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Tracing trams to find Lisbon’s liveliest lookouts

It’s dark outside as our train shuffles into Lisbon. We attempted to hitchhike here from Aveiro but failed miserably so opted for the train. In a sense quite fitting since for the last few weeks I’ve been reading The night train to Lisbon. A romantic account of a Swiss professor leaving behind his life for Lisbon after an off-chance meeting with a Portuguese woman in Bern. A sequence of events lead him to retrace the steps of Amadeu de Prado, a famed doctor during the dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar.

The station is grand and the city is bustling. We gaze around, at the dazzling lights, the people, the tall buildings and grand squares. We lose our sense of awareness and get in the way of the local commuters. Consulting the map we gather our bearings and find the location of our Hostel, Lisbon Calling. It’s not a huge distance away so we decide to walk whilst getting a feel for the city.

It’s a lot more polished than Porto, and it feels somewhat grander. The streets are wider, the buildings are clean and straight. The squares are mathematically measured. We later find out this is true because most of the city was levelled in the great earthquake of 1755. Large portions of the city were completely rebuilt in its wake.

Luxury vintage hostel upgrade

We arrive at our hostel and it is super nice. Really well kitted with no cheap IKEA furniture in sight. The staff are also very kind. Not so much the guests. They’re gross, loud, old guys snoring and just being complete nuisances in the dorms. An entitled dude rubbing his dirty feet all over the sofa cushions and table. Another dude comes out the toilet pulling his trousers up still with his cock in his hand.

Caroline has enough of all these gross guys and we decide to move to another place. We choose not to complain because the owners have been accommodating. However, as Caroline is visibly upset the owner insists that they upgrade us to one of the private rooms for no extra cost. What a deal this is because the room is gorgeous. Full of vintage furniture and beautiful traditional floorboards, and large enough for a full family.

We’re a bit exhausted from the situation and travelling in general so we pretty much spend the whole day in bed and chill. In the evening we decide to cook something fancy and make nachos, since we basically have our own kitchen. Don’t judge us! We have survived off bread, hummus and ramen noodles for two months now, so nachos are fancy, OK? The privates have their own building and kitchen and there is no one else around, success!

Out and about in Lisbon

Morning comes and it’s time for an explore. Time to experience the city of Lisbon properly! I decide to ride the famous Number 28 E Tram through the city. I did a bit of research and apparently it can be very busy so I decided on a plan. Get up early and walk to the starting point of the tram. Ride it back to center and to the districts of Baxia and Alfama. By walking to the starting point I can explore some lesser visited areas since it’s quite a walk to where the tram starts at Campo Ourique.

Old mini in front of pretty house in Lisbon

Just as I suspect the walk through Lisbon is wonderful and calming. Through little unknown streets I watch the locals rise and begin their days, not a tourist in site. Cute houses, steep hills and wonderful vintage cars everywhere. After around an hour of walking I arrive at the Campo Ourique stop just outside the Prazeres cemetery.

Red and white van in front of pretty house in Lisbon

Exploring Lisbon via the 28 tram

Within a few minutes the vintage tram car comes rolling in to the station in all it’s glory. Just like in Porto the trams in Lisbon are repurposed original models. Complete with the original furniture and controls, with some upgraded internals to make them safe by current standards.

I just can’t get enough of beautiful old vintage trams, there is something wildly romantic about them. I can happily ride on and photograph them for hours! The tram grinds and climbs through the narrow cobbled streets, and I sit, face glued to the glass.

Cute red tram on cobbled street in Alfama, Lisbon

The 28 E tram costs a couple of measly euros which I happily pass to the driver. If you prefer, it’s much better value to buy a 24 hour ticket which works on all modes of transports and only costs a few euros more.

The tram rides through various neighbourhoods, beautiful streets and plazas with much gorgeous architecture and plenty of opportunity for stops. By the time it arrives in the district of Baixa, the streets become even more narrow and winding, up and downhill. It’s magical. I hop off at the stop Cç. S. Vicente and spend an hour or so photographing trams squeezing through ridiculously tight streets.

More cute trams and trains

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Another angle of Dashbashi waterfalls with green mossy water
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View over Castellar de n'Hug and the surrounding mountains, snowy peaks in the background
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Wild and without enough time: Catalonia to Portugal

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Man walking past side of Igreja do Carmo
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April 2, 2020
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Enjoying the magnificent architecture of Lisbon

Yellow tram squeezing past old man in narrow cobbled street

I contemplate jumping back on the tram again, but the area I’m currently in looks completely delightful. It’s bustling with locals and tourists alike, the sun is shining and everyone is laughing. It’s a beautiful place to be, in every sense of the word. I dodge a tram and make for the streets, cheerily snapping pictures of vibrantly coloured buildings and azulejo adorned facades.

Vila Sousa is a housing estate in a former working-class neighbourhood. Towards the end of the 19th century there was increasing need to accommodate new workers arriving in Lisbon with the age of industrialisation. It was built between 1889 and 1890 on behalf of Luis Sousa & Filho. The villa is divided into two areas, one for owners and a less posh one for workers, naturally.

Onwards & Upwards: Lisbon views

As usual I’m naturally drawn up the slopes to highest point. I find myself at the famous view point Miradouro da Senhora do Monte. A jazz outfit is playing and what can I say, it’s just everything I need right now. I lose track of time, admiring the magnificent views enthralled with the sound of music.

Terracotta roofs of Lisbon

At some point in the afternoon I meet Caroline, when she has finished running some errands. I fascinatedly show her around all the same places I’ve already discovered, pointing at this and that building, this view over there, this cute tram here.

Old lady climbing cobbled staircase with graffiti on walls

Across Lisbon’s river Tagus

As the day draws to a close, we decide to ride on the ferry and hop across the river Tagus. I’ve spent the day riding nostalgic trams so what better way to end it than to ride on the ferry. To feel the wind in our hair as we pass over the mighty river Tagus where it pours in to the Atlantic ocean.

The ferry is like any other mode of transport in Lisbon and seems to be accessible with a normal ticket. With a little wait we embark on to the ferry and rush for the outdoors, admiring the beautiful city from the deck for the short ten minutes it takes for the ferry to dock in Cacilhas.

25th April bridge at sunset

The view across the Tagus back to Lisbon is mesmerising, especially now the sun is setting and brilliant colours are framing the hills of the old town. Drawn in by the view we find ourselves wandering along the riverside. There is not much here, almost derelict. Abandoned buildings covered in graffiti and without roofs dot the riverside. It’s a far cry from the crowded and bustling city centre just across the river.

Desolation in Lisbon

There’s no one around, not one person. We continue along the river past more abandoned buildings and we begin to wonder if we are tress-passing? We walk past a restaurant, and then some strange outdoor metal elevator that seems to traverse the cliffside to a viewing platform. It’s not working so we walk on, past the Naval Museum, past some more abandoned buildings until we get to a rather precarious looking concrete boardwalk that has some fatal large cracks in it.

We decide we have come as far as we can and backtrack to the Naval museum. A little road runs upwards towards the cliff tops and the small town of Cacilhas. On the way, where the lift meets the road, we admire the view. The magnificent red suspension bridge named 25th of April bridge (after the Carnation Revolution and the overthrow of the authoritarian regime) towers over the landscape. The huge structure dazzles with the thousands of cars that speed over it in the twilight, the lights glimmer and reflect in the Tagus. Thick clouds begin to form in the distance, rising from the Atlantic Ocean.

25th April bridge at night

We walk through the old streets of Cacilhas back down towards the port. It looks like it would be nice to explore the cute streets here, its a bit more laid back than Lisbon. There are lots of traditional fish restaurants lining the cobbled streets, mostly with locals occupying them.

Back on the other side of the Tagus we grab a falafel and head back to the hostel to plan our trip tomorrow to the famed Sintra National Park. From what we’ve heard it’s pretty much always covered in fog but who knows, we might get lucky and catch a glimpse of the castles there?

FACTS FACTS FACTS

How to get there

Air

There are lots of flights from lots of destinations all across Europe and the world direct to Lisbon. We’re not sure about the rest of the world but from Europe it is pretty cheap to fly direct to Lisbon, check Skyscanner.

Train & Bus

If you are coming from somewhere else in Portugal we recommend public transport. If you are arriving from Porto, check here. If you are arriving from the Algarve you will want to catch a bus from the smaller towns or a bus/train from Faro.

Trains: www.cp.pt
Busses: www.rede-expressos.pt

Hitchiking/Carpooling

The only time we were successful with hitchhiking in Portugal was on the south coast, where it went quite well. We’d recommend trying it as others have had varying degrees of success but we’d also say make sure you have a backup plan if you’re on a tight schedule. When hitchhiking failed we used Blablacar.

Things to do

There are so many things to do in Lisbon and we did barely any of them and missed many of the big attractions. Since travelling is not all about attractions and ticking off lists, we are fine with this. However, there is a reason you picked this particular destination so lets have at it!

  • Ride the 28 Tram: It’s magical
  • Visit Sintra National Park – Mountains, palaces & beaches
  • Enjoy the music and the views at Miradouro da Senhora do Monte
  • Explore the castle
  • Visit Belém tower
  • Águas Livres Aqueduct – An incredible huge arched stone aquaduct bringing fresh water from Sintra to Lisbon
  • Explore the old cobbled streets and plazas – As usual one of our favourite things to do in a city is just roam about and enjoy the colours, architecture and charm of the locals

Normally we’d recommend something like LX Factory, a supposedly hip space in disused factory buildings under the big bridge. But honestly, it was so overpriced, middle class and boring we couldn’t wait to leave.

Accommodation

We stayed at Lisbon Calling hostel which was really nice, beautifully decorated with nice hosts. You really have a wealth of options in Lisbon, so just checkout Hostelworld/Booking.com/Airbnb and find what suits you.

Pro Tips

  • If you want to visit Sintra, consider staying a night. Also, take a suitcase full of money, you will need it.
  • Go watch a sunset on the other side of the river, where you can see all of Lisbon!
  • Grab some fresh street pizza from Pizzeria Romana al Taglio.

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