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Rick and Maryruth are just back from Lisbon and they have been kind enough to share their recommendations and insights on this fascinating city. Rick makes it a point to carefully research interesting spots before venturing off to a new city, so you’ll enjoy reading about his intriguing finds. Here’s Rick’s Trip Report:
We found most of Lisbon very walkable. The taxis are reasonable and the drivers friendlier than in many large cities.
The subway is limited but the bus service is excellent with plenty of routes and short waits. Our hotel staff easily showed us the route/bus number we needed for a particular destination. You can pay the driver as you board, €2.50 each way, you don’t need exact change but it’s handy to give the driver a €5.00 bill for two. The trams are also ok but be careful, some require on board payment with coins only unless you have a pass, the drivers don’t take fares. Hotels also sell multi-day passes but we found the city so walkable that this did not appeal to us.
We very much enjoyed our stay at the Hotel Metropole, see www.almeidahotels.com , located directly on Rossio Square in central Lisbon. Our deluxe room was spacious with large windows giving a great view of the square and included an excellent full breakfast for €219 per night. The hotel staff was friendly and responsive, very helpful in making reservations at restaurants and giving advice on touring the city.
Overall, we highly recommend this hotel. The only downsides are that Rossio Square can be a bit busy and noisy with tour buses and this is an old hotel with a small elevator which results in some stair climbing.
Young demonstrators were camped out in the Square during our entire visit. They were demonstrating for left-wing political parties in the elections scheduled for June 5, 2011. The demonstrations and the interactions between the demonstrators and the police were extremely peaceful and civil. This atmosphere of lawfulness and polite behavior was consistent with our overall impression of Lisbon as one of the safest and most relaxed large cities we have ever visited.
Lisbon is a great city for walking although there are some steep hills. We took a half day private guided walking tour around the central city, Baixa, and the old Moorish district, Alfama, with www.LisbonExplorer.com . Our guide was excellent, speaking perfect English and giving us a good orientation to the neighborhoods around our hotel along with a lot of insights not found in guidebooks. This private tour was well worth €147.
Make sure you visit some of the miradouros , small public parks with vista points on each of Lisbon’s seven hills. A nice one that is a short walk from Rossio by following the tram tracks half way up to the Castelo is the Porto do Sol. One of the best is the Miradouro da Nossa Senhora do Monte, in the Graca section behind the Castelo. This is quite a steep hike and it is probably a good idea to take a cab up. It is located right next to the Hotel Albergaria. Attached is a photo of the view from this miradouro including the Castelo and the rooftops leading down to the river.
Another good walking trip is a visit to the Stufa Fria, a small but charming botanical garden/arboretum in the upper part of Eduardo VII Parque. It has walking paths, waterfalls and some small grottos that I think are very Portuguese in that they are quite modest and understated. We took a cab from Rossi up AV. Liberdade to the Stufa Fria and then had a nice walk back to Rossio with some good views down the length of AV. Liberdade. Keep walking almost to the end of the Ave. to a nice little outdoor café next to a waterfall in the median center strip of the Av.
A short walk up the Chiado hill on the west side of Rossio, the Carmo church is a dramatic reminder of the 1755 earthquake that devastated Lisbon. This large Gothic church remains open to the sky since its roof collapsed in the quake. The church overlooks a small square, the Largo do Carmo, a pleasant place to stop with a couple of small outdoor cafés.
Fado!!! A 50 minute traditional Fado performance takes place at 7 pm every night but Sunday at Fado in Chiado in the Cine Theatro Gymnasio, R. da Misericordia 14, up the hill from the Carmo church. The performance is in a small, modern auditorium in a renovated classic building. A male and female singer alternate accompanied by the traditional 12 string Portuguese guitarra (a pear shaped guitar) and also a Spanish guitar. At €15 per person a much better value than the expensive, overhyped Fado clubs. You can reserve tickets in the music section of the official Lisbon tourist site www.askmelisboa.com.
We had a good time in some of the many casual, moderately priced restaurants/cafés in Lisbon. We recommend the local Sagres beer and a vinho verde, especially Gazela. This is a light, refreshing wine that is quite inexpensive, the table wine of Lisboa. End the meal with coffee and a Maciera brandy.
One of the most interesting restaurants with good traditional food is Casa do Alentejo, almost hidden in an historic palacio just off Rossio on Rua das portas Santo Antao, 58. The interior is unique. The food is traditional and fairly simple-we had veal medallions and baked cod, each served on a bed of roasted mixed vegetables, very good with a bottle of Gazela. (€ 9 for the wine, compared to € 13 for the same bottle at a tourist cafe nearby on Rossio Square).
Another good non-touristy restaurant is Faca & Garfo, Rua da Condessa, 2, just off the Largo do Carmo. Small, family run, favored by locals-steak in coffee sauce and traditional sausage very good -although be careful about adding ala carte items. We asked for a side salad for one person and ended up with a huge salad plate.
Pastries!!! You really can’t go wrong at any busy café, but the pastel de nata, a cream pastry tart, is the Lisbon signature treat. The place to try them is Pasteis de Belem, in the Belem neighborhood west of downtown Lisbon. This is a café opened in 1837; it is a modest blue tile accented storefront on the main street in Belem close to the tram/bus stop. Be sure to go in past the counter to the interior rooms with waiter served tables and you can see the bakery in operation.
SIDE TRIP TO SINTRA
We took a typical tourist bus tour to Sintra, a small town about 20 miles northwest of Lisbon. Visiting Sintra on a group tour is probably not the greatest idea since we did not see much of the town and the sections we did see were quite crowded with other tourists. If Sintra interests you, it would be better to take the train from central Lisbon midweek and wander around a bit yourself.
Our bus tour left Sintra and returned to Lisbon following the coast. This was quite interesting, including a stop at Cabo da Roca, a spectacular cape with bluffs overlooking the Atlantic. It was also interesting to see the somewhat trendy seaside towns of Cascais and Estoril which have nice harbors and are also commuter towns for Lisbon.