If you’re visiting Lisbon, Portugal soon, there are a few things you should know first. These are my top 10 tips for Lisbon, plus a few extra quick things to keep in mind.
Lisbon, Portugal has become one of the trendiest cities for travelers in the last couple of years. It’s one of those cities you see on Instagram all the time, a place you keep hearing about all of sudden, which means you’re probably really interested in going.
I don’t blame you. I don’t think I realized why I was so set on visiting Lisbon until after I bought my plane tickets; it was because it kept popping up everywhere! It subconsciously got into my head, so I had to go and see it for myself. Plus it’s a beautiful city, with colorful tiled buildings and gorgeous weather. What’s not to love?
In March 2019, I flew to Lisbon and spent an entire month in the city, followed by a few weeks in other parts of Portugal, and then a final week in Lisbon (I couldn’t stay away). I fell in love with the city almost immediately, and I learned quite a bit during my time there. So I though it would be helpful to share a few of my top Lisbon tips with you.
These are the things you should know before visiting Lisbon, Portugal to help plan your trip and enjoy your time there. The things you HAVE to do, the things you should skip, and how to make the most of it!
Tips for Visiting Lisbon
1. Pack Good Walking Shoes
My number one Lisbon tip: Make sure you bring good, comfortable walking shoes! You’ll be doing a lot of walking, and because the city is filled with steep hills and cobblestone streets, those comfy shoes will really come in handy.
Locals will have stylish sneakers on with their best outfits, so don’t be fooled into thinking you need cute sandals for the city. In fact, I’d highly advise against wearing sandals or open-toed shoes…the streets are not particularly pristine. Also, the cobblestones get very slippery when it rains.
I wore my black Vans (the black/black Canvas Old Skool Vans, if you’re interested) every single day. I brought a pair of leopard print flats just in case, but didn’t end up wearing them much. Lisbon definitely taught me a thing or two about pairing sneakers with dressier outfits!
Here’s what to consider for your day-to-day walking shoes:
- Comfortable and worn-in before traveling
- Stylish enough to wear with your regular outfits
- Closed-toe, ideally closed-heel
- Thick soles are great
Trust me, your feet will thank you after a few days of non-stop walking up and down hills. Comfort first!
2. Take Time to Wander
Lisbon is a city best taken in aimlessly. Don’t rush around from attraction to attraction; instead, take your time wandering the streets.
I didn’t see many attractions at all during my time there, because I much preferred walking around different neighborhoods and snapping photos. It’s such a beautiful city, with gorgeous buildings and something to catch your eye around every corner.
So walk around, take in the atmosphere, stop in for an espresso at any café you see, and just enjoy Lisboa.
3. Carry Cash
It’s useful to carry a bit of cash with you no matter where you’re traveling, because you never know when you might have a problem using your cards, but I especially recommend carrying cash while visiting Lisbon.
Most attractions and tourist-focused places will have a card reader, but it’s helpful to have cash anyways. Smaller, locally-owned, and family-run places won’t always be able to accept credit cards, especially if your purchase is under a certain amount.
I forgot to get cash when I first arrived in Lisbon, and I ran into this problem almost immediately. So just carrying a small amount will come in handy when you need it.
4. Explore All the Neighborhoods
Most tourists will spend the bulk of their time in the main city center, typically within the Baixa-Chiado area. Some visitors might move into Bairro Alto, and plenty will head out to Belém for the day. But there is so much more to Lisbon than the main attraction-filled areas.
I’m not saying those neighborhoods aren’t worth spending time in, but I loved the neighborhoods further up into the hills and away from the center of the city.
I recommend making time to explore some of the following:
- Príncipe Real
I’m not saying these neighborhoods are untouched by tourists (I know plenty of us are already out there exploring them), but I think the different areas of the city all have something unique to offer.
5. Check out the Miradouros
Miradouros are scenic viewpoints around the city. Since Lisbon is filled with hills, it’s easy to get a beautiful view all over. Miradouros are small parks that make it easy to gather and enjoy the views of the city. Most have benches or seating areas, and some have café kiosks and other park features.
Just check Google Maps and you’ll see them marked all over the city. I made a point of stopping at each one I came across.
6. Eat Pastel de Nata
If you’ve done any research about Lisbon, it’s likely you’ve heard of the famous pastel de nata. These delicious egg tarts are an absolute must in my opinion.
It’s definitely one of those things that you hear about so much, you might end up not wanting to try one. And to be fair, you *might* not like them. But whether you end up loving them or hating them, I think everyone should at least try one.
I didn’t love the first one I ate, but once I tried the better ones, I became a little obsessed. They really are amazing! A lot of visitors head out to Belem to eat the Pasteis de Belem, but Manteigaria is popular too.
7. Get a Viva Viagem Card for Public Transport
Despite the hills, Lisbon is a pretty walkable city. I found that walking everywhere within the main neighborhoods was just as easy as waiting for a bus or getting on the metro (although it will give you a bit of a workout). However, if you’re short on time, trying to get from one side of the city to another, or aren’t able to walk up and down the hills, the public transport system is very good.
The Viva Viagem Card is a refillable card that you can load up, and use it to pay public transport fares. Just scan it (“zapping”) when you get on a bus, or when you get to the train or metro stations. It’s really easy to use, and makes boarding much more efficient.
I recommend getting a Viva Viagem Card at the airport and filling it up so you can start using it right away.
8. Skip Tram 28
When visiting Lisbon, most people consider Tram 28 a “must-do”, but I recommend skipping it. Yes, it’s a really cute yellow tram that goes around the city, I get the appeal. But it’s not meant to be a sightseeing tour.
Here’s why you should skip it:
- It’s part of the public transport system, so some people (locals) use it to ACTUALLY get around the city, not just to sight-see.
- It gets very crowded, which is particularly annoying for the people who need it to get somewhere.
- Tourists get on, take all the seats, and ride the full route, leaving no room for others to get on and off.
- It’s a hotspot for pickpockets, because they know it will be filled with tourists, and that it’s crowded enough to get away with grabbing something.
Instead of riding Tram 28, you can get a picture of the trams as they make their way through the city. If you want a tour of the city, sign up for a sightseeing tour with a hop-on hop-off bus.
I know Tram 28 is considered the cool thing to do, but it has really just become a tourist nightmare.
9. Learn Some Portuguese Words
It’s pretty easy to get by in Lisbon without knowing the Portuguese language, especially if you’re only visiting for a few days. Tourist-centered places (restaurants, attractions, etc.) will typically have English-speaking staff, and English is a common language within the city center, but don’t expect everyone to know English.
Since Portuguese is the official language of Portugal, it’s helpful to know a few basic words and phrases for your trip. Not only will this help you get around and read signs, but I consider it common courtesy to learn a few basics for the destination you’re visiting.
I didn’t learn nearly as much of the language as I had hoped before visiting, but here are the things I found helpful:
- Olá = Hello
- Bom Dia = Good Day (common greeting)
- Sim = Yes
- Não = No
- Por Favor = Please
- Obrigado/a = Thank You
10. Take a Day Trip Outside of the City
Lisbon is such a culture-rich city; there’s so much to do, to see, to eat…basically, you could spend a lot of time in the city without ever getting bored.
However, I highly recommend taking a day trip and getting out of the city for a bit, especially if you’re not planning on traveling around the rest of Portugal. I didn’t explore as much of the country as I wanted to, but I’m glad I spent a few weeks outside of Lisbon.
A quick trip to a nearby town is easy to do with the rail system, or by renting a car (although I don’t recommend using a car to get around the city). In fact, some of the most popular things to do in Lisbon are actually day trips!
Visit the palaces of Sintra, enjoy the beaches near Cascais, or spend the day exploring the attractions of Belem.
Quick Lisbon Tips
Here are a few more quick tips to keep in mind before visiting Lisbon, Portugal.
- VAT is charged (like sales tax) on all items. If you purchase gifts or items to bring home, you can request a VAT refund at the airport before departing (there will be a counter & machines specifically for VAT refunds). Get all the details about that here.
- Pay attention to opening hours, since some places will be closed in the afternoons. This is especially important if you’re planning to visit certain restaurants; it’s not uncommon for them to open as late as 7 or 8 pm for dinner.
- Tap water in Lisbon is potable, which means it is safe to drink. A lot of people (including locals) do opt for bottled water for the taste, but it’s not necessary. I drank tap water the entire time I was there (refilling my reusable water bottle), and I had no issues. I didn’t find the taste to be bad either.
- If you visit a pharmacy to pick up basic items, be sure you grab a ticket to hold your place in line (like you might at a bakery or post office here in the U.S.).
- Consider buying the Lisboa Card if you’re touring the city in a short period of time. This gives you access to public transport and free/discounted entry to lots of attractions. A great deal if you’re a go-go-go type of traveler, ready to fill your days to the brim.
- Visit Lisbon in early Spring for great weather, less crowds, and lower prices. March and April are just ahead of the major summer tourist rush, although there will still be plenty of people around.
- I recommend spending 3-5 days in Lisbon if you really want to experience it properly (especially if you want to add in day trips). I spent a full month there and I still wasn’t ready to leave!
- You don’t need to visit any attractions to enjoy the city. My favorite thing about Lisbon was simply walking around, observing, and taking photos.
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