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How to Travel and Backpack in Portugal on a Budget

Updated on July 18, 2012

Frank Bruni, an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times once referred to Lisbon as "faded imperial glory on the cheap". Those words echo in my head. He couldn't have said it any better.

Plazas and sidewalks decorated with black and white mosaics. Ornate, yet chipped tiles on homes and churches. Houses painted in faded pastels. Look up high at one of the city's many hills, there's a huge medieval castle! Walk through Alfama's winding narrow streets, see clothes drying outside and balconies crammed with plants and singing parakeets. You're in Lisbon! Lisbon is... full of character and you're bound to love it!

How do you enjoy such a charming city on a tight budget? Lucky for you, things in Portugal are priced 20 to 30 percent cheaper than other Western European cities. And not only that, I, as a grad student who's been living in Lisbon for the past two years would be happy to share some tips on how to enjoy lovely Lisboa while being a frugal yet adventurous traveler. So keep reading!


Transportation in Lisbon - Tips on Getting Around Cheaply

Lisbon is a pretty compact city and has a great public transportation system with a metro train, ferries, buses, trams and even elevators to take you up hills. Using these modes of transportation, you can get around the city very easily and cheaply. And of course, you can be very frugal and walk - which you won't regret because you're bound to come across something note-worthy at every corner.

  • To get to your destination from Lisbon's airport (which is actually located in the city) - you're in luck because a new metro stop opened at the airport in July 2012. Other options to get to your destination from the airport include a bus called Aerobus which costs €3.50 and is valid all day on all types of public transportation except the metro. You also have taxi service which is relatively cheap (I live in the city center by Marques de Pombal and the ride costs me under €6).
  • To get around Lisbon, walk or if you must get somewhere quickly, take the metro which costs just €0.75 for a one-way ride. If you buy a 10-ride ticket, it will cost you €6.90. If you want to take public transportation a lot while in Lisbon and use a combination of trains, buses, or trams, get the Lisboa Card. The Lisboa Card can even be used at tourist hotspots like the Santa Justa Elevator. The metro runs from 6.30 am until 1 am.
  • To get around Portugal, go by bus, which is the cheapest alternative. There are these buses called RENEX and Rede Expressos which go to all different cities all around Portugal and are really reliable. They leave from the Oriente bus station which is right next to the metro stop. As far as prices go - a one way ticket to Porto costs just €18.50 and takes about 3.5 hours. The high-speed trains also leave from Oriente, the other train stain in Lisbon being Santa Apolónia. The main bus station is at Sete Rios, located outside of the Jardim Zoológico metro stop.

Best Hostels in the World

Below are the winners for the 2011 Hoscars, provided by the popular hostel booking website, The rankings are based on hostel customers' rating of over 25,000 hostels in more than 6,000 destinations.

Where to Stay in Lisbon and Other Cities around Portugal

You're in for a pleasant surprise with your accommodations in Lisbon. Lisbon's hostels have been named the best in the world consistently year after year!

Where's the best small hostel in the world? In Lisbon.

Where's the best medium hostel in the world? In Lisbon.

Where's the best large hostel in the world? Lisbon.

Porto's hostels fall in the Top 5 list (in the Best Small Hostels category).

Each amazing hostel will set you back just around €20 per person/per night.

Moral of the story, Portugal has lots of fabulous and affordable accommodation options.

Piece of advice, book ahead of time!

Best Small Hostels
Best Medium Hostels
Best Large Hostels
Lisbon Lounge Hostel (in Lisbon)
Travelers House (in Lisbon)
Yes! Lisbon Hostel (in Lisbon)
Lisboa Central Hostel (in Lisbon)
Living Lounge Hostel (in Lisbon)
Circus Hostel (in Berlin, Germany)
Dixo's Oporto Hostel (in Porto)
NapPark Hostel at Khao San (in Bangkok, Thailand)
Hostel Mostel (Sofia, Bulgaria)
Porto Spot Hostel (in Porto)
Home Lisbon Hostel (in Lisbon)
Friendly Fun Franks Backpackers Hostel (in Riga, Latvia)
Rivoli Cinema Hostel (in Porto)
Montreal Central (in Montreal, Canada)
Khaosan Kyoto Guest House (in Kyoto, Japan)
Sardines grilling outside. mmm
Sardines grilling outside. mmm | Source

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Cheap Places to Eat in Lisbon

You will have no problem finding cheap eats in Portugal. In fact, in the capital and in any city in Portugal you will find homey mom-and-pop restaurants at nearly every corner. There restaurants serve traditional Portuguese cuisine for just €5 - €10.

Furthermore, cities are filled with cafes which serve snacks for just around 1, including sweet snacks or salty snacks called salgados, which include things likes rissol (a fried pastry filled with shrimp, fish, or meat ), chamussas (a fried pastry filled with spicy beans and meat), and croquetes (meat croquette).

During the month of June, you can find sardines grilling in front of each typical Portuguese restaurant. The smell of sardines fill the air and such goodies won't set you back much either. Actually, at €3, sardines on a nice crusty piece of bread and a cold Portuguese beer is quite a steal!

House wine is will set you back just around €1.5 a glass!


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    • AmbitiousMarketer profile image

      Mark Johnson 4 years ago from England

      I didn't think you had to backpack on a budget in a country as cheap as Portugal. Just stay away from the tourist traps.

    • Global-Chica profile image

      Anna 5 years ago from New York, NY

      Freecampingauusie - I'm excited to hear that you're planning on going to Portugal next year. I'm sure you'll find these tips useful since I accumulated with knowledge in the past two years. Contact me if you need anything!

      Saitam - Yay glad to hear that the metro is opened already. I was just at the airport on Monday and it was still closed. Will need to go to the airport on Sunday so maybe I'm take the metro this time. Now it's even easier for tourists!

    • saitam profile image

      saitam 5 years ago from Lisbon

      Nice hub, with good information. By the way, the metro station at the airport just opened yesterday!

    • freecampingaussie profile image

      freecampingaussie 5 years ago from Southern Spain

      Thanks for a helpful hub as we are hoping to visit Portugal next year . I nearly got to go to the Algarve as a nanny ...Will save this in favourites .