If you’re traveling to Lisbon for the first time, you may be wondering what mistakes to avoid. After all, this photographic city has a lot to offer!
It can be hard to know what to expect when visiting a new place. From avoiding scams to getting around in Lisbon and restaurant tips to local tours, I’ve got you covered so you can seamlessly travel within Lisbon, Portugal on your first visit.
Here, you’ll learn the 31 biggest mistakes people make when visiting Lisbon for the first time. You’ll also get some tips on how to avoid them and create the best travel plans for Lisbon!
31 Most Common Mistakes to Avoid When Traveling to Lisbon
1. Not reviewing the travel updates regarding Covid, including vaccines and tests.
Travel rules are constantly changing. Traveling to Portugal during the Covid pandemic can be a bit tricky. To ensure that you are able to fly and get your feet in Lisbon, avoid the mistake of not checking Covid restrictions for the country.
Make sure you are up to date on the latest travel restrictions and advisories before you go.
Currently, all non-essential travel to Portugal is allowed, however, you’ll need to meet one of these criteria in order to enter the country (this applies mostly to US residents):
- Be vaccinated – typically within 270 days of travel dates
- Have the booster – at least 14 days before travel dates
- Provide proof of a negative PCR Covid test – check this page for approved tests
Travel restrictions for going to the islands of Portugal may be different, so make sure you are also updated on those advisories before going.
When returning to the USA, you’ll also need to provide proof of negative Covid test results regardless of your vaccination status. Make sure that it’s 1 calendar day* before your flight departure.
*1 calendar day does not equate to 24 hours before your departure time. For example, if you are flying out on Saturday at 9 am, your Covid test needs to be taken on Friday anytime before midnight.
Pro-Tip: Order Covid tests from EMed to take with you so you can test with a certified health care professional in the comfort of your hotel room instead of standing in line at a pharmacy in Lisbon the night before flying. Take 2 tests with you so you have a back up in case you do contract Covid.
2. Not checking the weather and crowd meter before booking your ticket.
Depending on when you go to Lisbon, you’ll need to be aware of the high tourist season and the weather. This is not a mistake you want to make if you’re particular about the weather or how crowded touristy sites can be.
The city is busiest from June to September, and it can be difficult to find a parking spot or a place to sit in a cafe. However, the weather can also get pretty warm during the summer months. If you’d like to get to Lisbon before the crowds start coming in, May is a great time to visit Lisbon!
If you aren’t a fan of large crowds and want cooler weather, plan your trip for October or November instead. The weather is still nice at this time of year and there are fewer tourists in the city.
Read a more in-depth description of when to visit Portugal by Julie, who lives full-time in Portugal.
3. Not planning for your airport transfer before you fly.
When planning your trip to Lisbon, it’s important to factor in how you’ll get from the airport to your hotel. Don’t make the mistake of landing and not having a clue on how to get to your hotel.
Here are a few tips to help make the process easier:
- Make sure you have directions from the airport to your hotel. This will make public transit much easier, which was the option we chose when we arrived in Lisbon. We took the Aeroporto Metro Station to our hotel, suitcase and all!
- If you’re renting a car, make sure you know where the rental agency is located and that you can use your maps app on your phone when you land. (Check to see if you need to unlock your phone and purchase a SIM card, or if you plan to use your current carrier’s international data.)
- If you’re taking a taxi, make sure you have the address and phone number of your hotel. After our mishap with the metro station in Lisbon (see mistake #8), we fully relied on taxis to get to the train stations and airports.
- Pre-book your airport transfer so you don’t have to worry about it when you arrive.
4. Not looking into the tourist cards such as the Lisbon Card.
The Lisbon Card also referred to as the Lisboa Card, offers free and unlimited transportation on buses, trams, and the metro, as well as discounts at various top attractions.
Some of the top attractions are included in the Lisbon Card so you can even get free admission! A few of these attractions include the Lisboa Story Center, The Jerónimos Monastery, National Tile Musuem, the Santa Justa Lift, and so much more!
It can be very useful for tourists who want to save money while exploring these cities. The price differs depending on how many days you want to use it. We decided to purchase the 72-hour card and paid a little under $100 for both of us.
For how much we used public transportation (even with a day trip to Sintra), it’s totally worth the price!
I would highly recommend purchasing the Lisbon Card before you arrive so that when you get into the airport, you can easily show your QR code or confirmation. When you pick up your Lisbon Card, they’ll even provide you with a digital map to use.
Make sure to double check the top attractions that are included in the Lisbon Card so you aren’t paying addtional costs!
Ready to purchase your Lisbon Card? Click here!
5. Mixing up Portuguese and Spanish.
Portuguese is the official language of Portugal.
Although Portuguese and Spanish are both Romance languages they are quite different from each other. For starters, Portuguese is spoken in Portugal (and Brazil, though a different dialect) while Spanish is spoken in Spain and many Latin American countries.
Spanish has many more cognates (words that are similar in both languages) than Portuguese, which can make it easier for Spanish speakers to learn Portuguese.
This can obviously create confusion and misunderstandings! So if you’re traveling to Lisbon, be sure to brush up on your Portuguese before you go as some may find your use of Spanish offensive!
Even if you learn just a little Portuguese, that will help you immensely! Don’t make the mistake of saying “gracias” instead of “obrigada!”
Here are a few helpful resources:
- Babbel (You can earn miles with Alaska if you sign up through their portal – travel hack!)
- Pimsleur Portuguese – There’s a 7-day free trial so you can learn all you can before you go within that week!
- If you are flying TAP Portugal, they have language lessons you can watch in flight!
6. Pulling cash out from the wrong ATM.
Money is always a big concern when travelers are on the go. And Portugal is no exception! Even though Portugal is often cited as one of the least expensive European countries, you’ll still want to budget well for your trip.
One of the main reasons that it can be quite expensive is taking money out of an ATM. Most banks charge a fee for each withdrawal, and the exchange rate is usually not in your favor.
So, how do you avoid this? The best way is to research which banks have ATMs that are compatible with your bank card. For example, if you have a US bank account, you’ll want to find an ATM from a Portuguese bank that accepts Visa or Mastercard.
Pro-tip: If you’re in a pinch, find the big “M” or Multibanco ATMs to pull cash from, NOT Euronet as the fees can get very high!
If you want to avoid the ATM altogether, you can order Euros from your home to take cash with you and then carry credit cards with you while traveling in Lisbon. Credit cards are on top of fraudulent transactions more so than debit cards anyway, so you can easily give them a call to freeze your account if you find transactions you didn’t make.
You don’t need much cash on hand either, as many places can take credit card payments. We took about 500 euros with us and that was plenty for 9 days of traveling in Portugal.
Read about my favorite travel credit card to use abroad.
7. Renting a car.
Renting a car in Lisbon can be a bad idea for a few reasons. First, the city is incredibly crowded and parking can be difficult to find and expensive. Second, Lisbon is a very hilly city and the roads can be quite winding and narrow.
Third, most cars in Lisbon are manuals. So unless you’re an experienced driver who is comfortable driving on crowded, hilly, and winding roads while shifting gears, I recommend sticking to public transportation!
Lisbon’s public transportation system is actually quite good and efficient. The metro (subway) and busses (which we prefer) are clean, safe, and two of the cheapest ways to get around. And if you’re staying in the city center, you’ll be able to get around on foot quite easily as most of the attractions are within walking distance.
Taxis are also readily available and reasonably priced. Just be sure to use a reputable taxi service such as Green Taxi or Uber.
If you’re traveling outside of Lisbon, I recommend taking the bus or train as they are usually cheaper and just as efficient for getting around.
You can, however, rent a car if you are planning a road trip around Portugal. Instead of renting a car right as you start your trip, explore Lisbon first and then pick up your rental car as you start your road trip north to Porto or south to Algarve.
8. Relying fully on the metro trains.
Although I’ve just harped on how great Lisbon’s public transportation is, the metro specifically can be unreliable at times, which can be frustrating for tourists. This is especially true during rush hour when the trains are often packed and can be quite slow.
There have also been occasions where the metro has stopped working completely without any warning or the workers go on strike but this isn’t announced to tourists.
So if you’re relying on the metro to get around Lisbon, I would highly recommend having a backup plan just in case. We mostly rode the bus for transit or walked while in Lisbon.
True story: We were trying to take the metro to the train station so we could board the train to Porto. The metros stopped working and we had a very hard time finding a taxi as EV-ER-Y-ONE was also trying to find one. Lesson learned: download Uber for backup, see next point.
9. Not taking an Uber.
After exhausting all options such as taking the bus, metro, or taxis, you can book an Uber.
Uber is a great way to get around Lisbon as it’s easy to use and quite affordable. Uber is also a great option especially if you’re not familiar with the city.
The app is very intuitive and you can see how far away your driver is and what their estimated time of arrival is.
You can also pay for your ride through the app. Just be sure to download the Uber app and have your credit card information stored in the app before you try to book a ride.
10. Using the wrong bag to pack for your trip to Lisbon.
If you’re planning on packing a rolling suitcase for your trip to Lisbon, be prepared to have a little bit of a difficult time. The cobblestone streets aroudn the city are quite uneven and can easily cause your suitcase to roll bumpily behind you.
In addition, you might be hiking uphill to get to your accommodation, so it can be a little troublesome to roll your luggage behind you.
I would highly recommend packing a backpack for your travel if you are able to so you can easily walk without having to worry if your suitcase will lose a wheel.
Not sure where to start? Check out my Amazon list for my favorite backpacks!
11. Forgetting to pack your best walking shoes with grip.
When traveling to Lisbon, it’s important to pack good walking shoes with grip. The streets in the city center are quite uneven and you can easily roll an ankle if you’re not careful. If it rains, the cobblestones can also get pretty slick.
On top of this, you’ll be doing a lot of walking, especially going uphill. So it’s important to have comfortable walking shoes that won’t give you blisters or plantar fasciitis. (Don’t pack high heels-they might not even see the light of day!)
When we arrived in Lisbon, I was not prepared for all the walking we had to do and the shoes I did bring were new (Toms), so I hadn’t broken them in yet. We then spent over $100 paying for new shoes (Skechers) while in Lisbon and my feet felt much better over the course of our trip.
I now swear by Skechers as they were SO comfortable and made my feet feel good while walking 5-10 miles per day!
Don’t make the same packing mistake I did!
Need some comfortable walking shoes today? These Skechers are my favorite!
12. Forgetting your water bottle.
Lisbon is a hot city with tons of uphills, and it’s easy to get dehydrated during your visit. That’s why it’s important to carry a water bottle with you wherever you go. You can refill your water bottle at any of the many water fountains located throughout the city.
And don’t forget to drink plenty of water, especially if you’re walking around in the heat!
13. Not applying sunscreen… or not packing a rain jacket.
The sun in Lisbon is incredibly strong and it’s easy to get a sunburn, even if you’re only outside for a short period of time.
I would highly recommend applying sunscreen every day, especially in the afternoon when the sun is at its strongest. And don’t forget to reapply sunscreen every few hours!
In addition, although Lisbon is known for its sunny weather, it does rain from time to time. Packing a rain jacket or umbrella just in case you run into a shower while you’re out exploring the city would be a good idea.
14. Hopping on Tram 28.
Tram 28 is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Lisbon. Although it’s a tourist attraction, Tram 28 is actually public transportation that winds its way through the city’s narrow streets, thus, making it a great way to see the sights as it goes all around the city center of Lisbon.
However, because Tram 28 is so popular with tourists, it can often be quite crowded and the line can be ridiculously long! It’s also the perfect opportunity for pick-pocketing.
If you’d like to experience riding a tram, try out Tram 15 instead which can take you to Belem, or ride the Gloria Tram which takes you up to a spectacular viewpoint, Sao Pedro de Alcantara.
15. Not watching out for scammers and pickpockets.
When traveling to Lisbon, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and be cautious of pickpockets.
Pickpockets often target tourists, as they know they’re likely carrying valuables with them. So it’s important to keep your belongings close to you and be aware of who is around you.
If you’re in a crowded area, keep your bag in front of you and be sure to zip it up. If you’re carrying a backpack, wear it on your front so you can easily keep an eye on it.
You’ll also want to watch out for scammers as you’ll be in a high tourist area. One scam to be aware of is purchasing cannabis from men who approach you. Just say no thanks and keep on walking.
16. Not learning about the history of Lisbon.
The history of Lisbon is incredibly important and should not be overlooked when visiting the city. The city was founded by the Phoenicians in 1200 BC and has been inhabited by a variety of groups over the years, including the Celts, the Romans, the Moors, and the Portuguese.
Each of these groups has left their mark on the city and its culture.
17. Not taking advantage of a local tour guide.
If you’re interested in getting to know Lisbon even better, I would highly recommend touring the city with a local guide. A local guide will be able to show you all of the best places to visit and tell you about the city’s history and culture.
They’ll also be able to tell you about the best places to eat and drink, as well as where to find the best views and hidden gems!
We did a food tour with Eating Europe and our guide Beatriz was so helpful in explaining Lisbon’s history as well as pointing out specific churches to visit and giving directions on visiting some viewpoints.
18. Planning a trip to a museum or monument on Mondays.
Most of Lisbon’s museums and monuments are closed on Mondays, so be sure to check the hours before planning a visit. This includes popular attractions such as the Jerónimos Monastery, the Tower of Belem, and the Monument of Discoveries.
However, there are a few attractions that are open on Mondays, including the Castle of Sao Jorge, the Lisboa Story Museum, and everything you’d need to see in Sintra.
19. Standing in line to wait for the Santa Justa Lift.
The Santa Justa Lift is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Lisbon and is open every day. It’s a beautiful cast-iron elevator that connects the lower part of the city with the higher part.
However, I feel like the Santa Justa Lift is overhyped. There were long lines every time we would walk past it and you can easily find other panoramic viewpoints that are just as great, such as that from the Sao Jorge Castle or Sao Pedro de Alcantara.
Take a photo of the Santa Justa Elevator and keep exploring.
20. Waiting in line for the Belem Tower.
If you’re in Lisbon, you’ll definitely want to visit the Belem Tower. It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city and is located in the Belem district.
But don’t wait in line to go inside the tower – the line can be quite long and it’s not worth the wait. You can get just as good of views from the outside, especially during the golden hour, and get some beautiful pictures!
Getting to the Belem Tower can also be a little tricky as you’ll get off the bus near the Jerónimos Monastery. To get to the Belem Tower, you’ll need to take the stairs that go under the street so you can cross over to the other side.
There is also a set of stairs that take you over a bridge over to the other side, but you’ll need to walk further to get to those stairs.
When you’ve taken all the pictures at Belem Tower, make sure to backtrack to the Monument to the Discoveries as well. (This was N’s absolute favorite monument of our whole trip!)
21. Getting stuck in tourist traps, especially in restaurants.
When you’re visiting, you’ll want to make sure to not fall into tourist traps, especially at restaurants.
Meals can get pretty expensive when you’re traveling and it’s no different in Lisbon. This means that you would be paying high prices for meals that are significantly lower in cost maybe 2-3 blocks away from the touristy areas.
You can usually tell it’s a tourist trap when the menus have multiple languages or has pictures you can choose from. Some of these places may not even have good food!
I recommend walking a little further past the touristy areas to find places locals would eat at to get the best prices and sometimes even more delicious meals.
22. Expecting to eat dinner at 6 pm.
In Portugal, people don’t start eating dinner until 7 pm, and that’s an early dinner! You might even find people sitting down to eat dinner around 10 pm and staying out until midnight! Because of this, some restaurants won’t even open until 7 pm to start serving dinner.
It may be hard to get used to this timing, but your body will adjust especially if you’re experiencing jet lag. You’ll start to wake up a little later and be up later, too.
However, keep this tip in mind as some restaurants (those in the tourist traps) will open earlier for tourists who are used to eating dinner before 7 pm.
23. Missing out on good local food.
You’ll definitely want to be aware of Portuguese gastronomy. Pasteis de Natas are a no-brainer (and gets their own point). But you cannot miss out on bifanas, pregos, and francesinha as they are some of the most popular dishes.
If you like trying out different alcoholic beverages, grab a pint of Super Bock beer to go with your bifana, or try out the ginjinha, aka ginja, liqueur made from sour cherries.
If you have a chance, go on a food tour to get a taste of all the different dishes Lisbon has to offer. We did a food tour with Eating Europe as mentioned, and it was one of my favorite activities of our trip as we got to see some local eateries!
24. Not eating your fill of Pasteis de Nata.
Pasteis de Nata are a Portuguese pastry that is made with puff pastry, sugar, and egg yolk. They are usually served with a dollop of icing sugar or cinnamon on top and can be found at most cafes in Lisbon.
The Pasteis de Nata were originally created in the 18th century by Catholic monks and nuns at the Jeronimos Monastery. Due to a lack of laundry detergent, they would use egg whites to starch their clothing but were always left with the egg yolks.
Not wanting the yolks to go to waste, they created the Pasties de Nata, and today these pastries are a staple of Portuguese cuisine and you can find them all over the city.
They are absolutely delicious and I would highly recommend trying them while you’re in Lisbon! One of the most popular places to get Pasteis de Nata is at Fabrica, which is where we tried our first pastry.
After eating my fill, my favorite Pasteis de Nata was found in Belem, just because they were not as sweet (so I could eat more!). However, they are so famous, that you’ll be sure to get a good batch from anywhere.
25. Expecting a large cup of coffee in the morning.
Coffee is a big part of the Portuguese culture and you can find cafes on almost every street corner. However, coffee in Lisbon is served quite differently than in the United States.
In the US, we are used to getting a large cup of coffee in the morning. But in Lisbon, a small cup of coffee is normal and usually referred to as “espresso.” You’ll understand the difference when you see that coffee costs about 1-2 euros.
The coffee is also quite strong, so if you’re not a fan of black coffee, be sure to ask for a ‘pingado,’ which is a small amount of milk added to the coffee.
26. Thinking water and refills are free.
In the US, we’re used to requesting a cup of water at a restaurant or expecting a refill when our drinks have been drained. It’s not the same when in Portugal.
When you’re eating out in Lisbon, you’ll need to pay for water or refills. Most restaurants will charge you a few euros for a large bottle of water or for refilling your glass.
So be sure to ask before ordering if you don’t want to be surprised with a bill at the end of your meal.
27. Thinking bread and olives are free.
When you’re eating out in Lisbon, waiters will place bread or olives in front of you (similar to tortilla chips and salsa in a Mexican restaurant). But keep in mind that this is not free.
If you take a bite, you’ll need to pay for it. Most restaurants will charge you a few euros for a basket of bread or a plate of olives.
Again, be sure to ask before ordering so you won’t be surprised with a bill when you are ready to leave.
28. Seeing ‘bacalhau’ everywhere and not knowing what it is.
Bacalhau is the Portuguese word for salted cod. It is one of the most popular dishes in Portugal and can be found in most restaurants.
The cod is usually served with boiled potatoes, rice, and salad. You’ll also find several places that sell bacalhau croquettes, which are fried cod fish mixed with potatoes and shaped into a little ball (not my favorite).
I tried bacalhau for the first time when I was in Lisbon and wasn’t a big fan of it by itself. The only dish that I did enjoy cod was on our food tour where they had cooked it in a salad called bacalhau a brash. That was the best cod I had in Portugal!
If you see bacalhau, give it a try – you may just find your next favorite seafood dish!
29. Overtipping the waiters.
In the United States, it is customary to tip waiters before leaving the restaurant. But in Lisbon, waiters don’t really expect a tip.
When you’re dining out in Lisbon, you can leave a small tip, such as rounding up your bill, if you feel that your waiter or waitress has done an exceptional job.
30. Visiting all the miradouros in Lisbon.
There are quite a few miradouros in Lisbon, which are basically public squares with an amazing view of the city. They are a great place to stop and take a break while exploring the city.
But if you’re short on time (or even tired of all the walking across the city), I would recommend choosing only one. The views are beautiful, but they are all very similar and you can get the same views from other places in the city (such as some of the rooftop bars).
We did go to Sao Pedro de Alcantara where on the weekends, there are food vendors and musicians who come to play so you can have an amazing evening overlooking Lisbon here.
You can also take the Gloria Tram to get to this viewpoint, checking 2 things off your Lisbon to-do list!
31. Setting enough time for the customs line in the Lisbon airport.
When we were returning home from our trip to Lisbon, we got through the security line fairly quickly. But we were surprised by the long customs line. Don’t make the same mistake we did!
We had to wait about an hour to get through the line and go through customs, which comes after going through security.
If you’re traveling to Lisbon, be sure to set aside enough time for the customs line at the airport. It can get quite long, especially during peak travel times.
Bonus: Getting Stressed at the Lisbon Airport
The Lisbon Airport does not make my list of good airports to fly into. The staff is not very friendly (pretty rude actually, especially the ladies at the gates), departure gates aren’t updated in a timely manner, and you can’t fill up on water anywhere.
The signs are not intuitive and it can feel like you’re going the wrong way (but it’s the right way) and the lines are also pretty long (especially for customs). If you’re leaving from the Lisbon airport to head back home, give yourself plenty of time and patience!
Final Thoughts on Common Mistakes to Avoid When Traveling to Lisbon
Lisbon is an incredible city with so much to see and do. I hope this list of best Lisbon travel tips will help you avoid some of the most common mistakes that tourists make when traveling to Lisbon!
Have you been to Lisbon? What other tips would you add for first-time visitors? Let me know in the comments! Safe travels!
Other blog posts you may be interested in:
- 39 Beautiful Photos to Inspire Your Portugal Trip
- 2 Days in Porto – The Perfect Weekend Itinerary
- How to Spend a Day in Braga, Portugal
- Is Belem Worth Visiting: 7+ Best Things to Do in Half a Day
- Lisbon to Porto Train: 5 Steps to a Successful Ride
- How to Get from Lisbon to Porto: 5 Best Options to Help You Plan
- 21 Best Foodie Cities in Europe For Food Enthusiasts
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My Favorite Travel Tips + Resources
Here is a quick glance at all my go-to travel tips and resources that I use to plan every trip! For more information, check out my travel resources page.
- Booking flights: I use Google Flights to check all routes and find the best flights. Then I compare them with Expedia (for reward points) and Skyscanner (for the lowest prices) before I book.
- Accommodations: I love budget-friendly rentals or booking at a hotel where I can earn points. For hotels, I go through Booking.com or book directly with Marriott (for points + rewards). When I travel internationally, I’ll book through Hostelworld for very budget-friendly stays. For vacation rentals, I usually look through Airbnb, but you could also use Vrbo. Expedia also has some great bundles for hotels, flights, and car rentals altogether.
- Transportation: For travel in the United States, I love renting through Expedia with Enterprise or Thrifty. They have been consistent and provide the best customer service. For international travel, I’ll book through Rome2Rio or Eurail for trains or bus fares.
- Travel Credit Card: I book all my travel (flights, hotels, car rentals) through my favorite travel credit card. I also use this card for everything on my trip including dining, excursions, and souvenirs. Apart from earning 5x more points towards free travel, there are amazing benefits: no foreign transaction fees, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, trip delay reimbursement (so I can book worry-free), fraud protection, emergency assistance – it’s really a great deal! Check it out here!
- Vaccines and Medications: Check the CDC website for updates on necessary vaccines to enter a country, including updates on Covid-19 and recommended places to visit. I recommend getting all the vaccines you need before you go!
- Tours + Experiences: I absolutely love my tours! Everything from eerie walking ghost tours to food tours, I’ll usually book something every trip either through Viator or GetYourGuide. I also love LastMinute.com for very affordable tickets to theaters and other experiences in Europe.
- What to Pack: I almost always travel by backpack. For products I like, check out my packing guide page for all the things I take with me on different trips.