The first thing I noticed upon my arrival in Lisbon was the grittiness of the city. It’s old, it’s dirty but it is also very welcoming. For a fast paced traveler like me, I felt right at home. The people are very friendly and the prices for everything were very reasonable, which is a huge plus for a traveler like me! As with all of my trips, I hit the ground running, after leaving the airport I took a bus downtown, dropped off my luggage at my very cheap priced airbnb and began exploring the gritty streets of Lisbon.
The hustle and bustle of this old town is great – most restaurants have outdoor seating, shops have merchandise displayed just outside their store fronts and there is always something new or fascinating to look at. There seemed to be an equal balance between tourists and locals as well, which is usually expected in cities such as this one. Unfortunately, that also usually means that there will be more litter on the streets and bigger crowds to deal with, there were lots of cigarette butts on the streets which is too bad. Despite the grittiness, just based off my first couple of hours in Lisbon I really liked this place. I had even considered coming here to teach English at one point. I had been studying Portuguese on and off for the past two years, and now this was my chance to use it- and I did, well at least I tried to. I spoke more of a blend between Spanish and Portuguese aka Portuñol. I managed my way around in Portuñol even though speaking English would have been just fine. I was trying to immerse myself in the language and culture as much as possible. Overall I had a great time and really enjoyed my entire time in Portugal.
At some point you will want to check this area out: Praca do Comercio. Best part is that it’s free! It’s a large open plaza and a gateway into town, the ocean view from here is really nice too. It’s a great place to end an evening and catch the sunset. It’s also one of the biggest squares in Europe, located in downtown Lisbon you can’t miss it. My exploration of Lisbon started here and things only got better.
After checking out the square you will want to check out the city from this viewing platform called Elevador de Santa Justa. The view from here wasn’t the best but it’s free if you have a day pass metro ticket. There are two viewing platforms, the top platform is worth going up. It’s usually crowded and there is a long wait, especially in the early evening. There is no time limit once you are up there, but as I mentioned before the view isn’t that spectacular – it’s just okay. Still, it’s worth going up.
A popular way of getting around is via the tram cars. Locals and tourist use it to get to various points of the city. They are old and slow but still fully operational. Tram 28 is the most popular way to get to the Castelo de S. Jorge – riding the trams around the city adds a special touch to exploring Lisbon. One thing to remember however is to stay vigilant against pickpockets – they tend to linger where crowds of tourists are present, so use caution when riding the trams. There is a pretty nice viewpoint called Miradouro da Senhora do Monte and the best way to get there is through the Elevador da Gloria tram car. It cycles up and down a steep uphill – which you will not want to climb after a long day of walking the streets of Lisbon. There is a long wait however, especially in the evening. I got there in time for the late summer sunset, it was a nice way to end my first day in Lisbon. There are a several souvenir booths in this general area along with small restaurants. Just outside of this area you will see a lot of night clubs and fancier restaurants – this is where all the young tourists flock to party. It’s not my scene so I payed no attention to this, but if you come here to party – this is where you will want to come during the late hours of the night.
Torre de Belem is a 16th century tower, it represents Portugal’s age of discovery both on land and sea. You can climb the stair to the top for a nice view, but I had a busy itinerary so I opted for just seeing it from the ground, which was still a great sight.
Pradao dos Descobrimentos was built in honor of Portugal’s Prince Henry the Navigator in 1960. It was built to commemorate Portugal’s many famous explorers and adventures – I thought it only proper for a fellow explorer to pay tribute.
The best way to see all the sites around Lisbon is via the hop-on hop-off bus tour, it’s an inexpensive and reliable way to see all the highlights in Lisbon. On my second day I began my day with a few of the sites: Torre de Belem, Padrao dos Descobrimentos, Mosteiro do Jeronimosa and Castelo de S. Jorge which are all part the hop-on tour route. In combination these sites are really cool – they cost nothing to visit aside from the hop-on bus which also provides an audio guide and commentary of each site.
Alfama is a must for anyone visiting Lisbon. You get a real sense of the culturally rich part of Lisbon by visiting this quaint neighborhood. It’s visually shaped by its Arabic influence and fishing port heritage – there are several neighborhood churches and restaurants that feature Fado music which add even more richness to an evening here in old Lisbon. Unfortunately, Alfama is not part of the hop-on tour, but that could perhaps be to keep it persevered from so much foot traffic. So, getting here will either be on foot or via a tuk-tuk. It doesn’t matter which way you get here – just get here and allow for about 2 hours to take in this piece of Portuguese history. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and stay hydrated – there are a few hills here and there but it’s not too bad overall. There are several cafes and restaurants in the area as well to look forward to after some exploration.
My time in Lisbon shaped up to be awesome! I was taking in so much of this old city and I wasn’t spending very much money at that! Lisbon is rich in history and culture – it was perfect for a budget traveler like me, I walked away with such a great experience.
The locals in Lisbon are super friendly – I really enjoyed waking up early and going to the cafes for a morning cafezinho and a pastel de nata or two and just listening to the Portuguese conversations around me. The food is good and cheap – dinner portions are a good size and as with everything else here – very reasonably priced. Whenever I went for a meal I tried to stay away from the more touristy areas to immerse myself into the real culture as much as possible. In total I spent several days in Lisbon and never had a dull moment – I also got to experience the city of Sintra and Porto during my time here in Portugal, which each place offered a unique experience. Portugal was truly much better than I expected – I am so happy and blessed to have experienced it for myself. Portugal should be on every budget friendly traveler’s list. Happy Travels!