Lisbon is a fantastic spot for a layover. It’s easy to get to from the airport––between 20-40 minutes depending on form of transport—easily walkable if you can deal with hills, has tons to see and do, great public transport, world class restaurants and food, and a lively nightlife scene. It’s also one of the least expensive countries in Western Europe. The only downside is you’ll wish you had more time.
- VISA REQUIRED: No
- MINIMUM CONNECTION TIME, INTERNATIONAL TO DOMESTIC: 45
- MINIMUM CONNECTION TIME, INTERNATIONAL TO INTERNATIONAL: 1-2.5 HRS
- MINIMUM CONNECTION TIME TO LEAVE THE AIRPORT: 6 HRS
Visa info for Portugal
US citizens may enter Portugal for up to 90 days for tourism or business without a visa. Your passport must be valid for at least three months beyond your period of stay.
Minimum Lisbon layover times
To make an international to domestic connection: Minimum 45 minutes
The Lisbon airport is small compared to other European capital city airports. There are two terminals, one for arrivals and most international flights, and one for budget airlines. You will almost always connect in the same terminal as you arrive, making it easy to simply walk to your next gate. The airport is the 19th busiest in Europe, but because it’s small and can feel congested. If you don’t like crowds when you’re on a time limit, leave yourself closer to 1.5 hours to connect.
To make an international to international connection: 1 -2.5 hours
If you are traveling on to another Schengen country, you will connect in the same terminal as you arrive. An hour is a comfortable connection time. If you are traveling to a country outside of Schengen where you might need to go through security again, such as the US, 2.5 hours is safe.
To leave the airport and explore for part of the day: 6 hours
With about three hours for deplaning and navigating the airport, getting to the city center, and then coming back to the airport and going through security and getting to your gate, if you want three hours to wander around Lisbon, you’ll need at least six hours total for your layover.
That said, a layover of at least 8 hours would give you more time to take in the city, enjoy some delicious food, and feel unhurried making your way back to the airport.
- 30-40 minutes to deplane and go through immigration and customs
- 30 mins to transit to downtown, depending on traffic
- 3 hours to explore
- 30 minutes to return to airport
- 1 hour to go back through security, get to your gate, and board the plane
Getting from the Lisbon airport to the city center
- BUS: 30-40 minutes
- TAXI: 20 minutes
- TRAIN: 30 minutes
There are several convenient ways to get from the Lisbon airport to the city center.
The Aerobus shuttle service has two routes: one through the city center and one to the financial district. Each takes 30-40 minutes. The bus departs every 20 minutes from 7:30am to 9pm. A roundtrip ticket costs 6 euros and can be used for 24 hours after validation on the bus.
The metro goes directly from the airport to the city center for 1 euro each way. The service runs from 6:30am to 1am. This is the best budget option.
Taxis pick up outside the airport and typically cost around 20 euros to get to the city center, which takes about 20 minutes depending on traffic.
How to spend a short layover at the Lisbon airport
The Lisbon airport is fairly small, but that makes it easy to get around. In Terminal 2, visit Confeitaria Nacional, an outpost of Lisbon’s oldest bakery, where you can try pastel de nata and other classic Portuguese pastries. Both terminals have a number of cafes and bars, some local and some international chains. There are nearly 50 shops in the airport, including Burberry, Carolina Herrera, Desigual, Tumi, Rimowa, and of course a large Duty Free store.
Families can visit the children’s playground in Terminal 1. Shower facilities are also available in Terminal 1 for about 15 euros.
If you’re bored with dining and shopping, check into one of the business lounges. The ANA Lounge, Blue Lounge, and Airport Business Center are all available for a fee.
How to spend a short layover outside the Lisbon airport
Visit the Alfama neighborhood, one of Lisbon’s oldest neighborhoods characterized by steep hills, historic buildings, and lots of charm. Visit the Castelo de Sao Jorge, an ancient castle with incredible views across Lisbon. You’ll also likely see the iconic number 28 bright yellow tram, which you can take if the hills prove too much for your jet lagged feet! You can visit the Museu de Lisboa, located over an ancient Roman theater, where you’ll learn about Emperor Augustus’ time ruling over the area. Or, you can simply get lost wandering the labyrinth-like streets of the neighborhood, stopping for small bites and glasses of Portuguese wine.
How to spend an overnight layover in Lisbon
With more time in Lisbon you can start at the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is a great example of the Late Gothic Manueline style of architecture and Portuguese people consider it part of their national identity. Next door, stop at Pastéis de Belém, where you can try the country’s iconic dessert in the place that created it. Then make your way to Alfama and spend a few hours.
From there, dine at one of the city’s incredible restaurants, from Michelin-starred Feitoria (if you can get a reservation) to sampling your way through TimeOut Market. People in Portugal eat dinner late, so don’t expect post-dinner bars to be busy until at least 11pm. Barrio Alto is packed with cocktail bars and dancing, while Principe Real has a bit higher-end vibe.
For a quiet night, visit one of the numerous wine bars around the city. If you’re heading back to the airport in the morning it makes the most sense to stay in the city center, near the metro and bus. For luxury relaxation, check into the Turim Boulevard Hotel, which has a terrace with beautiful views of the city. Baixa House offers adorable serviced apartments, and they leave a delicious local breakfast at the door. The Rodamon Lisboa Hostel is an affordable option in the heart of the city.
Need to Know
- CURRENCY: Euros
- LANGUAGE: Portuguese
- SAFETY: A+
- COST: $$$ (out of $$$$$)
- BEST TIME TO GO: Spring or fall
Currency in Lisbon
Portugal uses the euro and most businesses, especially larger restaurants, will accept credit cards. Market stalls and other very small shops sometimes only accept cash. While the occasional store will accept USD, it’s best to have euros or use a credit card.
Costs in Lisbon
Portugal is one of the cheapest spots in Western Europe, and on the cheaper end for Europe in general. Hotels range from $20 hostels to $400 luxury stays, but most hotels fall within the $100-150 range. Meals can also range greatly, from a 4 euro sandwich to a few hundred euro tasting menu at fine-dining restaurants. At many mid-range restaurants, two people could have two courses and drinks for about 35 euros.
Weather & Best Time to Go
Spring is a beautiful time to visit because everything is in bloom. From March to May temperatures range from 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and are in the 50s at night. Summer is also nice, but hot, with daytime temperatures from the high 70s to mid-80s between June and August, though nights cool down to the mid-60s. Bring a hat and sunscreen, and be prepared to be sweaty after walking up and down Lisbon’s many hills in the heat. Early fall has gorgeous weather, and fewer tourists.
Safety in Lisbon
Portugal is very safe. A 2020 Global Peace Index survey, which rates countries based on safety and security, among other things, rated Portugal the third most peaceful country in the world. Like in any city, you should watch for petty theft in Lisbon, and beware of taxi drivers trying to scam you for higher prices, but overall crime is low and violent crime, especially toward tourists, is virtually nonexistent.
The city is also safe for LGBTQ+ travelers and is known for having a very fun, lively gay nightlife scene. According to Travel Noire, Lisbon has “long been a haven for Black travelers across the African diaspora,” and is safe.
Transport in Lisbon
It is very easy to get from the Lisbon airport to the city center. Once there, the city’s extensive public transportation system can get you pretty much anywhere you want to go. Buses, trams, metro, ferries, funiculars––Lisbon has it all, all fairly easy to figure out and affordable. If you’re not into public transport, taxis are cheap compared to other European cities.
Food & Drink in Lisbon
Portugal started building its empire in the 15th century, when sailors went out to explore areas along the African Coast. Eventually, they reached the Cape of Good Hope, which led them to Brazil. They also sailed through the Indian Ocean to southern Asia. Food in Portugal also draws on this colonial heritage, including an array of spices from around the world. Pork is very popular, as well as fresh seafood.
Bacalhau, salted cod, is arguably Portugal’s most famous dish. It comes in many forms: baked, on rice, fried, au gratin, and on and on. Grilled octopus is also very common, typically served doused in garlic and with a side of potatoes. But really you can’t go wrong with any fresh fish or seafood in the city. Sardines are so famous there’s even a festival for them in June. Get them in a sandwich or tinned. In fact, Portugal and Spain have been eating tinned fish from pretty containers long before it was trendy in the US.
There’s also a festival for suckling pig, and you’ll see pork in all variations on menus across the city. For dessert, or breakfast, don’t miss Pastel de nata: a Portuguese egg custard tart pastry. And of course drink Portuguese wine and finish your dinner with a glass of port!
Alma, A Cevicheria (a restaurant with a ceviche tasting menu), and Feitoria are some of the best restaurants in the city, and all fine-dining. O Frade is excellent for elevated, traditional dishes, and Pigmeu is the place to be for pork lovers. Visit Comida Indepente for farm-to-table small plates, wine, and local craft beer, or eat your way through the TimeOut Market, where independent restaurants have stalls alongside second locations of more famous restaurants. For pastel de nata, head to Manteigaria or Pasteis de Belem.
Language in Lisbon
Portuguese is the national language, though many people in Lisbon, especially at restaurants and tourist attractions, speak English.
The Belém Tower, the16th century fort used to defend the city where Portuguese explorers set sail from, and today a gateway to the city and one of its most famous sites. A 30-minute tour takes you through Portuguese architect and sculptor Francisco de Arruda’s design of the five-story building, ending with a spiral staircase up to the terrace. You’ll also see the dungeons where prisoners were kept, and learn about Portugal’s maritime history.
The Lisbon Cathedral is the largest in the city, but not as awe inspiring as other monuments around town.