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Rick Steves Snapshot Lisbon
By Rick Steves
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You can count on Rick Steves to tell you what you really need to know when visiting Lisbon.
In this compact guide, Rick Steves covers the essentials of Lisbon, including the Tejo River, Belém, and the Bairro Alto district. Visit Lisbon’s São Roque Church, taste the world’s greatest selection of ports at the Port Wine Institute, or observe art spanning 2,000 years at the Gulbenkian Museum. You’ll get Rick’s firsthand advice on the best sights, eating, sleeping, and nightlife, and the maps and self-guided tours will ensure you make the most of your experience. More than just reviews and directions, a Rick Steves Snapshot guide is a tour guide in your pocket.
This Snapshot guide, excerpted from my guidebook Rick Steves Portugal, introduces you to Lisbon, the country’s culturally rich capital. Here at the far western edge of Europe, prices are reasonable, the people are warm, and the pace of life slows. Wander through Lisbon’s characteristic downtown neighborhoods like the hilly Alfama and the busy Baixa, then head up to the lanes of Bairro Alto at night to find a good fado bar. The grand Belém district offers a look at Lisbon’s historic architecture and seafaring glory, from the 16th-century Monastery of Jerónimos to the Monument to the Discoveries. Or visit the Gulbenkian Museum, the best of Lisbon’s 40 museums, offering 5,000 years’ worth of art.
Day-trip to the touristy but lovely town of Sintra, dotted with the fanciful Pena Palace, royal National Palace, and evocative Moorish castle ruins atop a hill.
To help you have the best trip possible, I’ve included the following topics in this book:
• Planning Your Time, with advice on how to make the most of your limited time
• Orientation, including tourist information offices (abbreviated as TI), tips on public transportation, local tour options, and helpful hints
• Sights with ratings:
▲▲—Try hard to see
▲—Worthwhile if you can make it
No rating—Worth knowing about
• Sleeping and Eating, with good-value recommendations in every price range
• Connections, with tips on trains, buses, and driving
Practicalities, near the end of this book, has information on money, staying connected, transportation, lodging, restaurants, and more, plus Portuguese survival phrases.
To travel smartly, read this little book in its entirety before you go. It’s my hope that this guide will make your trip more meaningful and rewarding. Traveling like a temporary local, you’ll get the absolute most out of every mile, minute, and dollar.
Lisbon is ramshackle, trendy, and charming all at once—an endearing mix of now and then. Vintage trolleys shiver up and down its hills, bird-stained statues mark grand squares, taxis rattle and screech through cobbled lanes, and Art Nouveau cafés are filled equally with well-worn and well-dressed locals—nursing their coffees side-by-side. It’s a city of proud ironwork balconies, multicolored tiles, and mosaic sidewalks; of bougainvillea and red-tiled roofs with antique TV antennas; and of foodie haunts and designer boutiques.
Lisbon, Portugal’s capital, is the country’s banking and manufacturing center. Residents call their city Lisboa (leezh-BOH-ah), which comes from the Phoenician Alis Ubbo, meaning “calm port.” A port city on the yawning mouth of the Rio Tejo (REE-oo TAY-zhoo—the Tagus River), Lisbon welcomes large ships to its waters and state-of-the-art dry docks. And more recently, it has become a hugely popular stop with cruise ships.
Romans (2nd century B.C.) and Moors (8th century) were the earliest settlers in Lisbon, but the city’s glory days were in the 15th and 16th centuries, when explorers such as Vasco da Gama opened new trade routes around Africa to India, making Lisbon one of Europe’s richest cities. Portugal’s Age of Discovery fueled rapid economic growth, which sparked the flamboyant art boom called the Manueline period—named for King Manuel I (r. 1495-1521).
On the morning of All Saints’ Day in 1755, a tremendous earthquake hit Lisbon, followed by a devastating tsunami and days of fires. (For more on this cataclysmic event, see here.) Chief Minister Marquês de Pombal rebuilt downtown Lisbon on a grid plan, with broad boulevards and generous squares. It’s this “Pombaline”-era neighborhood where you’ll spend much of your time, though remnants of Lisbon’s preearthquake charm survive in Belém, the Alfama, and the Bairro Alto district. The bulk of your sightseeing will likely be in these neighborhoods.
As the Paris of the Portuguese-speaking world, Lisbon (pop. 548,000 in the core) is the Old World capital of its former empire—some 100 million people stretching from Europe to Brazil to Africa to China. Portugal remains on largely good terms with its former colonies—and immigrants from places such as Mozambique and Angola add diversity and flavor to the city, making it as likely that you’ll hear African music as much as Portuguese fado.
With its characteristic hills, trolleys, famous suspension bridge, and rolling fog, Lisbon has a San Francisco feel. Enjoy all this world-class city has to offer: elegant outdoor cafés, exciting art, fun-to-browse shops, stunning vistas, delicious food, entertaining museums, and a salty sailors’ quarter with a hill-capping castle.
PLANNING YOUR TIME
Lisbon merits at least three days, including a day for a side-trip to Sintra. If you have more time, there’s plenty to do.
Day 1: Get oriented to Lisbon’s three downtown neighborhoods (following my three self-guided walks; see here): Alfama, Baixa, and Bairro Alto/Chiado. Start where the city did, at its castle (hop a taxi or Uber to get there at 9:00, before the crowds hit). After surveying the city from the highest viewpoint in town, walk downhill into the characteristic Alfama neighborhood and end at the Fado Museum. From there, zip over to the big main square (Praça do Comércio) to explore the Baixa, then ride up the Elevador da Glória funicular to begin the Bairro Alto and Chiado walk. Art lovers can then hop a taxi to the Gulbenkian Museum (open until 18:00, closed Tue), while shoppers can browse the boutiques of the Chiado and Príncipe Real. Consider dinner at a fado show in the Bairro Alto or the Alfama. For more evening options, see “Entertainment in Lisbon” (here).
Day 2: Trolley to Belém and tour the monastery, tower, and National Coach Museum. Have lunch in Belém, then tour the Museum of Ancient Art on your way back to Lisbon.
Day 3: Side-trip to Sintra to tour the Pena Palace and explore the ruined Moorish castle.
More Time: An extra day (or more) lets you slow down and relax—potentially spreading the “Day 1” activities over two days. Use the extra time to explore and window-shop characteristic neighborhoods and nurse drinks bought from kiosks on relaxing squares. You could also head to the Parque das Nações and/or National Tile Museum, or take a food tour.
Monday Options: Many top sights are closed on Monday, particularly in Belém. That’d be a good day to choose among the following options: Take my self-guided neighborhood walks; day-trip to Sintra (where all of the major sights are open); go on a guided walking tour with Lisbon Walker or Inside Lisbon (see here); or head to Parque das Nações for a dose of modern Lisbon.
Orientation to Lisbon
LISBON: A VERBAL MAP
Greater Lisbon has close to three million people and intimidating sprawl. But most visitors spend virtually all their time in the old city center, a delightful series of parks, boulevards, and squares in a crusty, well-preserved architectural shell. But on even a brief visit, you’ll also want to venture to Belém, the riverfront suburb with many top sights.
Here’s an overview of the city’s layout:
Baixa (Lower Town): Downtown Lisbon fills a valley flanked by two hills along the banks of the Rio Tejo. In that valley the neighborhood called Baixa (BYE-shah), stretches from the main squares—Rossio (roh-SEE-oo) and Praça da Figueira (PRAH-sah dah fee-GAY-rah)—to the waterfront. The Baixa is a flat, pleasant shopping area of grid-patterned streets. As Lisbon’s main crossroads and transportation hub, touristy Baixa has lots of hotels, venerable cafés and pastry shops, and kitschy souvenir stands.
Alfama: The hill to the east of the Baixa is the Alfama (al-FAH-mah), a colorful tangle of medieval streets, topped by São Jorge Castle. The lower slopes of the Alfama are a spilled spaghetti of old sailors’ homes.
Bairro Alto (High Town): The hill to the west of the Baixa is capped by the Bairro Alto (BYE-roh AHL-too), with a tight grid of steep, narrow, and characteristic lanes. Downhill toward the Baixa, the Bairro Alto fades into the trendy and inviting Chiado (shee-AH-doo), with linger-a-while squares, upmarket restaurants, and high-fashion stores.
Modern Lisbon: From this historic core, the modern city stretches north (sloping uphill) along wide Avenida da Liberdade and beyond (way beyond), where you find Edward VII Park, the Gulbenkian Museum, breezy botanical gardens, the bullring, and the airport.
Away from the Center: Along the riverfront are two worthwhile areas. Three miles west of the center is the suburb of Belém (beh-LAYNG), home to much of Lisbon’s best sightseeing, with several Age of Discovery sights (particularly the Monastery of Jerónimos)—and you can visit the Museum of Ancient Art along the way. Five miles north of the center is Parque das Nações, site of the Expo ’98 world’s fair and now a modern shopping complex and riverfront promenade (the National Tile Museum is about halfway there).
Few tourists venture across the Rio Tejo, but public ferries sail to the little port communities of Cacilhas (from downtown; connected by bus to the towering Cristo Rei statue) or Porto Brandão (from Belém)—both have popular fish restaurants.
Lisbon has several tourist offices—all branded “ask me L¿sboa”—and additional information kiosks sprout around town during the busy summer months (www.visitlisboa.com). The main TIs are strategically located on Praça dos Restauradores at Palácio Foz (daily 9:00-20:00, tel. 213-463-314; TI for rest of Portugal in same office; there’s also a kiosk across the street); on Praça do Comércio (two locations; both daily 10:00-20:00, tel. 210-312-810); and at the airport (daily 7:00-24:00, tel. 218-450-660). Smaller TI kiosks are at the bottom (south end) of Rossio (daily 10:00-13:00 & 14:00-18:00, mobile 910-517-914); across the street from the monastery in Belém (Tue-Sat 10:00-13:00 & 14:00-18:00, closed Sun-Mon, tel. 213-658-435); at Parque das Nações, in front of the Vasco da Gama mall toward the riverfront (daily 10:00-13:00 & 14:00-19:00, Oct-March until 18:00); and inside Santa Apolónia train station (open only Tue-Sat 7:00-9:00, closed Sun-Mon, toward the end of track 3). At any TI, you can buy a LisboaCard (see next) and pick up the free city map and information-packed Follow Me Lisboa booklet (monthly, cultural and museum listings—also available at www.visitlisboa.com, “Publications” tab).
LisboaCard: This card covers all public transportation (as well as trains to Sintra and Cascais) and free entry to many museums (including the Museum of Ancient Art, National Tile Museum, National Coach Museum, Monastery of Jerónimos, and Belém Tower). It also provides discounts on many museums (including sights at Sintra), city tours, and river cruises. You can buy the card at Lisbon’s TIs (including the airport TI), but not at participating sights. If you plan to museum-hop, the card is a good value, particularly for a day in Belém (covers your transportation and most sightseeing). The card is unnecessary if you’re a student or senior, for whom most sights are free or half-price. When considering the card, remember that many sights are closed on Monday and free on the first Sunday of each month. Carry the LisboaCard booklet with you—some discounts require coupons contained inside (€19/24 hours, €32/48 hours, €39/72 hours, kids 5-11 nearly half-price, includes excellent explanatory guidebook, www.askmelisboa.com).
ARRIVAL IN LISBON
For complete information on arriving at or departing from Lisbon, see “Lisbon Connections” at the end of this chapter.
By Plane: International and domestic flights arrive at Lisbon’s Portela Airport. On arrival, check in at the handy TI—it’s a smart place to buy your LisboaCard. Options for getting into town include taxis, Uber, Aerobus, or Metro (all described on here).
By Train: Lisbon has four primary train stations: Santa Apolónia (to Spain and most points north), Oriente (for the Algarve, Évora, Sintra, and fast trains to the north), Rossio (for Sintra, Óbidos, and Nazaré), and Cais do Sodré (for coastal Belém, Estoril, and Cascais). For schedules, see www.cp.pt.
By Car: It makes absolutely no sense to drive in Lisbon. Dump your rental car at the airport and connect to your hotel by a €10 taxi or Uber ride (car return clearly marked; the airport is also a good place to pick up a car on your way out of town).
If you must drive and are entering Lisbon from the north, a series of boulevards takes you into the center. Navigate by following signs to Centro, Avenida da República, Marquês de Pombal, Avenida da Liberdade, Praça dos Restauradores, Rossio, and Praça do Comércio. If coming from the east over the Vasco da Gama Bridge and heading for the airport, take the first exit after the bridge.
Parking: There are many safe underground pay parking lots in Lisbon (follow blue P signs), but they discourage anything but short stays by getting more expensive by the hour. Expect to pay €20 per day (the most central Praça dos Restauradores costs €17.50/24 hours if you pay when you arrive).
Exchange Rate: €1 = about $1.10
Country Calling Code: 351 (see here for dialing instructions)
Theft Alert: Lisbon has piles of people doing illegal business on the street. While the city is generally safe, if you’re looking for trouble—especially after dark—you may find it.
Pickpockets target tourists on the trolleys, elevators, and funiculars. Enjoy the sightseeing, but be aware. Wear your money belt and keep your pack zipped up. Some thieves pose as tourists by wearing cameras and toting maps. Be on guard whenever you’re in a crush of people, or jostled as you enter or leave a tram or bus. And be wary of beggars in the street—some are scammers and pickpockets.
Pedestrian Warning: Lisbon’s unique black-and-white pattered tile pavement, while picturesque, can be very slippery. And trams can be quiet and sneak up on you if you’re not paying attention. Even some of the tuk-tuks are “eco” (electric) and can zip up behind you silently.
Free Days and Monday Closures: National museums are free on the first Sunday of each month (all day or until 14:00); the (private) Gulbenkian Museum is free every Sunday after 14:00. Many major sights are closed on Monday, including Lisbon’s Museum of Ancient Art, National Tile Museum, and Fado Museum, as well as Belém’s Monastery of Jerónimos, Coach Museum, and Belém Tower.
Market Days: Tuesdays and Saturdays are flea- and food-market days in the Alfama’s Campo de Santa Clara. On Sundays, the LxFactory zone, in the shadow of the 25th of April Bridge, hosts a lively farmers market (9:30-16:00; for location, see “Lisbon Overview” map).
Useful App: For a free audio tour that covers portions of my self-guided walks in this book, get the Rick Steves’ Audio Europe app (for details, see here).
Post Office: Modern, user-friendly post offices (correios or CTT) are at Praça dos Restauradores 58 (closed Sun) and on Rua da Santa Justa 15 (closed Sat-Sun).
Laundry: Drop off clothes at centrally located 5àSec Lavandaria (€7.50/kilo, same-day wash-and-dry service usually possible if you drop off early, Mon-Fri 8:00-20:00, Sat 10:00-20:00, closed Sun, next to the bottom level of the Armazéns do Chiado mall and lower entrance to Baixa-Chiado Metro stop at Rua do Crucifixo 99, tel. 213-479-599).
Travel Agency: GeoStar is handy and helpful for train tickets (Portugal only) and flights (Mon-Fri 9:30-18:30, closed Sat-Sun, Praça dos Restauradores 14, tel. 213-245-240).
Ticket Kiosk: The green ABEP kiosk at the bottom end of Praça dos Restauradores is a handy spot to buy a city transit pass, LisboaCard, and tickets to bullfights, soccer games, concerts, and other events (daily 9:00-20:00, across from TI).
GETTING AROUND LISBON
If you have a LisboaCard, you can use it to ride Lisbon’s public transit (see next page). Otherwise, you’ll have to buy tickets.
Ticket Options: Transit tickets are issued on a scannable Viva Viagem card, which works on the Metro, funiculars, trolleys, buses, Santa Justa elevator, and some short-distance trains. The card itself costs €0.50 and is reloadable, but it’s not shareable—each rider needs one. You can buy or reload the card at ticket windows or machines in Metro stations (touch “without a reusable card” for first-time users, or “with a reusable card” to top up). Keep your Viva Viagem card handy—you’ll need to place it on the magnetic pad when entering and leaving the system.
You can use the Viva Viagem in three ways:
1. A single-ride ticket costs €1.40 (good for one hour of travel within Zone 1). But if you’re taking even a few rides, “zapping” is a much better deal (see below).
2. A 24-hour pass costs €6 (this version does not cover trains). If you’re side-tripping to Sintra or Cascais, consider the €10 version, which includes trains to those towns (but does not include the bus at Sintra). Skip the €9 version of the 24-hour pass, which adds the ferry across the Tejo to Cacilhas (it’s cheaper to simply buy separately).
3. “Zapping” lets you preload the card with anywhere from €3 to €40, and lowers the per-ride cost to €1.25. Figure out how much you’ll need, and load it up (estimate conservatively—you can always top up later, but leftover credit is nonrefundable). If you’ll be taking fewer than five rides in one day, zapping is your best deal (and it’s fun to say). Unlike the €6 24-hour pass, zapping can be used for trains to Sintra and Cascais.
Although it’s possible to pay the driver as you board buses (€1.80), trolleys (€2.85), funiculars (€3.60), and the Santa Justa elevator (€5), only suckers do that. It’s much cheaper if you get comfortable zapping with Viva Viagem.
For transit information, see www.carris.pt.
Lisbon’s simple, fast, and color-coded subway system is a delight to use (runs daily 6:30-1:00 in the morning). Though it’s not necessary for getting around the historic downtown, the Metro is handy for trips to or from Rossio (M: Rossio or Restauradores), Praça do Comércio (M: Terreiro do Paço), the Gulbenkian Museum (M: São Sebastião), the Chiado neighborhood (M: Baixa-Chiado), Parque das Nações and the Oriente train station (both at M: Oriente), Sete Rios bus and train stations (M: Jardim Zoológico), and the airport (M: Aeroporto). Metro stops are marked above ground with a red “M.” Saída means “exit.” You can find a Metro map at any Metro stop, on most city maps, and on the Metro website (www.metrolisboa.pt).
By Trolley, Funicular, and Bus
Lisbon’s buses are fine, but for fun and practical public transportation, use the trolleys and funiculars. These are cheapest zapping with a Viva Viagem card (see above for ticketing options).
Like San Francisco, Lisbon sees its classic trolleys as part of its heritage, and has kept a few in use: Trolleys #12E (circling the Alfama) and #28E (a scenic ride across the old town) use vintage cars; #15E (to Belém) uses a modern, air-conditioned version. Buy a ticket, have a pass, validate your Viva Viagem card as you enter...or risk a big fine on the spot. Please be mindful of locals—especially little old Alfama ladies—who need a seat. Trolleys rattle by every 10 minutes or so (or every 15-20 minutes after 19:00) and run until about 23:00. For much more on using and enjoying Lisbon’s delightful trolleys, see here.
By Taxi or Uber
Lisbon is a great taxi town except at the airport and cruise terminals, which attract greedy cabbies (for tips on dodging their scams, see “Lisbon Connections”). Otherwise, especially if you’re with a companion, Lisbon’s cabs are a cheap time-saver. Rides start at €4, and you can go anywhere in the center for around €6. Decals on the window clearly spell out all charges in English. Be sure your driver turns on the meter; it should start at about €4 and be set to Tarifa 1 (Mon-Fri 6:00-21:00, including the airport) or Tarifa 2 (same drop rate, a little more per kilometer; for nights, weekends, and holidays). If the meter reads Tarifa 3, 4, or 5, simply ask the cabbie to change it, unless you’re going to Belém, which is considered outside the city limits.
Cabs are generally easy to hail on the street (green light means available, lit number on the roof indicates it’s taken). If you’re having a hard time flagging one down, ask a passerby for the location of the nearest taxi stand: praça de taxi (PRAH-sah duh taxi). They’re all over the town center.
Lisbon is also an excellent Uber town. The ride-sharing app works here just like back home; it’s at least as affordable as a taxi (often cheaper, except during “surge” pricing); and the drivers and their cars are generally of great quality. If you’ve never tried Uber abroad, do it here.
Tours in Lisbon
Lisbon’s trolleys—many of them vintage models from the 1920s—shake and shiver through the old parts of town, somehow safely weaving within inches of parked cars, climbing steep hills, and offering sightseers breezy views of the city (rubberneck out the window and you die). As you board, swipe your Viva Viagem card (see “Getting Around Lisbon”) or pay the driver (€2.85), and take a seat.
Buses and trolleys usually share the same stops and routes. Signs for bus stops list the bus number, while signs for trolley stops include an E (for eléctrico) before or after the route number. Remember that most pickpocketing in Lisbon takes place on trolleys, so enjoy the ride, but keep an eye on your belongings. You can think of trolleys #28E and #12E as hop-on, hop-off do-it-yourself tours (zapping tickets are good for an hour, and a 24-hour pass comes with unlimited hopping on and off).
Crowd Warning: Lisbon’s trolleys are an absolute joy...if you’re sitting down and looking out the window with the wind in your face. But if you have to stand, you won’t be able to see out the (low) windows, and you’ll spend the jostling ride trying to steady yourself. At peak times, hordes of tourists wait at trolley stops (particularly at starting points, such as on Praça da Figueira for route #12E). My advice is, rather than being determined to take a particular trolley at a particular time, keep an eye on trolleys as they roll by...and if you see an empty one pull up, hop on and take advantage of the open space.
Trolley #28E is a San Francisco-style Lisbon joyride. In the center of town, this trolley is often extremely crowded. To enjoy a seat for the entire scenic ride, consider taking a taxi to Mercado de Campo de Ourique for a meal or to the Prazeres Cemetery (both described next) and catching the #28E from there, where it embarks on its route across town. The following are notable trolley stops from west to east:
Campo Ourique: The Prazeres Cemetery, at the western terminus of route #28E, is a vast park-like necropolis dense with the mausoleums of leading Lisbon families and historic figures dating back to the 19th century (daily 9:00-17:00).
- On Sale
- Jul 18, 2017
- Page Count
- 120 pages
- Rick Steves