I’ve just got back from exploring one of the most warm, beautiful cities I’ve ever visited: Lisbon
After a week of exploring Portugal’s capital, I’ve come up with some must-dos for making the most out of your visit.
The beautiful gates of old Lisbon (Photo by: Nour Eldin Ebrahim)
1. Buy a rechargeable metro card
The internal transportation system in Lisbon is easy to use: you go to any metro station and from the machines in there buy a Viva Viagem card for 50 cents. You then charge the card as much as you want, in increments of 3, 5 and 10 euros.
Once you’ve charged your card, you can select what kind of ticket you want to use it for. You can “zap” in and out of the metro and some buses by touching the card over a scanner at the beginning and end of each journey. This will automatically deduct the cost of your trip from your card’s total.
Alternatively, before you begin your day’s travel you can choose to buy a day pass ticket on the card for 6 euros, which may work out cheaper.
Pro tip: Get two cards--one for zapping, and one to use if you needed a day pass.
2. Try the seafood and local pastries
Lisbon is famous for its seafood and for its pastries. There is a lot to try, but if I had to recommend just two must-eats, they would be Bacalhau (salted cod) and Pastel de nata (custard tartlets).
Pastal de nata (amazing Portuguese pastry made from custard), something you can't miss when visiting Lisbon
Pastel de nata are one of the most common and well-known Portuguese pastries, and every visitor to Lisbon should try them. Pasteis de Belem makes a great version, by far the best I tried. They were so delicious I managed 12 in one day!
The Bacalhau meanwhile is a very popular ingredient in Portuguese cooking. It’s delicious and quite different from anything you will have tried elsewhere. And don’t skimp on the other kinds of seafood, which is such a key part of Portuguese cuisine – try the grilled salmon, for example.
Pro tip: Go to Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau in the famous Rua Augusta and try a special twist on Bacalhau. This place mixes the traditional flavours in a cod cake filled with Serra da Estrela cheese—a match made in heaven!
3. Listen to Portugese folk music in Alfama
Lisbon has its own genre of music, Fado, which is like blues with touch of folk, and more sadness. If you look online you will find a lot of “Fado houses” recommended by various travel guides to Lisbon, but these are all quite pricey, touristy places.
If you want an authentic experience, just go to Alfama district around 9 to 10pm, wander through the streets, and check out the small local bars. You will often find places that host non-famous but beautiful Fado singers. Get a drink or a light dinner and enjoy an authentic Portuguese night—one of the best experiences I had in Lisbon.
4. Ride the tram (but not like a tourist!)
If you open any Lisbon travel guide, you’ll always find this tip: ride tram No. 28. The reason is that this tram’s route passes through very interesting, scenic districts of Lisbon, including Baixa, Graça, Alfama and Estrela.
And the tram itself is old and historical and looks beautiful to ride. But this has become a very touristic attraction and it's literally full of pickpockets.
Tram 12 because the famous Tram 28 is a tourist trap. (Photo by: Nour Eldin Ebrahim)
So be smart and instead ride tram No. 12, just beside it. It goes to most of the same places and will provide you with a better experience.
Pro tip: Don't take the full trip; ride the tram until you arrive at Se Cathedral and hop off. You are now on the top of the hill in Alfama district. The cathedral is worth seeing and a couple of steps beside it is Santa Luiza Miradouro, a perfect place to watch the sunset, after which you can head to the city centre on foot—a beautiful and easy walk.
The view from Santa Luiza Miradouro, one of many beautiful viewpoints on top of the hills in Lisbon (Photo: Nour Eldin Ebrahim)
5. View the city from a miradouro
Lisbon is spread over seven hills. The tops of these hills provide a wonderful opportunity to view the city. These panoramic viewpoints are called miradouros in Portuguese and there are many of them. It’s a free way to view the city’s beauty. Watch a sunset or a sunrise from a miradouro and I promise you it will be something you will never forget.
Above I mentioned the Santa Luiza Miradouro (a personal favourite). But you can also try the Praça Alegria Miradouro (reached from Praça dos Restauradores by the traditional Funicular Gloria), which provides views over Baixa, leading towards the Rio Tejo.
Castelo de Sao Jorge Miradouro is also nice, although don’t bother with the Castle Sao Jorge next door – it’s a waste of time. But this miradouro is on top of the highest hill in Lisbon, so the view is beautiful.
Shopping is a real pleasure here at Centro Colombo, the most famous shopping mall in Lisbon (Photo: Nour Eldin Ebrahim)
6. Shop 'til you drop at Centro Columbus Mall
Lisbon is a very good clothes shopping destination in Europe, with seriously good prices!
The best place for a shopping spree is Columbus mall; I got a beautiful coat and a pair of jeans for 33 euros this December (650 EGP!).
Pro tip: One word: PRIMARK
7. Make a day-trip to Sintra
There is a lot of amazing daytrips that you can do from Lisbon, taking a train from Rossio train station (which is a beautiful thing to see even if you are not travelling!). But if you will do just one, then without a doubt it should be the beautiful city of Sintra.
The beautiful Sintra, a close by city snd a recommended day trip from Lisbon (Photo by: Nour Eldin Ebrahim)
Sintra is a historic city over the hills, full of old beautiful palaces and a grand Moorish castle that is worth seeing. The city’s central streets are made with cobblestones and the whole architectural style is colourful and beautiful.
Pro tip: when you arrive by train, exit on the right and wait for the tourist public bus 434 (5 euros); it will take you on a one-way circular ride around the three most important landmarks of Sintra (the town, the Moorish castle on the hill, and the Pena Palace). You can ride and hop-on/off any bus until you make a full circle back to the train station. The castle is highly recommended!
The narrow but very colourful streets of Lisbon (Photo by: Nour Eldin Ebrahim)