Curious to hear about what life is like in Lisbon from a seasoned local? We caught up with the travel writer behind Olá Daniela, who has called the colourful Portuguese capital her home for the past four years. She tells us her story and travel tips for visitors – including the best things to do, see and explore during 24 hours in Lisbon.
What made you move to Lisbon in 2018?
I’d travelled all over Europe, but had never visited Portugal before moving here. My partner’s Dad is Portuguese, so he had some aunties, uncles and cousins here – plus the weather in Lisbon is amazing. Ultimately Lisbon was the best option when deciding where to move to in Europe.
What unique aspects of the city stand out to travellers?
The people, the pace and the beauty. The Portuguese locals are kind, warm, patient and calm and they have a lot of time for anyone who is interested in their culture.
Lisbon is a stunning and relaxing city. While it can get a bit crazy at some of the tourist sights (yes, the secret is out that Lisbon is incredible), if you venture off the main tourist trail you can find relaxed parks and gardens and rub shoulders with locals at their favourite lookouts. As the ‘City of Seven Hills’, Lisbon has a “miradouro” (viewpoint) atop almost every hill where there’s a kiosk vending cheap beer and snacks… an essential break during your 24 hours in Lisbon.
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What are the Lisbon points of pride for locals?
The pastel-hued streets, the tiles, the history, the food, the weather – but maybe Lisboetas are most proud of the pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts). While you can find these tarts all across Portugal, the original sweet is actually from Lisbon.
Pasteis de Belem is a must-visit bakery with almost 200 years of history, but there are some other great newcomers and even an annual “Best Pastel de Nata” competition in the city. I’ve tasted my fair share and can tell you that not all tarts are created equal, so save your calories and visit one of my favourite pasteis de nata spots in Lisbon. I love standing at Manteigaria and watching the bakers create the tarts from scratch.
Do you have any tips for foodies in Lisbon?
When you visit Lisbon, make sure to eat at tascas. They are little cheap, local bistros where they serve traditional, homely dishes. Skip the tourist spots with pictures of the food and translated menus – instead look for a paper tablecloth taped to the window with the dishes of the day hand scrawled. Usually it’s the husband waiting tables, the wife in the kitchen and a TV in one corner providing entertainment. These are my favourite places to eat in Lisbon as you get to try local dishes, eat where the locals eat and walk away not spending so much money.
What exactly is Portuguese fado?
The other thing I’d suggest people do is watch fado. It’s a style of music from Lisbon that is achingly beautiful and will send chills down your spine (even when you can’t understand the lyrics). The songs are nostalgic, talking about love, loss, the sea and life in the city. Usually it’s two incredible musicians playing the fado guitars and a singer who might change throughout the night.
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Do you need to learn some Portuguese phrases before going?
It’s polite to learn the basics – hello, thank you, please – at a minimum. Most people under 50 will speak incredible English, but you’ll earn respect for trying. Portugal is a smaller country, so here any American TV shows or British movies aren’t dubbed (like in Spain, Germany etc) so the Portuguese locals have a high level of exposure to the English language.
The worst thing you can do is speak Spanish instead of English. In Portugal they speak Portuguese, and while it also has the Latin root it’s not the same language.
Hello – Olá
Good morning – Bom dia
Good afternoon – Boa tarde
Thank you – Obrigado (men), Obrigada (women)
Please – Por favor
I would like… – Quero…
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How should you approach Lisbon to get the most out of it?
Go in with an open mind and prepare to get lost. Lisbon is Europe’s second oldest city (after Athens) so expect a maze of cobbled winding streets. The joy of exploring Lisbon is seeing the sights and then letting your curiosity guide you. If you see a building you like, street you want to explore or have a good vibe then follow your nose. Lisbon’s centre is extremely safe to explore.
If you see a restaurant busy with locals, ask for a table. If you find a busy patch of river, stop for a drink. There’s always something cool happening just around the corner.
A pocket guide: 24 hours in Lisbon with Olá Daniela
Turn yourself into a ‘Lisboeta’ with a café (short, dark espresso) and a pastel de nata (Lisbon’s famous custard tart) to kick-start your morning. Your first stop for the day is the suburb of Belém, down by the Tagus River where the coastal breeze greets you. Here lies the original and famous bakery Pasteis de Belém, where you can enjoy that first tart of the day before launching into the city’s rich culture.
In Belém you’ll spot the Monument to the Discoveries (‘Padrão dos Descobrimentos’) on the riverbank – a 170-foot-high sculpture depicting over 30 statues of important Portuguese history figures from The Age of Discoveries. From here, wander over to the Belém Tower, a UNESCO World Heritage site that was built by King João II in 1514 to protect Lisbon from enemy ships.
Next, jump on the local tram 28 and ride right to the top of the Graça neighbourhood. Wander over to the Miradouro de Graça viewpoint and gaze in awe at local life ebbing away below. This viewpoint gives you the best outlook over the city to help you get your bearings.
Lisbon is a hilly city, so it’s best to maintain height while you have it. Stay high in the hills and venture over to ancient São Jorge Castle. This 11th century castle held military troops and the elite safe when the city was under siege. The streets around the castle house some of the oldest homes in Lisbon – loads of photo opps here.
Next up is my favourite viewpoint in Lisbon, Miradouro de Santa Luzia. This vine-covered lookout is covered in gorgeous antique tiles and there’s usually someone busking with a guitar to add to the romance of being in Lisbon. You’re looking out over Alfama, one of the oldest neighbourhoods. Wind your way through the ancient, narrow cobbled streets saying hi to old ladies and maybe enjoying a cheeky shot of gijinha liquor (sour cherry) in a chocolate cup.
Then, as the sun begins to set, venture towards the massive central plaza, Praça do Comércio. Admire the statue of King Joseph I in the centre and Arco da Rua Augusta behind it. This triumphant stone arch was erected after the earthquake-fire-tsunami disaster that devastated Lisbon in 1755. If You can even climb up it to a 98-foot high viewing platform for great views over the river and downtown Baixa district. From here wander to riverfront and enjoy a drink as the sun dips behind the city.
The average Lisboeta won’t arrive at dinner before 8pm, so you’ve got plenty of time to explore the city. Lisbon is a stone’s throw from the ocean, so choose fresh seafood or traditional Portuguese dishes favourites like bacalhau á bras (dried, salted cod) or my two personal favourites: amêijoas à bulhão pato (clams cooked with garlic, white wine and coriander/cilantro) and secretos de porco preto (grilled black pork usually served with hand-cut chips and rice). Yum!
Did you enjoy this guide to 24 hours in Lisbon? You can discover more about Portugal on Olá Daniela – and browse Trafalgar’s Portugal travel tours for your latest inspiration.