Sintra: A Lisbon Daytrip Fit for a King

by Jessica Infantino Trumble

A visit to Sintra will have you feeling like a royal for a day.  This quaint little town just 20 miles northwest of Lisbon is characterized by cobbled streets, charming shops and fairytale-like castles built high atop lush green hills.  In the 19th century, Sintra was a summer retreat for the Portuguese monarchy who sought to escape the heat, and is an easy and worthwhile daytrip from Lisbon today.  Here’s what you need to know.

Getting There and Around

The best way to get to Sintra is by train, which departs from Lisbon’s Rossio station about every 15 minutes.  Buy your ticket from a window or vending machine near the tracks or swipe your Lisboa Card at the turnstile – it covers the fare and gives you discounts on some of Sintra’s main sights.  Then it’s just a quick 40 minute ride to Sintra, which is the last stop on the line.

When you get there you can explore the lower town on foot (and you should), but save yourself the steep hike and take bus #434 to see the sights further up.  The bus does a loop every 30 minutes connecting the train station with the main square near the National Palace, Moorish Castle and Pena Palace.  You can buy a “Pena circuit” ticket from the driver and hop on and off at any stop on the route. Click here for bus timetables and an interactive map.  You can also get a unique guided tour of the area, including transportation, with our friends at We Hate Tourism Tours.

What to Wear

Chances are you’ll be doing a lot of walking and castle climbing, so sturdy shoes are a must for Sintra.  A light jacket is also a good idea since it’s a little cooler than Lisbon given its coastline location.  After all, that’s why the monarchy came here to escape the hot summer months.

Rainy season is usually winter through spring (and occasionally in the fall), so pack an umbrella if you plan on visiting during these months, otherwise you may find yourself waiting in line to buy a poncho in the gift shop at Pena Palace.  And since many of Sintra’s sights are outdoors, you may want to bring a hat in the summer.

Sintra Highlights

One way to tackle Sintra is from the top down, which means your first stop would be Pena Palace.  This whimsical palace is an eclectic fusion of architectural styles inspired by the castles of Bavaria.  A prime example of romanticism, its bold red, yellow and purple exterior is hard to miss, complete with Moorish turrets, alligator water spouts and a Triton-flanked archway.

Built by King Fernando II, the palace was home to 5 generations of Portuguese monarchs from the mid-1800s until 1910 when they fled during the Republican Revolution.  Thereafter Pena Palace was converted into a museum, and has been restored with a keen attention to detail, looking as if the royal family left just yesterday.

As you explore the interior, you may notice that the palace is considerably modern as palaces go (i.e. Versailles in France or Schönbrunn in Vienna, etc.), offering up an intimate look at 19th and early 20th century life.  Pena Palace was actually quite progressive, having the flush toilets and hot shower in Portugal, a telephone to listen in to the opera when the king didn’t want to make the trek to Lisbon and an enviously well-stocked kitchen by today’s standards.

The palace itself is surrounded by the sprawling Pena Park, which is more like a forest than a park with dense trees, plants and other hidden treasures.  The palace grounds make for an almost magical downhill walk, otherwise you can pick up bus #434 and head next to the Moorish Castle.

Located on an adjacent hilltop, this medieval castle was originally built in the 10th century by the Muslims as a military fort.  After years of conquest, rebuilding and the 1755 Lisbon earthquake that caused considerable damage, King Fernando II launched a campaign to restore and preserve the castle and its surrounding forest.

Buy your ticket and then follow the winding forest path to get to the main entrance.  Once inside, you can walk along the moss-covered ramparts and climb the stone towers for amazing panoramic views on a clear day.   Even if the weather is less than favorable, or you’re left without a view thanks to the thick fog that rolls in off the Atlantic, you can still have a great time, trust me.  Read more about my foggy day in Sintra here.

If you’re feeling especially adventurous, there’s also a zip line that allows visitors to soar through the tree tops at the base of the castle.  After you’ve had your fill of castle-climbing, hop back on the bus and get off at the main square where you started for the National Palace (it will stop at Pena Palace first, so sit back and enjoy the ride).

This palace also dates back to Moorish times, making it the oldest surviving royal palace in Portugal – and hard to miss thanks to the two white conical kitchen chimneys on top.  The interior is truly a feast for the eyes with highly decorated, themed rooms each with a unique story, like the Swan Room (an homage to the king’s daughter) and the Stag Room (adorned with coats of arms and hunting scenes).  The National Palace also boasts the largest collection of Portuguese azulejos painted tiles in the world.

Other worthwhile sites in Sintra include the Quinta da Regaleira, an elegant estate towards the outskirts of town with yet another absolutely gorgeous park filled with grottoes, fountains, underground wells and hidden tunnels.  It’s an easy 10 minute walk from the National Palace, otherwise you can take a separate bus #435 from the main square.

This bus will also take you the farther out west to Monserrate.  This palace has a bit of a different flavor than the others in Sintra, combining Gothic, Moorish and Italian styles of architecture (it’s dome was modeled after the Duomo in Florence) and a subtropical garden with waterfalls, palm trees and other exotic plants.  There’s also a free app to guide you through an interactive tour of the palace.

For another unique experience, the Toy Museum is just 2 minutes from the National Palace on foot.  The museum houses an expansive collection of more than 40,000 items from around the world – from ancient Egypt ion toys to Nazi toy soldiers, as well as trains, planes, cars, boats, games, books dolls and even playthings that belonged to royal children – dating back as far as the 3rd century BC.

Finally, for an especially memorable way to see the main sights in Sintra, you can take a horse-drawn carriage tour of the city.  Book in advance or look for these old-fashion carriages waiting near the main square.  Tours range from 25 minutes to 2 hours and 40 minutes for up to 4 people, and can be customized to make your daytrip extra special.  Check out the company Sintratur’s website for tour options and rates.

For more travel tips by Jessica, check out her blog here.

 

Lisbon tour guides you love to hate

by Steven Brenner

I was working through my list of stuff to see and do – the neighborhoods I wanted to visit, the Moorish castle in Sintra, Belém, a few beaches along the Cascais train line… – but I wanted to know what I might be missing.  So I googled something to the effect of “different things to do in Lisbon” and the first thing that popped up was We Hate Tourism Tours (WHTT).

I’m a sucker for their punk rock attitude and surf style designs, but I also could tell they were on to something different and unique.

I wanted to know about things that were overlooked in Lisbon.  I wanted to know the unusual stuff that could easily slip under a tourist’s radar.  It was clear that’s what these guys were about – they’re more than guides, they make the magic that happens when you visit friends who know and love their city.

For 25 to 45 euro, depending on the tour, they’ll take you around Lisbon, or to Sintra and Cascais or into the Bairro Alto for dinner.  They also have a “pirates” tour and are in the midst of creating a “crooks of Lisbon” tour as well.

Are they just for the young and hip?  Well, reading their many positive reviews on Tripadvisor, I get the impression that their clients represent a pretty wide mix of ages and backgrounds.  Clearly these guys aren’t set out to only capture the ex-skater dads like myself – they offer something way beyond the scripted history lesson or flag carrying guide with a microphone.  They want you to truly know the city and to help you understand the Portuguese mentality and culture, why things are the way they are, combining history and facts with a hand’s on experience of Lisbon life.  They want you to be a temporary local.

The founder, Bruno, told me this story that puts who they are and what they do into perspective:

It’s the early days of the company and Bruno has decided that when he schedules a tour, it’s going to go even if there’s only one person.  So he pulls up to the meeting point in his black, open top vintage jeep and meets his client – a single, American guy, who jumps in and asks Bruno if he’s the only person on the tour.  Bruno says, “yeah” and the American guy responds, “well, you’re not going to make much money today!”

“Thats ok – maybe I’ll make a friend instead!” Bruno says.

I met three of their guides – Jose, who was doing his first day in training as a driver, and who manages this apartment just above the old Bairro Alto quarter that’s famous for its nightlife.  I met Marcos, a smiling surfer guy who is clearly into what he does and never tires of infecting people with his love of Lisbon, and Bruno, the founder (and now friend).  They’re about 7 people strong and run a few tours a day, rain or shine, despite how many people sign up.  However, I think the days of having just 1 person on a tour are long gone!

For great local info from the WHTT crew, follow these links:

Only with Locals map of Lisbon

Lisboa Lovers (photo blog)

Lisbon google map for travelers and “temporary locals”

Check them out, or as they say on their site, “stay home and cry!”

Three Easy Day-trips from Florence

by Jessica Infantino Trumble

If you’re staying in Florence, chances are you won’t run out of things to do.  But if you want to make Florence your home base and venture out to see the surrounding area, here are three easy day-trip ideas.

Siena
Probably one of the most popular side-trips from Florence, Siena is a medieval city built upon three hills that converge at its main square, Il Campo.  Twice a year in July and August, the square fills with thousands of spectators for the Palio horse races, a tradition that dates back to the 17th century.

Regardless of what time of year you visit, there is no shortage of things to see, from the city’s Duomo to the Pinacoteca filled with medieval art.  A must-see is Palazzo Pubblico, the city hall at the focal point of Il Campo, which houses the fresco-adorned civic museum.  If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also climb the 330-foot city tower for a stunning view of Siena’s signature brown rooftops.

While many travelers may be content with taking up a seat at a café on Il Campo, others may enjoy exploring the city’s maze of hilly streets.  Keep an eye out for the colorful flags that correspond with each of the 17 contrade or neighborhoods of Siena and their equally as colorful mascots, like a goose, unicorn and other medieval creatures.

How to get there: The easiest and fastest way to get to Siena is by bus.  The SITA bus station is just west of Florence’s Santa Maria Novella train station on Via Santa Caterina da Siena. Buses run twice an hour and you can buy tickets at the station.  Try to catch one of the buses labeled corse rapide (they’re faster, a little over an hour versus nearly 2 hours), and get off at the Piazza Gramsci stop along Via Tozzi in Siena.  When you’re ready to go back to Florence, there’s an underground stairwell across the street from the bus hub, in front of the NH Excelsior Hotel, where you can buy tickets.  Go to www.sienamobilita.it to view bus timetables.

Pisa and Lucca
This is an easy two-for-one day-trip from Florence, especially for travelers who want to make a quick stop in Pisa to check the Leaning Tower off their bucket list.

Pisa – photo by Natalie Armijo

If you decide to climb the tower, reservations are required so be sure to book your time slot in advance.  If not, you can still see the tower from the outside, along with the Duomo, Baptistery and other sights on the Field of Miracles.  Walk down the Borgo Stretto, the most elegant and expensive shopping street in Pisa (and the location where Galileo was born), or escape the crowds of tourists with a quiet walk along the Arno River.

Nearby Lucca is a well-preserved medieval city, most famous for its ramparts.  Atop the wall, which is paved and landscaped, you can rent a bike or walk the 3-mile loop for a scenic overview of the city.  Within the walls, Lucca is also a great place to wander since there is very little traffic.  Like other Tuscan towns, Lucca was once dotted with defensive towers, and the last of which remains is the Guinigi Tower near the city’s center.  Climb to the top, where several oak trees grow, for an incredible view of the city.  Similarly, the Torre delle Ore clock tower also offer great views, or you can pass your time shopping and strolling along Via Fillungo.

How to get there: Trains run several times an hour from Florence to both Pisa (about an hour away) and Lucca (about an hour and a half), so you can start with either one of these cities.  Check out the schedules at www.trenitalia.com.  The best way to get between Pisa and Lucca is an easy 30-minute bus ride that connects the two cities, with convenient stops at the Field of Miracles in Pisa and Piazzale Verdi in the western part of Lucca.  Then just hop back on the train when you’re ready to return to Florence.

Cinque Terre
Look one direction and see hills dotted with colorful buildings and vineyards, and the other direction to see the crystal-blue waters of the Mediterranean.  This day-trip requires a little more planning than the others, but the extra effort is well worth it.  Each of the five villages that make up the Cinque Terre boast their own unique charm – be prepared for sensory overload!

Walk the Via dell’Amore that connects Riomaggiore and Manarola, eat a delicious lunch of fresh seafood or pesto pasta in Corniglia, kick back with gelato from Gelateria Il Porticciolo along the water’s edge in Vernazza or take a dip in the Mediterranean in Monterosso al Mare.

While there are many companies that offer organized day-trips to Cinque Terre where you’re guaranteed to see all five villages, you may also want to consider packing an overnight bag and stay for an evening in one of the towns before heading back to Florence.  You can read more about my recent trip to Cinque Terre here.

How to get there: If you want to forego an organized tour, take the train from Florence to La Spezia, which takes about 2 hours, usually with a train change in Pisa.  From La Spezia Centrale, pick up another train to the southernmost town, Riomaggiore.  The five towns are only a few minutes apart by local train, and you can buy individual tickets at the stations.  Just be sure to check the timetables so you don’t miss the last train back to Florence.  If you decide to hike between the towns, you just need to pay the Cinque Terre National Park entrance fee of 5 euros.  More information can be found at www.cinqueterre.it.

Sea, Sun & Sunsets – a guide to Lisbon’s beaches

By Mandy de Azevedo Coutinho

If you are visiting in the summer, or even spring or autumn, you may be tempted to have a city-and-beach holiday – Lisbon coast beaches are blessed with fine golden sand swept clean by Atlantic tides even if a little colder than the Mediterranean!

Cascais

The easiest and most picturesque way to get to the beaches near the Portuguese capital, is to get a train from Cais do Sodré Station in the city centre to Cascais on the west coast (26 kms away). This stretch of riverside ending where the river Tagus means the ocean is also known as the LINHA DE CASCAIS – the convenient starting point of Cais do Sodré is also linked by Metro, a number of bus routes and it’s only five minutes’ walk from the Praça do Comércio. Trains run daily, depart on a regular basis and take no more than ½ hour to reach their final destination, but there are quite a few rather charming beaches worth stopping at along the way, including:

Praia de Carcavelos

A very popular beach, CARCAVELOS has a huge fortification called Forte de São Julião da Barra to the east side of beach, used to protect the Tagus’ entrance from enemy ships once upon a time. As well as being  swim friendly,  it features several beginner surf schools, beach soccer and several surfer style bars and hangouts, making it especially popular with teens and twenty-something’s.  Carcavelos beach is located approximately 600 meters south of the train station.

Estoril Praia do Tamariz

PRAIA DO TAMARIZ is situated at ESTORIL just before you get to Cascais along the “paredão” – a scenic pedestrian walkway that runs along the seaside and is lined with cafes, restaurants and bars, as well as featuring public benches and exercise stations, showers and public wc’s. Walkers exercise along this seaside walkway at all times of the year and it is also illuminated at night, so a day at the beach day can easily stretch into an evening out. The beach here is very cosmopolitan and popular with tourists and locals alike in the summer, overlooked by palatial homes and high-end hotels as well as being located near the Casino do Estoril – the Linha de Cascais was colonised by Europe’s exiled royalty during the first half of the 20th Century and elegant Estoril, became one of the world’s chicest addresses during the inter-war years!

Estoril Sea Rock Pool

There is also an ancient and still used, tidal rock and sea water swimming pool at Estoril.

At the end of the rail line is CASCAIS, an old fishing village turned into holiday resort with an international marina well worth exploring by foot (or bicycle or Segway as per previous post). Tucked between the main square and the Atlantic Ocean, the tiny PRAIA DO PESCADOR or RIBEIRA is not considered good for swimming as it is still actively used by fishermen. But continue walking through the central square heading southeast through Cascais and you will pass PRAIA DA RAINHA, a minuscule pocket of sand sitting between rocky cliffs and multi-million dollar mansions. Then walking on a little further east,  you will come to PRAIA DA CONCEIÇÃO – this  much wider strip of golden sand is the most popular of Cascais beaches and where the “paredão” walkway also starts. The beach has good facilities including some beach wear shops and restaurants, making it the perfect place to spend a day lying in the sun, eating, and people watching.

All of the above mentioned can also be reached by driving along the “Marginal” road that links Lisbon to Cascais but if you have hired a car, you can avoid these smaller and therefore more crowded Linha de Cascais beaches, and go a little further out of the city:

Praia do Guincho Sunset

At times somewhat windswept but nevertheless stunning, GUINCHO (between Cascais   and Sintra) also has strong waves, making it perfect for surfing sports but not so great for swimming. Windsurfing, kite surfing and surfing types will love it however, and the sunsets from this wild coast are spectacular! There are few friendly beach bars serving food and beverages.

Praia do Guincho – getting there

GETTING THERE: Guincho is located 5 km away from Cascais station by bus.  Alternatively drive there from Lisbon along the A5 motorway, exiting at Cascais, following directions to Birre and then Guincho. After passing the village of Areia and a campsite on your left, you will see the coast in front of you. Turn left onto the coast road and park near Muxacho hotel and restaurant; or turn right and continue uphill for another 500 metres or so, turning left onto a dirt road signed posted Praia do Abano, which will take you to the Praia do Guincho car park and the main access to the more sheltered area of Guincho and a great beach restaurant.  Car parks in this area are charged.

Praia da Adraga

Considered among the most beautiful beaches in Europe, PRAIA DA ADRAGA, close to Sintra and 15kms north of Guincho is truly a nature lover’s beach – it is far from the maddening crowd and its secluded behind tall cliffs, with strong breaking waves and very clear blue water!

GETTING THERE: A car is essential and a map desirable! Drive there from Lisbon along the A5 motorway, exiting at Malveira da Serra, then follow the N9 road north passing Aldeia do Juso; and then the N247 passing Azoia, Ulgueira and Almoçagene. The beach is sign posted from here onwards.

COSTA DA CAPARICA immediately south of the river Tagus , is essentially a 30 km long stretch of sand but some patches can get crowded at weekends, with traffic jams to and from Lisbon making access  difficult. My trick is to leave Lisbon before noon (the Portuguese are late risers) and to return after watching the sunset!

Caparica Train

Caparica Fishermen

Although a continuous beach, Caparica is subdivided into different areas, offering something for everyone, from family restaurants and small cafes, to more club like beach bars with live music and summer parties galore hosted late into the night. At the end of the afternoon local fishermen sell the excess fish catch on the beach. Surrounded by dunes, my favourite spots in Caparica are surrounded by dunes and offer a little extra – PRAIA DO CASTELO has a small beach hut and blaring music more popular with the young-at-heart and surfers type; whilst PRAIA DA MORENA is more popular with families, with sun loungers/shade for hire and quite a sophisticated restaurant specializing in fresh fish and a delicious white wine sangria!

GETTING THERE: Buses depart from Lisbon’s Praça de Espanha bus terminal to Caparica town, only a  5-minute walk from the start of this long stretch of beach. In the summer season, a little open-air train connects Caparica to the various beach spots along the coast – ring the bell to stop at the beach of your choice (stops are numbered). If you are driving there yourself, cross the river Tagus on the Ponte 25 Abril and take the first exit to Costa da Caparica. As you approach Caparica town, turn left at the traffic lights and follow the signs to Praias and Fonte da Telha. Keep driving on along this road (similar to an African country with its shambolic urban planning) and you will soon see various beach signs to the right hand side including Praia do Castelo and then Praia da Morena, a bit further along.

Praia do Meco

PRAIA DO MECO, the nudist beach, is located 40 km south of Lisbon, adjacent to the Serra da Arrabida Natural park – it is secluded and one of Lisbon’s cleanest beaches, with high cliffs and lovely bay views.  It became popular in the 1970s as one of the first nudist beaches but this reputation continues today with evermore European nudists flocking to it, but there are also some traditional family beach sections. The beach is located by a traditional fishing village of the same name which is very popular with artists and media personalities, so it offers a good range of restaurants and bars, well worth hanging out at after the beach – plan a whole day way!

GETTING THERE:  A car is essential and a map desirable! Departing from Lisbon cross the river Tagus on the Ponte 25 Abril heading south towards Setubal, but exit the motorway where sign posted Sesimbra. Follow the N378 to Alfarim rather than Sesimbra; and from the village of Alfarim, follow directions to Praia do Meco.

Most beaches offer facilities such as beach bars, some water sports, shade and chairs for hire and a bathing attendant/life guard. Watch out for the flag system indicating bathing conditions:

RED for danger – do not bathe; YELLOW for be very careful; GREEN for safe, BLACK & WHITE for beach unattended.

Keep in mind too that all beaches in Portugal, however remote, get crowded in July & August!

Guide to Getting Around Lisbon

TRAVELING FREE OF COST

Before you leave Lisbon airport, request a LISBOA CARD at the ASK ME LISBOA (Turismo de Lisboa) booth in the arrivals hall – it will entitle you to free rides on public transport (buses, trams and metro), as well as offer discounted rates for a wide range of museums and attractions.  Further details: www.visitlisboa.com/LisboaCard_UK.aspx

Alternatively, you will be able to obtain a 7 COLINAS, VIVA VIAGEM or a LISBOA VIVA CARD at newsagents/metro stations, a top-up system that gives you the option of choosing from a single ticket, a day pass or a larger credit amount (Zapping) that gets used as required. Using one of these travel cards is cheaper than paying for individual tickets, although you initially also have to pay for the card too, which is then valid for 1 year. When using suburban trains, your tickets are charged onto a similar card but as you cannot have more than one type of ticket on a card, you will need at least two separate cards, one for zapping (regular bus, tram and metro use), the other for suburban travel. Further details: www.carris.pt

FROM THE AIRPORT TO THE CITY CENTRE

Lisbon airport is approximately 20 minutes away from the city centre and our recommendation is to simply take a TAXI. Taxis are much cheaper in Lisbon than other European cities and there are always plenty of taxis waiting at the airport. But our advice is to not take the ones outside the arrivals area, as they might have been waiting for clients a long time and could try to charge you more to make up for it. Instead, go to the departures area of the airport, where there are also taxis just outside the building. Luggage and night or weekend journeys carry a small surcharge, but the journey into the city centre will cost you around €15. Do not pay more than it shows on the meter!

Several CARRISTUR AEROBUS services travel between the airport and Lisbon city centre and main transport hubs such as the Oriente train station, Praça do Comercio or Cais do Sodré (all of these areas also have metro stations). The €3.50 ticket can be purchased on board and used for 24 hours on other buses; children 4-10 years old travel free.

The AEROBUS LINE 1 route connects Lisbon Airport to the city centre, stopping at Entrecampos, Campo Pequeno, Avenida da Republica, Sadalnha, Picoas, Fontes Pereira de Melo, Marquês de Pombal, Avenida da Liberdade, Restauradores, Rossio, Praça do Comercio and Cais do Sodré. Departures from the airport run between 07:00-23:00 and departures from Cais do Sodré run between 07:45-22:30 (every 20 minutes during the day/every 30 minutes after 21:00).

The AEROBUS LINE 2 service runs between Lisbon Airport and the Oriente train station at Parque das Nações, on the east of the city. Departures from the airport run between 08:50 -21:50 and departures from Oriente run between 07:00-22:00 (every 30 minutes).

The AEROBUS LINE 3 route connects Lisbon Airport to the metro station/bus terminal (buses to the whole country) of Sete Rios stopping at Entrecampos, Sete Rios, Praça de Espanha and Avenida José Malhoa. Departures from the airport run between 07:40 -22:10 and departures from Avenida José Malhoa run between 08:15-21:15 (every 30 minutes).

OTHER BUSES

The local CARRIS BUS SERVICES also provides commuter buses between the airport and downtown such as #44, #45 and #83. As for exploring Lisbon generally, here are some useful bus routes:

#727 – Passes by Marquês de Pombal Square and goes all the way to Belem, via Estrela and Lapa.

#37 – From Figueira Square to Saint George’s Castle via Alfama, if you don’t want to climb up to the castle. But walk back down to the centre, stopping at the viewpoints along the way.

#44 & #745 – From the airport via Saldanha, Avenida da Liberdade, to downtown.

METRO

Lisbon’s metro system is modern, efficient and the quickest way to travel around the capital. It runs from 06:30 – 01:00, and many of its stations are decorated with contemporary art, making it a tourist attraction in itself. There are four lines, conveniently colour coded: blue, yellow, green and red. The green line connects the tourist areas around Baixa and Cais do Sodré (also the train station to Cascais). The red line ends at Oriente/Parque da Nações (Expo Park) and is due soon to be extended to the airport. The older yellow and blue lines follow Lisbon’s grand avenues. While metro announcements are made only in Portuguese, signs and ticketing machines are generally bilingual in Portuguese and English. Further details: www.metrolisboa.pt

TRAMS #28 AND #25

Lisbon is a hilly city and cobblestone streets abound, thus “electricos” (trams) and “ascensores” (funiculars) help to get people around, especially up and down hills!  They are an indisputable pictorial part of the city, and you can see ancient streetcars as well as modern ones, making the city so visually interesting.

But it is the vintage yellow ELECTRICO 28 that offers the most interesting route crossing the city centre, going through some of the oldest quarters and many tourist attractions. Starting in front of the Cemitério dos Prazeres (Pleasure Cemetery) and passing between the Jardim and the Basilica da Estrela (romantic gardens and one of the city’s oldest churches), you will go downhill on the Calçada da Estrela past the parliament building of São Bento, toward the Praça do Camões and Bairro Alto (an area of trendy shops and great night life). Then it’s downhill again through the Chiado and Baixa shopping districts – worth a stop to admire the city’s majestic riverside square of Praça do Comercio. When you start going uphill, you will pass the Igreja de Santo António  (church of Lisbon’s patron saint) and the Sé (Lisbon’s main cathedral) on the way to the Castelo de São Jorge (another recommended stop). After strolling around this 16th century castle, we suggest relaxing with a beverage at a local café and admiring the views at Miradouro das Portas do Sol, a panoramic viewpoint. A bit farther up and just behind the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora, the Feira da Ladra is an open air flea market that runs from early morning till midafternoon on Tuesdays and Saturdays, making for great browsing – don’t be shy to join the locals and haggle for a bargain! Back on the tram you will go past Graça (another quaint old residential area of Lisbon) and then start going downhill again to Martin Moniz, the last stop near the Rossio square. This service runs every 7 minutes (although it often runs late due to route obstructions like badly parked cars), early till approximately 22:00 daily.

Another charming route is provided by the ELECTRICO 25, which runs between the Cemitério dos Prazeres, via de Jardim/Basilica da Estrela to  Rua da Alfândega in the Cais do Sodré district, past numerous embassies in the Estrela/Lapa district, an area which is otherwise off the tourist track.  This service runs approximately every 10 minutes, day hours and weekdays only.

THREE FUNICULARS AND AN ELEVATOR

Lisbon has three working “ascensores” (funiculars) and one street elevator which allows its citizens and visitors to move to and from the hilly districts more easily. All are operated by Carris, the city of Lisbon’s main transport network. The 3 funiculars date back to the 1800s and were originally operated by a water counter-weight system, but are now electrified. Sadly, many of these cars get regularly defaced by graffiti.

The ASCENSOR DA BICA is the only stepped street funicular in the city, climbing the Rua da Bica for 245 metres from the Rua de São Paulo to Largo de Calharis, thus connecting the Santos and  Bairro Alto quarters. Its average gradient is 20% but is much steeper at the lower end. From Rua de São Paulo, the funicular is concealed by a building but this is clearly lettered ‘Ascensor da Bica’. It runs between 07:00-21:00 daily except Sundays and national holidays, when the opening time is 09:00. Tram #28 runs past the top end and tram #25 passes the bottom end of the Bica route.

The ASCENSOR DA GLORIA has an average gradient of 18% and its operating hours are approximately 07:00-00:55 daily. This is the busiest funicular in Lisbon as it is also the most accessible for visitors, since it lies next door to the main tourist information office in the Palácio Foz, on the west side of the Avenida da Liberdade, connecting the Restauradores (square) with the Bairro Alto district. Excellent views of the city and castle are to be had from the gardens which lie immediately to the right of the top of the route (São Pedro de Alcantara).

The ASCENSOR DA LAVRA runs from Rua da Anunciada on the eastern side of the Avenida da Liberdade (opposite side of the avenue to the Gloria Funicular) at a 25% gradient for 180 metres to Rua Câmara Pestana. The service operates the same hours as the Bica facility (see above).

Although planned for local residents to connect between the lower streets of the Baixa district (located just off Rua do Ouro) with the higher level at Largo do Carmo (square), the ELEVADOR DE SANTA JUSTA (elevator) also provides a unique view of the city from its top terraced level. This lattice work wrought iron structure was designed by Raul Mesnier de Ponsard, an engineer born in Porto to French parents and an apprentice of Gustave Eiffel, who returned to Lisbon with grand design ideas. The elevator was inaugurated in 1902 and you can ride on it daily between 07:00-22:00 in the winter, and till 23:00 in the summer. The sightseeing platform is open from 08:30-20:30 daily.

EXPLORING LISBON BY GO CAR

Take to the streets of Lisbon in a talking yellow GO CAR.  This GPS-guided tour takes you to all the best sites and tells stories that bring this unique city to life. It’s a local on wheels and you can go where the tour buses can’t. Best of all, the adventure happens at your own pace (you can stop for photos, take detours, grab a coffee or break for lunch) and you’ll actually be able to park! Further details: www.gocartours.pt

LISBON’S SURROUNDINGS – CASCAIS AND SINTRA

The CAIS DO SODRÉ to CASCAIS RAILWAY LINE (26 km), provides a quick escape from city life to the beaches of Estoril or Cascais to the west, where the River Tagus meets the ocean; with excellent views along the way including the Tagus and the historical sights of Belém. Its convenient starting point at Cais do Sodré, also linked by metro (green line) and a number of bus routes, is only five minutes’ walk from the Praça do Comércio.

Once in Cascais, why not pick up a free bike from BICLAS – BICYCLES OF CASCAIS? There are  3 booths where you can pick one up from, using your passport or ID: one by the train station, one in front of the citadel and another near Casa da Guia along the coastal road. The municipality of Cascais lends bikes free of cost as part of an initiative to get people to use bicycles rather than cars. From the village you can cycle to beautiful Guincho Beach, past Boca do Inferno and Senhora da Guia (on a specially designated cycle path) – this stunning route runs alongside the sea and is ideal for morning or evening bike rides.

Hiring a SEGWAY is another fun way to explore the village of Cascais and enjoy the very scenic coastal road to Senhora da Guia and Guincho beach. They are equipped with a GPS to guide you around local places of interest, including monuments, squares and beaches. Further details: www.exploracaminhos.pt

The beautiful neo-Manueline (a Portuguese architecture art-form) of Rossio Station is located near the Rossio and Restauradores (squares) in central Lisbon and is a must-see sight of the city! It is also the station to use for the ROSSIO TO SINTRA RAILWAIL LINE, taking you to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sintra within 45 minutes. Described by Lord Byron as “this glorious Eden”, the mountain range of Sintra is renowned for its outstanding natural beauty, romantic palaces and castles, and well worth the visit!

Trains to Cascais and Sintra are inexpensive (free if you use a Lisboa Card) and run by Refer. Further details: http://www.refer.pt/en/

 A WORD ON SAFETY

As with all public transport in all busy cities, be aware of your surroundings and don’t offer would-be thieves the opportunity to remove items from your belongings, especially when trams, buses or trains are full. And whilst the safety level of travelling on sub-urban trains or the metro is no worse than any other transport system in Lisbon, stick to the central carriages when travelling at night.