I have a newfound love for the city of Lisbon – despite my only reason for going being the business class award availability that I found for the return portion of this much-too-short Euro trip.
There weren’t all that many options available, but it was hard to resist turning down the opportunity to fly TAP Portugal across the Atlantic for the very first time. Basically, I went into this trip most excited about the flights, but after returning home the only thing I was thinking about was how much I loved having the opportunity to explore Lisbon for a couple days.
Suffice to say, I arrived in Lisbon having done very little research and not having a clue as to what I wanted to do or see during my time on the ground. As a matter fact, I was simply thinking of Lisbon as a necessary layover between two awesome flights.
The time spent there would simply be my recharging time, allowing me to get rested for the return portion of this very aviation-centric journey. The thought of doing a lot of sightseeing never really crossed my mind actually.
Of course this all changed soon as I got there and I experienced firsthand the beauty and culture of this amazing place. It hit me instantly – all I wanted to do was walk down every street and pop my head into every little restaurant and café just to soak in as much of the local vibe as I could.
I wasn’t prepared for the beauty and laid-back energy of Lisbon, and right away I felt really stupid for focusing so much on my attention on the flights and not the destination.
All was not lost though – I still had two full days to wander and explore and I immediately started pouring through Google Maps on my phone trying to figure out a plan.
It turned out that I wasn’t alone in my feelings about Lisbon. After returning home, I spoke with many other travelers who had the same feelings as I did – not expecting much going in, but having strong feelings of not wanting to leave.
There’s just something about this place that makes people fall in love with it in an instant, and because of that I encourage you to go and see the place for yourself. Go ahead, put it on your bucket list. It’s totally worth it.
Now that I’ve convinced you to go (I hope!), I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you 4 things that I feel each first time traveler to Lisbon should know. Hopefully these tips will save you time when it comes to planning your own trip.
If I would’ve known the stuff beforehand, things would’ve gone so much smoother and I would’ve felt like I could have seen so much more due to not having to figure it all out when I got there. So without further ado, here we go:
1. You need to be in fairly good shape to walk around Lisbon
I was actually quite surprised how hilly it was, and if it weren’t for the fact that I’m in pretty good shape myself thanks to regular cycling and running there’s no way I would’ve been able to see as much as I did just walking around.
There are some very steep hills in the heart of the city and if you want to see everything you’re going to have to climb.
It also goes without saying that comfortable shoes make a world of difference. There’s so much to see here, and you’ll be tempted to turn down every street, so hit the treadmill a couple months before your journey to prepare yourself for all the climbing you’re going to be doing.
2. The hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses are totally worth it
One of the very first things that I did in Lisbon was to get on one of the hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses that go around the city. I’m not really much of a tour bus kind of guy, but it was really hot out and I had three or four hours to kill before my hotel room was ready, so I figured that a three-hour bus ride would be a great orientation. And it was.
For roughly US$20, I was able to see more of the city than I could have by simply walking on my own while trying to decipher maps along way. There are several buses to choose from, each focusing on their own section of the city, and they all meet at the Bus Terminal (Marquês de Pombal) in the heart of the city.
Simply go into to the ticket office, look at the map, and choose the route that is most appealing to you. That ticket will allow you to ride the bus for an entire day, hopping on and off as you please at all the stops.
3. The city really comes alive in the early evenings
I spent a lot of time outside trying to see as much as I could during my short stay, so I got to see what Lisbon is like at all hours. My favorite time? The early evenings. It felt like everybody poured into the streets around 5 PM, and there was a definite feeling of energy that I didn’t feel during the morning or afternoon hours.
It almost felt Carnival-like with music, dancing, laughing, and playing all over the core of the city, which was a completely different vibe than what I had experienced in the first half of the day.
I’d recommend you work your schedule around these early afternoon hours, saving enough energy during the day so that you’ll feel like pounding the streets when everybody else comes out to play.
4. Lisbon may look rough in spots, but it’s a very safe city
If I’m being honest, I was a little bit surprised how different two adjacent streets could be all around the city. It wasn’t the case everywhere, but sometimes I felt like I was walking down a street which just oozed money (Gucci and Rolex shops), only to turn down the next one and find myself surrounded by decaying architecture and graffiti on every surface.
It was a bit offputting at first, but after walking around for a while and talking to the locals, I came to the conclusion that these differences are all part of what makes Lisbon so charming.
Lisbon is very safe, so don’t feel hesitant walking down that dark alley covered in graffiti and decaying cobblestones. These sidestreets we’re actually my favorite part of the exploration that I did, and I’d recommend checking them out for yourself. This is the real Lisbon, and I’m willing to bet that you will find it as charming as I did.
So there you have it. This is by no means an extensive list covering all you need to know about the city Lisbon, but I hope it’s a helpful guide which will prepare you for your first time visit. I would also be very curious to know what you think of the city.
Feel free to leave a comment below and let me know what your experiences were in Lisbon and Portugal in general. I’m planning to go back for sure, and I would also love to hear some suggestions for making my second trip as immersive as I can. I’ve already got the basics, but I’m looking for your help to tell me what I need to see next time!