21 Things To Know Before You Visit Lisbon, Portugal

January 30, 2017

Top Things to See in Lisbon, Portugal

I always thought Lisbon might be a cool place to go but I never ranked it super high on my must do list. Then for some reason, it was EVERYWHERE last year. I swear every second travel blogger I met was moving to Lisbon, and it was on all the lists of the best places to visit in Europe.

Although Lisbon is at the complete opposite side of the Iberian Peninsula to where I live, I knew I wanted to try and go while I was here. At the end of 2016, I finally had the chance to visit Lisbon and find out for myself why it’s a top European destination. I’ve been told Portugal is great for solo travel, and spending a weekend in Lisbon with family or friends is a must. I learned a thing or two while I was there, so I’ve compiled this list of what you need to know before you go!

Lisbon is the second oldest capital city in Europe

After Athens, Lisbon is the capital city that has been around for the longest. It was first ruled by the Romans, Germans, and Arabs before 1147 when Portuguese crusaders finally conquered it. However, it’s been an economic, political and cultural centre for so long that it never really got officially confirmed as Portugal’s capital city. It’s by default and convention that it’s become so!

Top Things to See in Lisbon, Portugal

Portuguese is the official language

Portugal may be next to Spain but it does have it’s own language, and although you might find that Spanish is a common second language that doesn’t mean people want to speak it all the time. In fact, you’ll find that a lot of people, and especially young people, speak English more than Spanish. So when you’re in Lisbon don’t just assume Spanish is the default second language!

Top Things to See in Lisbon, Portugal

Fado is the traditional style of music

“Fado” means destiny, or fate in Portuguese. It’s a traditional form of music that is known for it’s soulful and often melancholy tone, and it often has a connection to the sea. Instruments like guitars and mandolins form the basis of the art, with one singer performing the poetic lyrics. Fado has been in Lisbon since around the early 19th century in the port districts. Alfama is one of those districts, and on a walk through here in the evening Fado music is inescapable. There are many places offering meal and performance deals, but the best are those were you don’t need to pay for an expensive meal to see the show.

Top Things to Do in Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon is one of the best budget cities in Europe

Lisbon provides excellent quality food, great accommodation and nightlife for a fraction of the cost of some of Europe’s other capital cities. It makes a great European budget holiday destination, especially because beer is as cheap as €2 in many places! But you can also enjoy more luxury drinks and meals at a lower cost, making this a place for budget and luxury travellers.

Read More: 7 Things to Do in Porto That Don’t Involve Port Wine

Top Things to Do in Lisbon, Portugal

There are a lot of hills in Lisbon

Lisbon is built on seven hills. That means a lot of work for your calf muscles, but also some beautiful views to make up for it! Living in Wellington, New Zealand for most of my early adult life means I’m no stranger to hills, but Lisbon surprised even me. In downtown Lisbon along the Avenida da Liberdade it’s all flat, but venture slightly in any direction and you’re met with steeply sloping hills. Luckily the number 28 tram or a tuk tuk will help with those!

Top Things to Do in Lisbon, PortugalTake a ride on the 28 line tram

Lisbon is famous for it’s number 28 yellow tram. There’s actually a number of them that run all over the city. It costs just about €2.85 per person and services run from around 6am until 9pm. You can purchase a ticket from the driver or a machine onboard. The tram goes between Alfama in the east and Praça do Martim Moniz in the west. The classic 1930s trams are still in use today because the tight curves and steep hills are unsuitable for modern trams.  We rode from Alfama all the way to end in Estrela, which actually wasn’t the best idea because it stopped and we had to get off and wait to get on again to go back. I would recommend stopping in the Bairro Alto if you’re heading west!

Top Things to Do in Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon is full of tuk tuks

Lisbon is also full of tuk tuks ready to take you up those seven hills! They have only made an appearance in big numbers in the last few years, but tuk tuks are now a popular way for tourists to navigate the narrow streets and not have to walk up the hills. These vehicles were originally made in Italy post WWII as a cheap way to increase transportation, but caught on much more in crowded cities in Asia and Africa. Now they’re back on the streets of Europe, and although taxi drivers and locals may not be so happy about them, they do seem to suit the geography of Lisbon and look like they’ve been a part of the city for as long as the trams have.

Top Things to Do in Lisbon, Portugal

The age of discovery began in Portugal

Dozens of exploratory voyages around the world began from Lisbon, so it feels right that travellers the world over should want to visit here and see where it all began. A monument to the explorers of the world, many of them Portuguese, has been built on the bank of the Tagus river.

Top Things to Do in Lisbon, Portugal

The buildings are something else

And by something else I mean all painted all sorts of colours or covered in unique tiles. While tiles in art are common the world over, in Lisbon they became part of the architecture of the buildings themselves. They first became popular in the 1500s, before their popularity waned but was revived again in the 1950s. On a stroll around Lisbon today it’s impossible the miss he beautifully tiled buildings, and the huge amount of street art that’s all over the city.

Top Things to Do in Lisbon, Portugal

Codfish cakes are everywhere

Actually, cod is everywhere, in almost every form. I was reminded of Forest Gump when I saw some of the menus in Lisbon; fried cod, grilled cod, salted cod, cod fish cakes… you get the idea! Codfish cakes are particularly popular though. On the main street in central Lisbon we went to Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau where the traditional cod fish cake is stuffed with delicious cheese and served with a side of white port wine. You can watch them making the cakes in the traditional way through a glass window. And the verdict? I love fish cakes, so I thought they were awesome!

Top Things to Do in Lisbon, Portugal

So are custard tarts

Pasteis de nata are famous the world over for being from Portugal. When I first tried them in Macau, a former Portuguese colony, I wasn’t really sold on them. A visit to Portugal meant I needed to give them another go, and I made an about face on them this time! Some are more like custard and some are more eggy, for lack of a better description. Everyone has their preference so try more than one!

Top Things to Do in Lisbon, Portugal

In fact, the bakeries all over Lisbon are amazing

Depending on where you looked you could find some great deals for food in Lisbon, but I did think in some ways it was more expensive than Spain. Or maybe I’m just too used to my free Spanish tapas in Almería! Thankfully, Lisbon has awesome bakeries where you can purchase both savoury and sweet food at a fraction of the restaurant cost.

Top Things to Do in Lisbon, Portugal

You can get fire cooked chorizo at your table

While we’re on the topic of food, I have to take a moment to mention the delicious sausages they light on fire. Chorizo is the most common type, but I’ve also seen black pudding type sausages done in this way. They have special dishes made just to put cooking alcohol in the bottom and light it on fire at your table.

Top Things to Do in Lisbon, Portugal

The Bairro Alto is the place to go out

The quiet cobblestones streets look deceiving by day, but at nighttime they come alive. It’s the place to go out for a drink and a dance, with many bars spilling into the streets.

Top Things to Do in Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon has a LOT of sunshine

Around 3000 hours a year to be exact, and it’s the sunniest capital in Europe, getting more than even Madrid, Rome and Athens. We visited in winter and it was sunny and not as cold as you would think for a city on the Atlantic Ocean. Although temperatures reach over 30 in the summer, the proximity of the Atlantic means cooler breezes make it more bearable.

Top Things to Do in Lisbon, PortugalPorto may be famous for Port, but the drink of choice in Lisbon is ginjinha

Ginginja, a red cherry liquer, is all over Lisbon and surrounding places like Sintra. Look for hole in the wall bars and kiosks that sell shots, sometimes in chocolate cups!

Read More: Exploring the Port Wine Cellars & Port Tastings in Porto

Eat dinner late in Lisbon

Of course you can eat at any time you like, but the usual time to eat is Lisbon is later. Bars and restaurants won’t be too busy until 9 or even 10pm. The food in Lisbon is a delight, ranging from Michelin star restaurants to local eateries.

Top Things to Do in Lisbon, Portugal

Take a day trip to Sintra

Easily reached by public transport or car, Sintra has plenty to keep you occupied on a day trip. It’ll take you 40 minutes on the train and almost the same to drive to this magical town in the hills, but you’ll feel like you’ve come much further. Throughout the woods there are many mansions and palaces where Lisbon’s elite would come to escape the heat in the summer. The crowning glory above them all is Palacio de Pena, built by a German prince who married into the Portuguese royal family. It’s extensive gardens and colourful architecture make it a must visit place in Sintra. Just don’t go on one of the two days a year it’s closed, Christmas Day and New Years Day, like I did…

A day trip to Sintra, Portugal

The Tower of Belém looks like a fairytale castle on the sea

It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, along with the nearby Jerónimos Monestry. It as originally built on an outcropping of rocks but has as the shoreline next to it has changed over time it is now very close to the riverbank and at low tide it looks completely connected. Once involved in defending the city against foreign ships, it’s now one of the most popular things to see in Lisbon.

Top Things to Do in Lisbon, Portugal

Cork products are everywhere

Portugal produces 50% of the worlds cork, so you’ll see it everywhere. I was so confused at first, until I found this out! There are postcards, bags, shoes, basically everything you can think of made with cork, so if you ever dreamed of a cork handbag, now’s the time to get it.

There’s a whole shop that just sells tinned fish

Lisbon hasn’t been overtaken by large department stores, and is still home to a number of speciality and unique shops. Conserveira de Lisboa sells only tinned fish. The cash register is the same one that was used in the 1930s and there are around 70 varieties of tinned fish in the store at any time, depending on the season. The shop works with a biologist to maintain sustainable fishing practices, so that Portugal’s love affair with tinned fish, and their shop, can continue to prosper.

Top Things to See in Lisbon, Portugal

And there you have it, 21 things about Lisbon that you should know before you visit, to help you with planning your Lisbon itinerary. Things to do and see, things to eat and enjoy, and what to expect from Portugal’s capital city. Is it enough for you to want to visit?

Read More: Road Trip on the Algarve Coast

Sonja x

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56 Comments

  • Reply Danijela WorldGlimpses February 1, 2017 at 1:57 pm

    Loved Lisbon, I could go there again and again… 😀 Such charming city, don’t you think? And fado music, oh, I’ve enjoyed a fado show at the theater there, it was amazing. So glad you’ve discovered the city after all, I’m sure you’ve loved it! 🙂

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 1, 2017 at 9:39 pm

      It is definitely full of charm. I would love to see more Fado performances! The signing reminded me a bit of Flamenco in Spain.

  • Reply Fiona Mai February 1, 2017 at 2:29 pm

    I thought I knew quite a lot about Lisbon but had to change my mind after reading your article. For example, of course the trams are like Lisbon’s famous symbols, but I didn’t know about the tuk tuks here haha. I also didn’t know about the Conserveira de Lisboa. It sounds so interesting!

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 1, 2017 at 9:39 pm

      Haha there’s so much more to discover there! I feel like I only scratched the surface. I can see why so many people are moving there!

  • Reply Maria February 1, 2017 at 2:51 pm

    Oh my, what a great guide to Lisbon! I have been thinking about visiting for a while now, also because I want to fly to Madeira. Portugal is such a beautiful country! Love the trams and the cobblestone streets.

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 1, 2017 at 9:38 pm

      It really is a beautiful country! I had wanted to visit for awhile but it kept sort of sliding down the list, now I just can’t wait to go back!

  • Reply Hra February 1, 2017 at 9:25 pm

    Great guide!! I didn’t know that Portugal is so beautiful 🙂 I think i must go soon hehe

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 1, 2017 at 9:38 pm

      Thanks! I would highly recommend it of course!

  • Reply Becca February 2, 2017 at 1:27 am

    This has just brought back so many good memories of my trip to Lisbon in 2013! I didn’t know it was the second oldest city in Europe though, that’s a cool fact! I think Sintra was one of my favourite things we did, and I also loved having drinks at the Bairro Alto! This is a very informative post, I probably coud have done with it before my trip! haha

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 2, 2017 at 6:34 pm

      I definitely need to go back so I can explore Sintra even more, and go out even more in the Bairro Alto haha. It’s definitely a city you can spend a bit of time in!

  • Reply Stella the Travelerette February 2, 2017 at 2:07 am

    Great advice! I loved Lisbon when I was there this summer! I also like the cod cakes and custard tarts!

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 2, 2017 at 6:33 pm

      Thanks very much :). I’ve been craving some of those ever since I left!

  • Reply Stephanie Fox February 2, 2017 at 8:11 am

    Lisbon seems so popular and with all your amazing photos I can see why! I’m going next year for a wedding and can’t wait to hunt out some of the little bakeries you mention! The food sounds incredible that chorizo too!

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 2, 2017 at 6:32 pm

      It has definitely been all over my news feed for the past year or so! It will be so fun to go to a wedding there, what an awesome place to get married.

  • Reply Joy Generoso February 2, 2017 at 1:10 pm

    I’ve read a lot of beautiful things about Lisbon and would really love to see it in person. I’ll take note everything on this list. Love your photos they’re all stunning! 🙂

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 2, 2017 at 6:31 pm

      Thank you so much that’s lovely to hear :). I hope you get to travel there one day!

  • Reply Brown Gal Trekker February 2, 2017 at 8:03 pm

    Very nice run down on Lisbon. I’ve been there myself and love the feel of the city. Also, the food is amazing!

  • Reply Johna February 3, 2017 at 1:31 am

    Great tips! And such lovely photos. My friend is over in Amsterdam atm for school and she took a side trip to Portugal and she’s been talking about it ever since! Will definitely consider booking a trip here! 😀

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 5, 2017 at 8:55 pm

      I hope you do! It certainly made an impression on me too. Portugal exceeded my expectations!

  • Reply Alina February 4, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    Great article! I think this is the fullest and most complete 😌 Relevant, I am planning a trip to Lisbon. Thanks!

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 5, 2017 at 8:54 pm

      Thank you so much that’s really lovely to hear! Hope it helps and you have a great trip 😀

  • Reply Silvia February 4, 2017 at 1:45 pm

    I spent a couple of days in Lisbon in the fall, but now I’m thinking I definitely need to return!

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 5, 2017 at 8:53 pm

      I feel like it’s that kind of place! I wouldn’t mind another visit soon myself 😀

  • Reply Flo @ Yoga, Wine & Travel February 4, 2017 at 1:48 pm

    Sonja this has gotten me SO excited for our trip to Lisbon later this year! Thanks for all the tips, I can’t wait to try out the cherry liqueur, cod and egg tarts.

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 5, 2017 at 8:52 pm

      Oh yay I’m really glad it’s helped you out! There’s so much delicious food to try, and I feel like I could have stayed even longer and still been making new discoveries. Hope you have an amazing trip!

  • Reply Daniela Nastase February 4, 2017 at 1:51 pm

    I`m referring this to my friend who`s currently in Porto for a semester abroad with university.
    She was saying she wants to visit Lisbon since she got there!
    I like to take the tram a lot, but there are not many places left in the world where the tram is still used unfortunately.
    Very useful information, thanks Sonja!

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 5, 2017 at 8:51 pm

      Oh I LOVED Porto. I’ll have a couple of posts coming out about it soon! These trams were pretty amazing since they have been around for so long, I hope you get to go sometime!

  • Reply Maartje February 4, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    I haven’t been yet, but your photos and story tell me I should book a flight for this summer. If only to eat way to many pasteis de nata 🙂

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 5, 2017 at 8:50 pm

      Definitely!!! I thought Portugal and Lisbon would be cool but it exceeded expectations!

  • Reply The Magnetic Souvenirs February 4, 2017 at 3:59 pm

    We love when people visit our home country!! Share that portuguese love!
    Great article and tips! Everyone really should try custard tarts in their lifetime 😉
    As for the tuk tuk… we can confirm! The tourists love them and the locals curse at them on their cars. In Lisbon, be prepared for hectic traffic. Look before you cross the road!
    If you come by Portugal again, let us know! 👌

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 5, 2017 at 8:49 pm

      Aww I’m glad you liked the post! It’s a bit nerve racking sometimes when people from the country read it, in case I’ve got something totally wrong! I did just fix the sunshine “days” haha. I’m really hoping to come again soon 🙂

  • Reply Megan | Red Around The World February 4, 2017 at 7:37 pm

    I love this pictures in here! The bakeries sound like an awesome reason to go all on their own. I love trying desserts and things in new countries, usually more than at home!

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 5, 2017 at 8:48 pm

      Thank you! The bakeries were SO good, and then I went to Porto and I loved them even more! But more of that coming on the blog haha. I love to try new desserts as well, they’re the best part of the meal 😀

  • Reply Kristine | The Petite Wanderess February 9, 2017 at 4:45 pm

    Such a comprehensive post! Yeah I know right, suddenly everyone is heading to Lisbon! It looks like a beautiful city to go though. I haven’t got a chance to visit yet but if I do, I’ll be sure to refer to your post!

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 9, 2017 at 5:44 pm

      Thanks so much! It really is worth it, I hope you do get to go and the post helps! 😀

  • Reply Lee Hamilton February 12, 2017 at 11:01 am

    Thanks for the great post about Lisbon as me and my wife are going to be there in april we cannot wait to see Lisbon.its been on our list for a while.

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 12, 2017 at 3:46 pm

      That’s great! I hope you have an amazing time and find this useful 🙂

  • Reply Rosa March 6, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    Sorry, but nowadays, the place to go out at night is Cais do Sodré, not Bairro Alto anymore. Try Pensao Amor.
    And codfish cakes with cheese are a gourmet modern thing, not traditional. Same goes for custard tarts with lemon or chocolate…. Oh, and go to Manteigaria, near Largo do Camoes, for the really good ones, Pasteis de Belem suck. In Belem, try the little beer tarts, across the street.
    From someone born and raised in Lisbon 🙂

    • Reply Migrating Miss April 6, 2017 at 4:52 pm

      Thanks Rosa! I still had a great time out in Bairro Alto, but I’ll have to check out Cais do Sodré next time! I actually preferred the cod fish cakes without cheese too. Delicious! I’ll definitely be back in your home town 🙂

  • Reply Gavin March 30, 2017 at 8:42 pm

    Great article!! I’ve always wanted to move there!! Any tips on getting work there as a foreigner??

    • Reply Migrating Miss March 31, 2017 at 2:53 pm

      Thank you! I only know people who live there that are freelancers sorry, so they already had their own work! I’m not sure on what the job market is like, but I imagine there are English teaching opportunities. I think for anything else you would need to learn some Portuguese.

  • Reply Lee Hamilton March 31, 2017 at 8:24 pm

    Me and my wife will be in Lisbon in 3 weeks time we are so looking forward to it.Thanks for all the info it was very helpful and informative.We have already planned to see much of what you have given us info on.Much appreciated.We both love to travel but Lisbon will be a new place for us and its looks so great cant wait.

    • Reply Migrating Miss April 1, 2017 at 10:11 am

      Thanks so much for your comment. That’s exciting, I hope you have an amazing time! I really loved the city, if you can’t tell. Have an amazing trip!

  • Reply Liz Prazeres April 2, 2017 at 4:19 pm

    It’s the 15 tram (which is no longer the old style cable car) that goes to Belem where you have a number of monuments on the water and the original makers of the Pasteis de Belem (THE original custard tarts). The 28 tram is very popular given it goes close to the castle and through older parts of Lisbon but it does not go that far West.

    • Reply Migrating Miss April 3, 2017 at 10:18 am

      Thanks for the correction, I’m not sure why I put Belem there as we didn’t take the 28 there. Now fixed :). I can’t wait to go back to Lisbon, I’ll need to try the tarts at Belem!

  • Reply Lenise Calleja June 7, 2017 at 10:44 am

    Interesting tips, especially the ones on food. Will definitely try the custard tarts and the chorizo 🙂 Thanks for your sharing these tips!

    • Reply Migrating Miss June 12, 2017 at 4:09 pm

      Thanks! I thought the food in Portugal was amazing and I’m surprised we don’t hear more about it!

  • Reply Rita June 27, 2017 at 3:09 pm

    Great reading. Thank you. Am visiting this October and looking forward to it.

  • Reply Anne Sarah Gallagher August 4, 2017 at 2:18 am

    Certainly great deal of many lovely comments about Lisbon. My good friend and mye
    Myself hope to visit this nice area at Xmas time.

    • Reply Migrating Miss August 6, 2017 at 12:12 am

      Hopefully you do! I was there at New Year and it was great!

  • Reply Sally August 10, 2017 at 8:10 am

    Thank you for such a great blog, we will be visiting, only for a day next year on our way to Southampton. 🤗👍🏻👏

    • Reply Migrating Miss August 10, 2017 at 10:10 am

      You’re welcome! I hope you have a great time there! Although one day is short you should be able to cover quite a lot of ground 🙂

  • Reply Tomoko September 16, 2017 at 8:40 am

    I am planning to visit Lisbon at the beginning of the next year. May stay for 1week. Thank you for your post with beautiful pictures that helps to make up my plan!

    • Reply Migrating Miss September 17, 2017 at 8:08 pm

      You’re welcome!! Hope you have an amazing time!

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