21 Things To Know Before You Visit Lisbon, Portugal

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Have you been wondering, “is Lisbon worth visiting…?”

Well seriously, just stop, because the answer is YES. Whenever I saw something about Lisbon I would think it sounded like a cool place to go but I never ranked it super high on my must-do list. Then for some reason, I started to see it EVERYWHERE. 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.

While living in Spain for a year I knew I wanted to try and travel to Lisbon. Just before I left I finally had the chance to visit Lisbon and find out for myself why it’s a top European destination! So now I want to help you out with my best tips on Lisbon and things to know before you go for a trip to Portugal!

Why visit Lisbon? Is it worth visiting?

Well, I’ve been told Portugal is great for solo travel, but also that spending a weekend in Lisbon with family or friends is a must. The thing is there’s something in Lisbon for everyone and that’s why it’s become so popular in recent years. Yes, Lisbon is worth visiting, but be prepared for lots of other people to think so too!

I learned a thing or two about what to do in Lisbon, what not to miss, what Lisbon is known for and some awesome stuff about the city and Portugal as a whole while I was there. Instead of the usual what to visit in Lisbon, top things to see, what to do, or where to go, I’ve compiled this list of what you need to know before you go and what makes Lisbon worth adding to your bucket list!

Top Things to See in Lisbon, Portugal

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 center 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, contrary to what some believe. 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 its 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 around in the port districts of Lisbon since around the early 19th century.

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 where you don’t need to pay for an expensive meal to see the show. This area has become much more popular in recent years, but if you’re wondering where to go in Lisbon to see a Fado performance I’d still recommend it. So add fado to your must see in Lisbon list!

You can book a Fado and dinner tour here!

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! 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 outwards in any direction and you’re met with steeply sloping hills. Luckily the number 28 tram or a tuk-tuk will help with those!

What to do in Lisbon, Portugal

Take a ride on the 28 line tram

Wondering what Lisbon is known for? Lisbon is famous for its number 28 yellow tram and is one major reason why people visit, after seeing iconic photos of it. There are actually a number of trams that run all over the city. It costs about €2.85 per person and services run from around 6 am until 9 pm. 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!

What 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 they caught on much more in crowded cities in Asia and Africa. Now they’re back on the streets of Europe, and although taxi drivers 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.

It’s a bit out of the city centre but I’d put it on your list of where to go in Lisbon, especially since there are lots of other top sites in Lisbon to see nearby.

Top Things to Do in Lisbon, Portugal

The buildings are something else

And by something else I mean painted all sorts of colours or covered in unique tiles. While tiles in art and inside buildings are common the world over, in Lisbon they became part of the architecture of the outside 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 the beautifully tiled buildings, and the huge amount of street art that’s all over the city. A must-do in Lisbon is to simply walk around, and look up! (Just be careful of the trams and other people when you do it!)

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, codfish 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 codfish 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

If you’re wondering what food not to miss in Lisbon or even Portugal, then this is it. 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 because I’m not a huge fan of custard.

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 to eat out than in areas of 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, or look out for local, independent restaurants where you can have a daily special that often includes lots of sides like rice, potatos, and beans.

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 when they’re at your table. Chorizo is the most common type, but I’ve also seen black pudding type sausages done in this way.

There are have special dishes made just to put cooking alcohol in the bottom and light it on fire once it’s served. Allow the flame to burn out and then dig in!

Top Things to Do in Lisbon, Portugal

The Bairro Alto is a great place to go out

The quiet cobblestones streets of Bairro Alto may 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. It’s somewhat known as the bohemian area of Lisbon.

You’ll also hear fado in the air in the evenings, and there are lots of small bars and venues as well as larger restaurants.

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, seeing even more sun than even Madrid, Rome, and Athens. You don’t really need to worry about when to travel to Lisbon because we visited in winter and it wasn’t 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, and I found that in the winter in Lisbon a warmer coat, scarf, and hat were fine. And it was still sunny of course!

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 liqueur, is all over Lisbon and surrounding places like Sintra. Look for a hole in the wall bars and kiosks that sell shots, sometimes in chocolate cups! It’s a smooth liqueur that you should definitely try while you’re visiting Lisbon.

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, like in many other southern European countries. Bars and restaurants won’t be too busy until 9 or even 10 pm, so plan your day accordingly and be prepared for a later meal if you want to have some more atmosphere and do as the locals do!

The food in Lisbon is a delight, ranging from Michelin star restaurants to local eateries. I loved trying out a range of different places across the city while we were there!

Top Things to Do in Lisbon, Portugal

Take a day trip to Sintra

There are lots of great day trips from Lisbon, but Sintra is one of the most well-known and popular. 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.

Read more: 15 Awesome Day Trips from Lisbon

Throughout the woods in Sintra, 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…

Book a Sintra Day Tour from Lisbon here!

A day trip to Sintra, Portugal

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

The Tower of Belém is a UNESCO World Heritage site, along with the nearby Jerónimos Monastery. It was originally built on an outcropping of rocks but 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.

Make sure you venture down to this part of Lisbon to learn more about the history of the city and the role it played in the age of discovery.

Book your “skip the line” ticket here!

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 as to why there are entire stores devoted to cork products until I found this out. Look out for postcards, bags, shoes, basically everything you can think of made with cork! 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 specialty and unique shops. Conserveira de Lisboa is one of these shops that sells only tinned fish. In keeping with tradition, the main cash register is the same one that was used in the 1930s!

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 and travel to Portugal. 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 Lisbon?

Essential Lisbon Travel Info

Be prepared for Lisbon to be busy whenever you go. It’s become such a popular location in the last few years and the subject of much discussion when it comes to overtourism and mass tourism. Thanks to a combination of unemployment in Portugal, a rise in tourism in Europe and the comparably lower cost of Portugal compared to other destinations, plus websites like Airbnb giving locals a way to make more money but at the time making it more difficult to find places to live, Lisbon has seen a huge rise in visitor numbers, and not all for the better.

When you’re visiting Lisbon make an effort to shop and eat at local places, search off the beaten tourist track for new experiences, take tours with local organisations working to promote the culture of Lisbon and Portugal as a way to help preserve it.

The best time to visit Lisbon

Lisbon is the most crowded in the summer, from June until August. I love travelling in Europe in the off-season and shoulder seasons, so I would recommend March to May, and September/October. Lisbon will still be warm during this time but should be less busy than the peak summer months. Having said that, I also visited Lisbon at New Year and although it could be chillier in the evening it was sunny throughout the day and still one of the warmer places in Europe at this time!

How long to spend in Lisbon

Although Lisbon is a fairly compact city, there are some great attractions worth visiting just outside the city centre, and some fantastic day trips. I’d recommend at least 3 days in Lisbon to help you cover the basics of what the city has to offer. There’s always more to see and do!

It’s difficult to say how long to spend in Lisbon, but I’d add in at least one day so you can take day trips from the city, or keep those nearby places in mind as somewhere to go after Lisbon.

Read More: 15 Awesome Day Trips from Lisbon

Where to stay in Lisbon

Lisbon has many great neighbourhoods to base yourself in during your stay. The oldest quarter is the Alfama District, with picturesque hilly streets. Baixa and Chiado are the downtown and shopping areas, and Bairro Alto has a vibrant nightlife. Lapa and Madragoa are slightly more upmarket and between the city and Belém, all of which are a little quieter than the rest.

Check out hotels in Lisbon

What to pack for Lisbon

Electronics

  • Mobile phone/Camera for photos – I use the Sony A6000 which is a compact mirrorless camera that’s easy to use and takes great photos you can transfer to your mobile right away. Also, take an extra SD Card, Lisbon is gorgeous!
  • A plug adaptor – If you’re from outside the EU you’ll need one of these for your electronics. I love how this one has USD ports too!
  • A power bank to keep your devices going while you’re out all day – I have several of these ones.

Outfits & Accessories

A few words of Portuguese

  • Hello – Olá (oh-LAH)
  • Please – Por favor (poor fah-VOHR)
  • Thank you (if you are a male) – Obrigado (oh-bree-GAH-doh)
  • Thank you (if you are a female) – Obrigada (oh-bree-GAH-dah)
  • Yes – Sim (SING)
  • No – Não (NOWNG)
  • Goodbye – Adeus (ah-DEH-oosh)
  • Do you speak English? – Fala(s) inglês? (FAH-lah(sh) een-GLEHSH?)
  • I don’t understand – Não compreendo (now kohn-pree-EHN-doh)

Check out more Lisbon tours and skip the line tickets on Get Your Guide:

Sonja x

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21 Things to Know Before You Visit Lisbon

First published in January 2017. 

81 thoughts on “21 Things To Know Before You Visit Lisbon, Portugal

  1. Danijela WorldGlimpses says:

    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! 🙂

  2. Fiona Mai says:

    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!

  3. Maria says:

    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.

  4. Becca says:

    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

  5. Stephanie Fox says:

    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!

  6. Joy Generoso says:

    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! 🙂

  7. Brown Gal Trekker says:

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

  8. Johna says:

    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! 😀

    • Migrating Miss says:

      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!

  9. Daniela Nastase says:

    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!

  10. The Magnetic Souvenirs says:

    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! ?

    • Migrating Miss says:

      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 🙂

    • Migrating Miss says:

      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 😀

  11. Lee Hamilton says:

    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.

  12. Rosa says:

    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 🙂

    • Migrating Miss says:

      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 🙂

    • Migrating Miss says:

      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.

  13. Lee Hamilton says:

    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.

  14. Liz Prazeres says:

    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.

    • Migrating Miss says:

      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!

  15. Anne Sarah Gallagher says:

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

  16. Tomoko says:

    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!

  17. Carolyn Lum says:

    Beautifully yet concisely written, and gorgeous photos! Thanks so much for this great advice – I found it especially helpful likening it to Wellington, where I’m from! However, we’re now based in the Cayman Islands which is completely flat (highest point of the country is the top of the rubbish dump haha) so we might need to get on the StairMaster at the gym to practice for Lisbon! 🙂 You’re a great travel writer – I hope you keep it up for a long time! xx

    • Migrating Miss says:

      Thanks so much Carolyn, what a lovely comment! I went to university in Wellington :D. Haha I would definitely recommend some stairs in preparation, although there’s always the trams and tuk-tuks to help you get around! Hope you have a great trip 🙂

  18. Karmen Milham says:

    I’ve been trying to pick a place to visit on way back to US from Thailand in October. Your writing helped be feel confident about choosing Lisbon. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge and tips–great info.

  19. JP says:

    Unfortunately Lisbon is becoming way too touristy lately and it’s becoming chaotic and a sort of plastic city where you can only find tourists and expensive tourist shops in the city centre. It’s also creating a lot of tension with local residents. Expect chaos at the airport, which really doesn’t have the capacity for so many tourists, and long queues to visit museums and monuments. I really suggest you visit other places in Portugal, for instance, go shouth or north along the coast and you can still eat the codfish cakes and custard tarts for 1/4 of Lisbon prices while enjoying pitoresque villages close to the sea.

    • Migrating Miss says:

      Lisbon is definitely struggling with the influx of tourists and it is something that I intend to write about soon. There are definitely plenty of other places in Portugal to go, I completely agree, but I also think there are things we can do when we visit Lisbon to try and support to local people (i.e. not stay in entire house Airbnbs that may have previously been available for locals but are now used for this) support local businesses and try to use public transport in off-peak hours to not disrupt locals lives so much.

      • JP says:

        Those are great tips, but I think that won’t be enough. Lisbon is just too chaotic these days. In any case, thanks for the compassion towards local residents.

  20. Sarah says:

    Thank you for such a beautifully written, in-depth piece. It’s been one of the best ones I’ve read so far.
    Where would you recommend we stay (neighborhood-wise), if we were looking for an authentic Lisbon experience?
    Thanks!

    • Migrating Miss says:

      Thanks!! It kind of depends what type of place you’re after but the historical districts are Alfam, Baixa, and Chiado. For something quieter but within easy distance by pubic transport of attractions look at Lapa and Madragoa. Have a look at the sits you want to visit and think about how you want to get around (there are lots of hills!) and see what suits from there :).

  21. Kanika Bakshi says:

    Awesome guide of Lisbon. My friends and I have planned a trip to Portugal the next month and your this post is very helpful as we can explore all the attractions there. I found it very interesting as we are a foodie and there are a variety of food items that we can taste and have fun. Keep sharing such wonderful places.

  22. paul milsom says:

    hey would you believe, you can buy pastela de nata in LIDL in the uk. well here in wales you can actually bought a little place in portugal this year, about an hour east of Lisbon. looking forward to moving there..yayy

  23. Jane Solds says:

    Hi, thank you for your tips! I have been in Lisbon with my girlfriends 2 years ago and it was amazing! Unfortunately we spent only one night there before we had to go to Porto which also truly amazed us. We did a wine tour there with a guide who relly knew everything about it.We loved porto wine. Check them we were really satisfied, just a little tip. Hope it’ll be helpful. Enjoy your trip all fellow travelers and don’t forget to eat many pastells de nata:)

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