Having visited Lisbon more than once it’s a destination that we always look forward to with a sense of enjoyment. Lisbon the capital of Portugal wraps itself around 7 hills, flowing down to its waterfront at the Tagus and then out to sea. We always find it to be a bustling, exciting and welcoming city with a real sense of its heritage and history.
WORDS BY: TRAVEL THE WORLD AND SMILE HAPPY TRAVELLING WITH DAVIE
Arriving in Lisbon
Our first visit to Lisbon was for a short city break, and we flew direct from Edinburgh to Lisbon International Airport or Portela Airport. Lisbon is the main international gateway to Portugal so there are plenty of options to get there. To get into the city you can get various buses from the airport, there is also the Metro, it’s a 25-minute trip into the city on the red line. Then there are airport taxis including the option of Uber that is available in Lisbon.
We have also however arrived in Lisbon from the sea, on cruise ships. That is a much more picturesque way to make your entrance to the city centre. With the newly redeveloped Cruise Terminal only a short 5-minute walk away from the main city square.
Lisbon: where to stay
If it’s your first visit to the city I would recommend you base yourself close to the historic city centre, which covers the districts of Baxia, Chiado, Bairro Alto, Alfama and the Avenida da Liberdade. These are the main tourist areas and all are within walking distance of the main sights and attractions with Bairro Alto and Cais do Sodre being the area where the cities nightlife is concentrated.
What to see and do in Lisbon
Praça do Comércio
This is the central square of Lisbon and was once the site of the cities port, so it enjoys a waterfront position, It was also where historically the administration buildings were situated that controlled Portugal’s trade with its then colonies. Now it is lined by a number of bars and restaurants where you can enjoy a refreshment and a bit of people watching.
Get a view at a Mirador
Lisbon is built on 7 hills which means there are lots of viewpoints (Miradouros in Portuguese) around the city where you give you some fantastic photo opportunities and views of the city. Couple of good ones are at Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara and Miradouro da Garca both give great views of the Castle of Sao Jorge. But there are many more.
The plane tree peppered Rossio Square is where Lisbon’s local life ticks over each day.
Officially titled Pedro IV Square, the spot marks the very heart of the Pombaline Lower Town, which spreads out in wide boulevards between the Tagus and Baixa rivers.
The site of the plaza itself has been famous since the medieval age, when public beheadings and bullfighting showdowns were held on its cobbles.
Today, it’s a great spot to enjoy a glass of, local wine whilst sitting and people watching.
Castle of Sao Jorge
Visit Lisbon’s Castle that sits in the Santa Maria Maior District, during its long history it’s served as a military barracks and Royal Palace but is now home to Torre do Tombo National Archive and is a national monument and museum.
One of the more iconic images of the Lisbon is the cities yellow and white vintage electric trams that have been shaking, rattling and rolling around the city since 1901. The most popular of the five lines around the city is Tram 28 that criss crosses the city centre passing close to many Lisbon’s must see sights. The fare is cheap and it is a experience so give it a try. Word of warning however it can get busy, and be vigilant whilst onboard because of its popularity it also attracts petty criminals in particular pick pockets so keep your valuables secure.
Elevador de Santa Justa
Yes Lisbon has its own elevator, and it is a national monument. The elevator was built by Raoul Mesnier who its said was a apprentice of Gustave Eiffel who constructed Paris famous tower and the elevator shares similarities in design with of course a few tweeks. It was built for a practical purpose to let locals climb the steep hill from the city centre quickly with ease, and you can still take advantage of it today. Be warned it can get busy particularly on days when a few of the larger cruise ships are in town as it features on most city tours.
Explore the Alfama District
This area is easy to get to by tram, car or simply walking, it’s a filled with blue tiled houses, the tiles are something that Lisbon is famous for and there everywhere, but this area has some of the best examples but its not just that, take a wander around its many tiny little streets and explore its many artists studios, cafes, restaurants and shops. Great charming place to unwind for a few hours.
St George’s Castle
Visit the most visible landmark of Lisbon’s historic centre St George’s Castle.
Standing tall and firm above the streets of the old Alfama District, the castle was first built more than 2,000 years ago by the Romans.
Since then, it has been developed by subsequent rulers of the city, from the Berbers to the Reconquista knights.
Today it has palisades and crenulated towers to admire, along with a dry moat and other anti-siege features.
Pass beneath the large gate here and notice the Portuguese royal seal, marking the country’s monarchic strength. If you enjoy history you will relish a vist here.
Enjoy The National Museum of Ancient Art
This Museum is the home of Portugal’s prestigious national art collection.
Most of the canvasses date from between the 16th and 19th centuries, and came into public ownership following the Liberal Wars that rocked the country in the early modern age.
Visitor’s here can also enjoy countless travelling exhibitions, with past collections reflecting Lisbon in the Renaissance period as well as featuring historical paintings from the Age of Discovery.
Visit the Oceanarium
Located out in the blue waters of the Tagus Estuary, the huge Lisbon Oceanarium rises like a huge cargo ship.
Inside, the structure houses countless displays and animals related to marine life.
You can get up close to colorful puffer fish as well as watch the marauding sharks as well a curious moray eels. Not forgetting the always popular penguins.
This has all sorts of interesting marine exhibits as well as an artificial boating lagoon out front where you can rent a pedalo on sunny days.
Tuk Tuk tour
In common with many cities these days you can hire a Tuk Tuk to tour around the city. Ok I know there an acquired taste, but we did actually do one in Lisbon and it was very good. We negotiated the price and sights we wanted to visit and off we went. It was a bit of fun and a quick way to get around a few places, so its a option if you are on a Port day from a cruise ship and want to do your own thing rather than a organised tour.
Eat a Pastel de Natalie
This is simply a must do. If you have not tried one of these famous tarts then do yourself a favour and try one in Lisbon, there to be found all around the city. Add a bit of cinnamon on a freshly baked Pastel and it just melts in your mouth. Highly recommended.
Visit Torre de Belem
This UNESCO world heritage site is over 500 years old and sits on the coast on the outskirts of the city. It’s a ancient tower fortification which historically served as a point of embarkation and disembarkation for Portuguese explorers and a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon. If you do want to visit inside the tower then its advisable to get there early as its a popular attraction and long queues are common.
Eating and Drinking
Lisbon is a vibrant city and the local inhabitants know how to enjoy themselves, so you won’t be short of good bars, cafes, restaurants and nightlife to choose from.
The main areas for bars, restaurants and clubs are in Barrio Alto and Cais do Sodre. With the street known as Pink Street being a favourite spot, particular with the young and young at heart with loads of bars and clubs.
However for a real culinary adventure a visit to the Mercado de Riberia is definitely worth considering.
There are two distinct sides to Lisbon’s most famous food market.
First of all there is the downstairs part, which throbs with local fruit and vegetable sellers to succulent legumes and Mediterranean fruits every morning of the week, so make sure if you want to buy something to get there early.
Then there is the upstairs section which comes packed with more modern, often quirky food stalls and cutting-edge eateries.
It is here that you will be able to taste the local specialty of custard tarts, sip fine Portuguese wines, or even attempt to conquer a massive francesinha sandwich which is one of the treats to come out of Porto in the north but is available to enjoy at the Mercadio.
Lisbon Sardine Festival
This may seem strange but trust me its a great event, now Sardines may not immediately make you think of beer and dancing, but thats exactly what happens. The festival takes place mainly in the Alfama District the entire month of June with a main day around the 12 to 14 June including a large parade along the Avenida da Liberdade. The festival is dedicated to St Anthony the patron Saint of Lisbon. On one of our city breaks to Lisbon we discovered this festival by accident and enjoyed two fantastic nights of fun. So if you are going to visit in June give it a look it really is good fun.
Tips for visiting Lisbon
- Wear good walking foot-ware, remember Lisbon is built on 7 hills and if you’re going to walk the city there is lots of up hill walking.
- If you use the electric trams be vigilant for pick-pockets.
- Be aware when you are given bread and olive oil at a restaurant it’s not free – if you use it you pay and it can be expensive.
- Take a walking tour, you see so much more there even “free ones” where you pay/tip at the end if you have enjoyed it.
- Enjoy the local food including the tarts and local wine.
- Coffee drinker? Enjoy a local Portuguese coffee.
In short Lisbon is a city that will offer and deliver on many fronts for any tourist, go on give it a go.