Due to the current situation of the coronavirus epidemic, we are staying at home with our families, trying our best to be safe, healthy and full of hope. Travel isn’t recommended right now, but for many of us who love to travel and explore different corners of the globe, we want to be optimistic that someday soon, we will come out of our houses and that it will be safe to travel and visit our favourite places again. That’s why in the next succeeding time, we will be posting articles here at Cheese & Wine suites and apartments to celebrate the love for travel and the love for Lisbon. To give you, past and future guests something to look forward to when the world will be all right again and we meet in the Lisbon sun, hopefully soon.
When it comes to city break destinations, Lisbon is exceptional as it offers plenty of satisfying aspects compared to many European cities – the abundant sunshine, the great weather, the historic city with enviable lifestyle, the vibrant culture and the proximity to the beaches. The city manages to charm almost everyone who visits that coming back to explore more of the city’s envious lifestyle is inevitable. Some even fall in love with Lisbon passionately that they move in and become residents!
But just like visiting any place, it’s always good to acquire some knowledge about the city you’re visiting to find travelling much easier and more manageably. Lisbon is no exception. The city is packed with things to do and places to see, and more importantly, valuable and cultural points to remember to avoid surprises! Here’s a guide to the things you must know before coming to Lisbon, so you can travel nicely, wisely and appropriately.
1. Know what’s the best time of the year to visit.
Portugal’s climate is renowned in Europe and around the world to be mild and temperate, gifted with such a generous amount of sunshine all year round. But it’s best to remember that we have seasons here, too. Spring here is fresh and mild, mostly sunny with occasional shower spells. Summer is gloriously bright, dry and hot, but not too hot as there’s always the Atlantic breeze drifting through the city. Autumn is wonderfully mild, a great season to visit if you don’t like the heat much. And winter is typically colder, concentrated with some of the wettest days of the year. But this, too, has some surprises as there’s some sun in December and it is quite possible to enjoy sunshine at the beach even in February.
That said, there are always tourists all year round, as Lisbon is so popular. The peak season is spread through the spring, summer and early autumn months. However, there’s also pleasure to be had in visiting during winter months, especially for budget travellers, as when the season is low, accommodation prices are much lower, too. Usually half the price compared to the peak months. The only compromise you have is to deal with the unpredictable weather. But the guarantee you have is the beautiful city of Lisbon around you!
2. Avoid bringing cars to Lisbon.
If you’re arriving in Lisbon by plane, chances are you won’t need a car as the city is immensely walkable, the public transport is reliable, and affordable Uber car service is at the touch of your smartphone. However, if you do come to Lisbon by car, or are thinking of renting a car, please think again. You’ll have more headache in the chaotic Lisbon traffic, and waste loads of time by finding a parking space. It’s almost impossible to park on the streets in the centre of Lisbon, as they’re either allocated to residents or mostly paid, leaving you with the option of parking lots, which are very expensive, costing at least €20 for an entire day.
We recommend to only rent a car when you have trips planned outside Lisbon, then it’s a perfect getaway transport to explore outer areas along the coast of Cascais, the nature in Sintra, the vast plains of Alentejo and the countryside of Portugal.
3. Bring comfortable shoes.
Lisbon is a city of seven hills, and if that bears meaning to you, it means you’ll have to be kind to your feet. Forget bringing heels or your shiny boots. Wear the most comfortable shoes you can have. Lisbon is beautiful and offers magnificent views, but to get to those views, there are some hilly terrain and stairs to climb. We absolutely recommend walking as a lot of Lisbon’s beauty is hidden along winding, cobblestone streets, little alleyways and getting lost in vibrant neighbourhoods with plenty of stairways. On a beautiful day, you’ll give yourself a nice outdoor walking activity, with a lot of healthy walking exercise to boot! Check out our Cheese & Wine guide to the hilly neighbourhoods of Graça, Alfama and Cathedral Districts.
4. Know the Portuguese basics.
Portuguese are famous to be warm, friendly, accommodating people, and so hospitable that most people speak English as a de facto interaction with their visitors. However, speaking some basic Portuguese words would certainly enhance that interaction, and even win some respect and cordiality with the locals.
It’s always nice when you’d say “Ola” (“Hello”) as a starting point, and “Obrigado” (“Thank you”), for male speakers, and “Obrigada” for female speakers, and “De nada” (“You’re welcome”) after a transaction. Or you say “Por favor” (“Please”) with a smile, or “Desculpa” (“Sorry”) if you accidentally bump anyone. Or when leaving, say “Adeus” (“Goodbye”) with a friendly wave. This brings a smile to people’s faces.
Even when ordering coffee, there’s a multitude of coffee types you can order in Portugal. To help you avoid confusion, order “Bica” if you wanted an espresso-type coffee, “Abatanado” if you wanted an americano or long black coffee. “Galão” if you wanted a large coffee with milk. “Meia de leite” for a milky coffee, “Descafeinado” for a want of decaf, and “Cha” if you fancy tea instead.
5. Beware of pickpockets in public transport and crowded places.
Like most touristy places, it is quite unfortunate that such incidents like pickpocketing exist, and Lisbon is no exception. It is most common in crowded areas, such as in trams and other public transports, and in tourist spots where there’s heavy traffic. So it’s best to use common sense to look after your belongings well. Don’t leave bags open, and don’t store your phones and wallet in pockets but place them securely inside your bags. And always have your bag in front of you, not behind you, to avoid any incident as thieves can be real quick.
6. Avoid taxis, use Uber.
We’ve written in a recent blog post about getting around Lisbon smartly, and we advised avoiding taxis and using Uber instead. Taxis have a terrible reputation of overcharging customers and driving you through longer routes than necessary, trust our experience! Meanwhile Uber has a better reputation – these cars are known to be secure, with all transactions done digitally through your smartphone, making sure you’re not overcharged. Plus you can map your route visually, and keep track of your route. What’s more, Uber drivers are far friendlier, most cases speak fluent English and guaranteed to give you a far reliable service. We’ve covered this topic in our recent guide to the practical ways of getting around Lisbon.
7. Pay attention to the bill.
Remember that time when, at the end of your dinner, you take the bill and suddenly the total price is higher than you’d expected? That happens here, too. Always check the bill, and see if it tallies all the things you’ve ordered. It’s common in Portugal that restaurants serve you “entradas”, or “starters”, such as olives, goat cheese, and bread. However, there is a rule that if you don’t touch them, you don’t pay. So be careful to check at the bill if you’ve been charged for what you consume, to avoid confusion and disapproving looks from the waiters.
8. Book a table, if you can. Bring cash.
Plenty of restaurants and cafés are flexible, and some places don’t take bookings and you’d have to enter on a first-come, first-served basis. But if you can book a table, please do. We suggest looking up restaurants at Google Maps, as usually the phone numbers will be available. We also recommend booking through Fork or Zomato website, as they’re quite efficient. A lot of popular venues are at their busiest during the weekend, so it’s sensible to book in advance.
And if you’re heading to the smaller, low-key Portuguese tascas, the little restaurants in the local neighbourhoods, it’s advised to bring cash with you as a lot of these places have little digital capacity and don’t accept cards. Cash is the best currency here.
9. Avoid tourist traps, especially in Baixa.
There are a lot of places, especially throughout the downtown area of Baixa, claiming to be “authentic” Lisbon or “typical Portuguese”, when they’re not. There are shops and places here that, nonetheless set an old building, claim to be from a distant century, when in fact they’re just remodelled to appeal to oblivious tourists. Original pastel de nata? Nope. That’s in Belem. A tin of sardines costing €15? Think again. Think tourist traps. Here’s our guide to the downtown districts of Baixa- Chiado.
10. Don’t pay too much for beer, nor coffee.
You’d expect to pay €5 or €8 for beer in cities like London, Paris, Copenhagen, but not in Lisbon. Typical Portuguese beer, such as Sagres or Superbock, ranges from €1 for an imperial (0.33 ml) and €3 for a caneca (a pint-size). Unless you go to fancy bars for imported or craft beers. The same goes for coffee here. In Lisbon, and throughout Portugal, coffee is reasonable and cheap. It often costs you €0.70 for a bica, or €1 for an abatanado, or americano. There will be places that charges you €3 for an americano, €4 for latter, which is a steep price for Lisbon. As locals, we don’t support to normalise this, and neither should you. Lisbon should remain affordable, it is part of its authenticity and charm.
11. Grab a drink and sit by the waterfront.
Speaking of drinks, we highly recommend spending some time sitting by the waterfront, as you sip that glass of wine, or even better, cocktails. The Ribeira das Naus esplanade is perfect for this, right at the edge of the river between Praça do Comercio and Cais do Sodré. It’s a place that’s popular for sunbathing on deck chairs, or simply watching sailboats or gazing across the soft waves of the azure blue Tagus. Come at sunsets and there’ll be music, with DJs spinning their party rhythms, making for an ideal spot for sundown aperitif and a bit of dancing, too.
12. Watch the sunsets in miradouros.
Another pleasurable thing you can do in Lisbon is to spend time watching the sunsets in a few of the miradouros that punctuates on top of Lisbon’s hills. Not only do they offer breathtaking views, but also a delightful ambiance of the sun’s last rays casting blazing colours across the city and the Tagus river. Enjoy a glass of wine or beer at the Miradouro da Graça, or listen to the busking musicians at the highest point, Miradouro Senhora da Monte. Across the valley, there’s the recently re-opened Miradouro São Pedro de Alcântara with a glorious panorama, and the Miradouro de Santa Catarina, with its hipper, younger crowd, enjoying a few drinks and possibly a dance or two whilst looking out to the gleaming river. Aside from viewpoints, don’t forget to explore Lisbon’s many rooftop bars and restaurants, which also offers excellent drinking and dining experience, with romantic views of Lisbon. For ideas of the best terraces and esplanades in Lisbon, read our guide here.
13. Get lost in the streets of Alfama.
They say if you haven’t been lost around the neighbourhood of Alfama, you haven’t been to Lisbon at all. The old, cobblestone streets, narrow alleyways, ramparts and stairs that wind around the hills, it’s a place that hasn’t been touched by time and natural events that a lot have been preserved. Therefore, it’s highly recommended to explore its labyrinthine features, as every corner surprises you with detail, vibrancy and life. Come during summer and the waft of grilled sardines drift across the air, at the same time full of music, singing and dancing, celebrating the city’s patron Santo Antonio.
14. Visit the vibrant markets.
In Lisbon, we have some of the oldest surviving markets in Europe, and in the world. And even more surprisingly, they still thrive and become even more popular as years go by. Take Feira da Ladra, for example, which originates from the 13th century and has become a Lisbon tradition. Situated in Campo Clara, you’ll find all sorts of vintage treasures, bric-a-bracs, second-hand clothing, tiles, artwork, books and anything else that you can imagine. It runs every Tuesday and Saturday, and never fails to delight and entertain both visitors and locals.
Head to Principe Real every Saturday, too, for another great spot of vintage market shopping. It also exhibits plenty of local Portuguese handicrafts and artisan products, as well as an organic market with fresh produce that comes straight from farms around the country. Also check out the world-popular TimeOut Market, where you can indulge with various gastronomies that Lisbon has to offer and dine all day and night!
15. Take the ferry across the river.
One of the most undervalued and underrated activities whilst you’re in Lisbon is taking a ferry across the waters. Understandably, it isn’t very obvious at first, but perhaps the best view of Lisbon’s skyline is one viewed from across the river. So take some time to use the ferry and cross to Cacilhas, a small harbour town with rustic restaurants, including our favourite Restaurante Ponto Final, where you can dine on a riverfront patio whilst gazing at the incredible maritime view around you. We’ve featured this in great length at our recent Lisbon guide, which you can view here. It’s definitely an experience you won’t forget. Watch our video guide, where we take you across the river!