What is the one thing people get wrong when it comes to giving advice on things to do in Lisbon? They assume you will enjoy seeing everything we consider a landmark, a must-see spot, and that typical restaurant you must have lunch at. Most locals hate to admit to visitors that some things you can actually skip because they’ll think they’re doing a disservice to their hometown (they’re not, by the way. It’s called tailoring suggestions to someone’s taste and showing how versatile the city is.).
I really hate one-size-fits-all solutions when it comes to travel tips. If you have this pet peeve too, check this list of things to do in Lisbon that it’s okay to skip (if you don’t have the time to explore more).
Inside the Torre de Belém
I wholeheartedly don’t understand what’s the big fuss about visiting 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 and this is what you’re in the city for, 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 outside of the tower is a lot more interesting to admire and photograph (and free). Bonus points if you go there at sunset!
Miradouro das Portas do Sol
From all the viewpoints in all of Lisbon (and there are 30+ of them, official and non-official), this one is one of the most crowded (all year around) and 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 of taking a seat and give in to the overpriced cold beer.
If you don’t mind going a little down the street (seriously, less than 5 minutes), the Miradouro de Santa Luzia is much prettier (and the view is a bit more interesting).
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, well, most tourist guides don’t even bother to correct that misconception.
Taking the ride up is really up to you, but there’s nothing great about it. It’s basically you and a bunch of other people going up together inside a closed box. Unless you’re a diehard fan of Ponsard’s work and want to check it off your bucket list (also, check his other projects in Lisbon, the lifts of Bica, Lavra, and Glória).
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 a public transportation, one that hasn’t been 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.
Here are some neat alternatives of equally old and equally mustard-yellow trams that I promise will look amazing on your Instagram feed and allow you to discover the city too:
12E – Martim Moniz/Martim Moniz (circular) – stops at Lisbon Medieval Cathedral (Sé de Lisboa) and the viewpoints of Santa Luzia and Portas do Sol
18E – Cais do Sodré/Cemitério da Ajuda – stops at MNAA (National Museum of Ancient Art), Calvário/Alcântara (near LX Factory), and Palácio da Ajuda
25E – Praça da Figueira/Campo de Ourique (Prazeres) – stops at Praça do Comércio, Bica lift, Basílica da Estrela, Jardim da Estrela, Campo de Ourique market, and Prazeres cemitery.
Time Out Market
I have a full hand of mixed feelings regarding this market in Lisbon. On 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 certain 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 the market of Campo de Ourique (if you have the time to go that far) or the market of Arroios (right in the middle of the most culturally diverse neighborhood of Lisbon).
Unlike the Time Out Market, where the vendors are separated from the restaurant area, at these two other markets, the restaurants and eating areas share the space with the vendors.
It’s the full experience around food and the community of business owners. Win-win.
Experience Pilar 7
Wow. Just wow.
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 the bridge 25 de Abril and you climb up all the way up the seventh pillar to see the Lisbon from a unique angle (or so they tell you).
Well, it is 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, well you can literally choose any other spot that’s high enough or (here’s a crazy thought) hop on one of the ferries and see the city from the other side of the river! How’s that for an alternative angle?
Did you visit any place in Lisbon that you felt was a letdown? Tell me about it in the comments!