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.

First Timer’s Guide to Tokyo

Top 5 Things to do in Montevideo, Uruguay

Season: Winter – June to August   Weather: Cold, cloudy & windy

Average temperature: Highest 18-16°C Lowest 10-8 °C

Montevideo is a popular summer destination in South America, but it is just as incredible during the winter as it is during the summer. The food, wine, cultural street art in almost every neighbourhood and the beautiful beach coast will make you forget about the cold.

I was in town for just two days, but it was enough for me to fall in love with the city, and here are my top five things to do.

1. STREET ART

Montevideo is overflowing with beautiful street art spread amongst the city’s neighbourhoods. Each with its own unique style, history and atmosphere. Especially in Barrio Sur, where vibrant graffiti tells the story of the first Africans that migrated to the city and the history of tango dance and music.

As I said before, I wasn’t in town for too long but honestly, I didn’t miss much, because the city is so full of cultural art (including statues and monuments) on almost every street that by just walking around the city’s history is told.

2. EAT, DRINK & REPEAT

To avoid the strong outdoor winds that feel like they are slapping your face, you can spend your trip inside trying authentic cuisine and drinks all day long, because you are on vacation! So why not, right? 

Uruguayan cuisine is so diverse that you will never run out of delicious dishes to taste. Particularly, the asado steak grilled on wooden parillas, the Milanese breaded steaks (similar to schnitzel), meat empanadas and freshly baked corvina fish. If you are looking for something simpler and faster the Chivito and Choripan sandwiches are fantastic choices.

Before my trip, I was told Argentina was going to have the best steaks and grills in South America, but after this trip, I must say that Uruguayan steaks were much more impressive. I don’t know if it was because I was luckier with restaurants in Uruguay than Argentina, but every meal was more delicious than the next!

As for the drinks, make sure to try the national Tannat red wine.

3. HAVE LUNCH AND/OR DINNER AT THE MERCADO DEL PUERTO

Fresh off the boat from Buenos Aires to Montevideo, I headed straight to this cuisine haven market for some late lunch. Unknowingly, we picked the prominent El Palenque restaurant that serves both authentic steaks and seafood, which turned out to have one of the best seafood spaghetti I’ve ever tasted!
The pasta itself was delicious but what blew my mind was the variety, quality and quantity of the seafood. The asado steak was equally delicious, of course, since you can’t go wrong with any juicy meat in Uruguay.

Make sure to save some space for desserts with dulce de leche, which is added to many of the traditional desserts such as pudim, crepe or just taste it straight from the spoon full of creamy caramel.

4. WALK ALONG THE COAST

The most fun activity I did during this trip was to just walk around from coast to coast along the Rambla Promenade. It is also an excellent first-day adventure to do so you can get familiar with the city and know where you would like to explore more in the next couple of days.

If you are not too tired from the walk, head towards Avenida 18 de Julio, for some shopping where you can buy leather and wool goods.

 My walk journey started at Playa de los Pocitos, walking along the Rambla Promenade all the way to the west coast and ending at Ciudad Vieja, where many historical places are such as Plaza Independencia, Theatre Solís, Puerta de la Ciudadela, Palacio Salvo and many others.

5. TAKE A YERBA MATÉ TEA BREAK

Drinking maté tea is probably one of the most beloved Uruguayan traditions and a very unique experience to try in Montevideo.

The local herb drink is made from the yerba mate bush and it is served with hot water on a beautiful leathery and metal cup called Gourd. Many cups come with its own metal straw called bombilla.

The reason why the gours and bombilla are made of metal is to make it easier for locals to carry them around and have anywhere you go! It’s the perfect souvenir for tea lovers.

6. BONUS: ARRIVE/DEPART IN A BOAT

This one is not exactly an activity to do in the city, but rather a fun way to get to or leave Montevideo. From Buenos Aires, I took a boat by Colonia Express that takes 3 hours and 30 minutes. It’s not every trip that you get to arrive on a boat!

How to survive overseas flights

When I was little and would travel to Japan with my mother, we would often joke how the flight itself felt like a trip of its own. Since in most cases it would take up to 47 hours to fly from Brazil to Japan, it was basically a two day trip just to get there.

As a kid, it would even feel like going to an amusement park for a day. I would long for the day that I could buy my favourite international candies and snacks at the duty-free shop, watch as many movies as I wanted with the in-flight entertainment center while eating my meal (which my mom never allowed me to do at home) and arrive fresh and rested to go adventure in Japan.

As the years went by, airlines have continued to increase their hospitality and developing their technology in order to make trips more enjoyable and here are today’s main perks of flying overseas.

THE DUTY-FREE SHOPPING
It sounds quite silly to spend money shopping literally right before a trip. However, international grounds mean international tax-free prices and the great time to buy all those things you’ve been procrastinating to buy because they were too pricy. With the duty-free discounts, it’s the perfect time. Go get those fluffy gloves you’ve been needing or those speakers you’ve been dying to get for your annual summer
barbecues.

THE HIGH SKY SUNSET
Depending on where you are headed, your flight will probably depart in the evening and you will have a front row seat to a beautiful sunset amongst the clouds. What better way to start your new adventure, right?

FLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM
If you have travelled overseas, you probably have already explored the entertainment system that becomes your best friend for the next 8+ hours. But what makes this small screen worth your time, are all the most recent movies and television shows from all genres. It’s the perfect time to catch up on all the latest movies you have been eager to see but haven’t had the time. Now it’s your chance!

THE MEALS

Airplane food has been a common unfavourable reason not to travel overseas, due to the flavourless meals served in the past. Luckily, airlines across the globe have acknowledged this problem and unravelled why the taste of meals change when served up in the air. It turns out that the concentration of salt and other spices tend to decrease on high altitudes. As a result, airlines have collaborated with professional gastronomes and nutritionists to spice things up even more and create tasty menus. Today, I look forward to international flight meals, because they are always inspired by local cuisine either from the country you are leaving from or arriving at. Also including a dessert and drinks.

THE JETLAG FIX

Since you were flying for long, with plenty of time to eat, sleep, watch a couple of television shows and even had time to get some work out on the way. You’ll probably be somewhat fresh at arrival and ready to start your new adventure!
Which is the perfect solution for the dreadful jet lag. With plenty of energy to survive until night when you can finally sleep on an actual bed in local time.

Note: Make sure to contact your hotel check-in times in advance since some hotels (especially in Asia) only allow check-in after 13.00 and even at 15.00. Which means you’ll have to store your luggage in the hotel until you can get in your room.

BONUS: CASHING IN THE MILES

If you keep track of your miles (points gained from every flight taken from a non low-cost airline like Ryanair, Transavia and others), then with this overseas trip you have probably earned enough points to reach a whole new level in your miles’ plan. These new miles include numerous travelling benefits like lounge access, upgraded seats and even enough miles to buy a new trip!

So make sure to enjoy every part of your trip, even before and after you arrive at your destination!

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.