Top 10 Things to do in Lisbon

Lisbon is considered the San Francisco of Europe because it’s a city of seven hills, trolleys and its 25 de Abril Bridge which resembles the Golden Gate bridge. In Lisbon you’ll find gorgeous tiled buildings in colorful neighborhoods, delicious food, and some of the nicest people I’ve met on my travels. Did you know Madonna lives there now? Portugal is one of the more affordable countries in Europe, English is widely spoken, and  you can get free WiFi in restaurants. There’s a lot of things to love about this city, and many things I never got to, but I’ll show you some of my top picks for visiting Lisbon. This was my second time visiting Lisbon and I can’t wait to go back! The best time to visit is in June as they have so many festivals that month including St. Anthony on June 12-13th where everyone parties in the street until the sun comes up.

The statue on the hill in the distance is Christ the King, it was inspired by the one in Rio, Brazil.

 1. Belem Tower & Monument to the Discoveries When you google pictures of Lisbon the Belem Tower is usually the first thing to show up as it’s sort of the symbol of the country as a little castle on the water. It was built in 1515 as a fortress to guard the entrance to Lisbon’s harbor and now is a UNESCO world heritage site. The architecture is just stunning with Moorish style watchtowers. You need to buy a ticket in advance to visit or be prepared to stand in line for an hour. There’s a tiny spiral staircase leading to the top. A few feet away is the Monument to the Discoveries built in 1960 on the site where Portugal’s famous explorers departed on their voyages of discovery. It was built on the 500th death anniversary of Prince Henry the Navigator. Portugal is proud of their history of world navigators and they claim Christopher Columbus was Portuguese and some of his expeditions were sponsored by Portugal. Other notable Portuguese explorers are familiar names like Vasco da Gama and Magellan. 

2. Jeronimos Monastery Nearby to the Belem tower is the Jeronimos monastery built in the 16th century. This beautiful monument is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cloisters are beautiful with each column differently carved with coils of rope, sea monsters, coral, and other sea motifs, bring you back to that time of world exploration at sea. Vasco da Gama’s tomb is inside the ornate church which you can visit for free next door.

3. Praca do Comercio & Rua Augusta Arch This riverfront plaza is where everyone arriving by boat used to disembark so the arch was the gateway to the city. The arch was built in 1775 after the earthquake destroyed the area. There’s an elevator inside that takes you to the top for a great view. The plaza is surrounded by yellow buildings and mosaic cobblestones. The last couple weeks they put up a huge TV screen in this square showing the world cup games, and as you can imagine it was packed with people waving flags and everyone cheering on when they won their game!

4. Rossio Square & Jacaranda trees Our hotel was located near this square so we naturally ended up walking through it a lot. There were lots of people sitting in the square relaxing. There are two baroque fountains and the National Theatre at one end. Lisbon’s pavements are beautifully decorated with elaborate mosaic and cobblestone designs which you can see this square is a wave pattern. The square is full of purple flowering Jacaranda that smelled so fragrant! I was so lucky that my trip to Portugal coincided with their bloom. Lisbon has 2000 jacaranda trees that line the city’s streets so it was quite a sight to see purple trees everywhere! The Rossio train station had the most striking façade!

5. Alfama and  São Jorge castle The view from our hotel room balcony was of the Castelo de Sao Jorge, a Moorish Castle from the 12 century. Portugal is a country of castles, you’ll find them all over! You can take either a tram or the funicular Elevador da Gloria to the top of the hill to explore the Alfama neighborhood it’s in. There you can roam the quaint cobblestone streets admiring all the vibrant azulejos (elaborately painted tiles on houses) and terraces that gave stunning views over the city. The buildings in Lisbon are painted such pretty pastel colors like yellow and pink or have Portuguese tiles on them. You can spend hours getting lost in the labyrinth backstreets while taking so many pictures of this colorful neighborhood.

6. Carmo Convent The last earthquake that struck Lisbon was in 1755 which did a lot of damage to the city. The Carmo church roof collapsed and many arches were ruined. The Carmo convent was intentionally left roofless and now it houses the Carmo Archaeological Museum. This summer they have an immersive show called Lisbon Under Stars which is a unique experience that brings together multimedia projections, virtual dancers and visual effects, to the sound of Portuguese music. It was an incredible sight to see!

7. LX factory & murals  
Lisbon has fabulous street art all over the city, check out this article to see it. My favorite was this bee mural at the LX factory by Bordalo who uses trash to create his 3-D murals. His murals can be seen all over the country, the Fox mural is also in Lisbon. The  LX factory was once an old industrial warehouse but now has many restaurants, unique shops, hipster coffeehouses and this impressive bookstore. It’s a cool, off-the-beaten path place to explore.

 8. Lisbon is famous for its traditional Fado music which is a profoundly melancholic and expressive form of Portuguese singing that you can find in restaurants or bars.

 9. Pink Street & nightlife Lisbon’s Pink Street on Rua Nova do Carvalho is a street full bars and restaurants. We went to the Pensao Amor (Pension of Love) bar whose staircase has beautiful murals. Pensao Amor used to be a brothel so its décor still gives you that feeling. Each room is decorated differently, one has animal print fur wall paper, another room has a pole in the middle., vintage posters of burlesque dancers, large mirrors and chandeliers. The atmosphere has an intimate vibe. We just chilled with some cocktails starting out first with the traditional Portuguese amarguinha almond liquer made from almonds. Located in the Bairro Alto neighborhood of Lisbon, this is the central area of Lisbon's nightlife. Afterwards we walked down Rua Atalaia which is lined back to back with so many tiny bars.

 10. Food & drink Portugal is known for their sardines, in the summertime it’s fresh, not from a can. Every restaurant has them on the menu as well as codfish which is super popular. There are souvenir shops that only sell sardines, in cute packaging.  Lisbon also has quite a few vegan restaurants that I checked out.

Another quintessential Portuguese food is the “pastel de nata” which is an egg tart pastry that I ate everyday for breakfast. It’s a creamy egg custard in a tart. They were first created in the 18th century by Catholic monks in the Jerónimos Monastery. The monks used egg whites to starch their laundry so to stop the yolks from going to waste they made custard tarts. If you go to Nandos in the US, you will find them at the register in the desert case.

For a small country, Portugal makes a lot of great wine! They don’t drink tap water there so we always had to buy bottled water, and the wine was cheaper than the water. Yes grocery stores sold bottles of wine for less than 2 euro, restaurants sold a glass of wine for less than 2 euro. Vinho Verde is a popular white wine that I liked as it was a little sweet. You can’t visit Lisbon without trying Ginjinha! It’s a Portuguese liqueur made by infusing ginja cherries in alcohol which results in a strong and sweet alcoholic drink. Here it is served in an edible chocolate cup.

How to get there
United Air has direct flights from IAD to Lisbon. Or TAP Portugal airlines flies direct from Newark, but be prepared that they weigh everyone’s hand luggage and make you pay $50 for seat selection.  Both frequently have discounted $400 flights.

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