More and more people are talking about Lisbon as one of the most beautiful European capitals. The truth is that there are good reasons for this and... you know how it is: if it wasn't there wouldn't be stories... In the spring I visited the northern region of Portugal (Porto, Guimaraes, Braga, Aveiro) which simply spelled, we planned - more or less seriously - to reach the Lisbon area as soon as possible.
And when you really want something, the universe makes that wish come true, says master Coelho... In our case, the universe made it so that we found an irresistible flight offer for the end of September, and the beginning of October, and... we went!
I opted for accommodation in Sintra, quite close to Lisbon, due to the almost unbelievable offer received from Lawrence's Hotel and, on the other hand, due to the fact that Lisbon is extremely crowded in terms of accommodation due to the fact that it is right in that period to organize an international marathon.
I admit that another reason was that in the spring visiting Guimaraes (located about the same distance from Porto as Sintra from Lisbon), I regretted not taking accommodation here. You know how it is, small towns have a special charm, better prices (there are exceptions too 😛 ), and an accentuated romance. In the present case, Sintra had them all, except the good prices. About this in a future article...
From the airport, I took the metro to Rossio station in Lisbon, from where I took a regional train to Sintra, a beautiful but very crowded city. No, not from the point of view of the inhabitants but of the tourists. Every day there are several tens of thousands of tourists who come here, especially from Lisbon. And because we wanted to experience it from the very beginning, we took it to step by step from the train station to the accommodation.
Except for the fact that everything is paved with cubic stone which is extremely unfriendly to luggage wheels, the 15-20 minute journey was a real pleasure both literally and figuratively. Once we arrived at the hotel, we knew exactly what we had to visit, where we could eat, and where the bus stops were located, so after checking in we immediately went out on the streets until late at night.
Returning to Lisbon and the airport, there is no need for many explanations about how to proceed to get to the center. The "metro" option is the simplest: upon exiting the airport, on the right side, you will find a kiosk where you can purchase your ticket (1.4 euros) together with the reloadable card. This card (the card itself costs 50 cents) can then be used for local trips and can be recharged at any machine in the metro or train stations.
Another transfer option is the taxi, but for this, you will pay a minimum of 20 euros and you will wait in the "boarding" line for at least 30 minutes. For those who prefer the bus, there is also such an option, but I don't suggest it: they are always ultra full. Regarding transport in Lisbon, you have the following options:
- a single ticket - 1.40 euros (the desired amount is charged to the previously mentioned card);
- a ticket bought from the bus - 1.80 euros
- a ticket bought from the tram – 2.85 euros
- one-day subscription - 6 euros
- The Yellow Bus circuits
- Lisbon Card: valid for 24, 48, or 72 hours - includes free transport, free regional trains (for example to Sintra, Estoril, and Cascais), free entrance to museums and some tourist attractions, and certain discounts. The prices are as follows: 24 hours - 18.50 euros, 48 hours - 31.5 euros, and 72 hours - 39 euros.
After yesterday when we got to know the "story scenario of Sintra," we woke up perfectly. I opened the windows and in front of us was: Sintra, the palace, the ocean... what's more, an image of millions. We really liked this Lawrence's hotel and we understand why Lord Byron had a weakness for it!
I recommend you to cross its threshold if you arrive in the area and even if you are not a fan of Byron's opera, you will have the opportunity to feel the unique atmosphere of the oldest hotel on the Iberian Peninsula. At least it gave us the impression that we are part of a different landscape, a fairytale landscape in a modern era. To whet your appetite, I leave you with the image that greeted us at breakfast...
We left the hotel and decided: our destination was Lisbon. I took 15 minutes to the train station in Sintra, walking leisurely, and after a 50-minute journey, I arrived at the Rossio train station in Lisbon. The Sintra - Lisbon train (Rossio station) runs twice an hour.
From there we had to get to the Tourist Office on "Rua do Arsenal/ Praca da Comercio" to pick up our Lisboa Card. I chose the 72-hour option for the price of 39 euros (I didn't think it was a high price for people who want to get to know Lisbon in detail, benefiting from free transportation).
I always like to document myself before going on a trip. I searched and read if this Lisboa Card is worth it and decided to buy it, being the best way to get to know almost the whole city! The card can be purchased online or at newsstands and tourist information points.
As a Lisboa Card holder you have the following benefits: free transport (metro, bus, trams, and elevators of the CARRIS company), free train line Lisboa Rossio – Sintra, free train line Lisboa Cais do Sodre – Cascais), free entry in over 25 museums and monuments, between 10%-50% discount in other museums, monuments as well as various excursions/circuits and between 5% and 10% discount in various souvenir shops. We preferred to pick up the cards from the city's Central Tourism Office, where we could ask and find out what we should visit the first time, what else we recommend, etc.
The first recommendation was "Lisboa Story Centre", or in other words, "the place where the city begins". Located in front of the Tourist Office, in Praca do Comercio, this interactive place known as "Memory of the City" takes us from the past to the present, through the most important events at which the city was put to the test. Opened since September 2012, it invites us to discover the city, its heritage, and history through an interactive method specially created to arouse the interest of both adults and children.
We liked it: we were able to learn a lot about Lisbon and, knowing a little more about the history of the city, we were able to visit the city with a set of basic information! The circuit lasts around 1 hour, during which you can see, and even feel the main events that took place in history through special effects and interactive technology. In one of the rooms of this center, we find a 4D theater specially created to be able to see the terrible earthquake of 1755.
For those who have the Lisboa Card tourist card, the entrance is free. Otherwise, the price of a ticket is 7 euros (adult), 5 euros (students) and 3 euros (children). As I said above, visiting this place is the best way to start getting to know the city! You can read more information on the center's official page: Lisboa Story Centre.
Also known as the City of 7 Hills, Lisbon is an amphitheater facing the Tagus River, with which it has always had a close connection! Lisbon preserves its history among the romantic boulevards, the narrow, sloping streets, paved with cubic stone, the Moorish districts, the baroque or gothic monuments, and even the new modern architecture.
It offers us a mixture of culture, history, and modernism, preserving the old air of the city, and modernizing it, without affecting the specific atmosphere of the place. I arrived for the first time in Lisbon now and I can say that I fell in love with "Her"! There is something there that attracts me. In my opinion, it is one of the most beautiful European capitals, if not the most beautiful... I know that there will be opinions for and against, so it makes no sense to give any justification.
When I chose October for my visit, I did it for good reasons: it's not very hot, it's already off-season, prices are more civilized, and probably fewer tourists per square meter. The first assumption came true, instead the one regarding the tourist....no. So if there was an "invasion" at the beginning of October, I can't imagine what it's like in the middle of the season...
Now back to our sheep… after visiting the Lisboa Story Centre, we thought it might be a good idea let's choose some circuits (with the Lisboa Card we had a 25% discount on those of the YellowBus company). After long debates, questions, and discussions, we decided: on the Tagus Bus tour, the Tagus River Cruise, and the famous Hills Tramcar tram tour of the YellowBus company. Ok, ok... but where do we start? Let's take the tram now and in the evening we will cruise on the river, and tomorrow Tagus Bus. Said and done.
To start the Hills Tramcar circuit we had to go to Praca da Figueira. A 10-minute leisurely walk from Praca do Comercio. When we enter Rua Augusta, the "Arco de Rua Augusta" draws our attention. As we had a few extra minutes, let's visit it! This new monument to the city gives you access to an observatory with a 360° panoramic view of the city: Torreiro de Paco, Rua Augusta, Praca de, Baixa Pombalina, the Cathedral, the Castle of San Jorje or the Tagus River are just some of the representative places that can be seen from above.
Before going up to the last floor, namely the terrace of the arch, you will pass through the "Clock Hall" where you will discover the history of this arch from its construction, and what happened to it during the earthquake of 1755, until 1875. We liked it, especially the panoramic view that you can enjoy, as well as its history. With a Lisboa Card entry is free.
We left the arch behind and without any other "deviations" we headed towards the starting point of our circuit: Praca da Figueira. There we found the "Yellow bus" flags, we sat nicely in line and quietly waited for the tram. And the wait really took a while... about 45 minutes, but we can say it was worth it!
The duration of the Hills TramCar circuit is 1 hour and 30 minutes and, from the moment you get on you have 24 hours to enjoy the city. What I found very interesting is that, unlike the other public transport trams (there are some on the same route), only 24 people get on this tram, or only as many as there are free seats. Public trams used the "sardine" system...
The tram has a circuit through the 7 hills of the capital, giving you the opportunity to discover it through an audio guide that will tell you about the areas you are in throughout the journey! He conquered us, and for an hour and a half, we didn't get off of him.
Okay, I admit, we were also afraid that we wouldn't get seats at the next one... We chose to get off at the "Portas do Sol" station, in the area where the Sao Jorge Castle is, and our plan said something like this: we have 2 observatories to visit, the Castle of San Jorge, the Cathedral, lunch, and after, the steamboat cruise on the Tagus river.
The first observatory you see in front of the tram station is called "Portas do Sol Observatory". Spectacular views of the Tagus River, the Alfama neighborhood, and more, are just some of the things you can admire here. Access to this observatory is very easy and you will not regret it!
Descending towards the Cathedral you will discover the Santa Lucia Observatory, at a distance of only a few meters from Portas do Sol. We were conquered by something more than his neighbor. Probably due to the famous "Azulejos" where we can see the reinterpretation of the 1877 earthquake and the Christian attack on San Jorge Castle. But still, the no. 1 observatory so far remains "Arco de Rua Augusta"!
Our next stop was at Sao Jorge Castle. The castle is one of the most famous and emblematic monuments of the city of Lisbon. Both during the day and during the night, the image of the castle "rises" from the highest hill of Lisbon where we find two of the most famous neighborhoods of the capital: Castelo and La Alfama.
Built by Muslims in the middle of the 11th century, the castle enjoyed its heyday until the beginning of the 16th century. With the integration of Portugal into the Spanish Crown, in 1580, the Castle acquired a more military function until the beginning of the 20th century. Certain spaces were rebuilt and others were raised from the ground up. After the terrible earthquake that hit Lisbon, the castle underwent a serious reconstruction, which led to the appearance of new buildings, which hid the old remains.
Visiting the castle takes a little more than an hour and a half because the area is quite large. Apart from the castle, we also find 11 towers, an observatory, a museum, a permanent exhibition, a bar, and a restaurant. The entrance fee costs €8.50, and if you have a Lisboa Card you get a 20% discount.
I realized with sadness that it was already 4 o'clock in the afternoon, so we decided to leave the castle behind and head towards the Cathedral. A few minutes from the Santa Lucia observatory, I found a typical Portuguese place with very good prices and delicious food: Pasteleria Varanda de Alfama. 2 soups, 1 salad, 2 traditional entrees with the famous "bacalao", beer, juice, dessert + coffee, 15 euros. It seemed to us a very civilized price compared to what exists around us, and I generally exaggerate with the food 🙂 Plus, it is always more pleasant and interesting to eat in a traditional place and not in a tourist one. Of course, this is if you are not "sensitive"...
We continued our way to the "Se de Lisboa" Cathedral - the oldest and most important church in the city. Built-in the 12th century in the romantic style, this superb cathedral has been renovated throughout history on various occasions, and even if it "survived" various natural catastrophes, its current appearance is due to the complete restoration in 1930.
Visiting the Cathedral is free, and outside the cathedral, for €2.50 you can visit the area known as the "claustro de Se de Lisboa": Roman, Arab and medieval remains that have been discovered in recent years. In the upper part of the cathedral you can visit the "treasure of the cathedral": 4 rooms with costumes, jewelry, and artifacts from different eras for those who are passionate about these times.
On the way out, we were also interested in the cute tuk-tuks flying through all the streets of the city. Thus, for one hour, 2-4 people, you will pay at least 50 euros, respectively 100 for two hours. The "driver" is also a guide, he stops wherever he is asked, provides information and, if you want to visit something, he will wait for you.
The time had come for us to go to "Praca do Comercio" to do the steamboat circuit. Arriving in front of the market, on the banks of the Tagus river, you will see the famous flags of the YellowBus company. We chose the last ferry leaving at 18:00, the cruise having a total duration of 1 hour and a half. A spectacular journey, far from the hustle and bustle of the city, with spectacular views over the 7 hills of the capital and the famous 25 Aprilie Bridge.
The ticket price is 19 euros per person (with a 25% discount with Lisboa Card) and is valid for 24 hours from validation. You can get on and off at the stations it will make during the 24 hours, but be very careful with the boat schedule! On the official Yellow Bus website you can see all the circuits they have. In addition, if you order online you can benefit from discounts, also if you buy several circuits you can have other prices.
We returned to the Torreiro do Paco station at 19:40 when we realized that we had more than 10 hours visiting Lisbon! It was time to return to our quiet Sintra, to our wonderful Lawrence's Hotel.
I know I'm repeating myself, but I do it on purpose: Lisbon conquered me! A perfect climate, a safe city, and tourists? I don't think I saw so as many tourists as I saw in any other place... When we returned to Sintra, far from the craziness of the capital, we realized that choosing a hotel outside of Lisbon was a wise decision: bohemian air and luxurious, spectacular views, delicious restaurant, and everything we could want from a hotel! Perfect!
After the first day spent in Lisbon, in which we visited the Cathedral, the Castle, the observatories, the Lisboa Story Center, and the downtown area (Praca da Figueira – Praca do Comercio), on the second day we decided to start with the Tagus Tour YellowBus circuit on which I still had it "remaining".
The circuit lasts approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes and has 20 stops. The ticket is valid for 24 hours starting from the moment of validation: that is, you can get off at any of the stations, visit and then get on again, with the same ticket, in one of the following buses.
What can TagusTour offer you? A journey on the main boulevards starting from the historic center of the city, discovering the main districts of Lisbon in a "convertible" bus, feeling the breeze of the river Tagus from the historic center of the city to the historic area of Belem, an area that from our point of view of sight is mandatory when you are in the capital of Portugal.
Why is Belem worth visiting? The Monastery of Sao Jeronimos, the Tower of Belem, the Monument of Discoveries, and various museums, of which we found the "Car Museum" the most fascinating!
We got on the bus at 09:00 in the morning and decided to get off at different stations, especially since every 20 minutes another TagusBus bus was coming. In this way, you can visit the city without getting very tired! When you get on the bus you will receive some headphones (which don't work very well... I decided to use my own headphones) and you can listen to information about the areas and what you can visit through the places you pass in one of 12 different languages. On the Yellow Bus official page, you can find a leaflet with all the circuits they organize in the capital of Portugal: YellowBus Circuits Leaflet.
Travel at a height of 4 meters with the yellow buses! The sun, the breeze from the Tagus-Tagus River, and the wind will help you discover the main boulevards and areas of the city and take in the view even if you decide not to go down for 1 hour and 40 minutes!
Regarding the prices, it depends a lot if you choose only one circuit or if you choose several. The full price is 17 euros, but if you benefit from the Lisboa Card you have a 20% discount. If you buy the circuits from the YellowBus official website, you get a 10% discount on each circuit!
You just have to take a look at their page, or go to any YellosBus Tour "kiosk" to find out what offers they have! We paid 26 euros in total (we had a 20% discount with the Lisboa Card) and we are not sorry. In addition, for the "fanatics" of Facebook, Instagram, emails, etc... TagusBus has wifi on board, so you will be able to benefit from Lisbon with all the conditions!
We decided to make the first stop at station number 9 "Parque Eduardo VII" because we were fascinated by the view! Eduardo VII Park is heaven in the middle of the city - 25 hectares that paradoxically isolates you from the hustle and bustle of the city center even though you are right in the city center!
The largest park in the center of Lisbon, originally known as "Parque da Liberdade", welcomes you with areas for picnics and relaxation, restaurants, terraces, playgrounds for children, a tourist office for those who want to find out information about the city and most importantly some impressive views of the city and the Tagus river.
We get on the bus and continue our journey through the "Amoreiras" neighborhood. Here we are recommended to go down to the "Fundacao Arpad Szenes - Vieira da Silva", which we find in the old Silk Factory. The building dates from the 18th century, it was restored keeping the old facade, and inside we find a fascinating collection of works by painters: Arpad Szenes (1911-1985) and Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (1926-1986).
In the Amoreiras / Campo D'Ourique neighborhoods, we find a middle-upper class residential area of the Portuguese capital, considered one of the neighborhoods with the highest quality of life in the city. The streets of the neighborhood are full of shops, cafes, confectionery, restaurants, and office buildings.
If you want to visit the oldest cafes, we recommend you try: Ruacana (Rua Almeida Sousa 31), A Tentadora (Rua Ferreira Borges 1), and O Canas (Rua Saraiva Carvalho 145). Other places worth visiting are the "Igreja do Santo Condestavel" Church and the famous "Mercado do Campo de Ourique" market.
The symbol of the area is the "Amoreiras Shopping Center" inaugurated in 1985. This shopping center stood out immediately after its inauguration because of its innovative architecture, and the work of Tomas Taveira. We also recommend a short visit to the "Jardim das Amoreiras" gardens, which you will find a few steps from the center.
From there, our journey continues towards the Tagus river, passing through the neighborhoods of Estrela and Alcantara. Estrela is a district of Lisbon known for its famous park: "Jardim da Estrela" and for the church of the same name. The park was built in 1842 and is the second-largest park of the Portuguese capital and one of the most beautiful in the city.
From my point of view, one of the most beautiful churches I have seen "Igreja da Estrela" is the "work" of Queen Maria I of Portugal, who promised to build a church and a monastery if she managed to give birth to a boy to inherit the throne. Located on a hill in the western part of the city, its large dome can be seen from many places in Lisbon.
Leaving the city behind, we boarded our yellow bus and went to one of the extremes of Lisbon: the Belem area - the area from where the Portuguese explorers who conquered a large part of the world started! I consider visiting this area mandatory! Passing by the 25 Aprilie bridge, slowly discover the Belem district: the Car Museum, the Belem City Cultural Center, the Belem Tower, the Discoveries Monument, and the Jeronimos Monastery - just a few of the things you can visit here!
Mosteiro dos Jeronimos was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and is undoubtedly the most prestigious place of worship in Lisbon. The work of the architect Diogo de Boitaca, the construction of the monastery began on January 6, 1501, and ended at the end of the 16th century.
The predominant style of the monastery is Manueline and it was built to celebrate Vasco da Gama's return from India. As a curiosity, the monastery was supposed to be built on the place where we currently find the "Igreja do Restelo", the church where Vasco da Gama and his crew entered to pray before leaving on their journey!
Adjacent to the Monastery, we find "Igreja dos Jeronimos", a church completely different from the rest of the churches we have seen so far. Here we find the tomb of Luis de Camoes and Vasco da Gama, the great poet who sang through his verses, the achievements of "da Gama". Apart from the monastery and the church, you can visit the "claustro del Mosteiro" which we personally found more impressive than the Lisbon Cathedral. Its size and perfection make the difference. With the Lisboa Card tourist card, you have free entry.
After visiting the monastery, we recommend a short stop at the "Antiga Confeitaria de Belem". This confectionery is 300 meters away and we can enjoy the delicious "pasteis do Belem" being made according to the old recipe (and as they themselves say according to the authentic recipe).
In the continuation of the Monastery, more precisely in the western wing of the Jeronimos Monastery, we find the "National Museum of Archeology" and... having free entrance with the Lisboa Card we decided to visit it. Founded in 1893 by Jose Leite de Vasconcelos, the museum is proud of the fact that it exhibits the most important and largest collection of archaeological discoveries in Portugal, representing, at the same time, the most notable Portuguese institution dedicated to specialized research in the field.
The museum exhibits two permanent collections: one dedicated to archaeological discoveries excavated from all over Portugal, and one to Egyptian antiquities, covering the time interval between the prehistoric era and the Moorish domination.
For sea lovers, at a very short distance, you will find the Maritime Museum of Lisbon. Located in the famous Jeronimos Monastery (in fact, in the western wing of the edifice, which it shares with the National Museum of Archaeology), the mission of this museum is to keep alive the memory of the great naval achievements of Portugal starting from the era of the great geographical discoveries until today.
The museum exhibits an impressive collection of approximately 17,000 pieces including a varied range of exhibits: ship models, old maps, boats, navigational instruments, maritime charts, paintings, and even archaeological discoveries related to the field, and numerous other pieces.
We crossed on the side of the river where the Monument of Discoveries greeted us. Despite the fact that it is not a historical monument in the true sense of the word, it evokes one of the most flourishing historical eras of Portugal: the era of the great geographical discoveries (when Portugal dominated maritime trade between continents).
Erected in 1960 on the northern bank of the Tagus river, the monument is decorated with motifs evoking the era of great discoveries, motifs of life at sea, and including armillary spheres. Among the first things we will see are the 34 statues that decorate both sides. The interior of the monument is divided into 3 levels. The ground floor includes an auditorium, the second level houses two exhibition halls, while four other halls are located on the third level. The top of the monument is often used as an observatory, as it offers wonderful views of the Belem area and the Tagus river.
Continuing our walk along the edge of the river, we reach one of the most symbolic buildings in Lisbon: the Belem Tower. Having the Manueline style, the tower was built between 1514 and 1520, being the project of the architect Francisco da Arruda, who inserted Moorish elements into the general structural and decorative heritage of the tower. The tower is interesting to explore and admire both from the outside and from the inside, being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.
Even if it was initially used for the defense of the city, later it was used as a customs house or a lighthouse. The 16 spectacular windows welcome us to the first level! The tower has 5 floors and a terrace awaits us at the top. The floors are, from bottom to top: the Governor's Hall, the King's Hall, the Audience Hall, the Chapel, and the Terrace from where we can admire both the river and the city! If you benefit from the Lisboa Card tourist card, entry is free. Otherwise, it's just a matter of luck as long as you stand in line for entry...
From the Tower, we boarded the Tagus Bus and continued our route to station number 12: the National Train Museum. We had a free entry (of course, with the Lisboa Card) so we decided to visit it. Inaugurated on May 23, 1905, it houses a unique collection of royal carriages dating from the modern era (17th and 19th centuries).
The collection includes carriages used by the Portuguese royal families, as well as some European examples from England and Spain. It is currently one of the most visited museums in Lisbon. At first, we were quite skeptical and didn't know if it was worth visiting or not, but once we entered we didn't regret it: it is one of the most surprising places in Lisbon!
From there we boarded our nice yellow bus again and continued our way to station number 18: Cais do Sodre. On the way we discovered: the 25 Aprilie Bridge, the Carris Museum, the Oriente Museum, and the Museum of Ancient Arts. We would have liked to be able to visit them, but time did not allow us. But, this is another reason why we will return to Lisbon!
Our next plan was the following: we got off at the Cais do Sodre station, from where we could take the train to Cascais (we had the train trips to Cascais and Sintra for free with the Lisboa Card). In Cascais, the plan was: to visit the city, the famous Boca do Inferno, visit the westernmost point of Europe, Cabo da Roca, and after we managed to see these wonderful places, we could return to our Sintra by bus 434. This was our plan for the hours that we still have some left, but I will tell you about this in a future article.
Even though I had a full day, leaving Sintra before 8 o'clock in the morning.... we returned at 10 pm full of energy. Everything we set out to visit we had succeeded and as a bonus, we had part of the most beautiful sunset from the westernmost point of Europe!
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