September 25, 2018 by The Atlas Team
The Best Travel Guides to Lisbon
There are many travel guides for Lisbon, and each tends to suit a certain traveler. It’s unlikely that you’ll pick up a foodie guide to fish if you hate seafood, and equally, you won’t want an insider’s guide to architecture if buildings bore you. Luckily, there’s something for everyone, and we’ve had a look through some of the best to save you the legwork.
NOTE: If you want to hire a local tour guide, head to the Atlas Marketplace. Otherwise, read on!
Previously described as a “travel-culture” magazine, and with stores sporting one-of-a-kind travel items, it is no surprise that Monocle’s guide to Lisbon is sleek, minimalist, and well designed.
The guide is based around a system of symbols to guide you through the sectors (H for Hotels, R for retail, etc.,) which are more reminiscent of New York’s subway than a city handbook. Unfortunately, the map has lost a lot of its usability in its pursuit of aesthetics, leaving a well designed double-page spread that doesn’t reveal much. Nonetheless, the book is peppered with unique photographs letting any design-minded traveler know what to expect when visiting the city of seven hills, all of which are presented beautifully.
As you flick through the expected Food & Drink, Culture, and Retail sections, the book is punctuated by a section entitled Essays. The chapter consists of 12 “Letters from Lisbon” that discuss everything from history, to kiosk culture, to the “arrow-tailed symbol of optimism” that adorns so much of the Portuguese capital. It is far from coincidence that this rather unique addition to the travel guide resides in the very center of the book. For what is at the center of travel if not the stories of the people who experience it?
A travel guide can never capture everything a city has to offer (that’s what we’re here for), but Monocle has managed to present the must-visit places in a beautiful and engaging way, along with an unexpected look at the personal stories and issues of the city.
This is a travel guide for the designers, the aesthetes, and of course anyone who reads Monocle.
A rarity for travel guides, this one is actually written by a local — an authentic Lisboeta. It is broken down into 100 different “5 Best…” sections, covering things like the 5 Best Ice Cream Shops to 5 Modern Buildings.
The title is… somewhat deceptive. Many of the places named are indeed very good, and any first-time tourist in Lisbon (who this book is aimed at) would probably do well to visit them. However, they are hardly what you would call “hidden.” In the section on pastéis de natas, the number-one spot goes to Pastéis de Belém. In the Coolest Bars section, the number-one spot goes to Pensão Amor. Neither of which are exactly “hidden.”
Additionally, some of the advice seems… optimistic, let’s say. In the 5 Small Squares section, Largo de São Paulo is described thusly: “for many decades a shabby area where you really wouldn’t feel comfortable at night, given the many illegal activities that went on there. Now, all that has changed.” Well, the square isn’t necessarily dangerous, but if you go there at night and don’t see illegal activity, we would be very surprised.
This travel guide does offer 10 minimal-yet-clear maps at the start that show the locations of every place mentioned. Additionally, the layout is one of the simplest around, and extremely easy to follow.
All said, even a longtime resident of Lisbon could find this guide useful when looking for something specific, such as good Goan food, or where to find one of the world’s leading experts in porcelain (seriously, that’s in there). However, if truly hidden spots are what you are after, you may be disappointed.
This is a travel guide for people who want to explore the city through the best of what it has to offer, rather than through the tourist hotspots.
The front page folds out into a photograph of the Lisbon skyline with arrows to some of the most famous landmarks. While not technically useful, this “city at a glance” graphic makes for a nice introduction and gives you the impression of having an overview of the city. The back page, on the other hand, folds out into a useful, detailed map. The best of both worlds.
The book is organized like an old address book (think colored tabs), allowing you to easily find your way to the right section. Moreover, the start has a well-presented guide to some of the key neighborhoods in the city. The city’s neighborhood divisions, which have been recently redrawn, can be very confusing, so a clear guide like this is invaluable.
Being such a small guide, the chapters are minimal, almost to a fault. The “Landmarks” section, for example, contains just four entries, one of which is Torres das Amoreiras. There is no Elevador de Santa Justa, nor even Castelo São Jorge.
Overall, it seems to be a highly edited (perhaps too much) guide, which is weighted more towards the design aspects of a city than the traditional tourist spots. It is certainly looking for the luxury market, but perhaps at the cost of content.
This is a guide for people who want high-end shops, restaurants, and bars as well as an ultra-compact design guide to the city.
For a book of its size, it is extremely comprehensive, with sections on everything from the expected hotels and bars to books, films, and even influencers.
The first chapter is Getting Around, and rightly takes pride of place, giving visitors an overview of the complex Lisbon public transport system. A valuable resource for any traveler in the city of seven hills.
The “What to See Chapter” hits most of the main sites, and does a good job of explaining each of them, opting for a spacious and easy-to-read layout. However, some key information is missing, such as prices. The castle isn’t cheap for a family of five, and admission to Museu Coleção Berardo isn’t free (most of the time).
The other chapters follow in a similar style, giving a clear overview of what the city has to offer. Heavy on images, and light on info, those who don’t mind a little additional research will feel at home with this book.
This is a guide for those who want to see everything the city has to offer, and don’t mind paying for it.
Le Cool: A Weird and Wonderful Guide to Lisbon
This probably out-of-print book, which we picked up a few years ago for a cool 5€, reads like somebody has taken 20 zines and smooshed them together between an old-timey hardback cover. And we say that not as a bad thing. It also makes sense, since it was edited by Joana Pinto Correia, longtime editor of le cool Lisbon.
It is certainly not the type of guidebook that can be carried in a pocket as you trudge about the city, but rather one to be studied from the confines of your home.
Its opening pages contain the single most comprehensive map of Lisbon neighborhoods we have ever seen. While the pop-art stylings could put some people off, the map is extremely clear, including even the blurred borders that prove so tricky to track. The book is almost worth getting for this alone.
However, the general layout can be extremely confusing and seems to have been designed with love rather than forethought for readers. A forgivable crime, and one that holds as both a positive and negative for us. Also, the guide pitched itselft as alternative, and by all accounts seems to be, but when it recommends a Segway tour one page before the “subversiveway“, it loses some credibility.
The chapters are vast and sprawling, giving an array of choices for bars, cafes, and restaurants alongside detailed descriptions. The books seem to delve into Lisbon to pull forth many of the city’s best parts and most valuable offerings.
This is a guide for those who prefer theory to practice. The content is good, the concept is good, but the execution makes for a book near-impossible to get through (even for a seasoned zine-reader).
The guide is a stripped-down version of the more comprehensive (and oh-so-famous) Lonely Planet guidebook. It is divided very cleanly into four parts: QuickStart Guide, Explore Lisbon, the Best of Lisbon, and Survival Guide.
The QuickStart Guide breaks down the top sites and key destinations and includes a handy day-by-day planner and key information on things like hotel prices and transport. The Explore Lisbon chapter then breaks down the city by neighborhood, letting you know what to do and where.
The Best of Lisbon section is pretty self-explanatory and contains lists of things such as “Best for Kids,” “Best Churches,” and “Best Shopping.” The final section, Survival Guide, has a basic (yet surprisingly comprehensive) rundown of the basics including weather, places to stay, which plugs to use, and even a little section on language.
Additionally, there is a substantial fold-out map that will help you navigate the city. Just please don’t pull it out in public, nobody wants to look like a tourist.
Overall, this is a clear, concise, and well-designed guidebook. It is image-heavy, and the layout of the text allows you to quickly and easily find the information you need. Considering its small size, it packs a lot in and is a pleasure to use.
This is a guide for people who want clear, bright, easy-to-read information in their pocket. If you travel light, this may well be the guide for you.
Rick Steves: Portugal
Unlike the rest of the guides here, this is a book for the whole country, rather than just the city of Lisbon. This, of course, means that it isn’t as focused on the capital but, that said, the books dedicates 145 pages to Lisbon and Sintra.
This is an extremely comprehensive guide, giving specific details including prices, contact numbers, and addresses for nearly everything it recommends. However, comprehensive can mean dense, and this is a hard book to use. With little in the way of contents, it can be difficult to know where to look in the book for the information you need. Excluding the introduction, the entire book is printed in black and white, which adds to the difficulty of skimming for information.
Additionally, at over 460 pages, it isn’t exactly pocket-friendly. It may be better to read the entire section you’re interested in before you ever leave home, and then noting and marking the bits you need.
Also, somewhat surprisingly for a $20 book, there are several pages of advertisements for other Rick Steves products.
In its favor, it does do an excellent job of explaining things that may otherwise go over your head. It doesn’t simply recommend visiting the National Azulejo Museum but explains the history and importance of azulejos in Portugal as well.
This is a guide for those who want to sit in an armchair before they even book their plane to Portugal and really get to grips with the country. If you aren’t planning on carrying your own bag, go ahead and pack it, otherwise, it is more of a research tool.
Insights Guides: Portugal
This is another guide that covers the whole of Portugal rather than just Lisbon and starts as it means to go on with a very good overview of the country just inside the cover. A fold-out map color-codes the various regions so as to stop you looking a fool when you don’t know your Alentejo from your Algarve.
As with some of the other guides (I’m looking at you Rick Steves), there are several pages dedicated to online or app-connected content. However, this is free content included with the book and the app actually looks to be of some use, especially when wanting a more in-depth look at niche subjects.
The comprehensive contents page lets you easily navigate the guide and there is a surprisingly detailed look at the history of Portugal, which would give any would-be tourist a nice background for their visit.
There is the key information for must-see spots, broader information on areas of the country and towns, and an array of spectacular images. Additionally, there are more than 20 maps included, all of which can be quickly found via the contents page. We like maps, and this guide does a good job of getting you straight to the information you need.
This is a guide for those who want to see the top spots, but with a little more detail than your average tourist.
Insights Guides: Lisbon Pocket Guide
The city-specific pocket version of the guide above, this little book packs a helluva wallop.
I’m a sucker for a removable map, and Insight Guides provides one that covers the country, the city of Lisbon, a closer look at the center, and some extra bits to boot. Good work.
The guide itself opens with a visual contents page of the “Top Ten Attraction” and where to find them in the book, before giving you a pre-planned “perfect day” from 9 am to 11:30 pm. My only complaint about this is that it doesn’t set aside a specific amount of time for that on-holiday afternoon nap. Otherwise, it gives quite a nice rundown of a whistle-stop tour of the city.
Again, there is a surprisingly informative section on the history of the city. The book is divided by area, including excursions outside of Lisbon, and then by what to do. This makes for a simple, clear layout that is easy to navigate. While their “To Do” section lacks imagination, it does cover most of the things that your average tourist would be looking for.
Like its big-boy brother, this guide has full-color pictures throughout so you now exactly what you’re looking at and where to take that perfect Insta-snap.
This is a guide for those looking for a no-nonsense trip to the city, hitting all the top spots in a very short time.
[This article contains affiliate links]