Lisbon, one of Europe’s sunniest Capitals, is bursting with culture, diverse architecture, castles and scenic viewpoints from its many hilltops. There is no shortage of things to see and do in this lively, vibrant metropolis. Beautifully perched on the northern banks of the Rio Tejo, this beautiful port city with its manageable size is the perfect weekend destination, best explored on foot or on one of its iconic, old-fashioned yellow trams which skillfully navigate through the narrow cobbled streets and hillside neighbourhoods.
A nice way to start exploring Lisbon is by hopping aboard the famous vintage tram no.28 which has most historic sights along its route – it stretches from Praça Martim Moniz to Campo Ourique, passing through the historic neighbourhoods of Graça, Alfama, Baixa, Chiado and Estrela. It gets rather busy quickly so the best way is to catch it early in the morning to be able to enjoy the rattling ride from a window seat.
While it is a lot of fun and a gentle way to discover hilly Lisbon by tram, some areas can only be explored on foot and one of the best ways to get a feel for this gorgeous city is to wander aimlessly through its narrow cobbled streets and steep stairways.
Make sure to admire the tiled facades and diverse architecture while strolling through Lisbon’s historic quarters!
Lisbon has many impressive monumental squares such as the popular Rossio Square with its baroque fountains and mosaic flooring – surrounded by cafe’s and bars – it is also a good spot for people-watching.
Visiting Castelo de São Jorge is another great thing to do, tram 28 has a stop nearby if you find the walk all the way up too strenuous and from there it is only a short walk, lined with artwork, displayed and sold by various local artists.
Castelo de São Jorge with its rich history has been modified and re-developed by Visigoths and Moors several times until it was finally taken by King Alfonso Henriques, Portugal’s first king. It can be seen from almost everywhere in the city with its high towers and ramparts.
A fun and unexpected sight at Castelo de São Jorge are the many peacocks that roam the ground.
Situated on Lisbon’s highest hill it offers fantastic views over the city and Rio Tejo.
If you took the tram up to Castelo de São, it is definitely worth walking back down towards Baixa – make sure to past the viewpoint at Miradouro das Portas do Sol (very first image above) and Sé Cathedral, next to Miradouro de Santa Luzia another great lookout point, before you reach Rue Augusta (image above), Lisbon’s main pedestrian street.
Rua Augusta has two main squares on each end, Rossio Square (already mentioned above) and the Praça do Comércio opening onto Rua August through the Rua Augusta Arch that was built on its north side to commemorate the city’s reconstruction after the earthquake in 1755.
Praça do Comércio is a lovely waterside square and with its beautiful yellow stucco buildings and heroic statues certainly a must see when you visit Lisbon – it is where the royal palace once stood before it was destroyed by the Great Earthquake.
Not far from Rua Augusta is the Santa Justa Lift, built by an apprentice of Monsieur Eiffel – it opened in 1901 to link the lower streets of Baixa with the higher up Carmo Square. It is a gorgeous landmark – I never thought I would say that about a lift but it really is an amazing sight! The queues to get on were too long for our liking so we walked up to Carmo Square instead.
On top of the lift is a viewing platform, however, the walkway towards the lift is open for everyone and is where we enjoyed the views instead.
Right next to the lift on Carmo Square are the ruins of Carmo Church, once Lisbon’s largest Gothic church it is yet another reminder of the devastating effects of the earthquake in 1755.
One thing you can never get tired of in Lisbon is its beautiful lookout points – I loved the views from Miradouro das Portas do Sol and Miradouro de Santa Luzia (as mentioned above) and very much enjoyed coming across another one – Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara – on my way to A Cevicheria.
A Cevicheria is a restaurant that stood out for me during my stay in Lisbon – it is a fantastic place to enjoy delicious ceviche & pisco sour and if you are in a hurry or can’t get a table you can even get a few of their dishes from their takeaway window. (Full review coming soon!)
Another great place for foodies in Lisbon is Time Out Market, located in the Mercado da Ribeira. 35 permanent stalls offer all the different flavours Portugal has to offer from Portuguese wines (we loved the white wine – alvarinho, vino verde – we had at Garrafeira Nacional), traditional food to the most delicious looking desserts!
There are many reasons to get out of your way to visit Belém which is easily reached by tram or tuk tuk from the city centre. You could spend a few hours here, strolling along the beautiful river front and take in attractions like the 16th century Jerónimos Monastery (image above), a World Heritage Site and former monastery of the Order of Saint Jerome.
One of my main reasons to come to Belém was to try the famous pasteis de nata (Portugese custard tart) from Pastéis de Belém who follow an ancient recipe that they bought from the monks of the Jerónimos Monastery in the 1830s. Flaky on the outside and heavenly creamy on the inside, we queued up for seconds in no time and I wish they’d shared their secret recipe with me!
Walking along Belém’s waterfront, you will come across Padrão dos Descobrimentos ‘Monument of the Discoveries’ which celebrates Portugals Age of Discoveries during the 15th and 16th century.
A little further along, is a cute little harbour with small sailing boats and yachts.
The most iconic monument on the waterfront, however, is the UNESCO World Heritage Site Torre de Belém, a small fort that was constructed in the 16th century in the centre of the Tejo Estuary.
Another beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site is nearby Sintra and its gorgeous surroundings – there are lots of beautiful quiet walks like this one leading up to the Castle of the Moors.
From the Castle of the Moors we had stunning views of the surrounding woodlands and the colourful Pena Palace that we have visited later as well!
From Pena Palace we took a tuk tuk to get to Quinta da Regaleira – an amazing estate close to the historic centre of Sintra. It houses a grand residence as well as enchanting gardens, grottoes, hidden tunnels as well as an impressive initiation well that could easily be out of a Game of Thrones episode.
All in all, so much to see and do in Lisbon and I would highly recommend it for a different European break with great weather and food without breaking the bank. Obrigado Lisboa!