I arrived in Lisbon on a sunny, slightly cool Spring day. Lisbon, the capital of Portugal is often described as idyllic and is known for its beautiful streets, culture and the way it seemlessly blends the historical and modern.
Getting a visa
You’ll need a Schegen visa and you’ll need to apply early! There was a lot of (unnecessary, I feel) stress in the process of getting this visa because I applied in February and got no update until I went to the Portuguese embassy in Abuja to inquire about my application.
You apply through the VFS centre in Wuse 2 and you will need the following;
- Completed application form
- Lette of introduction
- Bank statement covering 6 months
- Travel insurance
- Flight and hotel booking
The visa fee is ₦23,045 for a short term visa that allows you to stay up to 90 days. The visa I was given covered the period of one month even though I was in Europe for less than that. You can download a form here.
Leaving from Abuja or Lagos will mean a connecting flight before getting to Lisbon. I used Lufthansa so transited through Frankfurt. It took about 6-hours to get to Frankfurt from Abuja and then 3 hours to get to Lisbon from Frankfurt.
Favourite places and tips
Get a hotel close to the city centre! I stayed in Lutecia Smart Design Hotel which was about 20 minutes from where things were happening by Uber (you can also take the Metro but if you do make sure you buy a pass). The tours I took started from either Avenida da Liberdade, Barrio Alto or Principe Real, all of which were quite a distance from the hotel.
This time, I booked tours using Airbnb experiences and must say it provided a more intimate experience than the typical agency organised tours.
I saw the “true Portuguese soul” on a tour of Alfama and Mouraria neighbourhoods with Igor. It was a nice history walk through the old neigbourhoods and Igor is a very informative guide. I got to meet some of Igor’s friends, including Antonio who gave me a lovely shot of green wine and made me laugh with his reasoning on why people should drink. Antonio runs Cervejaria Amigo António, a bar that used to be connected to a monastery where monks would sneak out to using underground tunnels to make wine.
I showed me typical taverns, the Roman ruins, eclectic pieces of street art (Igor also does a street art tour) and old churches. I also learned a bit about Fado and got to taste a custard tart and ginja (the Portuguese sour cherry liquor that I absolutely adore).
Another highlight for me was driving with Miguel from We Hate Tourism Tours. For the right price, Miguel will take you around Lisbon in his vintage car from 1973. We got lots of thumbs up as we drove through the old neighbourhoods of Baixa Chiado, Bairro Alto, Principe Real, and on to Avenida da Liberdade. Of course there were several stops along the way where we took photos and Miguel explained some of the history of the city to me. Then he gave me this lovely map in which he highlighted places to see around Lisbon. I did not get the chance to visit all, just one Mercearia Poço Dos Negros, a quaint grocery store where I loaded up on souvenirs like green wine, ginja from Óbidos, organic sardines and dried figs.
Most people will advice you to plan a day trip to Sintra or Belem, and if possible to do both when you’re visiting Lisbon. I could only find time to go to Sintra with Rui (which just means I’ll have to plan again so I can go to Belem). Sintra is about an hour drive from Libson and has many gorgeous castles. However, I must admit that I was kinda underwhelmed there because there were just too many tourists. I think I had been spoiled by the one-on-one tours I had in Lisbon’s oldest neighbourhoods. Nonetheless, I made friends on this tour and should I make it to Portugal again, will have to go to Obidos on Rui’s recommendation.
In Sintra we saw the Pena palace, a palace built in the 19th century by Dona Maria II, Don Fernando II and the Countess of Edla that combines many architectural styles. It’s like something out of a cartoon with its bright colours, Indian influence here, Gothic influence there. Originally though, it was a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Pena in the medieval times and was renovated and renovated and is still been renovated I believe.
We also saw Quinta da Regaleira, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site and also built in the 19th century. It was owned by Antonio Augusto Carvalho Monterio and is famous for its initiation well. Lots of mystism surround this place and there’s still a lot that we don’t know. IIRC there’s may be some connection to the Knights Templars.
When in Lisbon, you have to eat pasteis. I noticed that different stores make them differently, the best I had was in Alfama but I heard that the absolute best are in Belem (. Beware though, I was told that trying to navigate Alfama’s streets on your own will lead to you getting lost.
I tried to go dancing in Lisbon because I figured I’d get to dance kizomba. Unfortunately that did not work out as that wasn’t the music playing the night I went out. A friend I made during the trip to Quinta suggested I go to Barrio Latino though, guess I’ll have to make it another time.
While in Portugal, I also had the opportunity to visit Lagos (yes the Lagos in Portugal pronounced LAH-gos). I was like, we have to go and see this place. I mean it’s supposedly where the Lagos here in Nigeria got its name from. In Portugal’s Lagos, there’s a special grotto which I didn’t have time to fully explore. I did, however, have a fun ride through the city thanks to Sergio, this super kind Uber driver. I saw bits of the old city as well.
When I say I was sad to leave Lisbon, believe me! I had zero expectations before going there which meant I ended up loving the city. In particular the old neighbourhoods, it was great walking through them whether at night or during the day.
I must also say that the people I met were really nice and friendly (well, except for this one guy at the currency exchange desk at the airport). I love the opportunity to interact with locals when I travel and I really got to do that here. I left knowing about the 1755 earthquake and fire, Marquis de Pombal, Salazar and the revolution that ousted him. I was also schooled on the long history of Africans in Lisbon by an Uber driver which may or may not have been a random thing.