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Lisbon has many free tours offered by several groups and I always wondered if they were worth joining. Since I didn’t know much about Lisbon when I arrived, I thought it was a great opportunity to find out.
All the free tours start at Praça Luís de Camões, which is a popular meeting spot in Lisbon with a monumental statue of the legendary 16th-century poet. Some tours ask that you reserve your spot online prior to arriving but when I arrived at the square, a group called Lisbon Chill-Out Free Tour with yellow bags approached me and asked if I would like to join their tour at 10 AM. I didn’t know anything about them, so I asked what made them better than the rest of the free tours and he said that they were authentic local guides wanting to show the real Lisbon and not the typical touristy areas. I was sold.
I still had some time before the tour started, so I grabbed some coffee and pastries at the bakery across the street called A Padaria Portuguesa. I also used the bathroom there since the tour was estimated to be about 3 hours. There are also public restrooms by the square, which the guide will point out to you.
At 10 AM, my tour guide, Pedro, gathered everyone together. There were probably about 30 of us in the group. He introduced himself and told us that he grew up in Lisbon and got a degree in management. He moved from job to job and eventually ended up being a tour guide and strives to be the best tour guide in the world. Then he went around asking everyone where they were from and to share a common stereotype from their country or culture. It was pretty fun getting to know where everyone was from (ranging from Canada to France to Sweden) and we all laughed at the different stereotypes.
The tour started out in Bairro Alto, which is a historical neighborhood with beautiful architecture and character. It is also a popular area for nightlife with lively bars and restaurants. Pedro explained the history and culture of Portugal and even sang a little folk song for us, which was pretty neat. He continued to talk about the origin of their language and the rivalry with Spain.
We stayed here for about 20 minutes and I have to admit that I did zone out a couple of times as he talked really fast and I didn’t understand some parts. I feel like he could have shortened this part a bit. I love history and learning different cultures but at times, I felt like I was back in college taking a boring class. It was as if he was trying to say everything in one breath and reciting what he memorized about the country’s history. But there were some breaks in between where he would make some jokes and I would pay attention again.
Next, we walked over to the Chiado area, another charismatic neighborhood, and stopped by a statue of a man holding out a ticket. The locals rub their lottery tickets (sold by the historic kiosk, Quiosque de São Roque, right next to it) on the ticket for good luck. You can also rub the ticket with your hands for luck in general. The statue also represents the common people who struggle everyday to make a living.
We moved on down the hill and passed by some restaurants, shops and bars. He pointed out the touristy areas to avoid and also suggested some restaurants we should try. We also took a little break at Largo do Carmo where we could sit on the stairs and listen to Pedro talk about the tragic earthquake that happened in 1755. It was estimated to be an 8.0 magnitude earthquake and killed 50,000 people. The city had to rebuild everything from scratch.
Our next stop was Alfama and I instantly fell in love with this neighborhood. It is the most charming neighborhood I’ve seen to date and I loved seeing all the locals talking to each other on the street or doing laundry outside. Their architecture is beautiful as well, typical of Lisbon, but this area had something more special about it. Pedro showed us around the neighborhood and even talked to a couple of the residents in the neighborhood who were very friendly. I loved seeing this interaction.
Before we left Alfama, we stopped by a little bar and all had a shot of Ginja, which is a Portuguese liquor made with sour cherries. To my surprise, it was quite tasty.
On our last stop near Portas Do Sol, we had gorgeous, panoramic views overlooking Alfama and the Tagus River. Pedro thanked everyone for coming and asked if anyone needed help or recommendations. Several people formed a line to ask him some questions and I saw that he answered each and every one of them happily and patiently. We all tipped him and went our separate ways to explore more of Lisbon.
The best thing about the end of this tour was that I met a fellow solo traveler and we decided to spend the rest of the day together in Belem. It was such a fantastic day!
Was it worth it? Yes. I was able to get a taste of Lisbon and learned more about the city and its culture. I don’t think I would have discovered Ginja without the tour. Plus, I made a new friend!
Is it for everyone? No. The tour is rather long and a little too crowded. I prefer more intimate tours with about 10-15 people max. With that being said, this tour is practically free, minus the tip, so you can’t really complain.
• Make sure to keep an eye on your belongings. Pickpocketing is not as common in Lisbon as it is in Barcelona, but it happens.
• Use the restroom before you start the tour as most of the tour is outdoors without any restrooms nearby.
• Make sure you wear comfortable shoes. We walked for over 3 hours and went uphill quite often on cobblestones. We actually saw a woman accidentally trip on the cobblestone in Alfama and was hurt badly, so make sure you’re very careful.
• You can leave the tour anytime, but make sure you let your guide know and tip them before you leave.
• Be prepared with any questions you may have for your guide at the end of the tour.