Lisbon is easily one of my favorite cities if not my favorite within Europe. It is so traveler friendly and the people are wonderfully polite and helpful. Personally, I especially love how Lisbon has an equal balance of ancient architecture, (with streets dating back hundreds of years) and a vibrant modern city bursting at the seams with bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. Initially, we intended for Lisbon to be a quick stop over into Europe but we soon discovered how beautifully underrated it is and immediately fell in love with the city.
I traveled to Lisbon in May of 2016 with my sister-in-law. Upon arriving at the Lisbon international airport, I made my way out onto the streets in search of our hostel. (My sister-in-law arrived the night before due to my flight being cancelled because of weather conditions). I quickly found that the hostel we stayed in was fairly well hidden among the shops and restaurants. (There was only a small placard on the wall next to a door with the name of the hostel). After settling in and dropping off my bags my sister-in-law and I went out with some girls from the hostel to explore the city and visit the famous Lisbon aquarium. Having been to many aquariums throughout my life, I was not really impressed, but it was still nice overall. (I just personally didn’t think the aquarium was as spectacular for the amount of money we paid for tickets).
The next day we met our tour guide outside of our hostel and boarded the small ten passenger van. (Our tour only consisted of two other couples which was the perfect amount of people considering how personalized the tour was). After boarding the van, we headed off to Sintra to visit the Pena palace (the former home of the Portuguese monarchy).
Pena Palace is a beautiful multicolored Castle sitting on top of a mountain overlooking Sintra and Lisbon. It is ornately decorated with shells, marble and so many hidden details that it would take you hours to explore the entire thing. With it’s bright colors it feels like stepping into a fairy tale. We spent about two hours exploring the grounds and learning all about the rich history of the Portuguese Monarchy as well as the constant construction the palace has undergone throughout the centuries. Pena Palace is definitely not a place to be missed when visiting Lisbon. My only recommendation would be that you book a tour to the Palace because the drive is pretty intimidating and there is limited parking. Additionally, our tour guide was so knowledgeable and had head of the line privileges for our tour group and he uniquely customized are tour to make it a very memorable experience.
After exploring Pena Palace, we stopped for lunch at a traditional Portuguese restaurant picked out by our tour guide. From there we continued on to the Quinta da Regaleira. This site is classified as a world heritage site by UNESCO and is definitely not to be missed on your trip to Lisbon. Like the Pena Palace, the Quinta da Regaleira makes you feel as though you have walked into a fairy tale or the pages of Beauty and the Beast. With its Moorish and Gothic architecture, you feel as if you have been transported back in time. The grounds themselves have been landscaped with hundreds of beautiful plants from around the world and just walking through the gardens can take you several hours. We explored the many sites such as the “Romeo and Juliet tower”, the caves, and prominent sacred sites throughout the park. What I was most excited about exploring was the giant well that Quinta da Regaleria is most known for. It is not accessible on a rainy day, so plan your trip accordingly. (We were almost not able to enter the well because it was raining sporadically throughout the day).
After leaving the Quinta da Regaleira, we traveled to the coast and the coastal city of Cascais. The quaint little beachside city is just west of Lisbon and is known for its white sand beaches and phenomenal seafood.
On our last day in Lisbon, we explored the city and ended the night watching Fado performances in a small pub. We started the morning with coffee and pastries and began exploring the city. In the heart of the city is Carmo Covenant (Convento da Ordem do Carmo Convento). This Catholic convent was destroyed in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, which completely destroyed the covenant’s library that at the time contained over 5,000 sacred texts. The Carmo Covenant is a hauntingly beautiful slice of history in the center of Lisbon and is worth of the affordable ticket price to explore.
After leaving the Covenant, we traveled around the city and stumbled upon the Miradouro de Serhora do Monte. Like other miradouros within Lisbon, this Vista contained some of the most beautiful views of the city. After walking for hours, people watching and indulging in the white sangria for which Portugal is known for, we ended the night watching Fado. (Fado is a form of singing in which songs tell of heartbreak, the sea, or daily life.) The performances are similar to karaoke, as singers volunteered to perform for the crowd.
I can’t possibly express how much I enjoyed Lisbon. The overall feeling of the city as well as Portugal itself is that of familiarity and warmth. The people are so kind and the lifestyle is so laid-back and calming. Three days was definitely not enough time to thoroughly enjoy this beautiful and unique European city. It is my recommendation that if you plan on traveling to Lisbon, you take at least a week, as a week would be best to explore of the many aspects of the city and the surrounding towns. As far as solo travel, the city is very friendly towards solo travelers and many people will be willing to help you if you need it. Nearly everyone within the city spoke English or knew someone who did. Lisbon has its own metro system but I highly recommend just walking throughout the city. Walking is the best way to truly explore the city and everything it has to offer. You are also able to catch the famous cable cars but I will caution against that because due to its popularity with tourists, it can also be a target for pickpockets. Other than that, Lisbon is a clean and peaceful city perfect for first time travelers. I would say it is in the top three cities I have visited in Europe. Additionally as of this post oh, I have not yet traveled to Lisbon with my kids but from what friends of mine have told me, Lisbon is very child-friendly with the exception of some of the cobblestone streets when using a stroller. I will be posting a separate blog when I travel with my kids to Lisbon and the Algarve this spring.
Places to stay:
We stayed at the Lisbon lounge hostel in downtown Lisbon. For a two bed room with private bathroom cost us $64.70/ night. The hostel also includes dinner for ten euro every night and offers walking tours and pub crawls.