The best way to get to know a new city is to walk it. And that’s what we do at each place we visit – Lisbon, Portugal, included.
This city with hills is gorgeous. There are several points with great views on top of the hills around town. Tedly discovered several vistas and other cool spots while I attended a conference on spirituality during our first week here. With that conference over, he showed me his discoveries around town. Both eager to learn and see more, I signed us up for a free walking tour, which I recommend to anyone on a visit to Lisbon.
Roughly 85 percent of the buildings are from 1755 or later because of the large earthquake that destroyed most of the city in that year. However, there are a few spots where Roman ruins, Moorish and medieval sites still exist. This tour touches on that pre-quake history.
I admittedly didn’t know much about Portuguese history before this tour. I have a general grasp of European history, but my knowledge is dominated by English, Italian, French, Germanic, and Spanish tales. The free walking tour offered by Sandeman’s was a crash-course on Portuguese history as the group walked to different sites in the city’s older sections. (The tour goes easy on the hills.)
Lisbon’s place in human history is impressive. From explorations of the New World to its relatively recent Carnation Revolution, Portugal impresses me as a peaceful country with much temperance. This tour inspired me to learn more about the capital and the country, and I read quite a bit when I returned home that evening – about the 1755 earthquake, the rebuilding effort, and the peaceful revolution that ended a decades-long dictatorship.
Each walking tour in the cities we have visited have always been worth our time and they each offer something special, like the insider tips we got in Seville about how to shorten time waiting in lines for the cathedral and castle, or tastes of exotic fruit and Oaxacan chocolate in a Mexican market in Puerto Escondido. This walking tour in Lisbon offered a back entry to the odd-looking elevator called the Santa Justa lift. (There is a fee to ride up to the viewing platform and back down again, but our group walked the stairs to the platform for free.)
Elevators are something I’ve never experienced in a city. This walking tour pointed out a few that are free and exist simply to help people climb the hills. Lisbon is a city with several hills and depending on your destination and starting point, walking around this city can be quite the workout.
The route also took us by statues of famous poets and writers, and – this may be my favorite – Europe’s oldest bookstore (as recognized by The Guinness Book of World Records for being the longest active bookstore). Livraria Bertrand do Chiado opened in 1732, and was ruined by the 1755 earthquake. It didn’t close down, however. It changed locations from the ruins, and eventually moved back to its present-day location in the Baixo-Chiado area about 20 years after the earthquake.
The number one best-seller of all time is the Bible, and the second-best selling book of all time at this bookstore, according to our guide, is Mein Kampf. The tour highlights an interesting dynamic about this bookstore and the street where it’s located related to World War II. But I don’t want to give everything about the tour away… I will go back to this bookstore at some point during the remainder of our visit – I still haven’t been inside! (The Bertrand Livreiros website is here.)
The walking tour lasted about 2.5 hours, but ours may have ended a tad early because it was off-and-on raining during the afternoon we went (our guide kept saying the weather was so unusual for Lisbon). The walking tour is free, but a tip for the guide is highly recommended. Our guide spoke fluent English and he offered a bit of wry humor throughout our trip.
We went with a company named Sandemans New Europe, and their website is here. It’s worth noting the guide promoted other walking tours that are not free. The other tours are more specialized (including a pub crawl) and vary in price. I did not find the company’s promotion plugs to be excessive and I didn’t mind our guide mentioning the options.
If I have any criticism, it’s that there was no bathroom break for about two hours into the trip, so I ducked into a cafe, ordered a hot chocolate to go, and used the facilities. When I returned to the group, Tedly filled me in on what I missed during my brief absence. Ironically, the official bathroom and snack break was at the very next stop on the tour at a restaurant named Navegadoors on Rua Augusta – the main pedestrian street. It had two levels with some comfortable couch seating on the second floor. The group stopped there for about 20 minutes. We didn’t order any snacks, but we did notice the place was running some specials we may go back for in future days.
Sandemans New Europe is offering another free tour in honor of the upcoming International Women’s Day. We may decide to go on that tour as well, since our first trip with them was a good time.
There still is much to discover and experience in this great city: fabulous museums, restaurants, famous fado music – to name just a few draws. Another bonus of this walking tour was that our guide happily answered our questions at the conclusion and directed us to places off the tourist-beaten map.
As early retirement budget travelers, future posts will explore cost-conscious ways to enjoy and explore Lisbon – which happens to be one of Europe’s hottest cities right now for tourism.
- Free walking tour in Seville, Spain
- Free walking tour in Porto, Portugal
- Free walking and market tour in Puerto Escondido, Mexico