Twenty sixteen, the year many have called a monster, was the year that my family will forever call the year we went to Lisbon. We spent Christmas in Lisbon, and it was magical. Not ice skating in the park, seeing old timey Santa’s and baking cookies magical. But peaceful, relaxing, goodwill to mankind kind of magical.
We knew we wanted to go somewhere for Christmas, while I love the season it gets to be a bit much and it is nice to escape with a few people and concentrate all your energy on them. Rather than spreading yourself so thing you get tried of everyone and just retreat until sometime in March when the sun comes out again.
We knew we wanted to go somewhere warmer, though knowing this we still picked a location with averages hovering around 60 in December. So while it was chillier than any of it probably had hoped the sun was out every single day.
We started off our Portuguese adventure in Sintra, Portugal. We spent a couple days wandering around small towns and then we yet again braved the traffic to return our rental car at the airport. I will say in general for us Oregon residents, it isn’t the easiest place to actually get to but even knowing that I would do it all over again. And probably will. It is a smaller country with significantly less air traffic than the larger likes of France, German and England. Thus two flights minimum are needed to get there, if not more depending on how you are trying to cut costs. Though this would be different for those lucky enough to live on the east coast which also cuts flight time down nearly in half.
All my research indicated that the Lisbon airport is very hard to get out of, cabs tend to rip you off and public transit is a nightmare. We didn’t use public transit to go to and from the airport. It was a tad confusing flying out of the airport (partly due to the early hour we did it) more on that later. After we had returned our rental car we had a shuttle driver scheduled to pick up us up. We were a tad apprehensive after hearing all the horror stories. But exactly at the time we had originally planned a very nice man with my Mom’s name on a sign came bounding across the roadway all smiles and pleasant greetings. Took all our bags, helped us in the car and off we went. He gave us a tremendous overview of the city on the way to our apartment.
We got in to Lisbon midday due to our slower pace with sick family members in tow. Settled right in and headed off to the grocery store. I LOVE grocery stores in other countries. I also really love cheese, and Portugal and cheese are BFF’s, so now Portugal and me are BFFs. Needless to say, my cart was mostly cheese and local breads.
After putting our food stuffs away we wandered down to the waterfront to catch the sunset and get a feel for the area. And I can honestly say without a doubt no place has ever felt more comfortable and welcoming. It seemed like the whole city was out to sit on the waterfront, drinking and laughing, lounging, catching up with old friends. It was a work week but everyone had the relaxed air of vacation. Like I said magical.
The first full day in Lisbon we hit the road (tram) and went to visit the Belem area of town. It was quite a trek from where we were staying and we didn’t really want to have to make our way all the way back over there so we crammed a lot into a single day.
Our second full day was actually Christmas eve so not much got done. We did eventually manage to find the Thieves Market but most sites were closed due to the holiday and that was mostly fine by us. We wandered, snacked, and enjoyed just being in a new city.
The third day was Christmas and of course nothing was really open. We had all been secretly shopping for one another all week so we had Christmas stockings full of local candies, cheese, mini port bottles and random trinkets. We drank coffee, snoozed, ate too many pastries and then went on a nice long walk around the city. We did find one restaurant in the tourist area that was open which had a spectacular view of the Baixa and Alfama area’s of town so I ordered a giant tuna steak and watched the tourists milling around below us.
The day after Christmas was a Monday and as such most tourist sites are closed, however we lucked out and the Sao Castle was open. We got up there right when they opened and lucky for us, by the time we were done the line to get in was out of control.
Tuesday we made our way up to the Carmo Convent and stumbled on a lovely free museum next door. It ended up being one of our favorite sites the whole trip. It was put on by the Portuguese National Guard and offered a more recent history of Portugal’s political and military happenings. It was really impressive and well curated. Sadly there wasn’t a donation box otherwise I would have given them loads of money. We also made our way across town to the Military Museum which seems small and unassuming from the outside but was ridiculously comprehensive and wound up taking us most of the day to go through.
Wednesday we made our way over to the big cathedral, found a nice park and also visited a burial site under a bank.
Thursday we left at 2am ugh. I would not recommend this, and it wasn’t actually our intention. We made our reservations well in advance and between the making and the actual going the flight patterns changed and we got bumped to an earlier flight. I chose not to sleep as I get very anxious the night before flying, waking constantly thinking I have slept through my flight. We were also worried our shuttle would forget us, but just like the last he was prompt, helped with our bags and chatted with us the whole way. He told quite the story about his father who is the calmest kindest man in the world, but when he drives around the city he turns into a sailor (swearing at everything) we laughed and couldn’t disagree with the driving habits of the locals.
Some sites I found helpful in planning: