Wanderthirst: solo-travelling around Lisbon unlocked a new sense of internal freedom
In the Lisbon sunshine, my first ever solo trip made me grateful that I had grasped the opportunity to do something for myself.
The urge to go on holiday had been on my mind since I last left England in 2018. In 2021, I finally garnered the strength to go on my first solo trip, travelling to Portugal’s capital city, Lisbon, for just under a week. A solo holiday has always been at the top of my to-do list and, after graduating from university, the autumn time in November felt like a perfect opportunity to begin a new chapter in my life.
The month leading up to what felt like my first real step into complete adulthood was filled with planning for the trip, making sure I had the necessary documents and constantly checking that Covid restrictions hadn’t changed. The flight was only two hours, of which I spent every minute with my face glued to the window, watching as Britain’s cloudy skies dawned into night and the lights from Lisbon glimmered up into the sky. My anxieties surrounding all the possibilities of the trip going wrong had simmered when my row was filled with black women smiling at me, giving advice about where to visit and the best places to eat. Even though I was far from home, I still felt safe in the presence of black women taking me under their wing.
I stayed at the Empire Hotel and every morning, I woke up before 8am, believe it or not, to the bluest of skies and birds chirping (something England rarely has to offer us). The first day, I took the metro to Belem City and the first thing I realised is how spacious and quiet it is compared to the underground back in London. Belem is situated towards the west of Lisbon on the Tagus river, filled with streets full of various seafood restaurants and souvenirs. Its main attraction is Belem Tower – a castle and a world heritage site, built on the Tagus river in the 16th century as an act of protecting the city. Even though we couldn’t go inside, it didn’t stop crowds of people taking pictures, eating ice cream and sipping piña coladas out of fresh pineapples.
“Resting along the calm river gave me peace and made me grateful that I grasped the opportunity to do something for myself”
During my walk around the historic town, I came across a memorial for ‘todos os soldados que morreram ao servico de portugal’. It held an endless line with a plethora of names for soldiers who fought for Portugal throughout the years. I’ve never seen something so sentimental, that paid homage to all its fallen soldiers and I was in awe of how perfectly refined and in serenity the plaques stood.
On my first night, I visited TimeOut Market, (which is basically a bigger version of Boxpark). It was full of restaurants, from seafood and Chinese food, to vegan options and dessert shops situated around the perimeter of the market with tables and seats in the energetic atmosphere. I indulged in spicy prawns and rice alongside oysters for the very first time. The oysters were slimy, but because they were so salty I managed to disregard the texture.
On my second day, I rode the famous tram 28, travelling around Lisbon. I took a cruise on the Tagus River to watch the sunset along the rippling water. Resting along the calm river gave me peace and made me grateful that I grasped the opportunity to do something for myself, practising self-care that so many of us barely have the time to fit into our everyday lives.
During my third and final full day, I decided to take it easy, wandering the streets of Alfama and enjoying all of the different views it had to offer me. I spent most of my morning and afternoon at the Castelo de Sao Jorge – a historical castle where some of its origins were built all the way back in 8BC. I took about ten different videos and pictures of the stunning view overlooking Lisbon and the Tagus river. A pancake truck was parked nearby, and so I indulged in Nutella-filled pancakes and sat upon the rocks of the castle.
“A solo holiday was the best way I thought I could test and trust myself to be content in my own solitude”
A solo holiday was the best way I thought I could test and trust myself to be content in my own solitude. Without a doubt, travelling solo can be a great risk and there are a dozen reasons why black women might be apprehensive to do it. One of the main reasons family didn’t want me to go was due to gendered violence – and specifically, violence against black women which is often overlooked. Black women have constantly been controlled regarding what to do and where to go for so long that none of those risks actually scared me. Often, black women are perceived as strong women capable of looking after themselves and putting everyone else first, which is why I wanted to break these stereotypes internally. I wanted to become present after graduating, instead of worrying about what to do next. A solo holiday represents that self-care, which is often forgotten due to the demands of life.
That’s not to say that I didn’t have to do an ample amount of planning and researching what country I would be most comfortable in. Having black friends from Portugal and people who visited Lisbon alone, it became a no-brainer that it would be the first country of my solo adventures. Not once while I was there did I feel out of place or like I didn’t belong. I didn’t go out of my way to meet people and join tourist groups, but I felt a sense of welcoming when people realised I was travelling alone. Now I’ve completed my first solo trip, I can’t wait to embark on one again.
- Belem tower – a must-see attraction is Belem city with a variety of souvenir shops, cafés and restaurants to spend your day
- I stayed at Empire Lisbon hotel, which was clean, welcoming and met my needs as a solo traveller
- Tram 28 – A historic journey, which passes through the main tourist districts of Alfama, Baixa, Estrela and Graca
- Sunset Cruise – watching the sunset on a calming river on the second day made the trip a 10/10
- Visit the Santa Just Lift in the city centre – the views are incredible!
- If you take the tram 28, get on at the first stop because there are only about 12 seats and they get taken up quickly!
- Always check the season when you’re going. I went in November and was still able to enjoy the sun without soaking in sweat
- There are two main metro lines that take you around the city – if you’re planning on using the Metro, I advise getting a 24hr ticket which is only about 5 euros
Tips for solo travelling:
- Try and find a hotel or accommodation that’s close to the city centre so you won’t be so isolated (I found mine on booking.com)
- Make sure you have a portable charger handy
- Get a Monzo card!! You won’t have to convert currencies, so using a card for payments is easy
- Make sure a few friends/family members know where your accommodation is and your whereabouts
- Invest in downtime – maybe bring a book along and enjoy!
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