I was in Portugal for the first time in May for Gosia and Miguel’s wedding, friends from our Stuttgart days. Happy for them, but secretly, also, happy for me – for Portugal has long been on my bucket list! And hopefully, on yours too. Without further ado:
Getting to Portugal
We flew in and out of Lisbon because that’s where our friends were getting married, but I do also find Lisbon to be a great hub for Portugal – the airport is near the city center, which makes travel quite stress free, and many airlines fly there. Tickets can drop to about 800+ from SG if you’re flexible with dates, but we weren’t because of the wedding, so we paid about a thousand dollars for ours on Air France.
What you can do is track flight prices for your dates on Google Flights – and keep an eye out for flight deals in the months leading up to your trip. I suggest looking for flight deals and fares about 5 months before the trip. From my research, British Air and Air France had the cheapest fares from Singapore – though I definitely recommend doing your own tracking as they’re bound to change depending on season.
One thing to note. For some reason, the airport goes by a few names: Lisbon Portela, Lisbon International Aeroporto, Lisbon Humbert Humbert.. I mean. Humberto Delgado Airport. They are all the same thing. Lisbon only has one airport, with two terminals, so if youre looking to route to/fro the airport, just plug in “Lisbon Airport” into google and one of them should pop up.
There are three main providers – Meo, Vodaphone, and NOS. The main question you’ll need to ask is whether you need calling capabilities or not: I don’t, so I opted for Data only cards.
Vodaphone Go – 15Eur for 30GB (15days)
MEO Enjoy (Connected Holidays Card) – 15Eur for 30GB (15days)
NOS Kanguru card – 15Eur for “unlimited” data, but they dont specify what point they throttle data speeds at (15days)
You can check out the coverage for each provider here on the Open Signal app. I didn’t want to go with NOS because the unspecified unlimited data was dodgy to me, and between MEO and Vodaphone, locals seemed to find the former to have better coverage, so I went with that. There’s only a Vodaphone counter at the airport, if you want to get a MEO card you’ll have to get it from any phone shop in the city.
They also have options for Data + Calls, which they market as the tourist option, but you get way less data for that, so be sure to specify that you want a data only card.
Cash or Card?
Lisbon is a very card friendly city – more so than in Thailand, for example, or Japan. Most places will accept visa or mastercard, but there will be the odd snack stand or small eatery that wont, so bring some cash on hand and always ask before sitting down if they accept card. There are a ton of ATMs everywhere, with fees ranging from 1-7 euros per withdrawal, so if youre running out of cash i suppose you can always draw money, though I’d still avoid this if posisble.
I recommend bringing a no-fee currency exchange card (because you’re going to be carding a lot of small purchases, like coffee and egg tarts), and then about 100-150 euros in cash for a 2 week trip. The no-fee card I use is YouTrip, which is free to sign up for, and by Singapore’s Ezlink company. I have zero affiliation with YouTrip but have been pretty happy with it so far (barring a couple of technical errors I’ll talk about in a separate post) so if you want to sign up KINDLY USE MY REFERRAL LINK so I can fund more of my Broke Student Guides hahahahaha.
A note on safety
There are policemen everywhere in Lisbon, and as a local told us, they’re there for our sakes. The increase in police patrols in the city can be charted against the rise in tourist interest in Lisbon, and it’s no coincidence! I have to say, I think it works – at no point did I feel unsafe in Lisbon, even though some smaller streets could be quiet and secluded at night. I met quite a few solo female travellers across Portugal, and we also attended a church in Lisbon, which specialized in helping migrants (it’s called Project Lisbon if you’re interested, and the church is Riverlife Independent). The internationals from Riverlife Independent also mentioned really liking Portugal because of how safe it was, which felt like a major vote of confidence. I think common sense rules still prevail – dont behave ostentatiously, dont leave your wallet and cameras on tables, etcetera – but overall, it felt like quite a safe place, and I think it’d be quite ideal for a girlfriends or solo trip.
Getting around Lisbon
In Lisbon, this is called the Viva Viagem card, and it’s a paper card that goes for 50c. You can get it at train /ferry stations and some pay point convenience stores, and use it on the metro, bus, tram, funicular, ferry and suburban train. I really recommend getting one because it makes each ride significantly cheaper than paying with cash on board (an option on the bus, trams, and funiculars).
You can pay per ride, per day, or per “zap”. Per ride it’s about 1.50Eur for a specific train journey, and per “zap” it’s approx 1.35Eur deducted from a bulk sum topped up into your card. There are several options for the day passes depending on whether you need to take the ferry or not.
Unlimited travel on metro and Carris, including bus, tram, funicular and lift.
Unlimited travel on metro, Carris and suburban train (Sintra, Cascais, Azambuja and Sado lines).
Unlimited travel on metro, Carris and ferry to Cacilhas (River Tejo connection).
The 6.40Eur pass is amazing value and I would really recommend getting it for at least one of the days in Lisbon because you can hit all the main attractions on that day, and then just walk around the city center for your other days. I wrote a separate post on what you can/should do on your 24 hour pass because this post was getting too long – please see the post here 🙂
There is also Uber – which is pretty affordable in Portugal. We took two ubers over our 14 days in Portugal, both in Lisbon. Once from the train station to our accomodation and once from our accommodation to the airport on the last day. Both rides were about 30 mins, and cost us approx 10Euros. You will want to consider this if you have a ton of baggage and your accommodation is far from the nearest train station because Lisbon is very cobbly and hilly. Actually, that makes the perfect segue to my next point:
Being kind to your feet
Part of Lisbon’s charm is that it’s built on a hill, which makes for the gorgeous winding views down to the water bank that its so famous for. But as with much of Europe, it’s also a cobblestone haven. Beautiful for the soul, tragedy on the soles. I thought that wearing sneakers would be good enough, but the constant uneven landings on the cobblestones kind of messed my feet up, and I somehow got injured in the last leg of my trip. Not by falling or tripping or anything, but I think my feet had just gotten fed up with all the bumping and the long and short of it was, I was limping the last 4 days of the trip. Turns out it was shin splints – which cost me $150 to diagnose at a 24hour clinic near my place, so get travel insurance. Seriously!! I cannot stress this enough.
If I were to return I’d definitely wear actual sport shoes – the kind with a very cushioned sole, to absorb maximum impact for the hours of walking. For reference, we walked about 20,000 steps a day according to my smart watch (htashtag samsung hashtag brand awareness hahaha), so believe me when I say the walking in Portugal was NO JOKE.
Because of the streets, I’d ideally also suggest that you pack light because its a real pain to drag/push your luggages on cobblestone.. but I dont see how that’s really possible if youre coming from Asia because chances are if youre travelling halfway across the world it’ll be a longer trip, and you’ll have all your clothes/ skincare/ etcetera. So in lieu of actually packing light, be mentally and emotionally prepared for the uphill luggage push I suppose.
Structuring your Lisbon trip
Because Belem is a bit further away – and of course you’re going to want to ride the very touristy trams and funiculars – you’ll get on their public transport system at some point during your trip, and that’s where their day transport pass comes in. I strongly recommend allocating one day as your Greatest Touristy Hits day and purchasing the pass for that day, and then covering the city on foot for your remaining days.
Again, this is the pass you want to be looking at:
Unlimited travel on metro and Carris, including bus, tram, funicular and lift.
It can only be purchased at the metro stations, and once activated, lasts for 24 hours. So if you use it at 11am for the first time, you can still take a bus/train to a further out spot for breakfast the next morning for free (which is what we did). This pass is really good value because it includes the tram and funiciular, but especially because it covers the funicular. There are three of them around Lisbon, and a single ride will set you back almost four euros per person. This alone makes the pass worth it in my opinion.
See my other blogpost: The Broke Student’s Guide: 24 hours in Lisbon for a breakdown of my suggested itinerary for your Greatest Touristy Hits day.
Onto general cost saving in Lisbon
Firstly, and most importantly, water in Lisbon is potable. You can drink from the tap, and there are also free water stations around the city (though they’re not signposted so if you’re not looking out for them you may miss them), this is what they look like:
You do a lot of walking in Lisbon, so you will get thirsty – bring a water bottle and refill it as you go to avoid racking up water-related costs.
Secondly, whenever you sit down at an eatery, the waiters will either serve you olives, bread, butter, cheese, or they’ll already be on the table. It’s easy to assume these are free because in Asia you’re always getting free table peanuts or whatever, but all these things are chargeable. Don’t eat them if you don’t want to pay for them. They’re not unreasonably priced, and several times I have opted to just pay for the bread and cheese (yum!), but you just have to know that they’re not complimentary.
Thirdly! Portion sizes in Portugal are huge. Seriously! Plus they eat five meals a day – breakfast at home, pastries outside, lunch, dinner, and supper with drinks. Food is a huge part of their culture, and for good reason – their food is delicious. The point is, order to share. Over-ordering is the easiest way to unconsciously rack up your costs, especially in a place where everything sounds good and smells better.
Five – do a free walking tour if you can. We didn’t get to do one in Lisbon because of time constraints, but we did in Porto, and really, really enjoyed ourselves. Also, at some point in Lisbon we were eavesdropping on one that was happening near us and it sounded super interesting!
Here are some free walking tour companies you can look at:
Please note – although it’s called a free walking tour, in Europe this really means a tips based tour. The tour guides normally only earn what they make in tips – they are not paid by the company, or government, or anything like that. I elaborated a bit more on this in my previous post: A Tale of Two Portos, but long story short, you must tip your guide. Normally you’re looking at 10 euros per person, or 15/20 if it’s excellent. This number fluctuates based on a variety of factors, like how long your tour is, how good your guide is, that kind of thing, but under no circumstances should you leave the tour without tipping, especially given that you’re benefiting from someone else’s time and work!
Wrapping up with some of my personal favorites
So I covered most of my favorite things in the other Lisbon blogpost already, but here are a couple of eateries that I loved, and that I couldn’t fit into that other post:
O Cantinho do Bem Estar
R. do Norte 46, 1200-283 Lisboa, Portugal
Octopus rice, Grilled fish, good wine. CASH ONLY.
R. do Poço dos Negros 47, 1200-348 Lisboa, Portugal
Octopus stew. Various seafood items. CASH ONLY
Praça Dom Luís i 10, 1200-161 Lisboa, Portugal
A wide variety of 1-2 Eur sandwiches, extremely yummy, and a great way to have a budget snack!
I have also created a shared google map with pins of places I’d bookmarked in Lisbon and Porto, here:
I didnt go to all the places in that map, but they were all recommended or researched. I like to create a map with pins before / on my trip, so that whenever I’m free or at a loss for what to do, I can just look at the map to see if any pins near me, then wander in that general direction. But do bear in mind that these are all just suggestions. The best part about Portugal is wandering around and discovering cool stuff, so don’t rush to finish an itinerary!
And one tip, if you must
Burger King is good in Portugal but Macs is kinda bleh.
Till next time!