When traveling, there are some things worth spending extra on especially if it makes your travel day easier. Using an airport shuttle is one of those things. Yes the round trip ride to and from Schiphol Airport costs more than taking public transportation, but for us it was worth it in terms of time and convenience. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to check our bags and relax a bit before the flight to Lisbon. This was our first time flying Portugal’s TAP and the service and value were both good. Also, the seats in coach seemed to recline more and have a bit more leg room than US domestic flights, which does make for a more comfortable journey.
After landing in Lisbon we made our way through the busy terminal towards baggage claim, and after a few wrong turns we made it just as the bags were arriving. Luggage in tow, we followed the signs for car rentals, assuming that at some point we’d go through passport control as we did in Amsterdam. We never did. Apparently once you’re in the EU and traveling between EU countries, you don’t have to present your passport when you enter a new country. That did save a fair amount of time as we went straight to the rental car counter then were off to find our hotel.
I wouldn’t recommend making your very first foreign driving experience during rush hour in a capital city, but that’s how it worked out for us. Fortunately, we had a hot spot with us and used Rick’s phone to navigate. Getting from point A to point B would have been a nightmare without it. Like other cities in Europe, Lisbon has round-a-bouts (traffic circles) which can be tricky especially if you wind up in the wrong lane and miss your exit. We found the underground parking near our hotel without too much difficulty and felt relieved to be “on foot” again. Our hotel was in a terrific location, close to numerous restaurants and shops and in between two lovely squares, Praça Dos Restauradores and Praça do Rossio. This area is the heart of the Baixa district and was bustling with activity until well past midnight. Our room overlooked the busy pedestrian-only street below, which was packed with diners of various nationalities. There was a lovely outdoor garden on our floor and a nice seating area in the lobby.
After a quick stop at our room to unpack a few things, we were off to explore the area before our 8:00 pm dinner reservation. On our “must see” list was a place we had seen on several travel shows, A Ginjinha. It’s a walk-up bar that sells one drink, a cherry liquor called ginjinha. You only have two choices, with or without the alcohol-soaked sour cherries, and once you’ve been served you join everyone else outside with your shot glass (or glasses) in hand. This is a seriously yummy drink but it does pack quite a wallop! Rossio Square is just around the corner and it’s definitely worth a look, especially with the late afternoon sun glistening off its two impressive fountains. In the center of the square is the column of Pedro IV (the Soldier King) which was erected in 1870. The statue sits atop the 75 foot column and at the base are four female figures representing justice, wisdom, strength, and moderation. Be sure to look down at the pavement, a wavy pattern of Portuguese mosaic and a work of art in itself.
For dinner we had reserved a table at the nearby Altis Avenida Hotel. As we exited the elevator on the top floor, we were immediately impressed by the lovely dining room of Rossio Restaurant. Our window table had an amazing view and the service was excellent from start to finish. The presentation of each course was beautiful, the food was delicious, and the wines suggested by our waiter were a perfect complement to our food. I only wish that I had saved room for dessert! After dinner we spent some time on the terrace watching the sun go down and the city lights come on. The terrace has both table seating and couches so it’s a great spot to watch the sunset and enjoy a drink.
By the time we left the restaurant, the heat of the day had given way to a cool evening, just perfect for a stroll. Our first stop was to admire the ornate Rossio Train Station with its large horseshoe-shaped doorways. We’d passed by it during the day and it’s even more beautiful at night with floodlights painting the facade with color. Next we wandered around the Praça dos Restauradores, stopping for a closer look at the Restauradores Obelisk. The monument, which commemorates the independence of Portugal from Spain, stands at over 98 feet tall and honors the solders who died during the struggle for independence. Before heading back towards our hotel, we stopped to see the Glória Funicular, which connects Restauradores Square with Bairro Alto. Originally powered by water when it opened to the public in 1885, it evolved to steam power before becoming electrified in 1915. The graffiti-adorned trams are a tourist favorite and a great way to travel up and down a very steep hill. We closed out our wonderful evening in Lisbon enjoying some wine on the rooftop terrace of our hotel and wishing we had more time in this amazing city.