First Timer’s Guide to Lisbon

Lisbon should be on everyone’s Europe travel list. As the oldest nation in Europe (founded in 1139) and one of the cheapest, Portugal is a great destination for anyone who is travelling to Europe for the first time or is on a budget. There is so much to see, delicious authentic seafood to try, constant blue skies and beautiful beaches just outside the city. What more could you ask for in a trip, right?
So without further ado here is everything you need to know before travelling to Lisbon for the first time.

What to Bring & General Knowledge

  • Walking shoes: Walking through the streets of Lisbon is like walking through a museum. There is so much to see outdoors that you will want to spend most of your trip exploring around.
  • Sunglasses: At the farthest west coast of Europe, Lisbon is usually a ray of sunshine so make sure to keep your eyes protected.
  • Safety: Lisbon is a very safe city with a very low crime and violence rate. But just like every capital, keeping track of your belongings is recommended.
  • Best areas to stay: Chiado, Rossio, Alfama, Avenida Liberdade and Lapa.
  • Currency & tax refund: Just like most European countries, Portugal’s currency is Euros and cash is usually king. So make sure to exchange and keep cash with you. As tourists, you can get tax refunds at rates between 12% and 15% for purchases of €61.5 and above.
  • Language: The native language is Portuguese and about 32% of the people can speak English. If you find yourself lost on the streets you can definitely find someone who can help you. As an European city, many locals also speak Spanish and French.

Weather

Lisbon has one of the best weathers with the most consistent sunny and clear-sky days. During the summer the weather is a mild average of 23.5 C with lots of sunny days. In winter the average temperature is about 11.5 C with some rain and wind coming from the ocean.

The best months to visit are May, September and October. Summer usually arrives a bit earlier in Lisbon, so if you’d like a head start into the season, head over to the coast. September and October are also great months to travel to Lisbon because just like the summer starts earlier, it also ends later.

Must Sees

Lisbon is an outdoor museum city, with lots of beautiful places to see outdoors and indoors. Vibrant old architecture, statues, museums, squares and promenades. Here are the main attractions to see as first timer’s.

  • Castelo do São Jorge (São Jorge Castle): At the highest point of the city is Lisbon’s fortress and castle from the Middle Ages. After the Great Lisbon earthquake in 1755, this archaeological site was one of the few places in the city that wasn’t destroyed. Now a museum, this place is a great activity to do with the family. Tourists can explore the walls and towers of the fortress, observe the magnificent view of the city from the observation terrace and spot the residential peacocks.
  • Ponte 25 de Abril (25th of April Bridge): This massive suspension bridge connects the two sides of Lisbon – with Almada municipality on the left side of the Tagus River and the rest of the city on the right side. In front of the bridge there is a garden promenade (Jardim Docas da Ponte) waterfront where you can take a walk in the afternoon.
  • Praça do Comércio: This 18th century historical square is probably the first place you’ll see upon arrival. As the welcoming port of the city, this square was meant to impress and represent the city with its beautiful colonnades, triumphal arches, King José I statue and vibrant yellow colours that compliment the blue sky and ocean. Around the main square there are lots of restaurants and cafes where you can try some croquettes and have a glass of Portuguese wine.
  • Elevator de Santa Justa: Have you ever wondered how an elevator looked in the 1900s? In Lisbon you can take a ride on this Neo-Gothic elevator from Lisbon’s Baixa district all the way up to the Alto district.
    Tip: As a popular attraction, you should buy your ticket before your trip to avoid the long line.

As for the museums, Lisbon has many dedicated to history and culture:

  • The City Museum (Museu da Cidade): Located inside the beautiful 17th century Palacio Pimenta, this museum tells the story of Lisbon and the evolution from the prehistoric era to present day. Including archeological finds, paintings and engravings.
  • Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum): It is impossible not to fall in love with the beautiful Portuguese tiles when visiting the city and if you are wondering how they are created, you should visit this museum and even make your own tile as a souvenir. 
  • Casa do Fado e da Guitarra Portuguesa (Fado House and Portuguese Guitar Museum): A museum dedicated to Portuguese music and its main instrument. 
  • Museu Do Chiado – Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporanea (Chiado National Museum of Contemporary Art): Portuguese art starting from 1820 to the present.

Local Dishes & Drinks

Apart from walking a lot, eating will probably be the second main activity you’ll do during your trip. Portugal has a really rich cuisine with a grand variety of dishes that will charm even the pickiest person. At almost every restaurant you can find a varied range of meats, vegetarian and seafood dishes. I haven’t had a single bad meal in all the times I have visited.

As a first timer, there is a long list of iconic dishes you must try in Lisbon, with several of them being bacalhau (cod fish) dishes. There is a saying in Portugal that you can eat a different cooked-type of bacalhau for every day of the year because there are over 365 different ways of cooking this delicious fish! On the oven, grilled, fried, raw, you name it. One of the most popular (and my personal favourite) is bacalhau à brás, a mouth-watering egg scramble with pulled codfish and other complementary ingredients. Other dishes that

Make sure to save some space for sweet pastries! Especially for the iconic pastel de nata, a creamy egg tart, that after the first taste, you will want to stop at every bakery for another one!

To accompany your meals, order the local Portuguese green wine. Of course this wine is not exactly green colour, but it gets its name because instead of using red grapes the Portuguese use green grapes.

On the weekends on a night out for drinks, make sure to try the deliciously sweet Ginjinha, a Portuguese liquor made of cherries. This is my all time favourite drink ever because not only is this drink super yummy but in many places it is served in a chocolate shot glass that you can eat it afterwards! If you are looking for a fun night in Lisbon, this is the Portuguese way to go.

Prices

It is surprisingly amazing how cheap things are in Lisbon and how exceptional the money value is. Food, drinks, transportation, hotels (especially hostels) and tourist attractions are cheaper than most capitals around the world. But it’s not every city that can combine low prices and high standards like the Portuguese can. It’s beautiful how they dedicate their time into making all of their businesses beautiful and to the best that they can. Which is why it is an affordable destination for anyone.

In a day, a student or a backpacker would spend:
€2 for transportation
€16 for food and drink
€7 for activities and entertainment
€25 for accommodation

Transportation

Lisbon has several sources of transportation; metro, busses, trams and taxis. A metro single ticket is €1,50 and a bus ticket is €.

The cute yellow “Remodelado” trams are the most popular transportation amongst tourists, but unfortunately they are not the cheapest, with a single ticket costing €3,00. If you are planning on using public transportation regularly, I suggest getting the 24-hour ticket that costs €6,40 that includes all transports.

Taxis are also quite cheap in Lisbon. A ride from the airport to Baixa district (center of Lisbon) is about €12-15 including the luggage surcharge.

Day Trips

  • Belém (20 minutes): Belém is technically part of the city of Lisbon, but with so many attractions, I suggest taking the day to fully explore the neighbourhood. Take the Remodelado yellow tram from Praça da Figueira (#15 or #127) and get off at Jerónimo’s Monastery. From there visit the other attractions by walking through the riverfront promenade. Make sure to visit the Torre de Belém, Padrão dos Descobrimentos (A Tribute to the Historical Figures of the Age of Discovery), walk around the beautiful Jardim da Praça do Império (Imperium Garden Square) and most importantly, have one (or a couple) of pastéis de nata from the iconic Pastéis de Belém Bakery.
  • Sintra (45 minutes): If you are looking for a fairytale European trip full of ancient castles and beautifully-designed gardens, then the town of Sintra is the magical place for you. Make sure to visit the colourful Pena Palace hidden on top of the hill trees and the gardens of Quinta da Regaleira.
  • Cascais (45 minutes): With its beautiful beaches and cliff coast, Cascais is the perfect day trip destination on a hot day. Just a short train ride from the Cais do Sodré station, this cute laid-back seaside town has a beautiful promenade with cute boutiques and lots of restaurants and cafes to dine at.

FREE Museum Destinations in Europe

Not many people place the words travel and education in the same category since travelling is usually associated with relaxation, but it is just a matter of finding a museum that suits you. It’s even more enjoyable when you can see legitimate evidence right in front of you and most importantly, all free!

From art to history museums, go watch your school textbooks come to life and make your own interpretations of what’s right in front of you without having to spend a dime.

1. LONDON, ENGLAND

The historical British capital is home to numerous gratuitous museums. With impressive and extravagant collections from the nation and from across the globe. Including one-of-a-kind pieces such as the Rosetta Stone, the Cat Mummies, Hoa Hakananai’a Moai Statue and many othersatthe British Museum.

London museums usually take Mondays off, so make sure to plan your museum visits accordingly.

2. PARIS, FRANCE

Paris shouldn’t just be a romantic destination for couples but also for young adults under the age of 25, since they can enter majority of the museums in the city for free. If this wasn’t motivation enough to visit the beautiful British capital, Paris also has an abundant selection of some of the most beautiful (and expensive) art pieces in the world. Which include pieces by French artists such as Geourges Braque, Henri Matisse and Édouard Vuillard.

3. ROME, ITALY

No free museum list would be complete without the ultimate outdoor museum city in the world. Just by strolling through the streets of Rome you will bump into ruins, statues, monuments, buildings, churches and of course, museums older than any person in the city. If you are a history admirer, make sure to visit this Roman capital and its beautiful museums.

4. MADRID, SPAIN

Spain is home to magnificent artists such as Titian, Velasquez, Goya, El Greco and many others, which also makes this European city an acclaimed art destination. With collections that are over two hundred years old, along with private pieces donated by the Spanish monarchy from the sixteenth and seventeenth century.

5. LISBON, PORTUGAL

As one of the oldest cities in the world, Lisbon is full of timeless museums. Along with fascinating museums, the Portuguese capital also includes historical architectural landmarks such as the Torre de Belém. A masterpiece that combines the architectural styles, Gothic and Romanesque.

How To Travel Like an European

All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware.

By Martin Buber

Just like every continent, Europe has its own way of doing things and to help you make the most of your trip, here are 8 travel tips to help you get around Europe as the locals do and make the best of your trip!

PUBLIC TRANSPORT IS THE WAY TO GET AROUND

In some countries taking public transportation might not be the most efficient way to get around, but in Europe, it is definitely the way to go.

Lisbon tram
  • In big cities like London, Amsterdam and Berlin there are multiple ways of getting around, such as train, tram, metro, bus and boat. That reaches a greater part of the city with easy access. Smaller cities might only have a bus system but they are usually reliable and punctual as well.
  • At night in Sweden’s capital, when the trains stop running, the city makes sure everyone can still get home by providing night busses. They run right from the central station and it goes to every destination the still-running metros don’t go.
  • Europe also has lots of historically fun transportations like the Portuguese trams, Dutch boats and the Swedish ferries. The Portuguese tram is particularly beautiful because it goes to Bairro Alto, a neighbourhood on top of the city full of delicious restaurants and a great view.
  • Some public transportations provide Wi-Fi and USB plugs for you to charge your phone. Which is a life saver when you need to get somewhere and your phone is dying.
  • In the Netherlands the most common form of transportation are bicycles. You get to leave whenever you want without having to when your train comes next, exercise and save money all at the same time! European streets are much more narrow and one way, making them much more suitable for bikes than cars. When in Amsterdam, make sure to rent a bike for at least a day. YourCityBike is a great company to rent strong and easy city bikes.

Eating Out

Seafood plate from Santorini

If you are a foodie that loves authentic and traditional dishes, make sure to go to local restaurants. They might not create a big impression from it’s size and location. But trust me, the oldest and family-owned it looks, the better the food will be. Especially at the beach, it’s very common for the chef to catch their own seafood and prepare it themsevles. These chefs always know everything there is about their sea life. Not only is the food amazing but it also has other benefits:

  • Get to try local wines, liquors, teas and coffee brews from regional brands. Homemade wine in Italy is a million times better and stronger!
  • In Mediterranean countries, restaurants have “out of the menu” dishes for the locals that are familiar with the region’s food. The trick is to know the local sea life so when you are ordering, ask the waiter what’s freshly caught.
  • For those who like to meet new people, local places are the best places to hear stories. There might be some language barrier but there is always a foreigner that quit their jobs, moved abroad and has an incredible story to tell.
  • For a foodie trip to the Netherlands, I suggest joining the “small meals” Dutch culture instead of dining at a restaurant. In every city of the Netherlands you can find food stands that sell everything Dutch, like thick fries, bitterballen (fried little balls), raw haring, stroopwafles (baked caramel waffles) and fried seafood. All the dishes are cheap, fast and very easy to find. There is also the FEBO wall vending machine that sell frikandels (minced meat hot dog) and other fast food dishes.

Stay at a bed and breakfast or at a rented house

Amsterdam canal house

Staying at an airbnb will give you the opportunity to stay at a local’s house and get to see first-hand the country’s interior architecture.

  • For example, in warmer countries like Greece and Italy, houses don’t have carpeted floors and double glass windows like Scandinavian houses do. Staying at a local place will give you the chance to see these small details you wouldn’t be able to see at a hotel.
  • Netherlands is a country that I mainly recommend staying at a rented city apartment, because of the beautiful Dutch colonial architecture. Specifically for their large iroko wood-framed windows. Another perk is that the apartment will most likely be in front of or close to a canal. Imagine waking up every morning to beautiful sunlight and a canal view.
  • The best time to rent a house in Europe is off Catholic holiday season. During these holidays, it’s not as common for people to travel, instead they host large dinners and parties for their entire families.

Take a bus or car when traveling within Europe

Traffic light in Vienna

European countries are much smaller compared to other countries like the United States, Canada and China. Where travelling outside of the state can take over seven hours. Au contraire, in Europe, you can get to a whole other country in the same amount of time, even more than one in some cases.

  • This specifically applies to those that are planning on seeing as many countries as possible. It gives you the opportunity to pass by and explore smaller towns that you would have never gone to otherwise.
  • If you are on a budget, buses are going to be your home. They are much cheaper compared to trains, planes and boats. Flixbus is a good company to use and GoEuro suggest and compares the best way to get to your destination.
  • Busses might take the longest amount of time but most companies offer night buses that leave late at night and arrive early in the morning at your destination, giving you plenty of energy to go explore upon arrival.
  • If you are travelling with the family, it would be better to travel by car with Europcar. It still gives you the opportunity to pass by beautiful small cities, stopping whenever you want with the comfort of your own vehicle.
  • European cars are also pretty different. Due to their street sizes, the cars are much smaller. And in countries like the United kingdom, Ireland and Malta (first colonised by the U.K.) and Cyprus all driver on the opposite right side.

Adapt yourself to the local time & schedules

Veguetta, Las Palmas

Since each country in Europe has it’s own culture, they also have their own schedules.

Observe and learn what time the locals go out for dinner, have drinks and go clubbing.

  • In northern countries like Sweden, Norway and the United Kingdom they tend to eat earlier. Lunch is around 11:30 AM to 12 PM and dinner around 6:00 PM. Southern countries like Italy, Greece and Croatia eat much later around 8.00PM to 9.00PM. Central countries such as the Netherlands and Switzerland also eat around 6 PM, but not all central countries do. For instance, France has adapted a much later dinner etiquette.
  • Eating times can give an idea of when the happiest of hours happen and what times do clubs open. In most countries, the main rule is; the earlier dinner time is, the earlier closing times are.
  • In most European cities, clubs start charging for entrance after a certain time, around 10.30PM or 11 PM. In others like London, you need a promoter to get into the clubs. I know it sounds super difficult to go out in London, but in reality, promoters come to you at the entrance of clubs. They become your guide and make sure you’ll have the best time.

  • Each country also has its own deals and offers of the day. In the Canary Islands, on Thursdays, you can get a tapa and a drink for just €1 in the streets of Veguetta, Las Palmas.
Left to right: Sangria from San Miguel market, drinks in Las Palmas & a drink from Sexy Fish in London

Go to markets

Europeans love markets, of every kind. Full of all the foods and goods you’ve been dreaming

of before your trip.

  • Stockholm can get pretty cold during winter up to -13 degrees, so the city mainly has indoor markets like Hötorgshallen and Östermalm Saluhall. Hötorget also has an all-year-round farmers market right at the main square. Where you can get incredible mushrooms and other Swedish goods. On Sunday mornings the market becomes antique with beautiful paintings, china, decor and others.
  • The San Miguelindoor market in Madrid is in a beautiful steel building with ornate iron and glass walls. This market is much more elegant and pricy because of their delicious gourmet food and sangrias. Definitely worth going there for lunch or dinner.
  • Personally I love outdoor markets, like the El Rastro (open on Sundays), also located in Madrid. I love this place because you get to shop for vintage goods while walking around the city and admiring the architecture.

No need to tip

In Europe you are not required to tip at all- unless you want to, of course. Which is great when you are travelling on a budget.

In fact, some countries might consider the act to be rude. Italians take pride on having the best service and a compliment with a smile is much more appreciated.


Always keep coins with you

Germany

In countries like the Netherlands, United Kingdom and Germany, you have to pay for public bathrooms and these bathrooms include inside malls, some restaurants, clubs and bars. Which can be stressful when you’ve had a couple of drinks and reeelly need to go.

  • So when travelling, make sure to always exchange cash and keep it with you.
  • Also, the smaller the city the smaller the chances of you being able to pay with credit card, or for your card to even be available. Especially in Mediterranean countries like Croatia, Greece and Italy.
  • On a positive side, at least the bathrooms are always clean and have toilet paper.
  • If you find yourself without any cash and super hungry, I suggest going to an international chain or fine-dining restaurant because they will most likely accept cards. The bill might be expensive but at least you got a delicious meal out of it, right?

Disclosure: Of course, these tips do not apply to every single country in Europe, it is marely a generalized guide to help travellers make the best of their trip by suggesting alternatives.