We arrived in Lisbon at the start of December with Praço do Comércio looking resplendent with the huge Christmas tree up and lights shining up and down the main streets. Whether it was this, meeting up with friends or the warm winter sun Lisbon stole our hearts.
We weren’t the only one’s in town. On our third day, the Chinese president was visiting. Whilst a Chinese state visit is something a bit different, here’s our guide to the more usual things to do in Lisbon.
One of the highlights for us was how Lisbon embraced the campervan lifestyle. We spent €20 on 6 nights accommodation opting to stay in aires sites on the Targus for the majority of our stay. Officially they have a 48 hour limit but we were off-season so nobody cared.
Free Aires: Belem Ferry Terminal
N38 41’ 44.49”
W -9 11’ 52.84
We spent 3 nights here and although there were reports it could be a little noisy as it’s right next door to Belem station we weren’t disturbed at all. There are no facilities but who cares you are spitting distance from the Jardin de Belem, Jerónimas Monastery and Padrão de Descombrimentos. That’s before I even get to the glorious sunsets over the Targus.
€5 Aires: 254 Avenida Brasilia
N 38 42’ 18.0”
The listing on Park4night said there was a €5 charge however no-one collected it from us for the time we were there.
For exploring central Lisbon this site was awesome as you just follow the river until you get to Praço do Comércio. However, it was noisy and after a run in with some partying twenty-somethings we left in the early hours of the morning! You win some, you lose some I suppose.
If you are looking for a parking spot during the day this is definitely the spot to use but if you are a light sleeper I would head to the Belem site.
Lisboa Camping and Bungalows
ACSI discount: €20 (€40 in high season)
This ACSI registered site is a comfortable out of town option. Out of season most of the facilities were closed but they looked amazing and the price reflected the available services.
Although there was a bus stop close by we gave up trying to get the bus into town after an hour and took the motor home and parked it at the aires above.
We spent most of the time cycling or walking along the Targus riverbank. This is a great experience in it’s own right.
The Lisboa Pass includes public transport for the duration of the pass and includes the train out to Sintra. We didn’t venture on the trains but the buses were more reliable than the UK and well used by the locals.
These can be broadly split up into 3 categories; Belem, Central Lisbon and Parques das Noções
As we stayed in Belem let’s start there.
For those of you staying more centrally then you can catch the No15 tram or the train to Sinatra from Cais do Sodre. It’s worth spending a day or two exploring the Belem attractions.
A defence tower built between 1514 and 1520 and starting point for many of the voyages of discovery. It has also been a customs house and a lighthouse.
Built to commemorate Vasco Da Gama’s voyages to India and houses Vasco Da Gama’s tomb. It’s a stunning building.
We visited just after the new ticketing system was introduced and it was a bit of a nightmare. You still need a ticket to go into the monastery even though it’s included in the Lisbon card.
National Archaeological Museum
We were that impressed with this. Again the ticketing was a nightmare, and over zealous staff meant that we left.
Jardin de Belem
This was a really nice park with a decent playground for children and there is also an antiques market here on a Sunday.
Padrão de Descombrimentos
Built to commemorate the 500 year anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator, it celebrates the Portuguese Age of Discoveries and rich history of exploration, it looks impressive.
The views from the observation deck are spectacular, although I’m not sure Issy and Doug would agree.
Despite the mediocre reviews on tripadvisor, this was one of the highlights for Issy who is space mad. We watched the show about Hubble and how it revolutionised space photography. Issy sat agog and I don’t think she moved throughout the 30-minute show. The combination of comfy seats, dark and soporific music and Doug and I fell asleep on more than one occasion.
Pillar 7 Museum
Situated between Belem and Praço di Comércio .
A museum about the Ponte 25 Avril bridge which is Lisbon’s answer to San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge. The museum takes you through the construction of the bridge and culminates in an elevator ride up pillar 7 where again the views on a good day are stunning.
We hit a bit of travel fatigue by the time we reached central Lisbon and there was so much more that we wanted to do. We missed out the São Jorge Castle, the Pink Street (historically the red light district it has now reinvented itself as the place to be for the young, cool and trendy) and several of the national museums. Here’s what we did manage to do…
Praço do Comércio
This impressive square houses originally housed the Royal Palaces and was almost completely destroyed in the great earthquake of 1755. It is now home to a raft of expensive restaurant and coffee shops, the world’s sexiest toilet and the tourist information.
Lisboa Story Centre
Situated in Praço di Comércio this interactive museum takes you on an individual tour through Lisbon’s history from pre-Roman times to the modern day.
Despite not being great with loud noises or virtual reality, Issy really enjoyed it and the fact that she could control the volume on the headphones and go at her own pace was definitely an added bonus.
Arco da Rua Augusta
Originally the bell tower, it was re-built as an arch to celebrate the city’s re-birth following the earthquake in 1755 and looks out over the Praço di Comércio.
When faced with the opportunity to ring the bell Doug simply couldn’t resist!
World’s Sexist Toilets
A visit to Praço di Comércio wouldn’t be complete without visiting the world’s sexiest toilets! I for one am undecided, so if you need to spend a penny then they are as good as any, but I wouldn’t make a special trip.
This is one of the iconic Lisbon experiences. A tourist tram which takes you from Campo Ourique to Martini Moniz. It’s a good way of gaining an overview of Lisbon as you trundle up and down Lisbon’s ridiculously steep and narrow back streets.
A little word of caution, Tram 28 is also renowned for pickpockets so make sure you keep an eye on your possessions as it would be a shame to tarnish your visit by losing your wallet, camera or phone.
Parque das Noções
This is a re-developed area of Lisbon similar to Docklands which houses the aquarium, the science centre, a cable car, a large shopping centre and a plethora of dining options ranging from McDonalds to 5-star dining.
We caught the bus from Praço di Comércio but you can also get the metro to Oriente Station.
Billed as Europe’s largest indoor aquarium it had a lot to live up to and it didn’t disappoint. It was brilliant and we spent hours wandering round and enjoying the exhibits. For our mini-marine biologist it was spell-binding.
The major criticism is the price of entry but at 15€ for adults and 10€ for kids (Lisboa card entitles you to 15% discount). I thought it was brilliant value for money and it’s certainly a lot cheaper than the London Aquarium or Birmingham Sea Life Centre.
Pavilhão do Conhecimento (Science museum)
One thing that Portugal does really well is science museums. We’ve been to loads of them but this topped the lot. It was Issy’s favourite place in Lisbon (even meeting up with Thatcher and the aquarium fell short of this!)It was amazing and caters for all the family big and small. It’s not huge. It’s hands-on, interactive, physical and fun; what is not to like!
Upstairs is mainly physics based and there are lots of experiment stations involving light boxes, electricity and motion. Doug and I were captivated by sandbox display to illustrate how rivers, lakes and mountains were formed. As you moved the sand around the box the contours change and landscapes changes.
Then there is the circus area which allows children to explore motion. The highlight of which has to be the balance bike on a tightrope. Yes, Issy really did ride a balance bike across a tightrope and back (you need to click on it to make it full screen to see her do it).
Downstairs was dedicated to the senses of animals with various challenges to complete.
The Lisboa pass is a multi-attraction pass for various sites across Lisbon (offering either “free” entry or discounted entry). We got 72 hour passes (€42 for adults, €22.50 for 4-15 year olds). Despite not really using public transport, we still got good value from them. It’s worth noting that you use them on the train to Sintra and Cascais as well.
As with other city passes, the key is to it down and what you want to see and then work out whether it’s worth buying the pass. When calculating the value always underestimate what you can cover in a day.
One last thing...
Whilst you don’t have to worry about siesta time, a lot of the national museums are closed on a Monday so bear this in mind when planning your itinerary.