Thoughts on Visiting Lisbon

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.

Lisbon neighborhood

The view from our room

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.

Lisbon charm

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.

Lisbon trolley

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.

Lisbon park2014-04-24 15.12.142014-04-24 15.21.502014-04-24 15.22.08

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?

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  1. Staying in Intendente when visiting Lisbon is like staying at the Bronx when in New York. It’s simply the city’s worst section, its worst postcard, and I can’t believe people actually rent their apartments there. It’s home to the poorer immigrants and to the social outcasts, the drug addicts and prostitutes. It’s the neighborhood to avoid, according to this Lisbon safety guide:

    I also can’t believe people sent you to the Campo de Ourique market. That’s a nice place for locals, mostly for those in the neighborhood to go eat and buy their food, but there’s nothing special about it. It’s a market like so many others. There are so many things to see and do in Lisbon, it seems you were very unlucky. There are also many Lisbons. There’s the old in the downtown Baixa and Alfama areas, there’s the classic in Chiado, the historic in Belém, and the modern in Parque das Nações. It’s a beautiful city with its several hilltop terraces with views and a pleasant waterfront. It also has many cultural attractions, including some one-of-a-kind museums. It’s also a city with its own soul and character (the mosaic pavements, the tiled façades, etc.), and that’s what most people like about it.

    As for accommodation, I wouldn’t say to look around west of Rato. In fact, that’s where the least accommodation is found. The best accommodation is around Avenida da Liberdade, Chiado and Principe Real. The waterfront Parque das Nações district would be for those who want to be closer to the airport and prefer to stay in chain hotels.

    You’re right that accommodation does often influence our experience in a place and yours just couldn’t have been any worse.

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    • People sent me to that market precisely because it’s a place for locals. I’m not interested in the markets for tourists. I like to see local life, and I’m glad they did or else Lisbon would’ve been a total bust for me.

      I’m not suggesting people stay near the Rato station. I’m saying look west of there, on that side of the city. Personally, I wouldn’t stay in Baixa or Alfama either.

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  2. I haven’t made it to Lisbon yet but I loved Porto! I’ve heard so many great things about Lisbon that I’ve put it on my list, but I can’t exactly remember why. Everyone just seems to say how nice it is but the specific reasons are unknown to me.

    Neighborhoods totally influence city visits, and if I were you two I think I would have felt exactly the same!

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  3. Odd. I was sitting here trying to weigh up why I haven’t enjoyed my current island as much as expected, and have come to the same conclusion. I’m in the wrong place (nothing wrong with it in the slightest, just not for me), and that has colored six weeks of being here. You’re so right when you say,”Not every place is going to be loved by everybody.” That’s what makes blogs different from other types of journalism I think, the personal experience, and agree or disagree it will give someone, sometime some insight into a place. I will certainly keep this bookmarked for when I finally get to Lisbon.

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    • You’re definitely right. That is one great difference we provide readers. You get our personal, raw experience (at least some of us bloggers) instead of a white-washed journalistic piece.

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  4. I’m surprised you didn’t enjoy it so much but I can understand how the neighbourhood could make a difference. On my first stay I was in a quiet residential area which was fine by me but on my second stay I was right in the centre with everything at my doorstep which was fantastic. I’m sure you’ll have a different experience on your next stay and love it.

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    • Well, there won’t be a next time. I saw everything I wanted to see. Next time I’m in Portugal I’ll be spending that time exploring more of the country and spending more time in Porto.

      Yeah, the neighborhood can really make or break an experience sometimes. Overall, though, I think Lisbon is just one of those cities that works for some and not for others.

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  5. Sorry to hear you weren’t a fan of Lisbon. I’ve visited the city twice and I absolutely love it. I agree that it isn’t as dazzling as some other European capitals, but it has a character and charm that is all it’s own.

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    • Not every place is going to be loved by everybody. 😉 But having seen other parts of Portugal, I gotta say Lisboa isn’t its best advertisement. 😀

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  6. Whoa, that view really looks kind of shady!

    I was in Lisbon for only 4 days (one of which was for Sintra) and I totally loved it. Specially because of the charm that can be found in the downtown area. Plus, the cable cars 😀

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    • I know some who really liked it and many who didn’t. Seems to be one of those cities that people can go either way on.

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  7. Different strokes for different folks, I guess… we LOVED Lisbon’s metro because most of the stations had elevators. Those of us pushing double strollers around Europe look for elevators like rare jewels! 🙂 It seemed to run so frequently we didn’t even think to look at timetables.
    We only took the tram a couple of times and just tried to look at the signs at the stops (but you’ve got to be sitting on the correct side.) Totally agree that it was very confusing and easy to get turned around!
    We stayed in the area that you enjoyed. Based on that first picture I could completely understand why that might have soured your impression of the city. Glad you found some spots you did enjoy.

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    • I liked their metro, except for how it only reaches part of the city. And a timetable wasn’t necessary for the metro. I was referring to the trolley, tram, and bus for that.

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