Since the day i watched a Portugal travel video on Youtube , i fell head over heels in love with the country. I was instantly seduced by the Trams, yellow squares, brick red roofs, tiled pavements, hilly terrain........According to me Portugal is the most underrated Country and Lisbon is the most underrated European capital city. I used to work in London and thanks to the advent of budget air travel (easyjet) i was able to travel to various European cities over long weekends. Some time in 2012 i decided to travel solo to Lisbon with just my camera for company and booked the return tickets and accommodation in a Boutique hostel (Travellers House - the best hostel i have ever stayed in )
Lisbon being a compact city, the airport is within the city limits. I arrived on a saturday evening and took the Aerobus from the airport to Praca do Comercio (3.15 Euros!!!). Checked into the Hostel and asked the friendly staff for a nice restaurant recommendation where the locals go. Rua Augusta has a lot of restaurants but they seemed too touristy and i was directed to " A Licorista O Bacalhoeiro " which was in a parallel lane close to Rossio square. This was a very cheap and amazing place filled with locals which served authentic Portuguese food. Cod being the national dish, i tried some cod balls (Crispy Breaded Cod balls) and grilled Cod with Potatos and salad . I was so moved by the tasty food and i ended up visiting this restaurant thrice in 3 days. Starter+Drink+Main course+Dessert will set you back by around 12 Euros
I started the day with a tram ride on the famous Tram 28 route, this vintage tram crisscrosses the old town and passes through some of the historical monuments and stunning view points. Its a pleasure to watch the Tram traverse through the winding narrow steep lanes and bylanes of Alfama. I got down at the Portas do Sol viewpoint where you get stunning views of Alfama and the Tagus river . Walked to the Castle of Sao Jorge which is atop a hill and this is one of the highest points in Lisbon, it was initially a moorish fort constructed by the Moorish rulers which was later converted to a Castle after the christian conquest. The sweeping views over the old town all the way to the 25th April bridge is breath taking from the castle. I took a tram back to Bairo Alto for a ride on Lisbon's Elevadors, these are basically vintage lifts (Elevador De Santa Justa) or street Funiculars ( Elevador Gloria & Bica ). The street funiculars are one of its kind and can be found only in Lisbon due to its ridiculously steep lanes . Elevador de Bica is the most scenic of all and it descends from about 800 ft with views of the Tagus river operational since 1892. Bica is very close to Bairro Alto and the Santa Justa lift can be accessed from Rua Augusta. I spent the rest of the evening in the spectacular Praca De Comercio watching the sun go down from the Tagus river bank, thinking of all the portuguese explorers who would have stepped out of their ships laden with precious exotic goods and strolled into the city via Comercio square.
I had enrolled myself for the Fado Walking tour organised by the hostel. Fado is basically a musical genre that originated in portugal, there is a fadista who is the singer accompanied by a portuguese guitar . Fadista can be either a male or female and the songs are melancholic and soul stirring. Alfama has lots of Fado joints and as part of the walking tour we were taken to various bars late in the evening where the locals frequent to try some of the local favourites (Vinho Verde/ Ginjinha/ Casa de vinho) and later to a Fado joint in Alfama. Order for the house vine and enjoy the Fado performances which for sure will melt your heart. After the performance I went back to the hostel with a enriched soul to retire for the day
I took a tram to Belem. Belem which is portuguese for Bethlehem is a suburb of Lisbon along Tagus river and some of the historic monuments like Belem tower, Jeronimos Monastry , Monument of the Discoveries are located here and close to each other. Belem tower is built in Manueline style and is a Unesco world heritage site along with the Jeronimos monastery. Jeronimos has impressive architecture with massive pillars and motifs in all the walls. The tomb of the great explorer Vasco Da Gama is in this monastery, who died of malaria in Cochin and his mortal remains were initially buried in Cochin and later transferred to Jeronimos. The Jeronimos monastery also houses the Maritime Museum, this is a must visit museum for history lovers and has a impressive collection of exhibits. The rich Maritime heritage of Portugal and the great explorers are portrayed in a chronological order and is one of the best museums in Lisbon. On the Tagus river bank and close to Belem tower is the "Monument to the Discoveries", this is a new age monument with a tower and statues of great explorers like Vasco da Gama , Alfonso Albuquerque , Bartolomeu Dias superimposed to the facade. Lifts to the top of the monument tower is operational and views of Belem and Tagus River from the top is simply amazing. For foodies Pasties De Belem is a delight , their Pastel nata (Custard tart which can be called the National Dessert of Portugal and can be found all over the country) is lip smackingly delicious. This Patisserie is close to Jeronimos and has been there since 1830s.
Adeus Lisboa..............................................you just stole my heart!!!!
Lisbon was a complete revelation for me, walking around the city gave me so much of happiness which i have never experienced in any of the European Cities. Pleasant friendly people, amazing and cheap food, Boutique hostels , yellow trams , so much of culture with various influences, a soul stirring musical form , Loads of sun , slow moving river.........its a perfect spot for solo travellers and you will never feel lonely. I was so charmed by the city, i did not feel like leaving the city to visit other Touristy attractions like Sintra / Cascais etc.....After 3 days of courtship I left Lisbon with a heavy heart full of memories..........i kept telling to myself that i will keep coming back like what all the conquerors and explorers did..............
Points to Note:-
- Lisbon is filled with well managed Boutique hostels,try to stay in a hostel as you get to meet other travellers and is cheap. Most of the hostels organise free walking tours/ Fado night tours /Pub crawls
- Lisbon is a very walkable city.
- Drug peddling is legal in Portugal, you will see lots of drug peddlars with syringes try and stay away from them. Otherwise Lisbon is a very safe city
- Try to stay in the Old part of the city, it will be easier to explore
- Avoid restaurants in Rua Augusta which are overpriced and touristy , try restaurants where locals frequent which are very cheap when compared to other european cities
- Restaurants will provide you with Pao (Bread), Cod balls prior to a meal which might seem like complimentary but they charge for them.
- Foodies must try Pastel nata/ Ginjinha / Vinho Verde / Caldo Verde soup / Bacalhau / Brazilian Steak / Tripe
- Sintra is a beautiful town atop a hill with few castles which is 40 minutes by train from Lisbon. Heard its really good
- Lisbon can be combined with Porto in the north which is as good as Lisbon. There are frequent trains to Porto which takes about 3:30 hours