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Guest Post: One Wheelchair User’s Guide to Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon is having a second. Featured all over the place from journey publications to television packages, Europe’s second-oldest capital (after Athens) is being hailed as an under-the-radar, reasonably priced vacation spot. It has additionally grow to be simpler to get to thanks to TAP Air Portugal’s current enlargement of its North American gateways.

And why not. The capital of Portugal and one-time residence of world-class explorers Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan, and Prince Henry the Navigator has it all. Centuries of history. Examine. Delicate local weather. Examine. Fascinating structure. Examine. Loads of tradition. Verify. Museums and monuments. Verify, examine. Meals, wine, and nightlife. Verify, examine, and examine. Nearby towns with a lot to see and do, as well as the remainder of the nation simply ready to be explored. Examine and verify.

Lisbon skyline with aqueduct. | Photograph courtesy of Go to Lisboa.

However ask if Lisbon is wheelchair accessible, and the reply is less rosy. You’re probably to hear that the town is built on seven hills like Rome (truly, it’s six), which suggests a whole lot of ups and downs when you’re strolling or rolling. What chances are you’ll not hear is that a lot of the sidewalks not only are irregular, they’re manufactured from polished limestone and brick tiles, resulting in bumpy going for wheelchair riders and slippery surfaces for pushers. Sudden steps in the midst of sidewalks usually are not uncommon. Curb cuts? Don’t rely on them.

Nonetheless, the state of affairs isn’t all that dangerous. I spent greater than every week in Lisbon this summer time and didn’t feel deprived—a minimum of not much. Nevertheless, I all the time journey with a pal who pushes my “companion” chair (it has small wheels; I can’t use my arms), so he was in a position to cope with issues a solo wheelchair traveler may discover unattainable.

Basically, probably the most accessible neighborhoods are Baixa and Cais do Sodré, the downtown; Belém, departure level for the explorers and a serious vacationer attraction, and Parque das Nações (Park of Nations), an area of latest excessive rises on the east aspect of town. More interested in the previous than the new, we ignored the final, although it’s in all probability probably the most accessible with points of interest such because the Oceanarium and cable automotive.

We also found that extra museums have been accessible than churches, several parks have been good for hanging out, and a couple of the famed look-out points have been reachable with a little bit of planning.

Eating places turned out to be a combined bag but admittedly weren’t chosen particularly for accessibility, though different individuals have noted that outside cafes have a tendency to be good bets. This mini information doesn’t tackle motels as a result of we stayed at a stunning Airbnb—referred to as Jewel’s Condominium—that was accessible enough for me (one small step on the constructing entrance; walk-in bathe), and our host, Pedro, was fantastic.


Crucial thing to find out about Lisbon Airport, which is about 4.5 miles north of the town’s middle, is that there are comparatively few jetways, so many planes park remotely and bus passengers to and from the two terminals. MyWay supplies providers for individuals with disabilities, and you must ebook the provide help to need together with your airline or travel agent or up to 48 hours before your flight’s revealed departure time. At the airport, contact MyWay at the Designated Point of Arrival, a phone booth marked with its emblem.

MyWay Ambulift at Lisbon Airport. | Photograph courtesy ANA Aeroportos de Portugal.

My experience with MyWay was comparatively good. Upon arriving from Chicago, we had to wait for everybody else to deplane earlier than a car with a raise up to the aircraft door came to fetch us and take us to one other car (a van with a carry) that took us to the terminal, where we have been met by a MyWay worker who whisked us by way of all the standard rigamarole with none strains. Departing, MyWay took us from check-in, by means of security (once more, no strains), and up to the TAP business lounge, then came in a timely style to take us via passport control (no strains), to the gate and, when it was time, onto the aircraft, which did have a jetway.

While there seemed to be no drawback bringing the wheelchair to the gate, mine is sufficiently small to fold up and slot in an overhead bin, so I needed to stow it within the cabin. Despite the fact that I had prearranged with TAP Air Portugal to do that, I received plenty of push again from gate personnel regardless of citing ACAA provisions requiring carriers to permit assistive units that fit beneath the seat or in an overhead. I prevailed but solely when my pal folded the chair up and demonstrated that it fit—to the shock of the airline employees.

Lisbon’s historic Tram 28 isn’t wheelchair accessible. | Photograph courtesy of Visit Lisboa.

Public transportation isn’t reliably accessible even when it’s billed as such. We took the 735, the supposedly accessible bus close to where we have been staying, a number of occasions with various results: One time the fold-out ramp was missing the handle to open it; another time the ramp was fused shut, and one time it labored. The bus was virtually all the time crowded, making it arduous to wedge the wheelchair into the designated area. On no occasion did the driving force supply any help. Unfortunately, the trams—together with the well-known Tram 28–are totally inaccessible, as are the funiculars.

Trains didn’t fare a lot better. On the Alameda Station, we have been greeted by an worker who knowledgeable us that two elevators (of five complete) have been broken, but fortunately, the one we needed was working. On the plus aspect, she escorted us all the best way to the practice and referred to as ahead to a colleague to meet us at our destination, however he simply stated “hi” and left us on our own to find the three elevators vital to exit.

The only elevator on the Rossio Station, which serves the fairytale city of Sintra, was damaged the day we would have liked it, and we had to go to the again of the constructing and up switchback ramps to get to the ticket office and trains. A few practice compartments have been marked with wheelchair symbols and had ramps requiring employees help, however nobody was round, so my good friend lifted me on board in my wheelchair with assistance from other passengers. The identical factor occurred coming back from Sintra, and the crowded trains had no designated spots for wheelchairs.

Principally, we used Uber, which is cheap. The drivers tended to be helpful and had no drawback folding up the wheelchair and placing it in the trunk. However, their GPS techniques typically took them to inaccessible entrances to museums and such, they usually didn’t know the place to go to let us off.

Having a wheelchair typically enabled us to bypass long strains and pay lowered entrance fees, though fewer issues have been free than in different nations. I’d advocate buying the Lisboa Card totally free or decreased admissions and shorter strains, even should you can’t make full use of the free public transportation.

DOWNTOWN (Baixa and Cais do Sodré)

Praça do Comércio (Comercio Square), also referred to as Terreiro do Paço or “the palace’s square” for the royal palace that stood here for greater than two centuries till the Great Earthquake of 1755, shortly turned our point of reference for downtown. Adjoining to the Tagus River, the huge square with an equestrian statue of King José I in the middle is completely accessible, as are the outside cafes and restaurants on its three neoclassical arcaded sides (although their washrooms will not be). The triumphal arch on the north aspect leads to Rua Augusta, the primary pedestrian purchasing road, with extra cafes set up in the middle and frequent road performers.

Praça do Comércio or Comercio Square in Lisbon. | Photograph by Fredric Swanson.

While there are two tourist information centers on the sq., the primary Turismo de Lisboa workplace and store are around the nook on Rua do Arsenal. Apart from a great deal of info, the office has a very nice accessible washroom.

Again on the square, the utterly ramped Lisboa Story Centre provides an hour-long interactive tour of the town’s history that’s geared to faculty youngsters however isn’t a nasty approach to decide up just a little background. The centerpiece is a re-enactment of the 1755 earthquake on three huge screens with plenty of scary sound results.

After taking a look at a number of menus one evening because the sun was beginning to go down, we settled on Can the Can, partly because we have been in a position to get an outside desk right in entrance. The identify plays on the concept of using Portuguese conservas (canned fish), and costs are affordable given the situation. We loved a trio of pataniscas, crispy irregularly shaped cod fritters with barely creamy salt cod interiors; tender octopus salad with purple onion and tomato in a light-weight olive oil dressing, and “anchovied” sea bass, two crisp-skinned fish fillets with Yukon gold potatoes in an olive oil sauce flavored by anchovies. Each the rosé and purple wine specials went nicely with the meals, and repair was leisurely however extremely good. Our waitress even advised me that, since their washrooms weren’t accessible, she’d be joyful to give me a euro to use the public one.

Lisbon City Corridor and Municipal Square. | Photograph by Fredric Swanson.

Downtown’s other more-or-less accessible squares and streets range from Praça do Município (Municipal Square), where you’ll find Metropolis Hall and the newish Cash Museum (in a former church), to Avenida da Liberdade, the broad Champs-Elysees-style designer-shop-lined boulevard that runs for a mile from Restauradores Sq. to Marquês de Pombal Sq..

The Santa Justa Elevator, a well-liked vacationer attraction. | Photograph by Fredric Swanson.

One of the best-loved points of interest is the Santa Justa Elevator, a filigreed cast-iron tower designed by the Portugal-born French architect Raoul de Mesnier du Ponsard, an apprentice of Gustave Eiffel, which explains its similarities to Paris’ Eiffel Tower. Inbuilt 1902, the 147-foot-tall Neo-Gothic development connects downtown to Bairro Alto, the very best point of the town. You possibly can bypass the steps to the elevator by going into the constructing, but you’ll only have the ability to get to the mid degree—which has great views over tile roofs—because a spiral staircase goes to the highest. You’ll also want a Lisboa Card or cash; credit cards aren’t accepted.

Inside the Time Out Market Lisbon. | Photograph by Fredric Swanson.

A 10-minute stroll alongside the riverfront from Comercio Sq. leads to the domed TimeOut Ribeira Market ([email protected]), the flagship meals corridor of the namesake publication with restaurants and different vendors curated by its writers and editors. Here you’ll find stands from chefs Alexandre Silva, Marlene Vieira, Henrique Sá Pessoa and Vítor Claro, in addition to a shop selling conservas, a chocolatier, and a wine retailer. Communal tables fill the corridor’s middle, however all of them are excessive apart from those on both end. We savored picture good tuna tartare from Tartar-Ia but have been dissatisfied by Monte Mar’s small garlic shrimp in a salty sauce. Greatest have been the eggy chocolate sponge cake from Nós É Mas Bolos and the well-known pastéis de nata from a department of Manteigaria, which often wins awards for its signature flaky, crunchy custard tarts. A dwindling section of the previous traditional produce-meat market remains, nevertheless it seemed unhappy on our visit. There’s an accessible washroom.


There’s a lot to see on this neighborhood, it’s exhausting to know the place to start. So I’ll begin with three iconic monuments you’ll be able to skip going into, because they’re greatest seen from the surface.

The 25 de Abril Bridge, completed in 1966 and named for the dictator Salazar until after the revolution of April 25, 1974, is a 1.5 mile lengthy (or so) suspension bridge over the Tagus River. It resembles San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, only its central span, the longest in Europe at three,323 ft, is longer.

Belém Tower, inbuilt 1515 as a fortress to guard the entrance to Lisbon’s harbor, was the start line for most of the voyages of discovery and has associated stonework motifs, sculptures depicting historical figures resembling St. Vincent, and a rhinoceros that impressed Dürer’s drawing of the animal. Architect Francisco de Arruda additionally included Moorish influences, arcaded windows, Venetian-style loggias, and a statue of Our Woman of Protected Homecoming, a logo of protection for sailors on their voyages. Inside, guests line up to climb the steps of this UNESCO World Heritage Website, however there’s really no level.

There’s an elevator to go up contained in the Discoveries Monument, but this sweeping sculpture of a three-sailed ship built on the north bank of the Tagus River in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the demise of Prince Henry the Navigator is most spectacular for the historic figures on the surface. They embrace King Manuel I carrying an armillary sphere, poet Luis de Camões holding verses from “The Lusiads,” Vasco da Gama, Magellan, Cabral, and a number of other different notable Portuguese explorers, crusaders, monks, cartographers, and cosmographers. Prince Henry himself is on the prow holding a small vessel. The only lady is Queen Felipa of Lancaster, his mom.

Exterior of the Jerónimos Monastery. | Photograph by Fredric Swanson.

Then again, do go inside the Jerónimos Monastery, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Website in 1983 and designed in 1501 by the Portuguese architect Diogo de Boitaca to rejoice Vasco da Gama’s profitable voyage to India. Da Gama’s tomb is within the Gothic Church of Santa Maria, along with that of poet Camões, whose “The Lusiads” glorifies him and his compatriots. Other Portuguese notables entombed right here embrace King Manuel and King Sebastião, and poets Fernando Pessoa and Alexandre Herculano.

Jerónimos Monastery Cloister. | Photograph by Fredric Swanson.

The maritime motifs of the fashion that turned often known as “Manueline” are even simpler to see in the magnificent cloisters, the place every column is in another way carved with coils of rope, sea monsters, coral, and other designs evocative of that point of world exploration at sea. The previous refectory off to one aspect has lovely reticulated vaulting and tile on the walls depicting the Biblical story of Joseph.

Each the church and the cloisters are ramped, and we have been allowed to enter immediately despite the strains. There’s an accessible washroom, nevertheless it’s small and stored locked, so you will have to ask a security guard to open it.

In the west wing of the monastery is the Archaeology Museum, which brings collectively historic Egyptian, Greco-Roman, Visigothic, and Moorish artifacts, mosaics, funerary artwork, and ornaments from excavation sites everywhere in the country. The highlight is an exhibit of early Portuguese jewellery, much of it superbly wrought gold.

With our Lisboa Cards ready to swipe on a machine that registers their validity, we have been in a position to bypass both the line of other cardholders and that of individuals ready to by tickets. The galleries have been ramped as wanted, and some had replicas of objects for individuals with restricted sight to contact. Captions have been in Portuguese, English and, in some instances, French. The accessible washroom was much less crowded than that within the church.

Across the road from the monastery is the Belém Cultural Middle inbuilt 1992 to host Portugal’s presidency of the European Union. Numerous worldwide exhibitions have been held here since, and the arts complicated has the town’s largest auditorium. The actual cause to go to, though, is the Berardo Museum of Trendy and Modern Artwork, one of the world’s best privately amassed collections of works by Warhol, Picasso, Dali, Duchamp, Magritte, Miró, Bacon, Jackson Pollock, Jeff Koons, and lots of others, organized by movement—Surrealism, Constructivism, and so forth.–with captions in Portuguese and English.

Though the museum, which opened in 2007, is accessible, getting to it from road degree requires mastering a self-operated wheelchair stair raise up a flight of about 10 steps. There are accessible washrooms, and a first flooring cafe and restaurant with a garden overlooking the river and Discoveries Monument.

Two close by museums supply a taste of the opulence of 18th-century Lisbon and the wealth of European royal families. The Coaches Museum, accessible once you cross the bouncy black-brick courtyard to the ticket workplace, has the world’s largest and most dear collection of impossibly ornate coaches, lots of them ceremonial, corresponding to one with gilded figures on the tailgate displaying Lisbon topped by Fame and Abundance. The usually-overlooked Ajuda Palace, never accomplished as deliberate due to the exile of the royal family in Brazil brought on by the French invasion in 1807, is richly adorned with furnishings, paintings, sculptures, tapestries, and distinctive ornamental arts, albeit just a little pale feeling. The public tour consists of state rooms, the king and queen’s homier personal rooms, and the on a regular basis household dining room, but the wheelchair-accessible route—arranged prematurely or by having an able-bodied individual go in and ask—goes by means of many rooms that aren’t open to the public (some present process renovation) and features a experience in a jewel of a wood-paneled elevator with a red-velvet seat.

Judging by the lengthy strains outdoors (identical to all of the guidebooks say), everyone goes to the tiled, multi-room Antiga Confeitaria de Belém for the famous pastéis de Belém, the custard tarts the pastry shop has been serving since 1841. The key recipe, passed down from the monastery, is supposedly totally different from that for other versions. I found the crunchy crust too buttery, and the custard too sweet, even with the customary sprinkle of cinnamon. You’ll be able to watch the bakers at work in the glassed-in kitchen near the massive accessible washroom (from which I noticed four able-bodied ladies emerge together). Despite the strains, there seemed to be many empty tables inside, so contemplate enjoying your tarts on the spot quite than getting them—packed six to a cardboard tube—to go.


The National Museum of Historic Artwork, in a 17th-century former palace, has a terrific collection of Portuguese and European artwork from the 12th to the 19th centuries. Crucial Portuguese painting in all probability is Nuno Gonçalves’s late 15th-century masterpiece, often often known as the “Panels of St Vincent” (although its topic is disputed), however I used to be equally thrilled by the Bosch triptych “Temptations of St. Anthony” and works by Raphael, Dürer, Memling, and other masters, in addition to spiritual sculptures with the polychrome amazingly intact. You’ll additionally discover Chinese language porcelain, Indian furnishings and African carvings. Nicely laid-out and lit, the museum is accessible (apart from the decrease degree) should you go within the front entrance, and the accessible washroom is behind the superb shop.

Paintings on the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum. | Photograph by Fredric Swanson.

The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, housed in several buildings spread over a stupendous park, showcases one of many world’s best personal artwork collections, amassed over 40 years by oil magnate Gulbenkian, who adopted Portugal as his house and donated all of his treasures to the country when he died in 1955 on the age of 86. In addition to every little thing from priceless Egyptian artifacts to beautiful European work by huge names, the Founder’s Collection consists of superb French furniture and textiles, Persian tapestries, Japanese prints, Chinese language porcelain, and breathtaking Turkish ceramics and glass. The pièce de résistance is the Lalique room with whimsical jewelry featuring wildlife like the dragonfly pin, as well as a serpent mirror I coveted. The Trendy Constructing has three floors of work, works on paper, sculpture, and installations by Portuguese artists and immigrants. Both buildings are accessible (with accessible washrooms), as are the grounds, though the wheelchair indicators typically mysteriously lead to steps.

Show on the Orient Museum. | Photograph by Fredric Swanson.

The Orient Museum, in a transformed warehouse, focuses on the interaction of Portugal and the Far East. Sections, subdivided by country, are devoted to themes such because the Portuguese affect on the Far East and the Portuguese as collectors of Far Japanese artwork and decorative arts, which frequently meld East and West. A second-floor exhibit via the top of the yr spotlights Chinese language opera with extra costumes, artifacts, film clips, and knowledge than you’ll be able to imagine. The museum, which also features as a cultural middle, is absolutely accessible and has a fifth-floor restaurant offering a 20 euro lunch buffet and great views.

Panorama taken inside the Nationwide Tile Museum. | Photograph by Fredric Swanson.

The Nationwide Tile Museum, in what once was the Madre de Deus Convent, is a bit out of the best way but properly well worth the journey. The one-of-a-kind assortment explains the history of azulejos, ornamental ceramic tiles, and how they’re made, in addition to displaying a splendid array of tiles, tile portraits, and tile murals from the 15th century via the 20th. The chapel devoted to St. Anthony and chapter house are notably splendid; the former is up a flight of steps, but you’ll be able to view it via a window from above. The rest of the museum, which additionally has reveals of ceramics, collectible figurines, and dinnerware, is accessible. Don’t miss the 75-foot-long blue-and-white tile mural of Lisbon’s cityscape created in 1738 earlier than the Great Earthquake. It’s on the second flooring, as is the accessible washroom.

The airplane previously owned by António de Sousa Faria e Mello, a pilot and wheelchair consumer. | Photograph by Fredric Swanson.

The Air Museum, outdoors of Sintra (about 30 minutes from Lisbon), has a unprecedented collection of vintage and duplicate aircraft and accouterments spotlighting a century of Portuguese aviation. The reveals are in three absolutely accessible historic hangars and related rooms, amongst them one devoted to pioneers and one other to TAP Air Portugal. Don’t miss the Beechcraft Bonanza F-33A , registration CS-AZI. It belonged to António de Sousa Faria e Mello (1942-2006), a pilot who refused to be sidelined by a spinal chord damage that left him in a wheelchair, took a course in the U.S. for paraplegic pilots, and racked up two world tours as well as other feats. His painted portrait is next to the aircraft, which was adapted for his needs and is emblazoned with “International Wheelchair Aviators.”

Interior of the Nationwide Pantheon. | Photograph by Fredric Swanson.

The Nationwide Pantheon, previously Santa Engracia Church, is on the location of an earlier church that was torn down after being desecrated by a robbery in 1630. An innocent man was executed for the crime, and legend has it that he cursed the building, which can be why it took until 1966 to complete its reconstruction—based mostly on St. Peter’s in Rome. The domed building, on the plan of a Greek cross with an inside coated in multicolored polished marble, houses the tombs of a number of Portuguese presidents, quite a couple of of the nation’s literary lights, and two unlikely luminaries: Amália Rodrigues, probably the most famous fado singer, and Eusébio da Silva Ferreira, one of the biggest footballers (soccer gamers) of all time. The accessible entrance is behind the building (one small step), but there’s no accessible washroom. The “Feira da Ladra,” Lisbon’s flea market, fills the encompassing streets on Tuesdays and Saturdays.


The Jardim Guerra Junqueiro, named for a 19th-century poet, journalist, and politician entombed within the National Pantheon and also referred to as the Jardim da Estrela, is a picture-perfect and utterly accessible 19th-century park with winding pathways, pretty plantings, ponds with geese enjoying, a cafe, and an previous wrought-iron bandstand near the middle. We found it once we tried to go to the Estrela Basilica throughout the street, which turned out to be totally inaccessible. Not only that: Whereas the church’s plaza was incredibly windy, the park was an oasis of calm tranquility. We bought some freshly squeezed orange juice from a cart and have been completely satisfied to just hang out.


Musical performer at the Portas do Sol lookout. | Photograph by Fredric Swanson.

Miradouro das Portas do Sol, considered one of Lisbon’s many viewpoints (miradouros), is a superb place to be on a Sunday afternoon. The view out over the red-tile roofs of the Alfama neighborhood to the river is spectacular. There are stalls selling local crafts and touristic knickknacks. And relying on the place your loosen up, you’ll be able to hear every thing from classical to widespread music. We listened to a fado singer for a while, then discovered a fab Afro-Pop group with individuals dancing on the terrace all around.

Anne Spiselman is a contract writer specializing in eating, culture and travel.