For the last several years, I have been hearing a buzz about Portugal. Kevin and I finally decided to take a trip there in early fall. While there were a lot of things I loved about Portugal, I wouldn’t put it in my “Top 10.” Overall I would recommend Lisbon (known by Europeans as Lisboa) and Sintra to someone who is a novice European traveler (see my next post to learn more about Sintra). Like Prague, it is easy for Americans to get around in Lisbon because most speak English.
Like I mentioned, my husband and I went in late September, but it was HOT in Lisbon. Most businesses/restaurants do not have air conditioning (our hotel did, thank goodness), so traveling in the off-season is advised. When we arrived, all of the taxis were on strike, so we had to take the metro from the airport to the nearest station and lug our suitcases about 20+ minutes up cobblestone roads in 90 degree heat. Normally we don’t mind walking/taking public transport and we rarely get taxis when we travel, but with luggage, walking to our hotel was a challenge. We stayed at the Casa Das Janelas Com Vista, a boutique hotel running about $180 a night. I would certainly recommend the hotel for those who like to walk a lot and want a neighborhood feel. For those who have read my other blog posts, you know that my husband and I prefer boutique hotels because they are often quieter and we feel like we get a more local experience. My favorite part about our hotel in Lisbon (other than the A/C!) was the breakfast area. It was an eclectic mix of furniture/dishes and had a great breakfast spread. The staff was also extremely helpful. The hotel was in the Barrio Alto district of Lisbon, a thriving bar and restaurant neighborhood. While there were some great views nearby and it was nice to be near a lot of restaurants at night, the mornings were dirty and smelly in the nightlife aftermath. Lisbon is known as the City of Seven Hills. When we booked our hotel, we were willing to be further from the metro to be in a cool neighborhood, but when the taxis are on strike (and no Uber), it is the City of Seven Million Hills. One cool feature of the area was the Ascensor da Bica funicular which could assuage the steep slopes of Lisbon (plus the street art was awesome).
Kevin and I spent the money to get the Hop-on-Hop-Off Bus (Gray Line), and I wouldn’t really recommend this in Lisbon during high season. We usually do this in all the big cities (for a day or two), and they are really convenient, but the taxis being on strike, the heat, and the wait-times made the experience irritating. Although without taxis, I’m not sure how else we would have gotten to these places!
I won’t tell you about all of the stops we made, but one of our favorites was the National Coach Museum which houses carriages/vehicles from the 17th-19th centuries. I had never heard of such a place, and it was a pleasant surprise! The building itself is in an old riding school, so the sense of place was unique. It was only about 6 Euro to get in and it was air-conditioned! Kids under 12 get in for free. We also enjoyed visiting Belem Tower and got some great pictures (see below). Belem Tower is a 16th century fortification right on the water. We waited in line, but it moved pretty quickly since it was nearing the end of the day.
One of our favorite spots to visit was a bar named…Bar (no mincing words, apparently) near our hotel. One of our favorite experiences in Lisbon was the opportunity to find a watering hole run by locals that we could chat with other people. We met the owner, John a native Lisbon-ite who loved quoting American action films (black t-shirt below), met a German couple on their honeymoon and an American-born Ukrainian woman, among others. We had to drink outside because it was too hot to stay indoors! If you ever travel, try to take the opportunity to meet people and strike up a conversation (this is very American of me, I know). Our international crew spent the night talking about politics, travel, and our interests. Isn’t that what travel is all about?
Our next full day in Lisbon, Kevin and I went to the Jeronimos Monestary. We took some nice pictures, but the line was so long. If you want to do this, go first thing in the morning!
Then, we decided to ditch the Hop-On-Hop-Off and take a ferry to the Cristo Rei Statue. We actually had to take a ferry AND to a bus to get there, but it was a beautiful day, and the breeze near the water was glorious. It wasn’t crowded at all, so compared to our other experiences of waiting in line everywhere, it was so pleasant! If you are in Lisbon, do not miss this experience. The views of the statue and the water were breathtaking. To get there, you depart from Cais do Sodré ferry terminal and then take a short bus ride from the Cacilhas bus station. Cristo Rei, built in the 1950s, was created by the same artist who did Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janero (Portugal colonized Brazil many years ago, so this makes sense). You can pay 6 Euros to go all the way up into the statue, but we thought the views were fantastic at the bottom. By the way, the bridge below is NOT the Golden Gate…it’s the Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge over the River Tagus.
Our last night in Lisbon we stopped for a cocktail and had dinner at Lost In with an amazing view back in the Barrio Alto district. Of all the places we ate in Lisbon, this is the restaurant I would recommend (ask for outside or a spot with a view – WOWZA).
While the experience is Lisbon wasn’t as amazing as we expected or as life-changing as other places we’ve visited, it was definitely enjoyable and we have many great memories there. If you are a city-person, it is worth exploring – cheers!