I was watching a video blog the other night where a couple of travelers were in Lisbon for the first time. They tried to figure out the public transportation. They tried to find a restaurant that served a certain dish, but the restaurant wasn’t there any more. They tried to watch the sunset from the castle, but they didn’t want to pay to go in the castle grounds and before they could figure anything else out it was dark. I wish I could have told them to just walk up the street where there is a great overlook to watch the sunset over the city for free. I wanted to tell them the dish they were looking for is served at many cafes and restaurants. I know all this because I’ve been here for 2 months. I’m more than just a tourist in Lisbon. I live here, for a few more days anyways.
Public transportation can be confusing in any new city. Even though it’s pretty well set up here in Lisbon we made a few mistakes at first. We wanted to take a train to the northwest side of the city for a gaming expo shortly after we arrived. I went to the ticket counter to double check the metro cards we purchased earlier would work for the train. They would and I was told to pay on the train. Unfortunately, there was no place to pay on the train or anyone to ask, so we basically stole a train ride. There was also no place to pay on the train back. I did find a little machine in the station though, we thought it was to check the balance on your metro card. I swiped mine three times because the amount wasn’t staying on the screen long enough for me to process the amount in my head… I should mention Howard and I were sick with the flu this day. We both had a fever, terrible sore throat, and felt like death warmed over. It’s amazing we even got on the right train. Anyways, it ended up that I paid for three train rides by swiping my card on that little machine so we only actually stole one ride, one way. I also found out on a later trip that the cashier who told me to pay on the train doesn’t speak English.
Now that I’ve learned my way around, and how to pay for a train ride, I feel somewhat like a local expert in Lisbon, so I thought I would write up a little guide of helpful things to know when visiting Lisbon. I will try to do this for any city we’re in for an extended period of time too.
First of all, the public transportation here is really simple, assuming you aren’t half dead from a flu. No matter how long you plan to visit Lisbon, I recommend getting a Lisboa Viva Card. These cards can be purchased at any metro station and work on the subway, trolleys, buses, electric buses, and trains, within the city of Lisbon. These cards are re-loadable at any metro station too and you get a discount as opposed to buying individual tickets for each ride. Jumping on a bus or trolley lift, one of the trolleys that just goes up and down the steepest hills in the city, for €1.45 has been very convenient.
Another option is the Lisboa Card. (I’m sure no one ever mixes these cards up, right?) This is a great option if you are just here for a few days and want to do and see as much as possible. This card includes rides on all the public transportation plus admission to many museums and attractions. The downside of this card for us is it’s only available for a 24, 48, or 72 hour period. Since we’re here for so long, we can take a rest break or work day between sightseeing days.
“Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” applies to a lot of the restaurants here, but I will have more about that in my next post. I do want to mention a few of the things that are a bit different than dining out in the US. First of all, it seems you are expected to order a drink and food at the same time. That’s easy to get around, but after you are served your order, do not expect the server to come back to your table… ever. If you want something else, you need to wave someone over. If you’re sitting outside, and the majority of restaurants here have outdoor seating, you may even have to go inside to find someone to order or pay. Of course there are exceptions to this, but in most of the places we frequented this was the case. We certainly aren’t ever in a hurry when dining out, and at first I felt like we were being rude. It helps to know it’s just the culture here.
To tip or not to tip? I thought this would be much easier here as I understood there was no tipping in Europe, but with the influx of tourist in Lisbon it has started to get more common. The best understanding I have of it is if you just have a couple drinks you don’t tip, but you do round any change up to the nearest dollar. So if the bill is € 2.80, leaving € 3 would be appropriate. If you have a lot of food or really exceptional service, than leaving a tip is common. There are no guidelines for how much to tip though. We’ve heard some people say around 10% for a good meal is reasonable, though less is probably OK too. This is the best information I have based on a few locals I’ve talked to. Searching online, I found some sites that say don’t tip and others that say do tip.
One last thing you should know about dining out here is a lot of the restaurants close between lunch and dinner, or don’t open at all until dinner time. Dinner time here is usually 19:30. That’s a bit late for us as we often don’t eat lunch. Many of the places are worth the wait though!
Helpful Portuguese Phrases
Most of the younger people here speak at least a little English, some of the older people, not so much. Plus, Google translate hasn’t always been as helpful as I hoped. Here is a list of Portuguese words and phrases that will help you get around a bit when visiting Lisbon. Pointing and smiling can always go a long way too.
- Thank you – Obrigado (if you are male) Obrigada (if you are female) It’s not the person you are talking to but who you are, so you only need to learn one of these. I had it backwards for the first month we were here.
- Good Day – Bom Dia
- Good Night – Boa Noite
- No Problem / It’s Nothing – De Nada (or just “Nada”)
- Sorry – Desculpe (Most people seem to understand Sorry, Oops, or Pardon too. Not that I’m constantly apologizing for things, but it’s hard not to bump into people when the sidewalk gets very narrow.)
- Open – Aberto
- Closed – Fechado
- Exit – Saída
- Pull – Puxe (Sounds kind of like push. If it says this on a door, guess what I do?)
- Push – Empurre
We thought learning 1 through 10 would be useful too, but everyone seems to know that in English. Of course if we were here longer I would have put more effort in to learning more Portuguese. We’ll be in two more countries before the end of January though. Two countries that uses different alphabets. We’ll see how Google translate does with that!