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yk Feb 20th, 2019 01:10 PM

yk's TR: Lisbon with a child, Feb 2019
Hello! I haven't written a trip report for a while but I'll try to write one for Lisbon while we are still here. I am here in Lisbon with my 6 year-old son for 5 full days.

Why Lisbon?
a few months ago I was trying to decide where to go for Feb vacation week. I used to go to Europe often but that stopped after our son was born (too much hassle). But now that he's older, it's easily doable. I wanted to go to Europe but only some place that is 1) warm'ish 2) nonstop flight from Boston. That pretty much rules out everywhere except for Lisbon. I like the idea because Lisbon is one of the few European capitals that I haven't been as an adult (went once when I was 9).

If you knew me from before, you'd remember I was a meticulous planner. But that has gone out the window. All I did beforehand was book plane tickets, book an Airbnb apartment, and read a few guidebooks so I have some idea of what to see/how to organize our days. With a young child, I have learned to play it by ear rather than committing ourselves to doing X,Y,Z on which days.

Day 1
We flew TAP nonstop from Boston to Lisbon. I bought the basic fare which doesn't include advanced seat assignments nor checked luggage. The flight was too short for sleeping (5.5hrs) and it arrives at 6am. Who knew Lisbon airport would be so busy at 6am? We were in immigration line for over an hour. Went to taxi stand and took taxi to our apartment in Bairro Alto (€12 including tip).

The airbnb person was waiting for us for over an hour because of our delay. She was super nice and the apartment looks as good as it does in pictures. I did pay for an extra night for the night before our arrival so that we could check in as soon as we arrive. It's low season in Lisbon so the nightly rate was quite reasonable.

My son only slept for an hour on the plane but decided he had enough rest. I took a 1-hr nap and then we got ready to head out.

Weather has been nice (sunny, 50s-60sF). Our apartment is around the corner from the bakery shop Manteigaria so of course first item on our list was to get us some pastel de nata. Then a short walk to Chiado shopping center to buy a SIM card at Vodafone. I know you don't need a "name brand" sim but I feel better in case something goes wrong with the card I can always go back for help. Got one that is €10 for 3GB, plus 10GB of "chat messaging" (ie WhatsApp), + 500 local minutes of calling, I believe it's good for 4 weeks?

From Chiado we walked down to Praça do Comérico to the tourist info center where I bought us Lisboa cards. Since we are here for 5 full days, I bought each of us 2 Lisboa card, one for 72 hours and one for 48 hours.

Before you start screaming at me to tell me I'm wasting money, let me start by saying that I am frugal by nature. If I weren't traveling with my child, I would have spent days on figuring out what's the best deal for transport and museums, so that I could use a combo of transport-only pass plus one Lisboa card. But traveling with a child means I need flexibility, and the ease of having the Lisboa cards available for our entire stay means I don't have to worry about anything or even topping up transit cards.

(Side note: Becaus our flight arrives so early, I couldn't get SIM cards nor Lisboa cards at the airport even though there is a Vodafone and a tourist info center a trip the airport. Neither opens that early.)

To be continued

yk Feb 20th, 2019 01:33 PM

Day 1 continued
once armed with our Lisboa cards (and got some € from an ATM), we had time to admire the vast Praça do Comérico. Across the plaza is Lisbon Story Center (free entry with Lisboa card) which tells the story of Lisbon (doh) in a multi-media format, with headsets. I thought it is well-done but my son would have enjoyed it more if he were older (and if we weren't as jet lagged). I definitely recommend it.

by then it was lunch time. I took the easy way out and picked Nosols Italia right the Square. I know it's like going to the tourist traps in San Marco in Venice, but it's convenient when you have a hungry child who likes pizza. Weather was nice enough for sitting outside. We shared a pizza. Service was good.

Reinforced, we visited the Arch at the north side of the square, Arco de Rua Augusta (free entry with Lisboa card). An elevator zips up to the top and we get a nice view of the Square on one side, and Rua Augusta on the other side, plus Castle of São Jorge to the east.

We headed down and then strolled up Rua Augusta until we arrived at Elevador de Santa Justa. There was a line in which we waited for about 20 minutes. I think usually there are 2 lifts but only 1 was operational. It is free with Lisboa card, which includes the climb up to the observation deck. I saw other people couldn't go up unless they pay extra. The view from the observation deck is fabulous.

We walked out on the bridge to reach Bairro Alto. Right there is the Carmo Convent ruins and archeological museum. The entry fee is 20% off with Lisboa card (kids get in for free). You get a much better view of the ruins from the inside.

By then we were really low on energy so we made our way back to teh apartment (by way of Manteigaria for more pasteis de nata), and a mini-supermarket where we picked up enough food for dinner and subsequent breakfasts.

thursdaysd Feb 20th, 2019 05:05 PM

How nice to see a yk TR! Great that you are traveling again, and to Lisbon, one of my favorite cities. Even with a child don't skip the monastery in Belem.

Seamus Feb 20th, 2019 09:17 PM

Yay - glad to see you are adapting so well to having your 5 yo travel companion. I must confess that even without that excuse, I find myself more and more often abandoning the squeeze every cent planning strategy and shelling out a bit more for flexibility and ease. Have a fabulous time in Lisbon!

yk Feb 21st, 2019 01:01 PM

Day 2 a day trip to Belem
I thought we had an early start. Left the apartment by 8:45am. It is just a few minutes walk to the Ascensor da Bica (top station). It got us down to sea level, about 2 blocks from Cais do Sodrè station where I know is a stop for Tram 15 to Belem. We were there by 9am but waited for over 20 minutes and still no tram. I started to worry that even if a*tram arrives, it will be so packed that we can't get on, so instead, we took the 728 bus which is much faster. So much so that we arrived in Belem at the monastery by 9:40am.*

Since the monastery doesn't open until 10am, we made a quick short detour to Pasteis de Belem for its famous pastel de nata. Because we were there rather early, there were only a few people in line (later in the day we saw long line coming out). I have to agree, their pastel de nata are very*good, with just the right sweetness and crunchy crust.

We got back to the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (free entry with Lisboa card) with a few minutes to spare. With our Lisboa card, we didn't have to go to the museum next door to buy our tickets. There was a short line and we were among the first few dozens of people entering. The architecture is really stunning, though my son got bored soon after. We were there for just under an hour.

Then we walked towards the riverfront, stopping at a large water fountain. My son wanted to watch, subsequently fell asleep on the bench for an hour. Once he's rested, we continued our walk to the Monument of Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos). There is a lift inside to take you to the top (30% discount with Lisboa card) but we passed. The monument is very impressive.

Son declared he's hungry. The nearest restaurants are either Nosolo Italia ( same chain where we ate the day before), or a Portuguese restaurant. I chose the latter, and we were seated with a view of the river and the monument. I had the beef steak in portugalia sauce. It's not too bad of a tourist trap, and service was good.

from there we walked to the Belem tower about 1km away. There was a fairly long line to get in. It*was almost our turn before I realized we could have skipped the line with our Lisboa card (free entry). The Tower is far more interesting to my son than the monastery, with its cannons, prison cells, steep spiral staircases. We spent just under an hour there.

nearby is a cafe where we stopped for some gelato. By then it was 3:30pm and I gave my son a choice, either head back to Lisbon, or visit the Coaches museum. (FWIW, I played the Rick Steves Lisbon episode for him the night before). He chose the latter.

so we took tram 15 to the National coaches museum (same stop as Belem rail station, free entry with Lisboa card). Many of the coaches are impressive, my son was very interested in them and wanted me to read the descriptions for each one.

Finally around 5pm we took Tram 15 back to Lisbon and got off at Cais so Sodré. Across the street is the new Time Out Market. I was hoping to pick up something to take home for dinner but it seems like they only have eat-in option? TBH I didn't ask to find out. I was disappointed that the produce market had closed, as I wanted to buy some fresh fruits. My son didn't want to eat there (he can be picky at times) so we left empty handed. Took the Bica lift back up the hill, and we stopped at a Chinese restaurant around the corner from our apartment.

My son loved the idea of Chinese food so we ate there. He had char siu bao and edamame. I had a vegetarian rice noodle soup. We also got pastel de nata from a different bakery to try. I don't like the ones from Manteigaria as I find them too sweet and crust not browned enough.
- end of Day 2

mms Feb 21st, 2019 02:25 PM

I am enjoying reading about your trip. We went to Lisbon when our kids were 4 and 7 so it is bringing back fond memories.

Nikki Feb 21st, 2019 02:34 PM

What a treat! For you to take a trip like this and for us to read about it! My husband and I will be in Lisbon next month, so following along with great interest.

Have a great time.

barbrn Feb 22nd, 2019 06:41 AM

I'm loving your report yk. I was in Portugal for 12 days in January and flew home February 2nd so I can feel the weather you had and remember well walking in your steps to see a lot of those sights. I loved the Coaches Museum, and can totally see why your son would love it too. If I close my eyes, I can remember the creamy taste of the pasteis de nata from the bakery in Belem with just a sprinkle of cinnamon on top. hmmmm.

Thanks for keeping my memories alive. You are a gifted writer. I loved Portugal so much, easily one of my favorite trips ever.

yk Feb 22nd, 2019 01:10 PM

Thank you so much for all your lovely replies!

yk Feb 22nd, 2019 01:37 PM

Day 3 - laid back day at Parque das Nações (Park of the Nations)

originally i I had planned to heading to Sintra on day 3. But after a long day trip to Belem the day before, I decided it's not a good idea. Furthermore, we had a rough night with jet lag, causing us to sleep until 9am.

Normally I wouldn't go to Park of the Nations (site of 1998 EXPO) on my own, so it is solely for my son's benefit. By the time we got to Oriente station, it was past 11am. I did appreciate the chance to see a Santiago Calatrava building. We then walked over to the Oceanário, which now ranks as the third largest in Europe (it was the largest when it opened). We got 15% discount with our Lisboa card.

It is a pretty nice aquarium but I wouldn't say it wow'ed us. As we were there on a weekday it wasn't too crowded, despite a few school field trips. We spent about 2 hours there. Downstairs is a nice cafeteria where we ate lunch sharing a plate of bacalhau fritters with rice and salad.

The area around the Oceanário is very nice (Jardins de Agua), with plenty of open space and green grass for my son to run around (aka go crazy). It was another nice sunny day and the view of the river and marina is nice. Finally after he's done running around, we took the cable car one-way to the north station (10% discount with Lisboa card). We enjoyed the ride given the nice weather and we could see a good stretch of the Vasco da Gama bridge.

From the north station we slowly made our way south along the river, checking out the Portugal Pavilion of the expo. It is designed by Pritzker-Prize winning architect Alvaro Siza Vieira, with an amazing giant curved roof that is not supported by any pillars.

Finally we returned to Oriente station and took the metro back around 5pm. Instead of heading back to the apartment, I asked if my son was interested in taking tram 28. He said yes, so we got off the metro at the Martim Moniz stop which is the terminus for tram 28. Obviously we weren't the only ones there - we waited for 3 trams for our turn (we could have gotten on the 2nd but it was SRO.)

Its a pretty thrilling ride on Tram 28, and my son declares it is more fun than rides at Disneyland. We got off at a stop right near our apartment, and we stopped at a local place (organic foods) to get take out. My son had a yogurt bowl while I had a salmon cerviche bowl.

-End of Day 3

shouldbewriting Feb 22nd, 2019 02:25 PM

Thanks, yk. Enjoying very much! I envy your boundless energy.

LilyP53 Feb 22nd, 2019 04:04 PM

I am truly enjoying this, yk. It's been many years since I visited Lisbon, so it's great to be able to revisit it with you and m-yk!

mms Feb 22nd, 2019 04:22 PM

Yk—we were there during expo 1998. We walked up to the castle but took tram 28 down. I had a crossbody purse on and kept one hand on it and an older local woman that was also on it told me I was smart. Our kids enjoyed that ride too.

yk Feb 22nd, 2019 11:57 PM

Day 4 - Day trip to Sintra

Before I begin, I'll say that among the 4 or 5 Lisbon/Portugal guidebooks I have read through, Rick Steves' remains the most practical. Not only it tells you what's there to see, it tells you how. Our day to Sintra wouldn't be possible without following his advice. Our itinerary was: Pena Palace and Gardens -> Moorish Castle -> Quinta da Regaleira.

there will be some practical tips here on this TR, as I hope it will be beneficial to others planning this.

First tip I got is to get there early. RS recommends leaving Lisbon around 8:30am. I found the train schedule online and there are 2x/hr departure from Rossio, at :10 and :40, so we aimed for the 8:40am.

Today being Friday it is our last chance to go because I want to avoid weekends - due to crowds, and also the train runs only 1/hr on weekends and holidays.

i left plenty of time to get to Rossio. One big VENT. From the Rossio subway station, there are signs telling us which exit to take. I thought the metro and the train stations are linked together but they aren't. When you emerge from the subway exit, you get above ground, and there is ZERO signs pointing you direction to the train station. The train station is not visible from the subway exit! It is a block away tucked around the corner. How do you expect visitors to find it? I had to ask for directions, and a very helpful young lady told us to go around the corner, look for Starbucks which is the train building, then go upstairs to reach the platform. When we found the building, there is no sign outside to indicate it is a train station, unlike SNCF or National Rail etc where there are always a big logo outside a train station. In any case, I was glad we left ourselves with extra time, and we didn't have to buy train tickets (free ride with Lisboa card), so we got on our train with 10 minutes to spare.

Sintra is the last station on the line, so if you can, board near the very front of the train, because you'll have the least distance to walk on the platform when you arrive in Sintra, you will thank me later.

The train take 40 minutes with stops at every 3-4 minutes. We arrived just after 9:20am. As we emerged from the train, we can see there are at least a few hundred passengers on our train in the cars behind us,

When you get out of the train station (which is on the side of the station) turn immediately Right, walk past the train station main entrance and TI, and then you'll see the bus stop for Bus 434. Get in line and buy tickets on the bus. I suggest you do this right away and don't bother to stop at the TI or anywhere else. If you have the Viva Viagem card you can zap it on the bus. A one-day circuit ticket for 434 is €6,90 (my son rides for free). They also sell a €15 all-day ticket valid on all bus routes.

Because we were seated towards the front of train, we were close to the front of the 434 bus line. We managed to get on the first bus and even snagged the last few seats on the bus. Otherwise you'd have to stand or wait for the next bus. So if you can imagine a few hundred passengers on the train all heading for bus 434, it helps to be among the firsts in line. I honestly cannot imagine how swamped Sintra gets during high season.

to be continued...

TDudette Feb 23rd, 2019 12:12 PM

Wonderful TR, yk. Thank you for sharing and for the practical information. FWIW, Vasco da Gama was an answer on Jeopardy the other night! I hope you can sample some more Portuguese foods.

yk Feb 23rd, 2019 12:35 PM

Day 4 Sintra continued
Bus 434 takes a curcuit loop. It stops at Moorish castle first, then Pena Palace, and down to the historic center. I think the bus ride to Pena Castle takes about 20 minutes. We arrived just after 10am (it opens at 9:45am). If you can, I'd recommend buying tickets online in advance because you can jump the line. Since we were on the first bus, the ticket line wasn't too long. I didn't buy in advance because otherwise we wouldn't be able to use our Lisboa card discount. I don't know how they calculated the discount, because my son only got the 5% discount for buying tickets for 2 sites (Pena + Moorish castle), while I got 15% off Pena and 20% off Moorish castle.

Pena castle is absolutely breathtaking. I've seen photos but it still takes my breath away when I saw it in person. It's a bit of a hike up to the entrance. If you don't want to walk, they offer a €3 transfer bus that takes you all around the park. We did not encounter a line to get inside the palace. This is the first time my son visited a palace but he wasnt particularly impressed. We finished with the palace in just under an hour. My son then said he's hungry so I bought a sandwich from the cafe and he ate half of it.

We then ventured to the palace gardens which is huge, and very hilly. I wish we had more time to explore but I know I had to just pick a few. We went as far as the Garden of the Camillias, which was downhill, of course, we had to go back uphill before we could leave. We spent an hour in the gardens.

the reason Rick Steves recommended visitng Pena Palace first is because it gets more and more crowded as the day goes on, and also, it's easier to visit the Moorish Castle from Pena Palace because it is a short downhill walk. We arrived at Moorish Castle around 12:30pm.

The Moorish castle is just as impressive, in its own way. My son loves climbing up and down the ramparts. Me? Half way through my R knee started bothering me as well as my feet. The ground is mostly uneven cobblestones which really hurt your soles unless you wear proper athletic shoes. Mine aren't, but they are comfy shoes that I have no trouble walking for hours in a city.

In between the 2 tall towers on separate hills, we took a break and finished our lunch. Despite my tired legs, the view from the tallest tower is amazing.

We left the Moorish Castle around 2pm, caught the next 434 bus down to the city center. Had a gelato break before we walked to Quinta da Regaleira where we arrived just after 3pm (20% off with Lisboa card). I didn't know much about this place except for the photos I've seen of the initiation well, which is just downright amazing,

This turns out to be a great decision to visit this place with my son. The park is full of secret tunnels, grottos and hiding places. We had such a fun time exploring the dark tunnels, and it's always a surprise to see where they lead us. Of course that meant more steps! To the point that my foot was close to a blister. Luckily I have bandaids on hand which helped a lot. I definitely recommend visitng this if you have time, it is a very whimsical place. It has a small palace on site which you can visit as the last stop of your visit. We stayed until just bofore 5pm.

We walked back to the city center, and this is where I made a huge mistake, With us feeling so tired, we just sat at the bus stop to wait for 434, which didn't come for almost half an hour. If I had checked the distance on the map, I would have realized it's only a short walk to the train station. When 434 finally came, we could barely squeeze on it. By the time we got to the train station, we had just missed the 5:40pm train back to Lisbon. Finally we got on the 6:10pm train to Lisbon Rossio. My son passed out on the train.

After such a long and tiring day, when my son requested to return to the Chinese restaurant for dinner near our apartment, I didn't argue with him. The waitress there is super nice. We ordered the exact same dishes (char siu bao and edamame for my son; vegetarian rice noodle soup for me).

Thinking back, I think we used our time as efficiently as possible while in Sintra. It would be nice if we were staying over night so we wouldn't be as rushed and so hard on my legs. (Not an issue with son, obviously.) I particularly would love to spend half a day exploring the gardens at Pena Palace. I have a hard time imagining what Sintra is like at peak tourist season as I felt it was crowded enough in February.

End of day 4

yk Feb 23rd, 2019 12:45 PM
Photos from Day 1

yk Feb 23rd, 2019 12:51 PM

Photos from day 2 (Belém)

yk Feb 23rd, 2019 12:57 PM

Photos from Day 3 (Park of the Nations)

dfrostnh Feb 23rd, 2019 01:08 PM

What fun to read your trip report. M-YK will understand and appreciate school history classes more from all the exploring you do. Glad to read your frugal tips.

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