Wow! Have you ever had a vacation that you felt like you blinked and it was over? That is kind of what it was like for this trip to Lisbon.
We decided that over the holiday vacation we were take a road trip to Portugal as a family, being that none of us have ever visited Portugal before it is always fun to go to a country for the first time together as a family.
Originally we were going to visit Faro, just shortly on the other side of the boarder from Spain to Portugal it was going to be an easy road trip and not constrained on time in the car. On Christmas day Peter told me that we should go to Lisbon instead! I was over the moon about this decision. I have been wanting to visit Lisbon since 2014 and all the photos on my Instagram feed have made me green with jealousy. I’ve been dying to visit since we got to Spain, since it is just a 5 hour drive to Lisbon from our house I thought that it would be really easy to hop up and make a trip.
We left New Years Day and just as I thought it would be, the drive was beautiful and very easy. I love wen you enter a new country state and just after crossing the boarder you can see how the landscape changes. Maybe not right away but shortly thereafter. That is how it was for us when we crossed into Portugal, my 27th country I’ve visited, the landscape was built up and then “stair stepped” down for agricultural design.
We didn’t stay in Lisbon proper but in Almada just on the other side of the 25th of April Bridge.
What a city! Man! I was having a hard time not comparing the design and landscape of the city to both Rio and San Fransisco. With a big beautiful red bridge crossing over into downtown and a GIANT Jesus statue looking out over the bay, it is hard to make the comparison.
This trip was short we drove in around 4pm on New Years Day and left on the 3rd, so since there wasn’t a lot of time we had to really motor if we wanted to see the main highlights of the city. Normally when I know that time is limited, I am a speed demon. No breaks, no time to rest – I push hard because I want to be able to see as much as the city or town has to offer before I have to leave. This time it was different. Because I know that I live just a short 5 hours away from Lisbon I know I can come back but we still wanted to get the most out of our visit.
So, by the recommendation from a friend who just came to Lisbon last week, we wanted to do a walking tour. There is a website Kev MRC who has laid out free walking tours of Lisbon which was then broken up in three different sections to cover the main points. The first night we were in the city we wanted to go on one of the shorter walking tours, this did not actually happen. Knowing that tolls, traffic and parking are all a nightmare downtown we wanted to use the train system to get into town and walk from there. This was a great concept, in theory… In action – not so much.
It was easy to find the closest transportation hub close to the hotel and a pretty easy walk to get there, it was once we got there that we had issues. Unlike any other country I’ve taken a train or used the subway system – this was insane. Not only was there no information easy to find, we had no cell phone service, and after standing in line to buy our tickets we found out you had to buy a pass card and the line we had just been standing in for 15 minutes was to recharge said pass card. Okay! Moments like this is when we pull all our travel experience and savvy to problem solve. After wandering around the station for a solid 10 minutes looking lost and probably a little stupid we found the kiosk where we could buy the tickets. Sweet! Hopped on a train where we could get off and connect to the next train to get to where we wanted to go!
Think that it worked out the way we wanted? Heck no! We made it one train stop before having to switch lines only to find out that you had to buy another pass card to use that train line! Soon it was past 9pm and we hadn’t made it any further into Lisbon, we decided to call it a night. Getting back on the same train we were on before we took the L for the night. But in doing all this hassle the night before it made the next morning’s adventure and transportation SO much easier!
The next morning we woke up and had a fabulous breakfast at our hotel and loaded up for our big day! And now that we were “pros” figuring out the train system, riding the trains down to Balem was much smoother. Finally! We were here and ready to explore. I have to say I really loved our visit to Lisbon and I will be back several times while living in Spain but I must say so far, Balem was my favorite neighborhood to visit…and not just because they had “wine with a view” on the street. There was something very “small town” about that neighborhood. The history that is peaking out of the coast line as well as built up into the city which climbs up the side of the hill that Lisbon seems to rest against.
I highly recommend taking these walking tours, it can cost if you find a location that you want to go in and explore but if you want to just see the city then you can do a good portion of that for free! There are tons of options for visiting and exploring the city, including little tuktuks that are like little taxis. You can also go on a walking tour with a guide! However you want to explore the city, just make sure you see it! We didn’t even get to see everything on our walking tours but each of the routes took us on an adventure of culture, history and a tiny touristy.
One thing that I loved about these walking tours was also the little “pop up” tapas joints along the side of the road, think of smaller food truck. But they set out tables, have music playing, serving food and drinks but are out in the open. It was amazing! And I noticed myself slowing down because I could enjoy a glass of wine and get some food too while still enjoying the view and culture of Lisbon. It was perfect!