Quiet, meandering streets wind up the hillside past bakeries where sweet smells and the soft sounds of guitar spill out the windows. The gentle slopes converge at the foot of the remains of a castle, its fortress towers looking out at the rows of tile-roofed houses that lead to the sparkling sea.
This is Lisbon. Relaxed and colorful, filled with historical sights, warm people and plenty of sunshine, a few days in Portugal’s capital city is almost guaranteed to make you fall in love with this country and its charms.
Located on the Tagus River and facing the Atlantic Ocean, Lisbon, or Lisboa, is the westernmost city in continental Europe. With just more than half a million residents, the city is small enough to retain its friendly atmosphere and be easily navigable on foot. Here are ten must-sees for your next visit.
Top 10 Things to Do in Lisbon
1. Lisboa Story Centre
Trading center for the Phoenicians. Departure point for the European discovery of the New World. Site of Europe’s most powerful Earthquake…The chapters of Lisbon’s history are varied and definitive. With twenty centuries of history in one museum, the Lisboa Story Center makes a great first stop for an overview of Portuguese history and Lisbon’s important role in it. Innovative, interactive exhibits and state-of-the-art technology bring layers of history to live in an advanced experience that will entertain anyone with the faintest of interest in history.
2. Praça do Comércio
Praça do Comércio, or Commerce Square, is one of Lisbon’s main squares, adorned with a statue of equestrian statue of king José I. The square is home to many festivals as well as the Lisboa Tourism office. While here, be sure to ascend the Triumphal Arch for a 360-degree view of Lisbon’s downtown or Baixa district and the Tagus River. Keep an eye out for the 25 de Abril Bridge, reminiscent of San Francisco’s Golden Gate and the Christ the King monument, inspired by Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue.
3. Tram 28 through Alfama district
For more than 100 years the people of Lisbon have travelled through the city’s hilly terrain on trams. Hop on board a historic yellow tram on line 28 and wander through the Alfama district to Castelo de S. Jorge, a medieval castle. Walk on foot back down the hilly slop through the Alfama district, the oldest in Lisbon and home to a myriad of historical attractions.
4. Castelo de S. Jorge
Built by the Moors in the mid-11th century, the Castelo de S. Jorge still stands today atop one of Lisbon’s tallest hills. Visitors can wander the grounds of the well-preserved castle and ruins of the former royal palace. Towers here provide uninhibited vistas of the city center.
5. Jerónimos Monastery
Built by Henry the Navigator in 1459, this medieval monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a prominent example of Portuguese gothic architecture. The monastery is located in the Belém district, a short tram ride away from the city center. While here also visit Belém Tower and Monument to the Discoveries with its chronology of the history of Portuguese expansion.
Portugal’s most famous (and delicious) dessert is a specialty called the pastel de nata or Pastéis de Belém. This egg tart pastry is a Lisbon staple and sold at nearly every restaurant and bakery. Lisbon’s most delectable pastéis are found at Pastéis de Belém, a restaurant in the Belém district, steps from where the pasteries were first created in the nineteenth century. Don’t worry. No one will judge if you go back for seconds. Or thirds.
7. Mamma’s Dinner at Home Lisbon Hostel
Home Lisbon Hostel isn’t one of the best hostels in the city because of its cozy beds; it’s also renowned for its nightly family-style dinners. Known affectionately by all as “Mamma,” the mother of the hostel’s owner cooks nightly meals for hungry travelers. For just ten euro, you can experience an authentic Portuguese meal complete with an appetizer, entre, dessert and unlimited sangria or beer. One night in Mamma’s warm and friendly company will cure any sense of homesickness and leave you wishing you could call this hostel your permanent home.
8. Museo do Fado
Lisbon is friendly and sunny, but its also filled with a slight sense of melancholy, or as the Portuguese say, Saudade. This word, which has no direct translation in English, describes nostalgic and longing emotions for the love that remains after one has gone. These feelings are captured in Fado, a unique Portuguese musical genre. To understand and explore this piece of Portuguese culture, visit the Museo do Fado.
9. Legendary nightlife in Bairro Alto
Looking for legendary nightlife? Look no further than Bairro Alto. At midnight the narrow streets of this district are in full swing as travelers and locals alike drink the night away under a ceiling of starlight. Drinks are cheap and fun is free. Dance or marvel amongst the massive crowds.
10. Get to know the Portuguese
Corner a solitary shopkeeper, dine by yourself and make conversation with a family next to you, sit at a bar, go to a club… It doesn’t matter how you overcome the challenge of meeting locals while travelling, in Portugal it’s a must. The Portuguese are friendly and have a great sense of humor. Don’t leave Lisbon without a heartfelt or witty conversation with a local.