10 incredible things to do in Lisbon
I arrived in Lisbon in mid afternoon and stayed long enough in my hotel to dump my luggage. A short trip on foot to Baixa, downtown Lisbon, had to be aborted quickly as it rained heavily. This was after all in October when temperatures lessen from the highs of 30c-40c in August to 4c-14c in the colder months of December to February. A few hours later though the rain cleared and dusk began to fall and hunger pangs began to kick in. A short walk from my hotel to Andaluz restaurant, on Rua de Santa Marta, Lisbon, a restaurant I had heard was good, ensued.
The dishes, mostly seafood, were meant to be incredibly authentic with great flavours and they were. I had the squid and octopus whilst I watched a rather large Scandinavian family tuck into grilled sardines and sea bass. This was a very small restaurant with perhaps no more than 10 to 15 tables. It was heart wrenching to see a party of Oriental tourists turned away as the restaurant was full. I am sure they would have read about and had this restaurant on their to do list too. Even though Andaluz restaurant is somewhat difficult to locate, the walk there and the numerous unintentional detours led me to some of the most incredibly large street art adornments in Lisbon.
The next day and subsequent 4 days in Lisbon was rain free, warm and sunny and served as inspiration for the 10 incredible things to do in Lisbon below. Most of the sightseeing was done on foot, on tram 28, on local buses and on a couple of train journeys. 4 days admittedly for all this is demanding and may seem like a pie eating contest unless of course you are a hard-core travel junky with a phobia for missing out on anything remotely interesting.
A jolly ride on Lisbon’s iconic Tram 28
Tram 28 had to be the first thing to do. It is a tram that will help you orient yourself to Lisbon in one fell swoop before tackling the city in all its modernity and glorious past in bite sized chunks. The ride will take you to all the notable neighbourhoods and passes by some of the must see Palaces, churches and neighbourhoods.
More here: A jolly ride on Lisbon’s iconic Tram 28
Explore and enjoy Baixa, the heart of Lisbon
My first trip to Baixa had to be aborted. The second, on a sunny day, was simply memorable. Baixa is downtown Lisbon and comes with all that you expect to see in many capital cities. Shops, restaurants, street performances and uniquely to Lisbon notable monuments and a square.
More here: Explore and enjoy Baixa, the heart of Lisbon
Get on higher ground with the Santa Justa Elevador
I stumbled upon this elevator whilst in Baixa. Designed by Raoul de Mesnier du Ponsard one of Gustave Eiffel’s apprentices, it links downtown Baixa to neighbourhoods on higher ground. At 147 feet it will, like Istanbul’s Galata tower, provide you with some fine panoramic views of Lisbon.
Sample the delights of the former sinners’ nest, Alfama
Perhaps my most memorable evening in Lisbon was spent in Alfama. It is a nostalgic Lisbon district with a dubious character and history. It is also most traveller’s favourite hangout judging by the number of Airbnbs around, restaurants and fado houses. It is close to the Tagus river which probably explains why there were so many cruise ship passengers in the district when I visited.
Visit A Brasileira (The Brazilian Lady Cafe)
Chiado to all intents and purposes is opulent, has a strong feel of sophistication and comes with all the trappings of the middle and upper classes. Theatres, restaurants, high end shops and many more can be found here. A Brasileira, a famous café is located in this neighbourhood.
More here: Visit A Brasileira (The Brazilian Lady Cafe)
Ride the Elevator da Gloria funicular to Bairro Alto
My favourite moment as far as Bairro Alto is concerned is actually getting the Elevador da Gloria to get there. Once there, there is a lot more to do and see. A garden with panoramic views, restaurants and a wine tasting establishment are all here.
Cascais, portugal’s royal hideaway
A wine connoisseur I met in Alfama described Cascais as the “Beverley Hills” of Lisbon or indeed Portugal. High praise indeed. Cascais is a seaside resort of massive importance especially to the rich and famous who have made this tiny part of Portugal theirs. I spent a few hours in Cascais browsing through a local bookshop, perusing the offerings of the local art museum, glaring at the sea and having a typically Portuguese lunch of grilled sardines. I will put it on record. If I had a million I would live in Cascais but since I have to make that million I have no choice but to hustle in London.
More here: Cascais, Portugal’s royal hideaway
Have a Pastéis de Belém
Belem as I see it, is the most monument rich in Lisbon. It boasts of a “who is who” of world exploration and discovery. Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Margellan, and Bartholmeu Diaz all had connections to Belem. It is also home to the world famous Pasties de Belem.
More Here: Have a Pastéis de Belém
In search of romanticism: Pena National Palace
A simply magical palace. Sintra, the charming town in which Pena National Palace is located is a gem full of mystical wonders and worth a day’s visit. It is so rich in heritage that UNESCO named the town a world heritage site. As incredibly attention grabbing as other attractions in Sintra are, do make sure you make your way up the hills to Pena National Palace. You will be grateful for this advice.
Enjoy curated gourmet food at Mercado da Ribeira
Had I been to the Mercado da Ribeira any sooner, I would have had a meal there every day for the duration of my visit to Lisbon. Unfortunately, I left this to the day of my departure. Don’t make that mistake! The sheer quality and range of gourmet food available under one roof is simply unlike anything I have seen, arguably not even in the culinary capital of the world, London, where I reside. Your meal, mostly at reasonable prices are cooked by chefs handpicked in Lisbon.
I had misgivings about Lisbon before I visited. It had not been on my travel radar and a few searches on google about the city did not inspire much confidence. I bit the bullet anyway and with a heavy dose of a true traveller spirit decided to give Lisbon a go anyway. It turned out to be one of the best travel decisions I have made to date. I have intentionally been super detailed (if you click on the more here links above) for a reason. The dearth of information, stories and imagery of Lisbon could have easily swayed me elsewhere, so this is to help contribute to further curation. Lisbon is simply one of the most culturally rich, laid back and cosmopolitan cities I have been to in Europe. The food, especially if you are into seafood, would play havoc with your palette in a good way. The people are friendly and in my experience happy to help make you experience a remarkably memorable stay in their city. Viva Lisboa!