After three weeks of living in this beautiful city and dozens of kilometers walked up and down its steep hills, that’s our Lisbon bucket list. 15 things you can’t miss while visiting Lisboa, one of the coolest capital city in Europe.
LISBON CITY CENTER
Alfama is the oldest neighborhood in Lisbon. This district is the only one who survived after the devastating earthquake of 1755. Today, it has been transformed into an artisan area, even though most of the people who are living in Alfama are the oldest resident of Lisbon. You can observe the locals going through their day to day routine, doing their laundry, buying groceries and having conversations in its maze of narrow streets. Don’t miss to drink a glass of Ginjinha directly from the house of one of the local lovely ladies. Also, did you know that fado was born in Alfama? Check out the Fado Museum for more information.
FEIRA DA LADRA
This flea market is the most popular in Lisbon. It is held every Tuesday and Saturday from 6 am to 5 pm. Here you can find a huge variety of products, second-hand clothes, hand-made artisan goods, CD’s, books, clothes, stamps, coins, military objects… So If you are a lover of flea markets you will definitely need to visit it.
PRAÇA DO COMÉCIO
The Praça do Comércio is the largest square in Lisbon. It is located on the edge of the Tagus river. Yes, the one you see in Lisbon is a river, not the ocean 🙂
Around the square, there are painted buildings lining the three sides while a magnificent statue of King José I is positioned in the center. The view from the square is unique. Praca do Comercio remains, aesthetically speaking, one of the most spectacular squares in Lisbon.
SANTA MARIA DO CARMO
Even if you already know what you’ll find inside you’ll forget it for a second. Entering by its imposing door has nothing different from visiting another church, but then… no soft light, no colored windows and lots of candles, just the sky!
The earthquake and the fires that almost destroyed Lisbon didn’t spare its main gothic church, which is now composed just by columns and arcs. Well, the reconstruction actually started but was stopped before the complete restoration. Nowadays, Santa Maria, do Carmo is the most tangible symbol of that truly hard period.
There is not much to do in there, just admiring this wonder while walking through its naves.
Santa Justa elevator is one of the best-loved places in Lisbon. The elevator connects the hilltop neighborhood Bairro Alto with downtown Baixa. It is 45m tall and the structure is built in the same style as the Eiffel Tower. Either you pay the ticket for the elevator or you take the stairs don’t miss the stunning observation deck at the top. From here you have an amazing view of the Carmo Monastery, worth a visit!
MIRADURO DE SANTA CATARINA
The Santa Catarina viewpoint is also known as the Adamastor viewpoint because of the presence of a mythical giant sculpture. In the past, between the 16th and the 18th century, this was the place to admire the ships go by. Nowadays the Santa Catarina viewpoint has a young, relaxed and very busy atmosphere, especially during the sunsets, when tourists and locals mingle with musicians and street performers. So grab a beer and enjoy the view.
Here is where the nightlife became more vibrant. Its narrow streets are quiet during the day, until late afternoon, when bars and restaurants start opening. The neighborhood fills up with people from all over the city, in a blend of all ages and kinds of people. You’ll easily spend the night bar-hopping around the cobbled lanes, listening for fado music or having dinner in a restaurant. Most probably all the three!
In the northern part of the Barrio Alto there is the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, don’t miss this garden-terrace with its nice view of the city. At the east side, instead, the beautiful São Roque church and its magnificent baroque interior worth a visit.
There are literally hundreds of restaurants and bars, just pick your favorite!
Rua Nova do Carvalho is located in the Cais do Sodré. The street once was the meeting point for sailors, local criminals, and prostitutes now it is one of the most popular nightlife neighborhood in Lisbon.
Pink Street’s “facelift” happened in 2011, in an effort to turn the neighborhood’s atmosphere and reputation around. You can find welcome cozy cafés and a new kind of nightlife. The pink street is crowded with people leaving Barrio Alto, as bars close earlier there while here some of them are open until morning! It’s crowded even on weekdays, we had a Tekno party on Tuesday, at the Europa club!
LX FACTORY LISBON
Situated in Alcântara, LX factory is a complex of buildings once belonged to a fabric company called “Companhia de Fiação e Tecidos Lisbonense”.
Nowadays the LX Factory it’s a giant creative island born in the ruins of a gigantic abandoned area. From architecture to music, it’s now the home of design companies, galleries and artists studios.
Almost every building is decorated with huge, colorful graffiti-style murals on the exterior walls, some of them are stunning. There are too many restaurants at the LX Factory to name them all, but they may be quite expensive compared to the rest of the restaurants in Lisbon.
LX factory is pretty active, check their agenda to find out all the events.
CASA DO ALENTEJO
The Alverca Palace is a hidden pearl located in the Santa Justa neighborhood. Don’t be mislead by the bare entrance, probably you would never enter it without knowing that the inside is just amazing. While walking up the dark stairs you’ll be catapulted into a Moroccan riad! The main courtyard with fountain follows the Moorish style, widespread in southern Spain at that time, that strongly influenced part of this building. From the patio you can go visit the first floor, where are the restaurant and the gorgeous ballroom.
If not for a dinner at the magnificent restaurant, then go for a drink or a small dish at the cafeteria at the ground floor.
Bacalhau (codfish) is Portugal’s favorite fish. It is so much love that it can be cooked every day of the year without repeating a recipe once. You can have it baked, barbecued, canned, with potatoes, with rice, and so many other ways.
We tried so many variants during our three weeks in Lisbon and we always founded it delicious. Bacalhau à brás is one of the most common recipes, it consists of shredded codfish with fried potato, onion, and scrambled eggs. We have to admit that our favorite was the simple but delicious roasted one.
For an authentic bacalhau go and check O Marques restaurant.
Chinese food is definitely not a Portuguese tradition, we know, but we heard about this restaurant from a friend of ours and we think is a good tip to share.
Located in the Martin Moniz area (but we won’t tell you where exactly) you can find a hidden Chinese restaurant where the food is delicious and cheap. Eating at the chino Clandestino is probably an experience you can only have in Lisbon. The location looks like someone’s living room and to find the right entrance is really a challenge. Who is in?!
If you’re looking for a fancy dinner in a romantic restaurant… well skip it, it’s definitely the wrong place. But if you are looking for something different, like a small crumbling restaurant in Baixa, than this is the #placetogo!
This restaurant is located in Rua do Sapateiros 177. You’ll recognize it by the line in front of the small door. Even during the week is better to reserve your seat, have a call during the lunchtime.
Don’t even spend time on the menu, because you are here to have the best arroz de marisco (seafood rice) in town.
Of course, you can try to order something different but, the most grumpy man in the world will immediately tell you that “there’s only one dish you can have in this restaurant”. Obviously, he speaks only Portuguese!
Well, this description could sound pretty negative, but trust us, the rice is amazing! It is served in its cooking pot straight from the burners. We also think the waiter is part of the atmosphere, you will end up loving him. Or not.
Useful tip: don’t seat to close to the cupboard, if there’s something he hates more than someone asking for different dishes, that’s you making him pass through a narrow space to take the menus.
DAY TRIP OUT OF TOWN
BELEM & PASTEL DE BELEM
You can’t miss one of the most important neighborhoods of Lisbon: Belem. The area is full of national monuments, museums, public parks, and grand buildings. The Monument to the Discoveries is a tribute to the Portuguese Age of Discovery of the 15th and 16th centuries.
Jerónimos Monastery is one of the most important sites in the city definitely have to go there. Belém Tower is an impressive building, surrounded by water in the Tagus River. This tower was designed primarily to be part of the defensive system is now, together with the Jerónimos Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Last but not least you really can’t leave Belém without trying one of the pastel de nata. Grab one from the Pastéis de Belém bakery.
If you plan to spend three or more days in Lisbon than you have to save one to visit Sintra. The best way to go there is by train, starting your day trip at the central station of Rossio, it’s a 45 minutes trip. You’ll immediately realize how many tourists go to Sintra by seeing the never-ending queue at the ticket machines. You don’t need a special ticket, so charge your Viva card in advance and go directly to the train!
Avoid the car, there are not many parking areas and, once there, the bus service is really good. Nearby the Sintra’s train station you’ll find the stop of the 434 bus, that connects all the main attractions in a loop. You can buy the daily ticket directly from the driver, it allows you to get on and off wherever you want.
The first stop is at the historical center of Sintra, where you can walk around in its narrows streets, until you reach the Palacio Nacional, down in the heart of the town. The mix of gothic and renaissance style and the distinctive huge coned kitchen chimneys make it a remarkable building.
Believe us, that’s the soberest buildings you’ll see that day!
EXTRA TIP: Buy the tickets for the other attractions at the tourist office nearby, this will avoid you further lines. They may be very long in the high season.
Quinta da Regaleira is not included in the 434 bus route, but it’s just 15 minutes walk from the center. And here is where the things become really creepy.
The palace follows an exuberant gothic style, with pinnacles and gargoyles, but the real attraction is the surrounding estate. Get lost in it, it is full of hidden tunnels and concealed symbolism.
The Moors Castle is a classic ruined castle with high fortified stone walls. Thanks to its position located on top of the hill it offers you a wonderful view. Walking around the castle is free, and the main gate allows you to have a glimpse of the inner courtyard if you’re on a budget.
The Peña palace it is absolutely the main attraction of Sintra. It exemplifies the Romanticism style of architecture, it really looks like a Walt Disney princess castle. The palace itself is spectacular, but the park around it also worth a visit. Two ticket options let you choose what to visit. The one for just the park includes a nice view of all the external parts of the castle and its terraces.
If you visit all the attractions in the bus route order you may have to wait in a long line outside the Peña palace… so consider visiting it as first.
The overall experience is remarkable but, even if it’s not high season, it can get very touristy and pricy.