How to Spot and Avoid Lisbon’s Tourist Traps

Tourist traps have grown in numbers to the point where it is becoming harder to completely avoid them than to enter a minefield without stepping on a mine. Here are some tips to help you out.

This website is not primarily aimed at the average tourist as we don’t steer our readers to Lisbon’s tourist traps. But maybe it’s your first time, or you just moved here recently, eager to experience and explore, or perhaps your visitors are keen on a good piece of advice for places to visit in between your sightseeing stops.

It’s still no reason to go waste time and money. Or, hey, maybe it is for you. Read on!

Tourist traps have grown in numbers with the ongoing tourist boom, to the point where it is quickly becoming harder to completely avoid them in your Lisbon experience than to enter a minefield without stepping on a mine. Here are a few tips on how to recognize the signs you’re in one of them:

Everything is written in English, or at least not in Portuguese. Bilingual is fine.

Be it a random shop or a random bar, these places have proliferated. They are obviously not interested in local clientele, because tourists are likely to have higher purchasing power and won’t mind paying that little extra. The official language is still Portuguese.

Establishments whose name contains buzzwords you would find repeated in your guide book, such as fado, pastel de nata, Lisbon (in English), Tagus, Portuguese tapas, etc.

Basically, any name that attempts to give you the impression that said establishment is more typical than anywhere else. Couldn’t be further from the truth.

Waiters grabbing you from the street. The restaurants on Rua das Portas de Santo Antão have had them for as long as I remember, but it’s been a growing trend.

Now you can see this phenomenon on other streets of Baixa, like Rua Augusta and Rua dos Correeiros, and it has spread to Alfama. Those waiters might go as far as trample on a local just to hand you a menu or serve you on the terrace that has taken up the whole pavement in the meantime. Usually the best places don’t need to go and get you from the street.

The employees wear some sort of traditional costume, to give that folkloric touch. I will include sardine hats.

Unless they are having a theme party, these spots are likely to be tourist baits. The kind of fishy places that reduce a city’s amazing landmarks to amusement parks.

Signs that look quite retro in their font and format, reading a fairly remote establishment date (say, for example, 1942) but have clearly only gone up there a couple of years ago.

You probably want to believe. But you shouldn’t.

There are contemporary pictures of Lisbon hanging on the walls, often bought from the nearest souvenir shop.

This would make sense in a Portuguese restaurant abroad. But locals live here. They don’t need to have photos indoors of what they can see outdoors. Likelihood of locals in such an establishment: 2.81%.

Look around you. If you can’t see any local — Portuguese or nationals from the long settled African or Asian communities — you might have been duped.

How do you recognize them? True, you might not have seen enough to be able to detect them yet. I’m not going to grossly and inaccurately draw a physical profile of my compatriots.

Just carry a local newspaper with you, open the Sociedade (Local section) and compare people in the photos with the ones around you. You can also eavesdrop on conversations and check if the local lingo is spoken. It is a bit like other Romance languages, but with loads of stressed syllables, sibilant sounds from palato-alveolar fricatives, reduced vowels and a rich variety of weird diphthongs, more nasal but still very smooth. Easy. It sounds beautiful.

If you can’t see or hear any of the locals, the place you’re at is either uninteresting or unaffordable for them or both.

Nothing wrong with going on the odd tuk-tuk ride, but if it’s too far to walk from A to B, use public transport, for the full experience.

You’ll be able to compare how locals, just like anywhere else, seem bleak on their daily commute and try their best to avoid eye contact with the person sitting in front of them. And when I say public transport, Tram 28 doesn’t count anymore, sorry. Even elderly ladies with crutches or Zimmer frames would rather trudge up the hill to get home than even attempt to get crammed into this tram full of tourists.

Paella is not a typical dish in these parts.                                                                   

Fado houses are not supposed to have a bouncer-type doorman.

Last but not least, don’t assume locals like me know their city properly. Sometimes they don’t have a clue, and their tips and advice are not the best.

On Key

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