Lisboa. I spent five amazing days in this gorgeous city and I fell in love with its people, culture, food, and landscape. It quickly became one of my unexpected favorite cities in Europe. Here are some highlights of what I did during my stay to get you excited for a trip to this fascinating city.
Once the European hub of commerce between Africa, India, the Far East and Brazil, Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world and the oldest in Western Europe. Despite the devastating 1755 earthquake that destroyed 85% of the city, there are still many beautiful historical places to visit, including a couple of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Lisbon is situated in the western Iberian Peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean and off the River Tagus.
Neighborhoods (Bairros de Lisboa)
There are many great areas within the city center that you can stay, depending on your tastes. Some neighborhoods in Lisbon are filled with hills while others are in the lower, flatter part of the city.
- Rossio, Chiado, and Baixa comprise the center of Lisbon’s busy tourist districts.
- You will find the historic central train station in Rossio, and the picturesque Praça da Figueira.
- Chiado is known for shopping from leather and crafts to fashion boutiques and shopping malls.
- In Baixa, you’ll find the well-known Rua Augusta pedestrian-only shopping street in the heart of the city, and the elegant plaza Praça do Comércio.
- To the west, you have the uphill district of Bairro Alto which is best known for its nightlife.
- To the east is Lisbon’s famous Alfama which consists of a maze of narrow, wandering streets in the oldest district of Lisbon. This bairro is home to the historic Moorish castle Castelo de São Jorge from which you can catch breathtaking views of the city.
- Belém is about five miles west of downtown but is easily reachable by bus, tram, and train. This is where you’ll find the Mosteiro de Jeronimos, Torre de Belém, and Padrão dos Descobrimentos.
- Cais do Sodré is the riverside district also known for bars and restaurants, like on Pink Street. Here you’ll find the popular Time Out Market (Mercado da Ribeira) which is one of the city’s great food markets.
Where to stay
Take into consideration your must-have amenities when selecting where to stay. The city is filled with a plethora of affordable accommodations from hostels, to hotels, and vacation apartment rentals to suit all needs.
We rented a wonderful apartment in the Chiado neighborhood with a stunning view of the Castelo de São Jorge in the distance. I highly recommend Courtesy Morning Apartments if you’re looking for a vacation apartment rental. We absolutely loved the location and its easy access to transportation and walking distance to many sights. The apartment itself was spacious, modern, and very comfortable.
Lisbon’s airport is a short 5 miles from downtown. From the airport, you can reach the city center using either the metro, Aerobus, shuttle service, or taxi. Lisbon has a great public transportation network comprising of metro, bus, tram, and rail options. The metro (subway/underground) is modern, clean, and efficient. It runs from 6:30AM to 1:00AM, and many of its stations are decorated with contemporary art, making it a tourist attraction in itself.
I do recommend that you make use of the public transportation to get around the city. Consider buying a Viva Viagem card. It’s a reloadable card that can be used with contactless readers, available for purchase at automated vending machines throughout the city. If you want unlimited use for 24hr across all transport modes it’ll cost you €10,15/day – which includes the trains to Cascais and Sintra. Find detailed information on the operator Carris website.
Things To Do
There are many fantastic things to see and do while in this gorgeous city. Depending on the length of your visit, you can consider buying a LisboaCard. Think through what you would like to see or do, and whether it might be a good value for the money. You get free entry or discounted admission to some of the most popular city attractions, as well as unlimited use of all public transport for the duration of the card. You can buy them for a validity of 24, 48, or 72 hours. The Lisboa Card is valid for a full calendar year after its purchase date (just in case you need to postpone your trip) and is validated upon its first use.
Here’s my shortlist of places to visit while in Lisbon. Any sites that have free admission with the LisboaCard are marked with ★, and any sites with discounted admission are marked with the percent discount.
- Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monastery) ★ — this former monastery, located in the area of Belém, was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. It is among the main tourist attractions of Lisbon, so prepared for lines to enter if you don’t have the LisboaCard. It’s definitely worth the wait as the interior is magnificent.
- Torre de Belém (Belém Tower) ★— located within a 5-minute walk away from the monastery, you’ll find the tower that was commissioned to be part of a defense system at the mouth of the Tagus river and a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon. While the entrance is included with the LisboaCard, they don’t have a dedicated fast track queue for people who have the card so you’ll have to stand in line with everyone else who’s buying tickets. Be prepared to stand on a long line, or do what I did and skip the line and take photos of its beautiful exterior.
- Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument of the Discoveries) 30% off— located along the Tagus river where ships departed to explore and trade with India and the Orient, the monument celebrates the Portuguese Age of Discovery during the 15th and 16th centuries. If you skip going inside Belém Tower, I suggest you come here instead, where you’ll find a great view of the city including the tower itself. It’s a lovely 15-minute walk along the river boardwalk from Belém Tower to reach the monument.
- Parque Eduardo VII (Eduardo VII Park) — this is a beautiful public park in Lisbon where you can take some time to relax after a morning of sightseeing. It’s a perfect spot for great photographs.
- Castelo de São Jorge (Saint George Castle) — is a Moorish castle occupying a commanding hilltop with spanning views of the historic city center. It is yet another spot to take fantastic photographs of the city. As a castle that dates from the medieval period, the ground can be uneven and some staircases can be a bit treacherous to use. Be careful and ensure you wear closed-toe shoes with a proper grip on the soles.
- Elevador de Santa Justa (Santa Justa Lift) ★ — this iron elevator is situated at the end of Rua de Santa Justa. It connects the lower streets of the Baixa area with the higher Largo do Carmo (Carmo Square) in Chiado. On the top floor is a lookout point with panoramic views of the city.
- Arco Monumental da Rua Augusta (Rua Augusta Arch) ★ — the triumphal arch-like, historical building built to commemorate the city’s reconstruction after the 1755 earthquake. The door to access the elevator to the top is a bit tough to find. It’s at the end of Rua Augusta just before you get to Praça do Comércio, on your left.
- Santuário de Cristo Rei (Sanctuary of Christ the King) — is a Catholic monument and shrine dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ overlooking the city, situated across the Tagus River in Almada. It can be accessed by crossing the 25 de Abril bridge.
- Time Out Market — is a food hall located in the Mercado da Ribeira at Cais do Sodre. Opened since 2014, it offers a myriad of inexpensive food options and certainly worth a visit when you’re down by the riverside.
If you have the time, you should check out the areas surrounding Lisbon for the day. Two of the most popular cities within a short distance are Sintra and Cascais. You can take the local train service to these cities from the city center.
- Sintra — can be reached in 40 minutes by taking the CP Sintra line from Rossio Station (fare is included with the LisboaCard). The most popular place to visit in Sintra is the colorful and picturesque Pena Palace. If you’re looking for fewer crowds, pay a visit to the equally beautiful Monserrate Palace instead.
- Cascais — this charming Portuguese coastal town has a delightful historic center as well as beautiful sandy beaches which make it perfect for a day trip. Praia do Guincho is one of its most famous beaches, best known for surfing. The city is best reached by train from the Cais do Sodre station within 40 minutes (fare is included with the LisboaCard).
Alternatively, there are local tour companies that will offer day trips to both of these cities. I highly recommend We Hate Tourism Tours, which I used to take their Sintra/Cascais X-Day Trip. It’s a small group (8-person maximum), with plenty of free time to explore on your own.
What to Eat
No visit to Lisbon will be complete without trying the local cuisine. Here’s my top 5 list of popular dishes and foods that you should consider trying.
- Pasteis de Nata (aka Pasties de Belem) — these are the quintessential custard tart served with powdered sugar and cinnamon, best eaten while still warm. They are so good I challenge you to eat just one!
- Queijo São Jorge — is a firm cow’s cheese with a full and buttery flavor, produced on the island of São Jorge, in the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores. Such a delicious cheese in a sandwich.
- Bifana — if you’re a fan of pork you might want try this sandwich that comprises of a light but crusty bread roll filled with sautéed strips of pork that have been seasoned with garlic, spices, and white wine.
- Bacalhau and sardinhas — with Lisbon’s maritime history, it’s no surprise that seafood is very popular. Some of the most popular dishes include bacalhau (salted cod) and sardinhas (sardines).
- Vinho do Porto — don’t forget to try some of Portugal’s famous vinho do Porto (port wine). It’s typically a sweet, red wine, often served as a dessert wine, though you can also find it in dry, semi-dry, and white varieties.
This is a beautiful city with friendly people, delicious food, and great things to see and do. If you’ve ever considered visiting Lisboa, don’t hesitate. I’m sure you’ll have a fantastic time!
Have you been to Lisbon? Leave a comment below and share your experience.