Backpacking Europe - Lisbon
Fly into London for the start of our trip, make our way around Europe and then fly out of Lisbon at the end because that's the best way to get the cheapest flight possible. When the plan to backpack across Europe in 2011 was hatched, it's safe to say that cost was definitely an important factor when it came to our travel decisions. With the trip happening after our last set of exams before graduation, budgeting was of the utmost importance, which is why we ended up decided to fly into London and out of Lisbon, as it was the cheapest option.
That's not to say that we wouldn't have visited Lisbon if we weren't flying back home from there. It was definitely on our radar from the second we started listing cities/countries we were interested in and it just so happened that the open-jaw flight we decided on was also a great geographic fit when it came to all the places we wanted to visit. So Lisbon was more than just an airport, but looking back it was safe to say that there were other places we were more excited to visit. Places like Rome, Berlin or Barcelona were some of the places that we just had to visit and Lisbon, while definitely being a place we wanted to visit, was just a notch below some of our other destinations.
Of course that can only mean that Lisbon was my favourite city on our trip and the other places were boring and overrated right? Not quite. Visiting all of the cities/countries that we did on our trip was an amazing experience and each place offered something special and unique that I will never forget. But while I expected to enjoy visiting Lisbon, it quickly became a city that I fell in love with and will one day go back and visit (along with the rest of Portugal). Not many people mention Lisbon when we discuss and debate which cities in Europe are the most magnificent, cultural, exciting, etc, but anyone who does not mention Lisbon has clearly never been there It is a city that I never imagined I would fall in love with as much as I did, but it stole my heart nonetheless.
Sights & Sounds
I'm not going to get into all of the "must-see" places you have to visit in Lisbon. Places like Belém and Sintra are places that anyone visiting Lisbon will most likely see regardless and there are more guidebooks/resources out there than I can even think of at the moment that will tell you what you have to do in Lisbon.
All I will say is that Lisbon is one of the most beautiful cities you could ever imagine and walking through the different districts of Lisbon was something out of a fairy-tale. To start off, the architecture in Lisbon is like no other. Walking around you can see Lisbon's history in it's buildings as all different styles of architecture from Roman to Moorish to Gothic line the streets. Add in the stunning colours you see everywhere and you will quickly realize that these buildings are more than just floors, they are truly pieces of art.
And then you have all the different squares, statues and fountains. Or the local graffiti/street art that line the hidden corners of Lisbon. Even Lisbon's transportation is part of the city's charm. You can find a tram to take you anywhere you wish and the famous Tram 28 is known for taking you through many of Lisbon's finest districts. And all of this is without even having mentioned the people you meet, the sounds you hear walking down the cobblestone streets or the smells that come your way every time you pass by a bakery. In fact, as I write this, I can vividly remember my days in Lisbon and I realize that I need to get back there much sooner rather than later.
No matter where you travel to in Europe, odds are that you're going to end up eating a lot of delicious meals. Every country has their own specialties and delicacies, which you must try before you can even consider leaving. When you arrive in Lisbon, there should only be one thing on your mind every time you sit down for a meal. Seafood. I enjoy seafood more than most people do, so I had a great time trying out different local seafood dishes during my time in Lisbon. The best part was that by virtue of it's location, when you order seafood in Lisbon you can bet that it's fresh. Fresh seafood every day? Sign me up.
And for anyone travelling to Lisbon, there is no better place to satisfy your craving for custard. And if you've never had that craving before, you'll definitely have it after visiting Lisbon. Some people might say that Portuguese custard tarts are more for tourists than for locals, but that didn't stop me from having somewhere between 3 and 4256 of them. We even had a chance to visit the famous "Pastéis de Belém" bakery on our way back into the heart of Lisbon after having spent an afternoon in Belém. Have one or have as many as you can eat, but don't leave Lisbon without indulging in at least one custard tart.
Restaurants? Check. Bars? Check. Clubs? Check. Walking from place to place in one of the most beautiful cities in the world? Check. For those of you who like to jump from place to place, then Lisbon is the perfect city to go out in. Whether you're in Bairro Alto, Alfama or anywhere else, Lisbon is full of trendy bars and nightclubs. Everyone has those nights that are just something else and it's hard not to have one of those in Lisbon. You can have a delicious meal while the sun sets over Lisbon's rooftops and then go bar hopping for a few hours until all the clubs get busy. I'm not the type of person that generally stays out late, but in Lisbon we were up until the sun was close to rising, and that's still with us being some of the first ones to call it a night! Even if you aren't big on partying, do yourself a favour and go out at least one night when you're in Lisbon. It's a night you'll never forget.
Often an underrated part of travelling, but having the right (or wrong) type of accommodation and transportation can make or break a trip for you. Luckily no such issues existed in Lisbon. The transportation was fine (which more often than not is exactly what you want), but the hostel that we stayed at blew my mind. For some reason, Lisbon has some of the top hostels in the entire world and we stayed at arguably the best one. Not only was the hostel clean, with cool room designs and a ground floor where you could relax and hang out with other travellers, they also served amazing dinners and took us out on the town as well. All the staff was friendly, gave us any info/directions we needed and even got us a walking tour of Lisbon. Usually I just want my accommodations to not have a negative effect on my trip, but on this occasion, my accommodation served to make my time in Lisbon that much more special.
I've met a lot of people who have backpacked Europe (who hasn't), but not many of them have visited Lisbon. Everyone has done places like Italy or France, and while you should definitely visit those places as well, don't forget about Lisbon. There is no other city in Europe that compares to Lisbon and I can't imagine anyone not enjoying all of the beauty that Lisbon has to offer. Plus flying out of Lisbon is as cheap as you'll get in Europe, so really there's no reason not to go!