Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal, is often a quick stop for travelers looking for a weekend getaway or a starting point before exploring the entire country. Plus with the increasing number of international flights operated not only by Portuguese airlines, the city is slowly but surely becoming more popular destination for layovers, which was my case on the way to the US. And as per usual, my itchy feet didn’t let me go somewhere without making the most of my stopover.
Lisbon truly has a lot of charm. It is big enough to be entertaining and interesting but small enough to be explored on foot and give you the local community vibe. Don’t get me wrong, this city undoubtedly deserves for you to linger a little longer as it has so much to offer but thanks to its size it makes for a perfect short-stay destination.
Lisbon’s center and main touristy areas, especially the old town, can be discovered by foot. On the other hand, the city is spread across many appealing neighborhoods that are worth visiting so luckily the public transportation is reliable, efficient and quite cheap.
The metro system includes three main lines and is very easy to understand. Metro ride costs €1.40 one way but I suggest buying a “day pass” which allows you to unlimited access the metro, bus, trams and trains for €6 for 24 hours.
Another great way to explore Lisbon is on the ground, via funicular. There are currently 5 lines in the tramway network system which can be used either as a means of transport or as a way to do a bit of sightseeing without exhausting your feet.
If arriving by air, the easiest way to get to the center is using the red metro line, with one line change required, taking about 30 minutes. There is also an Aerobus going from the airport to the city center every 20 minutes during the day costing €3,50. A taxi from the airport to downtown Lisbon will cost you around €15-20.
I was also pleasantly surprised when I noticed that Tuktuks belong among the means of transport in the city center. Tourists use them to get around as well as a way to see the landmarks while bumping over the cobble stones. Make sure you settle the price before prior the ride to avoid any misunderstandings.
LISBON BUCKET LIST
Pastel color buildings, friendly locals, red rooftops and sea breeze ….Lisbon will surprise you by its picturesque beauty. Bring your comfy shoes because some parts of the city are hilly, which on the other hand has one main advantage – views stacked on views.
Depending on your time, try to thick of some of these activities off your list to get the proper experience:
1. WANDER THROUGH ALFAMA NEIGHBORGOOD
Lisbon’s old town arguably belongs to the most popular districts of the city. It’s a place where you can wander through the labyrinth of narrow cobble stone streets and colorfully tiled houses. Alfama simply managed to keep its ancient charm and attracts tourists for a reason. Besides getting lost in the winding alleyways you might fill up your tank in one of the authentic Portuguese restaurants, stop by the 17th century churches or climb up the steep hills to reach the breathtaking viewpoints. The main sights of the area are Pantheon, Museum of Decorate Arts and St. Anthony’s Church.
3. CLIMB UP TO SAO JORGE CASTLE
Alfama’s icon and one of the main Lisbon’s landmarks deserves an extra attention. Sao Jorge Castle is a Moorish fortified citadel that was built in 11th century to protect the city during medieval times. Nowadays there is an archaeological site with permanent exhibition about Lisbon’s history. And perks of being located on the hilltop of Alfama district? Those views!
3. RIDE A TRAM 28
Another thing that should be very high on your Lisbon bucket list is a ride on the tram number 28. This nostalgic wooden tram, or how locals call it – “electrico”, goes along the longest route in Lisbon and takes you through some of the prettiest neighborhoods, including Baixa, Graca and Alfama. The yellow tram itself is an attraction but if you manage to grab a seat by a window you will be rewarded with a fantastic tour of Lisbon.
Unfortunately you won’t be the only one who wants to experience the tram ride, especially during the summer, so try going early in the morning and later in the afternoon to avoid the crowds. Tickets can be purchased in the ticket machine or on board with a single ticket costing €2.85. You can also use your metro 24 hour pass. So hop on, hop off and enjoy the ride.
4. PARTY IN BAIRRO ALTO
If you’re wondering where the party’s at, Bairro Alto is your answer. Located in the central park of the city, this area definitely knows how to throw a party. You can find cool bars, pubs and restaurants, live performances and street entertainment here. This is where all the hip kids go to have a drink or two and the area is especially popular with a huge community of Erasmus students that hang out around the “Erasmus corner”. During the day the streets of Bairro Alto become sleepy and pretty laid back, but are still worth meandering around thanks to all the steet art. Bairro Alto, day or night, is my Lisbon’s favorite.
5. DRINK GINJINHA
Speaking of party life, everyone knows Sangria and Port wine, but Ginjinha is what actually gets the party started in Lisbon. This strong sweet cherry liquor has supposedly been made since the end of 17th century and is surprisingly tasty! There are tiny bars (more like a window in the wall) that specialize themselves only in selling Ginjinha and sell shots of Ginjinha “to go”.
6. VISIT BELÉM
Belém has a huge historical importance because this is where many of the 14th century “voyages of discovery” departed from. This area, located in the west part of the city on the northern banks of the river Tagus, can be reached by a tram number 15 and certainly deserves the trip.
The Portugal’s explorers and discovery era is celebrated by the huge monument Padrao dos Descobrimentos”. Another famous sight of this area is Torre de Belém, a tower constructed to guard Lisbon from sea bound attacks. You can also visit Monastery of St. Jerome, relax in the parks or walk along the river banks to spot the iconic bridge “25 de Abril Bridge“. It would easily be possible to spend the whole day just meandering around Belém so plan your day accordingly, especially you’re visiting for short period of time, and prioritize.
7. EAT PASTEIS DE NATA
Your trip to Lisbon wouldn’t be complete without trying Pastel de Nata. These egg tart cakes became a traditional Portuguese pastry and are to die for. They were first served in the 19th century in famous bakery in Belem, where all the visitors go to in order to satisfy their cravings for popular “Pasteis de Belem”.
8. PEOPLE WATCH IN PRACA DE COMERCIO
Praca do Comercio, located on the edge of the Tagus River, is one of the largest and most beautiful squares in Portugal. In the past this was a place where the traders would sell their foreign goods after coming back from sea expeditions. Nowadays tourists come here to soak up the atmosphere, watch people mingle as it is a transport hub of the city and appreciate the surrounding government buildings and other important structures on the square.
9. ADMIRE THE ART OF AZULEJOS
After walking down few Portuguese streets, you can’t miss one of the major features of the local architecture – azulejos. These painted (some of them by hand!) ceramic tiles are found on the interior and exterior of many traditional as well as modern buildings. In order to understand the importance of azulejos and see some beautiful pieces of art make your way to National tile museum in Alfama.
10. STROLL DOWN THE BAIXA
In case you want to see more of the modern Lisbon, visit Lisbon’s downtown Baixa. This elegant district was mainly constructed after the 18th century earthquake. Besides already mentioned Praca de Comercio, the top attraction of this area is Santa Justa, an iron elevator connecting lower streets of Baixa to the higher square while giving you some outstanding views of the city.
And if you still have an extra time, want to learn some interesting information or the weather is simply not playing in your favor, that’s what museums are for. And Lisbon has a lot of those, for instance Museum of Orient, Navy Museum, Museo do Chiado, National Museum of Ancient Art and many more. Also the Lisbon’s Oceanarium belongs to one of the top in the entire continent.