My husband and I recently took a cheap flight from Toronto to Bordeaux that had a long layover in Lisbon, Portugal. This was exciting for me because I had yet to visit Portugal or it’s capital. Here is how we spent our 20 hours in the port city for some takeaways for your next visit there.
24hr Metro Tickets
This may sound unromantic, but let me explain. Upon landing at Lisbon Portela Airport, my husband and I waddled around like chickens with their, well you know the rest of the expression, because we could not find wifi to get detailed directions to our Airbnb and we do not speak Portuguese. In situations like these, I always head to the information desk at an airport and I have never been disappointed, friendly, English speaking attendants have always pulled out maps and circled routes and bus stops for me when I’m unsure of exactly where I’m. The nice man in Lisbon carried on the tradition.
My husband and I carried our 40 liter backpacks to the metro and got in line. While deciding which tickets to buy we opted for the 24 hour metro tickets that worked on multiple forms of transportation and would at least get us back to the airport for our 8:30 flight on to Bordeaux the next morning if nothing else.
The metro in Lisbon is relatively easy to figure out, it’s relatively small, clean, and runs from 6:30 am (just in time to get us there in the morning, phew!) until 1am. Now the reason why a metro ticket has made it on to the list is because it includes rides on the famous Tram #28. I knew nothing about this tram until I started seeing pictures of it on magnets and T-shirts at tourist stalls. It is canary yellow and looks as if it is straight out of the 1920’s, and it very well may be.
Although Lisbon was a small city and our Airbnb was conveniently located a 30 minute walk from the sights that we wanted to see, we still hoped the tram a couple of times while there, it’s a must. Having the 24 hr ticket saved us money in the end because each tram ride paid in cash is €2.90 ($3.36) and we rode the tram on two separate occasions during our quick stay.
Word of warning – it’s a bumpy ride so not for those prone to motion sickness. Also, not comfortable to germaphobes or those with claustrophobia as the drivers do not seem to have a concept of “full trolley” and allow people on continuously even if the tram is bursting from the windows!
Get to Graça
We had a kind Airbnb host who recommended that we go to the next neighborhood, Graça for sightseeing due to a famous church, beautiful architecture, good restaurants, and a viewpoint of the city. We heeded her advice and were not disappointed.
The church is called Igreja da Graça and it is free to enter. Like most cathedrals in Europe it impressed this American traveler with its ornate carvings of biblical stories and height of the naval. Not a lot of time is needed to tour inside the church, which is perfect for a quick layover.The overlook is directly in front of the church, two birds one stone, even better for a short stay and battle with jet lag!
There is a room connected to the church that consists of the famous Portuguese tiles that depict more biblical stories and Portuguese history. Unfortunately all of the descriptions of the work of art are in Portuguese. Magnificent tile art can be spotted all over the city.
Lisbon is touristy, granted we were there on a Saturday afternoon, but the city was buzzing with life and it seemed that the majority were travelers. As previously mentioned the city is small, so wandering around getting lost is not all that intimidating. The city is fairly hilly, so head down towards the water or back up into the higher neighborhoods until you stumble upon a good restaurant or cafe. Being that it is steep, wandering down is far more enjoyable than wandering up, so hopping on Tram 28 is a good idea when wandering up!
Lisbon felt safe, historic, and slightly tropical. As my husband noted it has a Central American feel to it, more so than other European cities. Neither of us could say exactly why, it could just be the weather and tropical fauna, but it felt relaxed. Make your way down to the port, have a seat and dip your feet in on a hot day.
There are food stalls, restaurants, and a large market near the port that reminded me of a mall’s food court, it wasn’t the most atmospheric of European markets, so we skipped, but it likely would be a good place to get food to go (skipping the plastic bags of course) and heading down to the water to enjoy.
No doubt there was a lot that we missed in our short stay in Lisbon, but we enjoyed ourselves. We did check out the exterior of the famous Castelo de Sao Jorge, but to save money and time we did not pay the €8 entry fee. We had one meal in the Airbnb that we picked up from a supermarket, the prices were cheap for cheese, baguette, and sausage. We also made ourselves get up from our afternoon nap and head back into the center for a meal out at a restaurant because we though it a shame to leave the city without having seafood, but it turns out that restaurants, or at least this specific one, charge per item, meaning each pat of butter we used showed up on the bill and what we thought would be a €20 meal total for two turned out to be a €35 meal, it didn’t break us but did surprise us! Not sure if that is common for Portugal, Lisbon, or just restaurants in tourist infested neighborhoods.
Lisbon was the perfect place to have our layover on our way to visit my in-laws and a beautiful re-introduction to the romance of Europe.