Portugal’s capital city is quickly become a popular tourist destination and one of Europe’s most colourful and most loved cities. While there is an endless list (and many other posts!) about things to do in Lisbon, what better way to get to know a city than to get tips from a local on the most unique experiences in Lisbon that will make your trip truly unforgettable. This brilliant post by James Cave from The Portugalist – a blog that covers the whole of Portugal – is the perfect way to plan your trip to lovely Lisbon.
Staying a little longer? Check out this Lisbon Itinerary post.
Where to stay Lisbon
Lisbon has lots of great accommodation options suitable for any budget.
If you are planning to travel on the cheaper side, Lisbon has some fantastic hostels.
Some of the best hostels in Lisbon are the Lisbon Poets Hostel, which is central and sophisticated, Sunset Destination Hostel, which has an incredible terrace with a swimming pool and Yes! Hostel which hosts 10 euro dinners every night with free-flowing booze.
In Lisbon, there are some great beach hotels, such as Arribas Sintra Hotel and Fortaleza Do Guincho. Both hotels have amazing views and are located right on the beachfront.
Lisbon is also full of boutique hotels. At Santiago de Alfama you can request a room with a freestanding bathtub, or enjoy the open fires and heated outdoor pool at Palacio Ramalhete.
Transport in Lisbon
Getting around Lisbon is easy as there are so many transport options available throughout the city. Apart from walking, which is always one of the best ways to see any city, Lisbon has a great network of public transport. This includes trams, buses, the metro and even elevators and lifts.
If you plan on using public transport in Lisbon, consider getting a Colinas Card or Viva Viagem Card. Both are rechargeable travel cards and using them is the cheapest way to get around Lisbon. For example, a single ticket with the 7 Colinas Card costs 1.45 euro.
You can also take a Lisbon bus tour, using the Lisbon Sightseeing bus. The hop-on-hop-off bus has various stops across the city, including at some of Lisbon’s must-see sights. What’s cool about the sightseeing bus is it allows you to listen to the audio guide and learn about Lisbon’s sights while you travel around the city.
Food to try in Lisbon
Apart from the incredible Pasteis de Nata mentioned above, there are some amazing dishes to sample when in Lisbon. Bacalhau à bras is a comforting Portuguese dish made with pan-fried salted codfish, sliced potatoes and scrambled egg.
Lulas recheadas à lisbonense, which means stuffed squid Lisbon style is another traditional meal to eat in Lisbon. In fact, this is Lisbon’s signature dish. The squid is stuffed with sausage, garlic and onions.
Bifana is the perfect snack food. Make a stop at one of Lisbon’s food stalls to sample this sandwich, made from slices of pork that is marinated in white wine. Yummy.
How expensive is Lisbon?
As European cities go, Lisbon is actually on the cheaper side when it comes to costs.
There are restaurants in Lisbon where you can get a meal for two people for under 10 euro. However, in the touristy areas things suddenly become a lot more expensive, so If you are budget conscious, be wary of this. For your average pint of beer, expect to pay between 2 and 5 euros.
As mentioned earlier, transport in Lisbon is also really affordable costing less than 2 euros for a single ticket.
Prices for attractions in Lisbon vary, but again, things are still very affordable. Entrance to Lisbon Castle will cost 8.50 euro, and visiting the Museu Nacional do Azulejo will cost 5 euro.
Top Lisbon travel tips
Here are a few things that’ll come in handy to know during your trip to Lisbon.
Lisbon is hilly, in fact, there are 7 of them. This means things can get tiring and sweaty pretty quickly. If you are doing a lot of walking, make sure you have a bottle of water with you.
Beware, those appetizers are not free.
In Lisbon, it is common for waiters to bring out a little plate of appetizers, such as bread, olives and cheese. Beware that this is not free. If you eat it, you will be charged. To avoid this, just politely send back the plate untouched.
Expect to be kissed.
In Portugal, it is very much tradition to kiss both cheeks when greeting people, yes even strangers. I just thought it best to warn you of this before you arrive and you unexpectedly end up with slobber on your cheeks. You’re welcome.
Unique Experiences in Lisbon
12. Join the great Pasteis de Nata debate
Pastéis de Belém has been making pastéis de nata, Portugal’s most famous cake, for 180 years but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement. Several new pastelarias have popped up in Lisbon over the past few years, and each one thinks that they’ve improved on this ancient recipe.
Have they? This is a big debate amongst Lisboetas, and the only way to find out is to join the debate. When you visit Lisbon, don’t just visit Pastéis de Belém. Instead, visit some of the other pastelarias like Aloma, Manteigaria, and Cristal. Taste each one and decide for yourself which is the best.
Tip: The Famous Crows Guest House is 23 metres from Pastéis de Belem: if you stay here, you’ll get a head start on the thousands of visitors that turn up each day.
11. Experience Portuguese melancholy at a Fado show
If you’ve never been to Portugal before, chances are you’ve never heard of fado. Fado is a style of traditional Portuguese folk music. The lyrics tell of love that have been lost, family members that have died, and better days for Portugal. Even without being able to understand what’s being said, a fado performance is melancholy while at the same time incredibly moving.
You’ll find fado performances all over Lisbon, although the majority tend to either be in Alfama or the Bairro Alto. Food at these shows tends to be hit-or-miss, unfortunately. To enjoy both good food and good fado your best bet is to eat beforehand and turn up to a performance after they’ve finished serving food. Clube De Fado in Alfama, for example, allows you to do this from 22:30 onwards.
10. Try your hand at speaking Portuguese
No trip is complete without taking a stab at speaking the local language, even if that’s just ordering food at a restaurant or buying a ticket for the bus. Although most of us grow up with the option of learning languages like French, German, and Spanish in school, few of us get a chance to hear Portuguese spoken unless we come to Portugal. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a go, though.
Avoid the mistake that many tourists make, which is to speak Spanish. Portuguese may look like Spanish when it’s written down, but it sounds more similar to Russian being spoken than it does to Spanish.
There are several free resources online that cover basic Portuguese phrases. There’s also the good old-fashioned phrasebook or, if you really want to study the language, more in-depth courses that take you to exam level.
Insider Tip: Hostel Oasis offers free Portuguese lessons on Tuesday at 18:00
9. Take a tram (but avoid tram 28, if possible)
If you need to get from A to B in Lisbon, there’s no better way to do it than one of the iconic, rickety trams that the city is famous for. Most tourists head for tram 28, which weaves through some of the most iconic parts of the city centre. Unfortunately, this route is often crammed full of tourists leaning out the windows trying to take selfies and consequently pick-pockets trying to grab their wallets.
If you do decide to take this tram, be sensible and keep an eye on your things. Alternatively, several other tram routes use the old trams (including tram 15 which goes to and from Belém). Definitely one of the most unique experiences in Lisbon and something every visitor here should do.
8. Have a steak sandwich for dessert
There’s an unusual tradition in Lisbon: after a seafood dinner at a marisqueira – which could incorporate dishes like lobster, crab, and tiger prawns – it’s typical to have a prego (steak sandwich) covered in squeezy mustard for dessert.
Who knows where or why this tradition developed, but it’s fun and quirky enough that you absolutely have to give it a go. There are many marisqueiras or cervejarias (seafood restaurants) in Lisbon, including Cervejaria Ramiro which has attracted many celebrity chefs including Rick Stein and Anthony Bourdain. Steak for dessert? This has to be one of the most unusual things to do in Lisbon!
7. Get the best views at Lisbon’s many Miradouros
Every city has places where you can get a fantastic view of the entire city. In Lisbon, many of these are signposted as miradouros (view of gold).
Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara in the Bairro Alto is probably my favourite, but several others – including Miradouro das Portas do Sol and Miradouro da Senhora do Monte are close seconds. Many of Lisbon’s hostels also have some pretty great rooftop views checking out!
6. Watch the sunset from the roof of a car park
Although Lisbon’s many miradouros offer fantastic views of the city, one of the best places to watch the sun go down in Park Bar. This quirky bar is located on top of a multi-story car park. To get to it you have to enter the car park, and take the dirty, graffitied stairs up to the top level (don’t worry, it’s safe). As you’re going up, there’s no indication that there’s a bar at the end.
Even though you know there’s a bar there (or think there’s one, anyway), it’s still surprising when you open the door and see one. Of all the unique experiences in Lisbon, watching the sunset from a rooftop car park is certainly a must.
5. Plan your next trip at Palavra de Viajante
Palavra de Viajante is a small, boutique bookshop that specialises in travel books, both fiction and non-fiction. Books are organised (or at least, kind of organised) by country, so as you wander around the world you can hop from country to country looking for inspiration for your next trip.
4. Knock back caipirinhas in Bairro Alto
The Bairro Alto is Lisbon’s main nightlife area. It’s a collection of small and narrow streets at the top of a hill where former house have been converted into bars. Drinks are served in plastic cups, allowing you to take your drink outside and enjoy the atmosphere on the street.
Although many of the bars are open from early evening, it usually isn’t until around 22:00 that things tend to pick up here. They continue until 2 or 3 in the morning before the party continues down the hill, usually ending up at the bars and clubs near Cais do Sodré.
3. Go full hipster at LX Factory
Formerly a collection of factories, the LX factory has been regenerated and turned into a hipster hotspot full of boutique clothing stores, restaurants, and bars. It tends to attract a slightly older and more mellow crowd than the Bairro Alto and is ideal if you’re looking for a fun evening with good food and good cocktails, but not a night that lasts till 7 in the morning.
2. Sample Lisbon’s best restaurants at Time Out Market
The Time Out Market at Mercado da Ribeira is one of Europe’s best food markets. Here, you’ll find stalls from some of Lisbon’s best restaurants including Sea Me, Confraria, and Santini. There’s seating in the centre, and you can order from any of the stalls that take your fancy – it’s a fantastic opportunity to try a few of Lisbon’s best restaurants in one go.
1. Pay tribute to the explorers that came before you
We all love to travel to places that are a little off-the-beaten track, void of tourists, and authentic. But, even the least touristic of places aren’t completely unknown to us. We can still look them up on Google Maps and maybe even find some information about them on Wikipedia. Once upon a time, however, people knew absolutely nothing about the world but they set sail from Lisbon not knowing what to expect.
Portugal’s discoveries changed the world as well as people’s perceptions of what the world was like as well. Today you can celebrate their discoveries and bravery, and the explorer inside you, at the Padrão dos Descobrimentos in Belém.