Lisbon, Portugal: The Things No-one Tells You

Seeing as it was our first time in Lisbon, we’d read countless blogs and felt relatively prepared for our weekend exploring. But as always, we couldn’t possibly know everything before we arrived, and part of the fun exploring new places is learning what you didn’t already know. So here are a few hints and tips that we wish we’d known at the start of our trip, that will help you get the most out of your visit and (fingers crossed) save you time and money. 

Quick top tips; 

Don’t queue for the Santa Justa Lift viewpoint |

The Elevador de Santa Justa is Lisbon’s only vertical lift and is located within the historic centre on Santa Justa Street. The iron structure stands at 45 metres tall and provides a viewing platform with spectacular views over all of Lisbon. The queue for the lift ride is insanely long and judging by the trip advisor reviews, this remains a problem all year round. What we didn’t realise is that you can easily walk to the viewpoint platform. 

The walk to the viewing platform is not sign posted, and Joe just happened to stumble upon it on his way back from his second trip to the toilet as we’d already been queueing for nearly an hour at this point, so please don’t let that be you as well!

The stairs above are located next to MUJI opposite H & M. Turn right after these stairs and you will see that there is another set of stairs that takes you further up. Follow these until you reach the top and the large monastery will be directly in front of you (you won’t miss it!). To the right of the monastery you will see a restaurant, Bellalisa Elevador, a beautiful backdrop for a sunset sipping a glass of vino overlooking the terracotta roofs. If you walk up the small steps and carry on past the restaurant, you’ll come onto a bridge adorned with love locks, that leads to the spiral staircase up to the viewing platform. This costs €1.50 per person to enter and you have to pay this even if you’ve come up via the lift, so really, you’re not saving anything, and you’ve earned more beer from climbing those stairs #result!

Sintra Pena Palace |

If you do have a day spare, a day trip to the fairy tale castles of Pena Palace in Sintra is a must! (please see our top tips for travelling there below.)

Purchasing your tickets for Pena Palace can be easily done online on the day and this gives you a 5% discount on the gate prices. They accept screenshot tickets on phones so no need to worry about printing tickets out.

We made the mistake of adding ‘Inside the Castle’ to our tickets, as we thought this was needed to view the Palace and the surreal views over the valley and town below. Unless you’re really into Portuguese history however, we wouldn’t suggest doing this as the queue was ridiculous and easily took over an hour. The palace interior resembles what life would have been like when kings and queens occupied the castle. If like us, you aren’t interested in four poster beds and murals painted on ceilings, don’t bother, save yourself time and money. The Palace grounds are the most impressive part of the day and this is already included in the Entrance only ticket. Plus, you will have the satisfaction of walking up past all the queueing tourists, who will wait for up to two hours to get the same view as you. You’ll likely pass them again on your way back down!

Super man / super bock 😉

Use the time saved at Pena to visit Castelo Dos Mouros | Castelo Dos Mouros is noted as the least visited castle in Sintra, and it’s easy to see why due to its mostly grey exterior compared to the bright colours of Pena Palace. If you do choose to venture over and walk up to the top though, you will be rewarded with some of the most picturesque views of Pena Palace. Something we realised when looking down from Pena and thinking, “I bet this looks great from down there”.

Don’t waste your money on taxi’s | Black cabs and Ubers are surprisingly inexpensive! Bare this in mind if you are planning on pre-booking your airport transfer. You might think if you book early that obviously you’ll save money, sounds normal doesn’t it. Well, that’s the wrong answer for Lisbon! Our flight was delayed, and our airport transfer kindly decided not to show at 1.30am 😊 Luckily, a black cab ride to House Sao Bento cost us €11, significantly cheaper than what we’d paid for our pre-booked ride. So, after fighting for a refund we ended up saving money! Karma’s a great thing.

Uber is also cheaper to use than in most European countries, sometimes working out at the same price or (cheaper!) than if we had paid to do a single journey on the metro. Handy if you’re in a rush or want to explore up until the very last minute, as an Uber from the centre of Lisbon to the airport costs around €9 and takes around 15 mins.

If you do happen to use Uber, here’s our invite code: natalieh4280ue

Visit Time Out Market on a rainy day | If you are unfortunate like us to have the odd rainy day or afternoon, Mercado da Ribeira (Time Out Market) is the perfect place to pass the time without missing out on Lisbon’s best eats. Boasting 32 gourmet food (and drink 😉) kiosks, offering the best of the city’s dishes all under one roof. 

Due to its popularity, try and aim for out of hours meal times if you can, around mid-afternoon or late evening would be best. Finding a seat can be extremely difficult, so if you do stumble upon a free space, we’d suggest leaving a low value jacket or item on the seat (Nat wanted to leave Joe) while you go gather your foodie items!

Our personal picks include: Balcao da Esquina’s Roast Pork Sandwich, Asian Lab’s Pad Thai, Manteigaria’s Pasteis de nata (regarded by some as the best in the city!), Sea Me’s Octopus Hot Dog and Café de Sao Bento’s Garlic Shrimp. Mmm 😊

Buy a Viva Viagem Travel Card | You can purchase a Viva Viagem card for €0.50 from any metro and suburban train station from the automatic ticket machines or from the ticket office. When you purchase the card, you’ll have the option to add 24-hour travel, a single journey or use the “zapping” option and upload €5, €10 or €15 etc, and be charged for the individual journeys you take (similar to contactless on the tube).

Here is the best value for money options, if you’re planning on:

  • Travelling around a lot on the bus, tram and metro = 1-day ticket €6.40 (valid for 24 hours). 
  • Purely travelling from Lisbon to Sintra/Cascais/Estoril on the train = zapping option €1.90 each way.
  • Travelling around a lot on the metro and train to Sintra/Cascais/Estoril = 1-day ticket €10.55 (valid for 24 hours).

The train from Rossio (in central Lisbon) to Sintra is one of the most popular journeys and you will most likely see a huge queue of people in the train station purchasing train tickets to Sintra. DO NOT JOIN IT! You can purchase these tickets from the automated machine in Rossio Metro (5 mins walk away) or any other close Metro station with zero time wasted queueing. 

Another point, we went on a Saturday so bad planning from us, but the train was PACKED, so try and aim to get there as early as you can. There were 9 carriages though (a commuter’s dream 😊)

Try Ginjinha |

You must make sure you visit a Ginjinha stand during your visit to Lisbon, try Ginginha do Carmo conveniently located at the bottom of our favourite walking street filled with endless bars and restaurants. Make sure you opt for the chocolate shot cup, by doing this you get an extra shot and it tastes so damn good! 😊

Be savvy at Castelo Sao Jorge | The best views over the beautiful terracotta roofs can be found during a visit to Castelo Sao Jorge. Unlike Pena Palace they don’t offer online tickets, so bare this in mind if you are tight on time as you do have to queue, although the line does move quickly. Also, anyone lucky enough to be under 25 benefits from a half price ticket so make sure you bring some form of ID if you are asked to prove this.

The ultimate wine with a view!

There we have it, 8 things we wish we knew before arriving in Lisbon. We really hope these help you out and help you make the most of your trip to this fantastic city. If you have any suggestions that we might have missed, we would love to hear them in the comments below!

As always happy drinking folks 😊


Nat and Joe xxxxxx

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