Lisbon: Know Before You Go
It’s always nice to have an insider’s guide when visiting a foreign country for the first time. Helpful hints that make for less of a culture shock when navigating the streets during your first few days.
This is everything I wish someone had told me prior to my first trip. Lisbon is a very laid back city — you’ll get the hang of it in no time.
No one really struggles to eat in Lisbon. Whatever your dietary requirements, you’ll have access to sufficient foods in different parts of the city.
That being said, kosher eaters will have some trouble finding dining options in the Portuguese capital. I’ve done a write up on this previously; click here to read more.
The vegan and gluten free movements are spreading quickly through the city; there are new cafes popping up weekly, and most existing restaurants have added at least one or two appropriate meal options to their menus.
Global cuisines exist in abundance across Lisbon. You’ll eat from all corners of the globe, with a plethora of local Portuguese cuisine in between.
Something I wish I’d known prior to my arrival is that one should probably never eat at the first restaurant that they see. Usually, walking just a bit further or exploring a bit deeper will bring you to a dining option that has better variety or better pricing.
This is simply how Lisbon is laid out. Restaurants gather in clusters, like magnetized consumerism, and there is almost always a better spot lurking just around the corner.
For the most part, Lisbon’s street life is no different to any other European city. Locals make their commutes, tourists move slowly on foot, and the public transport functions somewhere in between.
What you do need to know about the streets of Lisbon, however, is that they feature some rough, steep inclines thanks to the hill-side nature of the city.
You’ll find these hilled streets to be particularly challenging in upper Chiado, and throughout the Alfama. In the summer, walking through Lisbon on foot looks and feels a lot like a Sweat 1000 class.
If you have bad ankles or knees, you’ll want to take the necessary precautions in strapping them before a big day of exploring. Appropriate footwear is essential, as is protection from the sun in its many forms.
Thankfully, those who opt not to walk can easily make their way through Lisbon using the city’s generous transport options. Metro rails, trains, trams, taxis, Uber and busses are all available throughout the day to get you from A to B.
The big question; and one that differs depending on the context in which it is applicable.
Tipping in Lisbon is customary, but not in all dining instances. In smaller cafes or take away joints, it is not expected that one leave a tip. If anything, most people will simply round up their bill and leave the chance. For example: a €18.80 bill might be paid with a €20 note — the change left as tip.
In some smaller restaurants you might find physical tip jars in which an optional sum can be placed.
In more upmarket restaurants, tipping is somewhat expected. Either 5% or 10% of the total bill is sufficient, and the amount you choose to leave should depend solely on how enjoyable your experience was.
You won’t be obliged to tip fado performers at restaurants as there is usually an added fee to your bill that covers the act.
As for taxis in Lisbon, your driver will usually expect about 10% in tip of the total fare of your trip.
All of my experiences with Lisbon’s public transport systems have been timeous and positive.
If the train is set to leave at 4pm, it leaves at 4pm. If the bus is supposed to arrive on the hour, it arrives on the hour.
Something to note is that, since Lisbon’s transport is extremely cheap, it is sometimes more cost effective to share a single taxi or Uber ride with three other people, rather than spend money on 4 separate train tickets.
For example: if you and three friends are heading out to see the castles in Sintra for the day, you’ll require return train tickets per person. The total sum of these tickets is higher than the cost of splitting an Uber there and back.
It’s not a big deal if you take the train anyway, but the car route gives you a more flexible schedule, and you also won’t have to walk so far up the hills upon arrival in Sintra train station.
The locals in Lisbon are fantastic! I found them to be incredibly welcoming, hospitable and downright quirky.
The men in particular will look for any excuse to pass a cheeky comment to young, female travelers. But, in my experience, it is never received with threat or discomfort.
Something you need to keep in mind is that Portuguese people are extremely patriotic. You’ll find it very hard to make friends if you arrive ready to criticize their cuisine, coffee, or football team.
You also should never, ever try to talk Spanish to a Portuguese person unless you are actually a Spanish person. Nothing infuriates a local more than a clueless traveler making zero attempt to communicate in Portuguese, and assuming everyone in Portugal must speak some Spanish because of the close proximity of the countries.
Most people in Portugal have some sort of basic understanding of English. If this doesn’t suffice, use your worst Portuguese before you go near Spanish.
For more information on things to never say in Lisbon, click here.