Portugal has always been one of my favorite destinations. Its rich history, vibrant culture, and stunning landscapes never cease to amaze me. Lisbon, the capital, is a city full of life, where tradition and modernity meet at every corner. In this guide, I want to share with you my essential tips and personal experiences to make your trip to Portugal and Lisbon unforgettable.

Introduction

Traveling to Portugal is like opening a storybook full of history and charm. Each visit has left me with wonderful memories, from strolling through Lisbon’s cobblestone streets to enjoying an incredible meal in a small family-run restaurant. If you are planning a trip to this beautiful country, you are in the right place. Here you will find a detailed and personal guide to make your visit a unique experience.

1. Best Time to Travel

Climate and Tourist Season

One of the first important decisions when planning a trip to Portugal is when to go. Each season offers something different, so here are my personal observations on each:

Spring (March to May): For me, spring is the best time to visit. The weather is mild and pleasant, perfect for exploring the city without the summer crowds. The flowers are in full bloom, adding an extra touch of beauty to the landscapes.

Summer (June to August): While summer is the peak season and can be crowded with tourists, the energy is contagious. The temperatures are warm, ideal for enjoying the beaches and participating in festivals. However, be prepared for higher prices and book in advance.

Autumn (September to November): Another fantastic time to visit. The temperatures are mild, and there are fewer tourists, meaning you can enjoy the attractions without as many people. Additionally, the grape harvest is in full swing, making it an excellent time to visit the wine regions.

Winter (December to February): Although colder and rainier, I have found that winter in Lisbon has its own charm. The city lights up with Christmas decorations, and there is a festive atmosphere in the air. Additionally, prices are lower and attractions are less crowded.

2. Transportation

Getting to and Around Lisbon

Getting around Lisbon is quite simple, and here are some tips based on my experience:

Lisbon Humberto Delgado Airport is well connected to the city centre. I always opt for the metro, which is fast and economical. Buses and taxis are also available options, depending on your preference and budget.

Public Transport: Lisbon has an efficient network of metro, trams, and buses. The “Viva Viagem” card is an excellent option to save on transport. You can top it up and use it on different types of transport.

Walking: Lisbon is a very walkable city, and many of the main attractions are within a short distance of each other. Remember to wear comfortable shoes, as the city is famous for its hills and cobblestone streets. Personally, I enjoy getting lost in the neighbourhoods and discovering hidden gems.

Alternative Transport Options

Tram 28: This iconic tram is more than just a means of transport; it is an attraction in itself. I love hopping on Tram 28 for a scenic ride through Lisbon’s historic neighbourhoods.

Tuk-tuks: A fun option for exploring the city, especially if you are short on time. The drivers are usually very friendly and know the city well.

Bicycles and Electric Scooters: Increasingly popular in Lisbon, these options are great for short distances and offer an eco-friendly way to get around the city.

3. Accommodation

Where to Stay

The choice of accommodation can make a big difference in your travel experience. Here are my recommendations based on different neighbourhoods in Lisbon:

Baixa and Chiado: These areas are perfect for being in the heart of the action. I love staying here because everything is close: shops, restaurants, and many tourist attractions. It is ideal for those who enjoy urban life and want to be in the centre of Lisbon.

Alfama: The oldest neighbourhood in Lisbon, known for its narrow streets and traditional atmosphere. Whenever I stay in Alfama, I feel like I am living in a piece of history. It is perfect for those looking for a more authentic and tranquil experience.

Bairro Alto: Famous for its vibrant nightlife, this is where I stay when I want to enjoy the party. There are plenty of bars, restaurants, and clubs, and the atmosphere is always lively.

Belém: A bit further from the city centre, but close to historical monuments like the Jerónimos Monastery and the Belém Tower. If your main interest is exploring history and culture, this neighbourhood is an excellent option.

Types of Accommodation

Boutique Hotels: Lisbon is full of small boutique hotels with a lot of character. I love staying in places that have a unique history or design.

Holiday Apartments: Perfect if you prefer a bit more space and the option to cook. Airbnb and other platforms offer many charming options.

Hostels: If you are traveling on a budget or looking for a more social experience, Lisbon has some of the best hostels I have stayed in. Many offer activities and tours for guests.

4. Gastronomy

Typical Dishes and Where to Try Them

Portuguese food is a delight and one of the highlights of any trip to Lisbon. Here are some of my favorite dishes and recommendations of places to try them:

Bacalhau: This is Portugal’s iconic dish. There are many ways to prepare it, but my favorite is “Bacalhau à Brás,” a delicious mixture of shredded cod, potatoes, and eggs. I recommend trying it at traditional restaurants like “Solar dos Presuntos.”

Pastéis de Nata: These delicious custard tarts are a must. The most famous ones can be found at “Pastéis de Belém,” but I have found that almost any bakery in Lisbon makes them quite well.

Francesinha: Although more typical of northern Portugal, you can find good versions of this hearty sandwich in Lisbon. My favorite place to try it is “Café Santiago.”

Grilled Sardines: Especially popular during the Festas de Santo António in June. I love enjoying them on an outdoor terrace in the Alfama neighbourhood.

Portuguese Wines: Portugal is famous for its wines. Don’t miss the port wine and Vinho Verde. There are many wine shops in Lisbon where you can taste and buy local wines.

Culinary Experiences

Mercado da Ribeira (Time Out Market): This market is an excellent way to try a variety of Portuguese dishes in one place. I love coming here for a quick and tasty meal.

Food and Wine Tour: Joining a food tour is a great way to discover the local cuisine. Personally, I have greatly enjoyed tours that combine market visits, tastings in small restaurants, and detailed explanations about the food and culture.

Fado Dinners: Enjoying a dinner while listening to Fado, the traditional Portuguese music, is a unique experience. My favorite place for this is “Clube de Fado” in Alfama.

5. What to See and Do

Must-See Attractions

Lisbon is full of fascinating places to explore. Here are some of my favorite attractions that you should not miss:

Castelo de São Jorge: This castle offers panoramic views of the city. I love strolling along its ancient walls and enjoying the sunset view.

Jerónimos Monastery: A UNESCO World Heritage site, it is a gem of Manueline architecture. Its cloister is one of the most peaceful and beautiful places I have visited.

Belém Tower: Another architectural wonder and World Heritage site. It is fascinating to explore its interiors and learn about its history.

Alfama: This is my favorite neighbourhood to get lost in its narrow and steep streets. Each visit surprises me with new corners and views.

Tram 28: A ride on this iconic tram is a fun way to see the main tourist spots in the city. Although it is often crowded with tourists, it is worth it for the experience.

Museums and Culture

Calouste Gulbenkian Museum: This museum houses an impressive collection of art, from antiquities to modern art. I like coming here for the tranquillity and the beauty of its gardens.

National Tile Museum: Portugal is famous for its tiles, and this museum shows their evolution over the centuries. It is a fascinating visit that I always recommend.

MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology): A modern and dynamic cultural space. The building’s architecture is impressive in itself, and the exhibitions are always interesting.

José Saramago Foundation: Dedicated to the Portuguese Nobel Prize in Literature, this museum is an inspiring place for literature lovers.

6. Practical Tips

Useful Information for Traveling

Here are some practical tips that I have learned during my trips to Portugal:

Language: Portuguese is the official language, but I have found that many people speak English, especially in tourist areas. Learning a few basic phrases in Portuguese can be useful and appreciated by the locals.

Currency: Euro (€). Credit cards are widely accepted, but it is always useful to carry some cash, especially in markets and small shops.

Safety: Lisbon is a relatively safe city, but as in any tourist destination, be careful with pickpockets in crowded areas. Always keep your belongings secure.

Plug Adapters: Portugal uses type C and F plugs, with a voltage of 230V. Carrying an adapter is essential if your devices have different plugs.

Tipping: Tipping is not obligatory, but it is appreciated. In restaurants, it is common to leave 5-10% if the service has been good.

Health and Wellbeing

Travel Insurance: I always recommend having good travel insurance. It will give you peace of mind in case of medical emergencies or other unforeseen events.

Pharmacies: Pharmacies in Portugal are well equipped, and the staff usually speak English. I have found them to be very helpful for obtaining medications and health advice.

7. Excursions and Tours

Beyond Lisbon

Portugal has much more to offer beyond Lisbon. Here are some of my favourite excursions you can take from the capital:

Sintra: Just 30 km from Lisbon, it is known for its palaces and fairy-tale landscapes. Don’t miss the Pena Palace, with its vibrant mix of colours and architectural styles, and the enigmatic Quinta da Regaleira, with its gardens full of secrets and symbolism. Every time I visit Sintra, I feel transported to another world.

Cascais: This charming coastal town is perfect for a day trip. Enjoy its beaches, stroll around the harbour, and explore Boca do Inferno, an impressive rock formation. I love the relaxed atmosphere of Cascais and its excellent seafood restaurants.

Évora: Located in the Alentejo region, Évora is famous for its well-preserved historic centre and Roman Temple. It is a city that breathes history, and I always enjoy getting lost in its cobbled streets and visiting the Chapel of Bones, a unique and somewhat eerie experience.

Fátima: If you are interested in religious history, Fátima is an important pilgrimage destination. The Sanctuary of Fátima is a place of great devotion and tranquillity, and I am always struck by the atmosphere of peace that prevails there.

8. Unique Experiences

Memorable Activities

In addition to the usual tourist attractions, Lisbon and its surroundings offer some unique experiences that have left an indelible mark on my travel memories:

Portuguese Cooking Classes: One of the best ways to immerse yourself in the local culture is by learning to cook some of its traditional dishes. I have taken cooking classes where I learned to make cod and pastéis de nata, and it was an incredibly fun and educational experience.

Boat Trips on the Tagus River: Seeing Lisbon from the water offers a completely new perspective of the city. Sunset boat trips are especially magical, with the golden light illuminating the historic buildings and bridges.

Fado in Alfama: There is no better place to experience Fado than in the Alfama neighbourhood. Small taverns and fado houses offer an intimate atmosphere where the melancholic music of fado comes to life. Every time I hear a live performance, I feel the deep emotion and history they convey.

Shopping and Souvenirs

Tiles and Ceramics: Portugal is famous for its beautiful hand-painted tiles. I love buying some as souvenirs and gifts. Shops like “A Vida Portuguesa” offer an excellent selection of traditional products.

Cork Clothing and Accessories: Cork is a sustainable and versatile material, and Portugal produces some of the best cork products in the world. From bags to shoes, these items are unique and eco-friendly.

Local Markets: Local markets are an excellent place to find fresh produce and crafts. Mercado da Ribeira is one of my favourites for enjoying a meal and buying local products.

9. Etiquette and Culture Tips

Local Customs

Greeting Locals: In Portugal, it is common to greet with a handshake or with kisses on the cheeks among friends and family. I always try to learn a few basic words in Portuguese like “bom dia” (good morning) and “obrigado” (thank you) to show respect.

Respect for History and Culture: Portugal has a rich cultural heritage. I have found that locals appreciate when visitors show interest and respect for their history and traditions.

Meal Times: Meal times in Portugal can be a bit different from what some are used to. Here are some key points:

Breakfast: Usually light, consisting of coffee and a pastry or bread. Cafés and bakeries open early, and I like to start my day with a pastel de nata and a strong coffee.

Lunch: Served between 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. It is the main meal of the day, so restaurants are usually busy during this time. I have gotten used to taking my time to enjoy a long and relaxed lunch.

Dinner: Served later than some might be used to, usually between 8:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. It is a good opportunity to experience Lisbon’s nightlife and try different restaurants.

Restaurant Etiquette

Tipping: Tipping is not obligatory, but it is appreciated. In restaurants, it is common to leave 5-10% if the service has been good. In cafés and bars, rounding up the bill is sufficient.

Bread and Appetisers: It is common for waiters to bring bread, olives, and other appetisers to the table without you asking for them. Keep in mind that these are not free and will be added to the bill if you consume them.

Reservations: It is advisable to make reservations at popular restaurants, especially during the high season. It has saved me from long waits more than once.

10. Sustainable Travel

Ecological Practices

Travelling sustainably is increasingly important, and Portugal offers many ways to do so:

Public Transport and Bicycles: Using public transport is an excellent way to reduce your carbon footprint. Lisbon has an efficient network of metro, trams, and buses. Bicycles and electric scooters are also eco-friendly options for getting around the city.

Eco-Friendly Hotels: Look for accommodations that have sustainable practices, such as using renewable energy, recycling, and eco-friendly cleaning products. Some of my favourite hotels in Lisbon are known for their sustainability efforts.

Reducing Plastics: Bringing a reusable water bottle can help reduce plastic use. Portugal has potable tap water, so you can refill your bottles at your accommodation or at public fountains.

Local Shopping: Supporting local markets and shops not only contributes to the local economy but also reduces the ecological footprint associated with transporting goods.

Sustainable Activities

Hiking and Nature: Portugal has many natural parks and trails to explore. Serra da Arrábida and the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park are some of my favourite places to hike and enjoy nature.

Visits to Eco-Friendly Wineries: Many wineries in Portugal are adopting sustainable viticulture practices. Visiting these wineries is not only an educational experience but also supports producers who care about the environment.

11. Connectivity and Communication

Staying Connected

Staying connected while travelling can make things much easier:

Wi-Fi: Most accommodations, restaurants, and cafés in Lisbon offer free Wi-Fi. I always ask for the password when I arrive at a new place.

Local SIM Card: Buying a local SIM card is an excellent way to have access to mobile data during your stay. Major telecom companies like Vodafone, MEO, and NOS have stores at the airport and in the city.

Useful Apps: Downloading useful apps like Google Maps, Uber, and Zomato (for restaurants) can make your trip easier. I also recommend the Lisbon Metro app for navigating public transport.

12. Planning and Resources

Trip Preparation

Planning ahead can save you a lot of time and stress. Here are some resources and tips that have been useful to me:

Travel Guides and Blogs: Reading travel guides and blogs (like this one) can provide detailed insights and practical tips. Lonely Planet and Rick Steves are some of my favourite guides.

Travel Apps: Apps like TripIt can help organise your itineraries. I like having all my travel details in one place for easy access.

Travel Insurance: I cannot emphasise enough the importance of having good travel insurance. It will give you peace of mind in case of medical emergencies or other unforeseen events.

Online Resources

Official Websites: Visiting official tourism websites, such as Visit Portugal, can provide updated information about events and attractions.

Forums and Communities: Platforms like TripAdvisor and Reddit have active travel communities where you can find recommendations and up-to-date tips. I have found many useful tips on these forums.

Social Media: Following Instagram and Facebook accounts dedicated to Portugal and Lisbon can inspire you and provide up-to-date information about events and places of interest.

13. Portugal for Digital Nomads

Advantages of Portugal for Digital Nomads

Portugal has become a very popular destination for digital nomads, and it is not hard to see why. Here are some of the reasons why I consider Portugal ideal for remote working:

Cost of Living: Compared to other European countries, the cost of living in Portugal is quite reasonable. Accommodation, food, and transport are more affordable, which means you can enjoy a high quality of life without spending a fortune.

Pleasant Climate: With mild weather year-round, it is easy to understand why so many digital nomads choose Portugal. The mild temperatures and constant sunshine make working from a terrace or a beach a daily experience.

Connectivity: Portugal has excellent internet infrastructure, with fast speeds and wide coverage. This is crucial for those who rely on a stable connection for their work.

Coworking Spaces: Lisbon and other Portuguese cities have a growing number of modern and well-equipped coworking spaces. I love the collaborative atmosphere and the opportunity to meet other remote professionals.

Digital Nomad Communities: Portugal has a vibrant digital nomad community. Events, meetups, and social media groups make it easy to network and exchange experiences.

Tax Benefits and Government Support

The Portuguese government has implemented several measures to attract remote workers and digital nomads, making the country even more appealing:

Non-Habitual Resident (NHR) Regime: This regime offers significant tax benefits for new residents, including a flat tax rate on income for a period of ten years. I have met several digital nomads who have taken advantage of this regime to reduce their taxes significantly.

Visas and Permits: Portugal has streamlined visa processes for remote workers, making it easier to obtain a residence permit.

Startup Support: The country offers various incentives and support programs for startups and entrepreneurs, making it an attractive place for those looking to start their own business while working remotely.

14. Living in Portugal: Buying a House and Settling Down

Property Purchase Process

Moving to Portugal and buying a house is an exciting prospect. Here are some steps and tips based on my experience and that of other expats I have met:

Research: Before making any decisions, research the different regions of Portugal. Each area has its own charm and lifestyle. From the vibrant cities of Lisbon and Porto to the peaceful villages of the Alentejo, there is something for everyone.

Real Estate Agents: Hiring a reliable real estate agent is crucial. They can help you navigate the market, find properties that meet your needs, and negotiate prices.

Visits: Once you have identified some properties of interest, it is important to visit them in person. This will give you a better idea of the quality of construction, the neighbourhood, and the overall atmosphere.

Financing: If you need financing, talk to local banks and inquire about mortgage options. Portugal has competitive interest rates for foreigners.

Contracts and Legalities: Make sure you understand all the legal aspects of the purchase process. It is advisable to hire a lawyer who can review the contracts and ensure everything is in order.

Benefits of Living in Portugal

Living in Portugal has many benefits that make it an attractive destination for expats:

Quality of Life: Portugal offers an excellent quality of life at a relatively low cost. The combination of good weather, delicious food, and a rich cultural life makes it an ideal place to settle down.

Safety: Portugal is one of the safest countries in Europe, with low crime rates and a welcoming society.

Healthcare System: The healthcare system in Portugal is of high quality and accessible. Both the public and private systems offer excellent medical services.

Education: Portugal has a good education system, with options in both the public and private sectors. There are also several international schools for those looking for education in other languages.

Culture and Leisure: Living in Portugal means being surrounded by history, culture, and natural beauty. From local festivals and cultural events to outdoor activities and stunning beaches, there is always something to do and explore.

15. Final Reflections

Unforgettable Moments

Each trip to Portugal has been a collection of unforgettable moments. From the first sip of port wine to the last walk through Lisbon’s hills, I have always found something new and exciting with each visit.

Portuguese Hospitality: The friendliness and hospitality of the Portuguese people is something I always remember. From the owners of small cafés to tour guides, everyone goes the extra mile to ensure you have a great experience.

Cultural Richness: The cultural richness and history of Portugal never cease to amaze me. Every church, castle, and museum tells a part of the story that is fascinating to discover.

Final Tips

Keep an Open Mind: Traveling with an open mind will allow you to enjoy more of the experiences and local culture.

Enjoy the Moment: Take the time to enjoy the small moments, whether it’s having a coffee in a quiet square or listening to a street musician.

Make New Friends: Don’t hesitate to interact with locals and other travellers. Some of my best travel experiences have come from unexpected conversations and new friendships.

Portugal and Lisbon offer a unique experience full of history, culture, and beauty. With these essential tips and my personal experiences, I hope you are well prepared to make the most of your trip. Have a great trip and enjoy every moment!