Lisbon Travel Mistakes You Do NOT want to commit when you’re living it up in Portugal
December 9, 2017
Lisbon Travel Mistakes to Avoid (Like how a Limp Bizkit fan would Avoid a Backstreet Boys Concert)
So even if you follow my blog on a somewhat irregular basis, chances are you’ve read some of the crazy shizzle that happens to me while I’m being completely unglamorous and traveling the world (aka all the insane travel mistakes I make on the reg). And while some of my experiences are pretty damn hilarious and make for some epic tales of lunacy after the proverbial dust settles, (like that one time when a crazy lady in Greece randomly started spitting at me and calling me a bastard son of a bitch) other instances not so much (hello, Lisbon travel forum? This is lost in Lisbon on the line). Take my multitude of Lisbon travel mistakes, they were just down right annoying, rotten, and no good; something I NEVER want to go through again, like my horrendous flight experience with TAP Portugal.
So as you can probably gather from this mildly ominous intro, this post is about mistakes, mistakes, and oh yeah, more mistakes because when Kelly (aka Girl with the Passport) hits a new country, calamity ensues and general shenanigans are a go. Rest assured though that my mistakes and resulting Lisbon travel tips are really nothing too serious. I usually just feel like Ashton Kutcher is punking me and I kind of wanna be like, “All right Ashton, fun’s over. You can come out now.” But if I did say this, people would look at me even more strangely than they already do now (I’m the weirdo who looks for giant penis shaped wine dispensers with strangers. No, I swear, it wasn’t as creepy as it sounds. Oh and I’ll be talking REALLY loudly because I have no volume control). So instead of bemoaning my mildly bad luck, I try and grow from my experiences like any somewhat introspective thirty something; especially the travel related troubles where you think to yourself, “Oops, maybe I shouldn’t have done that. Yeah, that could have gone really wrong, and not in the funny haha way. But in the like omg I’m a missing person on Investigation Discovery kind of way”.
Plus, I just got back from Lisbon and kind of want to share some of my Lisbon travel advice while the whole trip is still fresh in my mind. I mean, at my rather advanced age, lord knows if I’ll even remember that I took a trip by the time New Years In New York City rolls around (totally kidding). That is why without any further and totally unnecessary verbiage, I give you a list of all my Lisbon travel mistakes and all the resulting Lisbon travel knowledge that I accrued during my stay (Hmm, maybe I should open a Lisbon travel agency? Kidding! No way am I that knowledgeable).
1. Failing to Eat as Many Portuguese Pastries as Humanly Possible (This piece of advice makes this the best Lisbon travel guide ever. LoL)
Okay, this may be total blasphemy but I kind of feel like the pastries in Lisbon were on par with those that I found in Paris. I know, I know, I always think of Paris when I think of exquisite pastries that are expertly interwoven with a healthy dose of champagne wishes and caviar dreams. But when I longly day dream about the warm, flakey, phyllo dough pastry that I had in Sintra, which was slathered in a sweet and creamy almond flavored custard, I almost want to cry out in pure gastronomic ecstasy because I could have easily eaten an entire box of these deliciously baked carb bombs of awesome. And no I wouldn’t have felt an ounce of guilt about eating twelve of them. Okay, maybe I would have felt a little guilty but whatever, calories don’t count on vacation. And while yes, the cuisine in Portugal as a whole is amazing, anyone who knows me knows that I am a sugar and caffeine addict who adores her pastries. So pack some elastic waist pants and prepare to say goodbye to any and all intentions of maintaining a low carb diet while you’re on vacay. Totally not worth it in Portugal and besides, eating sensibly is something you can do at home so that you can eat your face off while you’re on vacation. At least that’s what I do and if that makes me coo coo crazy then so be it.
2. Slipping on the Sidewalk Tiles
Not sure if you know this but Lisbon, and Portugal in general, kind of have a thing for tiles. And while the tile work throughout
Lisbon, and Alfama especially, is absolutely gorgeous to say the very least, this artistic medium can be a bit tricky to walk on. No, the sidewalks of Lisbon aren’t a total landmine of unevenness. Rather, the tiles that make up the series of picturesque sidewalks that line any Lisbon travel map are not the safest thing to walk on, especially in the rain.
See, when these tiles get wet, you kind of feel like you are ice skating on top of a giant slip and slide. So yeah, you kind of feel like you’re totally gonna bust your ass at any moment (Maybe I can score some pity, Lisbon travel deals if I look pathetic enough). And yes, I am about as graceful as a moose so this totally happened to me. Therefore, I would just proceed with caution in the rain because the last thing you want to do is break your hip while you’re partying like a rockstar in Lisbon. Actually, you probably won’t break a hip because you’re not 90 (I checked my demographics because then i’d have denture ads). But you may sprain an ankle and that really isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time, except maybe a lawyer. No worries though, I think its safe for you to leave the life alert at home while strolling through Lisbon.
3. Visiting Belem Tower (Welcome to Belem Lisbon Portugal)
Look, Belem is an amazing neighborhood in Lisbon (check out Belem Lisbon map for more details). You have these nuggets of deliciousness known as egg tarts (okay they are actually known as pastel de nata but my Portuguese is about as good as my Chinese, meaning its nonexistent), museums for things that you didn’t know needed a museum (why do they have a water museum?), a gorgeous monastery (I played it cool and was all pensive and brooding in a corner), and the pretty in pink home of the President himself (the home was adorned with some pretty tasty, I mean handsome guards). And while all this excitement makes Belem an awesome part of your Lisbon Portugal travel plans, I don’t really suggest trekking to the top of the Belem Tower.
Sure, the tower is a lovely, historic structure that helped protect the city from any barbaric heathens that were all hell bent on destroying Lisbon, but it’s just not worth the trip inside. Not only are the stairs steep and seemingly never-ending (Harry Potter, quit enchanting my staircase), but they are super narrow and take forever to ascend or descend because the staircase is only wide enough to fit one person at a time (womp womp womp). That’s why some engineering genius created a light system that only allows you to move in the direction of the green light and for a minute and 30 seconds at a time. As a result, climbing the stairs can feel even longer than a trip to the DMV. But I shudder when I remember that I went in the OFF season. I cannot even fathom how long it would take to trudge up and down this iconic structure in the summer. Plus, the view is nice but it’s just not worth the hassle. You can get better and cheaper views of the city elsewhere (You’re welcome in advance for this awesome piece of Lisbon travel information. Kidding! I know I ain’t all that and a jar of cookie butter. Yes, I really like cookie butter).
***I felt this way about Lisbon Castle too. I mean it’s not like the castle was bad but the site was just rather bland. Sadly, there was very little information to explain the history and purpose of the structure. That’s why it kind of felt like I was paying for a glorified view of the city (It wasn’t super expensive so it’s not a huge deal but this site isn’t a MUST see in my humble opinion).
4. Take Your Ticket (This could totally just be me)
This one sounds pretty obvious at first but hear me out. I swear I’m not a total idiot… all the time. Okay so maybe this isn’t the most earth shattering of all my Lisbon Portugal travel tips but you should know that the citizens of this city have an affinity for tickets. And not just any tickets, like to ride a train, but tickets that hold your place in line for well, pretty much anything. For those readers from the US, the tickets in Portugal are similar to those that you would fine at a deli counter. You know, the ones that you pull out of the machine, that don’t really mean anything because no one really cares about the number anyway. They are just kind of there so that everything appears more organized than it really is (welcome to America).
And these tickets are found not just in tourist attractions that would be in your Lisbon Portugal travel guide but in random (random to me but obviously not to locals) public places like the Tourism Office and the Pharmacy. So don’t be like me and assume that these tickets aren’t a big deal, because they are. I mean, I was waiting in line at the Tourism office and didn’t realize that I needed a ticket before I got in line. I figured it wouldn’t matter but was then promptly escorted to the back of the line because I simply didn’t have a ticket for the number that was called. So whatever you do, make sure you have your ticket because without it people probably won’t serve you.
5. Waiting in Line for the Santa Justa Elevator
So I had no idea this even existed, but the Santa Justa elevator is an architectural icon that is symbolic of Portugal’s close relationship with France (Have no idea what I’m talking about? Just think of this lift as a mini Eiffel Tower and you’ll see that France and Portugal were like peanut butter and jelly). Accordingly, EVERYONE and their brother, cousin, mother, and sister’s dog all want to ascend in this elevator so that they can procure an epic snapshot of the enchanting panoramic views that lie at the top. I mean what on earth would you do if you didn’t obtain these pics for your Instagram and Facebook accounts? Totally being sarcastic but that doesn’t change the fact that the lines for this elevator can get about as long as a receipt for CVS. No joke, you literally feel like you’ve aged ten years after you get off the ever growing queue.
However, no need to wait in line for this view. Believe it or not, there is an access bridge, behind the elevator, that you can use to skip the line completely. Just buy a ticket for €1.50 so that you can climb to the top, and snag a spectacular view without waiting more than two minutes. Plus, there is a decrepit looking church in back of the elevator that is actually worth a visit. Okay, this church is actually Carmo Archaeological Museum, and is closed on Sundays, but stop by any other day of the week and marvel at this building’s exquisite interior (or get your mildly spiritual swerve on).
6. Eating at an Overrated Touristy Restaurant
I’ll admit it, this tip is kind of lame since it can apply to basically any city that any tourist has ever visited. But this one is so important since we’ve all eaten at an overpriced, overrated tourist trap of a restaurant. And it makes sense since you’re not from the area and have no idea where to go. Plus, I know you have gotten to that point where you’re so lost, tired, and hungry that you don’t care where you eat or how insanely expensive it is because your head is throbbing and you wanna throat punch anyone you meet. I Get it. Hangry is indeed a very real state of being that has overwhelmed me many times in my life.
So to help you avoid this predicament of pain (of the ass variety), I highly suggest that you stop what you’re doing and speed walk straight towards Rua de Duque. All along this quaint side street are a ton of restaurants that the locals frequent and that won’t eat up your entire food budget (lame pun intended. Insert cheesy drum sounds here and ba dum dum, cha for good measure). Plus you know the food is amazing since you’ll find nothing but locals here (except you, duh). And the location is epic since this street is tucked far away enough to avoid tourists, but close enough to the Rossio Train Station (Maybe a 5 minute walk up a hill and to the left) that you’ll still be able to find it. I promise, you won’t have to trek up Mount Everest just to get something to eat.
7. Booking a Fado Tour
Okay, so if you have no idea what Fado is don’t feel too bad because I thought I had properly researched my trip to Lisbon. Then as SOON as I got there, everyone kept talking about Fado and I looked at them like they were speaking in tongues. No joke, I thought it was some strange venereal disease, but thank God I was wrong. So no, Fado isn’t a STD or some ritualistic sacrifice that you need to attend. This form of traditional Portuguese music is a soulful folk music that is performed throughout the city and yes you will literally see signs for it everywhere.
Now, I hadn’t made reservations to attend a performance in advance and as a result, I was terrified that I wouldn’t find a restaurant where I could watch a performance (can you tell I suffer from anxiety? LoL). So naturally, I booked an insanely overpriced tour (not one of the best Lisbon tours) that I would not recommend. Sure, the performance was lovely but it was not amazing enough to justify the amount of money that I spent on the tour (So much money that I’m not gonna tell you how much because it’s really embarrassing. Thank god the music and food were both great though).
You however, do not need to make my mistakes and book an overpriced Fado tour. If I could do it all over again, I would reserve a table at Tasca do Chico Fado and call it a night. This club is supposed to be amazing so you need a reservation. But what the club lacks in square footage it makes up for in ambiance. Plus you never know who will turn up and do an impromptu performance. The club also has a great, central location and is only about a ten minute walk from the Baixa-Chiado metro station in the heart of the Barrio Alto neighborhood in Lisbon.
8. Boarding Tram 28 in the Middle of the Day
Okay so you know those vibrantly colored trolley like cable cars that you’ve seen plastered all over Instagram? Yeah, those are from Lisbon and in the city itself they are referred to as trams. Now bear in mind that these trams are sometimes the only way that locals can access some of the more remote areas of Lisbon, that are not reachable by bus, (so don’t be the dick that doesn’t let the local ride the tram home), but this mode of transportation is also a fun way to tour Lisbon and experience some of the historic charms that this city has to offer.
Now while there are several different tram options available to you, the one that you’ll hear about ad nauseam is tram number 28. At some of the more central and popular stops people will actually wait hours just to board this tram. I mean I would never do that because I’m from New York and have like no patience but many people do this and I feel like its kind of a waste of time. No, it’s not that the ride sucks. In fact, the journey aboard tram 28 is lovely and takes you through some of the most gorgeous areas in the city. But there are easier ways to ride the tram that do not involve waiting in line for hours (ain’t nobody got time for that).
That’s why I suggest riding the tram either early in the morning or late at night, when most people are asleep. This way, not only will you avoid a long wait but you will also avoid the feeling of being squished into a sardine can as you are packed into the tram with 20 other people (yeah, not a super relaxing and totally enjoyable trip at all. Claustrophobia party of one).
Now, if neither of these options is appealing to you, you can also try to board the tram at a less popular stop. I boarded the tram near Lisbon Cathedral and had no problem getting on and off tram 28. So definitely consider this option if you don’t want to get up at the ass crack of dawn or party the night away on a local Lisbon tram (Pink Street is also a great place to party it up and find some of the best Lisbon bars. For me partying sadly means staying up past 10 pm).
***Because Tram 28 is insanely crowded, pickpockets love to hang out here so PLEASE guard your belongings or you could find yourself stranded in the far reaches of Lisbon. Trust me, you don’t want to put someone else’s kids through college by accidentally giving away your social security number. Also try and purchase your tickets before boarding the tram because tickets are much more expensive on board.
9. Missing the Tile Museum (Museu Nacional do Azulejo)
Before visiting Lisbon, I didn’t fully appreciate the significance of tile work in the Portuguese culture and architectural landscape
. But this distinctly Portuguese, artistic medium was actually originally adopted from the Moorish people and has since become an integral and hella awesome part of the Lisbon cityscape. So much so that this form of art even has it’s own museum (Actually, this isn’t a big deal in Lisbon since they have a museum for everything from beer, to cars, to water) that is totally worth a visit and free if you purchase a Lisbon Card (more on that later).
At this museum, not only will you see historic tile mosaics, but you will also witness stunning modern reinterpretations of this ancient art form. I mean, not only is there a full scale model of the entire city of Lisbon before it was destroyed by the infamous earthquake of 1755, but there is also a full scale church within the museum that displays exceptionally beautiful tile work that, not surprisingly, exemplifies more religious themes that are centered on Catholicism. Therefore, I truly believe that no trip to Lisbon would be complete without visiting and absorbing this uniquely Portuguese form of artwork (Even if you hate the museum, the modest entrance is adorned with cascades of enchanting fuchsia flowers. Romantic right? Where’s that night in shining armor when you need him).
10. Flying to Lisbon with TAP Portugal
This was by far the BIGGEST mistake that I made during my Lisbon trip (bigger than deciding to eat that fifth pastry in a row. Oops). Now, I won’t get into details because last week’s post explained the whole insane experience in gruesome detail, but let’s just say that while scoring some Lisbon flight deals, I booked my trip through TAP Portugal and was bumped from my flight (along with 25 other people). My flight then got delayed the next day; a flight that I later missed because of misinformation from my airline. I was subsequently bumped from my flight again because the airline proceeded to give me and another passenger the same seat.
Therefore, I cannot in good conscience recommend this airline to you, even though you may have a much better experience than me (I really hope you do. But just in case bring a horseshoe, four leaf clover, and David Beckham’s magical feet to be extra safe).
However what I can say, as I try to be as diplomatic as humanly possible, is that everyone should have their own experience and form their own opinion about an airline or q company. And that’s all I’ll gonna say about that because people get rather indignant anytime you leave a negative review (That’s an understatement. You should have seen some of the nasty things that people said to me under the guise of “criticism”. I had no idea calling me a total idiot was a form of constructive criticism. But moving on. New week, new post).
11. Staying in an AirBnB Lisbon Portugal that does not support sustainable tourism
This is another issue that I’m not going to delve into too deeply because I really don’t know enough about the subject to speak on it in a mildly intelligent manner. However, what I can say is that in recent years, Lisbon has blown up (not literally) and become a major tourist destination for traveler’s all across the globe. You know, kind of like Iceland. No one knew anything about it and then all of a sudden, bam, it became known as the land of fire and ice and now all you see are Diamond Beach pics splashed across your Instagram feed (I’m not complaining because the country is freakin’ stunning).
Well, when you have such an incredible influx of tourists, people try to capitalize off this by catering to the needs of anyone visiting the area. As a result, older buildings in Lisbon have been renovated and converted into AirBnbs and not apartment buildings, since owners can make more money by renting to tourists than by renting to locals (prices of daily goods like coffee have also skyrocketed). The result is that many locals can no longer afford to live in the area and are being priced out of the city. So unless you want to visit a city full of tourists (an option that has appealed to no one ever), make sure that you stay somewhere that is officially registered with the Tourism Office of Portugal (You don’t want to inadvertently support the guy who is basically pricing locals out of the city).
12. Not protecting yourself from pickpockets
So I don’t know about you but sometimes I get overly confident in my ability to avoid catastrophe while traveling abroad and kind of throw caution to the wind. Like when I was in Barcelona and put my wallet in my bright pink backpack and wore a bright green shirt that screamed, “Pillage me” to any local criminal. Clearly I was not as cautious about pickpockets as I should have been.
Anyway, that’s why when I went to Lisbon I wasn’t super concerned about pickpockets but they are out there. Very much alive and well. And you need to be aware of them because if you’re not careful, you could lose some of your most valuable possessions or money. For me it’s always money (what you don’t want to voluntarily hand over your social security number and pin number to a total stranger so that you can support him or her in the manner the he or she has become accustomed to? What’s wrong with you? LoL).
But my story is pretty simple. I knew someone was too close to me, but I just kept stopping and crossing the street and walking faster to avoid her. Well, she must have gotten close enough to open my bag because before I knew it, I had some kind soul informing me that my bag was out there, flapping in the breeze. Thank God I had nothing valuable in my backpack because if I had then I would have been totally screwed. So the moral of the story is that all those ominous signs telling you to beware of pickpockets are not just there for decoration (Who knew? Kidding!).
13. Not Using the Lisboa Card (Lisbon travel card)
A lot of cities use these city cards, like the Lisbon day travel card, and I always wonder, “Is this worth it or am I totally getting taken advantage of because I’m a naive tourist?” Well, I am gonna make it super simple for you and emphatically declare that yes, the Lisbon Card is totally worth it.
To purchase this card you can go to a tourism kiosk or order a card online. Before you get your card though, you have to choose between a 24 hour card for € 19.00, a 48 hour card for €32.00 or a 72 hour card for €40.00. And no need to worry about the card expiring because the card is electronic and will activate once you use it for the first time.
With this card, not only can you ride trams, buses, and the metro for free, but you also receive either a discount or free admission to literally hundreds of attractions across the city. I recommend a 24 hour card but it depends on how much you want to explore Lisbon itself. I only spent a day in the city center so the 24 hour card was perfect for me since I entered the Lisbon Cathedral and Tile Museum for free (okay not really because I bought the card but you know what I mean) and received discounted admission to the Lisbon Castle and various other sites. So as you can see, the card quickly pays for itself and is an easy and economical way of exploring all the cultural diversity that Lisbon has to offer and living out your Lisbon travel itinerary.
14. Getting Ripped Off by a Taxi From the Airport
This one is always the worst. I mean, let me set the scene for you. You’re exhausted and have just emerged from customs after an insanely long flight with some hardcore, gut wrenching turbulence that was thrown in for good measure. You’re in a new city, have no idea where you’re going, and really just want to get to your hotel room and crash into bed (if Justin Timberlake is waiting there for you, even better).
So rather than try to navigate a foreign metro system, with your bigger than the Titanic size suitcase in tow, you elect to eff it and just hail a taxi instead. And sure, you know that it’ll be a little more expensive than taking the metro, but you had no idea that it would cost you twice as much as everyone else (I guess your luggage, brand new sneakers, and Hubble telescope size camera gave you away as a tourist).
Yeah, this happens to the best of us, including a dear friend of mine. Well, I have it on authority that a taxi ride to the airport should cost you about 10 euros. Obviously it depends on where your hotel is but the price should be around this number. Anything significantly higher and that means that you are getting RIPPED OFF big time.
15. Don’t Throw Out Your Non-reusable Metro Ticket
This one is kind of a random and I’m probably the only totally clueless traveler who did this but whatever, I’m gonna say it anyway because maybe this little snippet of advice will help someone, somewhere out there in the great beyond (sorry I’ve been watching WAY too much Stranger Things).
But what I’m really trying to say in way too many words is that if you have a non-reusable ticket for the metro, save it because you will need it to both exit and enter the metro. I kept idiotically throwing mine out because you don’t need a ticket to exit the New York City subway. As a result, I had to do a little impromptu dumpster diving to escape the confines of the metro. So don’t be like me and hold onto your ticket like it’s your first born or your ticket out of subterranean prison. Whatever works. Oh and PS, the Lisbon metro is also super easy to use.
See what I did there? O fim is actually Portuguese for the end! Pretty clever right? I’d laugh if it was wrong because I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t speak a word of Portuguese and had to look this up on Google. So may the google Gods be ever in my favor. That and I really wish (on a genie in a bottle) that you make it to Lisbon ASAP because it’s kind of sort of a big deal. I mean, did I see everything I want and become a total expert on the city? No, not really. But I did explore a beautiful and culturally vibrant city that I hope to return to someday. That and I have created this list of Lisbon mistakes that will maybe, kind of, sort of, help you possibly an even better trip than you thought you would, at least that’s the plan.
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