Although I had no idea what to see in Lisbon, during my three days vacation, I quickly realized that there are a million and one things to see in Lisbon on a week-end. But let’s start from the beginning…
During a phone call with one of my best friends, after I had just landed in Lisbon, I told her that I will most likely leave a piece of my heart in Lisbon. Her comment: “Iuli (that’s short for Iulia – yeap, that’s my actual name ;)), but that’s what you said about San Francisco!”
Later on that evening, while indulging in a glass of Sagre beer and a bite of pastéis de nata (you have to try this! your taste buds can thank me later!!), it suddenly hit me : I might have this thing with cities built on hills, that have an iconic red bridge 🙂
Thankfully, there are only two cities in the world that comply with these requirements (or at least, that’s what Google tells me :D), otherwise… it would have been my doom…
Although I knew that Lisbon was the city of the seven hills, first thing that came to view as the plane was preparing to land was what we will from now on call “the bridge”.
The bridge or as other [normal] people call it, the “25 de Abril Bridge”, is a 2277 meters long suspension bridge, connecting Lisbon to another municipality, Almada, across the banks of the Tagus river (see?? I can Wikipedia :P)
Promising myself that I will for sure see it again during the next few days and descending slowly above a landscape of red roofs, Lisbon was more than anticipated – from when this view came to sight, to the very last sip of the coffee I drank in the airport, as I was preparing to return home.
Just some practical details at this point: getting from the airport to the city is a piece of cake.
You need to take the underground red line to the city center and from then on, whichever of the other lines and transportations means that you need to get to wherever you want (check out Lisbon’s Metro website, for more info). Lisbon has an amazing network of underground, trams and buses, which take you everywhere around the city, all using a 0.5 EUR card, which you can charge with the desirable amount.
I do not advise you to buy a Lisbon card, since it does not necessarily bring a lot of value – Portuguese people do not have the concept of “skip the line”, so you’ll end up staying the same period of time, for the same amount of money.
My accommodation turned out to be simply amazing (Sofia’s apartment was simply perfect for me!), located very close to Praça dos Restauradores. Although I needed to climb a hill (you didn’t expect that, right?), I enjoyed doing it, each time I needed to get back to my apartment. Every time I kept discovering new things to marvel about (like this cute little apartment building, which I fell completely in love with!!).
Just a tip, in terms of internet: you will find free internet wherever you will go in Lisbon – if the network requests a password, simply ask for it. Lisboners (not sure whether this is the correct term, but nothing else comes to mind) are extremely friendly people, willing to provide you with any info you want, help you navigate the narrow streets of some of Lisbon’s neighborhoods or suggest great bars and restaurants.
Below, I present to you (taaa taaa!) 15+ spots you really need to check out in Lisbon:
1. Praça dos Restauradores
This was my first stop in Lisbon. Why? By sheer coincidence.
Portugal celebrates the restoration of their indepdence from the Spanish Rule – Restauração da Independência Day is a bank holiday on the 1st of December (my first day in Lisbon) and everybody had time-off. So, the streets we filled with families, man, women, children walking around the praça, leaving flowers at the base of the monument or simply enjoying a sunny day out.
The monument located in the center of the square is an obelisk, which, on its sides holds the names and dates of the battles fought in the Portuguese Restoration War. At the base of the statue, there are two allegorical statues symbolizing “Independence” and “Victory”, by sculptors Simões de Almeida and Alberto Nunes.
Since it was a national celebration, there was a marching bands’ parade and many official services held in the praça.
Moving past the praça, I started toward what all Lisbon guides name the most romantic place in Lisbon: one of their famous miradouros. These are lookout points, spread across the hill tops of the city, from where you can take in the beauty of Lisbon and indulge, at the same time, on a coffee at one of the kiosks.
2. Ascensor da Gloria
To get to the miradouro, I had 2 options: ride on a vintage tram or go up the stairs for quite a while. Guess what I chose?
All those of you who figured out that I chose the vintage tram, I owe you a prize!
Gloria is a funicular, in Barrio Alto neighborhood, which takes you from Avenida da Liberdade to the Rua de São Pedro de Alcântara. The ride there is magnificent. The cozy, small, vintage tram, equipped with wooden benches and brass helms reminds me of San Francisco again and I fell in love even more with Lisbon.
Along the route up, you can see a lot of street art, organized by the city hall in an open-air exhibition. The slope gives you a great view to the Avenida da Liberdade and is a very “instagramable” spot.
3. Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara
Getting to the end of Gloria’s line, I reached the famous miradouro and it was, indeed, what the guides described.
It is a landscaped terrace with busts of historical figures, a fountain, and kiosk cafés from where you may sit and admire the beauty of the city.
Since I was traveling alone in Lisbon, hence, no romantic words to be said, I stuck to having my coffee overlooking Barrio Alto neighborhood and making more plans as to what I wanted to see 😀
4. Rua Augusta Arch
Walking down the hill was easy-peasy (it’s the going up the hill which is the hard part!) and, quickly deciding where to go next, I started towards Rua Augusta Arch.
To get to Rua Augusta Arch, you need to walk along the Rua August boulevard. The boulevard is actually a walkers only zone, lined with various types of stores and with nice, small restaurants in the middle.
It is such a pleasure to walk this path, as it is filled with all sorts of noises, smells, tastes – street vendors call you out, trying to get you to buy some of their merchandise, the chestnuts roasters are trying to convince you that the heavily salted roasted chestnuts are heaven to your taste buds (which they actually are, trust a fellow foodie!), the waiters showing you one dish or the other, while trying to sit you at one of the table, placed directly in the middle of the street.
The experience is an unforgettable one and in the next days, I found myself drawn helplessly toward this street again and again.
The Rua Augusta Arch is the entrance way to this street, from the Praça do Comércio.
The monument itself is simply stunning. The beauty and details of the architecture leave you breathless and you are left with the impression that you might never be able to understand how such a beautiful thing was created. Built to commemorate the city’s reconstruction, after the earthquake in 1755 that destroyed almost the entire city, the monument has six columns and is adorned with statues of various historical figures, alongside Portugal’s coat of arms. The personifications of Glory, rewarding Valor and Genius are extraordinary piece of art, detailed works, which impart an appearance of heaviness to the entire structure.
5. Praça do Comércio
The square is a symbol of Portuguese history and culture. Having been the residence of the royal family for more than two centuries, the buildings located here were destroyed during the earthquake in 1775, together with the Royal library that housed exquisite work of literature and arts, but also official accounts of the immense maritime power that Portugal was in that period.
Nowadays, it remains a favorite for street artists and during the summer period it is a favorite hang-our place for Lisboners and tourists alike, with street musicians performing in all corners of the square, face paint artists making children happy and young people sitting around, chatting away the day.
The square continues with Cais das Colunas, a beautiful sight, with an historical impact that it makes you feel small and unimportant.
The steps which lead from the Praça do Comércio directly to the Tagus river, flanked by two vertical pillars, were the noble entrance of the city, where heads of state and other prominent figures have landed. The pillars, built with Masonic inspiration, represent the two pillars of Solomon’s temple (wisdom and devotion).
The place is now an extremely joyful and relaxed location, for tourists and Lisboners alike and I enjoyed myself immensly, sitting on the steps and sipping my coffee (who knows which number this one had :D).
6. Time Out Food Market (Mercado da Ribeira)
Once I managed to peel myself from the enchanting sound of waves crashing against the eroded stone of the steps, I made my way to Cais do Sodre, further down Tagus River. The goal was clear in my mind and my stomach was 100% agreeing to it: Lisbon’s famous food hall.
Now, you have to understand, I am a major foodie and I thoroughly enjoy delighting myself with new, special food. Count in the fact that absolutely everybody who visited Lisbon before me recommended this food hall and you got yourself a winner.
I did not know what to actually expect, but I, for sure, did not see this coming.
This place is absolutely enormous, has an extremely wide variety of foods and… there is this constant buzzing, which, if you are a big city girl like myself, miss from time to time. As soon as I entered the hall I felt the good vibe coming off all the customers, tourists and locals alike, enjoyed their lunch, a glass of wine in one hand and some typical Portuguese dish in the other.
The Lisbon market has 35 kiosks selling regional specialties, such as Azeitão sheep’s cheese, Alentejo ham, custard tarts from cafe Aloma, sardines, wines and chocolates. Five top chefs have restaurants here. The original fish, fruit and vegetable market stalls occupy the other half of the landmark building.
I opted for a cod fish specialty, which came in three types, all of them making me feel like I have died and gone to heaven, with each bite I took.
I must confess, during my stay in Lisbon, I only managed to take a few photos, here and there, of food and I did not even think for a second to create food guide, as I did for Greece.
I simply could not be bothered to stop, take pics and try to find out more about the Portuguese dishes – this is why, I definitely need to come back to Portugal (well, this along with some other a million and one reasons! :))
7. Paços do Concelho de Lisboa (Lisbon City Hall)
Walking back to Praça do Comércio, I marveled at all the buildings, all having that exquisite vintage air.
Lisbon has been a tried city, however, it somehow managed to maintain its beauty, its authenticity and to overcome all obstacles.
One of the buildings that caught my eye was the city hall, a marvelous building, built in the neoclassical architectural style. its monumental façade features a large pediment over a central balcony with sculptures and four oculi. Unfortunately, by the time I had arrived, the building was already closed for the night, so I did not get to see the imposing central staircase, of which I only read about.
It appeared, though, that the sight was a major photo spot, as I saw many people photo-shooting (I even considered chasing the pics on Instagram, they were so interesting :D).
I could not resist taking this pic of the monument in front of the City Hall – the monument itself is very beautiful and the it was just an amazing combination of sun light from behind and storm clouds (it didn’t rain, in the end, if you were curious :P).
My second day in Lisbon started off with an extremely delicious coffee, on the terrace of one of the kiosk that you can find all along the Avenida da Liberdade. This is one of Lisbon’s major boulevards and it is filled with shops, cafés and restaurants. I did not actually have a plan of what to do in Lisbon, so I just planned things as I was walking down the boulevard, toward one of Lisbon largest squares.
8. Praça de D. Pedro IV (Rossio Square)
This is such a lovely meeting place for both tourists and locals alike. Surrounded by cafés and shops, it really is wonderful to sit there, enjoying your coffee, watching children play in the middle of the square, next to Dom Pedro’s statue and the beautiful water fountains.
One of the cafés in the square, Café Nicola, dates back from the 18th century. I had one of my dinners there and I enjoyed the veal dish that I had. However, the menu offer is not very divers, which was pity for such a nice location.
Since the Christmas period was fast approaching, there was also a Christmas Market in the square, with a lot of booths, where you could buy hand-made products, sweets and meat specialties. Everything was very bright and colorful, there were carols both in English and Portuguese playing in the speakers around the square and the entire atmosphere was very festive (my inner child was over the moon :D)
From the Praça de D. Pedro IV, I made my way to Rua Augusta again and then on the bank of the river, towards one of Lisbon’s most famous and old neighborhoods, Alfama.
Walking from Praça do Comércio to Alfama is a bit of a bore, especially since my feet were already killing me from all the walk I did the day before. So, I decided to cheat a bit and took a tram to the Castle Sao Jorge 😀
9 . Iconic Tram line 28
The tram 28 is a major tourist attraction and I completely understand why. The carriages appear to be out of this era – they actually are, since the ones used on this line are actually the ones built in 1930s.
They are a marvel to travel in and somehow give you the feeling of chicness (not sure if this is an actual word, but you get the point :P).
The tram line passes through some of Lisbon’s most known districts Graca, Alfama, Baixa and Estrela and is a delight for the tourists, which are not accustomed to traveling in such a manner, in carriages that screech and rattle through the narrow and steep streets of Lisbon.
Tram 28 is not a specific tourist attraction; tickets do not need to be acquired in advance. The locals use this tram as well and it is delightful to see tourists and local alike queueing to catch a spot on the tram. Since it is part of the public transportation, you can use your transport card, which is to be confirmed, upon entering the carriage.
My ride took me up the steep hill, close to the Castle.
10. Castelo de São Jorge
This Moorish castle occupies one of Lisbon’s hilltops, offering an incredible view to Lisbon’s old districts and to the Tangus River.
The view from the castle’s terrace is worth the money paid for the entrance in the castle (speaking of which, I was surprised that the entrance tickets were only 9 EUR. Most of the sight where I had to pay entrance had low fees, which was a pleasant surprise :)).
Of course, I took a million pictures, from all sides of the hill, of Lisbon, particularly enjoying seeing the red roof tops, a symbol of Lisbon (the pic that you can see at the top of the post was taken here :P).
In order to get to the terrace, you have to climb the last portion of the hill and go through the main gate of the citadel.
The main entrance to the citadel is a 19th-century gate surmounted by the coat-of-arms of Portugal, the name of Queen Maria II, and the date 1846.
This gate permits access to the main square (Praça d’Armas), which is decorated with old cannons and a bronze statue of Afonso Henriques, the Portuguese monarch who took the castle from the Moors.
The castle itself has, of course, been reconstructed and the outer walls are reachable via stairs.
You can walk on top of the walls, all four sides of the castle. The remnants of the royal palace are located near the main square, but all that is left are some walls and a few rebuilt rooms such as the Casa Ogival. It now hosts the Olissipónia, a multimedia show about the history of Lisbon.
I encourage you to visit the castle not only for the exquisite view and for the multimedia show offered, which is really interesting, but also for the street vendors and artists that you will find near the main entrance of the castle.
From the vendors you can buy cheap souvenirs (they are usually locals, selling only limited amounts of merchandise; therefore, by buying from them, you help somehow the local population, as well :)).
A really nice experience is to discuss a little with some of the street artists. I was really impressed with the works displayed there and to tell you the truth I would have brought everything, had I the money and the means of transporting them home. The photographs and the sketches, representing sights or traditions from Lisbon were amazing.
One of them made a real impression on me – he was a skinny man, short, with a black mustache, a chic hat and a dark winter coat. The air he emanated was that of a true gentleman.
The way he addressed his customers was also very elegant. He set up his table in a corner of the square, hanging his works on a string all around him.
He turned on his radio, which started playing ‘50s American songs and began painting. With coffee!! I was simply fascinated.
He was so talented and modest; I could not help but buy one of his works of art. Be sure to say hi from me, when you pass him on your way to the castle.
And I really ask you to buy one of his displays – they are truly beautiful and they are worth the price.
As I started walking downhill from the castle, I literally lost myself in Alfama. The district is so enchanting, with its narrow and steep streets, colorful buildings and extremely friendly locals, that one can only let oneself get carried away.
Walking the streets of Alfama, I stopped to have lunch at a small restaurant, with traditional pieces of furniture and pottery, where the dishes you ordered were cooked right in front of you.
Unfortunately, as I said, because I had no idea where I was and I was not inspired to take down the name of the place, I cannot tell you where to find it.
But I do hope that, somehow, you find yourself there, lost, as me, in this wonderful district.
Getting to walk the streets of Alfama really made an impression on me. I have spent there more than 5 hours, taking pictures at every street corner, stopping to admire the old, but colorful buildings, how the laundry was hanged in plain sight.
I could barely feel my feet by the time I got to the next sight on my list, but I couldn’t care less.
My heart was full. If you want to read more of my experience in Alfama, I wrote a post describing everything, which you can find here.
12. Convento do Carmo
The convent and its church were built during the 15th century, in a plain Gothic style, typical for the religious orders of the time.
During the earthquake in 1755, it was destroyed almost entirely destroyed and nowadays only a few remnants of the former church can be seen.
The convent now houses the National Museum of Archaeology. Be aware that, if you want to visit the museum, you will have to buy a ticket, in cash, as ATMs are not available.
I for one decided not to visit the museum, as I was short on time, but I have heard from my friends who visited that there are a lot of interesting archaeological displays to be seen inside.
Next to the convent, is the Headquarters of the National Guard.
Every hour, there is a short ceremony, for the changing of the guards, which are posted outside of the main entrance. The guards are dressed in ceremony uniform and have to stay still.
It is really nice to see and everybody around was excited about the show (especially the children :)).
By the time I made my way back to Praça de D. Pedro IV, it was already dark, I was simply exhausted and all I wanted to do was put my feet up and enjoy a nice glass of Portuguese wine.
Apparently, the odds were not in my favor, as I was walking around, I found myself right in front of another great tourist attraction of Lisbon.
13. Elevador de Santa Justa
Situated at the end of Rua de Santa Justa, this 19th century elevator connects the lower streets of the Baixa with the higher Largo do Carmo (Carmo Square).
Of course, if you can imagine, I only realized that the elevator had direct access to the Carmo convent, after I had already come downhill.
Basically, I took the elevator back up, to get to the same place I was before (this is what you get, when you make no plans whatsoever :)) And I had to wait for about 20 minutes in a queue to get inside the elevator. However, it was totally worth it.
The elevator takes you to an observation platform, which gives you a 360 degrees overview of Lisbon. It is simply breath-taking.
Being night, it was even more special, as you could see the entire city, decorated for Christmas and have a direct view on the Christmas Market I mentioned earlier (quick disclaimer – the pic here of the elevator had been taken earlier that day, as I was making my way up Rua Augusta :P).
I am positive that the view during the day is as marvelous as the one I had and I set myself that, next time I visit Lisbon, I also check out the observation platform, during the day.
Just a quick practical tip: although the tickets can be brought also directly from the conductor, you can also use the normal transport card that you use for metro, buses, trams etc. Your ticket is actually a bit cheaper if you buy it this way.
For getting to the observation platform, you have to buy an additional ticket, but that is only 1.5 EUR. Be aware though, to have cash with you, as you cannot use bank cards.
The only thing I was still able to do after my ride on the elevator was go home, exhausted, but happy, actively planning in my head my next day.
The last day in Lisbon was a wonder. I met new people, took a lot of photos, enjoyed Lisbon’s main food attraction and felt incredibly happy.
I set off from my host quite late, as I was not able to get up after all the walking the previous day. To cut short on time, I just took a coffee to go and savored it on the metro, on my way to a special place in the history of Portugal.
14. Torre de Belém
The Belém tower is located outside of Lisbon, however, reachable by metro and train.
You have to ensure that your account on your transportation card has enough money for it, for the trip, as there are different fares, as you are going to take the train, this time.
The tower is located on the same train line as Cascais, so if you are planning a day at the beach while in Lisbon, you can also stop by the tower, to quickly admire it.
As I mentioned, the monument has a historical significance to the Portuguese people – it played an important role in the Portuguese maritime discoveries of the era of the Age of Discoveries.
It is from here that the ships will sail toward new territories, caring various merchandises, used for trading with people that the sailors encountered on their voyages.
Nowadays, the tower is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the nearby Jerónimos Monastery. The tower was built in the early 16th century and is a prominent example of the Portuguese Manueline style, but it also incorporates hints of other architectural styles.
The influence of Moorish architecture is manifested in the delicate decorations, the arched windows, the balconies, and the ribbed cupolas of the watchtowers. The building itself is very imposing, sitting close to the shore, as if rising from the Tangus River.
Practical advice: it would be a loss if you won’t be willing to queue, to enter the inside of the building. Although I did not see the interior for myself, I was told that there is nothing to see, apart of empty walls, therefore, I suggest you use the time that you would use queuing for doing something else. Like queuing to eat Lisbon’s best pastry – pastéis de nata.
15. Pastéis de Belém
Close by the Torre de Belém you find one of Lisbon’s most charming eating places.
Famous for its offer of pastéis de nata, the coffee shop offers other fast dishes, such as sandwiches, Paninis and other type of cakes.
Ever since the 19th century, the confectioners of Pastéis de Belém hand-craft the delicious custard tart, following the ancient ‘secret recipe` from the monastery, located close by.
Throughout the times, the recipe itself did not change and the custard tart is the same throughout Portugal, although you might see it renamed, based on the location in which you find yourself.
In order to get inside the café, you have to wait for a short while, for a table to become available. If you can imagine, the capacity of the place is somewhere around 400 places and it still is filled at all times of day with patrons.
Since it was a Sunday, there was a great deal of locals also, mingled among the tourists. The service, despite the full occupancy, was impeccable. I enjoyed a nice toast sandwich, the mandatory coffee and two of those sweet wonders.
Make sure that you take some for home, as well. They are to die for, I told you already! 🙂
16. Padrão dos Descobrimentos
Belém district is also home of the Monument of the Discoveries.
The structure is relatively new, being built 1939, as part of the Portuguese World Exhibition opening in June 1940.
The Monument to the Discoveries represented a romanticized idealization of the Portuguese exploration that was typical of the Estado Novo regime of António de Oliveira Salazar.
Throughout the years, the monument suffered some changes and also was re-located several times, before finally resting on the bank of the Tangus River.
It is an impressive architectural construction, with detailed sculptures on both sides.
The main statue, located in the center of the monument, facing the sea, is the one of Henry the Navigator, holding a model of a carrack; on either side of the ramps of the monument are a total of 33 figures from the history of the Discoveries.
17. Lisbon’s churches
Through my walks in Lisbon, in all three days, I have encountered a lot of churches, some of which I have also visited.
I was extremely impressed by their architecture and their peacefulness and I enjoyed them so much, that I decided to create an entire separate guide of all the churches and monasteries I saw, which you can find here.
18. Street art of Lisbon
As I mentioned also earlier, Lisbon is a very colorful city. This is due not only to the façades of the buildings, but also because of the street art which can be found all around Lisbon. It is incredible how simple locations are enriched with graffiti works, stone sculptures or reconstructions using various materials.
Rest assure, you will not have to chase the locations I photographed it, as I am sure that you will find your own works of art, if you just walk freely around Lisbon.
Looking over what I wrote, I realize that I have created a very long post. However, I hope you have come this far, reading it all. Lisbon is such a beautiful location, that I absolutely had to write a lot about it. And I didn’t even get to see everything that I wanted. There is so much more to see and to experience, from museums to attending fado concerts.
I hope that you will find this guide very useful in your visit to Lisbon. Leave me a message to let me know your opinion 😉