36 Hours in Lisbon

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Thank you, thank you, thank you for all of the wonderfully supportive and thoughtful comments on my last post about solo travel! I’m working my way through the comments now and will be responding to each of them. You guys are the best. For the final part of my Portugal trip reports (see parts 1 and 2 here), I’m going to talk about the 36 hours I spent in what might be my new favorite city in the world – Lisbon!

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One of the main squares in Lisbon – Praça do Comércio

My decision to go to Lisbon was actually last minute. I had intended to spend my entire week in the Azores, but about 3 days before I left, I thought “Well, I’ll be so close to the mainland…maybe I should check out flights.” I had heard about extremely inexpensive flights within Europe on airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet, so I looked them up, and lo and behold, I was able to book a roundtrip flight for about $100! Dear America: Please get your crap together and start offering super cheap flights to cool places. Thank you in advance.

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This was my view within about 1 block of exiting the metro station.

I quickly researched hostels and found an awesome one in the heart of downtown Lisbon – the Lisbon Lounge Hostel. Now, I had never flown one of these European value airlines before and I saw a lot of horror stories online about outrageous fees for things like printing your boarding pass at the airport (70 euros!), having a carry on bag that did not fit within the rigid guidelines and had to be checked, and the insane boarding process. I was wracked with nerves as I stood in line to board and watched as the gate agents checked every single bag to make sure it fit within the sizer. I only brought my backpack (I was only going for 36 hours, after all) but it was still terrifying! Those people showed no mercy and did not hesitate to make people pay to check their bags if they were even slightly too big. I appreciate their efficiency, but holy crap, do not cross Ryanair and EasyJet or you will literally pay.

Anyway, my hostel was just a few blocks from the Baixa metro station downtown, which was extremely convenient. I had carefully printed out directions to make sure I knew where to go, but as soon as I stepped out of the metro station, I audibly gasped. I was immediately transfixed by the colorful, charming buildings, stylish crowds, and amazing atmosphere. From that moment on, Lisbon had my heart.

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Looking over the Alfalma neighborhood in Lisbon

I’m a big fan of guided tours when I’m in cities, primarily because I’m a huge history nerd and I love random facts. I try and stick with small, personal tours rather than the big group ones, but for this trip, I was also trying to be casual and not make too many plans in advance. Talk about last minute – I found a food and wine tour leaving that afternoon at 4:30 pm while I was waiting in the airport to fly to Lisbon! There ended up being 5 people on the tour, including a 67-year old cancer survivor who was traveling through Europe for 6 months by herself, which I thought was amazing. Anyway, the tour took us through some of the neighborhoods of Lisbon while letting us try Portuguese wine and liqueurs, cheese, bread, sausage, and jams. I’m 30 years old, so I’m not trying to brag about my drinking ability, but the adorable college students on our tour were literally tipsy after less than one stop. Oh, bless your hearts.

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About to take a shot of Ginjinha – Portuguese cherry liqueur. It is basically a stronger version of Robitussin.

Of course, a food and wine tour might not be terribly fun if you can’t eat the food – a lot of it was bread, so I was out of luck. But in an ongoing effort by the Universe to prove to me that people are wonderful and kind, so many of the shop owners offered me extra cheese, some sausage, or some other gluten-free item from their stores once they saw that I wasn’t eating the bread (I never asked, they just noticed I wasn’t eating and asked our guide why). I deal with a tremendous amount of food-related anxiety when I travel because of how sick I get when I eat gluten, but that’s another post for another day. Suffice to say everyone was amazing and I was very well fed!

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This sweet man had made codfish cakes (salted cod is basically the natural food of Portugal) and asked our guide why I wasn’t eating them. When she explained, he immediately ran to the back and got me some amazing homemade chorizo! “This is the only gluten-free thing we have in the bar,” he said to our guide. I could have kissed him.

I was determined to see everything I possibly could while in Lisbon, so I had also decided to go on a Fado tour that left from my hostel at 10:15 pm. HAHAHA traveler me is hilarious. Fado is a style of music invented in Lisbon that is kind of like the Portuguese version of the blues – extremely depressing and sad, but very distinctive. It’s a “must do” while you’re in Lisbon, but after touring 5 different bars and drinking all the wine the college students left behind, I was faced with a tough choice. And this was one of those moments in life when I felt very much like an adult (which happens not that often). I went back to my hostel to wait for the tour to leave and met my roommates, who were two young German guys traveling on their spring break. While talking to them, I realized I was one drink away from being borderline drunk, and that wasn’t a state I wanted to find myself in while traveling alone (not because of them – they were awesome – just in general). So I decided to skip the Fado tour and get a good night’s sleep before my walking tour of Lisbon the next morning. Ugh, responsibility.

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The first stop on our tour – combination fruit shop, butcher, and wine bar. The usual.

I headed out the next morning to wander around a bit on my own before the free walking tour began at 10:30. I’m not great at wandering around when it comes to cities; despite the fact that I was a geography major, I have a particularly terrible sense of direction, and I get turned around easily. Lisbon is pretty easy to navigate, though. When I showed up for the tour, I ended up being the only person – meaning I had a free tour courtesy of John Doe Tours (obviously I tipped him well) all to myself for 3 hours! My guide, Alex, was amazing. He was actually from the Azores, so he was beyond thrilled to hear that I had just come from there. He had a fantastic sense of humor and offered a unique, realistic view of the Portuguese government and culture. It’s always nice to go on a tour and not feel like you’re being “sold” on the city; Alex let me make my own conclusions about Lisbon and Portugal and patiently took about a thousand pictures for me. He took me through the big sites of the city, through the poor and working class neighborhoods, and everywhere else I wanted to go. Hey, when you have a private tour, you can do whatever you want!

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Visiting Alfama, one of the working class neighborhoods in Lisbon. They host a massive party each year that the whole city comes to!

One thing I really love seeing when I visit cities is the street art, and Lisbon definitely did not disappoint. While your standard graffiti definitely exists, most of the artwork tells a story about Portuguese culture. I loved listening to Alex tell the stories about it. I might be in the minority, but sometimes I feel like street art adds a lot to the character of a city.

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This artwork reflects the traditional stereotype of a Portuguese fisherman – overweight, always drinking, hairy chest, and one foot in the grave!

After Alex and I parted ways, I still had a few hours to kill before I needed to head to the airport. I had heard great things about some of the sights in Belém, a nearby suburb of Lisbon, so I decided to take the train over and see what there was to see. The train turned out to be quite a bit more complicated than the Metro, primarily because the trains waited at the station for quite awhile before leaving and I couldn’t tell which train was which. Mercifully, a local woman took mercy on me and explained the system and I was able to make the 10 minute ride with no problem! My destinations were the Jerónimos Monastery and the Tower of Belém. The Jerónimos Monastery was constructed in the 1500s and is one of those places that you kind of have to see to believe. They say if you’ve seen one old church, you’ve seen them all, but those people have clearly never been to this particular church and monastery. The carvings, detail, and architecture were incredible.

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In the central courtyard of the Jerónimos Monastery

You know what’s kind of awesome about being a tourist? Everyone in the world understands the universal sign for “Will you take a picture?” which is basically holding up your camera and mimicking pressing down on the button. Even when I didn’t carry my tripod around, I had no problem getting my picture taken by locals and tourists alike, whether I spoke their language or not. I tend to ask other people with cameras because then I can offer to take their picture in exchange and I don’t have to worry about feeling guilty for inconveniencing them. Yes, this is a weird thing to feel guilty about and yes, I probably need to go back to therapy.

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Inside the church at the Jerónimos Monastery

After visiting the monastery, I headed to the Tower of Belém. For just a few euro, I got a sweeping view of the city and learned some interesting facts about the Portuguese military and prison system. Attractions in Portugal are cheap, y’all.

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In front of the Tower of Belém

As I began my long walk back to the train station, I stopped at a little stand to buy a t-shirt for AJ. The owner noticed my accent, asked me where I was from, and was absolutely euphoric when I told him I was from the U.S. “OH!!!” he said. “I want to move to Miami very much! Tell me about the United States!” And so began an hour long conversation about the pros and cons of life here in America. It’s very interesting to hear about other countries’ perceptions of the U.S., particularly when they haven’t visited here before. This guy asked me about Donald Trump (of course) and then all sorts of other questions about what it is like to start a business in America, what it’s like to live in Florida, and all sorts of other things. He was one of those “American streets are paved with gold” type of people, and I didn’t want to dampen his enthusiasm, but I also didn’t want him to be disappointed when he arrived because, in case you haven’t noticed, our streets are not paved with gold; hell, in South Carolina, they are barely paved at all sometimes. Anyway, it was a great conversation and the perfect way to end my trip to Lisbon – I love talking to locals and sharing experiences. He is still determined to move to the U.S., so I guess I did a pretty good job of representing my country!

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This was more or less the view from where we were having our conversation…I think I’d stay if I were him. Maybe we can trade?

As much as I love to travel, there are not many places that I am absolutely aching to go back to. For the most part, I’m focused on seeing new and different parts of the world. Lisbon got in my blood, though. It seems like it’s always the side trips that end up being the best parts of my travels, and that might be the case here, too. I had a feeling 36 hours wouldn’t be enough, but I’m so glad I went – this brief excursion has whet my appetite for much more time spent on the mainland of Portugal. Hey, 36 hours is better than nothing, right?

LEAVE A COMMENT: Have you visited a place that you’re dying to return to? Where is it, and how long were you there the first time?

16 thoughts on “36 Hours in Lisbon

  1. It looks like a gorgeous place to visit. It sounds like it was such a unique place to visit, I cannot imagine how fun it was. I bet it as so interesting to hear about what other people and countries thought of the US. When I lived outside of the US, it was definitely interesting to see.

    1. It’s a pretty amazing place! I hope you get to visit someday.

      Yes, it is very interesting to hear what people have to say about the U.S. – well, sometimes it is interesting, and sometimes it’s more depressing, haha! I find that people always have a very positive perception of the American people but are sometimes skeptical of our government.

  2. I will go with you when you return. Wanna go tomorrow! That liqueur sounds pretty darn terrible. Blech. I would love to go back to Paris, and to see more of Europe. All of it, actually!

  3. funny – I too was in Lisbon for a short time – about a day and a half – and I too took an ‘Eat, Drink, Walk’ tour – it was absolutely delightful, with a wonderful woman name Cecelia – a couple who were Belgian, but living in UK – it was intimate, interesting, and we felt like old friends by the end of the afternoon. (I was in Lisbon on my way to Madeira Island – then back again, spending 4 days in Sintra – which was amazing!). I could go to Portugal forever.

    1. That’s too funny, Kerry! I really wish I had had enough time to go to Sintra as well. That is definitely on my list for the next time I visit Portugal! It’s such an amazing place.

  4. I’ve never been to Lisbon, but have absolutely loved your stories and pictures! Thanks as always for sharing 🙂

    I like most of the places I have visited – especially outside of the US (there are admittedly places inside the US I don’t care if I never see again), but at the same time what I really want is to see new places, or to experience places with Lisa that I have only seen myself. Sharing those experiences with her would be a dream for me. Just a few more college years and then free! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Mike! I hope you get to visit one day. It’s worth the trip! I have actually liked all of the places that I have visited outside of the US because I’ve learned something from all of them. That said, there are so many more places that I want to go and have yet to see, so there is a difference (for me) right now between liking a place and wanting to go back to it right away. A place has to really captivate me for me to feel that way – otherwise, I’m ready to go to the next destination!

      I totally relate to what you’re saying about want to experience places with Lisa that you have only been yourself. I feel that way about all the places in the US I visited as a kid or before I met AJ. I really want him to be able to see all those places as well! It was very special to take him to the Grand Canyon after having only been there myself.

  5. I just wanted to comment to say that your hair game is on point whilst in traveling overseas. I love reading about your solo travel!

    1. Hahaha thanks so much! It’s so funny you say that, because my straightener didn’t work for most of the trip, I rarely washed my hair, and I definitely did NOT feel like my hair was looking good! I was pleasantly surprised by the pictures.

  6. I’ve heard so many good things about Lisbon (and Portugal, in general). It’s moving up my list of travel-to-next places. Sounds like you definitely got your money’s worth out of the plane ticket!

    It would be quicker for me to name the places I wouldn’t travel to again 🙂

    1. You should definitely bump Portugal and Lisbon up your list! I absolutely loved it and can’t wait to go back. I have thoroughly enjoyed every single place I’ve been to so far, but since I have so many places yet to go, I still tend to prioritize going new places over visiting places I’ve already been. That said, there are a few that have really grabbed me and I would love to go back to!

  7. For some reason, I really want to go back to Montreal (again). I’ve been there twice, and both trips were only for about 48 hours (one trip was a side trip of sorts while I was in upstate NY, the other was the last-minute one last summer). There’s just something about the city, probably the French influence, that makes you feel like you’re in Europe, rather than just north of New York State.

    I’m glad to hear about someone else in their 30s staying in a hostel during a trip… when I was telling a co-worker about my Montreal trip just before I left, she asked where I was staying (I had been talking about how I made the trip such a cheap one). When I replied that I was staying in a hostel, she looked at me like I was crazy, seemingly worried I wouldn’t come back alive. Alas, it was just fine..

    And I meant to comment on your last post about traveling solo, because I had just seen a FB post from a friend of mine. She travels internationally solo quite a bit, and posted these links (one was her post, one she posted in a comment):
    http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/womens-blog/2016/mar/21/travelling-alone-risky-women-sexist-attitudes
    http://motto.time.com/4117893/women-travel-alone/

    1. Thanks for sending me those articles! I really enjoy them both and agree with their points. It’s a great time for solo female travel, but we’re not yet at the place where it is accepted or even close to being accepted. I hope more women will travel alone so that it becomes more accepted going forward!

      It’s so funny that your coworker said that about hostels! I actually had some similar concerns. The only time I had really stayed in a hostel was in Bogota, and my friend and I got a private room. I had no idea what a dorm would be like, but it was awesome! I think there are some “party” hostels in each city and some that are quiet and more for a wide range of travelers. I really enjoyed the experience, though, especially traveling alone!

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