When I announced to friends and family that I’d be embarking on an early January trip to Portugal, their confusion – concern, even – was evident.
“In the wInTeR?!” they stuttered, “in the c0lD?!” They stared at me like I had something stuck in my teeth, had hung my calendar back to front or confused ‘Portugal’ with ‘Southern Hemisphere.’ But I knew the lady doth always protest too much. I had faith in a quick wintery dash to Lisbon, despite its star status as a summer staple.
And I, along with my bestie from Down Under who I joined for the trip, was right to. Take that, summer-crazed sceptics!
We essentially did go full tourist, so don’t expect too many hidden gems to be revealed in this little capture of a coastal gem. But with minimal crowds, off-season prices and the perfect combination of generous Vitamin D without the usual excessive perspiration, we had so much fun doing so.
Let the case for a winter escape to Lisbon commence!
Get Out of My Way
As Gabriella Montez once famously proved, sometimes you just gotta go your own way (*shout sings* WhAT about us?!)
But how can you do so in Lisbon when stampedes of humans surround you in every cute alleyway, lookout point and tiny Portuguese bakery?
Well, you go in Winter, that’s what you do.
As I was enjoying an afternoon in Alfama one day, strolling the sunny streets, climbing picturesque stairs and taking in uninterrupted views of the water, I at one point came across a small tour group – the first I’d seen – and overheard the guide congratulating them for coming in the wintertime. “You see this little courtyard we’re standing in,” he explained, “well, in the summer it’s packed. I wouldn’t be able to stand here and talk to you and have you hear me.”
Hitting up Lisbon in the off-season meant I didn’t get even a smidge of the “too many tourists” vibe people like to complain about. I could paint the town with my big ol’ strides, feel like I had the place to myself. On our day trip to Bélem we had to wait not even 10 minutes in the famously long queue for the famously delicious Pasteis de nata. And we caught the famous Tram 28 in what would normally be Peak Tourist Hour with very little trouble.
All in all, I managed to avoid needing to whip out the following reaction:
Help Me, I’m Poor
Low season vacays are the perfect opportunity for you to have a good time without constantly feeling reminded of your inherent Mrs Iglesias status. My friend and I were positively shook by the enormous Airbnb we rented for approximately 40 Australian dollars a night. It had three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a big kitchen, a washing machine, a lounge room with cable TV and adorable views. Our return flights from Paris were also crazy cheap (and the seat next to mine was empty coming home!) and the train we took from Lisbon to Porto wasn’t half-bad, either. Although Portugal is a fairly budget-friendly destination regardless, prices can hike to scary heights in peak periods, so packing a few cardigans instead of crop tops really won’t be the end of the world, especially if you can lay them all over the mansion you’re staying in.
The nicest aspect of the lack of tourists and general business in Lisbon was that I had time. Not having to line up for things, or grit my teeth as I weaved through crowds, or book restaurant tables in advance meant that I could take it reaaaal easy. One night I bonded with a waiter in two languages and he ended up giving us Ginghina on the house, another time I belted out Jay Z’s rap from Déja Vu from the back of an Uber with nowhere in particular to rush to; we took our time strolling through parks, saying hi to ducks and soaking up the sun, and had time for thorough expeditions in local supermarkets – I was able to comfortably continue my very serious project of seeing the world through Snacks. We stopped for popcorn at the train station, didn’t mind if we went a station too far, bought a bunch of hair clips from unassuming dollar stores and went to the same lookout point twice, just because.
They always say money can buy you time, but honey, I’m here to tell you it’s the other way around. You time your trip for the colder months of a warm weather destination and you’ll have both more cash to splash AND more hours in which to do so. She’s cracked the matrix!!
But where’s the Winter Wonderland?
SnowPEOPLE* are fun to build, sledding is fabulous, snow-topped roofs are Instagram gold and dishes based on melted cheese are heaven on a plate. This is all true. But painfully detangling your hair after it gets matted in your scarf all day, everyday GETS OLD. And Skiing is overrated. There, I said it!! It’s expensive, peeing becomes impossible once those enormous suits are on, those shoes are heavy af, and you STILL get sunburnt. (It’s also very fun etc. but for the sake of this article, snow sports are cancelled.)
The next time you have the winter blues and feel like escaping somewhere budget-friendly and bursting with character, Lisbon. Is. Your. Gal. Especially if you live in Europe. And especially if you enjoy eating food, and visiting clean cities, and feeling welcomed by nice people.
Reopening Skyscanner in 3, 2…