Destinations Other Than SpainTravel

Belem Tower: this ceremonial gateway to Lisbon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the
important part it played in Portugal’s Age of Discovery (Photo: Antonio Karmos, Pixabay)


By Leanna Carroll

This summer brought intense heat waves to various parts of Spain. For those living in Madrid (such as myself), the heat was particularly scorching as Madrid is situated in the center of Spain and is, as a result, hours away from the nearest beach. Given this, Madrileños are faced with choosing a summer vacation destination. Do they spend hours traveling to one of Spain’s coasts or opt to visit a different country altogether?

We’re now at the tailend of summer. But there’s still that dilemma of what to do in view of the famous Spanish golden sun’s losing little of its fiery heat. While local coasts and foreign destinations are equally great choices, I opted for the latter and found myself in Lisbon, Portugal.

Here’s what I learned there.

  1. As tempting as it may be, do NOT fly there. Low cost airlines that operate throughout Europe make it extremely easy and convenient to travel from Spain to Portugal. While a flight will definitely decrease your travel time, you’ll be missing out on so much more. Making the 6-7 hour road trip from Madrid to Lisboa will allow you an unforgettable view of rural Spain where time stood still, a refreshing change from hectic urban areas like Madrid. Overall, road (and that includes website options like  BlaBlaCar) or rail will enhance your travel experience.


  1. Don’t let language barriers hinder you. The first thought one may have when traveling to Portugal is: Do I have to speak Portuguese? The answer is yes and no. I imagine that in order to travel to some parts of Portugal, having a grasp of Portuguese is vital. However, cosmopolitan cities like Lisboa have their fair share of multi-lingual residents. Spanish, due to its similarities to Portuguese, is widely spoken. In addition, I encountered several people who spoke both English and French extremely well. What’s the takeaway message then? You’ll always be understood in Lisboa.


  1. Tram to the hilly Alfama District of Lisboa

    Tram to the hilly Alfama District of Lisboa (Photo: Mar’s Eye, CC BY2.0 via Flickr)

    Modes of Transport: find what works for you. If you’re worried about how you’ll get around in Lisboa, don’t. Like in Madrid, there are several easy ways of navegating the city: buses, metro, trams, and trains. So it’s just a matter of choosing what works best for you. Personally, I used the metro and trains the most. The metro is easy to understand as each station is equipped with large maps (similar to the metro in Madrid). The trains aren’t hard to figure out either. But if after all this you’re still in doubt, look for people wearing blue shirts on the train. They’re part of an organization called “Ask a Local” and can answer any questions you might have in a variety of languages. Additionally, both rail options are fairly inexpensive: a 24 hour metro pass will cost you about €6.00; train tickets (depending on your destination) will cost about €10.00.

If you’re feeling more adventurous you may want to board a tram. Trams criss-cross Lisboa. While convenient, they are usually terribly crowded and do not provide the most pleasant ride as certain parts of Lisboa are extremely hilly which make for literally bumpy ride. They are definitely fun, but can alsp be dangerous. Be warned: a tram I was on in Lisboa was involved in an accident with a passenger car.

  1. Plan your time well! If you choose to visit Lisboa like I did, take the time to plan out your day before leaving your hotel/hostal. Depending on the monuments and sights that you wish to visit, you may be able to see them all in one day as Lisboa is quite small and traveling from one end of the city to the other is relatively easy and quick. Doing this will help maximize your touristy haul and leave you with extra time for other, more leisurely activities. The sights I recommend are as follows:

  Torre de Belém (Belem Tower)
  Monsteiro dos Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monastery)
  Castelo de Sāo Jorge (Saint George’s Castle)
  Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries)
  PARK Bar: Restaurante Esplanda (PARK Bar/Restauraunt: Elevated Garden Terrace)
  Cascais: Beach Town

  1. Eat, eat, eat! Because of immigration from both Africa and Asia, Lisboa is rich in cultural influences from these regions, and are particularly notable when it comes to food; you can feast on a wide variety of cuisines throughout the city. Therefore, I’d recommend avoiding chain restaurants and instead visiting smaller, locally owned places. By doing so, you’ll be able to experience an exotic part of the world with every meal.

    Portuguese traditional stew (Photo: Uxbona, CC BY-SA3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

    Portuguese egg tart (ZhengZhou, CC BY-SA4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)








The bohemian Bairro Alto, where you’ll find Park Bar (Photo by Sam —, CC BY2.0

Codfish pastry/Yusuke Kawasaki, CC BY2.0 via Wikipedia