From cultural faux pas to falling into tourist traps, there are always several mistakes tourists make when visiting a new place. Here are the top 5 in Lisbon:
Not Buying the Lisboa Card
Most of the biggest tourist cities around the world have a tourist card that allows free or reduced admission to the main attractions and pubic transportation. Sometimes these cards are not worth the investment, but in many cases, it’s a must. In Lisbon it’s perhaps the first thing you should consider when planning your trip, as it ends up paying for itself. Not only do you save time since you don’t have to worry about metro, tram, train, or bus tickets, but you also end up saving a lot of euros when sightseeing. Here’s what you need to know about the Lisboa Card: Lisboa Card.
Remember that Lisbon is in Portugal and the official language is Portuguese. You don’t have to speak the language when you visit the city, and you’ll do fine communicating in English. Unless you’re Spanish, Hispanic, or a fluent Spanish speaker, don’t speak Spanish (often bad Spanish) in order to avoid offending cultural pride. Although many Portuguese are able to decipher Spanish (apparently Spaniards have a harder time understanding the guttural sounds of Portuguese), having a tourist thanking with “gracias” instead of “obrigado” can offend the biggest nationalists who’ll remind you that Portugal has its own Iberian language, and that it’s one of Europe’s oldest cultures and nations, founded over three centuries before Spain. Also remember that it’s the castle of “São Jorge” and not “San Jorge” and the nightlife neighborhood is “Bairro Alto” and not “Barrio Alto.”
Eating at Touristy Restaurants
Most of the restaurants from Rossio Square to the riverfront Comercio Square cater to tourists. There are of course a few exceptions, but these restaurants serve mediocre food, the service is often poor, and they prevent you from exploring the city’s real cuisine. The restaurants to avoid are the ones with waiters standing by the door trying to persuade you into going inside, and the ones with illustrated menus (usually of tourist-friendly pastas and burgers) by the entrance.
It’s the Tagus, Not the Atlantic or the Mediterranean
Lisbon stands where the Tagus River meets the Atlantic Ocean. It’s such a wide river, that many people think they’re looking at the sea. If you take the train to Cascais, you’ll see that it does become the Atlantic after you pass the Belem Tower, but in the center of the city, it’s still a river. With Portugal being a Southern European country, many tourists have also reportedly thought they’re standing by the Mediterranean. Other curious mistakes is thinking that the southern bank of the river is Algarve or the island of Madeira. It’s actually Almada, another city.
Not Respecting the Queues
When waiting for a tram or bus, the Portuguese line up and enter the vehicle by order of arrival. Apparently this is not common practice in other countries, and many tourists often just run inside in front of everyone else, leaving the typical old local ladies complaining about your bad manners. This is a tip that doesn’t come in most guidebooks, but it should.