Portugal was great to visit, but the internet has led me astray a few times.
If you are looking for a tourist bus, avoid tram 28.
Don’t trust Google for monuments hours.
This summer, when I decided to go to Portugal, I scoured the internet for all the things we should be doing while there.
For some things, the internet was perfect: my friends and I loved the wine tours in Port, the kayaking in Lagos, and the nightlife in Lisbon’s Bairro Alto region.
For others, well, I have some amendments.
I know I’m also a stranger on the internet giving you advice, so take what you want and leave what doesn’t resonate. But as someone who has spent hours in sweaty line after sweaty line, let me save you some hassle.
Skip Tram 28 in Lisbon.
Any travel blog you read about going to Lisbon will tell you that you need to take tram 28. Tram 28 is an old-fashioned tram that runs through popular areas of the city such as Alfama, Baixa, Estrela and Graca.
Before Lisbon became a very popular destination, people advised tourists to use the tram as a hop-on hop-off tour to see the popular sites. Any site that still recommends it is setting you up for failure.
If you get on the tram at the front of the line, Martim Moniz, you may have a chance of getting a seat, but to get the coveted seat you’ll have to wait in line for all the lines to finish.
We waited over two hours before being told by one of the drivers that we could skip the line if we agreed to take one of the standing places. Eager to get out of the Portuguese sun, we accepted the offer. This was our first mistake.
The windows on the tram are quite low, so unless you’re 5’2″ tall or less, you’re going to have a really hard time seeing out of the tram while standing. There are large windows at the back of the tram, but if you’re there, you can only see the sites after passing them.
We were eventually able to snag seats, but even then the ride didn’t get much better. The tram isn’t technically a tour bus, so the driver doesn’t announce when you’ve reached any of the attractions. So overall it felt like a really crowded bus ride.
If you want to travel on one of the historic trams, I recommend taking tram 12 instead. It also leaves from Martim Moniz and will take you through the famous Alfama and Baixa districts, and there is rarely a line.
Double check the timetables of the monuments (Google could be wrong).
The travel sites were actually right about visiting the Jernimos Monastery in Lisbon. It’s beautiful, but there are a few things you should know before you go.
First of all, the monastery, like most of the city’s monuments, is closed on Mondays. Google will tell you that the monastery is open until 6pm on Mondays, but as we (and many other disgruntled tourists) found out, that’s not the case.
Also, be aware of the timetables of the monuments. While the monastery sells tickets for a 5.30pm timeslot, you should arrive much earlier. The lines are usually very long and if you arrive at 5.30pm, there is a chance that you will not see the monastery that day.
I must also mention that while the monastery was spectacular on the outside, seeing the inside wasn’t entirely necessary.
The Pena Palace in Sintra is fantastic, but that’s not all.
All the tourist blogs will tell you to visit the Pena Palace if you take a day trip to Sintra. The Pena Palace was beautiful, but some of the lesser known palaces had so much more to offer and a much shorter wait.
We bought tickets for one of the earliest time slots to enter the palace and even then, it was like a brawl from ‘The Hunger Games’ taking pictures that didn’t have any tourists in the background.
The Park and Palace of Monserrate, on the other hand, was much less crowded and, in my opinion, more beautiful than Pena. We were able to walk through Monserrate at our leisure and read all the information boards without people breathing down our necks to move faster.
Public transport can be tricky.
As someone who lives in New York City, I wasn’t concerned about public transportation in Lisbon. Once you’ve hacked one subway and bus system, you’ve done them all, or so I thought.
None of the blogs I researched told me about the little nuances that come with riding the bus in Portugal.
For example, in Portugal, simply standing at the bus stop is not enough to make the bus stop you. You actually have to say hello to them for the driver to know you want to get on their bus. There are few things as humbling as pulling out your subway card and stepping onto the sidewalk, only for a bus to whiz by like it never meant to stop.
Instead, just stick out a hand and wave just making sure it’s the right bus route as there are others that stop there as well.
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