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Trip Report 3 days in Lisbon in early March 2013

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Ok, you have decided to go to Lisbon. But you do not know anything about what to do in Lisbon. How do you plan a visit to an unknown place? We were in the same situation recently and thanks to several travel sites we had a good time in Lisbon for 3 full days in early March.

Below is a quick overview of an itinerary to soak in the highlights of Lisbon in 3 days and for those interested in the details read on further:

Day 0 (Thu): Explored by foot the hotel neighborhood Rossio, Figueira, Comercio and Camoes Squares

Day 1 (Fri): Vasco Da Gama Bridge, St George Castle, Igreja de São Roque church, Santa Justa elevator, Bica funicular, tram #28, ferry ride, walk around in several squares, fado music

Day 2 (Sat): Belem (Jerominos Monastery, Monument to the Discoveries andTower of Belem), Cascais and Cabo Da Roca

Day 3 (Sun): Sintra and return home

Backgound:
My husband (Viswa) and I (Sha) recently became empty nesters and hence decided to live in mainland Europe for a short while to explore Europe. I took up a job in Netherlands and Viswa managed to work remotely. We are from South India and naturally do not like cold weather and hence never learnt to ski. We did not venture out much in winter and with weather slowly improving we embarked on our first short journey to Portugal.

Arrangements:
Viswa must have done something good in his past life to visit exotic places without putting in any time with the planning. Excellant articles in Fodors, TripAdvisor and GoLisbon made my task of planning infinitely easier and I thought it is only fair I should contribute as well. Flight from Amsterdam to Lisbon was dirt cheap. We stayed in Pensão Santo Tirso based on the recommendations. Although it is wonderfully located, we did not like the facilities and the smelly stairs to reach the hotel floor. If we were to go back to Lisbon, we will be staying somewhere else.

Lisboetas:
Before we travelled I read a lot about pick pockets but absolutely there were no bad incidents during our stay in Lisbon. Perhaps during the peak season when trams and buses are crowded, that could happen. Initially we were apprehensive about whether we would have any difficulties with the language but we found that almost everyone speaks English in the touristy areas.

I will daywise details in the later posts.

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    Day 0: Get to know Rossio Square and its neighborhood

    We reached on time by flight at 8pm on Thursday, since we did not have any checked in bag, we came to the aerobus stop pretty easily just as we came out of the baggage claim area. There were 2 people in the bus stop talking who seemed like locals and hence we confirmed with them about the bus. We later learnt that we need to buy the tickets from those 2 locals though they did not tell us about this during our earlier conversation nor was it written anywhere. The tickets cost 3.50 euros each (valid for 24hours for any number of trips only on aerobus) and we waited for the bus. Bus came on time and we were dropped off at Rossio Square. As we were checking out the house numbers to orient ourselves, we found our hotel right across the bus stop.

    We climbed up 3 sets of staircases (luckily we did not have much luggage with us) and were welcomed by a young friendly man. The room was compact and clean. The hotel did not have any brochures. We dropped our bags in the room and set on foot to explore the neighborhood.

    We walked to Figueira Square - a place where many metros, buses and trams stop. It was almost 9.30pm and the square was reasonably active. We checked the bus stops for the buses we were interested in. We also went to the metro station to find out their opening hours and got a metro map. We then walked towards water (Tagus river) and reached Commercio Square which was totally deserted around 10pm. We then walked further along the river shore, walked through unknown streets coming across several squares on the way and soon got lost. We saw the aerobus and found our way back to the hotel.

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    Day 1: Lisbon sightseeing

    We did not buy the Lisboa card as it was expensive at 39 euros each valid for 2 days. However, unless we visit 10 museums in those 2 days we do not get the benefit of the card. Hence, we decided to buy the daily transportation ticket for 6 euros each and pay for the museums, cathedrals that we visit separately. In Lisbon, the churches are free and the entrance fees are pretty nominal in other places. With the transportation card, you can use all sorts of public transportation within Lisbon including trams, bus, metro, elevators, funiculars and some ferries. We used metros for long distance journeys and for the rest bus or tram. Just for fun we did a couple of trips on the elevators and the funiculars and one trip on the ferry. The red metro line takes you to places like the airport, the Oceanarium and several other attractions of the "modern Lisbon". The green metro line takes you to the historical center of Lisbon where you can visit the castle, the old neighborhood Baixa, Alfama, Chiado and Bairro Alto. Tram 15 and 28 are fun to ride and use them anytime you are tired to walk around.

    We left early at 7.30am. We walked to the McDonalds to get coffee which was right across our hotel but found it closed. None of the shops were open at that time. Lisbon is definitely not a morning city. We went to the nearby Rossio metro station, bought the daily ticket at 6 euros each in an automatic machine (in English). We took the green line metro to Alamada and changed to red line to Oriente to visit the Vasco Da Gama Bridge - the longest bridge in Europe. In Alameda station, we found a nice bakery that we could smell at a distance and had our breakfast. The coffee was simply superb and gave us a good start.
    The Oriente metro station was a fancy station both inside and outside and it also has a real huge bus station attached to it. We did not go to the Oceanarium We once again walked towards the river and then walked by the shore between rows of trees towards the bridge. It was a nice sunny day and we noticed several others walking, jogging or biking on the shore. We could not see the end of the 7.3 miles long bridge. Right through our walk by the shore, there was a cable line above us with stationary cable cars. We decided to take a ride in the cable car but when we reached the starting point we found out that they open only at 11.30am and hence we continued our walk towards the bridge. After photo shoots, we walked along the bridge through a beautiful park and when we saw the first bus stop, we took the first bus back to the Oriente station and then reached Rossio by metro.

    Castelo de São Jorge (St. George's Castle): Around 9.30am, we took bus #737 to the castle, It is a small bus to be able to climb uphill and to navigate narrow streets. Castle is the last stop and hence relaxed and enjoyed the scenery along the way. One could touch the walls from the bus in some parts. We still need to climb up the hill from the last bus stop. We found the ticket office on the right before the castle entrance and walked up further to the castle. Castle offers excellent views of the city. There are also lots of peacocks and cats in the castle. We noticed that the castle cats do not like to sit on the ground and we always found them sitting on top of the fence posts. We spent 2 hours in the castle.

    Web site: http://www.castelodesaojorge.pt/?lang=2.
    Open Hours: 9AM - 9PM (March - Oct) and 9AM-6PM (Nov-Feb).
    Entrance Fees: Adults pay 7.50 euros and there are discounts for students, seniors and children
    To do:
    1. Walk around the compound for fantastic views of the city
    2. Look for the 25th April Bridge (Golden gate looking bridge) and the Christ the Redeemer as in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
    3. Visit the Ulysses Tower and check out the periscope that allows tourists to have a 360-degree view of the city. The view is visible only in summer on a cloudless day.
    4. Visit the tallest tower - I think it is called the Keep.
    5. If you have time, visit the museum.

    After the castle, we walked to the Miradoura das Portas do Sol, opposite the Decorative Arts Museum, for more stunning views of Lisbon. But by then it started to rain and hence we did not get a good view. We later took the famous tram #28 towards Graca and got down at Graca. With the help of a newsstand lady by the tram stop we found our way to the church. It is a very old church and we spent a quick 10 minutes in the church and came out to look at the views once more. By this time the rain stopped and we had a real good view of Lisbon.

    We boarded Tram 28 and got down by the Baixa-Chiado metro station. It was around 2pm, time for lunch. We walked towards Camoes Square and had a nice lunch at A Padaria Portugesa just around the corner. The restaurant offers Wi-Fi and hence we checked our emails, maps and directions while relaxing our feet after all the walking in the morning.

    We walked up the hill just by that restaurant to Igreja de São Roque church, the earliest Jesuit church in Portugal. The church is free and we skipped the museum. We spent about an hour in the church. We met another Indian couple on the way to Camoes Square and we helped them with the directions. We went on Bica Funicular for a truly a fantastic ride through the steepest street. My husband and I were the only 2 passengers while going but the return trip was full.

    We took the first bus to Commercio Square and then went to the ferry terminal. Since we wanted to relax a bit after all the walking, we hopped on to the first ferry that was leaving and enjoyed the bumpy ride on the water. We got off the ferry and went to explore the land. However, there was nothing there and hence we returned by the next ferry back to Lisbon. The ferry ride was enjoyable. Viswa slept on the return journey while I was getting ready to do the shopping.

    We walked back on Rua Augusta, a street lined with shops. While we were walking down the street we saw a design museum that said free entry and hence decided to check it out. It was a fantastic museum, the building itself has a history and we spent full one hour in the museum. We were tired by then; however, I managed to do a little bit of shopping. We made our last stop for the Santa Justa elevator. We could not go all the way to the top as the staircase was undergoing some repair. Nevertheless the view was fantastic from the bridge. On reaching the top, just outside of the elevator, we found an Indian restaurant called Ïndia Palace” and had dinner there. The food was expensive and not very good but since we were tired and hungry, we did not feel like walking anymore. Needless to say, we were the only 2 having dinner at prime dinner time. We took the elevator down and reached our hotel to rest.

    We slept for 3 hours and left the hotel again for fado music. We went to Clube de Fado and enjoyed the music, dance, drinks and coffee. After a couple of hours we left the club and came back to the hotel to crash.

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    Day 2: Belem, Cascais and Cabo de Roca

    We started at 9am, had breakfast in a small deli in Rossio Square and took tram #15 to Belem. We got a closer look at the 25th April Bridge and the Christ the Redeemer statue from the tram. The tram stopped right in front of the monastery. The monastery was just getting opened at 10am and we were the first set of visitors.
    Jerominos Monastery: The church was good and the cloister was fantastic. The garden, the façade of the monastery were very impressive and Viswa snapped quite a number of photos. We spent 2 hours in the monastery.

    Web site: http://www.mosteirojeronimos.pt/en
    Open Hours: 10AM – 5.30PM (Oct - May) and 10AM-6.30PM (May-Sep).
    Entrance Fees: Adults pay 7.00 euros and there are discounts for students, seniors and children. Combination tickets with Tower of Belem can be purchased at a discount of 2 euros.
    To do:
    1. Walk around the church, look at the 2 tombs including Vasco da Gama.
    2. Explore the cloister
    3. We particularly liked the Exhibition: http://www.mosteirojeronimos.pt/en/index.php?s=noticias&noticia=25#n2

    We then tried the “Pasteis de Belém” in a place right next to Startbucks Coffee close to the monastery. We each got 2 pieces at 1 euro each and it was mouth watering. The cinnamon and sugar powder that they give along with the warm tarts adds to the taste. We then walked across the garden and through the underpass, reached the Discoveries Monument.

    Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Discoveries Monument): This includes a museum, temporary exhibitions and a viewing plataforma. The view was very nice. However, if you are short of time, this can be skipped. We spent about an hour here.

    Web site: http://www.padraodosdescobrimentos.egeac.pt/en
    Open Hours: 10AM – 6PM (Oct - Feb) and 10AM-7PM (Mar-Sep).
    Entrance Fees: Adults pay 4.00 euros and there are discounts for students, seniors and children.

    We then walked along the waterfront from there to Belem Tower. On the way there was a playground that was fun to swing around, cycle upill etc. The walk to the Belem tower took us almost 40 minutes with short breaks for photos and rest.

    Belem Tower: The access to the levels are very narrow and through steep spiral staircase. Many parts are also dark or with very dim light. The same steps are used both ways make it more difficult to climb up or down. If you cross all these hurdles, you will be rewarded with a fantastic view. I actually felt at some points in time that the castle is moving in the river. We had to hurry this up a bit and spent just an hour here.

    Web site: http://www.castelodesaojorge.pt/?lang=2.
    Open Hours: 10AM – 5.30PM (March - Oct) and 10AM-6.30PM (Nov-Feb).
    Entrance Fees: Adults pay 5 euros and there are discounts for students, seniors and children. Combination tickets with the monastery is possible.
    To do:
    1. Read the history in each level
    2. Do not miss the first and the last level
    3. Check on the Indian rhinoceros head in the first level

    We walked back to the Belem train station for our train to Cascais. On our way back to the station, we had lunch in a restaurant. Since it was a very bright day, it was quite a challenge to get the train ticket as it was difficult to read the machine prompts. There was no counter in the station. A lady tried to help us out but was also unsuccessful. Finally, we just tried with the cash option and it worked. We got our train tickets just in time for the train at 3pm. The train journey was 30 minutes; the train passed by beautiful beaches in Estoril.

    At Cascais, we first went to the bus station (which is right across the train station) to find out the bus timings for Cabo da Roca. Since we had some time for the bus #403, we walked to the beach and sat on a platform observing people and dogs.

    The bus drops you right in front of the tourism office who are very helpful. The view of the ocean is great in Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point in continental Europe. We saw quite a few young kids navigating their way through the rocks and went closer to the ocean but we were not brave enough (and not young enough) to do that. We just watched them having fun. There was a good restaurant right by the tourism office and since we had time before our bus, ordered coffee and enjoyed the view from there.

    Our return bus was full but I managed to get a seat. We returned to Cascais at 6.15pm since we only 15 minutes before sun set, we took the local bus to go to Boca da Inferno. The bus took us into the residential areas of Cascais and finally dropped us at Boca de Inferno. We still had about 5 minutes for sunset. We were watching the ocean waves hitting the huge rocks causing explosions. Just after sunset, the waves were huge and hence the explosions were even bigger rising up to 50 feet or even more. It was a fantastic sight.

    We bought roasted chestnuts and munched it on our walk back to the marina. We decided to skip the marina and walked towards the main city lined with restaurants. We had a relaxed Italian dinner and roamed around the city aimlessly to digest the food. We later walked to the train station and this time did not have difficulty using the machine to buy the tickets. We returned to Belem and took a bus back to our hotel around 11pm.

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    Day 3: Sintra and back home

    We left our hotel at 8.20am to Rossia station and took the 8.30am train to Sintra. We grabbed breakfast at the station deli shop. Once again great coffee and we both are now hooked onto Portugal coffee. The train reached Sintra at 9.10am but the tourism office was closed at that time. There was a bus station office diagonally opposite the train station who helped us with the bus timings and the route. We bought tickets on bus #434 (sight-seeing bus in Sintra with hop on option) and went to Pena Palace first. We got our palace entrance tickets along with the guided tour.

    Our guide Dora was very informative and she kept us engaged for the next 90 minutes with the history of the palace, explained the various chambers. After we finished the palace, we started exploring the gardens. Within 30 minutes, it started to rain heavily and hence we took the first possible exit which was the Lake Lagos exit. We waited for our bus #434 to take us to the city. We did not visit the Moorish castle as the path was closed due to heavy rains that occurred a few weeks before our trip. We went to the tourism office in the city center and picked up the maps and the timings of other places we wanted to visit. By then we became hungry as we did not have a good breakfast. Dora, our guide, recommended local delicacies "Queijadas (Portuguese Cheese Tarts)” and “Travesseiros”. We went into a café after checking their menu for the 2 items that we were interested in, ordered them along with nice cappuccino. We also had some fruits and biscuits and became quite full.

    We walked to Quinta da Regaleira palace up the hill. Since it is a huge area with many important places to visit, we decided to keep a guide based on various reviews. The English tour was available at 3.30pm and we have over 100 minutes. We bought the tickets, booked the tour and walked back to the city center and then to the Sintra National Palace. It is a nicely laid out palace with clear labels in every room and in every objects. We spent about an hour in this palace and then walked back to Quinta da Regaleira palace and waited for our tour guide.

    Our tour guide (forgot his name) started off with the history of the place since its beginning. He later discussed Greek gods that were in the garden and took us slowly into the palace. The visit to the initiation well and the story around it was superb. We later visited the church and the main house quickly. We quickly had dinner in the city, walked back to the train station to return to Rossio and then to catch our flight back to Amsterdam.

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