Sunshine, great food and welcoming locals are enough reasons to pack your bags to Lisbon in a heartbeat.
The Portuguese capital is also a destination that’s easy to plan for. Nevertheless, there some things you need to know before you travel to Lisbon. At Devour Lisbon we put together the ten must-knows to plan the perfect Lisbon trip.
1. Best Time to Visit Lisbon
Lisbon is a popular tourist destination between Easter holidays (March/April) and late September. Fall and winter (from October to mid-March) are not very cold, so it’s the perfect season for tourists who don’t mind a little rain and the temperature drop (hardly ever below 10°C/50°F).
June is the most crowded month, especially around the St. Anthony festivities (June 12 and 13). January is the quieter month with far fewer special events than any other time of year, with Lisboetas getting back to a normal pace after Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
2. How to Get Here
The simplest way to reach Lisbon is by flying, with dozens of regular daily flights from other parts of Europe and the rest of the world. Portugal is part of the Schengen area, so European Union citizens can travel carrying only their citizenship card. Everyone else will need a valid passport and, in some cases, a visa.
From other cities in Europe and the rest of Portugal’s mainland, you can also travel into Lisbon by train or by bus. The destination train stations are Oriente (in the East side of the city) and Santa Apolónia (in the central Alfama neighborhood). The express bus stop is at Sete Rios, next to a suburban train station and the Jardim Zoológico Metro station (blue line).
From the airport, you can reach the city center by Metro (red line, connecting to the yellow and blue lines in São Sebastião) and Aerobus (€3.50 per ticket). From the Oriente train station, take the Metro red line and from Santa Apolónia take the Metro blue line (if you need to reach other areas in the city center).
3. Getting Around
If you prefer a more authentic experience, go for the green-and-black taxis. All taxis are registered and licensed, and drivers must turn on the meter before starting the ride. Added fees include €1.60 for luggage (even if you carry it with you) and €0.80 if you phone to call a cab.
Lisbon has an intuitive public transportation system with four Metro lines (blue, green, yellow, and red), two suburban train lines (Sintra and Cascais), trams and buses (operated by Carris), and ferry boats to cross the Tagus River in case you want to check out some of the best Lisbon beaches.
Insider tip: Buy a green Viva Card (€0.50) and top it off with cash instead of tickets. Tickets are exclusive to one form of public transportation only, and cash value allows you to be more flexible with your options in case you want to take a bus instead of the Metro.
4. Business Hours
Business hours of cafés, restaurants, and shops are posted on the door or window of the establishment. When in doubt, look for that sign.
Lisboetas, and most of the Portuguese, have the habit of not eating breakfast at home, so most cafés are open for business at 7 a.m. from Monday to Friday, with some business hours adjustments on the weekend.
Typically, street shops open at 10 a.m. and close at 7 p.m., from Monday to Friday, without closing for lunch. Shops that open at 9 a.m. usually close for lunch between 1 and 3 p.m. Some shops close at 1 p.m. on Saturdays and all day on Sundays. Shopping malls are open every day, from 10 a.m. to midnight.
Museums open at 10 a.m. and close at 5 p.m., from Tuesday to Saturday. Some privately owned museums might have different business hours and closing time usually changes in the summers, with one extra hour in the afternoon.
5. Costs and Currency
With the rise in tourism came the municipal tourist tax for overnight stays in 2016. It costs €1 per person per overnight stay, up to a maximum of seven overnight stays in a row, paid at your accommodation.
The currency is the Euro (€), and you can withdraw up to €200 at once, per ATM (called a Multibanco in Portuguese). Typically, the machine will give out €10 and €20 bills. Although Lisbon is not a cash-free city, most locals have the habit of paying everything with their debit cards. Smaller businesses will only accept card payments for bills over €5 to make up for the fees the banks charge them for each amount.
6. Time Zone
Lisbon is part of the same time zone as London, GMT (Greenwich mean time), and follows the same Daylight savings time as other parts of the world. Therefore, summer time starts on the last Sunday of March (+1 hour) and winter time on the last Sunday of October (-1 hour).
7. Where to Stay in Lisbon
Alfama might be the most iconic neighborhood in Lisbon, but it’s not the best option for families traveling with baby strollers, or wheelchair travelers, or people who prefer to explore the city using only public transportation.
Bairro Alto in Lisbon, for example, is another neighborhood that people often recommend, but not the best for travelers who have trouble sleeping considering it’s one of the city’s hot spots for nightlife. Oriente (in the far east side) and Belém (in the far west side) are spacious and calm, but away from the city center.
Where is the sweet spot? The area between Marquês de Pombal (Blue and Yellow Metro lines) and Terreiro do Paço (Blue line) concentrates most of the hotels and has great connections to buses (including the Aerobus from the airport), metro, suburban trains (Sintra), and trams and ferries (closer to Tagus River).
8. Making Sense of Street Names
Some plaques will have the full name of the street or avenue, but most are abbreviated for clarity and space.
Avenue can be Avenida (abbreviated as Av.) or Alameda (Al.). Street can be rua (R.), Travessa (Tr. or Tv.; this is typically a smaller street connecting two parallel streets), or beco (a smaller alleyway, usually not abbreviated). And square can be Praça (Pç.) or Largo (Lg.).
9. Popular Scams
Lisbon is a very safe city, but there are a couple of scams that target even locals. The oldest and most popular is the “guys selling drugs in the street in the open.” Tourists are shocked at the cheekiness of these “dealers” and even more shocked by the passive police officers nearby. The reason for the police’s inaction is these “dealers” are selling pressed bay leaves which look a lot like the cannabis-based hashish. Therefore it’s not a crime.
Safety-wise, keep an eye on your belongings when traveling in crowded touristy areas. Pickpocketers are very experienced and typically pose as tourists themselves to blend into the crowd without raising suspicion.
Some letters like ç may look strange but they don’t sound so. Ç sounds the same as “s” (it’s an inherited letter from Arabic words). You’ll see it a lot in street names like Calçada and Praça.
Don’t worry if you aren’t fluent in Portuguese. Lisboetas speak English, even if slightly broken, and some are fluent in other languages like French and Spanish. Not only is learning a foreign language mandatory in schools from 5th to 11th grade, but in Portugal, the television shows and movies are subtitled, not dubbed.
Despite differences in vocabulary and accent, if you’re fluent in Brazilian Portuguese, you’ll get by in Lisbon. The bond between both countries is quite strong, so some of the words are not entirely lost in translation.
And, although most Portuguese get by with speaking Portuguese with a slight Spanish accent when in Spain (affectionately called Portunhol), a lot of them take to heart if you confuse both languages when addressing them in Lisbon. The relationship between Spain and Portugal was complicated, and historically not that long ago.
Here are some basic greetings in Portuguese to get by:
- Obrigado/a – thank you. Men say obrigado and women say obrigada;
- Bom dia – good morning, a greeting expression used before lunch time;
- Boa tarde – good afternoon/evening;
- Boa noite – good night. Some people will use it as a substitute of boa tarde after nightfall;
Sandra Henriques Gajjar is a freelance web content writer and travel blogger born in the Azores and based in Lisbon for 20+ years. Since 2014 she’s been blogging about travel, culture, and the people she meets in between at Tripper, a blog on sustainable cultural tourism.