I thought I’d experiment. Since launching in March of this year, BA have been pushing Day Tripper fares out of Heathrow to destinations such as Munich, Vienna and Rome. The initiative has proved so popular that they have rolled out more destinations including Lisbon, Stockholm and Barcelona. The fares are only available on Saturdays and Sundays but are a reasonably priced way of getting a change of scenery if you’re out of holiday or your budget won’t stretch to a hotel as well. It got me thinking about where I could go and what I’d have time to do, and then of course, could I beat BA in terms of price and hours spent? I could, and settled on a return fare with easyJet from Luton to Lisbon.
I flew from Luton on the 6.40am flight scheduled to arrive in Lisbon at 9.30am. The flight was delayed by about forty minutes due to fog in Lisbon, still beating the 7.40am BA flight which was scheduled for a 10.15am arrival. No baggage made for a very quick transit through Lisbon’s airport and a direct connection to the city centre by metro meant I was in the city for mid-morning coffee. My return flight was due to leave at 9.00pm meaning I left the city centre at around 7.30pm. This again compared favourably to BA’s schedule where the last flight out departs at 6.50pm. Having said that, a half-hour delay from Lisbon (no reason given) meant that we didn’t touch down at Luton until almost midnight, making it a very long day.
What is there to see?
Having been to Lisbon before, I was able to take in the sights of Sintra instead, a forty minute train journey from Lisbon’s Rossio station. There are plenty of tours available but as the return train fare is just over four euros it seemed a better option. In Sintra, the sights are spread out up a very steep hill, but the local bus 434 offers a round trip hop-on hop-off fare for five euros. I enjoyed wandering the streets of Sintra’s historic town centre, in particular looking at the peculiar bulging chimneys of the fifteenth century National Palace and the ornate interior of St Martin’s Church. There are enough beautiful buildings to forgive it the tourist tat shops and there are plenty of places to eat a tasty lunch.
The bus then chugged up to the Moorish Castle, its driver becoming increasingly exasperated by the inconsiderate parking shown by many visitors and local residents. At one point the bus got wedged between a house and the stone wall opposite on a particularly tight turn, but a local dog walker came to the rescue and helped him make the most of every inch of the road. After the castle, I headed up again (thank goodness for the bus) to the Pena Palace. With its odd shapes and eclectic colour scheme, it looks for all the world like it has been transplanted from a Disney theme park. It’s actually a nineteenth century Royal Palace set within the attractive Parque de Pena.
Returning to Lisbon late afternoon, I still had time to ride the Number 28 tram up to the Portas do Sol viewpoint, one of my favourite spots in the city. From its terrace cafes, you have a fantastic view across the Alfama District of terracotta rooftops and pastel-painted homes dotted with fabulous churches overlooking the River Tejo. The tram is an attraction in itself, dating from the 1930s with its distinctive yellow livery and its wooden benches and old levers. Be careful of the pickpockets that ride the tram; warnings are clearly signed on the inside of the trams yet an elderly German man on my tram lost a wallet to them which he’d unwittingly left in his back pocket.
So what’s the verdict?
Obviously, with time so limited, it’s best to choose either Sintra or Lisbon, and if you’ve never been before, I’d say Lisbon. Take a seven minute train ride along to Belem, where you can photograph the Monument to the Discoveries and visit the Belem Tower.
Next to the park, Jeronimos Monastery is the final resting place of Vasco de Gama, the famous Portuguese explorer. The Pasteis de Belem bakery, dating from 1837, does a roaring trade in the tiny tarts for which Lisbon is well known, but you will have to queue – they sell around 50,000 on a normal day.
Back in the city, hang out in the many squares, such as the Praça do Comércio, rebuilt after the great earthquake of 1755. Wander the lanes of the Alfama and take in the views of St George Castle. Enjoy the view of the River Tejo from the many miradors that dot the city. Built over seven hills, you either need strong leg muscles or a day pass for the trams, elevators and metros which make getting about so much more pleasant under a hot sun. It was 33°C yesterday.
So, I’d say it was definitely worth doing. It was a long day, but Lisbon is a great choice for a Day Tripper city break.