In my experience, Lisbon is one of the easiest European cities to explore if you’re in a wheelchair
I am disabled and use a wheelchair (pushed by my kind husband) to get around outside. This year I have been fortunate enough to visit a few European cities but two in particular stand out from an accessibility point of view – Lisbon and Munich.
We visited Lisbon in the early spring with a large group of friends. I had been to Lisbon before but it is such a fascinating city we were keen to return to see more of the sights. Like other travellers in wheelchairs, I tend to rank a city on the amount of cobbled streets and squares it possesses. It’s rather a shame, because often the most historic and picturesque areas have cobbled streets, but to a wheelchair user, cobbles mean trouble and discomfort! In central Lisbon, many of the pavements are made of small, flat pieces of stone arranged in different patterns, like a mosaic. These are a dream for wheelchair users, and indeed for anyone who finds walking difficult.
On the first day we all visited the Lisbon Story Centre in the Praça do Comércio. It’s the ideal way to begin any city break to Lisbon because it tells the story of the city from its very beginnings to the modern day by displays, pictures and short film clips. It adjoins the tourist office, where you can pick up leaflets and other information to use during your stay.
The next day a few of our group rode on tram no. 15 from Martim Moniz in the centre to the Jerónimos Monastery in the suburb of Belém. This modern tram can is suitable for wheelchair users, unlike the more famous old trams which run on routes 28 and 12 which are unfortunately not accessible to anyone in a wheelchair or to those who have difficulty climbing up the relatively steep steps onto the tram. The UNESCO World Heritage listed Monastery was built in the 16th Century and is a superb example of Manueline architecture. It became a monument to Portugal’s amazing age of discovery and the explorer Vasco da Gama is buried here. Both the church and the lower cloister are accessible to people with reduced mobility. Many people combine a visit to the Jerónimos Monastery with a trip up the famous Belém Tower, but this is not recommended for those with walking difficulties and we didn’t even attempt it. Instead, we walked back into the centre of Belém and went to the Pasteis de Belém café for lunch. This famous bakery and café claims to have been making the famous Pastéis de Belém since 1837, following an ancient recipe from the Jerónimos Monastery. Behind its small frontage the café is surprisingly spacious and offers a very good lunch menu in addition to its famous tarts.. Just as importantly for me, it had a disabled toilet!
The next day we were keen to visit Sao Jorge Castle. It is quite a climb by road up to the castle, but with some determination on my husband’s part we made it. It was worth the effort because the view from the top of the hill was superb. Here we did have to contend with some rather large cobbles but the discomfort was worth it. We could go across the bridge over the castle moat and into the inner courtyard area, but I had to look up at friends as they walked around the castle walls and we could not enter into the castle itself. Nevertheless, it is an experience I not have wanted to miss. The castle also has a very good cafeteria and a disabled toilet. Also, just below the castle on the viewpoint level there was another café where we had lunch and this also had a disabled toilet. The walk back down the hill has to be taken in stages with a wheelchair as some parts are quite steep, but I would recommend the walk to anyone.
I would certainly recommend Lisbon to all disabled travellers. With a little thought and planning, many sights in this delightful city can easily be experienced by anyone who is disabled. I’ll write about my experiences in Munich in another blog.