It has been more than a year since I visited Lisbon, and this post draft has been gathering a lot of e-cobwebs from neglect. Why has it taken me so long to write this? Well, to be perfectly honest I don’t have very fond memories of the city and the idea of writing a “top things to do in Lisbon” post made me feel an overwhelming sense of dread. How could I recommend things to do in Lisbon when I probably wouldn’t go back?
When we left Lisbon for Porto I was so relieved. We were only in Lisbon for 3 nights but it felt like an eternity and I was ready to move on. I had heard such great things about Lisbon and I didn’t understand the hype – were we talking about the same place? My impression of Lisbon was a constant stench of urine, way too many hills and being offered drugs left, right and center. Where was the charming capital city that everyone raved about?
But look – had we done things differently it would have been an entirely different story, and I realize that now. Lisbon is Lisbon is Lisbon – it’s never pretended to be anything else, and whether or not you make the most of what a destination has to offer is wholly dependent on how you approach it. Wondering what not to do in Lisbon? If you are visiting Lisbon for the first time, here are some things I would have done differently – read on for 7 mistakes not to make if you’re traveling to Lisbon!
1. Trying to check things off a “top 10 things to do in Lisbon” list
You’ll have to shift your perspective if you want to experience Lisbon. If you go to Lisbon with a list of “top 10” places to see, you’re likely to be disappointed. In my opinion, Lisbon isn’t one of those places where you can hop from tourist attraction to tourist attraction, and the soul of the city goes far beyond any listicle. Throw away your “best places to visit in Lisbon” and “what to see in Lisbon in 1 day” lists! Which brings me to my next Lisbon travel mistake…
2. Only spending two to three days in Lisbon
After leaving Lisbon and telling friends and family that I didn’t fall in love with the place, the first thing that many people asked was, “how many days were you there for?” To truly enjoy Lisbon you can’t just scratch the surface, you need to delve a little deeper and explore the nooks and crannies. I wish we had more time to go beyond the typical Lisbon tourist trail and get off the beaten path, then we might have had the opportunity to discover some of the hidden gems it has to offer. If you think you can experience Lisbon in a day then you might be in for a rude awakening!
3. Not exploring with a local
I’m not a massive fan of organized tours, but food tours are one of the best ways to see a city and something I wish we had done on our first day in Lisbon. I think it would have spared us from a lot of grief and mediocre meals! Don’t make the same mistake – read up on some Lisbon food favorites here: What to Eat in Lisbon.
4. Waiting in line for the Torre de Belem and Santa Justa Elevator
What a waste of time! The view from the top of the Torre de Belem was mediocre at best and cost 6 Euros, and the Santa Justa Elevator was broken the day that we visited. We actually didn’t find out that the elevator was broken and none of the staff mentioned anything until we had waited in line for 20 minutes.
I might be shot for telling you that the iconic Santa Justa Elevator is one of the places to avoid in Lisbon, but I’ll take that risk. Instead, head straight to the Santa Justa viewpoint (the same one that the elevator goes to) for 1.5 Euros instead.
Look for the Bellalisa Elevador restaurant entrance, and the walkway to the Santa Justa viewpoint is just next to it.
Update: It appears that both the elevator and the viewpoint may be closed. See here for the announcement. I will update this again if it re-opens.
5. Trying to visit every single miradouro in Lisbon
Everyone has a differing opinion on where the best viewpoint in Lisbon is, and there are SO many of these miradouros viewpoints in Lisbon. We were overambitious in trying to visit 4-5 of them in a day and killed ourselves getting around Lisbon.
Instead, head to 1 or 2 miradouros (max), grab a drink at Lost In restaurant and check out the Castelo de Sao Jorge for panoramic views across Lisbon.
6. Driving around Lisbon in a rental car
Getting around Lisbon is not going to be a breeze in a rental car. If you are staying in Lisbon proper, then you’ll want to skip the rental car and stick to public transportation or exploring on foot. The hills, narrow roads and trams pose a serious challenge for drivers, but most hotels don’t offer parking or charge a fee for parking – I’ve seen rates ranging between 18 to 28 Euros per day for parking in Lisbon. If you are driving through Portugal and need a place to stay in Lisbon that offers parking, look into staying in Belem instead where there is a little more room.
We stayed at Apartment CCB View in Belem, a 2-bedroom apartment with free street parking. Unfortunately, this property appears to no longer be accepting bookings. If you are looking for a boutique hotel with free parking in Belem you can also consider Altis Belem, just a hop and skip away from the Jeronimos Monastery, Pasteis de Belem bakery and Belem Tower. Reviewers like the spacious and clean rooms, easy parking facilities and rooftop terrace. To get into town, take the local tram which brings you to the Lisbon city centre in under 10 minutes. Click here to check availability and rates for Altis Belem.
If you prefer to stay in the Lisbon city centre, here are some highly-rated hotels based on extensive research. We would also consider staying at the following Lisbon boutique hotels:
1908 Lisboa Hotel: This design-centric hotel is located in an award-winning architecture building. The rooms are minimalistic and sophisticated, and look perfect for a city stay. Reviewers rave about the friendly staff, the local neighborhood and proximity to the subway, and the design of the property. Parking is available and costs 20 Euros per day. Click here to check rates and availability at 1908 Lisboa Hotel.
H10 Duque de Loule: This boutique hotel in Lisbon is consistently highly-rated for its spacious and bright rooms, location near the metro and the amazing rooftop terrace and bar. Reviewers also sing praises about the on-site restaurant and breakfast selection. Parking is available and costs 18 Euros per day. Click here to check rates and availability at H10 Duque de Loule.
Boemio FLH Hotels: When it comes to the perfect Lisbon city hotel, this one comes pretty close. Sandwiched in the thick of it all between Bairro Alto and Alfama, Boemio is walking distance from many of Lisbon’s top attractions. Reviewers love the breakfast and friendly and helpful staff, modern and sleek rooms, and of course – the location. For those who are self-driving in Portugal, you should know that parking is not available. Click here to check rates and availability at Boemio FLH Hotels.
Ready to travel to Lisbon? Click here to see other highly-rated hotels in the heart of Lisbon!
7. Wasting your time on Tram 28
Waiting for the tram and going on the ride through Graca, Alfama, Baixa and Estrela was one of the biggest timesucks in Lisbon. Believe me, if going on a yellow tram in Lisbon is something you want to do then you need to know that they are everywhere – you do not have to queue for Tram 28! There wasn’t a “view” to speak of on Tram 28, and there was standing room only which can be extremely uncomfortable during the summer months. I don’t know how the residents who use this tram to get home put up with the crazy shoving between tourists.
Instead, why not hop on one of the funiculars that traverse Lisbon? Click here for more information on the Lisbon funiculars and routes.
So, will I ever make it back to Lisbon? I hope so! Our failed first attempt was completely our own fault, and I’d love to return with a fresh pair of eyes and open mind to discover Lisbon off-the-beaten-track. What are some of the other Lisbon travel mistakes that you think people should know about?
You might also want to read these Portugal guides:
- Sintra is the perfect day trip destination from Lisbon. Here are 20 travel photos of Sintra that will stoke your wanderlust and my guide to must-see places in Sintra
- Head north to Porto and explore this enchanting city with my travel guide to Porto
- Planning a trip to Portugal but not sure where to start? Here is my 10 day Portugal road trip itinerary for some inspiration
- Also traveling to southern Portugal? Here is my guide to the top places to visit in the Algarve
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