6 places to skip in Lisbon (and where to go instead)
What is the one thing people get wrong when giving advice on things to do in Lisbon? They assume you’ll enjoy seeing everything we consider a landmark, a must-see spot, and that typical restaurant you must have lunch at.
Don’t run around to see everything listed on your travel guidebook. Here are the 6 places you can skip in Lisbon (and where to go instead).
Inside Torre de Belém
I wholeheartedly don’t understand what’s the big fuss about going inside this Manueline monument. There really isn’t anything of interest inside and, to be frank, if you want to see a nice view of Lisbon and the river Tejo, that’s not the spot to go, either.
I really don’t want to call this one of the most elaborate tourist traps in Lisbon, but it kind of is.
Unless you are an enthusiast of military buildings, then, by all means, go right ahead and marvel at the prettiest defense tower you’ve ever seen.
For the rest of the visitors, the tower experior is a lot more interesting to admire and photograph (and free). Bonus points if you go there at sunset!
Miradouro das Portas do Sol
Of all the Lisbon viewpoints (and there are 30+ of them, official and non-official), this one is one of the most crowded (all year round). It’s not even one of the most mind-blowing views of the city.
But I get it.
It’s the sunshine, isn’t it? You don’t want to miss one second of it, and the (strategically placed) café with a view to the river gets the best of you.
If I was tired of walking up and downhill, I would probably stop fighting the urge to take a seat and give in to the overpriced cold beer.
If you don’t mind walking 5 minutes down the street, Miradouro de Santa Luzia is much prettier.
The Santa Justa lift
Let’s get to the most important fact first.
The lift wasn’t designed or built by Gustave Eiffel. It was designed by an engineer born in Porto, who did work with Eiffel (hence the resemblances with the tower in Paris), called Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard.
Knowing this kind of makes you wonder why you should take that ride up to Largo do Carmo, doesn’t it?
People are led to believe they are riding in a piece of art from Eiffel, and most tourist guides don’t even bother to correct it.
Taking the ride up is really up to you, but there’s nothing remarkable about it. It’s basically you and a bunch of other people going up together inside a closed box.
If you’re just here for the ride and the viewpoint at the end of it, skip the ride, go up the street to Largo do Carmo, and get the ticket to climb up the spiral staircase to the top of the tower.
The (in)famous tram 28
This may come as a shock to you (or maybe not), but tram 28 is not a cheap tourist ride (although half the travel guides and blog posts about Lisbon sell it like such).
Tram 28 is public transportation, which isn’t more frequently used by residents because, guess what, it’s always crowded with tourists.
I get you. The mustard-yellow trams are unique in Lisbon, photograph well, and riding them must be a hell of an experience. It is — all that.
But, for the sake of sustainable tourism in Lisbon, don’t neglect locals’ routines and their right to use the city’s public transportation system.
I suggest you take a tour on an actual tour tram that does the same route as tram 28. The benefits? It will never be crowded, you can learn more about the city and the route as you go along, and you have a chance to reduce your impact as a tourist in the city.
Time Out Market
I have mixed feelings regarding this market in Lisbon.
On the one hand, I realize for tourists pressed with time looking to experience the finest dishes of Portuguese chefs, this is the most convenient place in the center of the city.
On the other hand, it’s a branded market. Everything is curated to cater to a specific type of customer.
Would I tell you to go here to get under the skin of the city? Probably not.
I would redirect you to Campo de Ourique Market (if you have the time to go that far) or the one in Arroios (right in the middle of Lisbon’s most culturally diverse neighborhood).
Unlike the Time Out Market, where the vendors are separated from the restaurant area, the restaurants and eating areas share the space with the vendors at these two other markets.
It’s the full experience around food and the community of business owners. Win-win.
Experience Pilar 7
This has to be the most overrated must-see spot in the whole of Lisbon right now. I mean, sure, you go through a series of rooms with interactive exhibitions about Ponte 25 de Abril. You climb up all the way up the seventh pillar to see Lisbon from a unique angle (or so they tell you).
Well, it’s a unique angle. I’ll give them that. But it’s too damn close to the bridge and the traffic, and I think it’s a little overpriced.
Again, if you love engineering and bridges, this is definitely the place for you, no questions asked. If all you need is to look at Lisbon from a different angle, you can choose any other spot that’s high enough or hop on one of the ferries and see the city from the other side of the river!
How’s that for an alternative angle?