As people gathered by the waterfront at Terreiro do Paço watching the setting sun I found a perch on a low wall and joined them. A busker was playing the guitar, a beguiling melody drifting through the air. As the sky changed colours through shades of blues, pinks, golds and yellows, I sat there smiling to myself, feeling a sense of freedom and excitement. I’d arrived in Lisbon that afternoon and was wondering what adventures (culinary or otherwise) I might have over the next few days. There is something so exhilarating about visiting a new city alone.
Walking back through the Arco da Rua Augusta along the pedestrianised street the Christmas lights added a seasonal flavour, the occasional busker entertained the crowds and there was a festive buzz in the air.
Inspira Santa Marta Hotel
The Inspira Santa Marta, where I was staying, was about a 30 minute walk from the waterfront, straight up along the main street through the city centre and then just a minute or two down a side road, all of which was well-lit. I certainly felt very safe walking back there on my own in the evenings. And, it was just a short walk from the nearest metro station, Avenida, should I have wanted to use it.
Everyone at the hotel was welcoming, helpful and friendly and I felt very comfortable staying there alone. I also noticed how quickly I felt at home in my room. The Inspira is a modern eco-friendly hotel that actively strives to continually improve its sustainability policies. I was also impressed by their support of a number of charities and local community projects including maintaining a section of the Lisbon botanical gardens, passing on unused food to local families in need and raising money through the sale of their own brand of water to fund the building of wells in Africa and so much more. I’ve never come across anything quite like it and it’s especially impressive for a city centre hotel.
For more accommodation ideas, Julie Dawn Fox has written a great guide about Where to Stay in Lisbon.
above: Part of the walk along Avenida da Liberdade from my hotel to the city centre
Getting around (and pick-pockets)
As in so many cities pick-pockets work in Lisbon, so while I had a small rucksack with a few things in it, all my valuables remained in a small handbag with the strap worn across my chest so the bag was in front of me at all times. A few different people warned that, while you are unlikely to come across them on the street, they are rife on the trams, which are often very crowded with tourists. Tram 28 was mentioned a couple of times with regard to the pick-pockets and one person suggested that it was best to completely avoid it.
above: the stunning facade of Lisbon’s railway station from where you can catch a train to Sintra for less than 5 Euro return.
As well as trams and buses, there’s also a good metro system. You’ll find more information and handy tips on using the metro here.
I, however, tend to walk everywhere when I can, partly to get a better feel for a place but also to walk off all the calories I have a habit of consuming when travelling and Lisbon was in no way lacking in tasty treats to tempt me. As everyone will tell you the Pastel de Nata, a dangerously delicious custard tart, is an absolute must.
For those with any walking limitations it is worth keeping in mind that the city centre is in a valley and to explore the castle, the Alfama neighbourhood and a number of other fascinating districts, you’ll soon find yourself walking up hill or climbing up several flights of stairs, although there are funiculars running up either side of the valley which you can find out more about here, Funicular System of Lisbon.
I’d strongly recommend avoiding renting a car while in the city. A number of times I saw the streets clogged up with cars, seemingly grid locked, and not just in rush hour.
More information on public transport, taxis (and car rentals) can be found at Go Lisbon.
While I enjoy visiting a city on my own I sometimes find the evenings can be a bit lonely and these days I always load a few films on my iPad to watch in my hotel room should the mood take me. During the day I never mind eating on my own while doing a spot of people watching but in the evening I’m not so keen. When I first started travelling alone few restaurants had Wi-Fi and I often sat there with a note pad jotting things down. I never felt comfortable reading a book as some do. Now I’m pleased to say that Wi-Fi is quite common, especially for hotel restaurants, and I do find this helps pass the time and makes me feel less self-conscious.
One place in Lisbon I particularly loved was the Mercado da Ribeira, on Cais do Sodré. It’s a fabulous, huge food court that opened last year with around 35 kiosks selling regional specialities plus superb restaurants from some top chefs. Everyone eats on communal wood tables and its open late into the evening. Its the perfect place to loose yourself in a sea of people and not feel self-conscious about eating alone.
An evening food and drink walking tour
I spent the first evening just wandering around by myself, enjoying the sunset and finding my bearings, however, for the second night, I pre-booked a small group walking tour. What’s more, as this tour had a food and wine theme I knew, for at least that evening, I wouldn’t be eating or drinking alone. It’s what I would class as an ‘easy’ walking tour with just one portion of up hill walking taken at a leisurely pace. I can highly recommend this particular tour, during which we sampled various wines and local delicacies including Pastel de Bacalhau (fish cakes) and the refreshingly crisp green wine, Vinho Verde, pictured below. There was plenty of food to fill me up and more than enough wine, making it I thought good value at 35€. André our guide, who was studying for his Masters Degree in History was excellent, with just the right amount of information to make the tour interesting as well as fun.
Lisbon City Break Pros
1. Lisbon is a small city that’s easy to get around and see the major city sights on foot. There is also a good public transport network available should you need it or wish to travel a little further afield.
2. English is commonly spoken and I had no problem communicating with people.
3. There’s plenty to see and do including some lovely day trips such a Sintra, a must for my next visit.
4. Lisbon isn’t too touristy and it’s easy to feel like a local here.
5. Even after dark I felt very safe wandering around by myself (although away from the busier streets, merely as a precaution, I kept my obviously large, expensive, DSLR camera out of sight).
6. Lisbon’s winters are a lot milder than much of Europe making it a great off-season city break.
7. It is very easy to get from the airport to the city centre by the metro. There’s just one line from here, the Red Line, heading in one direction, the city centre. But if you really don’t want to make your way to your hotel by yourself or you have too much luggage to easily carry, you can book an inexpensive transfer (shared or private) with a site such as Viator.
Lisbon City Break Cons
1. The only down side of Lisbon is the pick-pockets, although I’m told they mainly work on the tourist trams and to a lesser extent the metro. You will, of course, find them in many European cities. I fell fowl to them in Italy, which you can read about in my post, Going Solo in Rome.
I found Lisbon a fabulous city, very well suited to the solo female traveller
and if you haven’t travelled on your own before this would be a great place to start.
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Disclosure: Thank you to the Inspira Santa Marta Hotel for inviting me to Lisbon. While my accommodation / meals were complimentary, I am, as always, free to write whatever I like. The food and wine walking tour I paid for in full. All opinions (and calories consumed) remain my own.
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