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.

How to Country Hop Within Europe

Europe is a vast continent full of individually beautiful countries. Each with it’s own unique culture, cuisine, nature, history and language, which makes it the perfect continent to hop from country to country. Although each country is rich with diversity, they are also quite small compared to ones in other continents. Meaning that in some places, if you drive towards the same direction, you will arrive in another country! For example, the distance between the two capitals, Vienna and Bratislava is around 55km (1.25 hours with Flixbus). In order not to miss any incredible spots such as villages, castles and canals, the best way to travel around is with trains and busses.

BUSSES
The main perk of travelling with a buss is due to the late departures and early arrivals with a full day ahead to explore. You can skip a night at a hotel and get a good night of sleep without missing anything.

1. FLIXBUS

Flixbus is probably the most popular bus company in Europe and it has become so big that it has even expended to the USA and other countries around the world. Definitely due to their cheap prices (as low as 5), departing schedules, safety and multi booking. Not to mention that they travel to almost every capital city in Europe.
Discount:

2. OUIBUS
This French company is without a doubt the best way to travel within the country and to other capitals such as Geneva, London and Amsterdam.

3. EUROLINES

One of the oldest companies in Europe, founded in 1985 and from Brussels, Eurolines has had plenty of time to master their destinations and today they have up to 600 destinations.

TRAINS

Trains are a more luxurious and business-friendly version for those who need to work on the go. This transportation includes more space, tables, separe price classes, wifi and even food. They much faster, pricier, but definitely more comfortable.

1. INTERRAIL
What makes this Dutch company so incredible is that not only do they travel to 30 destinations along with other train companies using just one pass. If you are planning on exploring all the central countries in a month, you can book your Interrail pass and spontaneously hop from a country to the next without having to buy a ticket every time.

2. RAILEUROPE

Although Rail Europe is not actually European, booking with them comes with perks. For instance, you can book tickets with your preferred currency and travel with over 50 companies.

Unique Things to do in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a typical entertainment city full of endless things to do, restaurants to visit and museums to explore but the Dutch capital also has a myriad of fun things you can only do in Amsterdam.

And the best part is that not only are they extremely fun but some are also typical Dutch like taking a boat ride along the many canals of the city, buying food from a slot on the wall, explore around at the world’s most bike-friendly city and my favourite, spending an evening at a cool beach-bar located at an old port.

Here are reasons why you would love it too.

1. CANAL CRUISES

Cruises are a great way to explore the city from a different perspective while also exploring Dutch cuisine with authentic drinks and course meals. The cruises are available both during the day and night. Personally, I enjoy the night cruises much more because of the romantic atmosphere and if you are with a group of friends, its the perfect pre drinks activity before hitting the bars and clubs of the city.

If I were to name all of the cruises it would take longer than a cruise ride itself, which lasts minimum 2.5 hours, so instead here are all my favourites and most enjoyable.

– Eating cruises: How many Dutch pancakes (salty and sweet) can you eat in 75 minutes? The Pannenkoekenboot is an old Dutch themed ship will take you along the IJ river while you can try all the classic Dutch pancakes with sausages, cheeses, fruits and many other flavours.

Price: Adult €17.50 Child (3 to 11) €12.50 Duration: 75 minutes Departures: NDSM port, get there by taking the free ferry from the north exit of the central station.

Romantic cruises: Take date night to the next level with a four-course dinner cruise along the beautiful canals with delicious Dutch dishes, wine and dessert. If you prefer a lighter dinner, there is also the cheese and wine cruise under candlelight. During the day there are also romantic ways to explore the canals with a pedal boat for just 10 euros.

Price: Adult- €115 Under 17- €93 Child- €69 Duration: 4 hours Departures: Tues – Sat at 10.30AM

Cultural cruises: Eating Europe has a tremendous cultural tour along the Jordaan neighbourhood which includes a guided walk amongst historical sights, tastings along the way at authentic Dutch places and an hour-long private boat trip. The perfect cruise for history and food lovers.


Drinking cruises: All you can drink cruise along the Unesco canals or Old city for just 15 euros from Boat Amsterdam.

If you are looking to try local beers, check out the cruise by Taproom, a local beer bar that provides four deliciously local drafted beers during the cruise along with pizzas, burgers, bitterballen (Dutch fried meatballs) and other delicacies. As you cruise around the city, the staff not only gives you a guide of the city but also of the history of the beers.

Price: 12 per person Location: Nieuwe Vijzelstraat 1 Departures: Mon – Thurs 15.00 to 01.00

Fri – Sat 12:00 to 3.00 Sun 12.00 01.00

Hire your own boat: You can also plan your own canal cruise by hiring a boat with a driver or reserve a private tour such as Café Complex‘s breakfast cruise which includes unlimited coffee, tea and water during your ride along the canals. This is perfect for big groups and you get to pick the route of the cruise as well!

Price: €25.75 per person

2. EAT, EAT AND EAT SOME MORE!

Amsterdam is considered to be one of the ultimate foodie destinations in the world due to its large variety of international cuisines. There are restaurants, cafes, bars and food stands literally on every street.

The crazy thing about this city is that as soon as you get out of a restaurant after having a delicious meal, you’ll pass by so many bakeries and sweet shops full of desserts with Nutella, such as waffles, pancakes, cupcakes, muffins and anything else you could possibly dream of trying.

3. BIKE AROUND

With 16,500,000 cyclists in the country, the Netherlands couldn’t be a better place to bike. All cities including Amsterdam, are entirely bike-friendly with red biking lanes, parking spaces everywhere and easy-to-learn rules that make biking the best form of transportation.

There are many rental companies, but the one I’ve heard the best reviews from is YourCityBike, where you can rent city, geared, dirt and double bikes for a couple of hours and days.

4. SPEND A DAY AT NDSM

After five years of visiting Amsterdam, I have just recently discovered this impressive beachy warehouse port just behind the central station. As a tourist, I was not aware that you can take a FREE ferry ride from the north exit of Centraal Station to the former shipyard that is today an alternative area with great cafés where you can sit outside on the sand and enjoy the summer days. When I was there, I visited the Pllek cafe which had a great atmosphere with an incredible view of the city and even better drinks. Throughout the year, Pllek also hosts many events such as international film screenings, art exhibitions, mini-festivals and much more which I am super excited to check out when I revisit this beautiful city.