If you like to travel to pretty destinations, with a lot of history, culture, usually pretty good weather, warm people, excellent food and affordable prices, you must add Lisbon to the top of your bucket list.
There’s always something new and exciting happening in Lisbon regardless of the time of the year you decide to travel. Summers there don’t get too hot and winters don’t get too cold.
Lisbon is for sure, one of the best destinations for an European vacation.
For those coming from the Americas, the flight tickets to Portugal are usually cheaper, as Portugal is on the Atlantic side and it’s the closest european country to the USA and Canada.
Lisbon airport is called Lisbon Portella Airport. It’s a modern airport located very close to the city center. To go to the city center you can take a taxi paying by the meter or a bus called Aerobus. Tickets to the Aerobus cost only 3.15 € and is are valid for 24 hours. Meaning that you can use the bus for a tour after checking in at your local hotel.
Tip: Before leaving the airport, go to the Vodafone Kiosk (located at the arrival terminal) and buy a sim card for your mobile. This is the best (and cheapest) way to access the internet instantly. There’s nothing better than buying the local sim card while inside the airport. Vodafone works pretty well in Portugal. I used it during my trip (that lasted two months) and found the coverage to be excellent and prices are very reasonable comparing with other international destinations.
Where to stay: Lisbon has many hotels that will suit any kind of traveller. Since the 5 stars hotels, like the Tivoli (where we spent our honeymoon ages ago) to many clean hostels and pensions.
As we stayed during one whole month in Lisbon, we opted for renting an apartment as it was cheaper than a hotel room and also could provide us with more space, washer and dryer, etc.
If you would like a recommendation for the place where we stayed, in an excellent neighborhood close to the Marques de Pombal square, drop me a line and I will put you in contact with the apartment’s owner.
How to move around Lisbon: The city center is not big, meaning that you will do almost all your sightseeing by foot. This is also an excellent opportunity to admire the beautiful architecture and stop along the way for a delicious coffee paired by Portuguese pastries, which are incredibly tasteful.
Besides using your feet, you also can travel by metro, bus and trams. It’s necessary to buy a travel card at the automatic machines (don’t forget to validate it) or at the tobacco stores.
If staying for a couple of days, consider buying a multi-day pass, most of the tobacco stores will sell it.
The bus and tram company is called “Carris” . The metro is called “Metropolitano de Lisboa”. You will find maps for the bus and trams here and map for the metro here. When planning a trip to Cacilhas (highly recommended), you will read about it below, check about ferryboats here.
Bicycles are not recommended as there aren’t express lines and the city has many hills (Lisbon is also called “City of the Seven Hills“). If you are a super bike fan, you can ride your bike along the Tagus but bear in mind that the streets are paved with cobblestone, making the ride very bumpy.
The trams are super charming way to get around. The network is not big but you can go by tram to most of the main tourist attractions including Belem Tower (Torre de Belém), Monumento dos Navegadores, Mosteiro dos Jerônimos”, Mirante da Graça, Castelo de São Jorge among others. Watch out for pickpockets as they know tourists are frequently using the trams while distracted by the astonishing views.
What to do: There’s plenty to do in Lisbon and you will never get tired of staying there. We spent one whole month and would stay even more, if we hadn’t previously booked other places.
Here is my list of the top places and activities that should be in any trip to Lisbon:
- Aquarium. Called ‘Oceanario” in Portuguese, Lisbon Oceanarium is located in the “Parque das Nações”, which was the exhibition grounds for the Expo ’98. It is regarded as the best aquarium in the world, since it was constructed to host the 20th century world exhibition called “”Os Oceanos – um património para o futuro”.
There are almost 500 species and 8,000 animals from all parts of the planet. It’s the largest indoor aquarium in Europe with penguins, puffins, otters, seagulls, rays seashores, sharks, corals (beautiful!), sea snails, jellyfish, etc.
The aquarium is located by the Tagus river and I highly recommend you take the gondola after visiting the aquarium in order to have an aerial perspective of everything you just visited.
There’s a lot to see and you will stay at least five hours enjoying this amazing tour.
Interested in seeing my aquarium pictures? Visit my Flick gallery.
2. Belem Tower and Monumento aos Descobrimentos
Belém was the starting point for the sea journeys during the time Portugal was a super powerful empire. “Monumento aos Descobrimentos” (also called “Padrão dos Descobrimentos” is devoted to the Portuguese who set sail to foreign lands.
Monumento dos Descobridores was built in 1960 to mark the anniversary of “Infante Dom Henrique, o Navegador” (Henry the Navigator). He was the initiator of the “Age of Discoveries” during the 15th Century. The monument is 52 meters high, looks like a caravel and is filled with statues of the most notorious Portuguese navigators, including Pedro Álvares Cabral, the navigator who discovered Brazil.
The best way to get there is by tram. Try to go early in the morning to avoid the crowds. It’s possible to go to the top of the monument and the views from there deserve the waiting.
Torre de Belém (Belem Tower) – This is an old fortress located by the Tagus river and just a short walk from “Monumento aos Descobrimentos”. We didn’t go to the top of Belem Tower as we went to the top of Descobrimetos which is taller and with easier access.
The access to get to the top of Belem Tower is narrow on a spiral staircase. On the other hand, to go to the top of “Descobrimentos” you can go by lift! Although the elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top, you will avoid must of the climbing to get there! 😀
3. Mosteiro dos Jerônimos – We went to Mosteiro dos Jerônimos on a different date but you can easily combine a visit to Mosteiro dos Jerônimos with Belem Tower and Discovery Monument as the three of them are close by.
The monastery was commissioned by Manuel I around 1500AD. This was the time of the Portuguese Empire and it’s easy to see how money was flowing into Portugal, with gold and other resources coming from its colonies around the globe.
When visiting the monastery don’t miss “Saint Mary Church” (Igreja de Santa Maria), tomb of Vasco da Gama, beautiful tile panels and also the inner courtyard.
4. Pastéis de Belém – Going to Lisbon without eating a “Pastel de Belem” is the same as going to the Sistine Chapel and not looking to the ceiling.
It’s located very close to “Mosteiro dos Jerônimos”. You should go before visiting the Mosteiro and return, after visiting the Mosteiro, so you can have them twice on the same day! D
5. Castelo de São Jorge (Saint George’s Castle) – The castle was built in 1147 when Dom Afonso Henriques conquered Lisbon. The original castle experienced a lot of destruction during an earthquake in 1755 and restorations were done around 1940’s.
There are astonishing views of Lisbon, and it’s possible to walk along some of its walls.
6. Elevador de Santa Justa (Saint Justa’s Lift) – This huge lift carries people from Baixa neighborhood to “Bairro Alto” . The lift is more than 100 years old, climbs approximately 45 meters and is very scenic. From the top there are great views of the entire city. If you pay a small extra fee you will have access to a terrace (on the top of the lift) and will have even better views of the city below.
7. Museu Coleção Berardo (Berardo Collection Museum) – This museum is located in Belem neighborhood and may be visited during the same day you visit other Belem attractions. This museum is dedicated to the modern and contemporary art, and although it’s not huge it has a very interesting collection and beautiful views.
8. Avenida da Liberdade (Liberty Avenue), Rossio, Praça Marques de Pombal and Parque Eduardo VII (Park Edward VII)
Avenida da Liberdade is approximately 1km long and is the most important avenue in Lisbon. There you will find several theatres, hotels, restaurants and high end boutiques. It’s an easy and pleasant walk as there are several benches and many trees along the way.
You may want to walk along Parque Eduardo VII as well. The park starts at the top of a hill and goes all the way till Praça Marques de Pombal, where Avenida da Liberdade starts. It’s very pleasant to admire the architectural buildings along Avenida da Liberdade, which ends at Praça dos Restauradores.
9. Catedral da Sé (Church of Santa Maria Maior, Lisbon Patriarchal Cathedral) and Museu de Santo Antônio (Saint Anthony Museum) –
Built in the 12th century, “Sé de Lisboa” is a national monument since the beginning of the 20th century. It has mixed architectural styles and is the most important catholic monument in Lisbon.
When visiting “Sé Cathedral”, don’t miss Saint Anthony Museum located close by. Both are remarkably beautiful and deserves a visit.
10- Museu do Teatro Romano – This interesting museum was inaugurated in 2001 and displays ruins of the ancient Roman theater of the city of Olisipo (1st century). Olisipo is today’s Lisbon!
Below are the ruins of the Roman theater that was the original site of Lisbon.
11. Alfama – Walk along Alfama streets. This is the oldest district of Lisbon, spreading from São Jorge Castle to the Tagus. This is an absolute “must see” and you will enjoy each second while walking on the narrow cobblestone streets.
Alfama is also the best place to go out for dinner while watching a fado show. Of course we have done that and you will read about it later in this article.
12. Cais de Sodré – This neighborhood sits along the Tagus river. During the day it’s a nice place to stroll your legs while admiring the river views and at night there’s a lot of action, with many bars serving drinks and “petiscos” till late hours.
13. Baixa, Terreiro do Paço and Arco da Rua Augusta (Rua Augusta Arch) – While exploring “Baixa” you will come to “Terreiro do Paço”.
“Terreiro do Paço” formal name is “Praça do Comércio”. It got this nickname because it was the original location of “Paços da Ribeira” (Royal Ribeira Palace) that was destroyed during an earthquake in the 18th century.
Baixa has many affordable restaurants and souvenir stores as well.
Arco da Rua Augusta (Rua Augusta Arch) – This is a triumphal arch on Commerce Square (Terreiro do Paço). It was built to celebrate Lisbon’s reconstruction after the 1755 earthquake that destroyed the city.
14. Miradouro de Santa Luzia – This is the best place to see the labyrinth streets of Alfama and the Tagus river flowing below. The main sites looking from the left to the right are the tower of Saint Engrácia Church, Saint Estevão Church, and two white towers belonging to Saint Miguel Church.
Saint Luzia Church has two modern tile panels, one came from Praça do Comércio before the earthquake and the other came form Saint George Castle.
Don’t miss “Travessa Santa Luzia” with small stores selling Portuguese arts and crafts and antiques.
15. Museu Calouste Gulbenkian – The Calouste Gulbenkian’s Foundation has an interesting museum building and a beautiful garden. There are art work from ancient Asia and Europe.
There’s also a Modern Art Centre with temporary displays from contemporary artists.
16. Elevador da Glória (Gloria Elevator)– This is an unique experience that everyone visiting Lisbon should take.
This elevator is a National Monument of Portugal. It travels up and down a steep hill, connecting “Restauradores Square” in the downtown area to “São Pedro de Alcântara Belvedere”, one of the most famous attractions as from there you can view the whole city from the top.
17. Chiado – This a live neighborhood fitting beautiful views, many stores and restaurants.
While visiting “Chiado”, don’t miss “Café a Brasileira” (The Brazilian Lady Cafe). This is one of the oldest cafés in Lisbon and Fernando Pessoa, the great Portuguese poet and writer, was a regular customer.
We went there for beer (my husband), Madeira wine (me) and “Serra da Estrela” cheese. Serra da Estrela is the mega-famous cheese produced in Portugal. De-li-ci-ous.
18. Cacilhas – This picturesque neighborhood is well know for its beer houses (called “Cervejarias” in Portuguese) and also for restaurants serving fresh everything-that-comes-from-the-sea like shellfish seafood, fish, etc
This is a short trip from Lisbon and it’s awesome! You will cross the Tagus by ferry and will enjoy the beautiful views along the way.
To go to Cacilhas take the ferry at Cais da Sodré (ferries depart every 10 minutes).
In Cacilhas you will also see “Cristo Rei de Lisboa” (Christ of Lisbon). It’s a statue that reminds the Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro but it’s not as pretty as the one in Rio, I am afraid to add…. 😀
19. Night attraction: Fado
Fado is the traditional Portuguese music that is usually melancholic. Bandolins and guitars support the singer and usually the performances are really emotional. As I can understand the lyrics (being Brazilian, my native language is Portuguese), I usually get involved with the performance and it’s easy to find me dropping some tears…
20. Eléctrico 28 (Tram # 28) – This is the best way to see the city again! We usually prefer to walk to have a real feeling of the place we are visiting.
After walking and walking and walking…. I recommend you take tram #28. This is a vintage yellow tram that goes through the city center, crossing many tourist attractions with scenic views along the way.
I recommend you take the tram at the starting point located at Praça Martim Moniz. This way you will travel seated, and will have the opportunity to take beautiful pictures. Watch out for pickpockets as this line is a magnet for them.
Where to Eat
I am not going to tell you all the places where we ate, as it would be a very long list! Don’t forget we stayed in the city during 30 days!
I will point out the place you should definitely go when visiting Lisbon. In my opinion, the “number 1” restaurant in Lisbon is Dom Ramiro.
Besides Dom Ramiro, there are excellent (and affordable) food everywhere. Part of the fun is to discover a new place every day.
Some I can add to the list are: O Galera, Churrasco da Graça, Faca e Garfo, Osaka (for Japanese food), Cantinho Lusitano, Marisqueira de Algés, Moma., Cabaças and Gambrinus, Mercado 31 de Janeiro, A Toscana Casa de Pasto, Beira Gare, Tasquinha.
For ice creams go to Santini. They have superb ice creams there!
Keep posted to read the next articles about: Porto, Sintra, Algarve, Braga, Cascais, Viana do Castelo, Tavira, Douro Wine Region, Aveiro, Vieira do Minho, Gerês, Guimarães, Valença do Minho, Pontes de Lima and many more!
Happy travels! 😀