One of cheapest ways to save money visiting the “Land of Sardines” is to book an AirBnb in Lisbon. My niece and I knew we wanted to spend our $ on food and drink! Plus our legs certainly would get a workout in Lisbon, known affectionally as “City of Seven Hills” and “Europe’s São Francisco.”
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AirBnb in Lisbon
I booked an AirBnb Plus unit which is the deluxe accommodations offering. “Relish the Charm of Lisbon from Stunning Loft Abode” read the description. Hosted by Andre, the loft is gorgeous. Lots of light. Big ceiling. Art everywhere. Cozy bed on second floor. Nice kitchen. The cost was USD $237 for a two-night stay. Plus I split the cost with my traveling companion so it was a steal.
I spent a whirlwind 48 hours in Lisbon in January 2020, not realizing it would be my last international trip in 2020. The Lisbon adverture followed a week of hiking on the island of Madeira. After one particularly difficult mountain trek, we were ready to leisurely climb up Lisbon’s hills—sans hiking boots.
Our AirBnb was located in the barrios of Madragoa which is a close 15-minute walk to the city center. It is a residential neighborhood, which is home to the Marionette Museum, São Francisco de Paula Church, Santos-o Velho Church, Estrela Basilica, the National Assembly … and felines. As any of my loyal readers know, I stalk cats in any city which I visit. So naturally I would publish photographs of the Cats of Portugal.
After quickly unpacking in our AirBnb in Lisbon, we rush to get started sightseeing in Lisbon. Our home was an easy walk to Baixa. We decided the best way to see Lisbon was outdoor tours by foot and tram. No time for lengthy museum visits. The city was our museum!
I consider myself a flaneur in any city where I visit. So I wanted to get out and “saunter” when I left my AirBnb in Lisbon. You really don’t know a city’s personality until you observe it.
For example, I saw a Portugese cat sitting in a window in an optical store, which delighted me. Next I saw a street car dispense passengers at the top of a steep hill, another first memory of this magical city.
City of Hills
Karen and I were both surprised to discover how tiring it was to get around from our AirBnb in Lisbon. Why? Because the city is so HILLY!
The city is perched on the Tagus River and built up along cliffs. We climbed up and down so many hilly streets. But the views from those mountaintop vistas are pure poetry. And at night, Lisbon’s homes stacked high on the slope rising from the Teja River glow like slowly-burning candles.
“By day Lisbon has a naive theatrical quality that enchants and captivates, but by night it is a fairy-tale city, descending over lighted terraces to the sea, like a woman in festive garments going down to meet her dark lover.”—Erich Maria Remarque
We decided the best way to introduce ourselves to “Lisboa” was jumping on Tram 28. The yellow street car costs a couple of euros per ticket and circles around the city. Riding on trams instead of Uber will save you $! This tram connects Martim Moniz with Campo Ourique, and passes through the popular tourist districts of Graca, Alfama, Baixa and Estrela.
Dating from the 1930s, the cheery yellow Remodelado tram is a journey back to a slower time. Boarding in the afternoon, we found it was standing room onl. We were packed “tight as a can of sardines” in the aisle.
Too late, we discovered the best way to avoid the crowds and get a seat is to board before 10 am or after 6 pm.
What we also didn’t understand is that the tram driver would dispense his passengers without any warning at a stop and we would have to wait in long lines to get on another tram and continue our circuitous route around the city.
I think we rode four different trams before we returned to a familiar neighborhood. Then we could walk home to our AirBnb in Lisbon. But I would rather ride the tram then climb those steep hills!
We rose early next morning to enjoy breakfast before meeting our tour leader (Marisa) for an AirBnb locals’ tour of Lisbon.
The Cafe A Brasileira (The Brazilian Lady Cafe) is located on Rua Garrett—a famous meeting place of authors and intellectuals. (This street is named after Portugese poet João Baptista da Silva Leitão de Almeida Garrett).
My breakfast order was traditional: sweet pastries and galão (coffee with milk). We met us our tour group outside the restaurant. But we were missing the honeymooners who met us enroute.
We converged at a small square after walking back up Rua Garrett. It represents the transition zone between Chiado and Bairro Alto. At the center is a statue of 16th-century poet Luis de Camões. The square is framed by two Baroque churches: Loreto and Encarnação.
Chiado is home to luxury stores and restaurants.
But we were enroute to the neighborhood of Alfama, which is the city’s heart. This is medieval Lisbon, which was not destroyed by the earthquake of 1755. Alfama—situated on a slope that runs down to the Tejo River—consists of a maze of skinny, cobbled streets and alleys.
“Breathtaking views and a medieval maze; the village within a city; the historical soul of Lisbon.” (Go Lisbon)
Undoubtedly, we would get lost in Alfama without our guide. But she led us to Castelo de São Jorge (the medieval castle and fortress) as well as the lookout point at Portas do Sol. (Now during the pandemic, it is hard to imagine hundreds of tourists converging on one spot to take their photos.)
City of Sardines
We also learned a lot about how the Portugese love fish. Lisbon natives love sardines, which hold a special place in their heart and stomach. Chefs cook numerous recipes with this little smelly fish. It is a specialty in Lisbon, according to our guide.
In addition, the feast of Saint Anthony (Santo Antonio), the patron saint of Lisbon, is celebrated on the eve of June 13. Residents eat grilled sardines and caldo verde (Portuguese cabbage soup) and drink wine. I want to celebrate Santo Antonio!
Lovers give potted basil plants on this holiday. A paper carnation sits on top. A parade of dancers and singers winds down Avenida da Liberdade after 9 pm on the eve of Saint Anthony’s feast day.
Praca do Comerico
We ended our tour at the square which had been destroyed by the earthquake of 1755. The Praça do Comércio is Lisbon’s grand riverfront main square. The 18th century arcade once welcomed all visitors who arrived by boat and entered the city under its triumphal arch.
Today it is a spacious city center that is lined with centuries-old government buildings. In the square’s center is the equestrian statue of King Dom Jose I.
Our tour ends with the sad story of how Lisbon was destroyed on All Saint’s Day on November 1, 1755 when three earthquakes hit the city. Most residents were attending Mass. Then Lisbon was ravaged by a fire and a tsunami.
Palaces, churches, museums and homes were destroyed. As many as one-third of Lisbon’s residents died. But the city was quickly rebuilt by Sebastiao de Carvalho e Melo, Marquis of Pombal. He favored wide avenues, large squares and earthquake resistant buildings.
Marriage of Old & New
Now 265 years later, Lisbon represents the marriage of old and new. Like the Gothic Elevador de Santa Justa (a wrought iron vertical street lift designed by Gustave Eiffel’s apprentice Raul Mesnier which opened to great acclaim in 1902), Lisbon can lift you from present day to its medieval past by just a long climb. But it’s worth the walk up all seven hills . . . and you can reward yourself with a shot of “ginjinha” served in a chocolate cup, which, like Lisbon, is sweet.
Staying at an AirBnb in Lisbon meant I could ask the owner for advice on where to eat. Here are Andre’s recommendations:
– Arêgos: Honest inexpensive food
– Frade dos Mares: Great restaurant very good food
– Santelmo: I always go there to eat octopus
– Lénita: It’s a very traditional coffee shop and it has one of the best Pastel de Nata in the neighborhood. (These tarts are super cheap and a great way to save $ in Lisbon.)
– Osteria: Italian restaurant right across the street with great food
Karen and I so loved Osteria that we ate there both nights. Since it was located across the street from our AirBnb in Lisbon, we didn’t have to pay Uber!
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