Lisbon. Where even to start?! It’s a city of tradition, nightlife, hills and trams, with a vibe quite unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been to. Here’s my Lisbon guide on how to get the most out of the city:
Things to Do
Lisbon has a number of districts which all have their own characteristics and charm. My favourite is the Alfama district, home of the Portuguese Fado music which the neighbourhood is still proud of. This area is full of charming cobbled streets, along with old-style flats and houses etched into the hills in a bit of a rough and ready fashion. It’s easy to get lost in Alfama but that’s definitely not a bad thing, as there are hidden treasures around every corner – whether it be a viewpoint, mural, street art or church. The Feira da Ladra flea market takes place every Tuesday and Saturday, and is great for a wander – if you do want something though, haggling is a must!
Another district to add to your visit list is Bairro Alto, the home of Lisbon’s nightlife. It’s unlike anything we have in the UK, with hoardes of little bars spilling out onto the streets. People fill the roads and pavements alike, taking advantage of the late night atmosphere that the district has to offer.
The Praça do Comércio, or commerce square, is situated right on the waterfront and offers a great view of the 25th April Bridge which could easily be mistaken for San Francisco’s Golden Gate. The square has arcades full of cafes, a giant statue of King Jose and a relaxed vibe, although cheaper eateries can be found elsewhere.
Don’t forget the good old free walking tour; Sandeman’s, Discover Walks, Chill Out Tour, Free Tours… Lisbon has more walking tours than you could ever need. It can be hard to pick, so find out which your hostel recommends – they may even run their own, which means you don’t even have to find the starting point. Winning.
One of the great things about Lisbon is that there are two very easy day trips to be done, both less than an hour’s train ride from the centre of the city costing less than 5 euros for a return journey: Sintra and Cascais.
Sintra is full of delights including the Palacio Nacional de Sintra and the famous Pena Palace, which the 434 bus helpfully takes you to for just 5euro return from the train station. The colourful building is located on a hill in the city and is a huge draw for tourists who want to see inside its flamboyant exterior, although cheaper tickets offer access to the gardens of the palace without the inner state rooms. Both sets of tickets are cheaper if purchased online in advance.
The traditional fishing village of Cascais is now a bustling holiday resort, and another easy day trip from Lisbon. Relax on the beach, wander along the cliffs or visit the marina – you can also catch a bus to Cabo da Roca, the most westerly point of mainland Europe!
One of my favourite things to do in Lisbon was to just wander, as there was always something interesting. This was sometimes easier said than done though, as the city is completely built on a hill and can really tire you out! Luckily, Lisbon does have it’s own metro system as well as bus and tram networks, and whilst you can pay on board the buses and trams, a prepaid card is cheaper.
You can buy a Viva Viagem card for 50cents, which you can then use for single trip tickets, a 6euro day pass or ‘zapping’. Zapping is like London’s Oyster card, where you top up a certain amount then have that as credit to use until it runs out. You can only put one type of ticket on the card at one time, so if you’ve topped up 5 euros you have to use all of that up before buying a day ticket. Zapping is your best bet if you are planning on doing less than five journeys in a day as each one will only cost 1.45, but if you’re going here there and everywhere then a day pass will save you some cash.
It’s quite a different system to most places and can be confusing, so try asking in a booth if you’re unsure. As the ticket is just like a normal paper ticket, I had no idea it was reusable to went to throw it out after the first use – having to keep buying a new one for 50cents a time can soon add up!
What to Eat
Fish and tarts. Lisbon is famed for its seafood, and almost every restaurant has a menu full of different types of fish – especially the cod. Alpendre, right next to the Cathedral, is an unassuming restaurant but is definitely worth a visit; a grilled fillet of bass with vegetables was 9 euros, and a bottle of fruity (but strong!) house wine is just 5 euros. You’re even shown your fish before they cook it so you can see how fresh it is, and my goodness was it cooked beautifully.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth you might prefer Pasteis de Nata, Portuguese custard tarts. The originals were made back in 1837, and can still be picked up in Antiga Confeitaria de Belém today.
Where to Stay
Well, there is only one possible answer to that: Yes! Lisbon. Yes! is 100% one of my top three hostels, and might even be top of the list. The staff members were amazing, dorms were large with a shelf, curtains and power points for every bed, the showers were great, the common room was incredibly clean and comfy, and the bar/reception in the middle was cheap which really does help if you’re on a budget. The highlight is the nightly four course dinner (bread and dip, soup, a massive main course and a dessert) alongside two hours of free beer, sangria, wine, soft drinks etc for just ten euros. Everyone comes down for this so, coupled with all of the trips and activities on offer, it’s the perfect place to meet other travellers.
I mentioned earlier that Lisbon had a vibe to it, and I still can’t put my finger quite on what that vibe is. There are a few safety points to be aware of though, one of the main ones being the drug selling that goes on in the street. People will come up to you absolutely everywhere to try and sell you drugs – although, often they are pretend drugs made out of everyday materials to try and trick tourists into parting with their cash. They do move on if you say no though, so really more of an annoyance than anything sinister.
As with any city it’s always wise to keep an eye on your belongings as we were warned that pickpockets are around, especially on the trams, but this really is the same as so many places in Europe (heck, in the UK too!).
I did however have a group of six men surround me and the guy I was with when we were walking along the river front back to our hostel, we think because they saw the phone in my hand. They didn’t make a direct attempt to take our belongings, but their female friend was getting very agitated and aggressive towards us. We had been advised to shout at anyone who hassles us by a tour guide as apparently most people won’t bother if they think mugging you will be difficult – the shout and run technique worked this time, mainly as they were clearly just trying their luck, although it’s not something I would ever usually advise. This is the first time anything like this has happened on my travels, and I was surprised that it was when I was walking with a male too rather than as a solo female.