Having lived abroad, I know how hard it can be to go in head-first with no idea what to do, where to go, or try not to get lost – or cry buckets as you’ve just uprooted yourself and have no idea how to function in a foreign country.
Trust me – I was that sobbing mess my first night in Portugal.
But I’m here to give you helpful tips on where to go, or simply how to make your stay easier. In this, I also mention having two flats. Well basically I had to change apartments part-way through my stay for reasons I will explain in another post.
Mobile phone providers
Generally in Portugal, if you are an EU resident staying over or living, you will start off with your current plan (such as I was with EE), but you will be auto-connected to the best service available. For example, I was connected to either Meo or NOS for my phone services, although NOS was the most frequently connected. The data connectivity is very good with the providers, enabling 4G coverage throughout my time in Portugal.
My suggestion, if you’re a non-EU resident, is to purchase a new SIM card for your phone. I was gifted a SIM for Vodafone by my employer (not that I needed it). I say this to avoid the hefty roaming charges that comes with not being an EU resident. You can purchase a LycaMobile SIM near the Metro entrance at Colombo shopping centre, for example.
Uber was a luxury for me – where I live in Scunthorpe, Uber does not exist. For me, I did get an Uber almost every day at one point, but that was in the middle of changing flats and I still needed to figure out how to get to the nearest Metro station (I figured it out over the weekend, it was a 20-minute walk down a hill). The Uber drivers are super-friendly, and most can communicate in English. They saved my skin one time during a Metro strike (but it did cost 13€ to get from Rato Metro station to the Teleperformance building that day).
Lisbon has a heavy amount of Metro stations along four lines – Verde (Green), Vermelha (Red), Azul (Blue) and Amarela (Yellow). The Metro operates every day (including weekends and Bank Holidays) from 6.30am until 1am. There are two types of cards available for purchase:
- Viva Viagem – you can top this up with occasional tickets
- Lisboa Viva – you can top this up with travel passes and/or zapping credit.
Occasional single-use tickets are used for those who are not planning on staying permanently, or are looking for a short-term solution. The initial purchase of the card will cost 50 cents from any Viva vending machine, while purchasing your tickets. You can check your credit on the vending machines too. The card is valid for one year after its purchase.
The Zapping card is a more permanent card that is ideal for frequent users. You can buy it from one of several Metro stations such as Campo Grande and Marquês de Pombal. If you are coming from the airport and will be living in Portugal, obtaining one from Aeroporto as soon as you arrive is the best solution.
I’m not putting the prices on because they will become outdated over time. For pricing information visit https://www.metrolisboa.pt/en/ and you can also plan your journey on that website. Don’t worry, the website can be translated into English!
To plan the journey itself, as to know which stop to get off at, and onto another Metro, there are signs all over each station, as well as in the trains themselves. I found these very handy, especially when I was just getting used to travelling on them, and had no idea where I was going except for the destination.
Overall, I find the Metro super-quick – it usually took me about 10 minutes at most to get from Lumiar to Entre Campos (if there were many people waiting at Campo Grande).
As of January 2019, visitors to Lisbon pay up to 2€ per night on top of hotel and accommodation fees for up to 7 consecutive nights. This is to be put towards urban cleaning and better transport in the most tourist-heavy areas. Children up to the age of 13 are of course exempt from paying the tax, as well as people and companions that are overnighting for medical treatment. In November I paid the €1 city tax after my stay in a hotel in Lisbon. Realistically I didn’t need to get a hotel for the night, but all in all it saved a lot of effort with handing my apartment keys back to my workplace before arriving at the airport, all while juggling my luggage. What I didn’t realise is that I would be checked out of my flat by a representative of the housing team, they would come straight to the flat so they would see me off, if that makes sense? Staying at the hotel gave me some peace and time to adjust to being away from the flat, and I felt better for it (apart from living in a suitcase for nearly 3 days straight on my travels).
There are a great variety of options to go shopping in Lisbon. I know there are more than what I’m pointing out, but I’ll give you the four that I visited and enjoyed:
Colombo – arguably the best shopping centre I visited, it is a massive centre close to Estadio Sport Lisboa e Benfica. Colombo is accessible via the Colegio Militar/Luz Metro station (blue line), and boasts an array of shops. The food court is very impressive, too. It was one of my favourite hang-out spots with a friend of mine, Jeanette. It has familiar stores such as The Body Shop and Flying Tiger, as well as different ones such as Worten and A Loja do Gato Preto. Even Toys R Us exists here!
The central courtyard in Colombo features different attractions, such as a market with sellers from the Azores, and a car dealership. Its central supermarket is Continente.
Amoreiras – Amoreiras shopping centre is home to the famous 360 degree viewing platform (costs 5€ per adult). This was close to my home in Campo de Ourique, and it does have a good variety of shops. It has a lot of designer bands, such as Chanel and Ralph Lauren. It also hosts one of only two Lush stores in the entirety of Portugal (and it’s tiny, but the service is outstanding).
Campo Pequeno – Campo Pequeno is the site of Lisbon’s bullfighting scene. Unlike the Spanish bullfighting, there are no bulls killed after Portuguese bullfighting. However, underneath the arena are a multitude of shops and a Cinema City. The featured supermarket is Pingo Doce. Some of the shops include Ale-Hop, Bertrand Bookstore and Portugal Dos Meus Amores – for your souvenir needs.
The food court has a good variety of options – my favourite is now permanently closed, so I will never be able to have a Hebe Gyros again. However, there is New Fishmonger, World Sandwich (I do recommend) and Burger King if you don’t feel too fussy.
Centro Vasco da Gama – more than 160 stores reside at this shopping centre, located at Parque das Nações. The shops there include Amorino – Gelato al Naturale, Claire’s and Ericeira Surf & Skate. The featured supermarket is Continente.
Top Eats in Lisbon
There are so many places to eat in Lisbon, it’s so hard to choose, I suppose. With a pastelaria on every street (or almost every street), you have plenty of choice. But I want to highlight my top places to eat. I will state that it has been nine months since I’ve been in Portugal, so things may have changed since. I know for one, that one of my favourite places to eat, Hebe Gyros, has shut down since I left, which makes me very sad indeed.
Padaria Granier – Granier is a cake shop that myself and Jeanette would frequent, and it has some of the most delightful cakes. The cakes themselves are heavenly and moist (sorry if you hate that word). It’s located just a stone’s throw away from Campo Pequeno, located in the heart of the business district. I recommend their chocolate cake.
SushiBoy and NoodlesGirl – One of the many eateries at Parque das Nações, this one caught my eye due to its strange name. It’s a Japanese restaurant, with an option for an all you can eat. I chose to have the ramen, alongside some harumaki.
Baku – This was one of my favourite places to eat, and the positive reviews on Tripadvisor reflect that. I used to come here for a quick lunch during a work day, and if you’re a regular, the staff will recognise you and be even more welcoming. I highly recommend the Portuguese-style chicken with fries, egg, rice and salad. Otherwise, the mista (ham and cheese toastie) or chicken and chips are good for something lighter.
Ori – Ori is an Asian restaurant located in the food court of Colombo. It has a variety of food choices from India, Thailand and Japan. I unsurprisingly had the sapporo ramen, and it was delightful, probably better than SushiBoy and NoodlesGirl. It was also my first time trying narutomaki, and chopsticks.
Giorno – Giorno allows you the freedom to choose – from the style of pasta to the sauce toppings, and even the drink and cheese sprinklings. It was very cheap, and such good quality – I always went with the bolognese sauce because I’m a simpleton and it was beautiful.
Telepizza – Telepizza is a classic pizza chain in Lisbon, and I was able to visit a few times. Apparently there are chains in London too! I always used to go for the barbecue pizza, as well as some camembert bites, which were always perfect and had just the right amount of flavour to them.
Amigos da Montanha Nepal – a hidden find in Centro Comercial APOLO 70 (located on Av. Júlio Dinis), Amigos serves up a combination of curries and pizza. This was recommended by my friend Stewart. Papadums are served while you wait, with an accompaniment of sauces. I always loved the lamb curry there. One time we had dessert, we had this mango ice cream with coconut shavings, and it was probably the most refreshing and cooling dessert I’d ever had.
Beautiful Parks and Gardens in Lisbon
Jardim da Estrela
Campo Grande – Campo Grande is part of the Alvalade parish, and it features long gardens, such as the Jardim Mário Soares. There are a few areas you can eat, such as the Cafe Concerto or even a McDonalds, and nearby is a gym. Frequently overhead you can hear (and see) planes passing by, so just bear that in mind while visiting.
Jardim da Parada – Jardim da Parada is a small park located in Campo de Ourique, so it was a very short walk from my flat there. Its main centrepiece (apart from the cafe) is the pond that usually features turtles and birds. It’s very well sheltered underneath trees, and is an easy place to access the rest of the area.
Quinta das Conchas – Quinta das Conchas will always hold a special place in my heart due to it being the first place I explored while on my trip. The park (its full name being Parque das Quintas das Conchas e dos Lilases), is separated into two sections – the first being a more wild take on a park, with lots of trees, ponds and uneven paths, and the other section is more open and scenic, still with plenty of trees, but also a couple of cafes and areas to relax or play sports.
Parque Eduardo VII/Jardim Amália Rodrigues – These are two parks that I connect as one on this post, as they are right next to each other. Amalia offers beautiful architecture, including a pond and fountain, as well as some options for dining. Parque Eduardo VII offers amazing views from Amalia, and you can see all the way out to the river from that vantage point. At the very bottom of the park is Marques de Pombal, as well as the tour bus options.
Jardim da Estrela – Once again located close to Campo de Ourique, Jardim da Estrela is a wonder when it comes to parks. Along with the usual two cafes, the garden also features a very prominent bandstand as its centrepiece. There are also a few ponds dotted around the garden, and usually feature wildlife. The garden is located opposite the Basilica da Estrela, another wonderful piece of architecture.
Jardim da Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian – Excuse the long name, but the Gulbenkian is famous for its art museum and its outdoor stadium. It is also a beautiful garden, that unfortunately we only visited in passing, but it was still a garden that held my attention, and I fell in love with.
Parque das Nações – Parque das Nações is a long area that was rejuvenated from an industrial wasteland, just for the Expo ‘98 (see the mascot, Gil, who still remains to this day). It has done wonders for the tourism of the area. It’s easily accessible from the Oriente Metro station, and boasts an array of attractions – such as the Torre Vasco da Gama, the Vasco da Gama bridge, the shopping centre and the Altice Stadium. There are also some exploding water volcanoes, which can go off at a moment’s notice (and make you jump the first time you hear it). And you can see it all from the comfort of the cable cars, which I highly recommend.
Jardim Mahatma Gandhi – Jardim Mahatma Gandhi and Jardim Quinta da Paz are located towards Telheiras and Lumiar, and is a 5 minute walk from my flat in Lumiar. They are quite small gardens, but they are beautiful when the sun shines. There stands a statue of Mahatma Gandhi himself. Quinta da Paz is a beautiful garden, with lots of plantlife blooming, as well s a nice little pond. It does have a limited opening time, but it’s so worth it because it’s so beautiful.
Other Things to do in Lisbon
Oceanário de Lisboa
Oceanário de Lisboa – the aquarium is located at Parque das Nações, aims to conserve aquatic creatures. They also participate in breeding programmes to maintain populations of species. The building is separated into two sections, connected by a large forecourt. You have two options to choose from when purchasing a ticket – the normal ticket or the ticket with the temporary exhibition – I went for the temporary exhibition, which pressed the topic of conservation further. The temporary exhibition that is highlighted is called ‘Forests Underwater by Takashi Amano’, which is the one that I saw, and I recommend choosing the temporary exhibition. The permanent exhibition features a variety of sea-life, from sea otters to jellyfish.
Santuario Nacional de Cristo Rei – admittedly this is not in Lisbon, but this in Almada, a short boat and Metro ride away (and a small walk up a hill). The sanctuary itself is free of charge, and offers an amazing view of Lisbon, but the very top incurs a charge to catch the elevator. The atmosphere itself is very serene, even with tourists flocking to it. It doesn’t matter if you’re religious or not, it is worth the trip out of Lisbon – to see a view of Lisbon.
Fun fact: Just around the corner from my flat in Campo de Ourique, and a minute’s walk, I could see the statue from there.
Praça do Comércio – Praça do Comércio is a magnificent plaza, that opens out to the Tejo estuary, and the surrounding buildings are beautiful and decorated in yellow. The focal point is the Arco da Rua Augusta, which opens out to the lovely plaza. Last November, I came out here and found the army parade, which I assume to be annual. Within the surrounding buildings, you can find the information centre (pick up the leaflets for sightseeing activities to do), and cafes and bars.
I hope I’ve given you some insight into what you can do in Lisbon, and I hope you have a good time, if you decide to visit!