Portugal has captured the imagination of American travelers, and the levels of tourism in the city were rising rapidly before the pandemic began. Even now, Portugal, and especially the cities of Porto and Lisbon, are bouncing back, welcoming growing crowds.
Here are 10 tips to help you enjoy Lisbon.
1. When booking flights into Lisbon, pay close attention to arrival times. As many US cities have direct flights and there is competition for gate space, there are inbound flights that land before 6am. As the airport is very close to downtown, it means you may find yourself at your hotel or your Untour in Sintra several hours before you can check in! Consider a later set of flights or make special plans to handle the lag when you arrive.
2. Beware of pickpockets, especially in tourist-heavy zones and on crowded public transit. Be mindful of your bag when sitting in restaurants. Trams are a popular spot for thieves, and routes 28 and 15 are favorites. A little common sense goes a long way.
3. Beware of the hills! On a 2D map, distances can be deceiving. Factor in altitude when considering walking distances across town, like Bairro Alto to Castelo de S. Jorge. What looks like a simple cross-town stroll may include major climbs and descents. The Baixa is a central, flat district that is a good place to meander and rest your knees.
4. Wear shoes with good traction. Comfortable shoes are a given, as one can easily walk their legs off in downtown Lisbon. But also note that Lisbon’s sidewalk stones are very slippery, especially when wet, and you will be moving up and down hills. You’ll need good souls to keep from slipping.
5. Consider the help of a driver. Lisbon is an Uber town. Skip lines for trams and elevators and take a car up to the hilltop, then stroll your way back down. Likewise, taxis are often found at the bottom of hills in busy areas and are glad to run you up the hill; these short trips are their bread and butter.
6. Use the subway! The Lisbon metro is clean, efficient, inexpensive and well marked. Though less picturesque, it is much more efficient than the trams. And you might just see some interesting art along the way.
7. If you plan to attend a Fado dinner, book ahead, either by phone or in person as you are strolling in neighborhoods like Alfama. In season, even the lesser known venues book up. Order minimums are common, so be sure you are aware and order accordingly.
8. Wear a mask! At the moment they are required on all mass transit and many indoor sights like museums and shops. People also use them outdoors in more crowded settings, so be ready to mask up.
9. Arrive at the airport at least 2 hours ahead of your flight home. The traffic at Lisbon’s Portela airport exceeds gate capacity, so security lines back up, and passengers may be bussed to their aircraft, meaning boarding time is earlier than one might expect and gates close early.
10. Stay outside the city and away from the most crowded tourist areas. Untours has apartments in Sintra, a very quick regional train ride into the center of Lisbon. Though Sintra attracts tourists as well, they flock to its palaces, away from the residential streets of town.
See you in Lisbon!