Lisbon is a beautiful city which should be on everyone’s travel bucket list, and not just for the sardines, but here are some tips about what not to do to get the most out of a trip to the city:
First of all, just like Sheffield (and the lesser-known city of Rome), Lisbon was built on seven hills, seven steep hills, so this is not an ideal place to bring a baby in a buggy, especially as there are a lot of cobbles. I wouldn’t want to push a pram up those streets, and coming down could be even more risky, especially in the rain. To avoid losing the baby, leave the pushchair at home. Also, don’t bring grandma or great aunt Dorothy, unless they’re super fit because they’ll struggle to make it up the hills, they’ll suffer with their knees coming down, and they risk twisting an ankle on the cobbles.
Don’t bring a suitcase if you’re staying in a hotel or apartment in one of the many tiny side-streets not accessible by taxi. If you do, you’ll curse yourself as you bounce it over the cobbles or drag it up the stone stairways. Bring a rucksack instead. Preferably a small one.
If you’ve got an early check out and a late flight and you intend to spend the day mooching around Lisbon, you can pay to leave your baggage at a local store to save you hauling it up and down those darned hills. It’ll be the best €5 you ever spent.
The Park Bar for sundowners, which seems to be recommended in every guidebook/website, is over-rated. Don’t go. Yes, the guide books are right when they say this bar on top of a car park in the city centre has amazing views, but it also smells of stale beer, it’s so crowded with cool young things that their beautiful bodies are likely to block your view and, to be honest, Lisbon was built on seven hills (haven’t I already told you that, pay attention) so it’s not short of other excellent viewpoints, including some other amazing places where you can have a beer and watch the sunset, such as Santa Catarina.
Personally I loved the bar and the Café Principe Real, a stone’s throw from the Miradouro Santa Catarina, which has lovely vistas of the city’s roof tops down to the River Tagus below. Plus it’s sophisticated, not crowded and doesn’t have that end-of-the-night pong of stale booze.
Find your own favourite miradouro (viewpoint) and enjoy that instead.
Don’t get pick pocketed. Pick pockets pray on tourists in Lisbon, just as they do in other large cities, so you need to take care of your valuables. Theft is particularly rife on Tram 28, apparently, but a couple of light-fingered guys tried to get into my bag while I was walking along a busy street at night, so you always need to be on your guard. Don’t carry a backpack with outside pockets or stuff your wallet in a back pocket or carry a handbag slung over your shoulder. Cross-body bags or bum-bags (cringe, I know) are better.
Don’t attempt to walk around in heels or leather-sole shoes of any description or you could come a cropper on the shiny cobblestones (see above), especially in the rain. I recommend rubber-soled platforms or flats if you need to dress up, or even better, trainers. Even flip-flops could be tricky going down the steep hills, think of the thong pushing into the fleshy bits between your toes as your feet sliiiide forward. Ouch. If you only have leather shoes, first of all ask yourself why, they’re annoyingly slippery at the best of times, then stick some rubber bits on the bottom (you can thank my friend Melanie for that tip).
Talking of rain, it does do that in Lisbon so, to avoid the risk of a downpour, don’t go in the winter, even though it will be much quieter. Don’t forget that Lisbon is on the Atlantic coast, so the breeze can be quite chilly too. March to June or September and October are the best months to go, when it won’t be too hot or too cold and not too crowded either. However, note that cruise ships call at Lisbon so if you’re only going for a few days and you don’t want to jostle with cruise passengers, check out the port timetable on Cruise Mapper and try to time your visit for when there are none.
Don’t linger on the pavement in front of shops or bars otherwise you’ll piss off the locals – and you’re likely to get elbowed out of the way by elderly ladies on a mission to get their shopping done. Happened twice to me, and I was only there for two days.
Do go to the beach if it’s warm and sunny but not at the weekend, the trains get very hot and crowded and the bars and restaurants will be rammed. If the weather is nice, aim to go on a weekday instead. You can get a train from Cais do Sodré station, the trip costs only a few euros and the journey to the closest beaches is only about 25 to 30 minutes. If you do go at the weekend, make sure you make a restaurant reservation for lunch, or take a picnic.
Don’t ask for tapas, you’re not in Spain, what you want is petiscos, little snacks, like small plates of ham, cheese and olives. While you’re at it, why not try a cheeky Portuguese red wine from the Douro region to go with it?
Also delicious are Portuguese sardines, which you can buy to bring home in the most beautiful tins, or wrapped in pretty paper parcels. For the widest selection, go to the historic Conserveria de Lisboa.
Don’t get fixated on the seafood. Yes, the codfish is delicious (we tried some at Monte Mar Seafood Kitchen in Time Out Market and it was a.mazing) and, of course, so are the sardines and the clams are to die for…but so is the other local speciality steak and egg. In fact, I had the best steak sandwich I’ve ever tasted at Caféde São Bento, also in Time Out Market. It was melt-in-your-mouth and I would have been so hacked off to have never tried it.
Unless you’re under 30 and going out on the lash, preferably with lots of like-minded stags and hens, avoid Rua da Rosa in the bohemian Bairro Alto district after dark. Its cobbled streets and graffiti daubed walls might be quaint during the day, and its cosy bars and concept stores inviting – in fact, we stayed in a lovely Airbnb in a parallel street – but at night it’s transformed into a less crowded version of the Magaluf Strip. It’s great if you want to dance on the table tops of a burlesque gar bar drinking sickly mojitos, otherwise give it a swerve.
Don’t forget to leave enough time to walk along the river front to Belém, home to some of Lisbon’s best sights, including the stunning Monument of Discoveries, the UNESCO World Heritage Tower of Belém, the elaborate Jeronimos Monastery and…drum roll please….the most famous custard tart factory in the world, EVA. You can stop for a coffee and a Pasteis de nata (Portuguese for custard tart, I’m virtually fluent) in the cool blue and white tiled Pasteria de Belém or, do what we did, and bring a gift box (or two) home, they keep for a couple of days in the fridge. Don’t worry about the queue outside, it zips along, but if you can’t wait, you can buy them at the airport. Bom appetite!