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Six ways Lisbon surprised me

Lisbon street art

We’ve just got back from a fantastic Easter weekend break in Lisbon and I absolutely loved it! There were a few things that I was not expecting and which surprised me…

There is no time difference from the U.K

Although Lisbon is a two and a half hour flight from London, there is no time difference as they are on Greenwich Mean Time. I had absolutely no idea until the pilot mentioned it and I was delighted as it meant we landed an hour earlier than I thought we would. BONUS.

This meant more time to explore and have some local delicacies, such as pastel de bacalhau – a codfish cake with Sierra da Estrela cheese. The weather was amazing too so an extra hour of sunshine was a dream.

pastel de bacalhau from Lisbon

Portuguese wine is fabulous

I feel a bit embarrassed but I honestly had no idea Portugal produced their own wine (apart from Port, obviously) – and it’s really good! As prosecco lovers, we were delighted that Portugal has a wide variety of sparkling wine or espumante and we tried a fair few bottles. I have no idea why I did not know this as, according to Visit Portugal, Portuguese wine is recognised around the world and has won awards and distinctions. I think a wine region tour is definitely in order next time we visit. I clearly need to be educated!

Portuguese espumante

Transportation is cheap

Lisbon has several modes of public transport: a metro system, trams, buses, trains, tuk-tuks and taxis and all are fairly cheap (well, compared to the U.K). You can buy a three-day travel card for only €15 and it gives you unlimited access to the metro, buses, trams and trains. The tuk-tuks can be used as taxis but mainly they offer guided tours. We took one in Sintra and it was great.

The metro has only four lines, which covers 46kms, and the last train is at around 1am. An unlimited day ticket is €6 or it’s €1.40 for a single trip. The red line takes you to the airport, which is a bargain ride for €1.40! It’s more economical to buy a day or three-day pass as trams are €2.85 per single ride, or if you purchase a Viva Viagem re-loadable card (like a U.K Oyster card) for 0.50€ then a tram ride is €1.40. You can either top the card up and use it as a ‘pay as you go’ or load it with day tickets.

Tuk-tuk in Lisbon

The trams and funiculars are not JUST a novelty

Whilst trams and funiculars are such a novelty to those of us who live in countries where they don’t exist, the trams and funiculars in Lisbon serve a real purpose. Lisbon is built on seven hills and funiculars (also known as an Elevador) can take you up very steep hills in mere minutes. Trams are able to navigate the steep and winding roads and due to the city’s typography, some sections can only be crossed by trams. If you want to find out the best tram routes to explore Lisbon, here’s a great guide.

Elevador da Gloria in Barrio Alto

The pavement tiles made me seasick

As much as I LOVE tiles, I found that some of the floor tile designs in Lisbon made me feel a bit seasick! They are like three-dimensional and almost move like waves when you walk. They are called Portuguese Pavement or calcada portuguesa and it’s difficult to track down their origins. They are really pretty but can be slippery and some designs seemed to move – I’d love to know if that was intentional when they were designed. Perhaps with Portugal’s history of explorers, like Vasco da Gama, maybe they are meant to represent the ocean?

Floor tiles in Lisbon

The tiles on buildings have a purpose

All over Lisbon there are buildings covered in pretty tiles. The tiles are called Azulejo and are painted, tin-glazed ceramic tiles. The word Azulejo is derived from an Arabic word which means ‘polished tile’. The decorative tiles aren’t just for art but actually help with temperature control – they help keep homes cool when it’s very hot (and it gets hot!). The designs have changed throughout centuries so you can tell how old a building is by the decoration of the tiles.

Tiled buildings in Sintra

Lisbon is a wonderful city and I can’t wait to go back and explore more!

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Six surprising things about Lisbon in Portugal

Kirsty Marrins

Reader, writer, occasional runner, travel lover.




  • Michele Peterson

    I too really enjoyed Lisbon and bought so many cans of sardines, tuna and even a king-sized bedspread made our of the softest cotton that my suitcase broke on the way home! Definitely worth a return trip.

    • Kirsty Marrins

      Oops! I didn’t actually buy anything this time round but I know we’ll be back!

  • WhenTwoWander

    Those paving designs are pretty trippy even just looking at the photo! Great list.

    • Kirsty Marrins

      Ha! That’s a great way of describing them!

  • NIco

    Nice! I love Lisbon, it has a special atmosphere, it is that big that you could spend a year and not know everything.

    • Kirsty Marrins

      Yes although not big enough that it feels like a big city!

  • Jason

    Love, love….and nothing but love for Lisbon. We took our kids there last summer….had a BLAST!!!

  • Natalia

    Your city guide is very interesting and entertaining. I especially liked the part about sealike pavement. Thank you for sharing.

    • Kirsty Marrins

      Thanks Natalia!

  • Maria

    So good that you loved Lisbon! Hope you can return some day and visit some other parts of the country. This year I’m writing a series on wine tourism in Portugal. You may want to check some of my suggestions.

    • Kirsty Marrins

      Me too, Maria! We have been to Madeira but that’s it so far!

  • Danielle

    Great stuff. Lisbon has recently moved up on my list of ‘must see’ cities so your articles have been really helpful. Thanks for sharing this great info.

    • Kirsty Marrins

      Thanks Danielle and glad you found my Lisbon posts useful! I’m sure you will have a great time when you go!

  • Kimmie Conner

    I still haven’t been to Lisbon so a lot of these things surprised me too! Glad it’s nice a cheap to get around, and the wine wounds lovely!

    • Kirsty Marrins

      You should definitely go if you can, Kimmie!

  • Eemma

    So many things I didn’t know about Portugal! I easily get motion sickness and I would defintley have to keep my eyes up on those tiles! lol Love tiled builidings and their functionality makes them that much more perfect!

    • Kirsty Marrins

      Oh dear…yes, don’t look down then! Luckily they aren’t on every pavement 🙂

  • We have been to Lisbon and it was a lovely city, we had to do I quick tour as we could not take our dog on a bus from the campsite into the city, so left her in the motorhome (in the shade). We need to go back and see more of the city.

    • Kirsty Marrins

      It is lovely! Hopefully next time you’ll be able to find transport for your dog too so you can explore it more

  • I’ve never thought about going to Libson!

    • Kirsty Marrins

      Well I hope this post has made you want to go 🙂

  • Maria

    Nice tips on Lisbon, but next time you must eat a traditional pastel de bacalhau (this is the fancy / gourmet version) 😉

    • Kirsty Marrins

      Thanks Maria and yes, you’re right! Next time I’ll have a traditional one 🙂

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