The BITA family spent 3 glorious weeks in Europe in September. We kicked off our European adventure in Lisbon, Portugal. We spent 4 nights in Lisbon. In today’s post I’ll cover what we did and the cost of our vacation in Lisbon.
A Note About Our Expenses
It wasn’t just our family of 3 on this vacation. My sister and brother-in-law (who live in Amsterdam) flew to Lisbon, as did my mother and father (who live in Botswana). My sister and I together covered most of our parents’ expenses – so the numbers you see below are not always just for our little family of three. I’ll attempt to call that out clearly wherever I can.
The other thing worth mentioning about the expenses is that when we travel together like this my family tends to be very relaxed about who pays for what. We don’t take note of every combined expense and split it ‘n’ ways. Instead we just sort of take turns picking up the tab, and since we have no shirkers (in fact we often have extended bill fights) it all kind of works out in the end. But this does make for some weird reporting. For example, though I talk about using public transportation, there may not be a line item for passes, but instead there will be charges for 6 adults (instead of 2) when I talk about the entry fee to a castle.
As an aside – 6 adults to 1 toddler is an ideal ratio and I highly recommend it. Toddler BITA basked in an excess of attention and Mr. BITA and I had a real vacation with so many other adults around to share the responsibilities of parenthood with us.
We flew from San Francisco to Zurich and from there to Lisbon. I’ve written before about how we booked airfare for our San Francisco -> Lisbon -> Amsterdam -> San Francisco trip for the three of us for $248.58 plus 180,000 Ultimate Rewards points. I’ve also written about how we partook of every airport lounge on our way in.
One of our flights was delayed a little and we ended up arriving in Lisbon at close to 10 p.m. It was late, and we were tired, and we made no attempt to navigate the public transportation system that night. Instead we stood in a (very long) line for a taxi and paid $29 to be whisked to our AirBnb apartment.
Where We Stayed
We used AirBnb to book our very centrally located apartment. It was a two bedroom apartment and cost us $405 for 4 adults and 1 child for 4 nights. My parents stayed with us. My sister and her husband booked their own place just down the street from us.
The apartment was equipped with a stove, a fridge, a microwave and a washing machine. Half a block away we had a supermarket. Metro and tram stops were steps away from us, and a large portion of Lisbon was walkable. We had wifi and a T.V. that we never used. Our lovely AirBnb host left us a bottle of wine and box of cookies, as well as a list of restaurant recommendations and public transportation instructions.
There were two downsides to our apartment. The first was noise. There was a lot of foot traffic in the area and a couple of restaurants and bars on our street. Luckily one of the bedrooms was towards the rear of the apartment, and we could put Toddler BITA to bed there, and she could sleep undisturbed. The noise didn’t bother the rest of us that much because most nights we stayed up late talking and drinking anyway. The second issue was that it was on the 3rd floor and the building had no elevator. Mr. BITA did not enjoy lugging our bags, stroller and car seat up there and my mother did not enjoy the hike up to our apartment either.
What We Did
We landed in Lisbon at 10 in the night, and my sister and her husband flew in the next morning. The five us set out to explore the city by foot. Our first stop was a most fantastic bakery about ten steps from our front door.
We then walked down to the river and walked along it for a while. We then wandered through the city, exploring the streets for a while. We then did some quick grocery shopping and headed back to our apartment to meet up with my parents, who flew in that afternoon.
When the worst of the midday heat was behind us, we all set out exploring again. Lisbon is a very hilly city, so walking around is a strenuous business. A 24 hour public transportation pass (for $7.26) allows one to access not just the metros, buses and trams, but also the funiculars and elevators that help one navigate the hills. It is an odd business, to get into an elevator like the Santa Justa elevator, ride up 45 meters, drink in the fantastic view, and then exit at street level.
We drank in some spectacular views and also drank some Ginja, a Portugese liquor made by infusing ginja berries (a kind of sour cherry) in brandy. We went to the A Ginjinha bar, a tiny store in central Lisbon where one can sample the fare and buy bottles. We did both.
On our second day in Lisbon we decided to hop on a tram (our 24 hour passes were still in effect from the previous afternoon), and go see the Tower of Belem and other nearby sights. The tram from Baixa to Belem was incredibly crowded – only two of us were lucky enough to get seats – and very hot.
There was much of interest to see in this area, but be warned that the Tower of Belem is a tad underwhelming. It is a squat little structure, and when you call something a tower I for one expect it to soar skywards, reaching for the stars.
This area is also home to the famous Pasteis de Belem bakery, that has been making its famous pastries based on a secret recipe since 1837. We tried some and they were yummy, but I preferred the far less famous version made with an unsecret recipe at the bakery by our apartment. These ones were a little too eggy for me.
After dinner on day 2, we put Toddler BITA to bed, and my parents stayed home with her while Mr. BITA, my sister, her husband and I explored the nightlife of the city. We sampled a few bars and eventually made our way to The Pink Street – a street painted, as the name suggests, an extremely virulent shade of pink and lined with bars and clubs. Traveling with grandparents is the Best Thing Ever.
On our final day in Lisbon we decided to take the train to the nearby town of Sintra. There are trains from Lisbon every 30 minutes. Sintra is a fairytale town choc-a-bloc with ruins of castles and gardens and palaces. We didn’t spend nearly enough time exploring all that this town has to offer.
We stopped at a bakery called Cafe Saudade before we took the train back to Sintra. Everything this bakery had to offer was over the top delicious and I had the best chocolate cake of my life here. Not only that, the staff were amazing. When we were exploring the castle earlier in the day Grandfather BITA cut his finger. He had clumsily wrapped a couple of tissues around it, because we had no band-aid on hand. Our waitress noticed his finger on her own, came over with a box of band aids and fixed him right up.
|Apartment||$405||Two bedroom apartment for 4 adults and 1 child.|
|Cab from the airport||$28.94|
|Restaurants and bakeries||$278.78||Including alcohol.|
|Groceries||$41.34||Breakfast at the apartment every day (eggs, cold cuts, fruit, milk, coffee).|
|Liquor||$40.75||Bars, and the purchase of one small bottle of Ginga that we brought back with us.|
|Entrance to Moorish Castle at Sintra||$53.16||For 6 adults.|
|Hop-on Hop-off bus at Sintra||$56.70||For 3 adults.|
|Public transportation||$23.86||Including train tickets for 3 adults from Lisbon to Sintra.|
|Two cabs to the airport||$36.62||One cab for us and another for my parents.|
The total cost of our vacation in Lisbon: $965.15.
A vacation in Lisbon delivers fantastic value for money. Food is cheap and delicious. Public transportation is affordable. Our accommodation in the heart of town cost $20.25 per person per night.
It is a city with much to do and see, and we barely did it justice. Lisbon is on our list of places that need a redo once we are financially independent.