One of Europe's most soulful, captivating and picturesque capitals, Lisbon is a hidden travel gem and in my opinion, a super underrated destination. Spread across steep hillsides that overlook a sea of red roofs and the Tagus River, Lisbon is a charming city with tons to see.
Did you know...
*Lisbon uses the same currency as most other European cities, the euro. You're more likely to get a better bang for your buck here though, as Lisbon has been recognized as Western Europe's least expensive capital.
*With mild winters and warm summers, Lisbon is an ideal travel destination year round. Even in winter, when most other European cities are freezing, temperatures in Lisbon rarely go below 10C (50F).
*Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world and the oldest in Western Europe; predating other modern European capitals such as London, Paris and Rome by centuries.
*The official language is Portuguese. Though it is very similar to Spanish, most locals prefer communicating in English out of the two.
what to do while in Lisbon:
Walk the streets
This city is a walkers heaven. Though it’s a small city, it’s packed with winding cobblestone streets lined with various shops and quaint cafes. With something to always look at, there is no being bored walking the roads of Lisbon.
One might call it graffiti, but in Lisbon it’s called street art. Around just about every corner there are beautiful murals and mosaics decorating city walls and parking garages.
See the Torre de Belém
The Torre de Belém is a UNESCO world heritage site and one of Portugal’s most famous monuments. The Gothic tower was built to guard the entrance to the harbor and has some fine examples of Portuguese stonework dating from the 1500s.
Visit Jeronimos Monastery
The Jeronimos Monastery is the most impressive symbols of Portugal's power and wealth during the Age of Discovery. The cloisters are spectacular; each column differently carved with coils of rope, sea monsters, coral, and other sea motifs.
*Just like most European cities, almost all monuments and museums in Lisbon are closed on Mondays. Make sure you plan your itinerary accordingly!
Have a shot of Ginjinha
Ginja is a portuguese liqueur made by fermented ginja berries (sour cherries) into a brandy that’s slightly bitter, slightly sweet, and very sticky. It’s served as a shot with a piece of the fruit in the bottom of the cup and will run you for about $1.50. For the best Ginja in town, head over to Cafe ‘A Ginjinha’ Rossio.
This tiny bar holds only about 3 people at a time. Crowds line up for a shot of Ginja and then head on their way.
10am or 10pm, there’s no wrong time for drinking a Ginja.
Shop at the Thieve's Market
Feira da Ladra, often called the "Thieve's Market", is an expansive flea market held every Tuesday and Saturday from dawn to dusk. The market is a myriad of small stalls selling all sorts of secondhand junk (or as I like to call it, treasures) and some new products. From instruments, clothing, and flasks, to old vinyl records, paintings,jewelry, and plumbing equipment. Hidden treasure awaits!
Lisbon's famous bar district. Bairro Alto has over 250 bars and no cover fees. This is where a Lisbon night starts, but rarely ends. You can bar hop and walk the streets with drinks in hand.
Eat like the locals
Appropriate for any budget, there are innumerable cafes, tascas, and restaurants offering simple traditional fare at shockingly low prices. Step out of your comfort zone and try their staple dish, Bacalhau: Salted cod fish prepared several different ways and normally served with a side of potatoes.
*Tipping is not customary, but it’s a good gesture. 5-10% of the bill is fine.
* Almost all restaurants will bring you a plate of olives and bread without you asking for it and charge it to your bill at the end. If you don’t want it, you can ask them to take it back or just leave it untouched.
Have a pastel de nata in Belem
No visit in Lisbon is complete without a visit to the city of Belem: Home to monuments, museums, the national palace, AND arguably the most delicious pastry in the world, the Pastel de nata.
A custard tart with hints of lemon, cinnamon and vanilla, often sprinkled with powdered sugar and easily inhaled in a few bites. These beloved portuguese pastries can be found at just about every bakery in Lisbon, but for a taste of the authentic recipe, A Chique de Belém, is the spot to hit.
What makes this place so special?
The puff pastry is made by hand by three main pastry chefs who upon initiation, must take a secret oath and sign a contract in order to safeguard its almost 200-year-old secret recipe. Often imitated, but never duplicated, this place is the the crème de la crème.
Listen to Fado
Fado is a type of Portuguese singing that is renowned for its expressive and profoundly melancholic character, singing often about harsh realities of everyday life, sometimes with a sense of resignation, sometimes with the hope of resolution. Fado can be sung by a man or women and is normally accompanied by a Portuguese guitar and a classic guitar, which in Portugal is called viola. Fado music is said to be the heart of the Portuguese soul and arguably the oldest urban folk music in the world.
Ride the Tram
For an easy tour of the historical city of Lisbon, hop on the trolly 'eléctrico 28'. This legendary tram 28 is a tourist attraction in itself. It goes all around town taking you through famous tourist spots, allowing you to hop on and off as you please.
*The easiest way to see Lisbon is by purchasing a Lisboa Card.
The Lisbon Tourist Card grants free or discounted entrance to all major Lisbon museums, sights and tours. Another perk, it includes fares on all city metro, public buses, and trams.
The Lisboa Card is valid for 1 year after the date of purchase. It's activated the first time of use use and expires at the end of the period selected:
*If you opted out of getting the Lisbon pass, for 3,95 euros you can purchase a 24-hour unlimited ticket. It’s good on all trams, buses, and subway lines. Tram tickets are sold in kiosks and shops all over town and in the subway.
The beauty of Lisboa extends beyond its famed monuments and cobbled stone streets.
Lisbon is the only European capital with sandy beaches 20 minutes away from the city center and a luxuriously green holy mountain around the corner. Between being rich in architecture and extremely visitor friendly, it's easy to fall in love with this city.