Two days are hardly enough time to visit Lisbon, but this is the part where my job gets in the way a bit. I would love to stay here longer and take in the city even more, but I must move on to cover other places. Were I to take a regular tour with Insight Vacations, my visit would be longer and the pace slower. But as a media guest invited by the company (full disclosure), I am seeing the highlights, which at least are enough to convince me that this is a city worth exploring.
I ended my last night in Lisbon having drinks by candlelight and resting from a long day, while listening to Fado in the trendy, night life area of Bairro Alto. The evening was cool and rainy and beautiful.
Fado is a traditional Portuguese form of song categorized by deeply emotional melodies and lyrics. I sat there entranced by the voices of each singer, accompanied by three guitarists, and couldn’t help but feel a sense in my heart that lets me know that something really special is taking place in front of you. I couldn’t understand the words being sung, but the emotion behind each song was very clear. I remember thinking at one point that this is what Insight Vacation does so well; they leave you with the memories of unique travel moments like these.
My first few hours here have been magical from the start, in that hazy, jet-lagged kind of way. Refusing to sleep after flying through the night and arriving early morning, I joined some friends and made my way to the oldest district in Lisbon: Alfama. The public transportation in Lisbon is easy to use and taking the tram 28 (at the time of this posting it costs 2.85 euros one way to ride the tram) was easy-peasy. Alfama was the totality of the city during the time of the Moorish domination and today it represents the oldest district in Lisbon. Chances are your Insight Vacation tour won’t take you through the narrow streets of what is considered home to many lower-income locals, but what’s wonderful about these tours is that you have the flexibility to explore it on your own if you wish, which I highly recommend.
There are tons of cafes, shops, and bars, but what was a highlight for me were the colors everywhere, whether on the tiles on almost every building I walked past, or the bright yellow of the trams that passed by, or the laundry hanging outside, or the roof tops from Miradouro de Santa Luzia. The sights are spectacular.
There are so many photography-worthy sights here in Lisbon, but I really appreciated having kicked off my visit in Alfama because it gave me a raw view of the culture, people, and place. There are plenty of attractions here as well. Such the medieval Castle of São Jorge and the Museum of Decorative Arts, but I suggest putting on your most comfortable walking shoes and prepare to adventure through the winding, up-and-down paths of this interesting district. I spent my entire first day here, and still didn’t see it all. It takes so long to get through any part of the city, because the beauty is in the details of everything your eyes from see.
Lisbon is known for its escalating and descending streets. I have been told that people often get lost through the maze-like paths, but it’s not difficult to find help. This is the capital of Portugal and one of the oldest cities of the world, so it is very cosmopolitan and busy. Many people I have met speak English, but I have heard tons of other languages as well, primarily French and Spanish (in addition to the local Portuguese, of course). The weather is Mediterranean, though it can get chilly during the shoulder seasons. If you don’t like the humidity and heat, this might be a great time to visit, just remember to also bring a rain jacket. Its river is the beautiful River Tagus, the largest in the Iberian Peninsula. Its surrounding ocean is the Atlantic.
I have eaten a lot of shrimp here and tried sardine pates for the first time (yum!). I’ve also had a generous amount of Port. Artichoke is another local favorite. I ate a Pastéis de Belém, a treat that has been a part of the general Lisbon culinary culture since 1837. These warm cream pastries prepared daily with over 150 employees working at this establishment by the same name, to serve 20,000 of them during the week days and 50,000 during the weekends! I get it though, they are delicious! A must have.
In Lisbon, the people are lovely, though not in a soft-spoken way. I also haven’t found it to be a particularly expensive city to visit. Granted, I have searched for places to eat that are inexpensive when touring on my own, but these aren’t hard to find. Of course, those on an Insight Vacation tour have access to some of the finest restaurants in the city, so spending money on a nice, high-end meal is not something you need to invest in too much on your own time. A meal of sardines with warm rice and beans can cost you less than 10 euros.
Another must is the out-of-town visit to Sintra, a UNESCO World Heritage site less than half an hour from Lisbon. A lot of out-of-towners come here to take in the sights of the Moorish Castle and the National Palace of Sintra, just to name a few. This town is like a scene from a fairytale, and even with all the rain during the time of my visit, I couldn’t help but feel like I was walking through the pages of a storybook. You can drive (though it can be really difficult to park and a bit congested) or take a train from Lisbon. Of course, the tour offers a comfortable coach and driver, so you don’t have to worry about any of those details.
On my last night, after a fun ferry ride and dinner with friends, I was where my post began, listening to beautiful music and relaxing. Part of this trip is the beautiful destination, but I also really do enjoy getting a taste of the luxury experience offered all guests. And the people I am traveling with are so fun. It’s easy to meet people and make friends this way. I’m surprised more solo travelers don’t consider this travel option more.
The service is top-notch, but so are the people I am traveling with.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Lisbon, though I know that I wasn’t expecting all it has to offer. If you are considering a visit to Lisbon, know simply that it is easy to navigate, easy to communicate in, has plenty of inexpensive and delicious food options, is cooler during the shoulder months (though with more rain as well), and has a great public transportation system. Oh, and you will definitely want to bring your camera.
If you consider discovering the city through an Insight Vacations tours, then just know that you will have the options to enjoy both guided tours and time on your own to explore, plus all the luxury in hotel, transportation, and restaurant experiences.
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Images used in this post were photographed with a Sony NEX-5TL/W, using the Sony SELP18105G E PZ 18-105mm F4 G OSS. All photography is property of Girl Gone Travel and may not be used without direct consent of the publisher.
Disclosure: I traveled as part of a media group courtesy of Insight Vacations. All updates are at my discretion and all opinions are my own.