10 Things I Did Not Expect in Lisbon

When leaving for Portugal, I was excited to see how different things were in Portugal compared to my home in Toronto. My last international flight was to Jamaica and I found it fun trying to learn from the locals and observing the differences between home and there. So going to Portugal was no different. I was packed and ready to see how others lived! However, after a few days, a few things stood out to me. Here are some things that I did not expect while visiting Lisbon, Portugal.

10 Things I Did Not Expect in Lisbon

10 Things I Did Not Expect in Lisbon

1 | Smoking

Oh my goodness, I feel like I had inhaled a month’s worth of cigarette smoke within the 6 days I was there. People were smoking on the patios, smoking while waiting for the bus, smoking while waiting for the train, smoking while on the platforms, and smoking literally everywhere. While I know Europe does not have the same non-smoking patio culture that Canadians have, it got to the point where I felt that once I walked into the square downtown, I was uncomfortable with the smell. We had spent an evening having a patio dinner and near the end, someone lit up a smoke a couple feet from us and needless to say, I wanted to get my bill ASAP and get out of there. I mean, it is what it is, and people were not literally as there were patios with ashtrays but I just personally found the smoke to be uncomfortable.

2 | Off leash dogs

Dog poop, dog poop everywhere. Okay maybe not everywhere but there was quite a bit of poop on the residential streets! We thought it might have been because a lot of dogs were roaming leashless so the owners might not have even known their dogs did their business. However, I must say that they were very well trained (stayed wth their owners, kept to themselves, etc) and were quite friendly. As you know, I love dogs so being able to see a husky run off leash or seeing a little maltese run up to me to me to be pet was quite the highlight for me!




3 | The dangers of cobblestone

I fell. At least once completely onto the floor and a handful of times by stepping into holes in the ground. I noticed that their cobblestones were quite slippery and a few times while going downhill, I’ve had to catch myself. There were also a lot of random holes where some stones went missing or were overturned that I didn’t notice and stepped in a couple times. Luckily I came out in one piece and have learned to keep an eye out for holes in the ground! (Note for the entire trip, I wore Birkenstocks).



4 | Strange hours of operations

I’m very much used to tourist attractions (especially in Toronto) to pretty much to always be opened (or at least M-F). So when planning out our itinerary, it was odd to find some places closed on random days of the week (ie a monastery was closed on a Monday where as a castle was closed on like a Tuesday). Just something to keep in mind while planning your trip!

5 | Roasted chestnuts

So I totally did not realize roasted chestnuts were a thing in Lisbon! It felt like every 2 blocks downtown, there was a guy with a roasted chestnut truck selling them. Sadly we never really got the chance to stop and try some. But on day one, Vicky and I did not expect it and when we kept seeing the trucks, we were like “what are those? Chesnuts?!?!?!”

And then there are a few other things that I had expected but did not know to what degree…


6 | Hills and stairs

I was expecting hills and stairs but I did not expect how steep and how uneven some of them were. Some locations there were not any rhyme or reason, it can be a completely different height and length after a short landing! When in our Uber going downhill, we were pretty scared! Our driver was of course driving like a local so that meant gunning down the hills and narrow streets – it felt like a roller coaster! (Note: be really careful if you jaywalk – I’ve seen cars showing no signs of slowing down when people were darting across the streets)


7 | Tipping

Tipping is definitely less than what you usually tip in Canada/USA.

8 | Being hustled

While walking downtown, it felt like every few intersections, there would be like 4 guys with a restaurant menu trying to talk you into visiting their restaurants. At first, I was polite, said no (after being lured into a long conversation previously), and then move on. Near the end of my trip, it got to the point where I did not even acknowledge them and kept walking.

9 | Bring a change purse

Coined in Canada are 5, 10, 25 cents and 1 and 2 dollars. Coins in Lisbon were 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 cents in addition to the 1 and 2 dollar coins, I thought oh it can’t be that bad but by the end of one day, I had a ton of loose change in my bag and was awkwardly digging through my bag whenever I was buying something and pulling out the wrong change!

10 | Washrooms

Yes you have to pay for the bathrooms but if you use the bathroom at places such as fast food joints, hotels, restaurants, and pretty much pee whenever you see a free one, you’ll be fine. However keep in mind that outside of the airport ones, the bathrooms in Lisbon are cramped. Like I had to press myself against a wall to open the bathroom stall door to get in and out cramp. Whew.


11 | Starbucks

They do not take the app or your gold card. And their “collectible mugs” aren’t the same style as the current ones where the images are slightly raised on the mugs. Yes Vicky and I were disappointed and did not go home with a pretty mug.

Whew, so there are my 10 (and bonus 1) things that I did not expect in Lisbon! Did any of these surprise you? I’d love to hear your thoughts! What was the last thing that surprised you in your travels?

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10 Things I Did Not Expect in Lisbon

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64 thoughts on “10 Things I Did Not Expect in Lisbon

  1. We did a family trip to Lisboa the first week of October. Here is our list
    1) The weather was amazing and comfortable in October
    2) We never had a bad meal and generally food was cheap
    3) Public transportation was fantastic, cheap and easy
    4) We did a sunset cruise – beautiful
    5) Sintra is a must visit – we took the train (3 euro)
    6) Cascais is a must visit – we took the train
    7) We did a Private Tour our first full day – that helped us know where to go back and how to get there – our tour guide was amazing
    8) We did a bike ride from Lisboa – Estoril – Cabo da Roca – Sintra and return. It was amazing and cars are quite accommodating to riders.
    9) Ginja is better in the little chocolate cups
    10) We want to go back

  2. Great post! I didn’t realize Portugal still had a big smoking culture. In most parts of Europe smoking has become somewhat unfashionable and a lot of people have switched to e-cigarettes. Haha, they sell roasted chestnuts everywhere here in Paris too. Usually by the metro stations. Haha

  3. Well, there is certainly a mix of good and bad, that’s for sure! The one I am most surprised about is how much hustling you get subjected to. Not what I’d expect in Western Europe!

  4. Welcome to Europe, indeed! I’d say many of these things apply to other parts of the continent as well. As for cobblestones, you will get used to them after some time (I promise!), but be careful for now! 🙂

  5. Well that is a lot of dogs walking on their own there! Never been to Portugal yet – would love to have it in my plans soon but 2017 seems to be not the year for it 🙁

  6. I was in Portugal first time few weeks ago, in Porto. Things are very similar there too. The smoking stuff I hated as well, but I loved finding so many chestnut roaster around 🙂

  7. Really interesting to read about the things you didn’t expect in Lisbon – the good and the bad! It’s always good to see the differences between countries but I wouldn’t have been keen on the smoking and dog poo either!

  8. Fun blog. I cracked up on the smoking bit. Though I am a smoker but I can understand that it can be trouble for non smokers. Traveling is all about discovering things you did not know about a destination.

  9. This is a great list for Canadians and Americans. These are fairly common (smoking, dog poop, restaurant hustlers to name a few) throughout Europe. Those roaster chestnuts, however, sound great! I definitely would have bought a bag to try.

  10. Oh my, Lisbon is seriously at the top of my list of places to visit! I’m sure I’d love to see all of the pups off leash, but the poop everywhere would be bothersome. I’ve gotten used to being hustled pretty much everywehere we’ve been in Europe, but it definitely takes time. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Lisbon!

    • I LOOOOOVED all the dogs until I was trying to dodge poop while rolling my little suitcase to the airport! I’d definitely want to go back but I think I’ll avoid a roll-y bag next time haha

  11. Life in Europe eh. You think Portugal is bad for smoking, you ought to try France! The UK has slammed down in recent years though thankfully. The cobblestone thing made me laugh, as much as I love the look of them I have twisted many an ankle in Lisbon and Porto, and don’t even consider wearing heels! I enjoyed reading a Canadians perspective as a lot of these things I take for granted. #citytripping

  12. Really interesting to hear what you thought of Lisbon, which is one of my favourite cities, especially from a non-European perspective – I definitely notice smoke a lot more since it was banned indoors in the UK. And on my first trip, I took some heels to Lisbon and realised with those cobbles and hills, they weren’t even coming out of my bag! Thanks for linking up with #citytripping

  13. Sounds like a typical Europe trip! 🙂 I love Europe for their cobblestone steps and the hills and stairs, but yeah, sometimes they can be a bit tiring. Just their way of telling you to slow down and not plow through their city I guess. 🙂

  14. Very accurate, but I find that most of the items on this list are actually true for most of Europe — not just Lisbon. So be prepared to see more of this if you ever plan to do more travel throughout Europe 🙂

  15. Ah yes, those cobblestones! I had forgotten how slippery they were 🙂 I ruined a nice pair of sandals while in Lisbon 😀 Did you manage to go to Sintra?

  16. HAHAH it’s funny because as different from Germany Portugal is this sounds exactly like life in Germany. Everyone smokes, walks their dog with no leash, coins, bathrooms. 100% similar, though I think it’s just Europe. haha It’s good to experience different cultures though!

  17. Wow,Been to Portugal (and Lisbon) and I’ve never thought about it in these terms, but you know, the first 6 or so I’m like….yes, yes, yes ! I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many feral dogs as I did in Portugal. Smoking – it’s one of the things I still find hard in Europe, but my country has some of the toughest smoking laws in the world…….cobblestones…..when we were in Portugal a friend of someone we were dining with slipped on them and broke her arm. You’ve definitely summed up some of the interesting and difficult things, but I would still go back anyday 🙂

  18. Smoking was definitely one of the biggest shocks I had when I visited Europe. The number of people smoking was so much more to what I was used to. In Australia (or rather, Perth) there has been a conscious move to stomp out smoking, particularly within the premises or around particular external public spaces. I do not think I can get used to having to pay to use toilets, either! Really enjoyed learning about your experiences, it was so interesting to read.

  19. Most of this is pretty common to other places in Europe, but indeed it can be startling! I used to be a pretty huge smoker but now that I stopped I really can’t stand the cigarette smoke… And the laws are different everywhere about this so it’s always a surprise (I was in Tokyo where you can smoke inside bars… hardcore!)

  20. Thanks for sharing some of the not so pretty and unexpected sides of Lisbon. It’s good to be aware before you travel of the realities and how these don’t always align with your vision of what it’ll be like.

  21. This is a different perspective on Lisbon. The differences between places and cultures is what makes travel so interesting. Lisbon is on my list to visit next year. I will look out for those cracked pavements!

  22. Ahh yes, roasted chestnuts! I lived in Portugal for 2 years (almost 2 decades ago as a child) and I still recall these snacks!

    Haven’t been back since so I really got to head back and check it out! I love how you’re transparent about what you didn’t expect while in Lisbon. I’ll keep that in mind when I visit and notice any other oddities 🙂
    A bit of a bummer that you didn’t get a Starbuck mug though! Did you get anything as a substitute?

  23. I’ve still not made it to Portugal but it’s definitely near the top of my list- haha I know that’s what everyone says! I enjoyed reading about your unique take on Lisbon- a lot of the toilets aren’t free in France either- even at the bus station- super annoying when you don’t have any change on you!

  24. I was in Lisbon in july and have to say I never noticed the smoking or the dogs!! Maybe because it was at the end of a 3 week trip in Portugal!! The cobblestones are very slippy, this is throughout portugal, I found myself wearing my hiking boots all the time as I didn’t want to fall over as I was recovering from a broken wrist!! I did love Lisbon though, it is a great city 🙂

  25. I am not surprised about some of the points like smoking. In general, to a lay tourist, it appears that Europeans smoke a lot more than Americans. I have not been there, but in spite of all these, I would definitely want to visit it. Especially coming from Asia , nothing would surprise me I think 🙂

  26. I have never been to Lisbon and I was surprised by the smoking culture. I live in Toronto too and I know how the non-smoking area in the public place works, and I am shocked that restaurants in Lisbon do not have the smoking and non-smoking areas separate. Roasted chestnuts are my childhood favorite, it tastes great but I oftentimes feel dry while eating them.

    • Yes! I’m so used to the lack of public smoking in Toronto (or when they do, they’re huddled in a corner/side of a building) that I did not expect to see ashtrays on tables at patio restaurants! Definitely a culture shock for me!

  27. I loved Lisbon! Definitely didn’t expect those stairs. We took a tram up to the castle, but it broke down halfway and we had to walk haha. I ruined two shoes in that city in a matter of 72 hours.

    I came from Madrid, so a lot of things I was already used to like the dogs and the smoke. Smoke was errrywhere in Madrid!

  28. Numbers 1,2 and 6 make up the story of my life here in South Korea, LOL. Lisbon still seems like a really cool city to visit, though. Gotta be careful with that cobblestone, because it will take you OUT!

  29. I’m planning to travel to Portugal next year, so your guide here is useful especially the smoking and dog poo! Thanks for sharing #citytripping

    • I never said it was not worth visiting Lisbon. In fact I loved my trip and my scheduled upcoming post is about 6 things I loved about Lisbon. It just so happen to be cultural shock for me, especially the smoking. As I wrote in my post how much I enjoyed seeing the off leash dogs but those who have dog allergies or are scared of dogs might not see it in the same light as I so they might not be expecting dogs roaming without leashes. Just something one might not expect in a city.

  30. So interesting to hear your perspective. I haven’t been to Lisbon but was in south Portugal a few weeks ago (which was lovely). Paying for washrooms happens quite a lot in Europe. As well as Portugal I noticed it in Sweden and it can be very annoying especially when you don’t have any coins to hand! I notice the smoking elsewhere in Europe, we are pretty good in the uk now. Interesting to compare the different cultures. #citytripping

  31. Ah the smoking always throws me off in Europe because the US doesn’t smoke as much as Europeans or other parts of the world. Sometimes I feel like a weak person because my eyes start to burn inside bars and I wonder if it’s just me this is happening… Glad to know I’m not the only one!

  32. When I started reading I was like… wow, Spain and Portugal are very very different… and halfway your list was… well maybe not so much hahaha. I think that any city located anywhere near some high terrains will have neverending stairs… but the views from up there are usually quite nice! I enjoyed a lot your post! Thanks!

  33. Yes, the smoking was the part that got to me as well. Inside bars, cafes, wine-bars, all types of places. One day society will look back on that and say “Why did we ever allow this?”

  34. I sometimes wonder how it would be to travel without any expectations…knowing nothing about a place, nothing at all. I think it would a wonderful experience, full of surprises 🙂 Maybe I will try that next time.

  35. Hello Carmy,

    Thanks for sharing these info. After reading your top 10, I think I can tolerate the rest, except the Smoking. I tend to be more friendly during my trips, and I guess its normal, especially for locals.

  36. Oh, a lot of this sounds like what I experienced through a lot of Europe! I laughed at the coins, kinda funny to lug around a huge bag of metal. The cobble stone streets really are dangerous, too 😛

  37. Cobblestone, if slippery, or worse, filled with random holes is the worst! I am clumsy enough to fall on flat ground 😀 And if I have wear heals on cobblestone? it’s a nightmare. Monday is actually a pretty normal day for museums to be closed around Europe. I’ve noticed that a lot, they keep it open Tuesday to Sunday, and everything is closed on Monday.

  38. I guess just diving in and enjoying the place would help me avoid disappointments. In case of Lisbon, your article got me really concerned about the smoking issue. But well the place and its history still wins 😀

  39. Interesting set of observations. I personally thought that the cobblestone walk way seems interesting but well, yes now that you point out, one does need to be a little wary. I guess the rest of it I can handle given that we have similar stuff in Asia.

  40. Lisbon sounds entirely different from the United States. I didn’t like the restroom experience and dogs popping everywhere on the street. Glad to know that they don’t have a tipping custom!

  41. Well, this is an interesting take on a city. Some of the things listed here quite unexpected of a European city. Especially the weird hours of operation at some places.

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