This is a guest post from Zara Quiroga. Zara and Ashray run the travel website Backpack ME, where they share tips and inspirational stories in the shape of posts, photos and videos. With their different cultural backgrounds (Portugese and Indian), they want to inspire anyone to travel, no matter where they come from.
Budget Travel In Lisbon
Lisbon is one of the most affordable capitals you are likely to find when traveling around Europe. Yet affordability is not the only factor making Portugal’s main city an enjoyable destination. Sitting by a river and close to the sea, Lisbon is home to great cuisine, unique architecture, friendly people and moderate weather all year long.
These are just some of the reasons to make a trip to Lisbon. There are many more.
Here are some tips to best enjoy your trip to Lisbon if you are on a budget or, like many, simply enjoy good deals and making the most of your €uros!
Public transportation in the area of Great Lisbon consists of metro, buses, trams, funiculars, trains and even boats that cross between Lisbon and the suburban areas on the other side of the Tagus river. To visit the most popular touristic sites you will mainly end up using metro, buses, trams and funiculars.
Although one can buy individual tickets on board or before getting in any of the above, 7 Colinas Card is the way to go to save money! You can purchase it at any stall with the a sign reading Carris (which is the name of the company operating the yellow buses, trams and funiculars) or at the entrance of the metro stations (both at the ticket counter or in the machines). The card itself costs a mere €0.50 and you can recharge it depending on your needs. If a single ride on a bus would cost €1.75 on board, it costs only €1.15 using the 7 Colinas Card. To add to the advantages, you need to only pay once and can board different buses and even the metro consecutively. Find all the info here: http://www.carris.pt/en/transport-tickets/.
There is a newly opened metro station connecting Lisbon’s airport with downtown and the entire city, making it much cheaper than before to get into town – get your 7 Colinas card as soon as you land! Although the metro doesn’t work 24 hours, there are buses going around all day and night long.
Taxis are not a cheap option to go around and you should keep in mind that, whenever you carry luggage, the driver will put it in the trunk for you and this will add an extra of €1.6 to your total fee.
If you consider renting a car and do some road trips departing from Lisbon, please take into consideration that Portugal has an excellent highway system, but it is paid at considerably high fees. A trip between Lisbon and Porto on the highway (“autoestrada” in Portuguese – identified as letter A followed by a number and name of destination) won’t take you much more than 3 hours, but can easily set you back on €20 just for tolls. Add to that an approximate €35 for fuel for an average vehicle and there you go, €55 gone in just a few hours!
The alternative to this is to take “estrada nacional” which is the national free road network, going through cities and towns. If you are not in a hurry to reach a specific destination, this can surely be a more entertaining way to get acquainted with the Portuguese landscape and settlements. Also, taking the “estrada nacional” (roads are marked with N followed by a number and name of destination) you will have many more options of places to stop at for coffee or a bite. The 24/7 stations found along the highway sell limited food and beverage choices at inflated prices.
There is plenty of variety when it comes to budget accommodation in downtown Lisbon and also in less touristic, but still interesting and pleasant areas.
If you are into hostels, you should definitely check out The Hoscars, run by HostelWorld.com, awarding the best hostels in the whole wide world: http://www.hostelworld.com/hoscars-2012 You’ll find that he top positions are filled with Lisbon hostels that, even with all this fame, have beds in dorms for around €20.
If you plan to stay in for a little while and want to have your own space, I’d recommend looking for rentals at Airbnb or Roomorama. For a more traditional stay in pure Lisbon style, you might want to look around the older areas of Alfama or Baixa Chiado. They won’t necessarily have the most affordable options, but you will be in the centre of action and will end up saving money going around.
There are plenty of places to eat at in Lisbon, from cheap corner bars (commonly called “tascas”), to medium restaurants serving typical dishes (“cozinha regional”) to high end haute cuisine hot spots.
“Pastelarias” are the ever present pastry shops where many locals have breakfast, but also lunch and other meals, as many serve a daily special called “prato do dia” or “menu” (when including more than just the dish).
“Prato do dia” can be had at pastry shops and restaurants and the options commonly include a variety of dishes to choose form. You can either combine a main dish with soup, beverage and desert or coffee (into a “menu”), or have the main dish alone. A daily special can go for as little as 3 euros in certain places (specially if you’re having a “mini-prato”, that is, a smaller serving of the daily special), although they will more commonly be above 6 euros if you take the full deal. In some busy spots, specially pastry shops and not as much proper restaurants, you can save a little by eating standing an the counter – if you sit at a table, a dish can be around €0.50 more expensive.
Outdoor seating areas are very popular in the touristic spots, specially in the big squares around Baixa Chiado. The setting is lovely, but keep in mind that when you eat/drink outside, the prices tend to be higher than if sitting inside (either at the table or counter) – this surcharge would normally be mentioned in the menu.
If you are a DIY kind of traveler and would like to take advantage of Lisbon’s green areas and go for a picnic, you’ll find good ingredients and ready made food in supermarkets. I used to do this all the time while working in Lisbon, as long as the weather was sunny.
It is rather easy to enjoy the nightlife of Lisbon on a moderate budget. Our country loves drinking and produces a lot of wine and beer, and so these drinks are not as expensive as you might find in other European countries.
You can easily get draft beer for €1 or €2 but for this you shouldn’t ask for a beer (“cerveja” in Portuguese), you should ask for an “Imperial” which is beer by the glass (usually 25cl).
If you like drinking and hanging out and prefer avoiding paying a cover charge to get inside a club, I’d recommend heading out to famous Bairro Alto or the more recently pumping area of Cais do Sodre, where cheap places to drink are common.
In Bairro Alto or Alfama, you’ll even find places with live Fado (the traditional Portuguese music that many tourists like to hear live when they visit) without cover charge. Most travel agents will recommend you to go to a restaurant with a live show, but those treats are costly. Head to a down-to-earth bar (“tasca”) with live Fado that you’ll come across in the alleys of Alfama and pay only for whatever you eat or drink. Believe me, this feels like the real deal and you shouldn’t miss one of these shows when you come to town. Whether you like the music genre or not, it is a great cultural experience!