When I lived in Spain, Portugal was so close yet I never ventured there. Then I met my husband, who was traveling to Lisbon frequently for business. He raved about the food, the people and the good vibes there; so when planning a family vacation for this past September, we decided on Portugal. The country did not disappoint. It truly is a wonderful vacation destination. We started our trip in Cascais - an adorable sea side town- where we met up with family and then finished in Lisbon. For this post I will focus on Lisbon. Check back for my review of Cascais!
How to get there: Lisbon Airport is international and you can get direct flights from most major cities. We connected through London but only because we were heading back to London on our way home.
Getting around: We walked everywhere or took taxis sparingly if we were trying to race back to the hotel for our Garrett's naps but if you plan out your route and do one side of the city one day and the other the next, you should have no problem walking wherever you want to go. You can also use the trams to get around - be warned, they are like rollercoasters!
Where to stay:
The Sheraton Lisboa - We stayed here but only because we were using Starwood points so we could get a suite for us and our 6 month old. It's a nice, easy hotel that has a club lounge which is good for grabbing a snack and a drink without paying the astronomical hotel prices. There is parking and a pool - also important when you have a little one or are traveling to Lisbon during the summer when it is really REALLY hot! It was a little bit further away from the action but not far and we walked everywhere.
The Pestana Palace - Had we not had our little guy with us, this is where I would have liked to stay. It's a beautiful old house that used to belong to someone very wealthy. It looks so relaxing and pretty!
Top 5 things to do in Lisbon:
1. Take the 28 Tram around the historic district. If you time it properly and hop on at the bottom, you will arrive at the top of the Porta do Sol for a drink and one of the best sunset views in the world!
2. Belem - close to the water Belem is picturesque with an old monastery and cute little buildings as well as expansive park where you can eat some delicious custard tarts from Pasteis de Belem and sip some chilled white wine.
3. Shopping - the VAT is the highest in Europe and you will be able to claim it back if you are non European. I regret not buying more! The selection of designer stores on Avenida da Liberdade is amazing and if you want more every day fashion - Zara etc. head over to Rua Garrett. Remember to bring your passport with you when shopping for VAT purposes.
4. Barrio Alto - This is such a great little neighbourhood. During the day/afternoon you can cruise around the galleries and shops and pop into some of the bars or cafes for a snack and drink. After 11pm, beware - it is a bit of a nightclub scene. Everyone is out and about with drinks in hand and the median age is about 25!
5. Alfama - across the city from Barrio Alto is the Alfama District which is a more grown up version of Barrio Alto. There are tons of areas to meander around. Old roman arches at the top provide the perfect place to relax and take in the view of the city and river below.
Places to eat and grab drinks:
Alma - can't leave Lisbon without stopping in at Alma. The chef is a veritable star and it is still undiscovered by the culinary elite so the prices are still affordable. Great wine too!
Belcanto - a super creative restaurant with typical Portuguese food.
Sea Me - great sea food
The Decadent - great ambience
La Cevecheria - as the name indicates, you will find lots of ceviche. Great spot for lunch
Mercado da Ribeira - lovely little tapas restaurant if a bit touristy.
Pasteleria Bernard - it's the Cafe de Flore of Lisbon. Great place to people watch over breakfast.
O Corvo - another great breakfast place in a great neighbourhood.
Ice Cream stop - Gelados Santini
Memo Hotel - great rooftop bar to grab a drink.
Le Palacia Chiado - another great drinks place.
Things to consider:
Extremely long line ups at customs if you are not an EU citizen - make sure you have something to keep you entertained! They did let us go through quickly because we had a baby but those without were stuck in a very long line.
Both my brother and my mother who are seasoned travellers had their wallets stolen by pick pockets...the streets are full of them so be vigilant!
When renting a car, consider where your hotel is located and if parking is included and/or available. My advice is to only rent a car if you are leaving directly from the airport.