.
Passing over the heights of the Arrábida mountains, the Estrada de Escarpa is one of the most scenic drives in the Lisbon region. The road is within the Serra da Arrábida Natural Park, which spans 100 square km and is just 30 minutes south of Lisbon. You’ll have the best of both mountain and coastline views, especially at the Miradouro do Norte viewpoint.
In need of a day at the beach? Located just 20 km south of the centre of Lisbon, Caparica has a seemingly never-ending beach and pretty Bairro dos Pescadores (Fishermen’s Quarter). It’s also a lively resort town, with restaurants and nightlife to enjoy. There’s 26km of beaches to choose from along the Costa de Caparica – you can hop on a tramway that makes 19 stops, each at a different beach.
Estremoz is a historic town that’s one of the “white cities” in the Alentejo region. It’s famous for its white marble; even the cobblestone streets here are marble. There’s a lovely Old Town to explore and a 13th-century castle on the hilltop. The drive from Lisbon to Estremoz is 171 km and will take about 1 hour 40 minutes. As you get closer to the town, you’ll spot the white-washed buildings high on the hill.
In under 3 hours, you can drive to Lagos from Lisbon for a beach getaway. The once-quiet port town is now a hive of activity, known for being one of the must-visit destinations on the Algarve coast. The historic old town is awash with cobblestone streets and is surrounded by 16th-century walls, while outside of that lies more modern restaurants, bars, resorts and amazing beaches.