Surprising Finds in Lisbon, Portugal
The Root of Good family started its grand nine week European vacation with five days in Lisbon, Portugal. After a short flight from Raleigh, Lisbon is an easy 7.5 hour overnight flight from Washington, D.C., so our transatlantic flight to Europe was relatively painless. We arrived at 10:30 in the morning the next day. After an arduous journey through the immigration lines, we left the airport by metro for a quick ride to our first (of fourteen) Airbnb apartments that would serve as our homes away from home for the next nine weeks in Europe.
To battle jet lag, I followed the advice to stay awake the whole day of our arrival and DON’T take a nap. We dropped our bags at the airbnb apartment, hooked up to wifi, unpacked a bit, and did a quick inventory of necessities (“Do we have soap, shampoo, conditioner, and breakfast for tomorrow?”), and headed out for an afternoon of exploring downtown Lisbon so we would be forced to stay awake. Easier said than done, we had an overly exhausted five year old that fell asleep on the metro ride back to our apartment, and it’s the first time I’ve nearly fallen asleep while standing up (waiting for the metro).
Waking up the next day in Lisbon, none of us really suffered from jet lag. Disaster averted.
Before we jump into the Lisbon trip report, here’s some background info. Portugal and Spain share the Iberian peninsula in the southwestern corner of Europe, and appear to be similar in terms of climate and culture. In fact, the two countries shared a king for a period of several decades yet remained separate, independent countries. Being geographically adjacent, we decided to visit both countries (with Spain covered in a subsequent trip report post).
A quick note on ease of communication: I’m fairly proficient at speaking Spanish which helped immensely when attempting to communicate in Portuguese. The languages are similar enough that I could get by reading Portuguese, make out some words while listening, and occasionally speak words in English or Spanish to get by. If you know Spanish, learning the travel vocabulary basics is pretty easy. English is widely spoken in the tourist areas, but less so outside the center.
Exploring the City
Our apartment was a few miles from the center of town which meant a 10-20 minute bus or subway ride most days depending on where we were headed.
The biggest attraction in town is the Sao Jorge Castle. A relic from the days when the Muslim Moors controlled southern Spain for a period of roughly 700 years, this old fortification sits high on a hill overlooking Lisbon.
We took the Lisbon transit system every day except the final day when we Uber’d (Ubered?) back to the airport at 6 am Sunday since the metro doesn’t start running till 6:30 am. It turns out Uber is super cheap in Lisbon and doesn’t cost a lot more than transit tickets for short to medium rides around the city.
The transit system has a subway with several lines complemented by a larger network of buses and trams criss-crossing the greater Lisbon area. Although Lisbon as a whole is rather inexpensive, the structure of the fare system makes Lisbon transit rather expensive compared to most other European cities we’ve visited. Single transit tickets run USD$1.50 while 24 hour passes are USD$7 per person. For tourists, no discounts are available for children or families, and even our five year old had to purchase tickets (a rarity with other transit providers). Frustratingly, the single tickets are not valid for transfers between buses or transferring between the metro and buses or trams (transfers between subway lines are free). As a result, the day pass quickly becomes an attractive option if you’re making transfers or planning on taking multiple trips during a day of sightseeing. We mixed it up with some single tickets and some 24 hour passes to optimize the transit spending.
The 24 hour passes can be used on two separate days. For example, we lazed about the apartment one morning then set out for the day’s excitement around 1 pm which is when we validated our 24 hour pass. This meant we could travel all day then up till 1 pm the next day. A small trick, but helpful to stretch a buck when day passes for five total USD$35 per day.
Food in Lisbon
On our first night in Lisbon, we were jet-lagged and hungry downtown after a day of sightseeing and trying to stay awake. The kids were starving and exhausted, so we took a break from the tourist trail and stopped into a doner kebab restaurant for some kebabs (something new to us) and burgers (comfort food for the kids). The whole meal came in at €29 (or USD$31).
Since we’re on extended travels with our three kids, it’s usually easier to buy nice foods and dine at home or grab take out, rather than try to get the crowd rounded up for lunch or dinner out somewhere, navigate to a suitable restaurant, then wait for our food to come out when our kids are starving to death literally*.
* not literally, but you know how kids can over-dramatize
We visited a Portuguese slash Middle Eastern slash South Asian restaurant and ordered several dishes to share. Chicken curry, steak and egg, empanadas, grilled fish, and burgers. The total was once again €29 or about USD$31 for the five of us.
The $35 big haul from the grocery store to set us up for good eats at “home”:
We have a habit of buying some good bread and sliced meats and cheeses and packing a light lunch to take on the go. Then we can have a nice picnic whenever we get hungry, or slide a kid a mini sandwich to eat on the go for an energy boost.
Thoughts on Lisbon
We had a good time in the city and thought it was a fun introduction to Europe. Lisbon offers different sights compared to the rest of Europe since there’s the Moorish influence and the climate is drier and hotter. For those that have only visited the most popular European destinations like Paris and London, it’ll be a pleasant change of scenery.
The weather was much hotter than usual with temperatures in the 90’s and 100’s while we were there in June. But it was a dry heat, so not too bad. On the worst day when temps hovered in the 100-104F range most of the day, we chose to take a “do nothing day” where we were lazy and didn’t leave the apartment for sightseeing. Though we did explore the neighborhood park right before nightfall when the temperature dropped. This is part of our “slow travel” philosophy – take it easy and enjoy the traveling.
Food was good and inexpensive, both at the grocery store and at restaurants. The city is easy to navigate by transit and Uber is so cheap that it’s a cost-effective alternative if you don’t feel like taking transit (or even cheaper than transit if you have four people in your group, for example). Overall, prices were about 65-70% of what we would pay in Raleigh, North Carolina.
After Lisbon, we spent nine days in southern Spain spread across the Andalusian cities of Malaga, Granada, and Seville. Stay tuned for the summary of the Spain leg of our trip.
Have you been to Lisbon before? Any favorite spots we missed?