Lisbon has been gaining popularity among tourists recently. This is not surprising because Lisbon is rich in history and culture, not to mention its amazing cuisine. You could easily spend four or five days exploring the city by foot and riding the train to visit its surrounding historic sites. Whether you’re heading to Lisbon soon or still planning to, here are 15 travel tips for your first trip to Lisbon.
1. Join a free Lisbon walking tour
In my opinion, there is no better way to explore a city rich in history and culture than being guided by a local. Hearing the stories from our guide Ana, made me appreciate and connect to the city more.
We joined the awesome team of Lisbon Chill-Out Tour, the original Lisbon free walking tour. Their tours start at 10am and last until 3 to 4:30pm. You could find them at the Luís de Camões Square.
I recommend joining their free walking tour during your first day in Lisbon so that you would have an idea on the locations you would like to revisit. Mr. C and I regretted not joining them on our first day in Lisbon. At the end of the tour, you could give your guide the tips he/she deserves! I’m sure you wouldn’t be disappointed.
2. Explore Alfama
Alfama is one of Lisbon’s oldest neighbourhoods. Its narrow cobblestone streets and tall historic houses give it a romantic vibe.
3. Dine at Palacio Chiado
If you are planning a fancy dinner in Lisbon, check Palacio Chiado. This upscale restaurant has impressive details fit for royalty. Imagine gold embellishments, paintings, double stairways, and a golden lion statue hanging from the ceiling. This bar and restaurant has several dining rooms. Surprisingly, the prices in Palacio Chiado are considerably standard in Lisbon.
4. Order Bacalhau for lunch or dinner
Bacalhau or salted codfish is one of the main dishes in Portugal. They serve Bacalhau in different ways. We were able to try the popular dish called Bacalhau com Natas. It is a rich, heavy and creamy baked dish with potatoes and codfish.
We also tried the grilled Bacalhau with garlic, olive oil, and potatoes. I loved its simplicity and how it focuses on the taste of the codfish.
5. Drink Port wine
Port wine has a sweet and rich flavor. It is usually served as dessert wine. You could find Port wine everywhere in Lisbon.
6. Eat lots of Pastel de Nata
A Lisbon trip wouldn’t be complete without eating an authentic pastel de nata or Portuguese egg tart. Once you’ve taken a bite, you would have a hard time limiting yourself in eating this heavenly dessert! There’s a light crunch as you eat the buttery, crispy crust. Its creamy filling is even more satisfying as it melts in your mouth. Usually, they add powdered sugar and cinnamon on top of the Pastel de nata! Luckily, these Portuguese egg tarts could be seen everywhere in Lisbon. You could find it at Time Out Market, along the streets, and even at a café near Castelo de Sao Jorge.
7. Drink a cup of Portuguese coffee
We met a couple of locals who introduced us to Portuguese coffee. They were surprised when they found out that we haven’t tried their coffee yet. “It’s the best coffee!,” they shouted and asked the server to bring us a cup of coffee each. True enough, Portuguese coffee tastes so good! It has a strong, robust and rich flavor. After that, we always ordered a cup of Portuguese coffee to pair with our Pastel de nata!
8. Visit the Time Out Market
Time Out Market offers an overwhelming variety of food! This enormous indoor food market has numerous stalls that serve different kinds of dishes, desserts, and drinks. Time Out Market is popular to tourists so despite the big space, you might have a hard time finding a seat. Prices are not cheap and they are comparable to restaurant prices, but at least you have a lot of options to choose from. At Time Out Market, you would find their staple dish bacalhau and pastel de nata.
9. Listen to Fado
Fado is a traditional folk music in Portugal. Many restaurants in Lisbon have Fado performances but the Alfama neighborhood is best known for Fado. Since it was highly suggested during our walking tour and by the locals we met, we decided to give it a try. We found a restaurant near our hotel in Chiado that has nightly Fado performances. We couldn’t understand the lyrics but it was really moving. The tone was melancholic and sad.
10. Spend an afternoon at the wine-tasting room of Wines of Portugal
Another interesting activity that you should include in your itinerary is to experience the wine-tasting room of Wines of Portugal. It is perfect for both wine lovers and those who are still discovering their love for wine! They have a diverse collection of Portuguese wines made primarily from native grapes.
It is typically self-service unless you make an advanced reservation to one of their wine-tasting events where a set of wines have already been chosen and will be served to you. With the self-service, you should get a prepaid card from the bar and load it to their minimum amount. Once loaded, they will give you the prepaid card and a wine glass. Personally, I loved the interactive experience of choosing which wines to try and watching as it fills my glass!
For those of you who do not drink wine, you should still go inside and see their walls of wine collection.
11. Visit Castelo de Sao Jorge
Ride the tram and visit Lisbon’s Moorish castle. Spend at least an hour at Castelo de Sao Jorge and climb its stairs and towers. Aside from the main attraction of exploring the ruins, Castelo de Sao Jorge is situated on a hilltop and gives amazing views of the city. I suggest visiting during the afternoon so that you can watch the magnificent sunset over the city.
12. Dine at Restaurante Papo Cheio
If you want to eat authentic Portuguese dishes, I suggest that you try Restaurante Papo Cheio. Here, you’ll eat where the locals eat! We were lucky to find this restaurant while walking around Chiado. It doesn’t have the ambiance of other restaurants popular to tourists but they serve very delicious Portuguese meals at affordable prices.
At both times that we ate there, there were only two or three groups of tourists and the rest of the diners were locals. It definitely helps if you speak Portuguese because in our case, it was difficult to communicate our orders. They have an English menu for tourists but there are some orders that are not included there.
I highly recommend ordering their bitoque (steak and fries) and the staple grilled bacalhau. If you think that bitoque is a regular steak and fries dish, it is not. Restaurante Papo Cheio makes it very flavorful! It was so good, we had to return the next day. That and the fact that we were craving for the fried liver with lots of garlic that the other couple beside us ordered!
13. Take the train and make a daytrip to Sintra
It’s easy to ride the train from Lisbon to Sintra. If you love castles, you should not miss a daytrip here. An overnight stay in Sintra is not required if your itinerary is only to see the castles as long as you leave early from Lisbon.
14. Take the train and make a daytrip to Cascais
Another daytrip option from Lisbon is Cascais. You could explore the city center, eat some of their delicious seafood, and relax and swim at its beaches!
15. Drink a shot of Ginja
This Portuguese liqueur is a traditional drink in Lisbon. Its thick and sweet cherry flavor get contradicting opinions from its visitors. Some like it, some don’t, but it’s something you should try when in Lisbon! 🙂
Where to Stay in Lisbon
Chiado Arty Flats is one of the many things that we loved in our trip! Its excellent location in Chiado, huge rooms, impressive customer service, and unique and quirky design make it one of the best apartment hotels we’ve stayed at.
It may look like a small building from the outside but its flats are very spacious. We had a bedroom with a terrace, living room, and kitchenette. It also has an elevator which is very convenient for those of us who travel with heavy luggage!
It is also situated across a square and a church, which was also the view from our room.
Since it is a walking distance from restaurants, bars, and the city center, it was easy for us to explore Lisbon most of the day and night. It is surrounded by charming old streets with cobblestones.
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