Most major cities have their own tourist cards, promising discounts on sightseeing and transport, but it’s not always easy to tell which ones are worth paying for. However, when it comes to the Lisboa Card, Lisbon’s equivalent, the benefits are certainly tempting enough…
How much does it cost?
There are 24, 48 or 72 hour cards available, priced at €18.50, €31.50 or €39.00 for adults, or €11.50, €17.50 and €22.50 for children. Bear in mind there’s hardly any price increase from 48 to 72 hours, so you might as well pick the longer option, especially as this gives you access to exclusive restaurant discounts (not available on shorter options).
You can either pre-book the card online from the Tourist Board’s supplier or you can buy it in person when you get there. Either way, you’ll have to visit one of a handful of central locations, such as the Tourist Information Centre in Praça do Comercio, to pick up the card – not a great hardship, as there are plenty of sights nearby.
Discounts vary, but there are quite a few free attractions, including the Elevador de Santa Justa and the Museu Nacional do Azulejo; those with reduced entry include the Castelo de São Jorge (30% off) and the Museu do Fado (also 30% off). My hidden favourite was the Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea do Chiado, a modern art museum showing conceptual art, which I love, alongside traditional Portuguese art. Not many Portuguese artists made it big, apart from Paula Rego, but there are some stunning pieces on display here.
I got great value for money in the Belem district, where combined entry to three key museums (the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, the Archaeological Museum and the Torre de Belem) should have cost €16 for an adult, plus the cost of the tram ride to get there, but all of this was free with the Lisboa Card. Other sights in the area have decent discounts, too.
How is it activated?
Just sign the back of the card and then validate it by adding the date and time on the front. The time period doesn’t start to run out when you buy the card, just when you first use it. Quick tip: check museum opening times before you travel, or you risk looking like a right plum.
I bought my card on a Monday, when most museums are closed, so I used Monday afternoon to explore on foot, then caught a hop-on hop-off bus to get my bearings and see all the different districts (let’s just say Lisbon is a big city!). I then activated the card on Tuesday.
Are there any added benefits?
The card comes with a queue-jumping perk, which really isn’t promoted enough. Until I saw other tourists using it to skip the long lines outside the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (Jeronimos Monastery), I had no idea this was possible. I saved loads of time which would otherwise have been wasted queuing in the heat. And who wouldn’t secretly love the ability to push through, VIP-style, with a smug grin on your face?!
You can also use the Lisboa Card to reach attractions in Sintra – you don’t even need to buy a train ticket, which would normally cost €4.30 (return). Just scan the card when you head through the barriers at Rossio Station. Sintra, a 40 minute train ride away, is a lovely green contrast to chic and urban Lisbon.
When is it not worth buying?
If you’re not a fan of museums or historical relics, you won’t need this; for a small culture fix you can always visit MUDE (the Fashion and Design Museum), which is free all year round. There are a few shopping discounts if that’s more your thing, but not enough to warrant spending this kind of money to get them.
When it comes to free transport with the Lisboa Card, if you’re staying pretty central in Lisbon and don’t plan on doing much sightseeing then you might not need to use any at all; otherwise you can get tickets for trams and buses very cheaply, with taxis being very competitive too. But if you’re interested in getting under the skin of this city, the featured heritage sites and museums are the perfect starting point.
Unless you’re looking to spend the majority of your holiday rolling your eyes at sightseers, you’d be a fool to miss out on the Lisboa Card. You’ll find yourself in places you might never have otherwise visited, and you’ll learn loads about Portuguese history and culture.