Europe, Portugal

Exploring Lisbon, Portugal

Portugal was the place which inspired this blog. I am so glad we’re finally getting around to working on our series on this beautiful country. If you wish to follow in our footsteps and have the road-trip of your life, stay tuned for the blog posts still to come. However, if you are planning to get a taste of Portugal, don’t look any further, because Lisbon is the place to be. Down below you will find our recommendation on how to spend an amazing weekend here, but that’s not to say that you can’t stay and enjoy a little longer ūüôā

Being one of the oldest cities in the world, which in fact served as a starting point for many of the famous explorers such as Vasco da Gama, Lisbon is as rich in culture as a city can possibly get. Lisbon has many different faces and has managed to embrace its mixed history of Germanic, Roman and Moorish influences. As such this city has more to offer than you could possibly explore in a lifetime, but don’t let that scare you away. Cut yourself a slice of the Portuguese way of life and simply relax as you dip your feet into the cool waters of the Atlantic Ocean or swoon over traditional Portuguese fado.

1. Jeronimos Monestary

Well, we mentioned Vasco da Gama, didn’t we? Jeronimos Monestary is in fact this Portuguese icon’s eternal resting place. Like many (many, many, many) other tourists, we started our sightseeing trip by visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site, built in 1502. Built to honour Vasco da Gama’s epic 1498 voyage to India, Jer√≥nimos is as much a symbol of the wealth of the Age of Discovery¬†as it is a house of worship. During this time it was a symbol of wealth and power and it is sure to leave you impressed even today. It is perfectly located a short walk away from our next must-see sights. Plus, just around the corner you can buy what are presumably the best pastries in Lisbon, at Pasteis de Belem (although we were not up for waiting in line behind 50 other people in a 30 degree heat).

Jeronimos Monestary and Gardens in the Belem district of Lisbon.
Jeronimos Monestary and Gardens in the Belem district of Lisbon.

2. Discoveries Monument

Just across the street from Jeronimos Monestary you will find one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, a monument dedicated to some of Portugals most famous explorers, who truly shaped the country’s history. This landmark structure was built in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator. ¬†A wonderful frieze of statues are set along both sides of the monument of the most prominent luminaries, Vasco da Gama and Fern√£o de Magalh√£es, among others. From here you will also have a wonderful view over the Tagus river.

The Discoveris Monument in the district of Belem, Lisbon.
The Discoveris Monument in the district of Belem, Lisbon.

3. Belem Tower

Only about a kilometre from the Discoveries Monument near the mouth of the river Tagus you will find Belem Tower, a truly majestic Portuguese masterpiece which serves as an emblem of Portugal’s amazing Age Of Discovery during the 16th century. The Belem Tower is arguably the most symbolic of all Lisbon’s historical monuments. It was intially built in 1515 as a fortress which guarded the entrance to Lisbon harbour, and therefore Lisbon in general. This valuable and iconic monument is justifiably protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Just like Jeronimos Monestary it is an example of the lavish manueline style of architecture whose¬†ornate fa√ßade is enhanced¬†with fanciful maritime and floral motifs. What could be more Portuguese than that? And you know what’s also Portuguese? Wine. Around Belem tower you may find small stands which sell cups of wine. So take a seat and enjoy!

Belem Tower in Lisbon, Portugal (Source: waldomiguez).
Belem Tower in Lisbon, Portugal (Source: waldomiguez).

4. Wander the Alfama district

Nothing screams Lisbon as much as the disctrict of Alfama, the city’s oldest district. You’ll notice that the neighbourhood still shows signs of the city’s Moorish past. Yes, Lisbon is a rather large city, but believe me if I say, you will easily forget that in the narrow alleys of Alfama. Whitewashed walls, cobblestoned streets, lavish¬†Azulejos, .. oh the list could go on and on and on. Keep your eyes, ears and nose open. Alfama is a place for all the senses – between the melancholic sound coming from the many Fado bars and a distinct fish fry sizzle¬†reaching you from restaurants and private homes, you will fall in love. And remember – Not all those who wander are lost <3

Beautiful housefronts in Lisbon's Alfama district.
Beautiful housefronts in Lisbon’s Alfama district.
Azulejos can be found nearly anywhere in the old districts of Lisbon.
Azulejos can be found nearly anywhere in the old districts of Lisbon.

5. Castle of St. George

This castle can be seen from nearly anywhere in the city and is the most recognised of Lisbon’s attractions. It is nearly as old as the city itself, with its oldest parts dating back as early as the 6th century. It served the Romans, Visigoths and Moors as a base for further conquests. Overlooking the city, today it is a small oasis of calm, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Visitors¬†are mostly content¬†to admire the spectacular¬†views from the observation terrace that offers¬†an uninterrupted panorama of the city, the River Tagus, and the distant Atlantic Ocean. Around here you will also find several small shops which sell more than your average fridge magnet. We ourselves bought a beautiful little aquarell which now rests comfortably on our bookshelf ūüôā

St. George's castle in Lisbon, Portugal (Source: DEZALB).
St. George’s castle in Lisbon, Portugal (Source: DEZALB).

6. Hop on tram 28

One of our favourite things to do in Lisbon was riding the cute little vintage trams, most notably tram 28. It is one of only three traditional tram lines that still operate in the city. Hop on around the cathedral, Lisbon’s oldest building, and make sure to get a good seat, because the only drawback is that the tram is always packed, and I mean packed. Once your spot is secured, just enjoy the ride. The tram will take you through some of the oldest and most charming neighbourhoods of Lisbon giving you a splendid vista of many of Lisbon’s renowned gardens, churches and monuments. It’s a real treat!

Snapshot of the famous tram 28 in front of Lisbon Cathedral.
Snapshot of the famous tram 28 in front of Lisbon Cathedral.

7. Parque das Nacoes

Truly, nobody can resist Lisbon’s old-world charm, but the city has far more to offer than just that. If you want to cut yourself a slice of modern Lisbon, head out to Parque das Nacoes. Most of it was constructed for the World Expo 1998. You will most likely have to take the metro to get here, but the trip is worth it. Oriente Station and the Vasco da Gama Shopping Mall will provide you with a bit of “fresh air”, if you like. After all, we live in contrasts. We would truly recommend taking the short ride on the cable car that straddles the shore of the river. You will be rewarded with great views of one of the world’s longest bridges. If you are having a little bit of a lazy day or you are perhaps travelling with children, make a stop at the Oceanarium, one of Europe’s best aquariums (although be warned: also one most the most crowded ones). Along the river you will also find numerous bars and restaurants for you to relax at.

View from the gondola over Parque dos Nacoes.
View from the gondola over Parque dos Nacoes.

8. Cristo Rei

Inspired by the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this 104m giant overlooks the shores of the Tagus river from the small municipality of Almada. To reach here you can simply catch a ferry to the port of Cacilhas which is paid for just like a metro ride. From here you can take a short bus ride up the hill to the foot of the statue. The views from here are absolutely spectacular. If you want, you can also climb to a viewing platform, but it really isn’t necessary. We ourselves were more than pleased staying put and taking in the view for free.

View of Lisbon from Cacilhas port, Almada.
View of Lisbon from Cacilhas port, Almada.
Marveling at the view from the foot of Cristo Rei.
Marveling at the view from the foot of Cristo Rei.

9. Elevador de Santa Justa

The Santa Justa lift a peculiar-looking structure which is perched¬†somewhat perilously¬†over the rooftops of Lisbon’s Baixa (downtown) district. It’s a neo-gothic lift and certainly the most bizarre and unique way of public transport in the city (although nowadays it’s just tourists who make the 32 metre way to the top rather than commuters).¬†The¬†design conjures up images of the Eiffel Tower. The reason for that being¬†the French architect Raoul M√©snier du Ponsard, an apprentice of Gustave Eiffel, designed the lift, which was inaugurated in 1901.¬†It was constructed¬†as a means of connecting the Baixa with the Largo do Carmo in the Bairro Alto neighborhood, a chic¬†area of the city with an abundant array of¬†expensive shops, Fado houses, and small restaurants.¬†The views from the top are great¬†and treat you to a bustling urban mosaic¬†of pedestrianized streets, the ubiquitous¬†castle, panoramic squares and the River Tagus.

Santa Justa Elevator seen from below (Source: ideasfranquicias)
Elevador de Santa Justa seen from below (Source: ideasfranquicias).

10. Day trip to Sintra

Hop on a train at Oriente Station which will get you to the beautiful town of Sintra in only 45 minutes. Known for its many 19th century Romantic style buildings, the old town has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is well worth a visit. When we arrived we decided not to follow the flocks of tourists onto the busses, but to explore the town on foot instead. To be honest, it may not have been one of our best ideas, but it is definitely doable. However, it will take you a bit of energy to reach the famous¬†Pal√°cio da Pena and the Castelo dos Mouros which are perched on a hill, overlooking the town. Alternatively you can also take the bus, which will get you there significantly faster, but if you are not in a rush and the heat is not too overbearing, we do recommend the hike ūüėČ

Palacio da Pena in Sintra, Portugal.
Palacio da Pena in Sintra, Portugal.

Our final verdict: Lisbon is best enjoyed in 2-3 days!

Now, what do you think? Is there anything we have missed? Do you have tips on what else to see or do in Lisbon? What was your favourite sight? Share your thoughts and pictures with us. Let’s stay in touch!

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