Following a few days in the beautiful city of Porto, we took the train southbound from Campanha Station to Lisbon’s Oriente station, a straightforward and efficient way to travel between the two cities. Arriving in Portugal’s capital, we quickly worked out the metro system to travel to our Ibis hotel in the Saldanha area of the city – not right in the centre of the city but close to the metro making the main areas easily accessible.
Arriving early afternoon, we wandered locally finding a nearby diner that seemed popular with locals to grab a burger before catching the metro the few stops to Baixa in the heart of the tourist area. We had signed up for a free evening walking tour of the Alfama district, the oldest neighbourhood in the city.
Arriving at Luis de Camoes Square with its central statue, we quickly located our guide and shortly after were on our way stopping at Rossio Square before swapping the busy roads with their hoards of tourists for the quieter, narrower and prettier streets of Alfama.
The tour lasted almost 3 hours and took us to picturesque back streets, up steep hills to beautiful viewpoints over the city, stopping to hear stories about the area and its people. It was dark by the time we finished the tour and we stopped at a final viewpoint to see the city lit up beneath us before walking to the impressive Cathedral making a mental not to return there the next day.
Saying goodbye to our group, we wandered down to the seafront stopping for a drink at a local bar before catching the metro back to our hotel.
The next evening, we had a concert to attend back in the Oriente district of the city. We had originally planned to spend the day leading up to this exploring Lisbon more but after seeing photos online made a spur of the moment decision to instead catch a train out to the town of Sintra, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
We managed to navigate our way to the train station and buy a return ticket easily enough and had read that once there, it was possibly to get a hop on/off bus that looped up to the main sites as these weren’t really walkable from the main town.
We arrived at Sintra station just after 11am. The buses were waiting outside and we quickly managed to get a ticket and board. Although we had read these could become very busy, we were surprised at just how crowded our bus was. We took advice we had seen online to get off at Moorish Castle and walk from here to Pena Palace once we’d finished there rather than trying to get back on a bus.
With it already begin almost midday and conscious that we had to be back for a concert that evening, the queues at Moorish Castle put us off from actually paying to go in and we could see little from outside the gates so instead, we decided to take the short but steep path through the woods to Pena Palace as this was the attraction we wanted to see most. Us and the rest of Portugal, it seemed as there were people everywhere and even larger queues for tickets!
While my friend got in the queue, I tried to find some phone reception to book them online, eventually managing to get 2 tickets for 1.30pm entry. I was starting to regret our spur of the moment trip, feeling we’d have got more out of it if we’d thought about travelling here in advance and planned it properly, leaving earlier and pre-booking attractions!
Our ticket gave us access to the vast Palace grounds and also warned of an uphill walk that could take up to half hour to get to the Palace gates to the main entrance so we headed straight inside stopping along the way to grab a sandwich from a kiosk in the grounds before continuing our climb. Finally reaching the hilltop where the palace stood, we were met by what could only be described as disorganised chaos. Multiple queues of vert frustrated tourists all with different timed tickets, some of whom had timed entry that should have got them through the gates over an hour ago. Joining a queue containing people who seemed to mainly have the same ticket time as us, my friend went off in search of someone who could advise us if we were waiting in the correct place. Having established that we were in the correct line, we had no choice but to wait and wonder when we would finally make it inside the palace.
The answer to this turned out to be over an hour later than our ticket time and even once our line started to move, it was at a snails pace as the crowds tried to squeeze through and have their tickets scanned. Finally making it inside, we found that we were not free to wander through but were basically in one long queue to walk around the palace. If we left it, to climb turrets to viewpoints, we then had to rejoin again. This was especially annoying when we got inside the castle as we had to keep moving with the line rather than stopping to look at what we wanted to and skip anything we didn’t. Realising that at this pace, we’d be there hours and be in a huge rush to get back to Lisbon in time to have dinner and make it to the concert, we decided to fight our way out of the buildings and back into the courtyards where there was a bit more room and we could at least see the pretty colourful structure of the palace and take some photos before fighting our way back out of its grounds.
The next problem was getting back into the town. We had our bus ticket but the queues were miles long and as buses were turning up full from their Moorish Castle pickup and few were now getting off at Pena Palace with tickets for today now completely sold out, hardly anyone was managing to get on any of the buses that appeared. After getting chatting to some other girls who were equally frustrated, we made the decision to go halves on a taxi with them – making our purchase of around trip bus ticket obsolete and meaning extra expense but at least we knew we’d be back in town in the next half hour instead of still queueing for a bus.
It was after 5pm by the time we got back to town and we still had a 15 minute walk to the station and the wait for a train back to Lisbon but we knew we should at least have a bit of time to return to our hotel, freshen up and change for the concert and grab some dinner before the concert began. Making it to the concert just half an hour before it began, we knew we’d made the right decision abandoning our Pena Palace trip and catching a taxi back to Sintra town.
Sintra looked like it was a pretty place and if we’d have planned more carefully, gone at a quieter time or even done it as an organised tour from Lisbon, I’m sure I would have enjoyed it a lot more. If it was like that in October though, I dread to think what it’s like in the summer months! Lesson learned anyway. Next time, its back to carefully planning excursions in advance.
The following morning, we returned to the central part of Lisbon to explore further before our evening flight back to the UK. Being short on time we decided to make use of the city’s hop on/off bus to see as much as possible.
While this was a good way to see the highlights of the city, we felt the pre-recorded commentary was not the best with large sections filled with just traditional Portuguese music playing. It would have been nice to have had time to visit some of the city’s museums and churches but we did at least have time to make it back to the Cathedral for a quick look inside.
I feel that Lisbon had a lot more on offer than I had seen and I partly regret that we wasted one of our days there with the trip out to Sintra. It’s definitely a city I’d like to return to, research more next time and have more of a plan of what to see and do.