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What I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Portugal…

After spending close to a month in one destination, is it really any surprise that I have a lot to talk about?? Maybe it’s just that part of me that doesn’t want to forget about this incredible trip (not that one ever could!). While I was ready to come home and settle back into my routine (still waiting on that to happen tbh), I really enjoyed my time jet-setting after a three year hiatus. Considering my partner and I were used to our annual international trips starting the year we met in 2016, going three years without an international trip was rather difficult. Of course we had plenty of adventures stateside during that time but still! It’s just not the same, you know?

So, it felt good to pack our suitcases once again. To have that travel ‘checklist’ - my fellow travelers know the one. The one where forgetting things off said ‘checklist’ equates to consequences more severe than simply forgetting socks or something that could easily be purchased no matter your eventual final destination.

Hopefully by now you’ve read my first Portugal blog post ‘Guide to Lisbon, Portugal.’ While that post of course shared some additional context behind our trip as well as details on our favorite hotspots around the city, I figured I still have at least a couple more posts in me to share with you. For this particular post I wanted to focus on the interesting tidbits we discovered during our travels that perhaps I wish I would have known prior to visiting. They should in no way deter you from adding Lisbon to your travel bucket list but more so act as helpful guideposts for your future endeavors to Portugal.

With that, let’s get in to What I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Portugal

1) The streets are SLICK - especially after rain (we visited during the rainy season). To be fair, this is definitely something I read about when we were prepping for our trip but I don’t think I took it as seriously as I should have. Similar to how the most dangerous time to drive is immediately after the first rain, the most dangerous time to walk the old cobblestone streets in beautiful Lisbon, Portugal is immediately after the first rain. I almost fell at least five times - at LEAST. Bring shoes with a good grip. And no, not all sneakers automatically have good grip. Trust me, I learned this one the hard way. Make sure you have a solid pair of comfy, walking boots.

2) The weather is a bit unpredictable. The rain especially.

Despite visiting during the traditionally ‘rainy season’ it really didn’t rain very much while we were there. I tried to stay on track of the weather and plan our adventures accordingly but that proved to be easier said than done. You’d think I would be used to that by now living in Austin where the weather changes every five minutes but I guess I just didn’t expect that same temperamental disposition abroad. Don’t let a little rain in the forecast deter you from getting out and exploring. Even when it did rain, it usually wasn’t very hard and/or it cleared up pretty quickly.

3) It’s doesn’t get very cold in November.

Keeping on the weather theme, I’m surprised to say it didn’t get very cold in Lisbon in November. We were there the majority of the month and I honestly don’t think I was cold once. Granted I do run quite hot but even our friends who visited were surprised at how mild it was. I was perfectly comfortable in a long sleeve and pants most days. Of course you should come prepared with layers, jackets and what not but don’t be concerned that you’re going to feel ill-prepared without your parka.

4) People eat late - like real late.

If you’ve traveled abroad at all, this one probably doesn’t come as a surprise. Nor did it really come as a surprise to me given my somewhat extensive international travel over the years. However, I think the people of Lisbon take their nighttime outings to a whole new level - drinking in the streets until the wee hours of the morn (1, 2, 3am on some nights!). I more so like to share this one as a reminder and a bit of a travel hack even. Should you enjoy exploring the dining scene in Lisbon and choose to eat dinner out, consider visiting on the earlier side (before 8/9pm) to avoid the local crowd.

5) Most restaurants close midday.

Similarly, if you find yourself wanting to dine out during the lunch hour, make sure you confirm operating hours of your desired destination before making the trek. Most restaurants are not open all day, in fact many of them are closed around the lunch hour and open back up for dinner. While we never really dealt with the ramifications of restaurant’s particular dining hours, it’s a good thing to make note of when planning your dining excursions. There’s nothing worse than getting stuck somewhere while being hungry and not being able to find a decent place to eat.

6) Tipping isn’t expected.

Is anyone else eternally confused by tipping etiquette when traveling? Isn’t it fascinating that it’s something we don’t think twice about at home in the US and then suddenly becomes this taboo, frequently googled topic upon traveling abroad? While tipping etiquette is usually quite clear at home, it becomes rather fuzzy while traveling abroad. Despite having spent almost a month in Lisbon I still don’t know the answer but can offer some bits of advice. Tipping is not expected in Portugal so don’t feel badly if you don’t tip. Of course, tipping for excellent service is always nice and being that you might be visiting from a country in which tipping is commonplace, I would recommend considering a tip for excellent service. Should you choose to leave a tip/gratuity (gratificação in Portuguese), know that it needn’t be the 20%+ we’re used to at home. Unfortunately there isn’t a super clear answer when it comes to tipping etiquette but if I can leave you with anything know that it’s not expected but of course always nice should the service deem it appropriate.

7) Servers aren’t always as attentive in restaurants. Be prepared to let them know if you need refills, want to order, need the check, etc.

I guess this truly shouldn’t come as a surprise when we ponder the aforementioned ’tipping question’ when traveling abroad. Traditionally in the US we tip based on the service we receive, well, in Lisbon, servers and waitstaff alike more often than not do their job and that’s about it. There’s not really going ‘above and beyond’ to service the customer. Waiters take your order, bring you your food, your check and bid you good day. Don’t be surprised if they don’t check on your table every few minutes to ask how you’re doing, see if you need anything, and certainly do NOT get angry or frustrated should they seem aloof. That’s how it is. Also, remember, most people outside the US actually sit and enjoy their meals (i.e. they take their time), so it’s quite common for people to sit at a table and eat and drink for hours. Should you be ready to pay and leave you’ll likely have to inform your server and/or get up and pay directly at the register.

8) Reminder: Coffee is s-m-a-l-l.

It is Europe after all, are we even surprised??? People don’t exactly order ‘black coffee’ abroad and as such their coffee is traditionally taken in ‘shot‘ format…Espresso shots that is. After 23 days I was so ready to get back home to my 20 oz+ iced coffee. Don’t get me wrong, we snuck in a few Starbucks trips here and there just to fill that craving but otherwise we were stuck with Espresso shots and Americanos on most days. Perhaps look for an AirBnb or hotel with a coffee pot available for guests and brew your own batch at home. We missed normal sized coffee.

9) Uber Eats delivery fees are minimal.

Let me preface this by saying we are not an Uber Eats delivery family. We may order something once a month and that’s only because we get a deal through our American Express card where we get a $35 credit. So, for me to make note of the delivery fee on Uber Eats is saying something. We noticed it right off the bat too. If you remember, we arrived to our AirBnb after a long day of travel to find the cleaning ladies finishing up in the apartment. We had to wait a couple hours for them to finish so by the time we got into the AirBnb we were ready to shower, order food and call it a night. That’s when I discovered just how insanely CHEAP the delivery fees were - I’m talking under $1 for some. Considering how CRAZY delivery fees and all the other fees can get when ordering from Uber Eats at home in the States, this was definitely a worthwhile and beneficial discovery.

10) Stick with wine and beer as your drink of choice.

Not only is wine and beer far cheaper than cocktails or other mixed drinks, but its quality is much better in general. I had a cocktail of some kind the first night we dined out and after dusting off another one or two, I felt as if I’d downed a few glasses of juice. Now that’s not to say you’re drinking alcohol to get drunk but it’s always nice to feel some kind of buzz if you are in fact choosing to drink while dining out. I learned very quickly (and the hard way) that the more expensive cocktail option is not the way to go.

11) Portugal is a country with numerous cuisine influences - don’t feel badly for not eating ‘traditional‘ meals!

Food is usually an integral part of most people’s travel itineraries, is it not? We visit other countries and destinations in the hopes that we can get a firsthand look into their culture and traditions often by way of the food they consume. Well let me tell you, aside from their vast array of Michelin star restaurants and the infamous pastéis de nata (of course!) there isn’t a ton of traditional ‘must try’ dishes I encountered in my research on Portugal. It’s a country inhabited by numerous ex-pats who have thus brought their own cuisine influences from around the world to this beautiful place. Let me be the first to free you of your guilt - do not feel badly if the infamous pastry is the only traditional thing you try in Portugal!

12) Lisbon is known for its selection of Michelin star restaurants.

If you read my ‘Guide to Lisbon’ then you already know this point to be true but Lisbon is well-known for its array of Michelin star restaurants. I learned this from a college friend of mine who has an upcoming trip planned and her and her partner are far more the food connoisseurs than Adam and I are but nevertheless something to make note of when investigating your upcoming Lisbon travels.

13) The Citymapper app should be in any visitor’s toolkit!

Another shoutout to my younger cousin who is a very seasoned traveler and I’m eternally grateful to reap the benefits of her travel lessons. The Citymapper app is an awesome travel tool for travelers in Lisbon. Merely plug in the destination you’re hoping to visit and the app will help you determine various ways available to get there (i.e. walking, train, bus, etc.). Such a great tool!

14) You can keep track of all the destinations you visited in an iPhone guide (in maps) which you can then share directly with other iPhone users.

I’m sure plenty of you are reading this and laughing at me and my obvious iPhone capability naivety but this was an exciting discovery thanks to my younger cousin who had visited Lisbon shortly before we arrived. In the maps app on iPhones, you can create ‘guides’ where you drop locations you visit (shopping, restaurants, points of interest, etc.) and then share with fellow iPhone users. My cousin had shared her guide with me before we landed in Lisbon so the points she visited popped up on the map as we were out and about, perusing for new destinations or restaurants to check out. It’s also a convenient place to keep track of everywhere you went should you have other travelers eager to take in some of the sights and sounds you raved about.

15) Porto is a solid 3+ hour drive and probably deserves its own weekend.

For whatever reason I was convinced that Portugal was much smaller than it was prior to our arrival in this beautiful country. What little research I did prior to our visit seemed to suggest that any city could be easily visited in a day. I guess it’s easy to say when you’re in the comfort of your own home with a car in the garage that you can take out for a spin whenever needed. Not so much the case when visiting a foreign country. We visited Porto on an AirBnb experience group tour and quickly realized just how far it was from Lisbon. Granted, it was part of a day long tour so there were a lot of factors at play here but take my word for it, Porto is most certainly worth its own weekend. Should you plan to visit Lisbon but have wishes to visit Porto, know it’s over a three hour drive and offers plenty of sights to keep you occupied for an entire weekend.

16) Renting a car is probably the easiest way to get to those desirable farther destinations in Lisbon (i.e. Porto).

While you do still of course run into the issue of parking said car (hint: there is absolutely no parking in Lisbon), I would still recommend renting a car for some of those weekend or longer day trips. Lisbon’s roads are pretty easy to navigate, drivers aren’t too terribly crazy (at least not that I noticed), and it gives you a lot more freedom when hitting those farther destinations. Just be sure to take the time to look into parking, tolls, etc. before hitting the dusty trail. Oh and don’t forget to brush up on your manual driving skills - most cars are stick shift. Or book early to ensure you get your hands on a coveted automatic car.

17) Lisbon has free walking tours led by local experts.

This was something we learned after we had just about exhausted all desires for yet another walking tour in Lisbon (self-guided or otherwise), but something I wish we would have known about toward the beginning of our trip. Take note, this is not something that’s specific to Lisbon either! Most cities have free walking tours led by local experts, merely google your destination and browse the local offering of walking tours. While these tours are ‘free’ it is of course recommended to generously tip your tour guide (bring cash!).

18) How to say ‘hi,’ ‘good day,’ ‘thank you,’ - at the very least!

Prior to visiting Portugal I had very little exposure to the Portuguese language and boy could I tell very quickly! As I mentioned in my first blog, it only took one day out and about exploring and being amongst the locals, not knowing what to say or how to say it, before I immediately investigated how to say some key phrases. Hi (ola), good day (bom dia), good night (bom noite), thank you (obrigada or obrigado) were the key ones I would recommend taking note of.

19) Apparently the Portuguese do not believe in q-tips. (There’s a country wide q-tip shortage?!)

That or I’m just completely oblivious and missed the stores specifically dedicated to picking up your personal supply of q-tips. At home, q-tips are used on a daily basis in our household so imagine our surprise when we visited the grocery store in search of them and came away empty handed. A rather odd thing to have trouble finding but one worth making note of especially if you’re like us and use them quite frequently. Considering packing your own and don’t depend on being able to pick them up from the grocery store.

20) There’s few ‘one stop shopping’ destinations.

Add this to the list of things we most certainly take for granted in the US, well, let me preface that by clarifying places I’ve personally lived in the US. For reference Target and Walmart, are places that I would deem ’one stop shopping’ destinations. You walk in with a grocery list, a school supply list, a household supplies list and are able to pick everything up in one destination. Now don’t get me wrong, we were able to get most everything we needed from Continente (our local grocery store), but we quickly realized the ’Supercenters’ we’re used to back home are more of an American luxury.

21) Lisbon is a city with numerous artisan markets!

After stumbling across multiple markets in one week, we quickly realized it was kind of a thing! One of my favorite happy accidents in life is finding some kind of farmers market, craft market, artisans market, any kind of market really so imagine my constant surprise to see them popping up all over Lisbon. It was such a treat! I only wish I would have researched them sooner to ensure we hit all the best ones during our stay, although I’m pretty sure we did a decent job of it.

22) Lisbon is known for the quality of its hostels.

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve never stayed in a hostel before. Chalk it up to the fact that I didn’t travel much internationally until I was established in my career and adult life but I’ve never ventured into a hostel in my life. Honest! Well, apparently Lisbon’s hostels are some of the best you’ll visit and worth considering as a place to rest your head at night. Who knew! Not sure it would have necessarily changed my personal head resting destination but still! Food for thought.

23) Casual Clothes are a clear indication that you’re a visitor to the country (i.e. an American).

Don’t get me wrong, one of my favorite things about traveling is the opportunity to put together fun outfits and get dressed up in another country, however, considering we were basically uprooting our lives for a month in Lisbon, I definitely brought my fair share of athleisure wear as well. Turns out leaving your home in sweats, oversized tees/sweatshirts, running shoes, etc. is not exactly commonplace in Lisbon. Oh yeah and that includes your favorite baseball cap - leave those at home too. As in the US of A, home.

24) When they say Lisbon is one of the cheapest European countries, they mean it.

Whenever we decide on our next travel destination, my partner does thorough research into the cost of living, what one can expect to spend on an average meal and more in our country of choice. We go into the trip with a pre-determined daily budget and an overall trip budget to stick to. When researching Lisbon, it was mentioned numerous times just how cheap this country is to visit compared to some of its European counterparts. Also on our side was the fact that the USD and the Euro were just about at parity during our visit which gave us a 1:1 spending ratio for the duration of our trip. Our daily budget for Portugal was around $130 and while that may seem incredibly small for two people traveling in a foreign country, let me tell you it was more than enough. We came back severely under our overall trip budget. It really is as cheap as they say it is. At least it was in November 2022...

25) Lisbon is a fascinating city with lots to see and do and kind and wonderful inhabitants.

Last but perhaps the most important point of all is this, Lisbon is absolutely spectacular. It’s a city that will surpass all of your wildest dreams and leave you wanting more. Please, I beg of you, don’t be an obnoxious American tourist (we saw plenty). Be kind, be patient, be generous, be respectful when visiting this breathtaking city and she will return the favor by enveloping you in all her magical splendor.

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