Lisbon. Portugal’s capital and usually the only place most tourists visit in Portugal. That’s a shame – and not because Lisbon is not a beautiful city, it is. My trip through Portugal has kept me in mostly small towns and the more time I spend in big cities, the less time I want to spend in big cities.
Somehow, Lisbon was different. Maybe it was the way it all started, by meeting Eunice who was my host at the accommodations I found through AirBnB. There was nothing fancy about this place, but it was one of the first I found on AirBnB and for some reason it stuck with me. Yes, I found other places more “centrally located” and about the same price point – probably even nicer – but there was some vibe that got me from the start and sure enough, it was there.
I drove in from Oporto to the airport, dropped off my car as I wouldn’t need it while in Lisbon, and took a taxi to my room. As I arrived and rang the doorbell, I was greeted by a wildly waving person half hanging out the 3rd floor window as if she had just seen an old friend. I worked my way up the stairs, settled into my room, she gave me a map, proceeded to answer my questions and provide me with some guidance. Since my room was in the Madragoa area, I immediately headed out toward the Torre de Belem area to get the western part of Lisbon I wanted to see done and out of the way. I knew the rest of my stay would be concentrated in the Baixa and Alfama areas which are to the east.
I walked to the bus stop, hopped on, and eventually arrived at the Mosterio dos Jeronimos. It was a bit late to enter, but I was able to enjoy the architecture and area. I walked across the street through a beautiful park and toward the Padrao dos Descobrementos – a beautiful plaza and monument dedicated to the rich Portuguese history of exploration and discovery. To say this is impressive would be an understatement. As you admire it, you get a sense of that history, the danger and risks these individuals took on to go and explore the world. It is inspirational to say the least.
I continued walking a bit further toward the Torre De Belem and arrived just in time to get in and be able to experience the interior. This tower was built back between 1515 and 1521 and was the starting point for the navigators that set out to explore and discover places unknown to the European world at the time. The history is incredible!
I enjoyed it and soaked it all in for about an hour and then it was time to go as the sun was setting. I headed back to my room and had dinner right down the street at a small restaurant named O Caldo Verde – quite good and inexpensive. I needed to get some rest, get some laundry done, and prepare for the next day’s free walking tour.
The next morning, I woke up early, grabbed breakfast at a cafe along the walk to the Praça Dom Pedro IV – the meeting point for my free walking tour with the Wild Walkers.
I wasn’t sure what to expect – I had booked it because it seemed like my way to see the city AND it was free! What’s the worst that can happen? It sucks so I just walk away. It was quite the opposite. This outfit caters mostly to the hostel crowd, but they welcome everyone and it was a lot of fun and informational. My tour guide, Gonzalo, started us off with a “team building exercise” – we all chipped in for a bottle of Ginja (a sour cherry liquor) and some small plastic shot glasses and we all took a shot (or two or three) until the bottle was empty. Not bad for an early morning. From there, it was very informal yet informational walking tour through the Baixa district.
When the tour was over, Gonzalo answered all the questions anyone had. Of course, one of the most asked was “where should we have lunch?” He gave some recommendations, told us where he was going to eat, and invited anyone who wanted to join him. He was very up front about how things work and how many tour guides get a kickback when they bring people to a restaurant for lunch but this was a small family run place and it didn’t work that way. I took him up on it and went along to Restaurante Tolan. I enjoyed a late lunch that was more like a feast – appetizer, entree, dessert, drink, all for 6.50 euro! I’ve since looked up reviews of this place and it only gets three stars out of five – I found it to be a local, family owned place that served good food at a good price. I’d give it 4-5 stars, but I like small hole in the wall places! I enjoyed the tour so much that I decided to come back the next day for one offered in the Alfama district.
Since it was still early in the day, I decided to go off and explore a bit more. I wanted to see the castle (Castelo de Sao Jorge) so off I went. Winding my way up the hills and stairs, sometimes having to backtrack and go up another alleyway – but that’s how I like to explore! I think I’m going to name it “getting lost with a purpose”!
I made it to the castle and enjoyed it, as well as the trip up and back to my room – a long 45 minute walk. Since I had a big lunch, I decided to skip dinner and just have a snack at a cafe along the way. Turns out A Padaria Portuguesa is a small chain but it has some delicious pastries and savory snacks.
The next morning, it was pretty much the same. Get up early, grab breakfast at a cafe on the way to the meeting point for the walking tour, and enjoy. The tour guide was Sofia and she was just as good as Gonzalo – taking the small group up and down the hills, stairs, alleyways, and narrow streets of the Alfama district. Sharing the history of the area, small insights, and providing information on the bars and fado performances that take place in the evenings.
As with the previous day, she answered all the questions anyone had and suggested a place for lunch named Santa Rita. Some of decided to go and it was really good – a great big meal with drink and all for 9.60 euros. By the way, there is no name anywhere, it’s at Rua de S. Mamede 24 and it is worthwhile finding!
I’d highly recommend the tours offered by Wild Walkers. They were informal, fun, and free – though there are some that they charge for (e.g., the pub tours).
When the tour was done, I kept exploring. I went back up toward the Baixa district as I wanted to visit the Igreja do Carmo – an old church that stands as a memorial to the earthquake that devastated the city in 1755. I also had a chance to visit the church of Sao Roque which was also quite stunning in its own right.
With the day’s activities done, there was one thing left to do. I wanted to take in a fado show. I wasn’t up to heading back to the Alfama district where they are more traditional as I knew it’d turn into a very late night and an even longer walk back to my room, so I decided to take one in at a theater. Fado in Chiado was the place to do so and while it was a sterile environment, it was perfect at the time. I got to enjoy a good show in a comfortable theater and I was halfway back to my room.
I grabbed a snack for dinner while waiting for the show to being and after the show I went back to my room for some rest as I knew the next day would be equally full with the first of two tours I had booked.