7 Important Lisbon Travel Tips
I’m sitting on a plane right now, flying to our next destination – Buenos Aires. But as I sit here, I can’t help but reflect on our last stop – Lisbon. With our focus now on traveling slower, our goal this winter was to spend two months pretending to live like locals in Europe. Someday we might even turn pretend into reality…who knows. But anyway, this time we chose Lisbon. Why Lisbon? First, it’s a hugely popular destination right now, and we figured that off-season would be a great time to avoid the tourist hoards. And second, It’s supposedly the least cold European capital city. And if we are going to escape Utah winters, we definitely at least wanted least cold. I’ve already shared quite a bit about our time in Lisbon on this blog, but this time I want to share a few general Lisbon travel tips.
Lisbon is Big
As we flew into Lisbon, my first impression from the air was – it looks beautiful, but it doesn’t seem very big. That’s probably because we approached from the water and couldn’t really see it all. But still, I immediately started to worry that we might get bored after the first few weeks.
Not so!! The first of my Lisbon travel tips is don’t underestimate Lisbon’s size. As our weeks in Lisbon passed by, I actually started to worry that despite our two month stay, we wouldn’t have time to see everything. And in fact, we did run out of time. I still had several things remaining to see and do when we left.
As I work on Social Media for this blog, I always see plenty of Pins on Pinterest that are titled – How to Spend 2 Days Lisbon or The Perfect 3 Day Lisbon Itinerary. And I laugh a little when I see them now. 3 Days in Lisbon is really only enough time to quickly rush through its very top sites.
Lisbon features multiple must-visit Neighborhoods – all with a unique character. Parks. Squares. Viewpoints. River Activities. Museums. UNESCO Sites. Markets. Food and Drink Experiences. Fado Experiences. Not to mention all the Day Trip options.
I realize, of course, that we are spoiled with the time we have to travel.
But I would recommend 5-7 days in Lisbon at the very minimum if possible.
Here’s further photographic examples of why….
Lisbon’s Public Transportation is Great
I love to use public transportation when we travel. It’s a great way to participate in normal everyday life. It’s a great way to experience a city beyond just taking tours of the major sites. And it’s usually cheaper than the alternatives.
Lisbon has a great and inexpensive public transportation system, and so the second of my Lisbon travel tips is use it!
We used the subway daily. In fact after about three weeks, I didn’t have to consult the subway map for any of the 4 lines anymore.
And if we couldn’t get somewhere by subway, we could almost always get there by bus. (Google Maps was excellent at helping me know which bus to take where. And when the next one was coming.)
Because I knew we would be using public transportation so much, we actually waded through the red tape of getting a Navigante Card. This is a 30 day public transportation pass that most short term tourists shouldn’t bother with, due to the process involved in getting it. Plus it’s not economical for shorter visits. But once we had ours, we were able to ride all forms of public transportation within Lisbon and surrounding areas for only 40 Euros per month.
For shorter stays, a reloadable travel card called the Via Viagem is easy to purchase and use. It can be used on all forms of public transportation in Lisbon. Tourists can also buy different passes that are good for 24-72 hours.
Alternatively, Uber and similar company called Free Now are also available in Lisbon and are quite cheap too. On the occasion when it would take an extra long time to get somewhere by public transportation (due to multiple connections), we would use Uber. I never paid more than 7 Euros for an Uber ride within the main part of Lisbon. (And if you happen to love reading about Uber, then check out my post that looks at the economics of Uber in Los Angeles.)
Portuguese is Hard, But Communication in Lisbon Isn’t
The third of my Lisbon travel tips is to not worry about the language. I have a rudimentary ability with Spanish. I can at least pronounce the words on a Spanish menu and I know basic phrases important for travelers. But, I found Portuguese to be very difficult to wrap my head around. So many different ways to pronounce the same consonants. So many different vowel sounds and vowel combinations. I never had any confidence, even after two months, that I was ever saying anything in Portuguese correctly.
But no matter. We found that English was very commonly spoken in restaurants and shops. If someone didn’t speak English, they almost always went and found someone who did. And when we found ourselves at a communication impasse….Google Translate.
(Though I never stopped trying to speak traveler’s Portuguese. And at least mastered the phrase “One Pastel De Nata Please”)
Food in Lisbon is Delicious
And speaking of Pastel de Nata (Portugal’s famed dessert), I was very happy while eating in Portugal. So the fourth of my Lisbon travel tips is to eat as much local food as possible.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of the food in Portugal. After all, I’ve never seen a Portuguese Food restaurant anywhere at home or in my travels.
But, as I recently learned on The Reluctant Traveler with Eugene Levy, Portugal ranks #3 in the world for most fish consumed per capita. And I definitely found a seafood nirvana while traveling in Lisbon.
In addition to seafood, other Portguese favorites of mine included Piri-Piri Chicken – one of Lisbon’s favorite takeout foods. This is chargrilled chicken marinated in a spicy piri-piri pepper sauce. I dedicated an entire blog post about an experience I had tracking down perhaps Lisbon’s best Piri-Piri Chicken.
Another Portuguese favorite is the Bifana sandwich – a simple marinated pork loin sandwich found in just about every cafe. My travel hero Anthony Bourdain first introduced me to the Bifana several years ago on his iconic travel program. I wrote another blog post about happily following in his footsteps – eating what many to consider Lisbon’s best Bifana at a place called O Trevo.
I was also really impressed with the number of healthy food options in Lisbon. Lots of Vegetarian, Vegan, and Farm-to-Table organic restaurants everywhere.
And a healthy meal now and then helps to compensate for the number of times you may find yourself enjoying a Pastel de Nata – the aforementioned dessert that can be found everywhere in Lisbon. The glorious Pastel de Nata is an egg custard tart in a puff-pastry shell, invented by Lisbon monks 200 year ago.
I Never Felt Unsafe in Lisbon
Prior to our time traveling in Lisbon, I read mixed reviews on travel safety in Lisbon. Travel Safe Abroad gives Portugal a middling safety score of 57, and I’d read that pickpocketing was especially a concern.
But we never ran into any problems whatsoever. So the fifth of my Lisbon travel tips is don’t be afraid in Lisbon.
I wandered multiple neighborhoods, by myself sometimes, and never once felt in danger. This included touristy neighborhoods and less touristy neighborhoods.
I constantly rode public transportation and never experienced or witnessed any attempted theft
And I spent plenty of time out on the streets after dark without any perceived need for fear.
Now of course we were vigilant, and took the usual precautions to avoid pickpockets. Plus we weren’t ever out during the wee hours of the morning when tourists might be more easily targeted for theft.
But still, Lisbon seemed pretty safe to me.
So, What About The Weather?
The weather was really our only disappointment while traveling in Lisbon. When I looked at the temperature averages, I saw that temps in the high 50s were likely at the beginning of our trip, warming up to mid 60s by the end. Compared to 20s-40s in Utah, that seem great. And honestly, any time it hits 55 or above at home, we can get by with a light jacket.
But, 58 degrees Fahrenheit in Lisbon is not at all the same as 58 degrees Fahrenheit in Utah. And truthfully, I did know that. Humidity always makes the air feel colder. But it was colder than we expected.
Plus…and I even hate to bring this up because Mrs. TT thinks it jinxes us further… we tend to trigger unseasonably cold weather wherever we go. And Lisbon did experience unseasonably colder weather for most of our stay.
But, and this is a big But, Utah had the worst winter in its history this year with record shattering snowfall. And we missed two months of that. So I’m absolutely not complaining.
And we did not let colder-than-expected weather stop us. We still had a great time and did, in fact, get to experience the wintertime-quiet-Lisbon we hoped for. But the sixth of my Lisbon travel tips is bring some of your warmer clothes if you are visiting in the winter.
Don’t Miss Out on a Day Trip
I know. I already told you that you’ll run out of time trying to see everything in Lisbon. But any visitor to Lisbon needs to take advantage of at least one of its many great day trip opportunities. This is the seventh of my Lisbon travel tips. Because Lisbon is the Capital city, it is very well connected to the rest of the country by a regional train and bus network. Day trips from Lisbon are easy.
Our favorite Lisbon day trip was visiting Sintra. Located only 15 miles to the west of Lisbon, and easily reached by train, the whole area surrounding Sintra has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sintra’s collection of castles, estates, and gardens are among the world’s best examples of 19th-century European Romantic Architecture. Here’s a look at a few of those:
And you can read even more about Sintra in my previous blog post.
Évora is another great day trip from Lisbon and can be reach by either bus or train in about 1.5 hours. Highlights of this town include:
And we also loved visiting Óbidos. Óbidos is located about 1 hour north of Lisbon by bus and is one of the best-preserved medieval villages I’ve ever visited. Quaint village with narrow cobblestone streets, surrounded in its entirety by an ancient wall, presided over by a quintessential medieval castle.
I also have an entire blog post dedicated to the medievally magical Óbidos
And those are only a few of the day trip opportunities you have when visiting LIsbon. Click here to learn about more.
We loved our two months “living” in Lisbon. Staying there, for as long as we did, definitely gave us a different perspective on life in a popular European capital. And we look forward to longer stints in other places around the world as our travel adventures continue.
Hopefully, these 7 Lisbon Travel Tips will give you some useful insight for your own Lisbon visit – whether it be long or short.
If you would like to read about another of our best adventures in Europe, then check out this post about the time we got Married in Lake Bled Slovenia.
Or for more travel tips from Europe, check out my post about Traveling in Greece.
Fabulous post, Steven. I love this wrap-up – I found myself eagerly reading each line. I cannot wait to visit Lisbon next year. Enjoy Buenos Aires, looking forward to the posts!
I think you will love it there!
All points noted Steven. In truth, I see so many parallels between Prague – sitting in the airport now typing these words as we fly out in a few hours – and Lisbon, from excellent public transport, never feeling unsafe, Czech being tough but still easy enough to communicate. Heck; it even looks like here with is trams and glorious buildings.
As for Portuguese, it is tough. I had friends who spoke it mainly at home as Newark, NJ and the surrounding area is a HUGE pocket for this country, in the USA. The accent is quite different than Spanish which I can speak semi-fluently.
As for the weather, same deal, too. Today was about 70 F without a cloud. Best weather for the whole month as most days were cloudy and we even had nights in the 20’s and snowy. Cold, windy and overcast for most of the 3 weeks. I guess no city can have it all.
Yeah I saw some of those snowy pictures on Twitter and I thought it looked beautiful but cold! Prague is one of my favorite cities in Europe and I agree that there are definitely some similarities with Lisbon in terms of travel experience
Latitude Adjustment: A Tale of Two Wanderers
Great information. Do you recommend where you stayed at?
I think it depends on how long you are staying. For a longer trip like ours, then yes. Being out of the central tourist district was nice. It was less hectic and felt more authentic. For a shorter trip – less than a week – I think it would be more convenient to stay down where all the tourist action is.