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. 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
After two weeks on the road in Spain and southern Portugal, honestly it just slipped my mind to organize any walking tour or food tour in Lisbon with a local guide. 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!
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. *eye roll*
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.
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 even offer parking. If you are driving through Portugal and need a place to stay in Lisbon that offers parking, look into staying in Belem instead.
We stayed at Apartment CCB View, a 2-bedroom apartment with free street parking a hop and skip away from the Jeronimos Monastery, Pasteis de Belem bakery and Belem Tower. To get into town, we took the local tram which brought us to Lisbon in under 10 minutes. Click here to check availability and rates for Apartment CCB View!
Ready to travel to Lisbon? Click here to see 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?
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