I had read many positive things about Lisbon prior to our arrival in Portugal. We began our exploration of the country in the south. After two weeks in the sleepy coastal town of Albufeira, I was ready for some metropolitan life. Unfortunately, Lisbon just failed to deliver for us.
The area where you stay in a city can often make or break your whole experience, and I think this was a lot of the reason we never warmed up to Lisbon. We had a Wimdu place in the Intendente neighborhood. On the surface, it looked like a great location. It was near popular metro, bus, and trolley lines and within walking distance of the river and the historic part of the city.
However, it was also rundown and depressing.
In my mind, I had expected old world charm, but everything felt lackluster, had little character, and just wasn’t that appealing.
I was beginning to dread having booked, and paid for, a few days until we ventured to the western side of town. Someone had recommended we visit the Campo de Ourique market. When we exited the tram, we found ourselves in front of an absolutely gorgeous park (Jardim da Estrela).
This is where the Lisbon I had envisioned began to take shape.
As we walked through the tree-lined street toward the market, I finally began to appreciate Lisbon. The vibe was so different. Gone were the dilapidated structures and melancholy air. This area felt alive, vibrant, and inviting.
The next day we ventured out to the famous Belem area of the city. Once again this area was enjoyable. There were phenomenal buildings, fabulous restaurants (including the place known as having the best pastel de nata; just look for the place with the blue awning and the long line), and more beautiful parks.
Another downside to the city was the transportation system. While there are metro, bus, trams, and trolleys, it isn’t the easiest system to navigate. The metro only services part of the city. Timetables are difficult to impossible to find. On the trolley and buses we rode (which were the more popular lines), there was no announcement or monitor so you know which stop is coming up.
If I hadn’t been using my map app, we would’ve missed our stop several times.
Often you can just count how many stops you will need, but some of these vehicles make a ton of stops. When we were going to the market, I would’ve needed to keep track of at least 22 stations to exit at the right one.
While riding the old trolleys is kind of quaint, be prepared to get packed in like sardines. There are very few seats, and the ride is not a smooth one. I can’t imagine how miserable it must feel in the summer with all those bodies packed in so tightly.
The buses and trams, however, are much more comfortable.
The transportation issue is a small one, but when you’re already not so thrilled with the place you’re in, it just adds to the whole disappointing package.
As I know a big part of the problem for us was our neighborhood, I can’t say Lisbon isn’t worth visiting based solely on our experience. However, I would encourage people wanting to visit Portugal’s capital city to look for lodging west of the Rato metro station. That side of the city just had such a better feel to it, and I think you’ll enjoy your visit a lot more.
Have you had a similar experience with a city? Where was it?