Accessible cities: exploring Lisbon as a disabled traveler

Continuing our series on accessible cities, travel blogger Jay Abdullahi takes you on a tour through Lisbon, covering the A-Z of accessibility in the Portuguese capital

Lisbon is the perfect mix of beautiful scenery, delicious food and exciting history
Lisbon is the perfect mix of beautiful scenery, delicious food and exciting history

A perfect destination for a city break, Lisbon is not only the second oldest capital in Europe – only surpassed by Athens – it’s also ideally located by the coast, meaning you’re never far from the beautifully blue waters.

Between the captivating views from the city’s spectacular miradouros, the high quality cuisine, and the fascinating history, you will be thoroughly spoiled with choices throughout your visit. Immerse yourself in Lisbon’s Gothic architecture and maritime heritage while enjoying the gorgeous scenery, the accommodating Alfacinhas, and the near year-round sunshine in this hilltop haven.

Getting there and getting around

Lisbon is very well connected with taxis, trains, buses and trams, like here at Gare do Oriente station

Lisbon is very well connected with taxis, trains, buses and trams, like here at Gare do Oriente station

Flying in to Lisbon Portela Airport, you’ll find yourself only seven kilometers from the city center, making it a pleasantly fast and easy commute. Travelers with a wheelchair or other mobility issues may choose to use the special assistance service, conveniently provided by the airport. MyWay assistance service can be organized when booking your flight, or up to 48 hours in advance, but always try to give as much notice as possible.

Due to the proximity of the airport to the city center, you may decide to take a taxi to your accommodation. With a journey time of roughly 15 minutes and a price stamp of approximately €15, it’s a sensible choice for people short on time or anyone requiring extra help.

Compared to other European capitals, transportation in Lisbon is fairly cheap. As a bus ticket from the airport to the city center comes in at just under €2, those travelling on a budget can save their pennies for seafood and custard tarts. Confused? Just keep reading.

The newer trams are much more accessible for people traveling with a disability

The newer trams are much more accessible for people traveling with a disability

The old-style trams, a well-known icon of the Portuguese capital, running through the city are unfortunately not accessible by wheelchair, and would also prove difficult for people not fully mobile. But fear not, while the newer trams are less quaint, they are much more accessible from most stops, so you can still tick that item off of your to-do-list. Please do check beforehand to make sure your required stop is accessible.

The Lisbon Metro goes to the airport via the red line, and is the most cost and time effective option. Furthermore, most metro stops are wheelchair accessible and – not to be underestimated – remarkably clean. It runs on four different lines, and all stations, with only a few exceptions, are open until 1am the next morning.

TIP: To save a bit of money, buy a combination pass for the bus and metro for the number of days you require.

Accommodation

The picturesque neighborhood of Alfama provides a good setting for your choice of accommodation

The picturesque neighborhood of Alfama provides a good setting for your choice of accommodation

Lisbon has great accommodation available for all budgets, for example the Independente Hostel & Suites – a gorgeous hostel located in the Bairro Alto district. You are based right besides Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcantara, where you can enjoy panoramic views across the city to St. George’s Castle and central Lisbon. The hostel has a lift for wheelchair users and those with reduced mobility. Beds start from €12 per night.

TIP: By choosing a hostel or hotel near the metro’s red line, you’ll have an easy route back to the airport.

If you are looking for something a little more upscale, then consider staying at memmo Alfama. This trendy 4-star hotel is located in the picturesque Alfama neighbourhood of Lisbon, near an iconic tram stop, making it ideal for that mandatory Insta-snap.

In the warmer months, their rooftop wine bar and pool provide a cooling escape from the scorching streets below, and with disabled facilities available, your every need is covered. Make sure to let the staff know of any specific requirements before you arrive. Rooms start from €120 – €130 euros per night.

Curious to find more great accomodation? Check out these 10 incredible Lisbon hostels.

Sightseeing

A former Moorish stronghold, Castelo de São Jorge was used as a royal palace by Portugal's first King

A former Moorish stronghold, Castelo de São Jorge was used as a royal palace by Portugal’s first King

The best and worst thing about Lisbon is its natural hilliness. You’ll get fantastic views from the many miradouros, but you’ll have to earn each and every one. A former Moorish stronghold and royal palace used by Portugal’s first King, Dom Afonso Henriques, Castelo de São Jorge is one such place with an unparalleled snapshot of the city.

Many steps take you to the higher points of the castle, however wheelchair users will still be able to enjoy the vista from the lower levels of the fortification. The canons and archaeological sites are located lower down, where you’ll also find the café – conveniently located in the shade. There are personalized services available for those with reduced mobility, and assistance dogs are welcome.

Jerónimos Monastery used to be populated by monks tasked with giving spiritual guidance to sailors

Jerónimos Monastery used to be populated by monks tasked with giving spiritual guidance to sailors

A dream come true for many an architecture aficionado, Jerónimos Monastery presents a Gothic exterior that draws parallels to the Budapest Parliament building. Featuring elaborate maritime designs and sculptures, this UNESCO World Heritage site was originally populated by monks tasked with giving spiritual guidance to sailors.

There is a ramp available to enter the monastery, however a few steps are required to enter the church. The monastery offers a tactile tour for people with visual impairments, but try to give them as much notice as possible. There is a disabled toilet available at the Monastery, which makes life a lot easier.

Eating and drinking

 Wear comfortable shoes to Cervejaria Ramiro - you may be in for a long wait, but it will be worth your time

Wear comfortable shoes to Cervejaria Ramiro – you may be in for a long wait, but it will be worth your time

Nobody can be expected to do all that sightseeing without having something to eat! Luckily for you, Lisbon has you covered in more than one way. Located close to a body of water, Lisbon offers excellent options for seafood lovers. With good reason, Cervejaria Ramiro is a popular seafood restaurant among locals and tourists alike – sometimes with queues that go out the door. Try to come by outside peak hours, wear comfortable shoes, and wait it out. It will be well worth your time!

This is the part with an ode to a pastry. The Pastéis de Belem produce the most delicious custard tarts you will ever taste. The ancient recipe comes from the Jerónimos Monastery and has remained unchanged since the 1830s. Baked fresh every day, you can rest assured in the love and care that has gone into making them. The distinctive dark blue and white tiles adorn the interior, as well as the tubes they provide for those that want takeaway.

TIP: Close by to the Monastery, so you go before or after, or both!

Going out

If you're looking for a night on the town, try the area of Cais do Sodré

If you’re looking for a night on the town, try the area of Cais do Sodré

Now you’ve eaten your own body weight in seafood and filled up on the wine, there’s only one thing left to do: party! With an impressive amount of places to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start. Argued by some to now outstage the popular Bairro Alto, Cais do Sodré has recently been reborn as one of city’s hippest and happening nightlife districts, so make sure to check it out.

But don’t forget about Bairro Alto. Comparable to New Orleans, this soulful neighborhood is a solid first choice, with bars and live music waiting to welcome you in. While there, swing by Pavilhão Chinês – a quirky little bar that used to be a food store, and then became a museum for toys that happens to also serve cocktails. If you have ever wondered what it would be like to drink with toy soldiers, now is your chance to find out.

If you’re looking for something a little more low-key, a fabulous district to visit is Baixa. Packed with cafés and restaurants, this is the downtown part of Lisbon and one of the most wheelchair accessible neighbourhood, as large parts of it are flat – including the famous Praca do Comercio. From this plaza, you can see the Arco da Rua Augusta, but note that you will have many other tourists there with you.

In the mood for delicious, baked goods? Stroll a little further away to the bakery Bread 4 You. They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner (until 11pm), so you could even stay in the downtown area until late and still be able to catch the metro home.

Surrounding area

Need to cool down? Head 35 minutes out of Lisbon to the seaside paradise of Cascais

Need to cool down? Head 35 minutes out of Lisbon to the seaside paradise of Cascais

With a Mediterranean climate and average summer temperatures in the high 20s, you may want to retract from the city and onto a beach. In that case, Cascais is the place for you. This seaside town is around 35 minutes from Lisbon, and can be reached by train from Cais do Sodré station. One of the best beaches along the coastline is Praia de Carcavelos, but in order to make the most of this town and its beautiful beaches, try to go there on a weekday. Otherwise, you and the rest of Lisbon will be sunbathing together.

Another fabulous place you can reach from the city is the town of Sintra. Jump on a train at Rossio station in the Baixa district, and 40 minutes later you’ll be in Sintra –  a true gem in Portugal’s crown.

Like the capital, this town is incredibly hilly, but The Welcome Better project provides full accessibility to the many hot spots of Sintra, including the Castelo dos Mouros, Sintra and Pena Palaces. They offer loan wheelchairs, disabled parking spaces, accessible toilets, and even a wheelchair platform that takes you up the castle.

TIP: An accompanying person may enter with you for free, but proof of disability is required.

For those who would like a guide, you can book wheelchair accessible tour with Adapted Tours Portugal. They provide a full day tour which covers Sintra, Cascais, and Estoril, and they can pick you up from your accommodation!

Find a flight to Lisbon
Follow Jay and her travels on Jay on Life, and make sure read our accessible guide to Athens. For more tips and destinations, visit momondo Inspiration