Even if you follow my blog on a slightly irregular basis, then you know about all the crazy shizzle that happens to me while I unglamorously travel the world. Well, per usual, my trip to Lisbon was a buffet of travel mistakes that left me with a bunch of Lisbon travel tips that you can add to your Lisbon travel guide.
While some of my experiences in this Lisbon Portugal guide are hilarious and make for some epic tales of lunacy after the proverbial dust settles, (like that time when a crazy lady in Greece randomly started spitting at me) other instances not so much.
Some of my Lisbon Portugal travel fails:
Yeah, they were downright annoying, rotten, and no good; something I NEVER want to go through again, like my horrendous flight experience with TAP Portugal.
So as you probably gathered from this mildly ominous intro:
This Lisbon Portugal travel guide 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:
My travel disasters and resulting Lisbon Portugal travel tips are really nothing too serious.
I typically feel like Ashton Kutcher is punking me and wanna be like, “All right Ashton, fun’s over. You can come out now.”
So instead of bemoaning my mildly bad luck:
I try and grow from my trip to Lisbon, like a somewhat introspective thirty-something, and create a Lisbon travel guide with Lisbon travel tips that detail what NOT to do, in a mildly humorous way (you can also check out these Portugal travel resources).
So without further ado and unnecessary verbiage:
I give you this list of tips for visiting Lisbon; travel hacks and Lisbon insider tips that I accrued from actual, real-life locals. And if you’re feeling extra adventurous, you could even plan a trip to Lagos and discover some of the amazing things to do in Lagos, Portugal, or stop by Sagres, Portugal and see what the westernmost edge of the Algarve is all about.
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1. Not Eating a TON of Portuguese Pastries (one fo my favorite Lisbon travel tips since it involves food)
This may be total foodie blasphemy but I feel like the pastries in Lisbon are on par with those that I found in Paris.
I too always think of Paris when I contemplate exquisite pastries that are interwoven with champagne wishes and caviar dreams.
When I longingly daydream about the warm, flaky, phyllo dough pastry that I devoured in Sintra (it was slathered in a sweet and creamy almond flavored custard), I want to cry out in gastronomic ecstasy because I could easily have eaten an entire box of these deliciously baked carb bombs of awesome.
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 while you’re on vacation. So pack some elastic waist pants and prepare to say goodbye to any intentions of maintaining a low carb diet while you’re on vacay.
Totally not worth it in Portugal. Especially if you’re planning a Portugal winter itinerary!
Besides, eating sensibly is something you can do at home so that you can eat your face off on vacation. At least that’s what I do and if that makes me crazy then so be it (stop by in Belem for a tasty treat as you travel from Lisbon airport to the city center.
***If you want to learn more about the enchanting history and culture of this fascinating city, then one of the best things do in Lisbon is to take a book a guided tour with a city expert.***
2. Face Planting on Sidewalk Tiles (Wear Good Shoes)
Lisbon, and Portugal in general, kind of have a thing for tiles.
The tile work throughout Lisbon and Alfama is gorgeous, to say the least, this artistic medium can be a bit tricky to walk on in the rain.
When these tiles get wet:
You feel like you’re ice skating on a giant slip and slide.
And yes, I’m about as graceful as a moose.
That’s why one of Lisbon travel tips is to proceed with caution in the rain since the last thing you want to do is break your hip while partying like a rockstar in Lisbon.
You probably won’t break a hip because you’re not 90 (I checked my demographics and if you were, I’d have denture ads).
You may sprain an ankle and that really isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time, except maybe a lawyer (talk about a Lisbon solo travel nightmare).
3. Visiting Belem Tower
Belem is an amazing neighborhood in Lisbon that is home to the best pastel de nata (egg tarts) in the entire city.
***If you like food almost as much as I do then you might want to consider this Lisbon private food tour with ten tastings***
Belem has museums for things that I didn’t even know needed a museum (a water museum?).
But if museums aren’t your thing:
Then you might be delighted to know that Belem is also home to one of the best things to do in Lisbon, visiting the gorgeous Mosteiro Dos Jeronimos (I played it cool and was all pensive and brooding in the corner).
And while yes:
These Lisbon top attractions do make Belem an awesome part of any Lisbon Portugal itinerary, I don’t suggest trekking to the top of Belem Tower (one of my handy Lisbon travel tips for you).
Sure, the tower is one of the top photo spots in Lisbon:
A truly magnificent, historic structure that protected the city from barbaric heathens that were hell-bent on destroying Lisbon, but it’s not really worth a trip inside.
Not only are the stairs steep and seemingly never-ending (Harry Potter, stop enchanting my staircase):
They were also incredibly narrow and take forever to ascend or descend because the staircase is only wide enough for one person at a time.
Some engineering genius created a light system where you can only 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. I shudder though because I went during OFF season. I cannot even fathom how long it would take to trudge up and down this iconic structure in the summer.
And while the view is nice but it’s not worth the hassle:
You can get better and cheaper views of the city at Miradouro de Santa Catarina, Elevador de Santa Justa, Largo das Portas do Sol, Miradouro da Graça, Basílica da Estrela, and more.
***I also felt this way about Castelo de Sao Jorge. It’s not that the castle is bad but the site was just rather bland. There was very little information to explain the history and purpose of the structure. That’s why I don’t think you need to add this site to your Lisbon travel guide. ***
4. Take Your Ticket to Wait in Line
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 while traveling in Lisbon.
No, these tickets hold your place in line for well, pretty much anything.
For my American readers:
The tickets in Portugal are similar to those that you would find 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.
These tickets are found not just at tourist attractions that you would find in a 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 was waiting in line at the Tourism office and didn’t realize that I needed a ticket before I got in line.
I figured that:
it wouldn’t matter, but it did. I was 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 that you hold onto your ticket because without it people probably won’t serve you.
5. Waiting in Line for the Santa Justa Lift (Elevator)
So I had no idea this even existed:
But the Santa Justa elevator is an architectural icon that symbolizes Portugal’s close relationship with France.
Have no idea what I’m talking about?
Just think of this lift as a mini Eiffel Tower.
EVERYONE and their brother, cousin, and sister’s dog want to add this must-see Lisbon attraction to their Lisbon travel itinerary.
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 panoramic view without waiting in line for more than two minutes.
There is a decrepit looking church in the back of the elevator that is worth a visit.
This church is actually Carmo Archaeological Museum and is closed on Sundays, but stop by on any other day of the week, while traveling around Lisbon, and marvel at this building’s exquisite interior.
6. Eating at an Overrated Touristy Restaurant
I’ll admit it:
This Lisbon travel tip is kind of lame since it can apply to any city that any tourist has ever visited (Like in my Italy travel mistakes post).
But this one is important.
Because we’ve all eaten at overpriced restaurants with terrible food since we’re been lost, tired, hungry and completely desperate.
I Get it.
Hangry is indeed a very real thing that has overwhelmed me many times.
So to help you avoid this predicament:
Speed walk straight to Rua de Duque. All along this quaint side street are a ton of restaurants that locals frequent and that won’t eat up your entire food budget (lame pun intended. Insert cheesy drum roll here).
And you know the food is amazing since you’ll find nothing but locals here (except you, duh).
And the location is awesome.
This street is tucked far away enough to avoid tourists, but close enough to Rossio Train Station (Maybe a 5-minute walk up a small hill and to the left) that you’ll easily find it
***Some of the best restaurants in Lisbon are O Galito (a Mediterranean restaurant that has lovely stew), Landeau Chocolate (best chocolate cake period), Taca da Esquina (Portuguese tapas), Forno d’Oro (Naples style pizza), and Copenhagen Coffee Lab for, duh, coffee.***
7. Booking a Fado Tour
If you have no idea what Fado is:
I wouldn’t feel too bad. I thought I had properly researched all potential Lisbon travel experiences until I got there and everyone started talking about Fado and I looked at them like they were speaking in tongues.
I thought it was some strange venereal disease, but thank God I was wrong. So no, Fado isn’t an STD or some ritualistic sacrifice that you need to attend.
Fado is a form of traditional Portuguese music; a soulful folk music that is performed throughout the city.
You’ll literally see signs for it everywhere while you’re traveling around Lisbon.
Since I had no idea what Fado was I didn’t make reservations to attend a performance.
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).
I booked one of those insanely overpriced Lisbon tours that I would NOT recommend.
The performance was lovely but it wasn’t good enough to justify the insane amount of money that I spent.
Just reserve a table at Tasca do Chico Fado and call it a night.
This Fado Club is supposed to be amazing:
So be sure to make a reservation since what the club lacks in square footage it makes up for in ambiance.
This club is just a ten-minute walk from the Baixa-Chiado metro station, in the Barrio Alto neighborhood in Lisbon, so it’s super easy to get to.
***What you can book instead is an amazing day trip to Sintra and Cascais. Truly gorgeous places that can be difficult to access using public transportation.***
8. Boarding Tram 28 in the Middle of the Day
You know those vibrantly colored cable cars that are plastered all over Instagram?
Yeah, those bad boys are from Lisbon and are commonly known as trams (shocking, I know).
These trams are sometimes the only way that locals can access the more remote neighborhoods in Lisbon, that are not reachable by bus, (so don’t be the dick and let the locals ride the tram home),
This mode of transportation is also a fun way to tour Lisbon and experience the historic charms of this lovely city.
And while several tram options are available to you:
The most famous of all Lisbon Portugal trams is number 28.
At some of the more central stops:
People will wait hours just to board this tram. Personally, I would never do that because I’m from New York and have no patience for that kind of wait.
But because the journey aboard tram 28 is one of the best things to do in Lisbon:
I suggest riding the tram either early in the morning or late at night when most people are asleep. This way, you’ll avoid the long wait that is associated with huge crowds.
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:
***Because Tram 28 is insanely crowded, pickpockets love to hang out here so PLEASE guard your belongings or you could find yourself putting someone else’s kids through college. Also, purchase your tickets before boarding the tram since tickets are much more expensive on board. And don’t be afraid to take the tram. Lisbon has 7 hills and ain’t nobody got time for cardiac arrest. So make your life easier and take the tram.***
9. Visit the Tile Museum (Museu Nacional do Azulejo)
Before visiting Lisbon:
I didn’t fully appreciate the significance of tile work to the Portuguese culture and architectural landscape
This distinctly Portuguese, artistic medium was originally adopted from the Moorish people and has become an integral part of the Lisbon cityscape.
So much so that this form of art even has it’s own museum.
Here, not only will you find historic tile mosaics, but you’ll also see stunning modern reinterpretations of this ancient art form.
I mean, this museum has a full-scale model of the entire city of Lisbon before it was destroyed by the infamous earthquake of 1755,
No trip to Lisbon would be complete without visiting and absorbing this uniquely Portuguese form of artwork.
10. Flying 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).
I won’t get into details because a previous post explained the whole insane experience in gruesome detail.
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 have subsequently bumped from my flight again because the airline proceeded to give me and another passenger the same seat.
As a result:
I cannot in good conscience recommend this airline to you, even though you might have a much better experience than me (I really hope you do.
If you do decide to fly with TAP Portugal, be sure to bring a horseshoe, four-leaf clover, and David Beckham’s magical feet, just in case.
11. Don’t Stay in an Airbnb that doesn’t support sustainable tourism
This is an issue that I’m not going to delve into too deeply because I don’t know enough about the subject to speak on it in a mildly intelligent manner.
What I can say is that in recent years, Lisbon has blown up (not literally) and become a major tourist destination for travelers 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.
When you have an exponential 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 are being renovated and converted into AirBnbs, instead of apartment buildings since owners can make more money by renting to tourists than by renting to locals.
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.
12. Protect yourself from pickpockets
I can get overly confident in my ability to avoid catastrophe and 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.
When I visited Lisbon, I wasn’t super concerned about pickpockets but they are out there. And if you’re not careful, you could lose some of your most valuable possessions or money.
While I was in Lisbon:
I actually knew someone was too close to me, but I just kept stopping and crossing the street and walking faster to avoid her.
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 screwed.
So moral of the story? All those ominous signs In Lisbon, telling you to beware of pickpockets, yeah, those aren’t just for decoration.
13. Use the Lisboa Card (Lisbon travel card)
Like with most city cards:
I bet you’re wondering, “Is the Lisbon card worth it?” And I’m gonna make it super easy for you by declaring that yes, the Lisbon Card is totally worth it.
Just go online and order either a 24-hour, 48-hour or a 72-hour card. 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 clearly, the card quickly pays for itself and is an easy and economical way of exploring some of the best attractions in Lisbon.
***If you don’t want to purchase a Lisbon Card, then buy the VivaViagem card, a reusable metro card that is used on trams, buses, trains, and the metro; much cheaper than buying single ride tickets.***
14. Getting Ripped Off by a Taxi From the Airport
This is always the worst.
You’re exhausted and have just emerged from customs after an insanely long flight with some hardcore, gut-wrenching turbulence.
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.
So rather than try and navigate a foreign metro system, with your Titanic size suitcase in tow, you elect to eff it and hail a taxi instead.
Sure, you know it’ll be a bit more expensive than taking the metro, but you had no idea it would cost you twice as much as everyone else.
Yeah, this happens to the best of us, including a dear friend of mine.
I have it on authority that a taxi ride to the airport should cost you about 15 euros. Obviously, it depends on where your hotel is but the price should be around this number. If they try and charge you more, you are getting ripped off and you should run away, like Tom Hanks in Forest Gump.
***The most affordable way to get to Lisbon’s city center from the airport is via the Metro (25 minutes on the red line, with a connection through Saldanha station) or by bus. But I hate the bus and always take the metro. ***
15. Saving 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.
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 a subterranean prison. Whatever works.
16. For the best views in Lisbon, head to Miraduoros
If you see a sign that reads “Miraduoro”:
FOLLOW THAT SIGN because you will be handsomely rewarded with some amazing, panoramic views in all of Lisbon (aka some of Lisbon’s best Instagram photo locations).
And while these Miraduoros (aka scenic overlooks) are found throughout Lisbon, head to Miraduoro Portas do Sol for the best views of Alfama.
You can also check out the view from Miraduoro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara since it’s a lovely place to people watch.
17. Watch out for Hidden Restaurant Fees
You know when you sit down at a restaurant and your waiter automatically brings you something, like bread, which is usually free?
Well, that rule doesn’t apply in Lisbon.
When you sit down in many Lisbon restaurants, waiters will typically bring you out a plate of cheese, bread, and olives.
Yeah, this plate is not free and you will be charged for it.
So if you’re not down with paying for this appetizer, then leave the plate alone and send it back to the kitchen.
18. Take a Day Trip from Lisbon
If you’re visiting Lisbon for the first time:
Definitely take a day trip out of the city. Personally, my favorite day trip from Lisbon is to Sintra.
Everywhere you turn, you see these majestic, vibrantly colored castles that emerge from a series of beautiful mountains covered in thick, lush forests (lush is code for it’s damp and wet so dress accordingly).
Getting to this magical land of Moorish castles and pastel-hued manor houses can be a bit tricky though, so I booked a Sintra day trip from Lisbon just to make my life a little easier.
But it’s up to you since many people do this day trip on their own and have a fantastic time.
If you do visit, take some time to explore the vibrantly colored, Moorish style castle known as Palácio Nacional da Pena and Quinta de Regaleira, an enchanting villa with intriguing mythological statues and beautiful stone spires that capture the wondrous feeling of Sintra’s natural landscape.
You can also take a day trip to Cascais since this charming town has amazing beaches that are just a thirty-minute train ride away from Lisbon.
From here, you can enjoy the beach and marvel at the cliffside views that look out onto the Atlantic Ocean. the views from the amazing
***Personally, I prefer Sesimbra to Cascais since it less crowded and not quite as touristy as the more famous Cascais.***
19. Explore Alfama
When I was planning my trip to Lisbon:
The one thing that EVERYONE highly recommended was exploring the Alfama District.
I wasn’t too excited since I wanted a big name site with bells, whistles, fireworks, and a ticker tape parade (weird American thing).
Yeah, Alfama is none of those things.
Instead, Alfama is an unassuming, historic district in Lisbon that astounds almost everyone who visits. Walking through these charming streets, you’ll find enchanting buildings swathed in the vivacious colors of local tile work.
The architecture, tile work, and historic trams whizzing through Alfama all make you feel like you’ve gone back to a time when Twilight was just a time of day (not a book) and the only cell phones available were called Carrier Pigeons.
Also, check out some of Lisbon’s other neighborhoods too (a quick Lisbon neighborhood guide below).
Barrio Alto – A residential neighborhood that has a vivacious nightlife scene, with many clubs and bars that are open until the early hours of the morning.
Cais de Sodre – Home to trendy bars and cafes, this is the Lisbon neighborhood where you’ll find the Time Out Market and the Mercado da Ribiera.
Belem – A port area to the West of Lisbon that is home to the Tower of Belem, the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, Pasteis de Belem (best egg tarts in Lisbon), and at museum district at includes the Museum for Art, Architecture and Technology.
Chiado – Upscale, artistic Lisbon neighborhood filled with grand cafes and posh art galleries.
Baixia – An upscale Lisbon neighborhood with wide boulevards, charming boutiques, and home to the legendary Elevator de Santa Justa,
20. Explore Local Street Art
Like most concrete jungles:
The graffiti in Lisbon has been transformed into a worldwide craze known as “street art”.
But, where can you find the best street art in Lisbon?
Walk to the west side of the Avenida da Liberdade, in Restauradores square, and find the Gloria Funicular, just around the corner from the tourist office in Palácio Foz.
As you ride the funicular up the hill, you’ll see a ton of street art on your right since this area is a designated street art gallery.
To Find More Street Art:
You can also hop on the Tram 28 stop, near Lisbon Cathedral. Continue uphill and on your right, after a few stops, you’ll find some of the most famous street art pieces in all of Lisbon.
Still not enough street art for you?
Well, while you’re stuffing your face at Time Out Market, check out some of the street art there, and then head on over to LX Factory, a renovated industrial complex that houses some of Lisbon’s most eclectic shops, restaurants, and street art murals.
Take some time to enjoy some unique murals that are fashioned out of discarded objects to redefine the human definition of waste and to promote more sustainable consumption practices..
***If you’re obsessed with street art like me, then you may want to book a Lisbon street art walking tour. This way, you can quickly and easily see as much Lisbon street art as possible.***