European travel is often on the forefront of many’s bucket lists, but let’s face it – flights are expensive, and standard trip expenses can add up. So how do you make that idyllic European vacation possible on a tight budget? Answer: Lisbon.
Visiting Lisbon Portugal on a budget is easier than you think. This must-read guide covers how to save money on activities, transportation, hotels and more!
Portugal is best known for its wine – and its capital city of Lisbon offers that and so much more! This multicultural destination is teeming with unrivaled landscapes, fresh local cuisine, amazing weather year-round and infinite hidden gems to explore. Experience the best of Europe in a single city, without breaking the bank!
How to Visit Lisbon, Portugal on a Budget
Cheap Flights to Lisbon
Sign up for Scott’s Cheap Flights emails, and book your flight with Going when you’re notified of peak buying time and cheapest prices. By buying my flight within hours of the Scott’s Cheap Flights notification for Lisbon, I managed to get a roundtrip flight with United from San Francisco for $390 – including a checked bag!
If the cheapest flight you find doesn’t include a checked bag, be sure to check other airlines with fares $20 or $30 more; they may include a bag, making it cheaper than checking one both ways.
Although the Uber ride was only $10 from the airport to central Lisbon, it couldn’t hurt to see if your hostel or hotel offers free airport shuttles as well.
Where to Stay in Lisbon on a Budget
Avoid summer months at all costs. Not only are there hordes of tourists creating long lines around every corner, but you’ll also pay more for a hotel room at high season. The beauty of Portugal is that you can visit even in winter and enjoy warm afternoons – take advantage of this!
Also, consider booking a suite at a hostel. You’ll have the same privacy and space you would in a typical hotel room, with the added bonuses of extra amenities (e.g. kitchen, laundry, breakfast), better affordability, and the opportunity to make new friends! The staff at hostels can often be more personable and attentive, given the smaller size of the establishment.
Save Money on Activities
Take advantage of free events. Wander through street vendors selling artisan jewelry and handmade products at the LX Factory, weekly open-mic nights, and even wine tasting for free at Vini Portugal in the city’s central square.
Holidays are a great time to visit as there are annual festivities to attend, open to the public or for a very minimal cost. You’ll want to see a live fado performance at least once while you’re there, but there’s no need to pay €20 or €30 to do so; numerous fado restaurants can be found in the side-streets of Bairro Alto that include the performance free with your dinner.
Book Airbnb experiences. For $20 USD, you can spend an entire evening wine tasting with fellow travelers and enjoying small gourmet meals carefully created and paired with each wine. Don’t miss out on such awesome opportunities, they’ll likely be the highlight of your trip!
Walk everywhere. Uber’s in Lisbon were surprisingly inexpensive, especially compared to fares in the U.S. However, the city is laid out in such a way that you can walk nearly everywhere within 20-30 minutes. The hilly terrain of Lisbon can look daunting, but the views you’ll get along the way are well worth it.
Read more: How to Plan a Trip in 9 EASY STEPS
Save Money on Meals
Buy groceries for breakfast and snacks. Mini-markets in the city center have all the basic foods you’d want and need to make a quick breakfast or packed lunch for days off adventuring, and you’ll spend half of what it would cost to eat out for every meal. Affordable food may be why Portugal is the least expensive country to visit in Western Europe, so stock up on the necessities during the day and treat yourself to dinners out!
Other Money-Saving Tips for Lisbon Travel
Purchase everything on a travel credit card. If you don’t have one already, you should! Credit cards with travel perks will (typically) offer no foreign transaction fees and extra points towards travel purchases like taxis, airfare, hotels, and even Airbnb experiences. By using this to book all expenses for your trip, you’ll earn miles/points that you can use to pay these exact expenses off!
Get your cash before even entering the country. Lisbon – and Portugal in general – operates almost exclusively on a small-bill, cash-only system, with restaurants and stores rarely accepting credit cards.
Try using a €10 bill to buy a €1 espresso, and you’ll be frowned upon; try using a €20, and you’ll be turned away. Because ATMs only dispense cash as €20 bills, you may find it hard to get change; however, grocery stores will always accept large bills and provide your change at no cost (unlike currency exchange stores)!
Because I traveled with a friend, I was able to split a few expenses and save on standard costs like Ubers and a hotel room. If you plan to travel solo (this is a great destination to do so, as the locals are so friendly!), you could save even further by opting for a hostel bed instead. In the end, you can enjoy an entire one-week trip entire one-week trip for under $1,000 USD – I know from experience!