In our Simple Pleasure series, our writers show you how you can enjoy a fun and easy-going activity in their city without breaking the bank. Here, Austin Bush explains why a stroll through Lisbon is a great (and free) way to understand the city.
For more than 20 years, I lived in Bangkok, Thailand, a place where almost nobody walks. Admittedly, it's a massive metropolis that's hot and polluted but also a city that lacks much of the fundamental infrastructure needed for convenient, safe walking. As a result, the vast majority of people there drive, take public transport, taxis, or – in particular, Bangkok fashion – motorcycle taxis.
Just over a year ago, I moved to Lisbon, Portugal. One of my main motivations for moving here was a desire to live in a city where I could walk. And do I walk!
Is Lisbon a good city for walking? In some ways, it's not. For one, it's extremely hilly. Like, really, insanely hilly; some of the inclines here (such as the one leading to my neighborhood) feel practically Himalayan in their steepness. And in much of the city center, the sidewalks – known here as calçadas – are made of a type of marble that, when dry, is slippery and when wet, is practically ice-like. I've fallen multiple times and have also witnessed several slips and falls.
In other ways, Lisbon is an excellent city for walking. The city center is tiny – easily crossable by foot if you're willing to tackle those hills. The weather is generally pleasant. This being Europe, the pedestrian infrastructure mostly works. With its tile-fronted buildings, Art Nouveau kiosks, gardens and viewpoints, Lisbon is incredibly beautiful. And as an American, I'm simply happy not to be chained to my car for simple excursions.
My favorite walk in Lisbon is the one I do most Saturday mornings. Starting in my neighborhood, Graça, I descend the hill to arrive at Lisbon's flattest zone, the commercial (and now increasingly tourist) area known as Baixa.
Fueled, I brace myself for the steep uphill to Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, one of the city's most famous miradouros or viewpoints. One more incline and I'm in Jardim do Príncipe Real, a hilltop park that hosts a weekly farmer's market, my destination.
I load up on fruits and vegetables, and after a coffee at one of the kiosks, I have to decide whether or not I'm willing to schlep the 2.5km back home with a full bag. The answer is almost always yes.