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BlogDestinationsThe Go Ahead Travel Guide to Lisbon
Destinations

The Go Ahead Travel Guide to Lisbon

Jul 02, 2020 by Jamie Gallerani

This destination guide was created for you by our global team here at Go Ahead Tours! Whether we’re designing new trips or writing guides like this one, everything we do is handcrafted. Read on to get our staffers’ insider tips from their travels.

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Take it from us: If you don’t have “travel to Lisbon” on your bucket list, you should! This Portuguese capital is sitting pretty on the Atlantic Ocean, and has all the spectacular views, delicious food, and iconic sites that your heart could desire on a trip to Portugal. Scroll down for our team’s expert Lisbon travel tips.

Currency: The Euro

Languages: Portuguese (but many locals also speak English, Spanish, and French).

Etiquette tip: While Spanish is very similar to Portuguese, keep in mind that some locals might consider it rude for you to fall back on your español—the two languages may seem interchangeable, but the most polite thing to do is give the country’s actual language your best try when possible.

UNESCO-listed sites: Jerónimos Monastery & the Tower of Belém

Best way to get around: On foot if you’re ready to take on some hills! But, the historic tram is also worth a ride.

How to buy a tram ticket during free time: Skip digging for exact change and trying to buy a one-time ticket aboard the crowded tram. Instead, pop into a metro station to get a 24-hour public transport ticket for around €6.40—it will cover all trams, metro, and buses in Lisbon.

Fun fact: Lisbon and San Francisco, California, are sister cities. The hills, the tram, the bridge...you’re sure to spot the similarities!

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WHEN TO GO TO LISBON

One of our best Lisbon travel tips is to choose the right time to go. Lucky for you, picking when to travel to Lisbon is easy—it’s a sunshine-y spot all year, with hot summers and temperate winters (with some rain!) thanks to its coastal location. So, while there’s really no bad time to go, we do have two favorite times of year to visit Lisbon.

  • The off-season. This was a pretty unanimous vote from Go Ahead staffers. Gustavo went in early October, Ivan went in early May, Daniela’s been in January, and Emily, Jules, and Kiley made the trip in March. The consensus? “Lisbon is one of the warmer European capitals, so even in the off-season you’ll be treated to sunshine and warm temps,” says staffer Emily. Staffer Kiley agreed, adding, “The best part is you avoid massive crowds of tourists. You can get a more authentic experience and see the sights more easily.”

  • Summertime. While Lisbon really shines in the off-season, don’t count a summer visit out—we mean, the place is on the coast and the ocean is right there. “The summer is nice, of course, as you can escape to the sea if you want to,” says staffer Daniela. Just keep in mind that like in any European capital, warmer months and bigger crowds usually go hand-in-hand. So, if you’re happy to be there during a busier time of year, then a summer trip to Lisbon is just the ticket.

WHAT TO PACK FOR A TRIP TO LISBON

When we think of Lisbon, cobblestone-covered hills and sunshine come to mind (a nice little mix, if you ask us). Here’s what you should be sure to throw in your suitcase for a trip to Lisbon.

  • Walking shoes with good traction. These are a must when you travel to Lisbon no matter what time of year you visit—just ask staffer Sarah. “The street tile in Lisbon is beautiful, but I found it to be a little slippery, especially when walking downhill,” she says.

  • Sun protection (yes, even if you travel in the off-season). We’re not exaggerating when we say that the city is relatively warm year-round, which means you’ll want sunglasses, sunscreen—the works!—to stay cool and covered while out exploring.

  • Rain gear for winter trips. Sure, Lisbon never gets too cold and gets its fair share of sun, but the winters can be a bit wetter. Throw a light rain jacket in your bag to be ready for any type of weather—layering is never a bad idea while you’re seeing the world.

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WHAT TO SEE IN LISBON

Get ready to update your bucket list, because you don’t want to miss seeing any of the historic Lisbon attractions while on tour in Portugal! Here’s just a handful of the top things to see in Lisbon.

  • Jerónimos Monastery. If you’re wondering what to do in Lisbon, visiting this UNESCO World Heritage site is the place to start. “The architecture here is beautiful,” says staffer Emily. “It’s located in the Belém neighborhood, which is right on the water and home to other iconic sites.”

  • Tower of Belém. Not only is this landmark sitting pretty on Lisbon’s waterfront, but paying it a visit is like stepping into Lisbon’s maritime heritage. It was built in the early 1500s, and stood as one of the city’s defenses. And yeah, it’s had some pretty notable visitors: Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan are just two of the explorers who passed by as they sailed out of Lisbon Harbor.

  • The Monument to the Discoveries, a towering white sculpture that makes Lisbon’s riverfront even more photo-worthy. This 1940s landmark depicts various explorers, and while it’s relatively new compared to some of Lisbon’s other sites, you don’t want to count it out... an over 170-foot-tall monument right on the river is photo-worthy indeed.

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HOW TO SPEND FREE TIME IN LISBON

Seeing architecture, uncovering history, diving into an all-star culinary scene—the list of things to do in Lisbon is a mile long. Here are just a few ways our staffers filled their free time on tour in Lisbon.

  • Pass through the Bairro Alto, or the Old Town. With all its history, shops, and restaurants, this district is one of Lisbon’s top attractions for good reason. “It was great for finding some night life and grabbing a bite to eat,” says staffer Jules.

  • Stroll through the Alfama neighborhood. “The Alfama is the oldest neighborhood in Lisbon and was the city center back when the Moors controlled the land, giving it a look and feel all its own,” said staffer Joanna when we asked what to do in Lisbon during free time. “Spend some time walking around the maze of narrow side streets and make your way to Miradouro De Santa Luzia, which is a beautiful lookout spot with views of the river and the red roofs of town.”

  • Find a place to hear authentic fado music. If Lisbon had a soundtrack, this historic music is it—and it’s not hard to stumble across. “You’ll find many bars around Lisbon that will give you a free Fado show as long as you have a drink in your hand,” says staffer Gustavo. “Visit the Alfama neighborhood for dinner and let the sound of the music echoing through the streets take you to a bar. On the other side of the town, you can visit Tasca do Chico for a free Fado show, again needing to simply purchase a drink to sit and enjoy at a table.”

  • Take a ride skyward on the Santa Justa Lift. Staffer Jules lists this seven-story viewing platform as a must-visit, and not only for the beautiful views—it’s also the quickest route between the Bairro Alto district and the Baixa neighborhood. Talk about an efficient photo op.

  • Lisbon Winery is a MUST,” says staffer Ivan. “You can book a tasting event and either do it as a private tasting tour or a group event. The people working there are extremely knowledgeable and great storytellers.”

  • Enjoy the sunset from Praça do Comercio, Lisbon’s main square. It’s surrounded on three sides by yellow buildings and has a stairway leading out to the Tagus River, which is just where staffer Ivan found himself at the end of the day. “Get a bottle of wine and then just sit on the steps that are close to the water,” he suggests.

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WHAT (& WHERE) TO EAT IN LISBON

Love seafood? Well, a sprawling coastline and proud seafaring traditions mean that one of the best things to do in Lisbon is eat! If fish isn’t up your alley, not to worry—there are more than enough culinary specialties to go around.

  • Seafood, seafood, seafood—the pratos do dia, or plate of the day, to be exact. Local fisherman bring back fresh hauls each morning, so while you really can’t go wrong getting seafood anywhere in Lisbon, our staffers have their favorite haunts: Emily loved the fare at a quirky spot called A Cevicheria, Gustavo can’t forget the black-ink risotto with seaweed and scallops at the iconic TimeOut Market, and Danielle raves about the “incredible seafood” at Cervejaria Ramiro. “In my opinion it’s the best in the city,” she says. “Long wait time, but worth it.”

  • Bacalhau—dried, salted cod, in other words. We know, again with the seafood. But, while all the fish from the nearby coast is ah-ma-zing, this is something special and regional, and no Lisbon travel guide is complete without a mention. Staffer Kiley recommends trying the specialty as Pastéis de Bacalhau, which are fried salt cod fritters with potatoes, garlic, and herbs. “Cod is really common in Portugal, and these are delicious,” she says.

  • Pastel de nata. You don’t want to miss this dessert while you’re on tour in Lisbon. “These are a traditional egg custard dessert and you have to get them from the famous Pastéis de Belém bakery,” says staffer Emily. “It’s a short walk from sites like Belém Tower and Jerónimos Monastery, making it the perfect sweet treat to enjoy after spending an afternoon exploring this part of the city.” We have to agree that this shop is one of the most popular places to visit in Lisbon for an A+ custard tart, but staffer Ed makes a good point: “It always has a massive line!” he says. “The one I went to, and have heard from others is just as good, is Manteigaria.”

  • Caldo verde, a classic Portuguese soup made with potatoes, kale, and sliced chorizo—nothing not to like about that! Why not try this local staple and other regional eats with a view? “If you’d like to grab a bite to eat and people-watch, Rua de Rosa is the place to go,” says staffer Rebecca. “It’s a bustling, pedestrian street where you can kick back on the mosaic sidewalks while trying traditional food.”

  • Piri piri chicken, a spicy dish with global roots in both South America and Africa. So how did piri piri—which translates to “pepper pepper” in Swahili—become a popular Portuguese dish? It’s all thanks to Portugal’s global trading routes back in the day.

WHAT TO DRINK IN LISBON

Refreshments are always in order while uncovering the city... there are so many things to do in Lisbon, after all, and you're bound to get thirsty as you check them off your list. Here are some regional drinks to tip back during an exciting day of exploring.

  • A shot of Ginjinha. This tart, sweet liqueur made from brandy-infused ginja berries (which are sour Morello cherries) was invented in Lisbon, and it’s worth trying some while you're exploring the city. Make your way to an outdoor Ginjinha Bar, order a shot, and then feel free to spit the cherry pit into the street like the locals do! One of the best (and oldest!) spots is A Ginjinha, which was founded in the early 1800s, and is still a popular spot for locals and visitors alike.

  • A glass of Port wine (or two). The world’s best is made in the nearby Douro Valley, which means Lisbon is a great spot for a glass of this sweet fortified red wine. It’s usually enjoyed with dessert or after dinner, which has us thinking... a pastel de nata with a glass of Port? Sound pretty good.

  • Vinho Verde. What’s a Lisbon travel guide without a mention of this fizzy white wine? It translates to "green wine," and is a young wine that goes well with a light summer meal (ahem—seafood, in other words).

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SOUVENIRS TO BUY IN LISBON

Although we always say the best souvenirs are new friendships and travel memories, it never hurts to have a trinket or two to bring home after you travel to Lisbon!

  • Hand-painted tiles. “If there’s one thing the city is known for, it’s the beautiful tilework,” says staffer Emily. “Stores like d'Orey Azulejos sell authentic tiles dating back to the 15th century. But, you can also pick up a tile designed by local artists at places like the LX Factory. They make the perfect wall décor piece, but can also be used as trivet!”

  • Anything cork. Did you know Portugal is the biggest exporter of cork in the world? You’ll see it in shops throughout the city, and snagging a souvenir made from the material is one of the best things to do in Lisbon, Portugal. “I got a cork purse to bring home and I use it all the time in the spring and summer,” says staffer Jules. Even more unexpected is staffer Samantha’s Lisbon souvenir: “I have a postcard made of cork!”

  • Believe it or not… canned sardines,” says staffer Gustavo. “They’re different than the ones we have in North America, and I was actually surprised when I enjoyed them.” As a bonus, they often come in really pretty, vintage-looking tins, which makes for a nice memento.

Have you ever visited Lisbon on tour? Share your favorite things to do in Lisbon on our Facebook page!


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About the author | Jamie Gallerani
It was Jamie’s homestay in Germany that made her fall in love with travel (and her studies in Florence that really sealed the deal). When she’s not writing and sharing the magic of seeing the world with others, she’s usually on the lookout for her new favorite memoir, testing out recipes at home, or visiting her family on Cape Cod.

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The Go Ahead Travel Guide to Lisbon