I am living in Porto for almost two years now and I must admit I've adapted really well. Being originally from Rio with its 6 million inhabitants, living in a smaller and safer city with a unified and organized transportation system is a relief. And plus, it is located at the seaside, what more a carioca could wish for?
I spent almost one year in Porto before visiting the Portuguese capital and I confess, at first, Lisbon seemed to me a bit chaotic and disorganized. It took me two more visits to finally leave the Porto vs Lisbon rivalry aside and give in to its charm and cosmopolitanism which are typical for a capital city. As I always go there for a couple of days, I developed a tour of what not to miss and tested with Thomas who helped honing it to offer you the perfect 2-day guide you can find about Lisbon. Check it out!
LISBON - 22 THINGS NOT TO MISS
Lisbon has one of the most distressing histories among European capitals: it has been the stage of invasions, sieges, Europe's worst recorded earthquake, fires, a tsunami, coups and a dictatorship among other ups and downs.
Its location in the point where the river Tagus (the longest river in the Iberian Peninsula) meets the Atlantic Ocean converted Lisbon into a strategical port city to control and was craved by different civilizations throughout the centuries: from the famous Phoenicians sailors passing through the conquerors Romans and the defying Moors until they lost it to the Christian kings during the Reconquest campaign.
All these occupations left their marks in the city but during the Christian reign the maritime commerce prospered since Lisbon became a stopping point in the trade route between the North Sea and the Mediterranean, boosting the shipyard industry. When the Moors were finally expelled from the South of Portugal (Algarve), Lisbon was not anymore under invasion threat and, combined to its economical booming, made it the natural choice to King Afonso III to move his kingdom's capital from Coimbra in 1256.
When the Ottoman Empire conquered the North of Africa and threatened the trade routes, Portugal's strategy changed to contact directly the source of the goods, launching itself to the Maritime Conquest. Colonizing ultramarine territories and monopolizing their trade routes allowed Portugal and consequently Lisbon to thrive and become one of the richest cities in the world in the XVI century which can still be witnessed in some building with the Manueline architectural style.
Ever since, with a combination of some revolutions, bad political moves and bad luck, Portugal lost its once global political and economical protagonism. Nevertheless, Lisbon still depicts the charm and multiculturalism of a global city who had its glorious days but never lost its enchantment. We are sure you will be able to feel this vibe too.
DAY 1 - DISCOVERING THE WONDERS OF LISBON
1. Starting point: Rossio Train Station
You can start your day at this astonishing train station, once the Estação Central (Central train station) of Lisbon. Rossio is one of the most beautiful train stations we have ever seen in our lives. Built in the end of the XIX century to connect Lisbon to Sintra, its architect wanted to depict the richness of the Portuguese architectural Manueline style of the XVI century. This can be clearly seen in the building's facade and its detailed ornaments, specially its two horseshoes shaped gateways.
2. Cross Praça do Rossio (Praça de D. Pedro IV)
Continuing, you can go to this square nearby which holds an important role in the history of the city. Popularly known as Rossio Square, it has its origin around the XIII century when the population of the city spread to the lower area surrounding Castelo de São Jorge's hill. Since then, fairs, markets and other events rose the relevance of the square and some important buildings were erected around it. However, with the 1755 earthquake, they were all destroyed and under the Marquis of Pombal's orders, all the area was then rebuilt, originating the Pombaline Downtown. Nowadays, the wave pattern of its stone paving, the two baroque fountains and the statue of King Pedro IV (or Emperor Pedro I of Brazil) garnish this square that still daily attract the inhabitants as well as many tourists.
3. Check Praça da Figueira
From Rossio Square you can go east to Praça da Figueira (Fig tree Square) from where you can have a great view of the Castelo de São Jorge (Saint George's Castle). From the XV to the XVIII century, this space was occupied by the All Saints Royal Hospital but, after the 1755 earthquake, its structure was too damaged to be rebuilt and the area was converted into a market square. With the uniform frame of classic four-story buildings dating back to the reconstruction of Lisbon, there is a urbanistic plan to cover all the facades of the square with the unique azulejos (ceramic tiles traditional from Portugal) starting from the block of the iconic Pastelaria Suíça.
4. Go up the Elevador de Santa Justa and enjoy the amazing view
Going down one block in Rua da Prata, you can turn right and behold the emblematic Elevador de Santa Justa. Though it doesn't really seem when you're seeing Lisbon in Google Maps, the city is very hilly and traveling from the downtown area of Baixa to the high grounds of Bairro Alto has always been a challenge. Many projects of elevators were presented in the XIX century, but the winning one was proposed by the engineer Raoul Mesnier, a pupil of Gustave Eiffel. Carrying up to 29 passengers in each of the two cabins in its 45-meter route, this elevator stands out due to its iron beams molded into neo-Gothic arches, while the interior of the two sumptuous cabins is lined with varnished wooden and huge mirrors. On the top there is a panoramic platform from where you can relish the view of the hill of the Castelo de São Jorge.
Tickets to ride the Elevador de Santa Justa costs 2.80 EUR and can be purchased at the ticket office under the main lift. It works daily from 7 a.m to 11 p.m. Golden tip: if you buy the daily transportation ticket of Lisbon (around 6 EUR), the elevator trips are included as it is part of the public transportation system of the city!
5. Admire the Convento do Carmo
Once up in Bairro Alto, you can check the ruins of this Gothic temple which remains as proof of the 1755 earthquake in Lisbon. Built between 1389 and 1423 by the order of the Constable D. Nuno Álvares Pereira, this convent church came to be the biggest in Lisbon before the earthquake, hosting 126 Carmelites monks, including the Constable who donated his wealth to the order and joined the convent clergy. Nowadays, it only remains the roofless nave with its original Gothic style and a small archaeological museum stands in what used to be the main altar with ancient artifacts such as a Visigoth pillar and a Roman tomb.
Visiting the convent is possible from 10 a.m to 6 p.m and costs 4 EUR.
6. Stroll around Chiado
After all the buzz down in Baixa, now you can stroll around the streets of the fancier region of Chiado. Having elegant historic cafes, fashionable boutiques and luxurious hotels and restaurants, it has a more cosmopolitan vibe since it used to be filled with intellectual, liberal, modernist and artistic people. Picture tip: you can enter the United Colors of Benetton store in Rua Garret and go to the second floor to have a nice perspective of the Portuguese stone pavement of Largo do Chiado.
7. Walk down Rua da Bica de Duarte Belo and take photos of the famous ascensor da Bica
Now one of the charming jewels of Lisbon: the electrically operated trams of Ascensor da Bica (Bica Funicular). Conceived by the same engineer of Elevador de Santa Justa, this iconic funicular is working for more than 125 years, taking locals and tourists (mostly now) on an up-and-down journey of almost 300 meters and 11.8% inclination. All the colorful houses and flowery balconies and the Tagus river in the background make this steep street one of the most photographed in Lisbon.
We don't really recommend taking the funicular so you can take pictures from different perspectives and angles as you climb down, but, if you want to do so, it works everyday from 7 a.m to 9 p.m (on Sundays it starts at 9 a.m), costs 3,7 EUR for a round trip and takes up to 23 people.
8. Enjoy some local specialties at the Time out Market
We are sure all this walking up and down is going to make you super hungry but we have great news for you... In just a 5-minute walk from the bottom of Bica Funicular you can reach the most famous gastronomic center in Lisbon: the very-sought Time Out Market! It is located in the same building where once was the iconic Mercado da Ribeira, the main food supply of the city at its time which was closed in 2000. Ten years later, the Time Out magazine won a concession to explore part of the area of the market and finally launched the Time Out Market in 2014. This innovative gastronomic project selects (with the help of an independent panel of experts from the magazine) the best dishes in the city to portrait in one of the more than 40 spaces available. There you can taste the best treats: from the traditional Portuguese cuisine (croquete, bacalhau e pregos) to international options (pizza, hamburgers and sushi).
9. Head to Rua Nova do Carvalho (Pink Street)
Once a site of prostitution in the old times due to its proximity to the docks, this street still attracts people at night but now for a completely different reason. After a urban renewal project in the early 2010's, Rua Nova do Carvalho (or simply "Pink Street") was all painted in pink and all brothels and shabby bars gave way to trendy cafés, bars and nightclubs. Though some still protest for its gentrification, this successful change of atmosphere now attracts many locals and tourists to this unconventional pedestrian street for both a picture of its peculiar looks during the day and for a night out when the sun is down.
10. Feel like the great explorers in Cais das Colunas
As Lisbon was the capital of a maritime empire (and for centuries was one of the most important ports in the world), it needed a wharf where the important personalities could enter the city. This was Cais da Colunas (Wharf of the Columns). Combined with the monumental Praça do Comércio, its still-existing marble steps leading to pillar representing the two pillars of Solomon's temple (wisdom and devotion) give an idea of the greatness and classic beauty of Lisbon.
11. Have a coffe on a terrace in Praça do Comércio
Now that you're already in Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square) you can sit in one of the many cafes or just walk around to soak in all the majesty of this emblematic Lisbon site. By the time when Portugal adventured in its maritime commercial expansion, King Manuel I built a new residence and administrative buildings outside the walls of the city and nearby the river bank, originating the Terreiro do Paço (Palace Yard). With the earthquake and following tsunami, all this structure was completely destroyed. Under Marquis of Pombal's orders, the square was all remodeled with buildings in a U shape facing the Tagus river which had the function of hosting government offices for the regulation of customs and port activities, hence the 'commerce' in its name. The beautiful architecture of its arched galleries, the statue of King José I in its center and the circulating electric trams are classic details that make the whole experience of visiting this historical site more unforgettable.
DAY 2 - STROLLING ALONG THE TAUGUS RIVER
1. Enjoy the morning sun on top of the Arco da Rua Augusta
You can start your second day in grand style by having a stunning overview of Praça do Comércio on the top of the Arco da Rua Augusta (Augusta Street Arch). This triumphal arch was built as the epitome of Lisbon's reconstruction after the tragic 1755 earthquake and depicts heroic statues of various historical and mythological figures as ornaments.
Offering a 360-degree panoramic view of Lisbon, the top was open as a viewpoint of the city in 2013 and we can guarantee you the sight is worth the 2,5 EUR ticket to climb it up. Opening hours change throughout the year but is basically from 9 a.m to 7 p.m.
2. Catch the Tram 28E in Rua da Conceicão
One experience definitely not to miss in Lisbon is riding one of the electric trams circulating around the city center. Among the most famous routes (and helping a bit with the climbing up), there is the vintage-looking tram 28E, or simply the 28. You can catch it at the Rua da Conceição tram stop for a quick ride until Sé or even for a longer one in order to profit the most from this charming transportation mode throughout the small Lisbon streets.
Tickets can be bought on board for 2,85 EUR, but, if you have the daily Lisbon transportation card (6 EUR), all the electric trams are included, so you just have to hop on and enjoy your trip!
3. Head up to the Catedral Sé de Lisboa
First stop on the way up, you can find the Lisbon Cathedral. Known as Sé de Lisboa or Santa Maria Maior de Lisboa, this is the oldest temple in town. Although the diocese of the city was created in the IV century, it remained empty while the moors occupied Lisbon (from the VIII to the XII century). After reconquering the city in 1147, King Afonso Henriques ordered the construction of the church on the site where the moors built the main mosque of Lisbon. It was originally built in the Romanesque architecture style at the time though later it underwent many transformations and restorations adding characteristics of the Gothic (e.g. the ambulatory) and the Baroque (e.g. the decoration of the altars and chancel) styles. A recently carried out work restored the cathedral to its medieval aspect and found signs of the Roman, Arab and medieval times under the central courtyard and cloister. The entrance is free.
4. Get off the tram and enjoy the awesome view in Miradouro de Santa Luzia
If you are not really into old churches, you can stay in the tram 28E till the Miradouro Santa Luzia stop. This landscaped terrace offers a breathtaking view to the iconic Alfama neighborhood and the river Tagus and hosts a small garden ornate with azulejo tiles of different patterns and two azulejo panels depicting important moments of the city's history. Around this area there are some bars and kiosks offering cocktails, snacks and, most importantly, charming terraces to relax and have a break.
5. Get lost in the Alfama Neighborhood
Personally, we love to stroll around the old town part or the very traditional district of the cities we visit so to get an idea of the its true character. The place to do so in Lisbon is definitely Alfama! One of the oldest neighborhood of the city, Alfama is an enchanting maze of narrow and sloping cobbled street and traditional houses squeezed between the Tagus river and the Castelo de São Jorge. Originally located outside the city's walls, it has had a reputation of poverty and decay for a long time, even after Lisbon turned into an important port, when the neighborhood became the home of sailors and dock workers. However, in recent years, due to its authentic charm, Alfama started to attract the attention of tourists and became a fashionable district. We advise you to explore this fascinating labyrinth after visiting the higher parts (so you don't get too tired climbing up) and take picture of the nice stairs, squares and historic houses along the way.
6. check the Igreja de São Miguel
This church in honor of Saint Michel dates back to the 1100's, but has been restored in the XVII century, giving its Mannerist and Baroque style and adding its two bell towers. Though having a very sober white facade, it depicts one of the richest gilded carving decorations of Lisbon, conferring a wealth and nobility status to the interior of the temple.
The church opens only briefly on Wednesdays and Fridays from 4 p.m to 6 p.m and on Sundays from 8 a.m to 10 a.m.
7. Head to LX Factory to have a trendy break
After exploring Alfama you will probably be starving. You can get the tram 15E towards Algés (Jardim) in Praça do Comércio until the Calvário stop to check the tempting restaurant options of LX FACTORY. Located in an abandoned industrial terrain in Alcântara neighborhood where once stood a textile and a graphic companies, LXF describes itself as a factory of experiences and gathers companies and industry professionals from a diverse range of fields such as fashion, advertising, communication, multimedia, art, dining, architecture, music, etc. Due to its hipster and creative environment, it attracts young visitors interested in arts or just searching for a cool and modern ambiance in Lisbon. You can check the various restaurant options here.
8. Walk along the river banks and check the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument of the Discoveries)
After your lunch you can hop back on the tram 15E in the same direction as before until the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos stop. You may start visiting the area with this grand monument honoring the navigators responsible for the Maritime Expansion of Portugal: the Monument of the Discoveries. Built by the Estado Novo dictator as part of the Portuguese World Exhibition in 1940, it was a symbol of the idealization of the "Portuguese Maritime Empire" typical from this regime. Originally conceived as a temporary construction, it was later on reconstructed in a larger version to celebrate the fifth centennial of the death of Henry the Navigator, a central figure for the Portuguese Discoveries. The monument together with the square and its stone paving in the form of a compass rose depict the grandiosity of the Portuguese Age of Discovery.
9. Reach the Torre de Belém
Continuing west along the river banks, you will reach the Torre de Belém (Belém Tower). Built in the XVI century in a strategical point of the estuary of the Tagus River, this iconic tower was part of the defensive system of Lisbon. Beyond its military character witnessed in its quadrangular shape and polygon bulwark with cannons, this UNESCO World Heritage is also considered as one of the principal works of the Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline architecture style with its detailed decoration in maritime motifs such as twisted rope and the Cross of the Order of Christ. Inside, you can visit the four-story tower from the lower battery and its defense artillery to the amazing views provided by the King's Chamber and the Tower's Terrace in the upper floors.
Individual tickets cost 6 EUR and the tower is open from 10 a.m to 5 p.m.
10. Visit the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos
This monastery, also built in the XVI century, was consecrated to the Order of Saint Jerome whose monks were meant to pray for the King's eternal soul and to provide spiritual guidance to navigators and sailors departing from the nearby port of Restelo in their mission of discovering lands across the globe to the Portuguese crown. Like the Torre de Belém, this religious temple also depicts the Manueline architecture style and its facade is richly decorated with religious motifs. The monastery's church display the tombs of the famous Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama and writer Luis de Camões and the two-store cloister with its broad arcades depicts the richness of the kingdom of Portugal at that time.
Tickets for visiting cost 10 EUR and opening hours are from 10 a.m to 5 p.m.
11. Taste some delicious Pastéis de Belém to finish the day
If you have been to Portugal or know anyone who has been, you most probably heard about Pastéis de Nata. This delicious egg tart pastry was invented by the monks of Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and quickly spread around all Portuguese territory and even through the countries with Portuguese immigration. However, as it is originally from this monastery, these pastries produced there since 1837 have won a geographical indication and are differently know as Pastéis de Belém (Belém Pastries).
Open everyday from 8 a.m to midnight and serving 20 thousand units a day, the pastry store usually portraits a long line of tourists craving to taste this mouth-watering delicacy fresh out of the ovens. It is the perfect sweet excuse for a coffee break on your day visiting Lisbon and its surroundings.
You're staying 3 days in Lisbon?! Why not spending a day in Sintra: check out here our post on the fairy-tale city of Sintra!
DETAILS OF THE TRIP
- By plane: Portugal has been in fashion for the last few years, allowing Lisbon to have airline connections to the main European cities and many others around the world. From the airport, you can reach the city center:
- By subway: the red line (Linha Vermelha) and a change to the green or blue lines. Single trips cost 1,45 EUR.
- Many options: Lisbon has many options of accommodation: from hostels for 11 EUR a night to fancy hotels costing a 3-digit sum for the same period;
- Airbnb: this option is also very popular in the Portuguese capital city and is an option for those wanting to stay in the traditional neighborhoods;
- In the last decades Lisbon has become more and more cosmopolitan and international, offering restaurants from many different cuisines;
- Mercado Time Out: this is the place to go for local dishes: many options and nice environment. Pay attention to the rush hours! It can get really crowded.
- Our favorite local must-haves are: bolinho de bacalhau (codfish balls); any codfish dish (Bacalhau com natas; à Braga ou a Brás); pastel de nata and some good vinho verde (green wine).
*All prices are referred to March 2018
Now it's your turn to let us know what made your trip to Lisbon memorable and wasn't mentioned in the post so we can check on our next visit!