Introduction – This blog post was inspired by all the lost and confused tourists I meet around the city, who in turn are wasting losts of money! I know it is difficult to know what is best to do and how best to save money. So… this is general advice about how you can save money in Lisbon but also get the most culture out of your visit.
I am not pretending that I am the expert on this city but this is all based on my experience of living in Lisbon for 8 months.
Introducing my Top 15 tips:
1 – Get a Viva card if travelling a lot
You need these for the metro anyway and are available in every metro station. They can be used on every form of public transport in Lisbon; including the metro, trains, trams, buses, ‘elevadors’, trams and even the lifts. Keep it topped up and it will save you queuing as well as paying over the odds when buying a ticket on there.
2 – Choose your tickets wisely
There are 2 choices of tickets you can get. One is a journey and one is just credit; i.e. a value of money. My advice is if you are just using the metro/train and not frequently, just add a ticket, but if you are using it frequently you should get credit. Trams and buses don’t allow you to top-up there so if you need one of these you will need credit. Also if you get a ticket to Belém for example and then later change your mind and want to go to Cascais you will need a whole new ticket. Unlike credit you can just add the extra value to your card.
On machines you can only add values of €5 (i.e. €5, €10, €15, etc), but at a ticket desk you can add an exact value. That might be useful for your last journey so you don’t leave anything still on the card.
3 – Make the most of ticket offices in quiet stations
If you are going to a busy station, for example Cais do Sodre for Belém or the beach top up at a station closer to home. You can do so at any metro or train station, and there will be no queue but at the likes of Cais do Sodre, Rossio, Marquês do Pombal (sometimes for some reasons), Oriente and Campo Grande (often too) you will find you can queue for up to half an hour. We have often done so at Cais do Sodre as I always forget to do so as I have a travel card and only have to top up for outside Zone 1.
4 – Go to bars and restaurants away from the centre of the city.
Off Avenida da Liberdade for example, there are plenty of bars, restaurants and pastelarias (similar to cafes) which are litterally half the price as those only 200m or so away near Rossio. They are also more traditional and usually a lot friendlier. For example a resturant which sells a litre of wine for €3.
5 – Go to a restaurant with a ‘Prata da Dia’ (Plate of the day).
You will find these away from the main touristy restaurants. They are similar to a set menu. You have a limited choice but usually enough veriety and it is so cheap, as well as with very traditional food. For example there is one just off Avenida de Liberdade (near the Trivoli theatre) which has a 3 course meal, plus drink, plus coffee for €7.50 (£5.80).
6 – Visit museums on Sunday mornings
Basically all museums in Lisbon (including the Torre de Belem and the Pantheon) have free admission before 2pm. As long as you get there before 2pm it is free. We got into the Torre de Belem on a Sunday free as we got there at 1:51pm. Please note: The Pantheon is only the first Sunday of the month.
7 – Speak as much Portuguese as possible
As well as like in every country they appreciate it, you will find in some places it will cost you less. We couldnt believe it. A group of friends and I were at a nightclub and those who spoke English paid €10 and those who spoke Portuguese paid only €5.
8 – Leave the city
This is perhaps not a good idea if you are only here for a weekend, but if you are here longer try to see more of the country. Places like Palmela, Setubal, Obidos, Fatima, Tomar, etc are all easy to get to by both car or cheap buses from either Oriente or Campo Grande. Tickets are all bought on the bus and timetables are easy to find if you Google search: “Lisboa [place name] autocarros”. [‘Autocarro’ is bus in Portuguese]
9 – Wine and sunset
Lisbon is a city of 7 hills so has some nice view points around the city. A favourite thing to do for my friends and I is to take a bottle of wine and some cups to a miradouro about 7:30-8pm (in the summer) and watch the sunset. The best is the ones in Graça as you see the sunset set over the opposite horizon.
10 – Make picnics
There are plenty of supermarkets around. Such as Pingo Doce (my personal favourite) and Mini Preço, as well as some smaller but more expensive ones.
Not only will this save you money but also there are so many view points, parks and squares which are perfect picnics places on a nice sunny day. In particular the park in Belém which is a favourite of my friends and myself.
11 – Try the local produce
In basically every traditional restaurant you go to will find ‘Bacalhau‘. This is cod and the Portuguese love it. This will usually take up half the menu alone, so you might as well as try a few different type is you a fish lover.
Also there are 2 traditional drinks: Amendoa Amarga. This is a traditional Portuguese licquour. It is very sweet and thus not to everyone’s taste. Also not all bars will sell it, but I know many will. Usually it will cost about €4 in a bar. Or if you prefer you can get a big bottle of it in Pingo Doce for about the same price. You will also find it at the airport.
There is also Ginja (I have seen a veriety of spellings for some reason though). This is a very strong cherry liquour. Often you might actually have a cherry in your glass too. Warning these are even stronger tasting that the drink itself! The best place to find this is at a kiosk either in Praça do Comércio or Praça do Camões. There is another place between Praça do Rossio and Praça de Figeira (at the north end). You can get a shot of this in either a glass or a chocolate cup. It will cost about €2-3. Again you can just buy a whole bottle in Pingo Doce for €4 if you you prefer. Again this is also available in the Duty Free at the airport, including the chocolate cups!
12 – See the city at night
As always cities are so different in many cases more beautiful at night. This is especially the situation for Lisbon. Especially in the main squares of Baixa and from the miradouros.
13 – Careful with starters on the table at Restaurants
Not all but many, especially in the touristy ones will put bread, cheese, etc on the table. Even though you didnt ask for it is not free and they will charge you for it. It is always a suprise when it pops up on the bill. This is even if you just touch it. We ended up in an arguement before about them charging us for something we didnt touch.
14 – Be careful with the traffic
I found this a bit scary at first. For example; if there is roadworks on the pavement there will be no barriered off area for pedestrians you would be expected to walk in the road. Even if it is a busy dual carriageway as I found near my house. The good thing is a locals are used to it and drive carefully. Similarly, a green light for pedestrians does not mean there will be no cars as there is still a filter. They should stop, but just we careful as it relies on them spotting you. Of course this is more difficult in the dark.
15 – Get a map!!
I know this may sound stupid but I see so many tourists who don’t have a map. How do I know that? Well, because I have to give them directions. It is not the easiest city to get around as it is made of narrow winding streets and it is a city made of 7 hills… yes 7! So get get your hiking boots on as if you arent walking down you will be walking up. On that note, a map is also on the public transport, lifts and ‘elevadors’ which will help with this problems.
Most hostels and hotel will have the free map from ‘Corte de Inglés’ (a ridiculously big shop in Lisbon), but it has very little detail. You would be better to buy one from a tourist shop for about €2. These will be more useful as they have far more detail.
This blog post is kind of a working progress and I am sure I will edit, change and add bits.
If you need any help or advice regarding visiting Lisbon. Please just email me – firstname.lastname@example.org I am very happy to help in anyway I can! 🙂