Let’s get something straight, shall we? Lisbon is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. The original and fascinating mix of old and new… they’re two sides of the same coin. This city has an eclectic soul, a very unique style and the charm of the Old World. While strolling through the narrow streets of the city centre, discover these ten things to do in the capital of Portugal.
When you hear Lisbon what’s the first thing to come to mind? This sixteenth century city still stands in all its splendour at the mouth of the Tagus River. It was once the centre for trading spices, slaves and maps. Today this city still has many of these multi-faceted qualities, it’s just a little more modern. It takes but one walk through the main city squares and streets to realise how many things there are to do: places to visit, discovering hidden treasures, delighting in traditional sweets, wines and foods. A few days may not be enough but should you find yourself in Lisbon for summer holidays, this is what you shouldn’t miss.
Every tourist looking for an afternoon outing should put the Belem Tower on their list. It’s a classic example of late Gothic architecture. The tower, when it was built, stood on the bank of the Tagus River and today still stands in the same plane, just off the right bank. To get there, just look for the signs heading to the parish of Santa maria de Belem. If you’ve ever had an interest in the Age of Discovery, pay close attention. This is where Magellan and da Gama used to get ready for their New World expeditions!
After visiting the tower, you can reach to this monastery on foot. The building itself is impressive, another vivid example of how the Portuguese used the Gothic style in a unique way. Inside, you can visit the tombs of the explorer who first discovered India, Vasco de Gama and Luís Vaz de Camões, the writer of “The Lusiads,” one of the most important works in Portuguese literature.
Pastel de Nata
Cosy up at a central coffee shop for this one: pastel de nata. Can you already feel your mouth watering? The best place to get it though is the Antiga confeitaria de Belém. Take a seat and try this little treat which the Guardian went so far as to included in the list of the top 50 best delicacies in the world. Are you convinced yet? It’s a sort of tart, packed full with custard. If you want to make it at home… you can dream on. The bakers with the recipe are sworn to secrecy.
Now that your belly’s been satisfied, it’s time to get back on the move! Take the bus and head into the city centre, towards Alfama, the oldest district of the city. This area was once dominated by Arabs, but today it’s a pleasant mix-n-match with steep streets creating a labyrinth for those unfamiliar with the layout.In 1775 most of Lisbon was levelled out after a huge earthquake. This slice of the old city remains though, one final piece of what used to be.
Alfama is nice during the day but it’s even better once night falls and the street bars fill with music. It’s the best place to catch a performance of fado, a musical tradition consisting of a viola, Portuguese guitar and some singers reciting poems dedicated to the men who have sailed the high seas. Destiny, from Latin, is where the name of this tradition comes from.
The second largest aquarium in the world, the Oceanarium was built to commemorate the World Expo held in Lisbon in 1998. The stone and glass structure is a wonder in itself and once you add the four separate aquariums featuring ecosystems from the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Antarctic Oceans. In a nutshell, it’s incredible.
St. George’s Castle
Reserve an entire morning or afternoon to discover St. George’s Castle which stands atop the highest hill of Lisbon and is the most popular tourist attraction in the city, for good reason. It is square in shape and was originally surrounded by a wall, almost like a citadel. Throughout history it was the military headquarters for Romans, Moors and even Spaniards. More recently the big earthquake in the 1770s tested the strength of its foundation and while the castle remains intact, it is in serious need or restoration.
If you’re tired by now of all the ups and downs, your calves are aching and you just can’t take it any more then grab the tram. These quaint yellow trams will take you along some of the most inaccessible routes by foot, so it’s not only historical but exciting as well! To take an easy sightseeing trip through Alfama, grab Tram number 28.
As for souvenirs to remember your trip to Lisbon, check out the many hand-crafted clay items like pottery, porcelain and ceramics. What do you think about all the white and blue tiles that cover the façades of churches and other monuments? They date back to when the Arabs dominated the city and typically come in one colour: ocean blue. You can also find them in grand palaces, in gardens and decorating the walls of monasteries and houses.
Bacchus also laid his claim in Portugal. The country produces some of the highest quality wines in the world. Port and Madeira are table-talk but there is more to Portuguese wine than these two. Both reds and whites are produces from north to south. Take a bottle of Vino Verde home with you and save it for a special occasion.
Have you ever been to Lisbon? Tell us about your trip!