Lisbon, capital city of Portugal. It’s a charming mix of old and new (mostly old), encapsulated in warm weather and equally warm hospitality.
Here are my Top 5 experiences in Lisbon:
1) Mosteiro dos Jeronimos
When you see Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, you don’t doubt why it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Even from the outside it looks cool!
Built in 1502, it is a shining example of Portugal’s wealth and power during the Age of Discovery. It was built to celebrate Vasco De Gama’s successful journey to India.
Even though only a small section of it is open to visitors (the cloisters and the cathedral), it is absolutely stunning. The detail in the stonework is ridiculous, and there’s a sense of fantasy in the design that I haven’t experienced in other monasteries. It’s really unique, and well worth a visit.
2) Have Portuguese egg tarts
While you’re in the area, don’t miss out on having Portuguese egg tarts! Just a five minute walk away is the traditional home of egg tarts, Pastëis de Belém. Their recipe dates back to 1837 from the nuns in Mosterio dos Jeronimos.
There’s almost always a queue, but it moves quite quickly. I bought half a dozen and devoured them out all. They were so delicious!
3) Roam around the Alfama
Don’t miss the historic heart of Lisbon!
The Alfama is a charming maze of cobble-stoned streets and alleyways. In the evening, the melancholic sounds of Fado (traditional Portuguese folk music) can be heard wafting from some of the bars and restaurants in the area.
The Airbnb place I was staying in was located in the Alfama, so it was my ‘hood, so to speak. I really enjoyed walking through it every day and letting myself get ‘lost’ and finding interesting nooks and crannies!
4) Browse at Feira de Ladre (flea market)
If you happen to be in the city on a Tuesday or Saturday, a visit to Feira de Ladre is a great way to take in some local flavour. Located in the Alfama (the start point is Arco de São Vicente), this flea market is eclectic, strange and wonderful. You can find everything from shoes to clothes to old knick-knacks to vinyl records and everything else in between.
Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s still a memorable experience just walking around, checking out the wares and watching the locals haggle.
5) Take a ride in an old-fashioned tram
A fun way to take in the city is to take one of the old-fashioned tram. Tram #28 is the route that is highly-recommended. It starts at Martim Moniz, goes through Alfama, then downtown to Baixa and then to Chiado and Bairro Alto and ultimately ends at Campo Ourique.
If you stay on, the entire journey takes about 45 minutes and it’s an easy to get a overview and feel for the different neighbourhoods in the city.
Here’s the downside: since it has been recommended on pretty much every Lisbon guide, the wait to get on the tram at Martim Moniz is often very long. And since most people stay on the tram for the entire route, it is very tough to try to get on at any of the stops along the route. The trams on this route are often packed the hilt, and thus are a magnet for pickpockets.
I was keen to try Tram 28, but waiting in line for an hour seemed absurd. So instead, I took a shorter tram ride (Tram 12) from Martin Moniz down to Praça da Figueira. I managed to get a seat and it was a fun, comfortable 20 minutes journey. After exploring the way, that night I somehow found that I was along the Tram 28 route. Going the opposite direction and at a non-peak area, I did manage to get on the tram (though I stood all the way). So eventually I did try it!
6) Take a walking tour of Lisbon
I’m a big fan of the Sandemans’ free walking tours in Europe, and the one in Lisbon was equally fun and informative. I had a lot of trouble finding the start point of the tour (Largo de Camões, pictured below); I didn’t have a data connection and had to use a hardcopy map. The various little streets messed up my (usually impeccable) sense of direction and it took me two tries before I made it there in time for the start of the tour!
But it was worth it; I didn’t know much about Portuguese history and learnt a lot! My favourite discovery from the tour was the Portuguese writer and poet, Fernando Pessoa. My guide was a huge Pessoa fan and her passion for his work made me very keen to read his stuff.
7) Walk down Rua Augusta
Rua Augusta is the main pedestrian street in Lisbon.
Yes, it is touristy but the atmophere is so lively that you’ll find yourself charmed by it. Lots of outdoor restaurants and cafes. Shops lining both sides of the street. Busking performers. It’s especially lovely in the evening!
Have you been to Lisbon? What are your faves?