The week from June 18, 2015 through June 25, 2015 saw us exploring Lisbon with the family plus my mother-in-law. A precious gem of a city, very accessible, diverse, and with tons to do in a week to keep the whole family entertained.
We took a TAP Portugal flight from London Heathrow. All went smoothly, with the exception of our luggage not arriving but that was more a Heathrow problem methinks than an TAP Portugal problem. Groundforce, the agents in charge of baggage handling for StarAlliance flights did a good job of keeping us informed and updated but delivery of the bag took a might long time – basically 2 full days. I figure with flights from Heathrow arriving basically every two hours they could have done a better job of getting the bag to us faster but hey what do I know.
The taxi line for a cab into Lisbon was pretty long, and after reading many negative reviews on TripAdvisor I was skeptical but in the end the line moved really fast and we were in a cab in under 10 minutes, with a metered ride into the Barrio-Alto neighborhood for about 15 EUR. By comparison, a limo (aka pick-up service) runs about EUR 26-30 per vehicle.
However, if you don’t have much luggage or are traveling solo public transit will get you from the airport to downtown Lisbon quick and easy.
Where to Stay
This trip was our first Airbnb experience and it was wonderful. This is the apartment we stayed at located in the Barrio-Alto area of Lisbon. Lots of funky cool little cobble-stone streets, with hopping bars and restaurants everywhere. Definitely the happening evening part of town so if staying in the Barrio-Alto embrace the atmosphere (aka staying up late into the wee hours with music and dancing, and unfortunately many drunk British tourists). Location-wise this apartment is also great for taking public transit or simply walking to many of the most popular Lisbon sights.
Things to Do
- Eat and drink local. Sardines in every which way you can imagine. Then the fabled bacalao (cod) that has to be imported from Norway because it has been fished our of Portugese waters. Or my personal favorite polvo (octopus), Pasties de Nata (custard tarts), all washed down with copious quantities of vino verde, Port, and my mother’s favorite Mateus Rose.
- Castelo de Sao Jorge: built by the Moors in the mid-11th century this castle is a must-see, particularly if you have a child who is crazy about all things medieval. Complete with towers, ramparts, cannons, great viewpoints, an archeological site and an exhibition center – you can easily spend a couple of hours here.
- Praca do Comercio: must be one of the biggest squares in Europe. Stunning, especially in the evenings. Stroll up through the Rua Augusta, a pedestrian only high street full of your usual brand name shops and plenty of restaurants to take a breather in.
- Tower of Belem: a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the seven wonders of Portugal (apparently this list exists). Anyway, technicalities aside awesome medieval 5 story tower complete with cannons, drawbirdge, a prison, basically the works. Supposedly its function was to protect the city from raiders. Stairs are so narrow that it requires an intricate green light/red light system to help people alternately move up and then down stairs without getting jammed in the middle. A tricky concept for many to master. Located in the Belem area of Lisbon, well worth the trip.
- Museo de Coches: a whole museum dedicated to classic carriages (as in the horse drawn kind). With great explanations as to the technical innovations and developments throughout the years. Impressive and a great way to get indoors and away from the mid-day sun, especially if your children are crazy about anything remotely connected to horses.
- Find Jesus: oddly enough he seems to be everywhere in Lisbon. Cristo Rei though is “inspired by” aka “copied from” the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. If you aren’t going to Rio anytime soon then Cristo Rei is worth the visit. Take the ferry from Casa do Sodre terminal to Cacilhas and then the 101 bus (about 40 minutes all in).
- Jeronimos Monastery: three words to describe it – detail, detail, detail. Built out of limestone for monks (who else?) the rest of the history I have already forgotten but you can Google it if you care. Always in the Belem area so easy to combine with the Museo de Coches and the Tower of Belem all in the same half day.
- Sintra: 40 minutes by train from the Rossio station. Then you can either take a bus up or take a nice hike up. We did the hike (all uphill mind you) and took about 40 minutes through densely wooded forest. Lots to see but we focused on the Moorish castle and the Pena Palace, both we worth the visit. When purchasing tickets note that there is a Lisbon card discount and also a discount if you combine more than one venue.
The Wisdom of Hindsight
The Lisbon card combines free transit for 24, 48, or 72 hours along with discounts (or free) entry to many touristy spots. We got the 72 hour version and perhaps saved a little. Not really worth it with kids, unless you are going to be powering through many sites or taking more than 3 or 4 public transits a day.
Lisbon is a very walkable city, but lots of hills also. Seems like you are either going uphill, downhill, or up steps and down steps (or walking on cobble-stones). In any case bring yourself a good pair of walking shoes with grip (especially if planning on hiking up the mountain in Sintra to the Moorish castle and the Pena Palance).
Most tourist sites open around 10:00. When visiting sites make a point to wake up earlier, transit is much less crowded and you usually have most places to yourself until the late night revelers get up and running. Plus, you beat the heat of the day (if you are visiting in the summer months), and gives you time for a long afternoon lunch.