Lisbon is a great city to visit for a weekend getaway – there is a good chance the weather will be nicer than at home, the restaurants are amazing, there are lots of museums and historic places, the whole old part of the city has amazing atmosphere with live music bars located in charming narrow streets. We spent here 2 nights on our recent road trip around the country and had a full day of sightseeing. Here is what we saw and did ;).
We were staying in Belem in order to avoid driving in the labyrinth of Lisbon`s streets in the centre. We even had a protected parking space next to our apartment, which was great. First things first – we had to find a proper cafe for a nice breakfast. Luckily we were staying in Belem – the part of town which is famous for its PASTEIS DE NATA and we found them just around the corner. The next thing was a short walk to the famous BELEM TOWER.
The district of Belem is located around 6 km from the city centre and is famous for the fortress TORRE DE BELEM, monastery MOSTEIRO DOS JERONIMOS, the former royal residence PALACIO NACIONAL DE AJUDA, a couple of museums, parks, sculptures and of course its delicious pastries, which I already mentioned.
You could spend the whole day just here if you wish to visit the museums and the monastery – we were short on time + we rarely visit museums since travelling with Lu, so we were fine with observing the buildings from the outside.
TORRE DE BELEM is one of those places I still remembered very vivid from my last visit to Lisbon – this UNESCO listed fortress was designed in 1515 to defend the city´s harbour, it´s also an important sight to mark the Age of Discoveries. The facade is marvellous with lots of details and if you are interested you can also go inside (admission 6€) but there might be a long line at the ticket office.
We skipped the interior part and decided to take a ride on the RED BUS LINE with an open deck. It seemed as a perfect solution for our transport for the day – we enjoyed the sun on the top and got to see all of the important places in the city, went off and back on again as many times we wanted and ended the day just 5minutes away from our apartment. We paid 20€ (Lu did not need a ticket) and could use the tickets for 2 days.
Another sight listed under UNESCO is the MOSTEIRO DOS JERONIMOS, where the recipe for Pasteis de Nata was created by the monks. The monastery was later on used as a school and orphanage. The front is beautiful and the main door to the church as well – it is supposed to be really interesting to enter it (admission 7€, you can also buy combined tickets with Torre de Belem). Amongst other here is also the tomb of VASCO DA GAMA.
Later on we passed the original PASTEIS DE BELEM FACTORY (where you can buy a couple of those tasty pastries – read more about them and Portuguese food here) and the former royal palace and drove under the red suspension bridge PONTE 25 DE ABRIL, which looks like a copy of San Francisco´s Golden Gate btw, over the TEJO RIVER. On the other side of the bridge we could see THE CHRIST THE KING statue, a statue of Jesus Christ overlooking the city – though smaller, it does look pretty similar to the one in Rio. We were now approaching the city center and were ready to get off the bus soon ;).
PRACA DO COMERCIO & AROUND
So we stepped down at this big square which was remodelled after the big EARTHQUAKE in 1755. A tsunami and several fires took place at the same time and destroyed most of the city back then – including the RIBEIRA PALACE, a royal residence.
The new square with the STATUE of the former King Jose 1 got its name in order to indicate its new function in the economy of Lisbon and it´s a popular meeting point nowadays, surrounded by numerous cafes and restaurants with nice views.
A view on the square from above. You can see it´s directly at the waterfront, which gives it a special feel once you are walking around it. It´s a nice place to start your Lisbon city adventure.
The WALKING ZONE in the streets behind the square is full of SHOPS, cafes and on the weekend also STREET ARTISTS and MUSICIANS take over. Lu was especially enthusiastic about these guys singing and dancing to traditional Portuguese songs.
Lisbon has a network of 5 ROUTES with these old-fashioned trams, also called REMODELADO TRAMS. A single ride costs a little less than 3€ and can be bought on the tram at the driver. You can also get a rechargeable ticket which can be used for other means of public transport.
There are almost 60 trams operating on a distance which covers around 50km and some trams have been heavily modernised and look very different than the older versions. We decided not to take a ride as we preferred to walk rather than being squeezed inside one ;). Still, they are an eye-catcher and give the city a distinctive feature.
Sooner or later you will pass one of the lookouts which in Lisobn are called the MIRADOUROS. And because the city is built on hills overlooking the river Tejo, its castle & other interesting buildings covered with red rooftops there are many nice viewpoints to stop at. We visited a couple and got enough impressions to say it´s really worth observing the city from a high point. Usually there is a bar or a restaurant on the lookout which makes it a convenient place for a bite to eat or a glas of wine with a view that´s hard to beat! Here is a list of the lookouts:
MIRADOURO DAS PORTAS DO SOL (best views on: Alfama´s rooftops)
MIRADOURO DE SAO PEDRO DE ALCANTARA (best views on: gardens & city)
MIRADOURO DE GRACA (best views on: the castle, city and river Tejo)
MIRADOURO DA NOSA SENHORA DO MONTE (best views on: the castle, city & river)
MIRADOURO DE SANTA LUZIA (best views on: Alfama, river Tejo)
CASTELO DE SAO JORGE (best views on: the whole city)
SANTA JUSTA ELEVATOR (best views on: Castelo de Sao Jorge castle)
DISCOVERIES MONUMENT (best views on: Mosteiro dos Jeronimos monastery)
PARQUE EDUARDO VII (best views on: city, castle, river Tejo)
TRIUMPHAL ARCH (best views on: Praca do Comercio square)
MIRADOURO DE SANTA CATARINA (best views on: suspension bridge)
THE CHRIST THE KING STATUE (best views on: suspension bridge)
SAO VICENTE DE FORA MONASTERY (best views on: Alfama & river Tejo)
So, we have the Golden Gate looking like bridge, a Rio feel with the Jesus statue and then, believe it or not, we have tuk-tuks. Yes, just like those in Thailand, or elsewhere in Asia. Well okay, maybe these in Lisbon are a bit more fancy and certainly a lot more expensive. Nonetheless probably a nice way to get around as you don´t speed as fast as the taxis and can take photos because there are no windows. Surely it´s a fun thing to do if there are more people in your group.
It is estimated that there are around 500 of them on the streets and the numbers tend to grow. But the rumour has it that they need to be electrical from 2017 on because locals were complaining about the noise they make. For now, you can still catch one of them and feel like you´re in Asia for the moment ;).
CASTELO DE SAO JORGE
We decided to simply walk the little streets up to the castle from Praca do Comercio and stop at some shops on the way. And there were many I telly you! Hard to resist all those nice products, we ended up buying a woollen blanket which was rather expensive but a nice & useful memory to take home with.
Entry fee to the CASTLE is 8,5€ (Lu had free entry) and it´s really worth the money, especially if this is the only high point you visit in Lisbon. The VIEWS are really amazing as the whole city literately lies under you.
You can first visit the beautiful CASTLE GARDENS and make a stop in the shade, there are also some vendors selling fruit and juices nearby and also a couple of bars and restaurants inside the castle area. From here there are great views on the suspension bridge!
You can go up to the viewing platform with the ELEVADOR DE SANTA JUSTA lift which provides great views on the castle. We did not do it as one view point besides some Miradouros seemed to be enough for a one day visit, but if you have more time go for it!
After you walk around the gardens it´s time to enter the main castle area and climb up some STAIRS to get really to the top of the CASTLE WALLS. I suggest you hold hands with toddlers because there are NO FENCES and if they tend to run around on their own this might get a bit too dangerous. Otherwise a great thing to do!
After we spent quite a long time in the shades of the castle gardens and climbing its walls it was time for lunch! We decided to head down to Alfama which was famous for its narrow streets full of restaurants and charming corners.
And it was exactly like this – Alfama is also the OLDEST DISTRICT of Lisbon, with a lively scene and streets full of art shops, bars & restaurants. Only that all of them were full and it was nearly impossible to get a table! Eventually we got one and tasted the real Lisbon SARDINES which are the thing to eat here ;). After the food we were full of energy again and continued our aimless walk around this really cute part of the town.
Lisbon is also famous for its FADO MUSIC bars and restaurants. Fado is a special music genre, originating in 1820s or even earlier, with its specific melancholic tunes and lyrics which can be about pretty much anything. Even if it does not sound like much fun to you right now – going to a bar and listening it live is a great thing to do! Fado is also one of the 2 Portuguese music traditions in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.
And of course we stopped by at some of the PLAYGROUNDS we came across – there were not that many though. But this one was a cool one, tucked in between residential houses in Alfama, with lots of shade. Great for a shorter stop, for both kids and parents ;).
BACK TO BELEM
It was getting late and after one more ice cream we decided it was time to take the bus back to Belem – it was actually the last one! On the way we drove through other parts of the city and saw modern districts with bigger shopping malls, the architecture has changed from traditional to really modern – we could see the city is actually really big.
One of the interesting buildings on the way was this one, the CAMPO PEQUENO BULLRING with a shopping centre beneath which is designed to host various events and concerts, apart from bullfighting. Bullfighting in Portugal is a bit different than in Spain as here the bull never gets killed at the end – killing it has been prohibited by the law since almost 200 years now.
The way took us also around PARQUE EDUARDO VII public park which is one of those points with a great view on the city. Once a year a book fair is held in the park.
Unfortunately the famous DISCOVERIES MONUMENT on the river Tejo banks in Belem was being renovated and all covered in scaffolds, therefore no picture. Otherwise it is possible to go up, there are marvellous views on the monastery and the parks surrounding it. Next time ;). We did a short walk along the river and I have to say there was still much going on here – lots of joggers and people walking, enjoying a nice evening. Nice!
We started and ended the day here and I have to say – the sunset view wins ;). On the way back to the apartment we stopped at a local supermarket (btw. Supermarkets are generally opened every day of the week, mostly until 9pm) and bought some vegetables, olives and bread for a late balcony dinner.
No doubt, Lisbon is a very interesting city well worth visiting – its history, architecture (don´t forget to look up – the windows, facades covered in tiles and balconies are truly wonderful) and restaurants with tasty food and wine are a perfect combination for a great holiday destination. It is obviously very popular at the moment as there were clearly many more tourists as in the other parts of the country. It might be because it was a weekend and there were 2 cruise ships docked at the pier, but still, it was very full. Maybe it´s better to visit let´s say in November or February/March ;).