If you’re planning a trip to Lisbon, make sure to read my 5 top tips before you go!
1. Wear comfortable shoes. Lisbon is built on seven hills, which means a lot of ups and downs. Furthermore, the cobblestone streets are beautiful to look at but make for an uneven surface to walk on. Sometimes the stones are so polished from the years of walking that the sidewalks become very slippery. Sneakers are ideal, but the main point is to wear shoes you find comfortable. Ladies: stilettos are a terrible idea! Not only will you have a hard time walking, but if your heel gets stuck between the stones, you could seriously damage your shoes – nobody wants that!
2. Know where to eat. It’s easy to fall into tourist traps where the food quality is below average despite being overpriced. Instead of stumbling upon a restaurant whilst sightseeing, think about where you plan to go that day and research a handful of restaurants in that area with good reviews before you get there. It’ll make your experience so much more enjoyable. Furthermore, you can go back home and recommend a “great little place” to your friends, instead of telling them where to avoid eating. Whilst this isn’t a fast and steady rule of good restaurants, I like places where I hear most or all patrons speaking Portuguese, rather than foreign languages. Blogs are a great resource for reviews, as is TripAdvisor. The information is all there, waiting for you to seize it.
3. Buy the best souvenirs. There are great places to get souvenirs and there are places that I flee from in horror when I see them. In downtown Lisbon, there are so many of the former, and the occasional treasure hidden in between. You’ll know the good ones because they probably won’t have cheap sports scarves hanging outside their door. The good shops will have products that are made in Portugal, not made in China. If you prefer more unique souvenirs, the city has a lot to offer: specialty food, national wine/alcohol, cork purses and wallets, homeware from Bordallo Pinheiro or Vista Alegre (as well as some other lesser-known brands), leather goods and embroidered textiles for the home are just some examples. If you’re looking for some vintage-style Portuguese souvenirs, head to A Vida Portuguesa. Another lovely souvenir shop I can recommend is Alfama Shop.
4. Taxi pros and cons. I love walking, especially when on vacation. So I always advise people to walk around Lisbon and take in the sights. If you’re prefer not to walk and just want to see everything, consider getting a Lisboa Card – it gives you unlimited use of public transportation and discounts on dozens of key attractions. Nevertheless, taxis are also a popular way to navigate across town. The pros are that they’re very affordable compared to other cities in Europe and North America. They’re also usually easy to find (but good luck getting a cab in Bairro Alto at 1 am!). Tip: if the light on top is green, the vehicle is free and can be waved down. The cons, however, are that (perhaps surprisingly) they don’t know the town like the back of their hand, the way a London Black Cab driver does. It’s better to know where you’re going in case you get in a taxi and the driver happens to be unfamiliar with a location that’s a little off the beaten track. Also, they drive fast. Like, really fast. Buckle up and don’t be afraid to ask them to slow down if you’re uncomfortable – I do it all the time!
5. Talk to the locals. One thing I’ve heard over and over again from tourists who visit Portugal is that Portuguese people are so friendly! Fortunately for you, these friendly people happen to be the ones who know your vacation destination the best. Wait staff at restaurants, hotel concierges, and tour guides should all be able to answer your questions about a particular attraction, or give you an alternative recommendation. Sometimes you can get incredible insider tips – you’ll be surprised by what you can discover when you just ask.