Last summer, I visited Frankfurt for the 2015 CGI Euros football tournament. The very last thing to happen in Frankfurt was the announcement that the 2016 competition was to be held in Lisbon. I took the opportunity to explore the city before the tournament; any excuse to travel, right?
Sorting out transport from Scotland to Portugal was tricky - the Euros were being held on the same weekend as St. Anthony’s Day, which meant flight prices had skyrocketed. Undeterred, I managed to sort an unorthodox travel schedule involving four airports and three train stations, without needing to remortgage the flat to pay for transport.
I landed in Lisbon very late on the Thursday night. The underground system is thankfully easy to navigate, and I’d specifically booked a residencial close to a Metro station on the Linha Vermelha route, for a direct connection from the airport, as a place to crash for a few hours before heading out early. It was a good thing I only planned to stay there a few hours; the place was the worst I’ve ever stayed in, including £3/night hostel beds in Serbia. It was so cheap though, I couldn’t complain. Or, more realistically, I couldn’t complain because nobody there spoke anything but Portuguese.
Undeterred by spending the night in an oversized prison cell, I woke early and headed towards the team hotel to leave my things, as I’d be staying there from the Friday to Monday. The walk from Saldanha to Praça de Espanha was shorter than the Metro map made it look, so I made good time. I met a couple of teammates outside the hotel who were off to play golf at a course outside of Lisbon. I declined their invitation to join them though, and instead caught the Metro to Baixa-Chiado to find a walking tour.
I didn’t do a great deal of research on Lisbon before I came if I’m honest. I chose the Sandemans New Europe tour, as I’d taken them before in other cities with good experiences, most recently in Brussels. I was aiming to catch the 11am route, but as I made good time with the hotel change earlier, I managed to make the 10am tour, missing only the opening five minutes or so. The tour guide was great, and provided a good overview of the main city centre of Lisbon, as well as teaching some Portuguese phrases and accents.
One thing I didn’t realise about Lisbon is how many hills there are. Fortunately, living in Edinburgh, I’m used to steep walks, but Lisbon proved an additional challenge with the 30°C heat. Not that this was a real obstacle; for a three-hour walking tour, we didn’t do a great deal of walking at all, given how compact the city is; another characteristic it shares with Edinburgh, along with the hill-top Castle of São Jorge analogous to Edinburgh’s own castle.
The walking tour finished in the picturesque Praça do Comércio, where the Portuguese were constructing a massive screen to show the real Euro 2016 games. I headed for the entrance to the plaza, and climbed the Arco da Rua Augusta for some beautiful panoramic views of downtown Lisbon. From here, I took a slow, leisurely walk north through the city, watching the inhabitants prepare for the upcoming Sardine Festival. Naturally, I stopped at the Hard Rock Café for a late lunch (good quality food, probably not in my top ten though), and then wandered up towards the hotel through Miradouro do Parque Eduardo VIII to meet the rest of the squad before we got into full tournament-mode.
Lisbon is definitely a city I’ll return to in the future. I had a little under 24 hours to explore it on my own, which was nowhere near enough to see everything the place has to offer, despite the compactness of the city centre. It really is a beautiful place, and deserves more of my time to appreciate in full.