Visiting one of the world’s premier cities, one of the world’s most visited cities, within budget expenses, is always a challenge. Most of us have dreams of visiting Lisbon one day. And yet many of us are deterred by various fear factors. Can I afford it? Is it a safe city? Is it worth it? Should I opt for a group tour? Will I get vegetarian/halal food there? Will I need to stay in a pigeon-hole hostel in a shady colony? Will I be mugged/pickpocketed there? Will taxis rip me off? How complicated are the train ticketing and network there? etc etc.
Frankly, some of these factors worried me as much while planning for a Lisbon stay with my bachelor friends – all of whom were visiting Europe for the first time. So I planned to cover each of the parameters below and now sharing with you. To cover Lisbon:
– the safest way
– the cheapest way (short stay and only seeing highlights)
– keep a relaxed itinerary so that the holiday is not turned in to a war – ie try to do 40 things in two days and risk falling unwell, tired or get inadequate sleep; especially with kids.
– stress-free (minimal travel time, no time wasting figuring buses, train network and routes etc)
– see the best of everything popular and anything unique
– finding a point from where a majority of the sites can be visited by foot.
– Good tasty local food.
– Stay for 4 days, 3 nights
– Stay in the central Bairro Alto area from where in 1-1.5km radius you can cover everything Lisbon by foot.
– Day 1 do a ‘ Free Walking Tour’ of all the important sites – know the history behind each building and view all the great points. Yes, it’s a free tour with the tour ending with just tipping the guide. During the evenings, walk to the key squares and chill out with fresh seafood and alcohol. Both relatively cheap at Lisbon.
– Day 2 do a day trip to the palaces of Sintra, Cascais beach and Cabo Da Roca combined. We managed a personalised car trip at 150€ only for four pax. The tour bus cost would come to 50€ X 4 = 200€ minimal for the same and they take you to only one palace in Sintra. We visited two. And also Cabo Da Roca, the extreme most West Point of Europe with stunning views, is not part of majority Sintra & Cascais tours.
– Day 3 From the heart of Lisbon, take the train or taxi drop to Belem. Luckily, Belem attractions are all situated at one location. So spend half a day and marvel at the Belem tower, Nacional coaches museum, Jeronimos Monastery and eat at Pao Pao Queijo Queijo & Pasteis De Belem. Then return to hotel by taxi or train!
Strong Tip1: The airport is near to the city centre and well connected by train. A train pass per day costs 6.15€ and I will recommend that pass, if you’ll are a group of 1-3 with light luggage. But for a group or family of four with luggage, you can manage without public transport. A taxi from city centre to the airport costs 20€. If arriving by train then the taxi fare from the major train station Santa Apolonia to heart of the city (Bairro Alto), barely costs 8€. And those taxis are big and will easily fit four big sized adults.
Strong Tip2: Put Lisbon in your itinerary after Madrid. Lisbon isn’t as well connected by direct flights, compared to other main cities of Europe. Neither are there too many train options from Spain to Lisbon. Hence, it’s strongly recommended to take the overnight Renfe Trenhotel from Madrid to Lisbon – it’s a train with sleeper beds. You save on a hotel night’s fare, you enter another country (Spain to Portugal), get to admire two capital cities and the Trainhotel is a very comfortable ride for a family of four who get a closed-door cabin.
We found ‘Royal Prince hostel’ as our place of stay. The cost was very cheap, they gave four of us a room to our own and the hostel is rated 4.5/5 on TripAdvisor. I prefer a closed room during vacations so that I don’t need to worry about the safety of my documents and cash. A dormitory is what I will never recommend. And this was my first ever hostel experience. Safe to say for hostels, I prefer mixed hostels 🙂 and one where we get a room for us! Royal Prince Hostel had excellent bathrooms, the place was very neat, clean and the staff (Filipa, Roxana, Marto) willingly helped us with every possible direction and guidance. We had a 6am checkout and yet they cared to arrange breakfast for us at the kitchen so that at 530am we don’t go hungry. Service and people connect often make a big difference to how good your trip is faring and how many memories you are accumulating. Royal Prince Hostel scores very high in these parameters.
The hostel staff arranged our personalised car tour via RAD (Rent a Driver) guide Frederico Rodrigues to Sintra, Cascais, Belem & Cabo Da Roca at 150€. So that’s another reason to recommend this hostel not to mention their guidance on free walking tours (detailed below). And of course, using common bathrooms with touristy European ladies all around you is a good experience! So if it’s hostel stay you want, then this hostel has got to be one of the best you would experience ever. There is a vegetarian Portuguese local restaurant just opposite this hostel too. The place really ticks all boxes aside it’s only problem being it’s a 2km steep walk away from the attractions, hence a hotel at the heart of Bairro Alto (obviously will be more expensive) would be my first recommendation.
Wherever you stay, and if not staying in ‘Royal Prince Hostel’, I recommend going for the Lisbon free walking tours. Walk to street Rua Do Loreto and reach the square by 10am. A lot of pigeons and two walking tour groups will greet you there. The Red group is run by an MNC company – who supposedly spend most of the time in a cafe trying to sell other paid tours – and the yellow group tour is conducted by passionate locals who showcase Lisbon and enlighten tourists in-depth about the history. We took the yellow group called ‘Lisbon Chill Out Guided free walk tour’ and it was a lovely experience. Jose convinced us to go with them and I joked about him having too much hair!
We being a bachelor group preferred lovely Ana to be our guide. Ana with all her energy, enthusiasm and voice took us to a 3.5hr walking tour. And honestly, we covered much more than what we could have done on our own at that time. Just that, since they don’t allow much time to rest (and take selfies etc) the walk is a proper exercise over the steep Lisbon routes. So it’s not recommended for kids, unfit or aged people. If your group can manage the walk and your hotel check-in is due (at 1-2pm), then this is a fabulous way to master Lisbon even before you have settled!
The tour involved in-depth sharing of historical details, taking us through the Alfama (low-income group) area, the river views from the top, the ginger wine tasting experience, the Gloria elevator, familiarity with local words and ways, cheap shopping/dining places and taking in a multitude of our questions. Everything was good .. the steep walking exercise too. At the end of the tour, you are expected to tip the guide (5€ per head minimum makes sense) so that the guides get practical benefits and continue to enrich tourists, coming in future.
Eat at Lisbon
Five great budget places I would recommend you to eat at Lisbon, all of which are in the centre of the city (walking distance), budget-priced and most of them have vegetarian options.
1. Floresta Das Escadinhas – a place with a very limited menu and minimum 20mins waiting time! Which means, it rocks. The seafood platter (pictured above) barely costs 14€ and is a mix of fresh catch of the day. Take their lovely big bowl of chicken soup and in total 18€ two people would have had a healthy delicious meal. Must go for seafood lovers.
2. Tasca Jasmim Da Baixa – This is a fast rising budget restaurant with vegetarian options and lovely service. Serves local and Indian food. The vegetarian paella (pictured above) was superb.
3. Mercado De Ribeira – Food court in the centre of the attractions. Sadly we didn’t have enough tummy space left to browse many of their products but the Portuguese egg tarts which Frederico (Rent A Driver) made us sample were memorable.
4. Nannarella – serves the best gelato in Lisbon
5. Sanskar Nepal – We didn’t have enough meals left to make it there but the place is strongly recommended.
Lisbon Day Tours
From Lisbon City, tours to Sintra, Cascais, Cabo Da Roca and Belem are a must. With RAD (Rent A Driver) we were lucky to get to cover all the four places in a day with the personalised car and driver Frederico Rodrigues – an engineer by education, like all of us. Strongly recommended. However, if you seek from other group tours then Sintra & Cascais comes in one bundle and rest two places you need to do separately. Belem details, I have already mentioned above.
For Sintra, Cascais & Cabo Da Roca, I will let the pictures speak for themselves from here on and wish you a fabulous tour to Lisbon. Lisbon was not there in my original plans but four factors made me put this on my itinerary. 1. My longtime friend Dr Madhuritu Banerjee had strongly recommended me to visit. 2. My father had visited Lisbon way back in the 90’s and had good memories. 3. Lisbon is relatively cheaper than other European metro cities. 4. A cheap sleeper coach train which would overnight transport us from Madrid to Lisbon. All in all, Lisbon is a must visit place and honestly, each of us loved Lisbon as much as we loved Madrid, Paris and Amsterdam.
Four of us feature in the pictures above. We had a dream bachelor trip with many more to come.
P = Pungliya Dilip
A = Avinash Nayak
J = Jhunjhunwala Neeraj
A = Avijit Das Patnaik
M = Manoj Burad
A = Adarsh Kansal.
Avijit Das Patnaik is a Singapore resident NRI for close to a decade. He is a banker (DBS Bank Ltd) by profession, sports fanatic by religion(!), big time foodie by diet, global traveller by nature, part time emcee by hobby, music buff by mood and movie maniac by passion! He blogs on each of these topics in his own site www.emojisarebald.com . His latest movie reviews and food/travel blogs are often found in the popular ‘Singapore NRI Buzz’ Facebook page.