Seeing as it was our first time in Lisbon, we’d read countless blogs and felt relatively prepared for our weekend exploring. But as always, we couldn’t possibly know everything before we arrived, and part of the fun exploring new places is learning what you didn’t already know. So here are a few hints and tips that we wish we’d known at the start of our trip, that will help you get the most out of your visit, and hopefully save you time and money as well.
Welcome to Backpacks and Beverages!
Hi there ! We're Joe and Nat.
We both share a passion for drinking around the world and our aim is to explore as many countries as possible.
1 - Don't Queue for the Santa Justa Lift
The Elevador de Santa Justa is Lisbon’s only vertical lift, and is located within the historic centre on Santa Justa Street. The iron structure stands at 45 metres tall and provides a viewing platform with spectacular views over all of Lisbon, while also connecting the upper and lower districts.
However, the queue for the lift ride is insanely long and judging by the trip advisor reviews, this remains a problem all year round. We had been waiting in the queue for over an hour before we realised that you can easily walk to the viewpoint platform in under 5 minutes. The walk to the viewing platform is not sign posted, and Joe luckily just happened to stumble upon it.
There is a set of stairs (pictured) located next to MUJI opposite H & M, which is the start of the route to the top of the viewpoint. Turn right at the top of these stairs and you will see that there is another set of stairs that takes you further up. Follow these until you reach the top and you will be faced with a large monastery directly in front of you (you won’t miss it!).
To the right of the monastery you will see a restaurant, Bellalisa Elevador, a beautiful backdrop for a sunset and sipping a glass of vino overlooking the terracotta rooftops.
If you walk up the small steps and carry on past the restaurant, you’ll come onto a bridge adorned with love locks that leads to the spiral staircase up to the viewing platform.
There is. charge of €1.50 per person to enter and you have to pay this even if you came up via the lift, so really, you’re saving money, and you’ve definitley earned a cold one from climbing those stairs!
If you want to ride the elevator then by all means you can! Just be aware of the long wait times and the additional €5.15 charge, which in our opinion isn't worth it. Just walk up and enjoy the view.
2 - Tips for Visiting Sintra's Palaces & Castles
If you do have a day spare, a day trip to the fairy tale castles of Pena Palace in Sintra is a must! We have spoken a lot about Sintra in our blog, Lisbon: A 3-Day Itinerary so check that out for some more information on how to take a day trip to Sintra.
Purchasing your tickets for Pena Palace can be easily done online on the day and this gives you a 5% discount on the gate prices. They accept screenshot tickets on phones so no need to worry about printing tickets out.
We added the extra ‘Inside the Castle’ to our tickets, as we thought this was needed to view the Palace and the surreal views over the valley and town below.
If you like history and you're interested in learning a bit about how Portugese Royalty used to live then you should do this too.
However, the queue to enter was ridiculous and easily took over an hour for us to wind our way to the entrance. If like us, you aren’t interested in four poster beds and murals painted on ceilings, we suggest you save yourself time and money as you don't actually need to wait in this queue to enter the palace grounds.
The Palace and it's grounds are the most impressive part of the day and this is already included in the Entrance only ticket. Plus, you will have the satisfaction of walking up past the queue of people who will wait for up to two hours to get the same view as you. You’ll likely pass them again on your way back down!
Now that you have saved yourself an hour or two queueing at Pena Palace, use this time to visit Castelo Dos Mouros.
Castelo Dos Mouros is noted as the least visited castle in Sintra, and it’s easy to see why due to its mostly grey exterior compared to the bright colours of Pena Palace. You can just about make it out in this photo we took from the 'wall walk' at Pena.
If you do choose to venture over and walk up to the top though, you will be rewarded with some of the most picturesque views of Pena Palace. Something we realised when looking down and thinking, “I bet this looks great from down there”.
3 - Don't Waste Your Money on Airport Transfers
Black cabs and Ubers are surprisingly inexpensive with fares around the city never exceeding a few euros, so bare this in mind if you are planning on pre-booking your airport transfer.
You might think if you book early that you’ll save some money, sounds normal doesn’t it. Well, that’s the wrong answer for Lisbon! Our flight was delayed, and our airport transfer kindly decided not to show at 1.30am 😊 Luckily, a black cab ride to our apartment in Sao Bento cost us just €11.00, significantly cheaper than what we’d paid for our pre-booked ride. So, after fighting for a refund we ended up saving money. Karma’s great!
Uber is also cheaper to use than in most European countries, sometimes working out at the same price or cheaper than if we had paid to do a single journey on the metro. Handy if you’re in a rush or want to explore up until the very last minute, as an Uber from the centre of Lisbon to the airport costs around €9.00 and takes around 15 mins.
If you do happen to use Uber, here’s our invite code: natalieh4280ue
4 - Visit Time Out Market on a Rainy Day
If you are unfortunate like us to have the odd rainy day or afternoon, Mercado da Ribeira (Time Out Market) is the perfect place to pass the time without missing out on Lisbon’s best eats. Boasting 32 gourmet food and drink kiosks, offering the best of the city’s dishes all under one roof.
Due to its popularity, try and aim for out of hours meal times if you can, around mid-afternoon or late evening would be best. Finding a seat can be extremely difficult, so if you do stumble upon a free space, we’d suggest leaving a low value jacket or something else on the seat (Nat wanted to leave Joe) while you go grab your food!
Our personal picks include: Balcao da Esquina’s Roast Pork Sandwich, Asian Lab’s Pad Thai, Manteigaria’s Pasteis de nata (regarded by some as the best in the city!), Sea Me’s Octopus Hot Dog and Café de Sao Bento’s Garlic Shrimp. Mmm
Even if the weather is on your side, you should still visit!
5 - Buy a Viva Viagem Travel Card
You can purchase a Viva Viagem card for €0.50 from any metro and suburban train station from the automatic ticket machines, or from the ticket office. When you purchase the card, you’ll have the option to add 24-hour travel, a single journey or use the “zapping” option and upload €5, €10 or €15 etc, and be charged for the individual journeys you take (similar to contactless on the tube in London).
These are the best value for money options (at the time of writing), if you’re planning on:
- Travelling around a lot on the bus, tram and metro = 1-day ticket, €6.40 (valid for 24 hours).
- Travelling from Lisbon to either Sintra/Cascais/Estoril on the train = zapping option, €1.90 each way.
- Travelling on the metro and train between Sintra/Cascais/Estoril = 1-day ticket, €10.55 (valid for 24 hours).
The train from Rossio (in central Lisbon) to Sintra is one of the most popular journeys and you will most likely see a huge queue of people in the train station purchasing train tickets to Sintra. DO NOT JOIN IT! You can purchase these tickets from the automated machine in Rossio Metro (5 mins walk away) or any other Metro station with zero time wasted queueing.
Another point to note, we went to Sintra on a Saturday so bad planning from us, but the train was PACKED, so try and aim to get there as early as you can. There were 9 carriages though which is a commuter’s dream!
6 - Ask for Ginjiha in a Chocolate Cup
You must make sure you visit a Ginjinha stand during your visit to Lisbon! It is a traditional Portuguese cherry liqueur and is served by small stores and street vendors all over the city.
Try Ginginha do Carmo, which is conveniently located at the bottom of our favourite street in Barrio Alto that is lined with bars and restaurants.
Make sure you opt for the chocolate cup as well. By doing this you get an extra refill for your money and the chocolate is so good! 😊
7 - Be Savvy at Castelo Sao Jorge
The best views over the city's beautiful terracotta roofs can be found during a visit to Castelo Sao Jorge.
Unlike Pena Palace they don’t offer online tickets, so bare this in mind if you are tight on time as you will have to queue. The line will be quite long during busy times, but don't worry too much as it does move pretty quickly.
Anyone lucky enough to be under 25 benefits from a half price ticket too, so make sure you bring some form of ID if you are asked to prove this.
There we have it, 8 things we wish we knew before arriving in Lisbon. We really hope these help you out and help you make the most of your trip to this fantastic city. If you have any suggestions that we might have missed, we would love to hear them in the comments below!