We recently spent five days in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, and during our stay we did two very different walking tours. The first, with Urban Adventures, was an evening tour focussed on tapas and fado; the second, with Pancho Tours, took place during the day and included more history and fewer local gems.
We took the first tour just hours after arriving, and the other on our third day in the city. Both gave us an insight into Lisbon that we wouldn’t have had if we’d just explored by ourselves.
Why a walking tour?
Walking tours give you a better idea of where you’re located in the city. Whenever I do a tour by bus or car, I lose track of where I am, but I seem to get my bearings quicker if I’m walking. One of our tour mates took a map with her, which she marked the route on — a great idea if you’re just getting to know a city.
Why in Lisbon?
Lisbon is famously hilly — the story goes that the hills were created by a snake woman after being abandoned by her lover Ulysses. However they were formed, you need to get up and down them, and the most direct option is often a staircase — difficult to navigate by car. The price of the Urban Adventures tour includes a trip up one of the iconic funiculars, which is an experience in itself.
Walking also allows you to get up close and personal with Lisbon’s architecture, rather than just seeing it from a vehicle. One of my favourite things about the city is the tilework on the front of many buildings — a legacy from the Moorish presence in the country a hundreds of years ago. Some of the tiles are incredibly intricate, and can only be appreciated up close.
Our guides on both tours talked about the 1755 earthquake that destroyed 80% of the city, but the Pancho Tour went into a bit more depth regarding the history of the country — which really gave us a better understanding of why Portugal is why it is today.
The Urban Adventures tour guide also talked about history: the history of food and fado (fair enough really, given the name of the tour). We tried ginjinha and cod cakes, drank beer and wine, then ate various tapas at the best table In a fado bar while listening to the soulful lyrics of Lisbon’s favourite folk music.
Of course, you can create your own tour by doing some research and marking a route on a map — though I always intend to do this and never quite manage it. Sometimes the local tourist office will give you route suggestions, with explanations of what you’re seeing, like we had in Pontevedra. This is a great choice for smaller towns especially. But having a local guide can be worth the price of a tour — you’ll learn things that you’ll never find in the tourist brochures, and you can pick their brains for specific local knowledge as well.