Lisbon is the capital city of Portugal and the westernmost European urban conglomerate along the Atlantic coast. It is one of the oldest cities in the world and one of the most-visited cities in southern Europe. It is home to majestic cathedrals and monasteries, a colorful city landscape and charismatic neighborhoods.
Once again we were blessed with a very warm welcome to the city when we arrived at Lisbon airport. The sun kissed us a good morning when we departed the aircraft and headed towards the subway, en-route to the city center of Lisbon. A short ride and we arrived at one of the main stations in the city named Rossio, which is also known as the center of Lisbon. We chose to stay at the Lisbon Travellers House, a very nice and central place to stay while discovering the town.
Staying on the Rua Augusta, a main pedestrian street of the city, we had a nice view downtown towards the Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square) with the famous Arch leading you towards the sea which was just in front of the square.
The weather was great, the vibe of the town very inviting and we just wanted to head out and discover it. We chose to do so with a small walking tour that started just around the corner and headed towards the center of the Rossio square. From there we explored the neighborhood of Alfama, one of the most traditional neighborhoods of the city and famous for its narrow streets. It is located on the foot of the Castle of São Jorge and is an old fishing district and birthplace of the Fado, a musical expression of Lisbon’s soul, usually very melancholic and nostalgic. This atmosphere can be experienced when passing through the small side streets on the way up to the castle.
Once we reached the upper part of Alfama we enjoyed a magnificent view over the city, overlooking the Tagus river and its port. You can also enter the castle but we decided not to, as the entrance queue was just too long and we rather wanted to explore the rest of the neighborhood instead.
Strolling through some more narrow streets and having lunch at a recommended place by our tour guide called Santa Rita, we then slowly descended towards Praça do Comércio and finished the tour by the river.
Lisbon is divided by several distinguishable neighborhoods and, to get to know the city better, it is essential to take some time to discover each one of them. The top neighborhoods are Baixa, Bairro Alto & Chiado, Alfama and Belém. Apart from Belém the areas are not that far apart from each other and can easily be reached either by foot or with the public transportation.
The next areas to discover were the neighborhoods of Bairro Alto & Chiado and Baixa. The once again narrow streets were filled with bars and cafes and portrayed more of the bohemian side of the city. The steep streets show old decorated houses and bright yellow trams winding their way through the neighborhood.
Within these areas you can also find most of the restaurants and bars to enjoy during the night and definitely a must when visiting the city. Here you can also enjoy some nice views of the city from another perspective, best to be either seen from the Elevador de Santa Justa, a viewing platform in the heart of the city (tip: do not wait in the tourist line in front but rather climb the streets behind to reach it from the other side. This will save you time and money ;)) or from the Jardim de São Pedro de Alcântara.
An important occurrence that makes you understand more about the city, especially its architecture, is the great Lisbon earthquake that took place in 1755. Combined with a tsunami and major fires, it basically destroyed pretty much the entire city. It was one of the deadliest earthquakes in history and had political, economical and even philosophical impacts at its time.
One more neighborhood to discover was the district of Belém, located roughly 6 kilometers west of the city center. This part of town is known for the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, a very large and historic monastery as well as other monumental constructions and its famous pastéis de nata, a Portuguese pastry. The monastery as such is quite impressive and the pastry is delicious as well. There is only one place to get the pastry, usually packed with tourists (tip: do not wait in line but rather go inside and find a place to sit).
The city of Lisbon really surprised me a lot as we did not have much of expectation before visiting. Discovering the different neighborhoods of the city was very interesting as it really displayed the history and culture and portrayed the story of Lisbon. The entire experience encompasses many things from the beautiful backstreets of Alfama and Bairro Alto, the squares of Baixa and the pastries of Belém. The food was delicious, the nightlife great and the people have been very warm and welcoming. Even outside the city you can enjoy old fishing villages, beaches and the very special and magical setting of Sintra. We once again really enjoyed our stay and would highly recommend to visit Lisbon.
It is difficult to point out single places to see, so I attached an overview of the different neighborhoods.
Picture taken from: http://www.lisbon.net/images/lisbon-neighborhoods.png
Five things that you should not miss when visiting Lisbon:
1. Walking tour through the neighborhoods: Here you will get very good tips and recommendations from the locals about the best places to see in the city. There are many offered, we took the free tour starting at the Yes Hostel on Rua de S. Julião 148.
2. Enjoy a nice view from the many scenic viewing points: Apart from the ones mentioned in the post I would also recommend to enjoy the view with a cold beer from the top floor of the Pollux shopping mall on R. Fanqueiros 276.
3. Night life in Bairro Alto: Many different bars to chose from. Take a stroll in the evening and do some bar-hopping.
4. Stroll along the seafront area: Enjoy the nice sunsets and sea breeze along the coastal road and enjoy the panorama from the Tagus river.
5. Take a tram: Discover the town in one of the old trams that are still operating in many parts of the city. Tram 28 is like a hop-on, hop-off sightseeing tour.
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