It’s Winter here in Canada and bloody cold and snowy, so it’s time to start thinking of warmer climates and things to look forward to this summer. Hence, it’s time to start planning travel for 2017!
It’s no secret that I love to travel to and through the country of my ancestors, Portugal. I recommend it to anyone who is looking for a beautiful, historic place to visit, with lots to see and do, great food to eat and excellent wine to drink. It is basically the cheapest country in Europe to travel to while still getting all of the things Europe has to offer: Castles, history, charm, cobblestone streets, friendly and warm people, and fantastic beaches and weather.
So let’s start with Portugal’s largest and capital city: Lisbon (Lisboa in Portuguese) and the basics of how to get there and where to stay. Lisbon has the best of both worlds: it’s a large bustling city in the middle of centuries of history, with castles, monuments, basilicas and architectural wonders all around. And of course the Rio Tejo (Tagus river) is at the southern point of the city, leading out to the Atlantic. Lisbon enjoys copious amounts of wonderful sunshine and warm temperatures, making it always a great place to visit and tour.
Lisbon is an ideal first stop in Portugal, as you can fly directly into the city and tour it before you make your way south, north or east. Or if you fly into the other major airports of Faro or Porto, you can always take the train or drive to Lisbon. With the high cost of fuel and parking and the congestion of the big city, we always prefer to take the train into the city. It makes for a very relaxing trip in instead of a stressful one!
The train system in Portugal is vast, with numerous trains leaving quite often to various locations, 3 different price points, and it’s very simple to figure out. You can plan out your trip on their website Comboios de Portugal. Our home base when in Portugal is the city of Aveiro, so we usually take the Alfa Pendular train from Aveiro to Lisboa’s Santa Apolonia station, which takes about 2 hours and 9 minutes and costs anywhere from €35 to €50 roundtrip. Half-price discounts are offered for children and for seniors. Also, the Alfa Pendular train is the fastest with the least number of stops, so it is the most expensive. There are other cheaper options such as the Intercidades, Regional and Urbanos, but keep in mind that the cheapest will also take the longest to get you there.
While enjoying the Comboios de Portugal and travelling in comfort, you also get to enjoy the historic train stations throughout the country. This is the beautiful historic side of the train station in my city of Aveiro:
And here is the Santa Apolónia train station in central Lisbon:
From the north, one stop before Santa Apolónia is the Estação do Oriente or the Gare do Oriente (the Oriente train station). I love the views of this gorgeous, architectural beauty and futuristic-looking station that we get before we make it to our stop.
I apologize, these pictures do not do it justice…It is so spectacular to see in person. The renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava designed this station and it was completed in 1998 for the World Fair Expo ’98. To see much more detailed and stunning photos, click here.
Once at the train station, you can easily hail a taxi to take you to where you will be staying (usually less than €10 if you are staying in the Baixa area). If you wish to continue using the transit system instead, you can take the metro right from the Santa Apolónia station. You can review the Metro maps on the Metro Lisboa website.
As for where to stay in Lisbon, there are so many different options for places to stay. You could stay in a hotel, in a hostel, a pousada (a room in an historic building) or a pensão (guesthouse), or even a private apartment. You can review all sorts of options on TripAdvisor or on this site.
The first time that we were booking a few days in Lisbon, my papá mentioned that back in 1962 he had stayed in a nice pensão that was very central and right off a large public square and he suggested that I look it up to see if it still existed. Laughing to myself but thinking that I would just do it to amuse him, I looked up the name he gave me and surprisingly found a current website for the exact place. The Pensão Praça da Figueira was still around, and fully functioning as a type of guest house that offered rooms and breakfast for a very affordable price. Luckily, it didn’t look like it was still stuck in the 60’s! He was right though… It was located in the best location. Right in the centre of the Baixa, with great views and so much to do and see all around it.
So we booked it and didn’t regret it. In fact, the next time we were planning to go back, it was harder to find dates that they had rooms available! I would definitely recommend this place to anyone looking for a reasonably priced place to stay, with the location being a plus. It is not a big fancy hotel, however. But we weren’t there to spend a lot of time in our room; we just wanted somewhere clean and central. Another big plus is that there is air conditioning in the rooms (so important if you are visiting in the summer months). The breakfast is lovely, the rooms are all updated, and the front desk service is also top-notch. One warning though…as it is in an historical restored building, there is no elevator; so if you are travelling with someone who has limited mobility, it may not be the best option for you. We had booked the suite which was on the 4th floor, but due to this view, we didn’t mind at all!
Staying in the suite meant that there was enough room for all 5 of us to stay in one “room” (it was really two rooms in the suite, but one price).
The square that the Pensão is located in (Praça da Figueira) is right next to Rossio square, where there is much shopping, a regional train station with trains that go to Sintra, and many places to eat and drink.
Also conveniently located right in the Praça da Figueira is the bus stop for the tourist Yellow Bus Tours, which we’ve used the last two times we’ve visited the city. It makes for a great mode of transportation since they go to many different bairros/areas of Lisbon.
Now that we’ve made it to Lisbon, and secured a place to stay, the next thing to do is talk about ALLLLL the things to do and see! Stay tuned for Part 2!