Lisbon’s a straightforward enough town but here are a few tips on how to get the most out of it.
Eating and drinking
- You’re unlikely to go hungry in Lisbon. The city has a good range of restaurants, all of a competitively high quality. From bastions of traditional Portuguese cuisine there are tastes to suit most palates. Unless, of course, you’re vegetarian, in which case you could be staring down the barrel of a weekend of bread and side salads, unfortunately.
- It’s very much part of Portuguese culture for everyone to eat out regularly, which keeps standards high and prices low. But bookings are essential in most places, especially on weekends. Then there’s the timing of everything. As you’ll quickly realise, everything happens late in Lisbon and time-keeping isn’t a high on the city’s list of priorities. Dinner can be anytime between 9pm and midnight.
- Portuguese cooking is traditionally heavy; a meat and carbohydrate culture continues to prevail. Portions are very large, and usually feed two people. It’s normal to ask for meia doce (half portion). Before most meals a selection of olives, cheese, meats and bread will be brought to the table - even if not requested. You’ll be charged for whatever you eat. Shellfish, in particular clams, are very popular and feature heavily on most menus. Most locals go by the rule that it’s fine to eat them in months with an ‘r’ in the name (i.e not from May to August).
- Wine is by far the most popular drink of choice in Portugal. Lists can be exhaustive and confusing to those unversed in Portuguese wines. Look out for the Douro, Bairrada, Ribatejo and Oeste regions for a safe bet. Vinho verde (‘green wine’) from Minho in the north is a sharp wine best enjoyed in summer.
- Tipping is expected at around 12% of the tab, or round-up to the nearest euro, if you’re having a coffee.
- Between the uneven cobbles, grid manholes and steep hills, you’d be far better off wearing hiking boots than heels in this town. I’ve known people to go out at night wearing heels and flip-flops in their handbags, to help traverse the city’s more awkward terrains. For the most part central Lisbon is entirely walkable, in terms of distance. Taxis, buses and trams also cover most of the city - unlimited day passes cost 3.70 euros and can be bought at all metro stations.
- Car hire is a good option if you want to explore the surrounding area and have easy access to the beach. The new road from Lisbon out to Sintra, Cascais and Estoril means the journey can be done in 15 minutes (without traffic).
Sights and Attractions
- Many of Lisbon’s museums are free on Sunday mornings. If you plan on visiting a few sights it’s worth getting hold of a Lisbon Card, which gives good discounts or free entry into most of the city’s attractions. It also includes free public transport. It’s available at all Turismo de Lisboa booths, located at Lisbon Airport, Palácio Foz in Praça dos Restauradores and Santa Apolónia International Railway Station. The card costs between 17 euros and 33.50 euros, depending on how many days you want it for.
Other useful tips
- WiFi is available in most hotels, malls and many cafes. There are also internet cafes at Webc@fe (Rua Diario de Noticias 126), Blue Net Café (Rua da Rosa), Cyber Bica (Oriente Station) and Ciber Chiado (Largo do Picadeiro).
- Be careful crossing the road. Portugal has one of the worst road safety records in the EU and drivers don’t stop for anything but a red light (and sometimes not even then).
- If you plan on staying over a decent length of time it might be worth picking up a sim card at the airport to save on extortionate roaming charges.