Lisbon Portugal Guide For First Timers – Tours You Should Take
Our first time in Lisbon was a week filled with a ton of fun things to do. We didn't waste a moment getting to know this sunny city o the western coast of Europe. We kicked off our very first day with a free walking tour so that we could get our bearings and get a good introduction to all that this place has to offer visitor. We took the Alfama tour as well as a tapas tour to really experience Lisbon to the fullest. Below is a guide for other first time visitors who want to see all the best spots, including Bairro Alto, Chiado, the iconic Alfama, Praça do Comércio, Rossio Square, Santa Justa Elevator, and Sao Jorge Castle and many more. Take a look at all the great food we had a chance to eat as well!
Lisbon Free Walking Tour
Free walking tours are offered by Sandemans throughout Europe. We participated in one of their tours on our first day in Amsterdam and were hooked. Here are our top reasons for taking a free walking tour when you first arrive at a destination:
- It's FREE - Who doesn't like free stuff? Now, just because you are not paying for it doesn't mean that the quality is sacrificed. Quite the opposite, actually. The guides depend on the generous tips of visitors. They are extremely knowledgeable about the places and topics they cover and are great at answering questions. They want you to enjoy it. In our experience, they have always been super enthusiastic and passionate when talking about the places they take you. There is never a feeling of obligation to pay a big tip, nor have we ever experienced any "pushy-ness" on the part of the tour guide. They have always been very genuine and well-deserving of the tip.
- It's a great introduction to a city -If it's your first time in Lisbon, taking this walking tour will be a great way to get your bearings and get a feel for what the city is all about. Once you go through this introduction of Lisbon, you'll get a better idea of what you may want to see more in-depth on your own or through another one of their tours. There have been a few times in our travels that we felt very strongly about an attraction, but once we were there, it proved to be disappointing. The great thing about these tours is that they show you a bit of everything and you can pick what you want to get more of later. This way, you spend your time at places you know you really want to see.
You'll have to make sure you have your walking shoes on and ready for a tour that may last three hours. It's safe to expect that you'll get introduced to some of the top rated attractions in Lisbon. After meeting you at Camões Monument in Largo de Camões, the guide is sure to take you through some of the coolest neighborhoods of Lisbon including (but not limited to) Bairro Alto, Chiado, even the iconic Alfama. The town's famous spots such as Praça do Comércio, Rossio Square, Santa Justa Elevator, and Sao Jorge Castle will all be on your route as you make your way around the city accompanied by your guide's helpful narration. Keep an eye out for some breathtaking views from some of the incredible "miradouro" locations. You may even learn a bit about the devastating "Great Earquate of 1755"!
Check Out Sandemans Free Lisbon Walking Tour
Pro-Traveler Tip: We visited in early July, and the sun was in full force. In fact, Lisbon is known to be one of the sunniest cities in Europe. So, it goes without saying that you will certainly want to protect your skin. Having a small umbrella may even come in pretty handy for your walk in the streets. The guides try their best to make their stops in the shade, but it's better to be safe than sorry. Also, keep in mind that Lisbon is a very hilly city. While you may not be walking long distances during the tour, you will need a good amount of energy to march the uphill portions.
Lisbon Tapas Tour
"Walk for five minutes, eat for half an hour." Those are the words I remember our guide saying at the beginning of the Tapas Tour. That's when I knew it was going to be a great time.
We met the group of fellow food lovers along with our guide, Jose, at Camoes Monument. Eager to get going with our taste buds at the ready. Being in Lisbon, we already knew that it was going to be a treat no matter what we were about to taste. First up was a trendy looking place called Wine Not Wine & Tapas Restaurant. It was a great first stop and set the tone for the rest of the evening. We enjoyed some croquettes (small roll of chopped vegetables, meat, or fish, fried in breadcrumbs) which contained beef. The croquette was accompanied by chips, bread and sheep butter along with some very tasty olives (marinated in rosemary and thyme with orange peel and salt). SO GOOD!
I have to take a quick second here and just tell you all that I have never liked olives. I have always tried olives whenever people are eating them and rave about how great they are, yet each and every time I have been disappointed by the taste and have had to get it out of my mouth! Trying the olives here changed all of that for me. It may have been the way they were marinated or that they were just top quality olives, but I LOVE those olives! That just goes to show that you can be introduced to some amazing things in different countries and those experiences can even change who you are!
On our way to the next tapas stop, we were given a quick tour of the Red Light District and Pink Street. Our guide stopped for a few minutes to describe the move that the locals are making from nightlife at Bairro Alto to this are due to the popularity of the Bairro Alto neighborhood. It was a bit odd seeing Pink Street during the day. Although it was almost 9 .p.m., daylight was still hanging around a bit, so the street was quiet. Our guide mentioned that it would most likely get busy around 11 at night when the local youth come and enjoy time with friends at these clubs and bars.
The next tapas tasting became more of a meal, in my opinion. Now, this is not a complaint by any means. We had enjoyed a Bifana sandwich (pork sandwich) at a location recommended by our Alfama Tour guide, so it was interesting to try it again at another place on this tapas tour. The Bifana came on a very thick, hearty bread accompanies by chips and sangria. The combination was very complimentary. We were given some sauces to put on our sandwich as it is plain otherwise. The sangria was one of the best tasting I have ever had! Needless to say, we left the restaurant very full and happy.
After enjoying the Bifana, we took another few minutes to stroll down to our last tapas restaurant for the night. Here we enjoyed a citrusy salad consisting of beans and vegetables. I had been enjoying the wine and didn't catch the name of this dish, oops! At this point, I wish I wasn't so full so that I could have more of this amazing salad. The restaurant was quite unique as well. It had a quirky, tavern feel to it and the vibe was one where you could tell the locals loved gathering here with their friends for a good time and good food on a regular basis.
Just when we thought the evening was coming to a close, our guide announced that he was taking us to one last place to cap the night with some dessert. We couldn't leave without having the national pastry of Portugal, Pasteis De Nata. We were taken to Time Out Market, which is a large warehouse-sized building packed with stalls selling mouthwatering food and drinks. One of the stalls, Manteigaria, offered this homemade Portuguese pastry. As our guide passed around the egg tart pastry, we said our goodbyes to the other tour members and walked back to our Airbnb feeling satiated with big smiles on our faces.
Not only was this tapas tour informative, but it also allowed for us to try several foods that we may not have known that we should be eating while in Portugal. The guide we had during our tour made the experience extra memorable by creating a very relaxed and informal feel. Additionally, for those of us that wanted to know more about where to eat and what to do while in Lisbon, he wrote out a personalized list of recommendations. We took him up on a few of those suggestions and were very happy we did. He made our tour great as well as the rest of our time in Portugal!
You may hear travelers suggest that the best way to get to know the Alfama District in Lisbon is to get lost in it. We certainly don't disagree with this tip, but we do recommend getting a bit of a highlight tour with a guide just to get to know the area a bit deeper. On this tour, the guide will share with you some nuggets of knowledge on this interesting and historic area.
Alfama wasn't always the charming and colorful attraction it is today. As the most historic district in Lisbon (and quite possibly one of the top historic places in all of Europe), Alfama carries an appeal that may be comparable to only a few other places in the world. An area that survived a terrifying earthquake in 1755 thanks to its limestone foundation, this neighborhood can perplex visitors for hours. With its ancient buildings and cobblestone streets creating an intricate web and the sound of Fado echoing throughout you might feel a bit tipsy and dazed, especially, if you've tried a shot of Gingha (a cherry liquor rivaling the taste of cough syrup). To add to the enchantment, you guide may introduce you to some green wine (Vinho Verde), but you don't have to drink it! Although, we enjoyed it!
Our time on this tour was enjoyable and enlightening. It was a treat to see some of the mesmerizing viewpoints of Alfama (such as Miradouro de Santa Luzia and Miradouro das Portas do Sol) along with visiting St. George’s Castle, St Anthony’s Church, and the Lisbon Cathedral. The best part was learning about the Legend of the Seven Hills and history of Fado which enriched our experience with this fascination part of Portugal. We even learned some Portuguese words and were guided on local eateries (as well as places to avoid) along the way.
Find out more about the Alfama Walking Tour.
About the Author
Hi! I'm just a California girl addicted to travel and adventure with a passion for art and dance on the side. Born in Iran, but I consider myself a citizen of Earth, adhering to the belief that "The world is but one country and mankind its citizen." I strive to make a positive impact on everyone I meet and learn as much as possible from them. My degree out of college is in Marketing. However, I entered the hospitality business at an early age and worked my way up to hotel management. After about 13 years in that industry (5 of which I was a hotel assistant manager), I made the decision to move to Thailand and leave the 9 to 5 grind behind. My husband and I set off for a life of living abroad and hopes to continue traveling the world, just 3 months after our wedding. It all started with the two of us, along with our cat, together in Thailand. Can't wait to see where life takes us next!