Lisbon is one of Europe’s oldest cities, pre-dating Paris, London, and Rome. Yet it is one that’s often overlooked by travelers due to its geographical location. We also almost skipped the city since it’s not in my need-to-visit-soon list. But thankfully decided to just tick it off the map as we’re already traveling the south of Europe.
I’m glad I did!
If you’re looking for a new city to discover in Europe, then Lisbon is it. The weather is perfect (Europe’s sunniest capital city), the food is delicious and the locals are awesome!
Here’s a quick guide to discover and fall in love with Lisbon.
#1 Stay in Graça Neighbourhood
Graça (pronounced as ‘Grah-sah’) is one of Lisbon’s oldest district – less famed than Alfama, but no less impressive on its own. It’s a better basepoint in my book because:
- it’s located on top of the hill which gives you easy access to several stunning views of the city including Castelo de Sao Jorge and Miradouro de Santa Graça,
- its narrow streets are brimming with cafes and restaurants mostly frequented by locals (not tourists!) so it’s not too crowded and prices are less expensive and,
- the historic Tram 28 stops here.
We stayed in this lovely Airbnb apartment that I highly recommend. It has everything we need and is located just five minutes’ walk from Martim Moniz subway station. There’s a bit of a hike but worry not, you’ll reach the house before you start catching your breath.
#2 Tour around town through Tram 28
There are a lot of trams going around the city but the most popular route among the tourists is Tram 28. It passes through many of Lisbon’s finest quarters and drives through steep inclines. It’s perfect for sightseeing and also a great way to save your tired feet on Lisbon’s hilly streets.
#3 Treat yourself with a Lisbon favorite
Our Airbnb host left us some of these tasty treats in the apartment and we’re easily hooked! Portuguese egg custards are by far the best I’ve ever tasted. You can easily find one in any pastry shops around the city but the BEST of the best is in Belem where it is still baked in a traditional way. They lovingly call it Pasteis de Belem and trust me, it tastes better than it looks.
#4 Explore the historic district of Alfama
Made up of narrow streets, tiny squares, winding medieval alleys, old churches and outstanding views – a stroll around Alfama is like a walk back in time. It is the oldest village in the city and dubbed as the historical soul of Lisbon. Get lost and marvel at buildings that have been lived in for centuries!
#5 Visit Jerónimos Monastery
If Barcelona has Sagrada Familia, Lisbon has Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. It’s a UNESCO Heritage Site that was constructed with so many intricate details. I’m always amazed at complex architectural designs that are accomplished without the help of modern day technology and this site is one example of that. The building consists of a monastery, church, library, nunnery and more.
#6 Climb the Torre de Belém
Another UNESCO site is Belem Tower, a used-to-be part of defense along Targus River and often serves as a symbol of Portugal. The journey to the top requires a climb up steep, spiral staircase but rest easy, it’s not that high. It offers gorgeous views of the water and the Golden Gate-like suspension bridge called 25 de Abril.
#7 Plan a day trip to Sintra and Cascais
Less than an hour away from Lisbon are two other fascinating towns: the charming Sintra where you’ll find pastel-colored villas and palaces, and Cascais, a fishing village along the beautiful Lisbon coastline. We had a memorable day with Lisbon Riders exploring both towns. We’ve seen many fascinating places and heard interesting stories in a day. It’s absolutely one of the highlights of our time in Portugal.
#8 Eat local in Mercado da Riberia
Open since 1892, Mercado da Riberia is Lisbon’s main food market that offers fresh goods and a food court with canteen-style shared tables. The food ranges from seafood, steaks, sandwiches, pasta, and even Asian food. There’s a lot to choose from and the market offers quality dishes made by top chefs at affordable prices.
Bacalhau which literally translates to ‘salted cod dish’ is a known element in Portuguese cooking. Don’t leave the country without trying one. :)
#9 Eat some more, try Santini’s Gelato!
If you think that authentic and tasty gelatos can only be found in Italy, definitely not. Fortunately for Portuguese, an Italian immigrant Santini made luscious handmade ice creams that have been served to royal families and locals for almost seven decades. It’s by far the most famous ice cream parlor in Portugal which has several branches opened around the country now. What I love is that all flavors are natural without additives and it tastes as real as the original ingredients.
#10 Save on cost by purchasing a Lisboa Card
When traveling, I always look into city passes. Depending on the itinerary, it could save you either money or time, or both. For us, the latter was true about the Lisboa Card. It offers free or discounted entrance to all major Lisbon museums, sights and tours including Belem Tower, Jerónimos Monastery and train travel to Sintra and Cascais.
Also with a Lisboa Card, the transport around the city is free which includes the Metro, public buses, trams and Elevadores (such as Elevador de Santa Justa and Elevador da Gloria). For that alone, the card is already worth it. A single Lisbon tram ticket cost about €2.85. If you plan to take several rides to save on time, that could easily add up.
Note that the city is made up of seven hills, so when your feet just can’t, the Lisboa Card comes handy.
Bonus: If you love sunsets like I do, head to Miradouro Portas do Sol for a glorious view!
Lisbon is love at first sight. Somehow, the city knows how to blend the old and new in a way I’ve never experienced before. There’s an intangible feel to it that is kind of hard to explain in words. You just got to be there to know.
Have you been to Lisbon? What is your favorite memory of the city?