Staying in a van in Lisbon is easy, fun and cheap. Here’s what we did in our three weeks staying in the capital…
Where we stayed…
We’d arranged to meet some friends for NOS Alive festival on 7th July but we decided to get to Lisbon a few days early to secure a good parking spot. We were a bit apprehensive about staying in a big city as we’d read that it can be tricky finding anywhere to park in Lisbon.
We arrived on the 4th and spent our first night parked by Belém tower with a couple of other campers. This was a great place to stay for one or two nights but we wanted to find somewhere a bit quieter as the area around the tower was really busy and touristy.
When arriving at a new place we usually like to go for a quick cycle ride to scope it out for good parking places – shaded car parks, public toilets, a drinking water tap etc.. This works well because you can easily get to areas where you might not necessarily be able to drive to and you don’t have to worry so much about following the road layout and finding places to turn around/ stop and look for directions when you’re lost!
We did this after our first night at the tower and followed the dedicated cycle path which stretches along the Tejo estuary, from Belém tower right in to the city centre. We found just a few kilometers down the road another much bigger car park with trees and lots of other vans and motorhomes, it looked perfect.
We moved the van there straight away as the car park was already looking pretty full. There were so many different vans all with people clearly camping, we couldn’t believe there was no charge for staying there and people weren’t being moved on by the police. People even had their tables set up outside and were cooking or sitting out by their vans, it felt just like being on a campsite!
We ended up staying here for the most part of our visit to Lisbon, it was brilliant! There’s public toilets in the ferry ticket office in the car park which are open most of the day and another toilet block across the railway bridge just next to it. It’s also really well connected with the rest of the city as it’s sat beside Belém train station and on the cycle path so we found ourselves doing the 6 miles or so in to town each day, which was a really nice cycle ride along the water.
We spent a few nights in some of the other car parks along the waterfront which were a bit closer to town so that we could have some days where we didn’t need to cycle or get the train to get back. These car parks were also free and had other vans staying in them but weren’t as quiet or shaded.
Staying in Lisbon was the first time since we started travelling that we’ve felt part of a community of van dwellers. We ended up getting to know some of the people in the car park and felt really comfortable and relaxed having the van door open and welcoming our neighbours in. There were people parked up here from all different countries so it was really interesting hearing their different stories about where they’re from and where they’re going.
We spent our first week in Lisbon meeting up with some friends to go to NOS Alive Festival which was really good fun! It was lovely to see some familiar faces, even though we haven’t been travelling all that long it’s amazing how much more relaxed you feel in a new place having some friends around! We had a few nights out in town with them and visited a bar called Pensão Amor a few times as it quickly became our favourite in Lisbon. It used to be a brothel once upon a time and they’ve kept the old decor complete with velvet draped across the walls and mirrored ceilings. Part of the building is set aside to house a sex shop and erotic library to add to the unusual interest of the place. They played a good mix of music that had us up and dancing on the packed dance floor til closing time.
Pensão Amor is located right in the middle of Rua Nova do Carvalho or “The Pink Street” as it’s known (the road is literally painted pink). This area is full of bars and clubs, a few of which we visited several times during our stay in Lisbon. Some are free entry and some the guys have to pay to get in but we had a few really good nights out where we met people from all over the world who were staying in the nearby hostels.
We also visited a couple of Lisbon’s lookout points which was unlike anything we’ve ever experienced…
The lookout spots, or miradouros, across Lisbon are high up places, overlooking the city with a square or green that people sit in and admire the view whilst drinking, playing music, selling art and meeting new people. We went to the Miradouro de Santa Catarina a couple of times and we loved it.
The second time we visited we met a guy who introduced us to everyone he knew, which turned out was pretty much everyone in Lisbon! He showed us which bars to go to around Bairro Alto at the time of night just before the clubs get going from around 11pm-1am. We saw some brilliant live local musicians and had a good sing song before joining the crowds heading down to pink street for the clubs. As far as nights out go, Lisbon has everything you could ever want!
Free stuff to do…
As we’re travelling on a budget we made the most of Lisbon’s free museums which is enough to keep you well occupied for a few days. We went to the Money Museum – Museu do Dinheiro where you can look at currency from around the world and find out about the history of money. We didn’t find this to be the most exciting place to visit and did a fairly quick whiz round but the interactive displays for kids where you can put a regal picture of yourself on bank notes and coins kept us entertained.
We also visited the Berardo Collection Museum – Museu Coleção Berardo, a collection of contemporary art exhibits which we really enjoyed looking around for hours.
The NOS Alive festival site was in Algés which is the part of Lisbon that has a beach. A few times we went and sat on the beach before heading in to the festival which was really nice and chilled out, although it’s not the best beach we’ve ever been to. It’s quite small and the water’s a bit murky, nonetheless it didn’t stop Simon going for a late afternoon dip!
Just walking around the streets of Lisbon is an experience as there’s so much to see like street art, performers, outdoor stalls and events showing off the local culture. One great way to experience this without having to spend any money is a visit to ‘the thieves market’ – Feira Da Ladra in Campo de Santa Clara. The market spills out across several streets with the stalls blending in to each other to create a seemingly endless selection of antiques, crafts, vintage items, books, records, china, clothing, jewelry – basically you name it…Even though we’re on a budget we couldn’t resist making a purchase and buying one of the beautiful fabric throws to hang in our vans slide doorway.
We had a fantastic time in Lisbon and still can’t quite believe how straightforward and relaxed it was staying there in the van. We’d definitely go back – in fact the only reason we moved on was because we’d heard about a free festival happening in Sines – post to come soon…We love Portugal!!!