It’s so easy to be caught out when traveling to a new place. Whether ripped off by taxis, caught out hungry in a bad tourist restaurant, or finding out your hotel is next to a party street, it is hard to get the best out of a city when you haven’t been before. Here’s some things we’ve learnt the hard way so you don't have to.
Where to sleep soundly
A lot of people would recommend staying in Alfama and Bairro Alto for their proximity to the centre of town. Both are beautiful neighborhoods but there are a few downsides. Alfama is full of snaking streets and narrow cobbled paths that look pretty but soon get tiring to hike up and down. Bairro Alto is quiet during the day but come evening it’s streets are full of loud groups out all night. We recommend staying around Chiado, Rossio or Martim Moniz.
There are a lot of hills
Pack comfortable shoes because this is a city of hills. It is said to be built on seven but it definitely felt like more after a day sightseeing. As well as a great free workout this also means that views are everywhere. If you see a sign for a miradouro, follow it, and you’ll be rewarded with a new vista of this beautiful city.
How to order a coffee
Most visitors are split between those who appreciate a strong hit of European espresso and those that miss their flat white. For that, head to one of the newer cafes like Copenhagen Coffee House that cater for those who can’t miss their taste from home. To drink like the locals head to any cafe, order a café, and you will be served a hot shot of espresso. An abatanado is an Americano and a meia de leite is a cup of half coffee, half hot milk. Whatever you order it is obligatory to eat at least one pastel de nata on the side.
Menu do dia
In the last ten years Lisbon has seen a boom in tourism and income that has changed the face of the city’s gastronomy. You can now find incredible food from around the world, especially around the Cais do Sodre and Santos neighbourhoods. The old way of life is still alive and kicking though and if you want to eat well you need to know about the Menu do dia. Always starting with a soup, you get a hugely portioned main dish, dessert, coffee and wine all for under €10! Look for ‘tascas’ where the menu will be written on a blackboard or paper table cloth outside.
How to get around
Public transport is pretty good in Lisbon especially with a Viva travel card (you can get one at a machine in any subway station and top up as you go). Don’t think you have to use the subway all the time though, Lisbon is a small city and one of the joys of being there is wandering around observing street life and the beautifully tiled buildings.
It’s worth crossing the river
Most visitors spend their whole trip on the north side of the Rio Tejo but it’s easy to jump on a ferry using your subway travel card. For the best lunch with an incredible view go to Ponto Final, a restaurant serving delicious fish on their iconic yellow tables and chairs. If you feel like a proper beach day Costa Caparica stretches south of Lisbon for 15km, with dune-backed sandy beaches and great surfing conditions.
It’s an amazing place to try food from Africa and Asia
We wish we had known that some of the most exciting food in the city is being cooked by immigrants from former Portuguese colonies. Piri-piri chicken, crab curries, cassava leaves with smoked fish and rice and, vindaloos are just some of the dishes being cooked in the Mouraria neighbourhood. We recommend starting off at Cantinho do Aziz, an excellent Mozambican restaurant, then letting your nose guide you.
Don’t wait in line for the Santa Justa Elevator
One of the main attractions downtown is this beautifully designed metal lift connecting Baixa to Bairro Alto and offering an amazing view over Lisbon’s rooftops. A pro tip to avoid crowds and the ticket is to walk the short distance up to Convento do Carmo where you will join the top of the elevator and still enjoy the same view.
You can walk the tram 28 route
Tourists have overtaken this public tram route as it provides a perfect sightseeing trip around the city for only €2.90, but these days you can sometimes queue for 2 or 3 hours just to squeeze on board. We say spend your time more wisely and walk this 7km route so you can soak it all in, stop for photos and avoid a big tourist scrum.
Don't go out until very late
If you want to party in Lisbon, we don’t suggest hitting a club until at least 2am. Seriously, show up before and you’ll be the only ones on the dancefloor. Curiously the Portuguese don’t traditionally eat very late like their Spanish neighbours so what they do between eating and the club remains a mystery. We suggest grabbing a beer (or café!) and hanging at a miradouro to prepare for the long night ahead.