What's it really like?
Lisbon is often forgotten among grander and more famous European capitals like Paris, London, and Madrid, but the city has arguably just as much to offer. Architecture ranging from medieval streets to 18th-century grandeur all the way to iconic modern structures makes a trip to Lisbon a fascinating journey through European history, while a passion for food, drink, and music keeps its streets vibrant and full of life at any time of the day or night.
As the capital of Portugal, Lisbon is the country’s liberal and progressive hub while simultaneously being richly steeped in tradition. For the gay visitor, this means you can enjoy a wild and exciting gay nightlife while also taking in some of Europe’s prettiest and most historical sights. Add in friendly locals, regular LGBT parties and festivals, and a nearby male-only nude beach, and you understand why gay Lisbon is becoming an increasingly attractive destination.
Lisbon is one of Europe’s most beautiful and fascinating capital cities. Aside from being steeped in history and culture, it’s got incredible weather, easy access to beaches, and a vibrant, varied gay nightlife.
Most gay travelers choose to stay in Bairro Alto and neighboring Principe Real. Both neighborhoods are located in the city center and in the middle of gay Lisbon’s nightlife.
As is the case with many European capitals, rooms tend to be on the small side, even in the 4 and 5-star hotels. For more space, look at booking the higher categories of rooms.
Portugal is a generally gay-friendly country and very quickly improved its LGBT rights since the end of the Salazar dictatorship in the 70s. Gay marriage was legalized in 2010, and it is one of the few countries in the world to have discrimination on the basis of sexual identity formally banned within its constitution.
Though a few rural areas of the country may still be very traditionally Catholic and hold less tolerant views, Lisbon is a progressive and liberal capital city. Gay visitors do not have to worry about discrimination and harassment as a general rule.
Gay Lisbon’s main clubs are in Principe Real, with Trumps being the largest and most popular. Nearby, Construction is another hotspot. Back in Bairro Alto, Finalmente is a long-standing clubbing institution featuring drag shows and a packed dance floor every night of the week.
The nightlife of gay Lisbon is smaller than that of many other European cities, but there is still a noticeable gay presence. The main gay area is a small block of streets in Bairro Alto along Rua da Barroca, especially between Tv dos Fiéis de Deus and Rua da Salgadeira. This contains several gay bar favorites like Setimo Ceu (great for grabbing a drink and standing outside), Elitico (featuring pole dancing and go-go shows), and Purex (mixed gay and lesbian, with more girls than boys).
However, the nearby area of Principe Real has just as much claim to the title of gay Lisbon neighborhood. Popular bars here include The Cock, a cruising bar with epic parties that keep going until 8 am; TR3S, a bear bar which hosts the city’s annual Bear Pride; and Bar 106, a slightly old-fashioned gay bar that prides itself on being one of the city’s oldest.
Gay Lisbon’s main clubs are also in Principe Real, with Trumps being the largest and most popular. Nearby, Construction is another hotspot catering to a slightly older audience, especially bears. Back in Bairro Alto, Finalmente is a long-standing clubbing institution featuring drag shows and a packed dance floor every night of the week.
The nightlife in gay Lisbon doesn’t get going until very late (bars from midnight and clubs from 2 am) and continues until the early morning. Locals won’t leave the house until around midnight and will then have a few drinks in a bar to start them off. During the summer, most of the drinking is done standing outside the bars on the street, which gives Bairro Alto a distinct street festival vibe most nights of the week. Bairro Alto is not just a gay area but a general nightlife district, so the crowds in the street tend to be mixed.
There are only two gay saunas in Lisbon, with much of the city’s cruising happening in bars and at the gay beach south of the city. Both saunas are top-of-the-range modern affairs, although they cater to different audiences.
The men-only gay Lisbon sauna is Trombeta Bath, a modern, clean, and well-designed sauna in Bairro Alto. It offers great sauna and massage facilities as well as private cabins, dark room labyrinth, sex lounge, live sex show, and even a fetish shop. Free condoms and lube are provided.
The other sauna, SaunApolo 56, labels itself an “LGBT mixed hetero-friendly” sauna, meaning it is for everyone and has an “anything goes” vibe. It is very much cruising-oriented, featuring dark rooms, glory holes, sling, private rooms, and an erotic cinema as well as state-of-the-art sauna and massage facilities. The entry price is a bit steep (€30 for 6 hours) but the sauna is designed to provide a high-end, luxury experience. It is located near the Marques de Pombal statue on Avenida da Liberdade.
There are several places where you can get an HIV test in Lisbon, many of them offering the service for free. CheckpointLX is a particularly good option, with free, confidential, anonymous tests carried out at their location near the Botanic Gardens. Results are available within half an hour and appointments are not necessary, although recommended.
In Portugal, 18% of men who have sex with men have been diagnosed with HIV. The country has one of the highest incidence rates in Europe, surpassed only by Estonia, Ukraine, Latvia, and Russia. While the main form of HIV spreading in Portugal is drug use and needle sharing rather than sexual transmission, you should still make sure to practice safe sex during all your encounters in the city.
Lisbon’s neighborhoods are not as clearly defined as some other cities, but there are a few areas throughout the city that make up the itinerary for most tourists.
Bairro Alto – The main nightlife area of Lisbon, situated on a hill that overlooks the rest of the city (the name literally means “high neighborhood”). It is known for its bohemian vibe and great range of excellent bars and restaurants. The area between Tv dos Fiéis de Deus and Rua da Salgadeira along Rua da Barroca is known as the city’s gayborhood and concentrates most of the gay Lisbon nightlife.
Principe Real – An area just above Bairro Alto that is mostly a residential and shopping district, but which also has many of Lisbon’s oldest and most established gay bars. Gay Lisbon highlights in Principe Real include Trumps, Finalmente, Bar 106, and TR3S.
Baixa – Baixa is Lisboa’s downtown, featuring some of the city’s most beautiful architecture. The area was destroyed in an earthquake in 1755 and then rebuilt in a grandiose style with a pleasant, open layout and a focus on pedestrian access. The area is known for its vibrant cafe and restaurant culture and for Rua Augusta, a grand pedestrian street framed by an iconic arch. Rossio Square just above Rua Augusta is the city’s main square and most popular meeting point.
Chiado – Chiado is immediately next to Baixa and often grouped together with it. It is similarly picturesque, but with more of a focus on shopping, whether it be international brands or quirky independent boutiques. Highlights include Bertrand, the world’s oldest bookshop, and A Brasileira, a local cafe that was once popular with Lisbon’s great intellectual minds.
Avenida Da Liberdade – A large tree-lined avenue lined with high-end designer shops and paved with mosaic designs. This area has some of the city’s best and most expensive hotels and some beautiful architecture. Start at Eduardo VII Park for some great views of the city and the sea and make your way down the avenue to reach central Baixa.
Alfama – This is one of Lisbon’s main attractions and one of the oldest neighborhoods in Europe. Alfama and the neighboring Graça and Castelo areas seem to stand still in time, with old houses which survived the 1755 earthquake connected by a series of narrow lanes and alleys. It is a beautifully quiet and traditional area that does not seem to belong in a cosmopolitan European capital, although the groups of tourists give it away. Alfama is Lisbon’s most photogenic area, and has several great spots for views of the sea and the old city.
Belem – This neighborhood is famous for being the waterfront from which Portuguese explorers set off during the Age of Discovery, connecting Europe to the New World. Various monuments here celebrate Portugal’s maritime history, while the city’s top museums are also in the area. However, it is a small traditional pastry shop that is most famous in Belem, producing the original pastel de nata (Portuguese custard tart), a local sweet delicacy.
Parque Das Nações – A gleaming modern development created for the ‘98 World Expo. It contains some famous modern architectural landmarks, a large shopping center, and the city’s Oceanarium, considered one of the world’s top aquariums. A cable car service here offers some stunning views.
Beach 19 – Lisbon itself does not have urban beaches, but a short distance south of the city is Costa da Caparica, a beautiful long strip of sand in a nature reserve. Beach 19 is a designated nude beach on Costa da Caparica which is known as Lisbon’s gay beach. It’s a popular spot for sunbathing, cruising, and generally hanging out. In the summer, you can get the TST bus number 153 to Costa da Caparica and then get the dedicated beach train to station 19. You could drive or get a taxi (around €40), but you are better off pointing your driver to Praia da Bela Vista (Beach 17) and walking to 19. There are also dedicated tours which can be an easier way to get there and meet people.
Many areas of Lisbon are made to be explored on foot, from the winding cobbled lanes of Alfama to the majestic walkway of Rua Augusta. Nevertheless, the city’s hilly layout can make walking everywhere a challenge – particularly during the hot summer – so you are better off picking your battles. Using public transport to get in between neighborhoods and then walking within them is a good strategy.
From Lisbon Airport – There is a Metro service from the airport to downtown Lisbon and an AeroBus service that makes several useful stops around the city center. The AeroBus is 10% cheaper if you book online in advance. A taxi will take about 15 minutes and cost about €16, but do keep in mind that taxi drivers can be dishonest. Make sure the driver uses the meter and keep track of the route if possible. Uber is also in operation from the airport, which guarantees some level of accountability.
Metro – The Lisbon metro is fairly basic, with only four lines, but can be useful for covering larger distances between key areas (from Parque das Nações to Avenida da Liberdade, for example).
Bus – The bus network has more coverage than the metro, and is particularly useful for areas that are not served by it. This includes the gay areas of Principe Real and Bairro Alto, so it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the bus services in case you get tired of walking up and down hills. The bus operator, Carris, has an online route planner that can help you. There are some night services (Rede Madrugada, or dawn network) that could help you get home after a night out.
Taxi – Taxis are plentiful and quite cheap. You can either hail them, get one at a taxi rank, or call one – it’s a good idea to note down a number. Lisbon taxi drivers have a bad reputation for taking advantage of tourists, although this is worst when going to and from the airport. There are also several taxi apps operational in the city, including Uber.
Bicycle – Lisbon is incredibly hilly and filled with old cobbled streets, making cycling a less than ideal prospect. There is a pleasant and flat cycle path along the river Tejo which makes for a lovely ride. Bike rental shops are available throughout the city, but there is not an official city rental scheme.
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