Finally, after months of planning, research and almost 24 hours of non-stop travelling, I have finally arrived in Lisbon. We’ll be in Portugal for a full four weeks, seeing the sights and experiencing the food and culture and I’d be delighted if you’d follow along and add your comments and own experiences of this delightful country.
Arriving in Lisboa (as the locals call it), is very much like arriving at grandma’s house. She’s very pleased to see you and welcomes you with a warm embrace as she plies you with delicious food and drink. Lisbon’s elegant and colourful but like grandma, the passing of the years have somewhat faded her colourful beauty and left her a little well-worn and perhaps, dare I say it, a little shabby in places. Nonetheless, Lisbon is charming and very, very easy to love and love her I do.
Lisbon is aptly known as the City of Seven Hills and it is no surprise that the only fat people I have encountered here are the tourists. Each day becomes a marathon step class and the final 226 steps (yes, I counted them) and a steep road up from Rossio Square to our apartment seems like torture after a full day of sight-seeing.
Every cloud has a silver lining though, and the views over Lisbon’s iconic red roofs is absolutely spectacular!
As Lisbon’s public transport network is quick, reliable and inexpensive, we decided to use this exclusively during our stay in a comfortable one bedroomed apartment in the Chiado district. There are two Metro stations very closeby (Rossio and Restauradores) and another only 10 minutes walk away in the trendy Baixa Chiado district. This is a great central location in which to stay with its excellent transport links, proximity to attractions and multitude of restaurants, bars and coffee shops. I just thank the gods of double glazing for it’s sound proofing qualities! Another boom for those who, like us, opt for self-catering is the nearby Pingo Doce supermarket. A handy hint is to buy a rechargeable Viva Viagem transport card from the metro station on arrival. It can be used on all the buses, trams, metros and trains within the Lisbon area and is much cheaper than paying for individual trips. A 6 euro 24 hour day pass is also a good buy for those days when you plan to be moving around a lot.
A great way to get a feel for the city is to visit two contrasting districts, the first being Baixa. This is the newer 18th Century area and reflects an era of Portuguese affluence with its wide streets, large plazas centered by impressive statues and sculptures. Be sure not to miss the Elevator of Saint Justa, sometimes jokingly referred to as Lisbon’s answer to the Eiffel Tour and Rossio, Commercio and Restauradores squares. For me though, once the major sights have been visited, the best way to experience this and all the other areas of Lisbon is to just wander the streets and absorb the vibrant atmosphere.
In stark contrast with the Baixa district is that of Alfama. This was once the poorest area of the city and although it is now becoming somewhat gentrified, its narrow cobbled streets, tiny doorways and ancient buildings hold an enduring charm. It is, however, not easy to get to and only the very brave (or extremely foolish) attempt to walk up its impossibly steep streets from the town and as it is too steep for the metro, the only real option is to take either one of the ubiquitous tuk-tuks that ply the tourist areas or to catch the 28E yellow tram. This is a really worthwhile experience, but beware, they are very crowded and you may have to queue for some time, especially over weekends. The major attractions are said to be the Lisbon Castle and the Se Cathedral but for me, just ambling the ancient streets, stopping for coffee or a cold beer, is the best way to enjoy it’s charm.
Also, take a ferry ride from Cais do Sodre across the Tagus river to Cacilhas for a delicious ( and inexpensive) leisurely lunch of grilled sardines and sangria at Escondidinho on the waterfront.
After returning across the river for a gentle stroll down Avenida Liberdade, Lisbon’s answer to the Champs Elysees, an early evening Caipirinha is the perfect end to a day of sightseeing. And that’s just the beginning. Lisbon has so much more to see, do and enjoy. Watch this space!