How to Experience Lisbon Like a Local

Ten euros for a full meal, indescribable views, and fairytale towns just a train ride away… Sometimes it seems like Lisbon truly has it all. We spoke to long-time-local, and Tiqets employee, Sara Guia de Abreu, about how to experience Lisbon like a local so you can plan the ultimate trip to this fascinating city.

1. What makes you love to be from Lisbon? Any tips for what travelers should expect?

You will love the light in Lisbon when you visit the city
View of Tower of Belém at sunset on the Tagus River in Lisbon. Photo by Uldis Laganovskis

Ah, where can I start? Well, the thing I love the most and cannot seem to get anywhere else, no matter where I go, is the light.

The light is just something else in Lisbon, it’s just so bright. Everything reflects light and it’s always changing the views and landscape. The cobblestones are white and the sun is always shining on the river – it makes it shine as if it’s silver.

🌟 My first tip for visitors to Lisbon is to expect a warm welcome! In general, people are very friendly. They like having visitors from other countries  – they’re very proud of their origins and their beautiful city. 

2. What do you miss most about Lisbon when you’re away?

I miss the noise of Lisbon such as hearing the trams shuttling by. It adds to the vibe and unique atmosphere of the city. I also miss the food a lot. Being able to go out for ten euros for a full meal, where you’ll experience delicious grilled fish with fresh vegetables, good service, and even better wine!

🌟 On that note, my second tip to share with you is a couple of my favorite ‘hidden gem’ restaurants where you can find exceptional value for money: 

📍Restaurante Sardinha – for an authentic Portuguese family-style affair – add Restaurante Sardinha to your shortlist of places to eat in Lisbon.

📍Adega do Tagarro – here you can find delicious grilled delights – snap up an array of grilled fish and meats with some tasty vinho on the side.

📍As Bifanas do Afonso – you simply can’t visit Portugal without trying a traditional Portuguese bifana – a delicious roll filled with pork meat. Washed down with a Super Bock, of course!

📍Restaurante Sem Nome – calling all seafood lovers, you can experience all the fish and shellfish that Lisbon is oh-so-famous for.

3. Are there any must-see Lisbon attractions you share with visitors?

Rua D.Pedro V - close to Príncipe Real area
Photo from Sara Guia de Abreu

Whilst there are many wonderful museums and galleries, I always advise people to simply roam freely. Do not have a plan; just pick a place and go up a hill, down a hill, up another hill, and back down again.

Trust me when I say, you’ll get a true feel for Lisbon, and uncover some hidden gems in the process that can only be found by wandering on foot. From stunning public gardens such as Jardim das Amoreiras or Jardim da Estrela to ancient architecture such as the wonderful Embaixada – an old Arabic building with concept stores and bars in Príncipe Real.

In terms of attractions, I love Gulbenkian, which is a park and museum. I also love its art library where you can work from, it’s very serene. There are always interesting temporary art exhibitions…and then my favorite part, the gardens. Partly Japanese-inspired – it’s like an oasis in the middle of the city. It’s very special.

🌟 Tip number three, and certainly a fun thing to do in Lisbon, is to take a picnic and a cheeky bottle of wine to Gulbenkian and hang out. You know you’re living like a local in Lisbon when you do that.

4. Is Sintra really worth going to? 

Sintra is definitely worth a visit when you are in Lisbon.
Beautiful town centre of Sintra, near Lisbon. Photo by Mo Wu

Oh, yes, for sure. If you only have three days in Lisbon, one of them needs to be in Sintra. It’s otherworldly! Definitely one of the most unique things to do in Lisbon. It’s a little bit like you’re in a little book of stories, but with real houses. I have a couple of friends who live in these picturesque houses which are just as quirky on the inside – like a doll’s house.

🌟 Tip number four – if you’re visiting Sintra for the day you may want to hire a car for the trip. You’ll have the perfect combination of being high up in the mountains, and then 10 minutes later, sunning yourself down at the beach – a combination that I love.

If you get the chance to check out this charming town, expect to find beautiful palaces, buildings, and even a couple of incredible private houses that are fun to peek at. Make sure you hunt down ​”Casa Piriquita” – a delicious pastry shop to try their famous queijadas and travesseiros. Thank me later!

5. Where should people stay to experience Lisbon like a local?

Enjoy Lisbon like a local and explore where to stay
Photo by Sara Guia de Abreu

If you’re a tourist, it’s easier if you’re closest to the city center. Anywhere in any historical neighborhood would be fine, especially if you want to walk everywhere.

However, if you want to experience Lisbon like a local (tip number five coming up…) the areas of Saldanha, Marquês de Pombal, Avenidas Novas, Avalade, and Alameda are all really nice because they’re further out from the city center.

Connections to the center are great with the metro, plus you’ll get a feel of what Lisbon is like outside of the historical ring.

6. Are there any fun things to do in Lisbon that tourists might not know about? 

Firstly, I have to share my favorite viewpoints, which are NOT tourist hotspots: Miradouro Nossa Senhora do Monte, Miradouro do Torel, and Miradouro do Monte Agudo.

Secondly, and one of the more unusual things to do in Lisbon, it’s super cool to have dinner in a secret Chinese restaurant. You need to talk to people that know where they are. You ring a bell in a random building, go up the stairs, and you’re in someone’s house. And sometimes they’re there with their family or other neighbors also having food.

You’re the only non-Chinese person and it’s crazy! You sit in a room that has one or two tables and can’t choose what you’re going to eat. You just sit and wait and they bring you whatever they have for that day and then at the end, you pay whatever you think it’s fair.

When you see everyone there’s their family and friends, and everyone’s eating the same thing you assume this has to be good. It’s always a wonderful and fun thing to do in Lisbon – and has nothing to do with the official Chinese restaurants (wink).

🌟 Tip number six is advice on how to find one of these places! Whilst it’s hard to advise, if one roams free in the Mouraria neighborhood they may just spot some “hidden” signs on windows.

7. Tell us about Lisbon flea markets and some stories behind them? 

I think everyone should go at least once to the flea market ‘Feira da Ladra’ which translates in English as the ‘thieves’ market’. It’s a pretty unusual thing to do in Lisbon if you’re a tourist, but you won’t regret it.

The story behind the market is that thieves back in the day used to steal stuff and visit Feira da Ladra on Tuesdays and Saturdays to sell stolen goods! The car of a musician friend of mine was stolen a couple of years ago. The following Tuesday, he went to the flea market and found one of his instruments there. And purchased it back!

I love it because you can always find super quirky things too. It’s a very nice place between Graça and Alfama, which are two very typical neighborhoods.

🌟 My top tip here would be to go early, spend the whole morning there and wander around. Stop at Miradouro da Graça café to soak up a stunning view and get your morning caffeine fix!

Another suggestion, apart from the famous Time Out market, of course, is Mercado de Campo de Ourique – a fresh vegetable market with cool restaurants and bars that make a visit at any hour of the day appealing.

8. Where do people go for the best views of Lisbon?

If you want to get a cool viewpoint over the city in the city center, there’s a store called Pollux that sells homeware – from bedsheets to plates and appliances. At the top of the building, on the ninth floor, you have amazing, sweeping views over the entire city.

LX factory is also an excellent and quirky spot. It has a nice bookstore, frequent exhibitions, artists, and studios. It also has nice restaurants and Portuguese fashion and designer brands. It’s an old factory so it’s a cool and rustic place to go.

A little further out of the city center, you can find another factory called Fábrica do Braço de Prata. It’s a cultural hub where they have exhibitions, theater, concerts, and a couple of nights a week, different dancing evenings.

🌟 My eighth tip is to opt for a visit here during a dance evening. You can go to have a drink, chat, read a book, or even see the art exhibitions and then you can spend two or three hours dancing (salsa, tango, or Balfolk dance!) which is very cool.

9. Where should people go to see the real Lisbon culture in action?

🌟 Tip number nine: if you wanted to see real Lisbon culture in action, it wouldn’t be at a museum or attraction.

One of the most unique things to do in Lisbon would be to go on the 25th of April when everyone goes out and celebrates the end of the fascist regime in 1974. It’s called the Carnation Revolution. Everyone celebrates on the Avenida da Liberdade (Freedom Avenue).

10. Where is the best place for Vinho Verde? / Portuguese wine?

For us, wine is simply part of our culture. We always have wine with meals and you’ll find great wine everywhere, in any restaurant or store. My 10th and last tip on how to truly experience Lisbon like a local would be to try our liquor. 

We have a cherry liquor called ginjinha. And it’s super famous locally. Every year I travel back on the 25th of April for the revolution celebrations. I never agree on an hour to meet my friends and each year we end up at the same place in Rossio for ginjinha.

The best bars to try it out for yourself would be, in my opinion, “A Ginjinha” and “A Ginjinha Sem Rival” both 100m from each other in Rossio.

Wow Sara, if we didn’t want to visit Lisbon before chatting to you, we definitely do now! Thanks so much for talking to us.

Where to stay in Lisbon

Have you been to Lisbon? If you’re planning a trip with kids in tow, check out our ultimate family-friendly guide for 2023. You can also get your tickets to the top Lisbon attractions in advance here.

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