Lisbon was arguably the BEST trip I've ever taken (it's really up there with Japan!) It was my first solo trip internationally, and I chose Lisbon because I wanted to get another taste of Europe after Greece (see my posts on Athens and Santorini), and, during winter, Portugal is relatively warm compared to NY and the rest of Europe (think a nice mild 45-60 F). Funny enough, I went solo, but it was the people I met there that made my time so amazing! But more on that later....
**UPDATED: As of 2/19/22, proof of vaccination or negative test is no longer needed to enter bars/restaurants! But still read on for other important information on entering Portugal.
Because this is the new normal, first COVID logistics of traveling to Portugal from the USA because I had SO MANY questions myself while planning this trip:
Regardless of vaccination status, a negative COVID test is needed to enter the country. Right after I left, the rules changed and proof of vaccination may be all that is needed, but whether that includes the CDC card is to be determined. Also proof of recovery is not accepted from America at this time. All of these details are here and are updated regularly.
You must fill out a passenger locator form for COVID tracking purposes in order to enter the country. (I don't remember showing it before boarding, only upon landing, but doesn't hurt to do so before).
**NO LONGER VALID AS OF 2/19/22** While in Portugal, be prepared to show negative test results to check into hotels and enter restaurants/bars if you can't show an EU Digital Certificate for proof of vaccination. NO, if you are American and were vaccinated in America, you cannot get the EU certificate. This means even if you are vaccinated in America, the CDC card is NOT *officially* accepted as proof, and you MAY have to test every 2-3 days to enter establishments. Some places are more lax than others. I only showed my negative test three times in the four days there and only re-tested once (FOR FREE) to go home!
Free rapid COVID testing units can be found outdoors. I did mine the day before my flight home near Cais de Sodre train/ferry station - this one stays open late too (until 8PM weekdays and 2AM Saturdays). Results came back in 2 hours. Pharmacies also offer testing for a fee, but check the hours. The pharmacy I inquired closed at 4PM and charged 30 euros.
Ok, bored yet?
~ Onto the fun stuff! ~
Helpful Tips - Packing
Don't forget a travel adapter to convert European outlets to US outlets!
If you plan to bring a rolling carry-on, I strongly urge you to reconsider. Not only is Lisbon full of steep hills, the sidewalks are NOT smooth AT ALL. Or take a cab from the airport or from the metro to your hotel to save energy / your luggage wheels.
Check the weather! Jan/Feb are the coldest months, so it’s best to pack layers - some sweaters, a light jacket, a heavier one, pants, and comfortable shoes! Leave the heels; I promise you won't need them.
Sit on the left side of the plane to get a great view of the April 25th Bridge on the way in! (Sit on the right on the way out if you missed it!) :)
I debated between getting a hotel room with a nice gym a bit further from the sites I wanted to see OR a bed in a shared hostel dorm right in the midst of everything. I ultimately opted for the hostel because of 1. price (like 20 euros / night), 2. location, 3. a particularly high rating for female solo travelers and 4. despite being solo, my desire to meet other people! The way I saw it, if I hated it, I never had to do it again.
(I hope this is you right now)
I stayed at Lost Inn Lisbon and was blown away by the community, the atmosphere, the FOOD! The community dinner I had here was possibly the best meal I had in Lisbon (SO glad I didn't go out for fado that night like I had planned)! In addition, there are daily sangria nights, bar crawls, and day trips if you so chose. Also the yoga mats came in handy for the one day I decided to do an quick outdoor workout (because the weather was just so nice!) I spent my days doing my own thing and looked forward to coming back at 8PM every night for free sangria, to reconnect with those I had met, and to see what new hostel guests would appear that night! Whenever I go back to Lisbon, I'd stay there every time! And I wish I was getting paid for this review, but unfortunately, I'm not at that level (yet)....
Getting from the airport was super easy once I found out where to get my Lisboa Card (that would be at the tourist booth in the airport BTW, ask around). The Lisboa Card covers the metro, trams, and buses, and select tourist attractions. It can be bought for 24 hr, 48 hr, or 72 hr. I opted for 72 hr for 42 euros. Due to the location of my hostel, I ended up not really needing the Lisboa Card and could have taken the metro a couple of times for 1.50 euro each and paid 5-10 euro here and there for some of the attractions. Also it didn't cover the train to Sintra (because it is not the METRO)** or the ferry across the Tagus River. Probably overpaid by 10-15 euros, but you live and you learn!
**Update 3/13: I’ve read the Lisboa Card DOES cover the train to Sintra, but I was misguided by a fellow passenger at the train station. I didn’t want to miss the train finding a train employee, so I just spent the 5 euros for a roundtrip ticket.
Lisbon has some BEAUTIFUL sites that leave a lasting memory! Colorful buildings, blue and white tile walls, monuments, the yellow trams, multiple viewpoints, and more! Some major places to go:
Belem Tower and Jeronimos Monastery - Beautiful monuments with lots of history! These are further west (~20 min by car or tram). You can visit these on the same day for 2-3 hours. Also drop into Pasteis de Belem while you're over here (more on this in the Cuisine section). Belem Tower cost (interior): 6 euros or free with Lisboa Card. Jeronimos cost (interior): 10 euros or free with Lisboa Card
Pink Street - red light district turned less raunchy nightlife spot (I did see a strip club here, though). The street is painted PINK :D And it is surprisingly empty during the day (maybe because Jan is low season) - so don't fuss about taking the perfect photo with no one around (unless it's high season, then maybe go first thing in the morning). Lost Inn Lisbon is right around the corner from it! Cost: free, unless you go into bars for a drink, of course!
Convento do Carmo - beautiful ruin of a convent whose roof was destroyed in a devastating earthquake. It is now a museum housing random artifacts (like 2 mummies of Peruvian children - WHY? I'd probably know if I took a guided tour, but I didn't this time). Cost: 5 euros, 4 if you have a Lisboa Card
Elevador de Santa Justa - a very cool and interesting tower with a lift that takes you up to a view point. You can pay to take the lift OR you can walk up the hill and enter from behind the bridge near Convento do Carmo for free. Cost to ride: 5 euros or free with Lisboa Card
Miradouro de Santa Luzia - another viewpoint with beautiful blue and white tile walls. Cost: free
Miradouro da Senhora do Monte - highest viewpoint in the city. It's cool, but I liked Santa Luzia better! Cost: free
Castelo Sao Jorge - a castle with another viewpoint. I didn't go, as I got my viewpoint fix at the two above, and my castle fix in Sintra - more on Sintra later! Cost: 8.50 euros
Lisbon Cathedral - beautiful inside and out. Get a nice photograph with a yellow tram driving by! Cost: not sure, only took a peek inside and that was free :D
Praca do Comercio / Arco da Rua Augusta - large plaza surrounded on three sides by large beautiful yellow buildings and the Tagus River to the south. If you walk north through the arch, there are lots of restaurants and shopping as well. Cost: free
Santuario de Cristo Rei - take a ferry for ~2 euros from Cais de Sodre station across the Tagus River to Cacilhas, then a bus ~3 euros to the "Big Jesus" statue, of course inspired by Christ the Redeemer in Brazil! Also get a great view of the April 25th Bridge from here (it looks like the Golden Gate Bridge because the same company built both!) Cost to go atop Cristo Reis: 5 euros
Some of my favorite sites: Belem Tower, Pink Street, Praca do Comercial, Jeronimos Monastery, Santa Luzia viewpoint, and Santa Justa Lift!
Many people take the opportunity to do day trips from Lisbon. Two popular places are Cascais for beaches and Sintra for palaces. I opted for Sintra, since Jan was not particularly beach weather. Besides Sintra's palaces are just magical!
I booked a private tour with Sophiatours, whom I found through a Facebook travel group, but you can also book on their site or Trip Advisor. They quoted me the best rate for an all-day tour (8 hours). We exchanged details through email and I met Nuno, my tour guide, at the Sintra train station. He can also pick up and drop off in Lisbon for an additional fee.
Sintra is such a beautiful place, and the palaces, even moreso! I definitely recommend booking a private tour if you want to get the most out of a day. The palaces are all in the mountains, and while I hear it's possible to walk from town to Quinta da Regaleira or to bus to Pena Palace and walk between Pena and Castelo dos Mouros, all of that just SOUNDS like a lot, plus I like tours that give context, PLUS the HILLS. With Nuno, I pretty much made my own itinerary, and as the expert guide, he took me around by car, gave me incredible context (like watching the History Channel live), and even introduced to me some surprise delights such as a special treat in Sintra called the "Travesseiro de Piriquita" at Casita Piriquita and an added trip at sunset to Cabo da Roca - the furthest western point of continental Europe!
Pictured: Pastries at Casa Piriquita, accessories made of cork, and Cabo da Roca
Views of the Atlantic from Cabo da Roca
Lisbon/Portugal has quite a few staples:
Pasteis de nata - an egg custard tart you'll find all over Lisbon BUT originated at Pasteis de Belem. The recipe is secret, so anything else is just not the same thing, although not bad either!
Sardines - can be found year-round but summer-time is the best time to have them
Polvo - I twice had polvo a lagareiro, an octopus dish with potatoes and olive oil, because it was so good!
Bacalhau - in English, codfish, is another popular fish here. I often found it as a croquette, but also wanted to try bacalhau a braz - codfish with egg and potato.
Vinho verde - green wine only found in a certain region in Portugal. The wine itself is sweet and bubbly!
Ginjinha - a cherry liquor originated in Lisbon. You can find this many places including carts/stands or shops like "A Ginjinha" specifically selling shots of it for less than 2 euros.
Time Out Market - we have one in NYC but not as eye-catching! Also plenty of Portuguese food to try here, although pricier.
Port wine - Port wine is from Porto, Portugal, 3-4 hrs north of Lisbon, but you can try it in Lisbon too!
Other things that make Lisbon Lisbon!
Azulejos - or tiles! Tiled walls and buildings of all colors galore!
Fado - a style of music/theatrical performance that originated in Lisbon and can be watched at some restaurants. I never made it around to a show, but next time!
Cork products - cork bags, cork earrings, cork clothing! 70% of the world's cork is produced in Portugal! I even made an impression in a cork tree with my nails - the bark is so soft!
Yellow trams - Snap a pic with one! There are also the funiculars (Elevador da Bica and Gloria Funicular). Elevador da Bica was closed temporarily, and I didn't get around to Gloria.
Whew! So I went through a lot there! But don't worry, 4 days is ample time to do all of this! I even took naps and wandered around at times. To make it easy, I'm also putting together a nice sample 4-day itinerary, including 1 day in Sintra. This is not exactly how I did it, but given what I know now, how I'd recommend you do it to maximize your time if you particularly care about seeing all the main attractions!
Have you been to Lisbon? What was your impression? See the I Love Portugal photo gallery for all the fun!