10 WAYS TO FEEL LIKE A LOCAL IN LISBON
Once you arrive in Lisbon and start to mingle in the atmosphere, you can do it both ways: the touristic way or the Portuguese way.
Sure you can check in at every tourist spot (plenty of them are worth it) and eat all the Portuguese custards tarts you can – we also eat them – or waiting hours in line to get in the 28 tram.
But you can also live for a few days like a true Lisboner, go where we go, eat what we eat, drink what we drink, socialize as we socialize and experience Lisbon like we live, in such an immersive and authentic way that, once you return home, you understand the real meaning of that Portuguese word that has no full translation: saudade.
Willing to accept the challenge of discovering Lisbon like a Lisboner? Take note of 10 ways to feel like a real Alfacinha (the native name Lisboners are known in Portugal).
1 – Start the day with a bica
Lisboners are huge fans of coffee, and the strongest, the better. We even coined a strong shot of coffee as Bica. So, if you usually start your day with huge mugs of black coffee that you take with you into the street, forget it and start the day with a real kick of energy in the closest coffee shop or pastry shop.
2 – Eat breakfast in a Portuguese coffee shop or pastry shop
Lisboners like to take breakfast outside, on their way to work, in the local coffee shop or pastry shop, make small talk with the waiter while they eat on the coffee counter. If bica is too strong, you can ask for a galão (coffee with milk), with torrada (toasted bread), sandes mista (bread with cheese and ham) or a pastry of your choice. Yes, you can start with a pastel de nata (Portuguese custard tart), but usually locals wait until the elevenish coffee-break to eat one of them. Either way, step in with a cheerful “Bom dia!” (Good Morning) without expecting an answer. You will feel at home.
3- Explore the city on foot
Despite the seven hills, Lisbon is a relatively small town and you can easily discover several neighborhoods by foot, such as Mouraria, Alfama, Santos, Chiado, Bairro Alto, Príncipe Real or Graça. The best part is to get lost in the narrow streets and find new places, or little squares, that aren’t listed in your tourist guidebook, smile and make some small talk with locals, normally curious with newcomers.
4- Choose the restaurant by the daily menu
Do you know those restaurants with the menu in Portuguese, handwritten on the front door and, when you enter, you don’t understand a single word because they all speak Portuguese? That’s the spot you want to eat because for sure the food is traditional and delicious. Don’t understand a word of the menu? Don’t fumble, look at the table near you, ask the same thing as the locals are enjoying and discover new flavors.
5 – Lunch from 1 pm and dinner from 8 pm
Lisboners treasure time and for sure mealtimes are sacred. Stop for lunch at 1 pm (or at 12.30 am to find an empty seat) and book a dinner table around 8 pm. On Friday and weekends, you may give your watch a time off and take lunch around 2 pm or dinner around 9:30 pm.
6 – Finish your meal with a bica com cheirinho
Remember that bica you tasted early morning? It’s time for a second one because, in Lisbon, the perfect lunch always ends with an espresso usually with cheirinho. This is our little secret to tell the waiter to serve our coffee with a splash of aguardente (firewater) or brandy.
7 – Get around by public transports
Forget the touristic bus that takes you to clean and neat places around Lisbon and where you only see the city behind the window. If you want to see and feel the real Lisbon get down on the subway – there are beautiful stations – or get in line (and respect your place in line, you don’t want to see a tuga – self nickname for Portuguese people — getting angry because you jumped him in the queue), wait for the next yellow bus and discover residential neighborhoods such as Campo de Ourique, Marvila or Alvalade).
8 – Rent a bike
Lisboners are getting used to crossing the city on a bicycle and we already have several ciclovias you can explore, like the newest one in Almirante Reis avenue. You can rent a bike or take a Gira, the system that lets you rent a bike for 2€ a day.
9 – Run across the river
For all the super active and in shape, running with Tagus river by your side is one of the most delightful ways to exercise (and get rid of that extra calories from all the Portuguese custard tarts and snacks we know you’ve been eating). From Cais do Sodré to Belém – 7km – you will find a riverside where you can walk, run or cycle until you get tired, always with Tagus river by your side. If you want to do it at the same time as the locals, mingling and feeling like a Lisbon dweller, go 6 pm onward on weekdays, or in the morning at weekends.
10 – Celebrate life with a ginjinha
At the end of the afternoon be thankful for all you have enjoyed along the day and the new things you experienced and celebrate with a ginjinha, one of the 10 typical drinks from Portugal. Search for the local old pubs in downtown and in the old neighborhoods of Mouraria and Alfama, where neighbors hang out. Let the strong sweet liquor warn your guts and, well, take a bottle with you on your way back home to remember us when you feel saudade. If ginjinha is too sweet for you, order a beer. More than the drink, this is the time to relax after work with small talk with friends and neighbors, before dinner time.
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