Destination: Lisbon - Your Personal Travel Guide

Old-world charm, majestic views, and mouth-watering eats await you in Portugal's capital.

Picture cobbled sidewalks, alfresco cafes overflowing with people enjoying pastries with tiny cups of espresso, and ornate 19th-century romantic buildings. No, it's not Paris or Barcelona, or even the 90's darling of tourism, Prague. It's Lisbon, Portugal, western Europe's answer to a low(er) cost continental holiday.

When most people think of beautiful European cities, Lisbon isn't usually the first place that comes to mind. But this coastal gem should be on everyone's bucket list. Just a six hour flight from New York, Lisbon is full of culture, delicious eats, and extravagantly beautiful buildings, in addition to being surrounded by charming towns that are perfect for day trips. What's not to love?

Preparing for Your Trip

While many people in Lisbon speak English (especially at the tourist attractions), don't be surprised if they don't. Unless you have an international phone plan, grabbing a SIM card at the airport is probably the best purchase you'll make: you can use it to translate Portuguese and order affordable Ubers all over the city. If you have a bank card that offers free international ATM withdrawals, definitely make use of it; both banks and money-changers charge a pretty hefty fee for converting currency.

Views You Can't Miss

There is enough to do in Lisbon to spend a week there, but if you only have a few days, there are a few key attractions to check out. First and foremost, regardless of where you're staying, make sure to check out Chiando and Restaurando, two neighborhoods near the water in the older part of the city. Don't miss the Rua Agusta Arch overlooking a majestic statue in a grand piazza. For a paltry three euros, you can take an elevator (and a few steps) to the top for one of the best views in Lisbon. Turn to the east to squint out at the glittering Atlantic Ocean, and to the west you'll take in a vast panorama of terracotta-shingled houses and the century-old churches dotted between them.

Once you've absorbed the breathtaking view, meander down to any of the Edwardian-era stops to take a tram car tour around the city. It's a far more glamorous way to see the city than wedged inside one of the ubiquitous red "hop on, hop off" buses that seem to populate every city in the west.

Buildings to Die For

It may be missing a roof but it has one hell of a facade

If you're into ancient churches, be sure to make a pit stop at Igreja de São Domingos. Inside this roofless Gothic church, you can imagine the solemn parishioners filling the rows, hanging onto the priest's every word. It's enough to make an agnostic believe.

The magnificent Rossio train station is also a must-see. Featuring a whimsical "m"-shaped entryway covered in meticulously carved embellishment, it's one of Lisbon's most elegant buildings. While its grand historical façade is somewhat marred by the Starbucks residing next door, it's still worth a selfie or two.

One of the best things about Lisbon is that you don't even need to search out magnificent buildings – they're everywhere. Rococo-style hotels, once the residences of the wealthy and their many servants, have been converted into shopfronts on the ground floor with apartments above them. The spectacular carvings on the building doors alone must have taken an artisan months to finish.

Affordable, Mouth-watering Eats

Not only does Lisbon have a terrific culinary scene, but it's also not nearly as expensive as other European cities. Like the rest of Europe, wine and beer are quite cheap. It's not uncommon to snag a delicious table wine for under four euro, and beers are usually under three. If you hit up a local café (and not the aforementioned Starbucks), a shot of espresso will run you under one euro, and you can usually get a small coffee for a little bit more.

Lisbon is rife with pastelarias (bakeries) overflowing with heavenly smelling (and tasting) fresh rolls and pastries. Make sure to start at least one day with a hot cup of espresso and a pastel de nata, a local favorite. These delicious tarts are small enough so you don't feel weighed down after downing it, but substantial enough so you're not hungry 10 minutes later. Try one at Pasteleria Alcoa, which has been turning out these reliable treats since 1957.

Bacalhou, or codfish, is another local favorite. As a seaport town, Lisbon is home to hundreds of seafood restaurants, many of which boast the "best" way to prepare this particular fish. If you're looking for a little variety, Quermesse is a charming restaurante featuring all manner of local delicacies. The goat cheese puff drizzled with fig jam is a heavenly appetizer, and the octopus with onions and roasted new potatoes will melt in your mouth. After dinner, try Winebar do Castelo for an after-dinner drink of port wine and maybe another pastry. You could end up spending less than a total 40 euro on an appetizer, main course, drinks, and dessert.

For a true European market experience, stop by one of the many mercados, where you can indulge in a robust pannecinie (ham), goat cheese, and crusty bread platter, washed down with a solo-cup sized glass of sangria or local beer – for under 10 euro.

Local Shopping

It's an intimate experience

Since a vacation isn't quite a vacation without some souvenirs, take some time to browse some of the adorable local shops like Ale-Hop and Luveria Ulisses (the world's tiniest and most elegant glove store ever). Lisbon is also home to European brands like Mango, Pull and Bear, and Zara, all featuring inexpensive trendy clothing and shoes. The city is also sprinkled throughout with antiguidade (antique) shops, where you can buy 17th- and 18th-century tiles from demolished buildings along with other antique goods. Furthermore, everywhere you'll find touristy souvenir shops touting tchotchkes like sardine-shaped magnets and cork wallets, purses, and bags. (Cork is very big there).

If you're looking for a foodie souvenir that makes buying tinned fish an experience, check out O Mundo Fantastico Das Conservas Portuguesas (the fantastic world of Portuguese sardines). Step inside what appears to be a carnival funhouse lined with garishly colored sardine tins. Even if you're not a fan of this pungent fish, buy a tin as a decorative element. It's almost a shame to open them and toss the beautifully designed wrapping.

This is just a small slice of what Lisbon has to offer. With its convenient location, affordable prices, and old-world ambiance, if you're looking for a European vacation that won't break the bank, look no further. Book a flight to this exceptional city today, before the rest of the world catches on to its charms.

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Related Posts

When our summer vacations went out the window, my friends and I were devastated.

We had big things planned—a group of us had spent months looking forward to backpacking around Europe! Thankfully, our flights were refunded, but our hearts were still broken. Paris, London, and Amsterdam will have to wait.

When thinking about alternatives, we realized there are so many amazing places to visit in the U.S. My friend Sophie suggested a camping road trip. I mean, backpacking was never going to be glamorous to begin with, but some of us didn't like the sound of sleeping outdoors for such a long period of time.

That's when my friend Amy mentioned Getaway. They offer outposts with beautiful, secluded cabins tucked away between the trees. We read their Journal posts, plus I emailed their team for reassurance it was safe, and they couldn't have been nicer or more helpful.

They reassured us that they've upped their cleaning procedures to make the cabins as safe as possible and that the cabins are at least 50-150 ft away from each other. We also wouldn't have to go to a check-in desk, so we could go straight to our cabin without interacting with anyone else during our stay. Plus, it's super affordable, too.

Getaway offered a compromise: we would still do camping, but with comfort. We organized everything we needed and set out on our road trip in Sophie's Jeep.

Our first stop was at McKinney Falls State Park. The creek was stunning. The park had two waterfalls which filled the swimming holes, and we didn't hesitate for a second to jump into the refreshing water. After our morning there, our next stop was the Old Baldy Trail for a hike. This trail was steep and took some effort, but boy, was it worth it for the beautiful views from the top.

The next stop was Blue Hole Regional Park. We hiked the whole trail, which is 1.6 miles, and then swam in the swimming area. The trail was mostly flat, and it was a pleasant, leisurely hike with gorgeous scenes. We really packed the day full of activities.

By the time we were ready to head to Getaway, we were exhausted. When we arrived, I was happy to see that the Getaway cabins are nicely spread out—you can still glimpse the other cabins in the distance through the trees, but they feel far enough away to maintain privacy.

Our cabin had everything we needed: AC and heat, a private bathroom with a toilet and a hot shower, a kitchenette with a two-burner stove, mini-fridge, a fire pit, and all the kitchen essentials. We also found a deck of cards and some books. It was nice to see a cozy bed after such a long day.



The first night we settled in and took advantage of the shower. Then we stashed our phones in the cellphone "lockbox" for the night. The cabins have a giant window with views of nature, which meant we could appreciate it without having to rough it. We toasted three rounds of s'mores as we chilled in the Adirondack chairs around the flickering fire.

When it started to get cool, we headed back into the cozy cabin, made some tea, and went to bed.

The next morning, we felt super refreshed after a good sleep, so we decided we'd go on a hike along the Cypress Creek Nature Trail. It was so scenic, with amazing views of the stunning vistas. After that, we were drained and happy to be going back to our comfortable cabin! That night, we whipped up chicken pesto pasta on the stove and had s'mores over the campfire for dessert. After another long day, we were asleep only a few minutes after climbing into the soft bed.

For our last day at our Getaway cabin, we made scrambled eggs for breakfast before driving to Cooper Creek for a stroll and great views of nature. That evening, we grilled veggies and chicken skewers and ate them at the picnic table while drinking wine. When it got chilly, we went into the cabin and laughed the evening away.

If you're looking for somewhere safe and peaceful to go with your friends or a partner, I'd highly recommend Getaway.

Plan Your Escape With Getaway! Book One Month In Advance And Take $20 Off Your Fall Adventure With The Code FALL20!



Travel

What I Learned as an American Living in London During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Even subtle cultural differences change how a country handles crisis.

On March 3rd, 2020, I left New York City to go spend three months in London with my longtime partner.

You likely recognize that date as shockingly close to when all hell broke loose around the world thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. As I was leaving NYC, there were already stirrings of unease surrounding a mysterious new virus that was making its way from China to the States, but very few people thought it would be anything but a passing inconvenience.

As it turned out, I likely already had the virus when I departed New York. I began running a fever the day I arrived in London. Still, I figured I had probably just caught a cold on the plane (this was before we knew what we know now, that the coronavirus was already extremely prevalent in NYC by March 3rd), and there was no way of knowing for sure, because tests were only available to people in the hospital with COVID symptoms. Soon, my partner also came down with symptoms.

As we recovered (we were both lucky to have relatively mild cases that lasted only a couple of days), we watched London slowly close down around us. First, theaters and public venues began to close, then office workers were told to stay home. Throughout it all, there was a reigning sense of calm and acceptance among the British people, even as the rest of the world began to panic.

BBC.com

The complaints I heard from British friends and acquaintances were never about the lockdown measures, but rather about the conservative government's hesitance to take more drastic steps and the lack of clarity surrounding what they expected the population to do to prevent the spread of the virus.

Still, I was struck by the difference in tone that I saw on my social media from American friends discussing the pandemic and the calm acceptance of the British people around me. Every post by an American discussing the pandemic used the word "I" over and over again and had a generally panicky tone. Meanwhile, the British were speaking with "we" and jokingly mourning their inability to grab a pint and watch football.

Sure, this composure was not true of every single citizen in the UK, just as panic was not every American's reaction, but there was a distinct difference in the responses I personally saw. In general, people who lived in London seemed quick to ask how they could help each other and their country, while many Americans seemed ready to batten down the hatches and take on an "every man for himself" attitude.

I was struck by this sign I saw outside a local corner shop in London:

Image of sign asking if anyone needs anything during COVID-19

Everywhere in London I saw examples of collectivism. While images were coming out of America of totally bare supermarket shelves thanks to people hoarding food and supplies to ensure their own comfort and safety, in London I watched two older women argue over who should take the last packet of chicken thighs. Both women insisted the other should have it.

Now that I'm back in the US, I haven't seen a thing like that in my local grocery stores, and while I know mutual aid networks are flourishing and neighbors are assisting each other in cities around the US, I've still been struck by our general lack of visible camaraderie.

It's no secret that the British government handled the COVID-19 crisis relatively poorly, but I was still struck by a sense of hard-fought unity I felt I shared with every average Londoner.

The British aren't an overly expressive people, but they're extraordinarily cordial. We Americans usually think of this kind of British decorum as a stuffy relic of the past that's only relevant in the event of an afternoon tea at Harrods, and perhaps that's partly true, but COVID-19 showed me just how deep this cordiality goes.

British decorum is not a form of politeness that's just about saying "Please" and "Thank you" or moving out of someone's way on the sidewalk; it's the kind of regard for your fellow man that makes it second nature to wait patiently in line if that makes a supermarket safer. It's an innate sense of obligation to each other that makes wearing a mask on public transportation an obvious and inarguably appropriate step to take during a deadly pandemic.

Sure, Brexit proves that nationalism is just as alive and well in England as it is in America, and in many ways Boris Johnson is a slightly less terrifying version of Donald Trump. But my time in Britain showed me that nothing can rid the British people of their ability to weather a storm as a united people, while I can't say the same of America.

On March 20th, Boris made the historic decision to close the pubs in the UK. For context, even during WWII, when London was being regularly bombed by the Germans, the pubs mostly remained open. This was the only time during my stay in London that I saw a collective outpouring of emotion.

I walked to my local pub out of curiosity that night (I had been two weeks without symptoms and told I was fine to leave the house), knowing that it would be closed indefinitely first thing the next morning. What I found was a sensibly socially distanced crowd of people laughing and singing and drinking together to mark the unthinkable day when the pubs would shut. Everyone was fast friends with their neighbor, and even the drunkest among us kept their distance and used hand sanitizer often. But there was a feeling of unity in the pub that night that I have never experienced in America. A sense that, as a people, Londoners would get through this by looking after one another in ways their government had nothing to do with.

Londoners survive; that's what they do. But the part of "keeping calm and carrying on" that doesn't fit as neatly on a poster is the additional impetus to help one's neighbors in big and small ways.

As we're forced to reckon with the failings of the American government during this time of political, social, and economic turmoil, I wonder if we should not also be looking at the pervasive sense of individualism that's so innate to our culture. I'm not even sure I fully recognized it until it became starkly obvious to me in contrast to a different culture.

Yes, the American government failed us in the way it handled the COVID-19 outbreak, but shouldn't we also interrogate our personal inability to care for each other without strict mandate from the government? Shouldn't we consider that true change can't come to America until we start taking personal responsibility for each other? Yes, we need to deconstruct the systems of oppression inherent in the American government that allow for widespread injustice. But we also need to ask ourselves everyday if we're asking the government to do the work that we aren't doing ourselves.

In the wise words of people who have been doing mutual aid work for generations: We keep us safe. It's time we take a page from Londoners' book and consider that politeness isn't just nice; it can also be an act of radical resistance.

Travel

The Ugly Side of Glamping in New York City

Is it really possible to blend camping with luxury?

When the world is looking bleak—e.g. Every morning, after you check the news—it can feel great to "get away from it all."

An ordinary vacation to a hotel, a resort, or a rental house is fine, but it's not exactly an escape from society. Apart from the proximity of strangers, cramping your style and potentially infecting you with a deadly virus, it makes it slightly harder to pretend that the world has disappeared when you're surrounded by buildings and have a TV constantly threatening to remind you of current events.

It's no wonder, then, that camping has seen a huge resurgence in recent months. People want to be out in nature, in the open air, away from everything. You can bring all your own equipment, never have to worry about social distancing, and can ignore the state of the world for a weekend. That is, if you're up for roughing it.

Not everyone is built to set up tents, sleep on the ground, go days without showering, and eat nothing but s'mores and hotdogs. Some of us are a little too pampered to really enjoy the full camping experience. That's where glamping comes in.

There are some different approaches to the glamping scene. You could rent a deluxe, modern cabin from a company like Getaway, or you could stay in a luxury tent at a glamping resort. In either where you don't really have to worry about what you're going to eat, how you're going to stay clean, or how to assemble the overly-complicated camping gear. All you have to do is enjoy some fresh air in the great outdoors. Everything else is taken care of.

Glamping view

It sounds like the best of both worlds, and that's what my wife and I were hoping to find on a recent glamping trip in New York City. With rates starting around $400 a night, we had access to a spacious, climate-controlled canvas tent with electrical outlets and a plush bed; nearby bathrooms with rainfall showers; free wifi; a gourmet, open-air restaurant; and evening campfires with provided s'mores kit.

There was nothing to set up and nothing to worry about, and it was all in a beautiful natural setting with sunset views of the New York Harbor, the Manhattan skyline, Ellis Island, and the Statue of Liberty. It was halfway between a resort and a campground, and it seemed at first like the best of both worlds—a civilized escape from civilization. But that's not the full picture.

Anyone who cares to find the glamping retreat in question should have no problem tracking it down—there aren't a lot of glamping spots in NYC—but this is not a review of a single company. This is about the whole luxury-tent experience.

I should note that my wife and I have done similar vacations twice before. Once we rented a large yurt for a family getaway, and another time we stayed at a friend's property where he had a permanent canvas tent set up.

Neither of those trips were nearly as heavy on the "glam" half of glamping, but they provided nice, large spaces with wood floors and real beds, and indoor plumbing was not far away.

They also suffered from some of the same flaws.

This latest trip—with wifi, gourmet dining, and so-on—was definitely fancier, and before getting into the negatives, it's worth noting what a pleasant stay we had over all. Everything we ate was delicious, and the public areas of the restaurant and around three large fire pits provided plenty of social distancing.

glamping sunset

The price of our stay included a breakfast basket—smoked salmon, pastries, cheese, and orange juice—delivered to our tent. We ate our fill while admiring the stunning view from the front of our tent—arranged to be uninterrupted by any neighbors. It was easy to imagine we were looking at Manhattan from some private haven that civilization could never reach.

It was admittedly lovely. But while it did bring together some of the best aspects of luxury resorts and rustic camping, it also combined some of the worst.

Let's start with the noise. If you're expecting to get a good night's sleep because you're in a warm, comfy bed, you'd better have a high tolerance for noise. Not only do the walls of a canvas tent flap loudly in the wind, they provide little barrier from the sounds of people passing on nearby gravel paths and of night birds swooping and sounding shrill calls overhead.

Speaking of wildlife, it is very hard to fully seal off a large tent on a wooden platform in the middle of a field. In all three of the glamping shelters we have stayed in, a stray bug or two have managed to find their way inside. In two out of three—including this trip—we've also encountered rodents.

Fortunately—given New York City's reputation—the rodent that broke into our tent over the weekend was an ordinary field mouse, rather than a giant subway rat. My wife heard it scrambling after we had turned off our bedside lamps, and she caught it in the flashlight from her phone as it was sneaking toward a container of dinner leftovers. It darted back through the gap where it had broken in.

After that, we moved our food into a provided Yeti cooler and managed to get some sleep with the help of the tent's bluetooth speaker—hopefully without irritating any neighbors. While we didn't sleep as well as we would have at home, we don't mind camping, so none of this was bad enough to really bother us. But it did seem like the kind of thing that someone expecting a resort experience might not be ready for.

Glamping tent

The larger issue, from my perspective, was the so-called climate control. The night we spent in our tent was chilly, and we were grateful for the electric heating pads keeping our bed warm beneath the comforter, but that wasn't the only provision against the cold. The tent had a dual-function space heater/AC that we didn't even realize was on and running until late that night.

It may have made the air inside marginally warmer, but the tent had a high roof with a sizable gap at the peak where most of that heat probably escaped. Even if the canvas had been perfectly sealed to the outside air, it would have taken a ton of energy to warm up such a large, uninsulated space. The same goes for running it as an AC on a hot night.

We were really just pumping heat into the surrounding area. Any sense that we were communing with nature was undermined by the realization that we were basically assaulting the environment with this massive, virtually pointless waste of energy.

Really, the whole idea of a climate-controlled tent—especially with such a large space—is somewhat ridiculous. It promotes the idea that you can have every modern comfort while being out in nature. But that's just a sales pitch—it's not the reality.

As nice as it sounds to combine the best of a resort vacation with the best of a camping trip, the two just don't mix that easily. Comfort and luxury that are easy to provide in a hotel room become extravagant and silly in a canvas tent, while the kind of noise and wildlife that are expected on a camping trip suddenly seem intrusive in a resort setting.

While there is a pleasant niche for this style of glamping—particularly when it includes spectacular city views—for people who love the pampered luxury of a resort or the natural simplicity of camping, glamping in a luxury tents lands in an awkward middle ground that doesn't quite scratch either itch.

Tiny home glamping view

The good news is, if you want that view, but can't handle the downsides of sleeping in a tent, the same retreat offers tiny homes that provide the same luxury without the compromise of canvas walls. Because if you're not prepared for at least some of the discomfort of camping, you're better off just renting a cabin.