City Guide to Lisbon, Portugal
What to Do in the City of Seven Hills
Lisbon is the capital of Portugal. The city, much like the seven hills within it, has gone through its ups and downs. It thrived when it was the country’s departure point for its explorers as well as a trading point. During this time, Lisbon experienced plenty of wealth, which is reflected in some its architecture today. However, a massive earthquake struck in 1755 and destroyed more than half of the buildings. Shortly after the earthquake, fires and a tsunami hit the city. This caused Lisbon to be almost completely rebuilt. Today, Lisbon has bounced back from the tragedy that struck so long ago. The coastal city is filled with cobblestone streets, shops, restaurants and colorful buildings. The friendly locals and gorgeous weather make this European city a must-see.
What to See:
Torre de Belem– As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Belem Tower is a symbol of Lisbon. It was built as a fortress to guard Lisbon’s harbor, as well as a starting point for discovery voyages. The five-euro entry fee allows visitors to climb to the top and take in a beautiful view of the water.
Jeronimos Monastery– A prime example of Portugal’s economic boom, the intricate Gothic Monastery was built in 1502. Monks lived here and gave guidance to the sailors leaving from Lisbon. The monastery is recognized as a UNSECO World Heritage monument. For six euro, guests can walk around the monastery, admire the cloisters and the expansive garden.
Padrão dos Descobrimentos– The Discoveries Monument was built in 1960 and features the sculptures of explorers, royalty and scientists etched into the outside. On the inside there are exhibits, a film about Lisbon and an elevator to the top of the monument.
Castelo de São Jorge– St. George’s Castle dates back to the 6th century and is so large it can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. Visitors can view cannons, hang out with the peacocks in the gardens and climb the towers for amazing views of the city.
Oceanário- Lisbon’s aquarium is located outside of center city, but the 20-25 minute cab ride comes out to about 15 euro and is so worth it. There is almost every sea creature imaginable in this aquarium. What makes it unique is that all of the animals look like they are swimming together, but are actually separated by acrylic walls. With the student discount, tickets come out to about 17 euro.
It is nearly impossible to wander around Lisbon and not run into some street art. On back streets and main streets, the street art is almost everywhere in the city. The murals are known for their vibrant colors and details.
A great way to check out the tourist and local spots is by taking a sidecar tour. For about 50 euro per person, a tour guide will drive their motorcycle all around the city while passengers sit in the attached sidecar. Try the “Lisbon” tour by Sidecar Touring Co. to get a look at both famous and secret spots scattered throughout the city. Popular attractions are included on the tour, as well as breathtaking views of the city from less well-known points. A bonus: skipping the line at Pastéis de Belém.
Fun for Free:
Igreja de São Roque is a church with its interior made almost entirely out of gold. Having been built in the 16th century, it is mind-blowing to imagine people of that time having access to materials to create such a beautiful display. It is important to take the time to really look at everything in the church because it is so intricate.
There are also multiple companies that offer free walking tours around Lisbon. This is a great opportunity to learn more about the history and culture in the city. Tours typically last between 1-2 hours.
What to Eat:
Time Out Mercado da Ribeira in the neighborhood of Cais do Sodré
This food court is known for its fresh food and variety of options. Everything from fish to pizza to traditional Portuguese dishes are available at reasonable prices. The portions at each station are not overwhelmingly large, making it easy to try a variety of food from different vendors.
The Alfama District has tons of restaurants to choose from. There are many Portuguese restaurants in this area, such as Lisboa Tu e Eu, that serve traditional dishes such as salted cod and grilled sardines.
Pastéis de Belém is a must! This bakery started making the Pastéis de Belém in the 19th century via a top-secret recipe. It is the only place that makes this pastry and is not to be confused with the Pastéis de Nata, although the two are similar. These custard treats are to be enjoyed with some powdered sugar and cinnamon on top. Lines for Pastéis de Belém are known to wrap around the building, so be sure to expect some waiting time.
The Bairro Alto neighborhood of Lisbon is buzzing with nightlife from about 10p.m. till around 1 a.m. There are seemingly endless options of establishments, and a few organized bar crawls also leave from this area. When those bars close, the fun does not have to end. Check out Rua Nova do Carvalho aka “The Pink Street”. This where people go after the Bairro Alto bars are slowing down to continue the party.
Because Lisbon is extremely hilly, it is not unreasonable to want to take alternative transportation. Taxis in Lisbon are cheap. For instance, a 30-minute cab ride costs around 20 euro. Typically these rides are spilt among friends, making the bill per each person even cheaper. Another fun way of getting around the city is the tram. These yellow trams making it possible to hop from neighborhood from neighborhood for a low price. It costs six euro for 24-hour unlimited ticket to be used for trams, buses and the metro. While it is a typical Lisbon experience, it is important to be alert when riding the trams. Pick pockets (who often dress up as tourists) are known to frequent this mode of transportation. Also note that trams stop running at 11 p.m., making taxis the best options to get home for the night.
Again, pick pockets are in Lisbon, and love to do their work on the trams. Be aware of belongings and surroundings.
Dinner in Portugal does not typically start until 8 or 9 p.m.
It is about 50/50 in terms of locals who speak English. It is always best to have the name of a destination pulled up on a phone or map to show to a taxi driver or local where you are trying to go.