Why you should put Lisbon on your solo travel bucket list!
I spent two weeks in Portugal this past Spring from March 14 to April 2nd. This blog post is about the time I spent in Lisbon which was from March 14 to March 23.
I had been wanting to visit Portugal and specifically Lisbon, for many years. When I first decided I wanted to move abroad Portugal was at the top of my list until I discovered paradise right next door to the United States of America in the United States of Mexico. But Lisbon, Portugal remained high on my list of places I wanted to visit once the “panini ”settled down. I had to cancel my initial visit in May 2020 due to Covid19 but Portugal was one of the first trips I booked once the world began reopening again.
How I got to Portugal
I flew from Dulles to Lisbon on TAP Portugal. I paid for my ticket with credit card points (come thru Chase Sapphire) for under $400 one-way. I then upgraded to Business class on TAP Portugal using their auction option. The auction option allows you to offer the airline a price you think is fair for an upgrade and then the airline either approves it or declines. They accepted my offer. I must confess I was not particularly impressed with the lay-flat beds in TAP Portugal’s business class. They were quite uncomfortable. I wouldn’t do it again. I woke up still tired and with lower back pain which would impact my trip later. The flight was 7 hours so in the future I will likely opt for an upgrade to Economy premium instead if flying on TAP Portugal.
Portugal COVID-19 testing
As an American citizen, I was not required to have a visa to enter Portugal but I was required to have proof of a negative rapid antigen test to enter the country and to also have completed passenger information form bar code. Link to the form HERE
You can get other information about COVID-19 protocols as well as General visiting Portugal information at the visit portugal.com website I found it to be very helpful. You can link HERE.
I took an at-home proctored COVID-19 Rapid Antigen test through QURED a day ahead of my trip to Portugal. It was easy to do. You can learn more about at-home COVID-19 testing accepted by the airlines HERE.
You have to provide evidence of your passenger information form completion and COVID-19 test results at check-in to get your boarding pass.
Please note: These were the rules at the time I traveled they may have changed so make sure that you do your own homework on travel to Portugal before booking so you know what is required of you.
Accommodations in Lisbon
Throughout my time in Portugal, I stayed in an Airbnb. I only stayed in a hotel for the last night I was in the country so that I would be close to the airport this was after my return from Porto which was my last stop.
I’ve said many times that I prefer Airbnb to Hotel and in Portugal, they did not disappoint.
The Airbnb in Lisbon was in a perfect location in the Baixa-Chiado neighborhood. The apartment was in a very nice building with an elevator. The apartment was located in a place central to everything that I would want to do and see in that neighborhood and in a large part of Lisbon without my having to take an Uber or the train. This means I was able to walk which is my favorite thing in a new city.
The only negative is the walls were thin and I could hear people above me and, on my floor, moving around 24 hours a day. But that is not uncommon in hotels and apartment buildings in Europe as the buildings are very old and do not have the kind of sound insulation included in construction in the United States
I found the walls to be thin everywhere in Portugal. If you’re not used to this, you may need to bring air plugs. Also, assume that if the people next door can be heard then you can be heard as well.
For Lisbon, I think the best neighborhoods to stay in are the ones adjacent to the waterfront.
I would recommend Belem, Alfama or Baixa-Chiado, not the Lisbon city center. A review of the Airbnb where I laid my head is on my YouTube channel HERE
I would stay there again I really enjoyed it. The very walkable neighborhood has slopes and hills so you will have to navigate those but that is all of Lisbon. But Chiado is very central to a lot of the places and things that you will want to see like the Time out city market, shopping district, and riverfront. My two favorite places to eat we’re all within walking distance from my Airbnb.
Getting around Lisbon
Lisbon has a vibrant and easy-to-use subway system. I did not use it because of the Panini but when this pandemic eases up, I would probably use it in the future. Uber rides were relatively reasonable on average I probably spent about four dollars USD or I just used my feet. It’s so easy to find things on foot that I walked most places. Now I have knee issues so I’m very careful walking up and down hills. . If you have significant mobility issues Lisbon, Portugal generally may be a challenge for you.
For regional travel, I used the bus and the train. I took a commuter bus from Lisbon to Portimao (the Algarve). I took the train from Lisbon to Porto.
If you have mobility challenges, please be aware there are many steep streets and hills and it’s kind of part of the charm of the city so you have to decide whether you can deal with them before you come. But it will be well worth it if you can.
What I ate in Lisbon
As I shared in a couple of posts on social media, I did have some challenges finding food that I enjoyed in Lisbon and generally in Portugal. I didn’t love the way seafood was prepared there was very little seasoning but I was able to find very flavorful and great food and Lisbon but it took some research referrals and walking.
Here are the places at ate that I really enjoyed and I highly recommend:
Tabernaculo by Hernani Miguel
Guinea-Bissau cuisine, has really top-notch food, Have the Moqueca and the spicy grilled shrimp.
Great live music and happy hour. The Owner, Hernani is wonderful as is the bartender and host Mauro.
Cape Verdean cuisine. I went there with a group after the African Lisbon tour and the food was very good and inexpensive. I highly recommend it. See more about the African Lisbon tour below
The Little wine bar #17
Also located in the Chiado neighborhood- is The Little Wine Bar. I heard about the spot in the Travel Portugal Facebook group and they were absolutely correct it was very good. They primarily share small plates and they will pair them with wines from Portugal. There are two little wine bars I went to number 17 so that is the one I am recommending.
Hands-down the best meal I had for my entire stay in Portugal was at DaPrata 52. Their risotto de polvo (octopus risotto) is sublime. It is an all-tapas menu with good wine pairings. The restaurant was also a short walk from my Airbnb in the Chiado neighborhood and the waterfront.
I went to several other restaurants that were highly recommended either in magazines, travel blogs, and one even by the late Anthony Bourdain himself. I didn’t really enjoy any of them but I will say the garlic shrimp at Ramiro (Bourdain’s favorite restaurant in Lisbon) is delicious. It’s worth a visit to go just have that alone. I didn’t enjoy anything else I had on their menu and they are not an inexpensive restaurant. But the garlic shrimp was well worth it!
Portuguese restaurants get crowded around 7:30 pm time. I tend to eat early and I don’t like crowds because the panini is still happening so I booked my meals at 12:00 pm or 12:30 PM for lunch and about 6:30 pm for dinner right to avoid crowds. Wherever possible I ate outside. This was not always possible because it was raining so much in Lisbon.
I probably spent more on food than I should have by going to restaurants recommended by hosts and locals that I ended up not enjoying. I won’t that mistake on my return visit.
Things to Do in Lisbon
These are the things I did in Lisbon that I recommend.
The Lisbon Card. If you plan to do a lot of site seeing in Lisbon, The Lisbon Card which you can buy at the airport is worth it. It gives you free or discounted admission to many museums and other sites around Lisbon. It also includes trolley car rides around the city. You can purchase a day card or multiple days. The time on the card starts to run from its first use. I used it to gain entry to the museums I visited. It did not include entry to castles in Sintra.
Sintra Day Trip. Even if you don’t love castles, the town of Sintra is still worth the visit. But loving castles, as I do, makes it a must. I visited the Pena Palace and the Quinta da Regaleira.
Pena Palace sits at the top of a hill in the Sintra Mountains above the town of Sintra. I was told that it can be seen from Lisbon clear days but we had none of those while I was there.
It is a national monument and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was first a monastery and then a home for the Royal Family starting with King Ferdinand who oversaw its renovation between 1842 and 1852. It has medieval and Islamic elements that you can clearly see in the architecture. There are two options for tickets for visitors to Pena Palace in Sintra. You can either purchase a “Palace and Park” ticket, which includes access to the park, grounds, outer terraces of the palace, and the staterooms within, or a “Park” only ticket. I opted for the park ticket and just walked the grounds for 7.50 euros. Tickets can be purchased online or at the entrance.
I also visited the Quinta da Regaleira.
The Quinta is near the historic center of Sintra, Portugal. It along with the other castles in Sintra is classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO within the “Cultural Landscape of Sintra”. The property consists of a Romantic palace and chapel, and a beautiful park that features lakes, grottoes, wells, benches, and a fountain. Its grounds are breathtaking and well worth the price of admission which is 10 euros. Tickets can be purchased online or at the entrance.
I booked my Sintra tour with Sophia Tours. My tour guide Nuno was amazing. He gave a lot of information about the history of Portugal, Sintra, its castles, and the surrounding areas. He also took me to see Cabo da Roca or Cape Roca which forms the westernmost point of mainland Portugal, and continental Europe. We also took a scenic drive through Cascais the “Riviera of Lisbon.”
Cascais Day Trip. I skipped the day trip to Cascais but my drive-through on the way back from Sintra definitely made me wish I hadn’t. It’s a pretty beachside town filled with shops and boutiques and restaurants. It’s a short train ride from Lisbon and worth a visit.
You can contact Sophia Tours at www.sophiatours.pt
African Lisbon Tour
The most impactful excursion I did in Lisbon was the African Lisbon Tour. It is a four-hour walking tour that takes you through Lisbon and teaches you about the history of Portugal through the eyes of the colonized and enslaved. It ends with a fantastic meal at a Cape Verdean restaurant as the cap to a phenomenal day. If you are visiting Lisbon you owe it to yourself to do this tour. You can find a link about it HERE. You can also find them on Instagram @AfricanLisbonTour for more information
I was very bothered to hear that the current Mayor of Lisbon is holding up the erection of an already completed monument honoring the contributions of Africans to Lisbon. I would not have known this without having done this tour. Juxtaposed to what I learned on my tours of Sintra and even on my Airbnb Experience photoshoot in Lisbon, the history learned here was quite enlightening. There is clear “whitewashing” of Portuguese history when you do other tours so I really appreciated learning some “Black History” in Lisbon in this tour.
Other Points of Interest.
I found the Museu Nacional do Azulejo Aka The National Tile Museum enthralling and breathtaking. The museum is dedicated to the art of tilework that Portugal is known for. I highly recommend it.
I also enjoyed The Museum of Ancient Art. Entry to both is included with the Lisbon Card.
Frankly just wondering about the streets of Lisbon and specifically Chiado and getting lost is a wonderful experience. Hit my new favorite Zara in all of Europe while you are there. Grab a drink at the Beer Museum café off the Rossio Square and people watch or grab a glass of port and Pastel de Bachalau at Casa Portugesa and people watch from there. Stop by the Timeout Café and try some seafood or other authentic Portuguese cuisine.
Walk down Avenida da Libertade from the Chiado shopping district to Rossio Square and check out the Santa Justa Lift and eat gelato or Pastel de Nata on the way. Stop into the Timeout Market food court for a nice lunch or dinner.
Make your way to Belem via tram or Uber and learn more about Portugal’s history of exploration and colonization. Check out the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos which dates back to the 16th century.
The architectural style is both gothic and Mujedar and Italian and is referred to as “Manueline” style. The tomb of Navigator Vasco de Gama is inside the main chapel.
Be sure to check out the Belem riverfront and see the Padrao dos Descobrimentos or the Monument of the Discoveries. It celebrates the Portuguese 15th and 16th century Age of Exploration. Portugal invaded and colonized many countries including Brazil, India, Mozambique, Malaysia and Macau among others.
Then walk along the Tagus River and visit the Torre de Belem or Belem Tower.
Then stop into Belem fora Pasteis de Belem the original custard tart (Pastel de Nata) was invented there and the original bakery still is in Belem. Expect to wait on line if you get there in the afternoon!
The Weather was not the greatest during my visit. It was mostly wet, rainy, and cold for most of the week I was a Lisbon. If you’re traveling to Lisbon in March bring a good rain slicker, a hat, scarf, umbrella, and rain boots. To avoid the wet and cold weather, try a visit at the end of April or early May instead. I shared what I wore in Portugal in anticipation of its weather. You can check out my video shorts on my YouTube channel HERE.
Overall I highly recommend a visit to Lisbon. I think to really see everything you need about 5 days. I lost about 2 days of my trip to jetlag which I explain HERE, but I still got to see almost everything I wanted to see. Lisbon was safe, and easy to navigate on foot, Uber or Train though some of the hills can be daunting if you have bad knees or joints. The people are very kind, friendly and helpful. In Lisbon, almost everyone I met spoke some English, most pretty fluently. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Dating and Social Scene
I did not do any dates in Lisbon but my Tinder Likes were popping so if I had chosen to make the time, I have no doubt I could’ve found many options in Lisbon. The bars, cafes, and waterfronts are great places to see and be seen. I found the men overall to be friendly and respectful, I will plan to be more socially active the next time I am in Portugal.
Final Word on Lisbon
Lisbon is a “must-go” for the Fly 40+ crowd. I give it a solid 4 out of 5 stars. If I had consistently enjoyed the food more it would have been a solid 5-star experience.
I am already plotting my return to Portugal and Lisbon in 2023 if I find an inexpensive plane ticket!