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Trip Report Lisbon Trip Report

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Every year, I take my English students on a four-day field trip. This year we went to Lisbon (we ran out of English-speaking destinations). Here’s a trip report on all we saw and experienced. Hope this will help you decide to visit Lisbon. I’d go back in a minute.

March 16-19, 2007

Lisbon Weather: Sunshine and 20 +. EXELLENTE

Group participants: 17 (one couldn’t make it)

Itinerary:
Day 1: City Walking Tour
Day 2: Tram 28, Market, St. George and Belem and LDC
Day 3: Sintra and Dinner at Caldo Verde
Day 4: Cascais and flight departure at 18.25.


Lisbon Hotel Mundial:
The location is fantastic. The service was very good. I was treated like a queen. Our room was large (I had a corner room) with a small balcony. The rooms were clean, modern and everything was functioning. Some rooms are bigger than others and many were only standard next to ours. Everyone was quite satisfied with the rooms.

Breakfast was very good. OK, the scrambled eggs were a bit slimy but the bread and other dishes were fine and abundant. For a nice Portuguese coffee, you’ll have to elsewhere though. Theirs is the old watery coffee similar to many other hotels throughout the world.
Rating: 5/5


Walking around Lisbon:
Comfortable shoes and a secure money compartment! These key words will help you enjoy your Lisbon stay. The heart of Lisbon is flat in the middle framed by hills and the river Tejo. A walk from Bairro Alto to St. George castle is similar to an easier hike in the Swiss alps. You go down, straight and then back up again. The city has cars and pedestrian avenues. It has landmarks such as Rossio, Santa Justa and the castle to help you get your bearings. You’ll see many buildings beautifully decorated in ceramic tiles dotted with small balconies, a few rundown buildings and lots of laundry hanging on a line from the windows from any kind of building. People live, work and shop in the heart of Lisbon. You’ll see a few fancy shops and the rest are shops that have withstood the pressure of bowing to modern times.


Sights in Lisbon City

St. George’s Castle:
We enjoyed visiting St. George’s castle. Its fortress walls, sleeping cats and the cool shade under the trees offer relaxation and serenity while enjoying one of the best views of Lisbon.

Bairro Alto:
We walked through Bairro Alto and loved the Largo do Carmo square. It reminded us of being in a small town. The trees, statues, church ruin and the men playing cards outside made us ask what year or even century we were in. We saw the many ceramic tiles on the buildings and we viewed Lisbon from Santa Justa. Breathtaking. It helped us to get our bearings of the city.

Alfama:
Our guide took us through the maze of Alfama. The only quarter that survived the 1755 earthquake, one can get quickly lost in the alleys that crisscross this area. You’ll see the small mom and pop stores, surviving because many older locals can’t walk any farther than a few meters. You’ll walk by open doors and windows and peek into the home life of these people. You might find yourself sitting next to an elderly woman dressed in black, using her hands to tell you the story of her son who has moved to the US. And you’ll see again many older women, struggling with all the steps as they dispose of their garbage bags.

Belem:
Many great monuments to see here. Tram 15 took us from… to Belem Cultural Center. We had an awful lunch at the cafeteria although the terrace is set in a park. Go for coffee but not for lunch here.

Jerimonas Monastary: I LOVE this place. After paying 4 Euros, you walk through a building and suddenly you are in heaven. It’s a square honouring the Stations of the Cross. It’s absolutely peaceful, the architecture is beautiful, the colours calming and heavenly and each nook and cranny of this square soothes the soul. There is a room dedicated to the history of Lisbon, but I was too busy dreaming and enjoying the peaceful environment.

Casa Pastis de Belem: It’s a huge place inside. Almost like a maze. Tons of tourists. Tons of people. But the 80 cent Pastis de Belem are delicious. Warm, gooey and sweet, they are a dream to bite in. Definitely visit this place even if there are tons of tourists around it.

Descobrimentos Monument: Very moving. Loved the sandstone colour and the world map on the ground before it.

Belem Tower: We walked from the monument to the tower. A very pleasant walk, we had a few detours because of the marathon race that was held that weekend. At the tower, we sat around and enjoyed the serene environment. We liked the tower and felt it was an appropriate end to our Belem trip.


Our Guide in Lisbon:
Our German guide met us in front of Café Brasileira. A busy place full of tourists, I handed her the money for our tour. She jumped and said I should never show that amount of money on the streets of Lisbon. She ran to the bank and deposited it. And off we went on our tour. She took us to Bairro Alto and crossed over through Baixa to Alfama. She told us about the history of the ceramic tiles, the explorers and the exotic plants and ideas they brought back, the 1755 earthquake, the dictatorship which ended in 1974 and the present economic problems Lisbon is facing. She also told us about Fernando Pessoa, who seems to have influence Lisbon as much as the explorers. It was actually too much info at the beginning and we were tired from our early departure in the morning. Once we got to Alfama, she then guided us through the area in peace, letting us breathe in the beauty and simplicity of life in that area.


Lisbon Restaurants
If your eating habits consist of fish, beef and low carbs, you’re in heaven in Lisbon. It’s a simple cuisine that reflects the modesty of Lisbon’s daily life. Fish and beef steaks are quite often grilled and served with a small salad and potatoes. Steaks in tourist restaurants are not comparable to steaks in the US. They are cut thinner and not of high quality in many restaurants.

Our restaurants:

Solar do Kadete (in Cais so. Not far from the train station and on the same block as Hennessy’s Irish Pub): A gem. Daily specials for 10 Euros with drinks. We had salmon, a small salad, two potatoes, water and coffee. Nice ceramic tiles on the walls.
Rating: 5/5

Lisbon coffee: Pure heaven! Very similar to Italian espresso. Served as an espresso. And only between 0.50 – 1 Euro. A definite highlight.
Rating: 5/5

Cervejaria Trindade:
Trinidade is atmosphere. The ceramic tiles are beautiful. My waiter was gorgeous to look at. The service was fast and efficient. Since we had reserved, we didn’t have to participate in the long waiting line that went outside the door. The meal was again fish or meat, grilled or with a beer sauce. Our vegetables consisted of spinach. Good wine. My meal was fine but others were a bit disappointed. Cost: Euro 15.
Rating: 4/5

LDC: How does one rate perfection?
The restaurant isn’t too easy to find, especially in the dark. In fact, we even got lost between the metro and our meeting place. Luckily, I had Lobo’s number and he came and saved the day. George Clooney is a close second to this man.

The Ageta das Gravatas
It is a Portuguese dream. We had a glass of port wine to start off the evening. Then we went to a separate room for our group. The buffet of food set on our table represented the Lisbon cuisine. Fish with rice, whole fish, tapas (for lack of any other word to describe them), sizzling steak on a hot plate, vegetables, French fries, port wine, red wine, sweet slices of cake, almond liquor, coffee and the best hosts in the world.

Our waiter was hospitable, caring, funny and made us all feel like kings. We enjoyed his presence and he entertained us with his witty remarks and smile . He made us feel at home.

Our hosts, Matt and Mr. and Mrs. Lobo were wonderful. Because the group was so big, Matt sat on one side with Theres and her friend. I sat on the other side with Lobo and his wife. If George Clooney is a second to Lobo, then Penelope Cruz is a far second to his wife. What a lovely woman. You felt her warmth and sincerity the first moment you met her. I wish I could have spoken more with her because she’s not only beautiful, but intelligent and witty.
Rating: 10/10

Caldo Verde:
A hidden restaurant in Bairro Alto. Unpretentious on the outside, it is dark and full of atmosphere in the inside. They had stools as chairs, which were uncomfortable for many people. Our cute waitress was very informative and spoke fluent English. Unfortunately, the food was lukewarm to cold. Some of my group were getting tired of fish or meat. The house specialty of meat with gravy and mushrooms was hot and delicious.

Luckily, Lobo, who joined us on Sunday night, introduced us to some wonderful cream desserts, camel spit and sawdust. I really liked the camel spit. The description on the menu card was not tempting so we didn’t try it ourselves. We spent about 20 Euros per person for the whole evening. For food and concert, a very good deal.
Rating: Food: 3/5 Service 5/5


Lisbon Fado:
I think it’s like a love/hate relationship. The performers are full of passion and emotion. Their voices go up and down. And they love to sing. They were constantly telling the guests during the Fado performances that we must be quiet. This wouldn’t have been a problem, but there were more performances than breaks and the chairs weren’t comfortable. So, like the Fado itself, some in my group became a bit tired of the concert and left soon after dinner. Lobo, his wife, Theres and her friend, three from my group and myself stayed till the end and were given a performance in honour of Lobo (don’t forget: think George Clooney). We then went to Theres’ apartment nearby for a good night drink. It was 2.30 by the time we reached our hotel.
Fado for fans: 5/5
Fado for non-fans: 2/5


Lisbon transportation:

Aerobus: Forget it. Take a taxi! Since we were a group, we had to use our elbows, legs and body mass to block off the other pushy passengers trying to get in. We were first in line but those darn Germans didn’t care.

Words flew.
“Was machen Sie da?” asked the pushy German lady.
“Wir waren zuerst da. Sie müssen warten.” I answered. She scowled and kept pushing. We pushed back. 17 Swiss vs. 3 Germans. No contest.

It was a dog eat dog world. The cost is 3 Euros (no free passes withTAP anymore) which is a day pass as well.


Taxis: Cheap! We were charged 6.50 Euros from the hotel to the airport. We gave him 10 Euros. Worth every cent.


Trams: Clean but full. We also had to be a bit pushy on this one and often we had to wait (especially on Tram 28) for a less crowded tram. Great ride through Alfama. Didn’t make it any farther. We were so entranced by our Alfama walking tour that Tram 28 didn’t prove to be that special anymore.


Trains: They are on time and had plenty of room for us. We met a woman who had almost been a victim of pickpocketing. She showed us the thieves. They were working in threes. This was on the train to Sintra. Train rides from Sete Rios to Sintra were 3+ Euros return. From Cais do Sodre to Cascais it was about the same.



Sintra:
We got on the train in Sete Rios and were there in 45 min. The train windows had a foil over it so we couldn’t see out. At Sintra, we went to the info center at the train station. The woman as very informative and told us we could take a bus from Sintra to the Moorish castle and Pena castle for 4 Euros. On Sunday mornings, the castles are free so we headed off to Sintra and had a tour of the National Castle. We enjoyed it immensely. We then had lunch in a bar next to the info center in Sintra’s historical town and then got on the bus.

What a ride! The bus was crammed. Standing room only. We were standing in the back of the bus, packed like sardines. The very narrow often one-lane road to the castles wound through a shady forest with incredible vegetation. I think Michael Schumacher was our driver because a record was definitely set. We sped up this windy road, with the driver honking every time we went around a curve. No braking though. Not sure he had any. Everyone on the road had to jump out of our way or they’d be flattened. The road had many holes so we were swaying back and forth and jumping up and down. Better than any roller coaster. We were rather sad the drive had ended at Pena Castle. We could have easily endured more of it.


Pena Castle:
Pompous to the hilt. Imagine how the sheiks in Dubai or Elton John might now live. The toy-like castle is colourful and views amazing. Lots of little towers and balconies. Tons of expensive, hand crafted jewellery, hand crafted ceilings, gold, wooden carvings, alabaster and anything else available at that time was used. Expensive furniture. Not a corner was left untouched. It was over the top. Nice to see but who would like to live like that? Trapped in a gilded cage. We enjoyed the castle and agreed it was like Neuschwanstein in that it was crazy in every way.


Cascais:
Smaller seaside town, it’s quaint to walk through and you can see a few nice small sandy beaches. We walked from Cascais to Estoril along a coastline path. It was perfect for us because sandy beaches are hard to find in Switzerland. We got on the train at Cais do Sodre and were there in 35 min.


Lisbon with a group:
Not so easy. We got lost quite a bit because the use of signs to the major sights are limited. I had a tight program and we didn’t have a lot of time to waste. And we got up very early Friday morning and I felt the lack of sleep and extensive sight-seeing was perhaps a bit much. Next time, I’d ease up on what we will do.


Lisbon Pickpocketing:
(they’ll take your money and hand you back your wallet)

This is my ninth field trip with my English students. We’ve never been pick pocketed up till now. During this trip, we had two cases of it. One was in Tram 15 on the way to Belem. A man pushed a woman in our group and another member of our group (the victim) reached up to catch her. In the meantime, another man snatched the victim’s wallet while he was catching the woman. The fair-skinned pickpocket tapped the victim on the shoulder and gave him the wallet back. Our victim said thank you and then opened the wallet. His money was gone but all of his credit cards and ID were there. It happened within seconds.

The other case of money stolen happened to me. I had deposited my suitcase in the “safe” baggage storeroom of the hotel on the last day. I had 50 Euros in wallet in a sidepocket inside the suitcase. I have been forgetting to lock my suitcase since my recent travels to the US. When I got to Zürich, I opened my suitcase and found my wallet on top of my things, without the money. The thief had left all of my debit and credit cards. It had happened either in the luggage storage or at the airport. Chances are greater that it happened at the airport.
Lesson learned: ALWAYS lock your suitcase (or use one of the plastic ties) and keep your money with you or in a safe. Never in your luggage, like I did.

At the Fado restaurant: nothing was stolen here but I did observe one of the male singers (the theatrical one) going through the pockets of coats hanging at the entrance of the door. I don’t know what his exact intentions were.


Lisbon Budget:
The meals are very inexpensive. We paid between 10 and 25 Euros for a meal. Transportation is inexpensive. We used a day ticket for one day and individual tickets for others.


Summary

A city of beautiful buildings in good and poor condition and it’s a city to see on foot. Wear comfortable shoes because of the cobblestones and hills. Except for the sweet desserts and wines or liquors, its local cuisine is low carbo with emphasis on fish, seafood and beef offered at inexpensive prices. There’s much to see and it takes time to travel to these sights. The locals are very friendly and hospitable. With all the small crime and unemployment rate among the immigrants, they need tourists and welcome them. It’s a city where people live modestly and honor their local customs. Knowing about its literature, music, history and the 1755 earthquake will help you to understand and appreciate this gem on the Tejo. As long as you are VERY careful with your belongings, you’ll love this town and adore its citizens.

Many, many thanks to Lobo, his wife and Matt. They are lovely people and are very kind to take the time out to meet us crazy Fodor’s posters. They are wonderful, warm and down-to-earth people. I can’t say enough good things about them.

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