10 Things You Shouldn’t Do in Lisbon
As with any foreign country, there are always certain things one simply shouldn’t do as an outsider paying the land a visit. Call it international etiquette, if you will; as a traveler it’s a sign of respect to familiarize yourself with things that might rub a local the wrong way.
In Lisbon there are quite a few things to keep in mind as you tour the city. Here are ten of them:
1. Don’t Stay for Too Little or Too Long
Timing in Lisbon is everything. Since it’s such a small city, booking a trip for too long can end in one feeling tedious or even bored.
Booking for too short, however, will leave you feeling completely overwhelmed by everything you didn’t have time to see.
In my opinion, the perfect length trip in Lisbon is about a 7 to 10 days. This gives you ample time to walk the city, explore museums, monuments and heritage sites, take day trips, and even spend a few days lazing by a pool in the warmer months.
If you are forced to do Lisbon in just 24 hours, click here for a detailed breakdown of exactly how to do so.
2. Don’t Forget to Make Time for Day Trips near Lisbon
As mentioned above, day trips are an important component to a successful Lisbon experience.
There are many great trips to be made not far out of the city center. Since Lisbon is so close to the wine regions, there are many wine farms a short drive away.
Sintra can be reached in under an hour, and is my second favorite day trip to take out of the capital. Spend the day exploring the summer castles that the royals abandoned in the valley not so long ago.
My first favorite day trip from Lisbon will always be Cascais. Any excuse to venture out to this beach filled fishing village, I’m in. Best enjoyed in the summer, Cascais is a great place for families with small children.
3. Don’t Ever try to Speak Spanish in Lisbon
Just don’t do it. There are few worse ways to offend a local in Portugal than by attempting to communicate with them in Spanish.
This is a really harmful presumption, one that the locals in Lisbon don’t tolerate. Assuming that all Portuguese people will understand you in Spanish simply because of the country’s proximity to Spain is simply ignorant.
If you can’t attempt Portuguese, stick to English. Most locals know the basics and will appreciate the attempt.
4. Don’t Support Zoos in Lisbon
Or zoos anywhere, really.
We’ve progressed enough as a human race to no longer be compelled to pay money to look at animals torn from their natural habitats for our pleasure. This is not something we need to be spending our money on, or teaching our children is okay.
The Lisbon Zoo in particular keeps a large amount of aquatic animals in unsuitable, almost torturous, facilities when compared to the vast ocean from which they came.
5. Don’t Go Inside of the Tower of Belem in Lisbon
This is a personal opinion, purely based off of my own experience at the famous tower.
The Tower of Belem is a must see for all travelers to Lisbon. Belem in general is worth exploring extensively; it holds a lot of important history about how this city came to exist.
The tower, however, is viewable from the outside and is free to all. If you want to go inside you’ll need to wait in the long queues and pay the entrance fee, only to walk through the quite small interior that features a lot of grey concrete.
6. Don’t Get Swallowed by Tourist Traps in Lisbon
The two biggest being the fado music venues and the “traditional, authentic” restaurants.
There is no reason to pay large sums of money for traditional or authentic Portuguese food while in Lisbon. It’s the food of the people; the most basic cuisine known to this land and it should be enjoyed with a respectable exchange value.
Fado music venues will also try to charge an arm and a leg to unknowing tourists eager to experience this side of local culture. Stick to fado in Bairro Alto or the Alfama, and never pay more than a few euros per person!
7. Don’t Forget to Sample the Cuisine in Lisbon
Portuguese food might be completely foreign to those coming from certain parts of the world. Dishes like Cozido, Bacalhau and Caldo Verde might seem odd at first, but I assure you the Portuguese mastered their culinary skills a long time ago.
If you’re not willing to delve deep into what this cuisine has to offer, at least eat as much local seafood and pastries as your can.
8. Don’t Exclude Local Wines from Your Dining Experiences in Lisbon
Too often I see travelers arriving in Lisbon only to order familiar wines from their homelands with their Portuguese meals. I understand that there is safety in the familiar, but you must remember that Portugal is a wine-making country; a good one at that.
Make an effort to sample some local wines while you’re here. Port wine is also an experience everyone should have at least once.
9. Don’t Insult Portuguese Coffee in Lisbon
This falls under things not to say to a Portuguese person, and things not to do in Lisbon.
Don’t ever make a negative remark about local coffee in front of someone local. It won’t go down well, and you’ll find your next thirty minutes filled with a lecture on why Portuguese coffee is, in fact, the best coffee.
If you don’t like the espresso, keep it to yourself.
10. Avoid Bringing up Colonialism or the War in Lisbon
This is another topic of conversation that doesn’t go down well in Lisbon, or anywhere in Portugal for that matter.
During your travels, you need to keep in mind that Portugal only saw democracy and decolonizing in the 70s during the Carnation Revolution. On a historical timeline that is not very long ago, and so these subjects of conversation are still considered fresh wounds for a lot of the people who lived through it.
If you’re curious about it, use the internet or buy a book.
Something else you shouldn’t forget to do in Lisbon is sign up for at least one free guided walking tour through the city center. They’re great for individuals, couples and families; offering a unique, informative perspective on the capital city.