Medicareful Travel: Senior Trip to Lisbon
We love traveling at Medicareful Living. It can expand your perspective, keep you learning and active, and create memories that last a lifetime. However, a big journey can be daunting without help. We want to be that help, making sure you don’t miss a thing while you’re exploring this wide world we call home. Throughout this series, we’ll offer you tips on where to stay, what to see, and what to try, as well as answer some important questions. All opinions and facts in this article are through extensive research and personal experience. We have not received sponsorships or remuneration for our support or opinions.
Portugal is a criminally underrated tourist destination. While its popularity has grown in years, it still qualifies as an underdiscussed spot to check out. Maybe this is because a more famous, larger country is nearby in Spain, but that shouldn’t dissuade you from visiting either. While Portugal and Spain have influenced each other throughout their histories, they’re distinct and rich cultures. There’s no place to get a better introduction to Portugal than its capital city, Lisbon (or Lisboa in Portuguese).
Why Lisbon is Perfect for Seniors
For any senior looking to go on a nice trip, Lisbon is a combination of everything that makes a trip to Europe special. It has that mix of different but familiar with a unique and rich cuisine, a vibrant and thriving identity, and an air of time and history that all great European destinations have. The locals are also extremely proud of their city and are ready and able to show you why you should also love it. What really sets Lisbon apart from other cities we’ve written about is just how affordable it is. You can get a comfortable and chic hotel room and mouthwatering meals for a fraction of what you would spend in London or Paris.
While those aren’t benefits specifically for seniors, they’re certainly of interest to any senior looking to travel. Seniors may also like the laidback and relaxed attitude that permeates Lisbon or the warm weather throughout much of the year.
Getting Around Lisbon
Another benefit of Lisbon is that it isn’t a massive city, at only 33 square miles for the metro area. Comparatively, Rome is 496 sq. miles and London is 607 sq. miles. That means most of the sights and activities are relatively central and close. While there are different neighborhoods you can stay in, the Alfama and Bairro Alto districts are two of the most popular with lots of restaurants, hotels, and night life options. The only downside to areas of Lisbon is that it isn’t always walkable. Lisbon, especially the area around Castelo de São Jorge, can be quite hilly with seven hills throughout the city. While this presents some amazing views, it can make it difficult to walk from place to place even if you’re in good shape.
So, how can you get around? Lisbon has a metro service with four different lines that’ll allow you to get to many of the major areas of Lisbon cheaply and quickly. Similarly, there are several buses in the city that’ll get you to more specific stops. To beat the hills in a uniquely Lisboa way, take one of the historic and quaint trams. Want to save some money and get some exercise in? You can certainly walk. Just make sure to take plenty of breaks or take advantage of a little insider knowledge.
You can also find a few shortcuts hidden away in Lisbon like the Escadinhas da Saúde, an escalator that cuts through some hills to get you about halfway to Castelo de São Jorge. Even easier is the Elevador Castelo, which is tucked away on Rua dos Fanqueiros. As you can probably guess from the name, it’s an elevator that’s free to use until 9 PM. Once up, you can take a left before walking down Largo Chão do Loureiro to the Elevador da Baixa. Together, these elevators take you from the bottom of the hill to a short walk away from the castle.
What to See
While it’ll be really tempting to just relax, wander, eat, and drink while you’re in Lisbon, you may eventually feel compelled to do something. Lisbon is certainly not short of “stuff” to see or do.
A Soccer Game
Portugal is a soccer-mad country, having won the European Championship in 2016 and the UEFA Nations League in 2019. Even when they aren’t winning tournaments, they’re usually there or thereabouts and have claimed some of the best players in the history of the game. Lisbon itself can claim much of this credit, hosting four major teams in Portugal’s domestic league, Primeira Liga. Two of the four clubs are members of Portugal’s Big Three, the unofficial name for the three most successful clubs in the country — SL Benfica (Benfica), Sporting Clube de Portugal (Sporting), and Porto. SL Benfica and Sporting are the two based in Lisbon alongside B-SAD and CF Os Belenenses, local underdogs who split in 2018 following years of bad blood and a complex contractual situation.
Depending on the game, tickets for the Benfica and Sporting can be difficult to get but are generally under €50 per ticket. Tickets for Belenenses and B-SAD can be even less expensive as B-SAD are in Liga Portugal 2 (potentially relegating to Liga 3) and Belenenses are in Liga 3 (though may qualify for promotion to Liga Portugal 2). You may also need to purchase tickets directly at the stadiums, which are Estádio do Restelo for Belenenses and the Estádio Nacional for B-SAD.
See Fado Music
Translating to literally mean “fate,” fado is the national music of Portugal. Like a cross between folk and blues music, the fado singer will usually sing about the harsh, often sad, realities of life. Fado has been a Portuguese institution since the 1820s, though it may be even older. When you see a fado show, you won’t just hear moving music by talented artists. There will also often be poetry and dancing. Over time, fado has been shaped by African and Brazilian influences, making it the perfect representation of Portugal as a country. In 2011, it was even listed as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
If that sounds like a good time to you, seeing a fado show couldn’t be easier in Lisbon. Your first stop should be to the Fado Museum in the Alfama district. There, you can learn more about the music and culture of fado and see where you can see live shows in Lisbon. The city is littered with restaurants that’ll serve up dinner and a show. It’s just a matter of finding a few fado restaurants (Tasca do Chico and Senho Vinho are common suggestions) and having a good time.
A Trip Through the City
Lisbon has a lot of history running through its streets. Whether it’s of explorers heading off to discover a new world or of a city struggling to rebuild after a devastating earthquake, you can see the echoes of the past to this day. Since the footprint of the city is so comparatively small, it means you can see many of these in a single day, though you could spend much more time at each. Below, we’ll share a walking map of Lisbon that you can follow to take you to several of the key sights. That said, it’s also a great idea to look into any number of guided tours to give you a better sense of the city, its layout, and its history.
This map gets you to and past many of the big sights of Lisbon in a roughly four-mile, hour-and-a-half walk. We encourage you to stop and explore each place. It’ll certainly be worth your time! On this walk, you’ll see:
- The Praça Dom Pedro IV and Praça dos Restauradores, two major plazas of the city.
- From there, you can follow the map or walk up the Avenida da Liberdade, a beautiful, tree-lined boulevard, to the Parque Eduardo VII.
- The Carmo Convent, an archaeological museum and remnant of the 1755 earthquake.
- The Praça do Comércio, a major plaza with statues, the Arco da Rua Augusta, and the Cais das Colunas.
- The Sé de Lisbon, a 12th century Catholic cathedral.
- The previously mentioned Castelo de São Jorge.
- The National Pantheon & many more!
Not on that map, but certainly worth seeing are the Elevador de Santa Justa, the São Vicente de Fora Museum, the Igreja de São Roque, the Rua das Portas de Santo Antão, and the Rua Augusta. However you choose to explore the city, we highly suggest allowing yourself to wander. It’s a beautiful city with artfully decorated sidewalks and world class street art that’s often commissioned by the city. Get lost to really discover Lisbon.
Where to Eat
Settled on the shores of Tagus River as it meets the Atlantic Ocean, Lisbon can boast some of the freshest seafood you’ll find, especially shellfish. You’ll get a good mix of this with arroz de marisco, a seafood rice dish. Sardines are also a local favorite, usually grilled or broiled. If you’re walking around the city and feeling a little peckish, find somewhere serving bifanas, a small, flavorful marinated pork sandwich that you can get cheap and fast. Our favorites are at As Bifanas do Afonso by the Elevador Castello.
Of course, we couldn’t talk about Lisbon food without mentioning two of the most famous, bacalhau and pasteis. Bacalhau is a salt cod similar to the Italian baccala that you’ll find on almost every menu. It’s a local favorite, and you can’t leave the city without trying it once. Pasteis (the plural of pastel) are custard tarts that you’ll find all over the city. Pasteis de Belem are world famous but can only be found at the Fábrica Pastéis de Belém. All others are called pasteis de natas. Whatever you call them, they’re mouthwatering with a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar. While you can get port wine in Lisbon, that’s actually from nearby Porto. Instead, try vinho verde, a young wine that is light and crisp, or ginja or ginjinha, a sour cherry liquor that’s sweet and spiced for a unique taste.
We normally give you some restaurant suggestions, and we won’t disappoint now. When you’re in Lisbon, do not miss out on O Vinhaça. It’s a tiny wine bar tucked away in Alfama. Do yourself a favor and ask for suggestions on the menu. You won’t leave disappointed or hungry. For a more high-end meal, head to Solar dos Presuntos. With a massive wine list and diverse menu, you’re sure to find something you’ll rave about. Though you’ll have to cross the river on a ferry, Ponto Final will serve up a meal matched only by the view you get with your seat. The biggest suggestions we can share is to make a reservation and to leave early since the walk back to the docks isn’t thoroughly lit.
Day Trips Around Lisbon
A lot of your time can be spent around the city, but there are a few day trips you can take.
Less than an hour away by bus is the small town of Sintra. Famous for its vibrantly colored palace overlooking the town, Sintra can be a nice change of pace from the coastal Lisbon. If a little fun in the sun is something you’re after, though, make your way to Cascais.
Around an hour away you’ll find the city’s beach retreat. Mild almost year-round, Cascais has some of the best beaches in Portugal, along with excellent restaurants, shopping, and attractions. It’s basically Lisbon’s French Riviera.
Closer to Lisbon is the town of Belém. The town is known for the Torre de Belém (Tower of Belém), a UNESCO-protected tower and one of the few in the area to survive the 1755 earthquake. While you’re in town, you can’t miss out on getting a pastel de Belém, at least so you can compare it to the ones you get in Lisbon. You’ll find a number of other museums and attractions throughout the town like the national Maritime Museum and the Monument of Discoveries, to recognize the explorers who set out from Portugal to the New World.
If you’re looking to get out of Lisbon for a little while, another option is to split your time and visit Porto. Roughly three hours by car or train or a 45-minute flight, Porto is another highly-rated destination in Portugal. With plenty to do, having a few days in both Lisbon and Porto is a great way to get a genuine feel for what the country of Portugal has to offer. Whether you spend your time in Porto drinking the world-famous port wine or exploring everything the city has to offer, you won’t leave disappointed.
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Lisbon is a city that should be, no, needs to be talked about more. Between the unassuming and welcoming people and the sense that you’re discovering a hidden gem, it’ll become a highlight of your vacations!
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