2 Days in Lisbon
After my stay in Luxembourg finished, it was time to head to my next destination, Portugal. This was a destination that I was very excited about. I had wanted to visit Portugal for the last few years, but another country always called my name. In addition, because of the calendar with my job, Portugal was going to count for my "birthday country" this year even though I would not be in the country for my actual birthday.
If I have to be 100% honest, Portugal was not originally planned for this trip. My original plan was to visit Denmark and save Portugal and probably Spain for a later trip in 2018, but all the flights from Luxembourg to Denmark were sold out on the day I wanted. However, there were nonstop flights available from Luxembourg to Portugal. Therefore, this was an easy decision to make. After three years, I would finally have my chance to visit Portugal.
The flight from Luxembourg to Portugal was extremely easy. In Luxembourg, I just caught the bus to the airport right across the street from the hotel and a half hour later, I was at the airport. The flight to Portugal was uneventful, and when I arrived in Lisbon, I immediately went to the tourist desk and bought myself a 48-hour Lisboa Card for 33 euros. This is similar to the Luxembourg Card and other type of city cards that allows free or reduced entry into many different museums and attractions, and which also covers all public transportation.
Once I had the Lisboa Card in hand, I headed outside and purchased a ticket for the Aerobus, which left directly from the airport and dropped off at different hotels in the city. The hotel I was staying at is located in Marques de Pombal Plaza, and since that is a major roadway slightly outside the historic center of the city, it made sense to take this bus. However, things did not go exactly as planned. Due to exhaustion and the hectic environment, I did not quite understand the girl who was selling the tickets, and I ended up buying a round-trip ticket for the bus. This would not usually be problematic except for one thing. It was good for only 24 hours, and the next time I would use the airport bus would be in five days. I only realized what I had done when the bus departed from the airport, but it didn't matter. It wasn't much money (only 2 extra euros), and this was a mistake I could easily live with.
Upon arrival at Marques de Pombal, I easily found the hotel I was staying at, the HF Fenix Garden Hotel. When I got to the hotel, I was greeted by a very friendly front desk receptionist who gave me a lot of information about the city and where to pick up buses and how to get to from one place to another. Needless to say, the information was very useful.
In addition to the friendliness of the staff, I was also given a room on the top floor of the hotel which had a terrace and chaise lounge chair overlooking Eduardo VII Park. I was quite amazed at this turn of events. Even though, I had previously requested to be on a high floor when I originally booked the hotel, things like this almost never happened, so it was a definitely a pleasant surprise.
Since it was still in the early afternoon, and I was not particularly tired, I decided to take a walk down to the historic center of Lisbon to get my bearings because I would be spending most of my time in this area for the next two days. Based on what I had seen flying over the city on the way in and the tourist maps in my possession, it looked like there were many things to check out, and I only had two days to see as much as possible. For this first trip, I walked from Marques de Pombal to Rossio, which is about two metro stops away via metro. Even though there was a metro stop literally one minute away from the hotel, I declined to use it this time since if I used my Lisboa Card, it would validate it immediately, and I wanted to save the validation and start time for the next day. As a result, I walked from Marques de Pombal to the area known as Rossio. After I reached my destination by walking, I made the decision that I would use the metro during the remainder of my stay since the walk was pleasant but a bit further than I expected (20 minutes at my walking pace). Plus, even though I was not carrying anything with me, I was still drenched in sweat by the time I returned back to the hotel.
The next morning, I awoke early and had breakfast at the hotel which was absolutely amazing. I easily ate my weight in bacon, sausage, fruit, and delicious pastries for each day I stayed in Lisbon. Since I live in the Middle East where bacon is not generally consumed or sold because of religious dietary laws, bacon has become a relatively rare treat, so whenever I have a chance to have bacon, I always stuff myself with it. While the breakfast was excellent, I just wish they had bigger plates. It was hard to fit all the bacon on such a small plate. I am sure I looked like a glutton to some of the other hotel guests with the small plate piled with bacon, but I didn't care. Each day, I always had at least 2-3 generous helpings of bacon.
Because I only had two days of free time to explore Lisbon, I decided to get an early start on the day. In this case, I started the use of my Lisboa Card for the metro and ended up in the Rossio area again. By complete chance, I ended up at the Santa Justa Lift, which gives visitors a panoramic view of the city. I originally planned on going up the elevator later in the day, but I had walked by the elevator the day before and saw the long line for it in the afternoon. Since it was the morning, there was no line. I figured this would be my chance to skip a long line and get some good uninterrupted views when things were still relatively quiet in the city. I was right. Once I reached the top of the elevator, I not only got treated to a beautiful open-air view of Lisbon before all the action of the day started, but I also got a much better idea of how much there was to see. There was no way I was going to be able to explore everything I saw from the Lift with only two days. It was at this moment that I wished I had scheduled three days of free time in Lisbon, but what was done was done, and I was certainly going to do the best I could.
Aside from the detour to the Santa Justa Lift, my main goal of my first day was to make my way to the Alfama area to see the National Pantheon (also known as the Church of Santa Engracia), which is where some of the notable figures of Portuguese history are commemorated and buried, such as many Portuguese presidents. Based on the Pantheon's location, I decided to spend my first day in the eastern part of the historic center while gradually making my west to other sites.
After visiting the San Justa Lift and walking around the general area to further get my bearings, I headed to the nearest metro station and took it to the end of the line (Santa Apolonia) and got off. This area was not particularly far from where I had gotten on, but the area, especially around the metro station, looked a bit grittier, and there was a strong smell of urine around the area of the train station. Thankfully, the smell did not linger in the whole neighborhood.
I am sure there was probably a more straightforward way to the Pantheon, but I apparently had taken the wrong way since I was not sure which way the place was in, but I luckily soon found myself coming up from the rear of the National Pantheon. Because I had the Lisboa Card, it was one of the attractions that got me inside for free, so all I had to was show it to the attendant, he took down the serial number, and then returned it to me. Piece of cake.
The National Pantheon was a really interesting place to visit. During my travels, I have visited a couple other national pantheons (The Pantheon in Paris and the National Pantheon of the Heroes in Paraguay), and this one was very similar but larger. It is a church, but it also was built for the dual purpose to house the remains and commemorate those who played particularly important roles in the development of the state and nation of Portugal.
Unlike the other national pantheons that I have visited, this one was different because visitors are permitted to make their way to the top and get a view of the interior from different vantage points. The climb eventually ends up at the top of the dome and gives access to the roof which gives some more marvelous views of Lisbon and the Alfama area. This was especially nice since many parts of the roof were shaded by the large dome, and there was a nice breeze, so it was nice to get out of the heat for a bit. It was actually cooler outside with the breeze than it was inside the church.
After I finished checking out the National Pantheon, I headed in a westerly direction toward the Graca Church, which was my next planned destination since it did not look too far from the National Pantheon on the map. However, for some strange reason that I can't understand or figure out, I never found the church despite it being a famous tourist site. This actually annoyed and frustrated me since it seemed every road and passage I took to go in that direction took me further from the destination. Sometimes I would be heading in the direction then I would take a passage that seemingly went on and on that went downhill then uphill and vice versa. Before I knew it, I was often in a place where I had no idea where I was. Eventually, I just gave up trying to find it. I was not about to spend the entire day trying to find it since it was getting quite warm, and I was working up a heavy sweat.
Even though I never found that church although I did see it from a distance from several vantage points. Despite my failure to locate that church, I soon came upon another treasure by complete chance, the Monastery of Sao Vicente e Fora (Mosteiro de Sao Vicente de Fora). Unfortunately, this place did not take the Lisboa Card, but the entry of 4 euros was definitely worth it since the monastery not only offered access to its roof which again presented beautiful views of Lisbon from a different perspective, but it is also the burial place of many kings and queens of Portugal.
Now, I should note that Lisbon is an extremely hilly city and getting to many of these places often required going up relatively steep hills and climbing countless steps. I definitely feel comfortable in saying that my leg muscles are probably in pristine shape by now. However, I did have a limit, and I was approaching it. My legs were really starting to hurt, but it seemed that no matter where I went, there was also something else to see. Thankfully, my curious nature helped my overcome the soreness in my legs legs and took me to the Castelo of Sao Jorge for some more views of the city, the Cathedral of Lisbon, and the Church of Anthony, which is built on the site of the house of St. Anthony of Padua, who was born in the late 12th century.
By the time I had visited many of these places, it was approaching the late afternoon. I was not only hot, but my legs and feet were killing me, and I was hungry. Even though I had seen many different churches today (Sao Domingo, Nossa Señora da Conceicao Velha, the Basilica of Martyrs, and the church and museum of Sao Roque), there was one place in particular I wanted to visit, the Basilica of Estrela.
To be honest, I had never heard of the Basilica of Estrela. I only decided to go since it was highlighted on my tourist map. Plus, my quickly-done research had told me that it is somewhat off the beaten path. Therefore, that meant I had to get there. There was only one problem. It was not really in a tourist area, and there were no metro lines connected to it. Instead, one would have to get out at the end of the line and walk about 15 minutes. It did not take me long to make the decision to make this the last stop since it was kind of a halfway mark to my hotel. As I made way down a very steep hill to get to a metro stop that would take me the area I needed to go, I passed by a Subway. Since I had not eaten since breakfast, and it was approaching 5pm, I headed in for a bite to eat.
I know people will say "Why did you go to Subway when you're in Lisbon? Get some Portuguese food!" Believe me, I know. However, I was in a hurry and did not have time to get something at a cafe or restaurant. I needed to eat and then head over to the Basilica. Plus, I don't live in the US, the country I live in does not have Subway, and I was craving Subway, which is strange since I never used to really eat there. Strangely enough, the same thing with craving Subway happened to me while I was in Ireland, too. After eating, I got a burst of energy, so getting to the Basilica was a lot easier than I thought it would be. It was more beautiful than what I was expecting. Once again, I was able to gain access to the bell tower to get a unique view of Lisbon from a part of the city that does not seem to be as frequently visited as other places.
After spending about 9 hours walking up and down the hills of Lisbon with very few breaks, I was exhausted and headed back to the hotel for a shower to wash the sweat off and spend the rest of the evening relaxing.
On my second day in Lisbon, I knew I had to see everything that I did not get to see yesterday since this was my last free day. Initially, I thought I would be able to get to everything, but it became clear that I would not be able to do it. I would need more time, but I definitely plan to return to Portugal in the future, so I am not worried.
To be honest, I didn't really develop my plan for my second day until the last minute. After some thought during breakfast while eating a plateful of bacon, I decided to head to Queluz Palace, which is an 18th century rococo palace a little bit outside of Lisbon. I had not previously entertained this idea before, but it seemed like the right thing to do. Even though Sintra is the more popular option for a day trip, I always like to do the road less-traveled, so I figured I would leave Sintra and its sites for another time.
In order to get to Queluz Palace, I took a train headed to Sintra which soon filled with other day trippers, but when we got to the Queluz stop, I was one of the only people to get off. Initially, I was a bit nervous about going here. I had read about how to get here, and my research said the station was in kind of a gritty area, and this was true.
In fact, it was in the Queluz station that I had to use my very limited Portuguese since I was not sure which way the Palace was. I had anticipated possible problems trying to find the palace, so I made sure to quickly look up some key phrases on Google Translate in case I needed them. Needless to say, I needed them once I arrived in Queluz and wasn't sure where to go. I soon found an elderly woman and asked her in my broken, soft-spoken, and probably grammatically-incorrect Portuguese where the Palace was. She responded. I didn't know what she was saying, but I didn't expect to. The only thing I understood were her hand gestures pointing in one direction and when she said what I think was "kilometer." Without thinking, I thanked her in Spanish (I didn't know the Portuguese word for "thank you") and continued on my way.
The direction the lady pointed in was true and sure enough within about 20 minutes, I was at the palace. Thankfully, it was a straight shot from the train station, so that made life a lot easier.
Queluz Palace is often called the "Versailles of Portugal." I think that is a bit of an overstatement. The Palace and its grounds are certainly nowhere near as large as Versailles' in France, but it is just as beautiful and seemingly less visited and touristy. In my opinion, I think Versailles is more beautiful in terms of the interior of the palace, but Queluz Palace is more beautiful in terms of its exterior. Since it was still early in the morning (10am), there were not many tourists around, so I was able to get some beautiful shots without any other people standing in the picture frame.
After I finished checking out Queluz Palace, I was at a crossroads. I could either continue onto Sintra, or I could return to Lisbon and see some of the other sites that I really wanted to check out while I still had time. Ultimately, as I walked back to the train station, I decided to stick to my original plan and head back to Lisbon to see the Monastery of St. Jerome (Hieronymites Monastery). Upon reaching Lisbon, I headed to Praça da Figueira, which is a large and beautiful square in central Lisbon. From here, I got on an extremely packed bus to the Jeronimos Monastery.
During the bus ride, I made extra sure to keep an eye on all of my belongings. The bus was absolutely packed, and it was not hard to imagine a pickpocket easily snatching something and then getting off at the next stop. Luckily, I never carry many things with me when I'm out and about, but just to be safe, I kept my backpack close and never let my hands wander far from my pockets. I had been pickpocketed before in 2011, and ever since that time, I am a lot more careful.
The Monastery was about a 20 minute bus ride from where I got on, and the moment I stepped out, I was impressed. The monastery was enormous, and it was clear this was a major tourist attraction based on the long line I saw for people waiting to purchase tickets. With a sigh, I got into line and expected to wait for awhile in the hot sun with no shade while people selling shawls for women and selfie sticks hawked their wares. When one of them approached me, I was about to give a "no," but this hawker pointed me to another entrance to buy tickets. I followed his advice and much to my surprise, he didn't expect or ask for a tip. However, the line was just as long and only one worker was at the desk, so I ended up waiting the same amount of time in an un-airconditioned room instead of the hot sun.
Despite the wait, it was worth it. Not only was the church beautiful with amazing photo opportunities, but the monastery cloister was a masterpiece of architecture with its intricate carvings. After checking everything out in the monastery, I decided to head to the Museum of Art, which was a bit far from the Monastery. When I got on the tram to the museum, a Portuguese guy started to yell at me. Since I don't speak Portuguese, I don't know what he said exactly, but I guess he was angry because I had apparently accidentally stepped on his foot. He got quite angry, but my apologetic gestures apparently soothed him although he still continually glared at me throughout the ride. I was thankful when he got off.
After hitting up a few more museums and wandering the alleys and streets of Lisbon for a couple more hours, I decided to have a bit of an early dinner at a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant called "Oficinia do Duque," where I had Bitoque, which is essential Portuguese steak. It was served with fries and a boiled egg that was a bit runny. It was quite delicious and definitely gave me the energy to continue wandering around until it was time to head back to the hotel.
Even though I only had two days to see as much of Lisbon as I could, I don't think I even scratched the surface. I certainly hope to return in the future to check out more of the city and its museums.
Since I had been walking around with very few breaks since 8:30am, I was exhausted, but the night was about to get loud. In Eduardo VII Park, which is across from the hotel, a three day music festival featuring techno and trance music began at 5pm and continued without pause until 1am for the next three days during my stay. The music was so loud that I could hear the music when I was in the shower while the water was on full blast. Even though I had earplugs, they were no match for the blaring music. Thus, for the next three nights, I had to deal with pounding trance and people shouting and cheering until the early morning hours, but not everything can go perfect.
Please feel free to check out the photo gallery below of my two days exploring Lisbon. All of these photos were taken by me. Please click on the image for a larger view.