I wouldn’t say I’ve become jaded due to living in Europe, but how often do you walk around your town thinking, “wow, look at all of this!?!” This is one reason that I like photography – it forces you to look again because we so easily become accustomed to what see every day.
Something about Lisbon woke that up in me again though. I stepped out of the metro station from the airport and was immediately taken in. My hotel was in the Restauradores neighborhood, which is a perfect place to stay! More details are at the end, but the hotel is a short ~5 minute walk from the Elevador da Gloria, the Restauradores metro, the Pac Figueira stop for the E15 to Belém (a starting point, so you’ll have a seat for the 30 min ride) and near the starting point of the trolley 28 up to the castle (also a good chance to get a seat).
Certainly, I could understand the popularity of the Elevadors in a city with 7 large hills! Plus, the views from the top are incredible. Don’t miss a walk on the way down to get a good view of the street art though! Just be careful as the material used is slippery, especially on the steep slopes.
Day 1: Belém
My first full day, I headed to Belém. You can’t miss the stop on the E15 as the monastery is directly in front of it and towers over the landscape! There were numbers inside, like there was once an audio guide, but no audio guide was offered now. Sadly, the items that were available (English & Portuguese only) were hardly enough to understand the history or importance – the site is a UNESCO world heritage site after all! It was beautiful, but I wish I’d waited the extra 15 minutes for the free English guided tour to really learn about the site.
My next stop was Belém Tower. After waiting in line for nearly 2 hours, I think I’d advise people to come here first with a pre-purchased ticket for it and the monastery. You can then skip the line at the monastery. They only let 120 people into the tower at a time and show a strong preference for letting in those with an advance ticket.
Not only that, but after queuing for 2 hours, I learned there is no public toilet. This is the worst management of a site that I’ve experienced in over a decade of traveling. If you have extreme limits on capacity, sell timed tickets and let those with Lisbon Cards scan their card for a timed ticket. This was really poorly managed and several people left, including large groups, so the city is losing out on money.
I ended up deciding that I’d had enough of Belém and I wanted to see one of the palaces covered by my pass (the tour of the Belém palace is actually cheaper – just €5, but it was lovely to see a historical palace).
Some of the commuter trains are covered by the Lisbon card and the train running to the Queluz Palace is one. It was certainly worth a visit to compare to the styles common in France and to get a sense of what aspects were uniquely Portuguese.
The gardens were expansive and lovely. I wish I’d arrived with more time to thoroughly enjoy them!
There was even a canal here in the past, allowing guests to take gondola rides.
Day 2: The Castle and The Beach
I was up early and on the line 28 streetcar to arrive for the São Jorge castle’s opening. This is one of the times that I missed the stop and turned around a short time later. I made it to the castle by 9:30. There wasn’t a lot to see inside the castle, mostly just the ruins; however, there were a few notable cool things.
The camera obscura was one. NOTE: the camera obscura appears to be in English on the hour as one finished just as I arrived (10:20) and the next was at 11. I listened to it in Portuguese! It’s really intriguing to see what they were able to do with old technology!
There was also a museum full of artifacts found at the site. For children, there is a costumed show around 11. There was also a HUGE line here when I left, so arrive early! After the castle, I wandered to one church. I couldn’t figure out why it was on a “must-see” list, but then realized that it was the monastery attached that was recommended. It was pretty from outside, but I skipped going in. I love historical sites, but I was ready for a change!
I took advantage of people getting off at the castle to grab a seat and ride the line 28 to the end. It’s an interesting experience and gives you a good overview of the town layout; however, this wasn’t my ultimate destination!
Fortunately, I was riding a tiny bus to my next stop because there was quite a line to return on the 28! I don’t normally travel in the summer and all of the lines that I experienced in Lisbon reminded me why. I needed an escape, so one tiny bus and a commuter train later, I was here:
Nothing like a nice watermelon gaspacho and sangria before a swim! Sadly, the sangria wasn’t that great – the place by my hotel was much better. There are many options to rent a chair with an umbrella and enjoy a relaxing day here! This is the Estoril beach, which is directly in front of the train station and easily accessible.
I ended my day with a trip up to the top of the Rua Augusta Arch. They were the best views that I saw during my trip and I highly recommend it! The carvings at the top are lovely as well.
Tips for Lisbon
*Stay at Residencial Florescente – it was great! Great location, comfortable bed, clean and good selection at breakfast
*Public Transit: be warned that Lisbon is NOT tourist-friendly when it comes to public transportation. The buses, trams & street cars made no announcement of stops nor was there a reader board or screen showing the stop. Even worse, the signs designating the stops are tiny with small print that is virtually impossible to read as you fly past. I missed more than one stop as a result & wasted time back-tracking.
*Lisboa Card: I have mixed feelings about the card. You can pre-buy combo passes online and cut the line, plus buy cheap transit passes. My card barely paid for itself and I was stuck in the same long lines as everyone else.
*Head to Jeronimo’s Monastery early. I arrived 15 minutes early and the line still took 15 minutes after opening. By opening time, the line was huge & you can’t skip it with the Card. There was a line for the church, but go after – there was no line by the time I finished the cloister. It’s closed Sundays.
*This is a two hour line due to the limit on the number of people who can enter the Belém Tower. There are no toilets inside.