CITY GUIDE TO WANDER AROUND LISBON
Oh Lisbon. The city oozing the million-dollar combination of tradition, charm and modernism. The millennium-old glorious history, the delicious food and the unique things to do, all ridiculously good value-for-money.
No wonder why Lisbon is the trendiest city in Europe right now. The truth is that you will fall in love a bit more. This 3-days guide compiles all we know and love about Lisbon. Enjoy !
HOW TO GET AROUND LISBON ?
This guide requires a lot of walking around. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. We think it is the absolute way to explore a city, but in hilly Lisbon this means it can be a great workout ! Especially the streets next to Castelo, Alfama and Chiado can be very steep.
Look at the bright side : you will likely catch some sun rays in the process !
Finally, you can follow all the places we’ve listed in the smartphone map : Mapstr. Add our profile : @elsa_cyril and you will have access to our full world maps with every place we liked (visits, restaurants, bars, etc…). With this, we are sure that navigating in Lisbon will be much easier.
DAY 1. THE WEST LISBON
We always like to start off our time in a city by going to the farthest place possible to get out of the way. In the case of Lisbon, this is Belém district.
In the afternoon, wander around the trendy Chiado area before watching sunset with a view.
Torre de Belem (Belém Tower)
One of Lisbon’s finest attractions, Torre de Belém (Belém Tower) is located in the riverside district of Belém. It was strategically built to protect the kingdom’s capital in the 16th century and had a very important role in the era of Portuguese Discoveries.
Soon, it also became the first symbolic icon for explorers who depart from here to places as far as Brazil, India and Africa.
Apart from being an architectural gem by itself, the setting is just amazing, near the mouth of the river Tejo. In sunny days, there’s an incredible amount of sunlight being reflected on the river, making the white stones kind of shine.
Our opinion : is NOT worth to go inside. It’s a tourist trap.
Mosteiro Dos Jeronimos (Jeronimos Monastery)
Mosteiro dos Jeronimos was built as a commemoration of the safe return of Vasco da Gama from his journey to India.
The initial project was to build something significantly smaller. But as the wealth of colonies during the Age of Discoveries grew, they basically decided to go over the top and built incredibly detailed carvings in expensive marble, hudge cloisters, and a beautiful chapel.
Todays it is a massive and highly ornate monastery and a true architecture gem not to be missed. It is impossible not to be dazzled with all the craftsmanship – remember this place is 500 years old !
The MAAT – Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology – is the most recent addition to the cultural scene.
The quality of visit will depend a lot on their temporary exhibitions and your personal interest.
But more than the inside, MAAT deserves a visit from the outside.
Gorgeously located next to the river in Belém, visitors can even walk over the roof as the arching building was designed to be a continuation of the promenade. The 15k glazes tiles reflect the sunlight and the river surface, making it change the color throughout the day. Lots of « archigasm » potential here !
Largo de Camoes (Camoes Square)
Time to go back to Lisbon city center ! If you come by train, get out in Cais do Sodré and go up Rua do Alecrim. You will find the famous pink street – a nightlife hotspot – on your left.
Located in the convergence of Bairro Alto, Chiado and Bica neighborhoods, Largo de Camoes is a popular meeting spot for lisboners. The statue in the center is in honour of Luis de Camoes, an iconic Portuguese 16th century poet whot wrote Os Lusiadas.
This square has everything a typical Portuguese square should have : quaint architecture, patterned cobblestone pavement, trams passing by, coffee kiosks and several pastry shops selling Pastéis de nata.
Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara
This miradouro (viewpoint) faces the east and north parts of Lisbon. It’s wide, spacious and the pavement here has beautiful intricate patterns. There is 1 kiosk and some street vendors.
Getting here is easy. If you’re facing the river in Largo de Camoes, walk the road uphill that goas to your back (north). You’ll pass Ascensor da Gloria in one of the streets on your right – the viewpoint is right after it.
DAY 2. LISBON’S DOWNTOWN
The second day is dedicated to explore Lisbon’s downtown. Prepare yourself to walk around a lot, got to make these days count !
Avenida da Liberdade
Walk towards the heart of the city – Baixa – through Lisbon’s most fancy avenue.
Literally translated as « Liberty’s avenue », this is where all the high-end boutiques, shops and hotels are located.
The avenue is pretty much all covered by trees and mini-gardens. Cafés with outdoors sitting scattered along the cobblestone pavement with intricate patterns are the perfect spot for a quick coffee break.
Also known as D. Pedro IV square, Rossio is the very heart of Lisbon. It’s here that workers protest against the government, where college freshmen take a bath in the fountains as an initiation ritual, where tourists eat overpriced meals in outdoor sitting.
During the 19th century, the whole square was paved with the typical calçada potuguesa (Portuguese cobblestone pavement) which created an interesting wave-inspired dizzing effect on the floor.
Covento Do Carmo (Carmo Convent)
Destroyed by the massive 1755 earthquake like 85% of the buildings in LIsbon, this Gothic church has recently reborn to shine from the top of Carmo hill.
They decided not to rebuilt it and keep the haunting ruins as a memoral to remind people of what happened. That’s why the church is roofless – something you don’t see everyday.
Overall this is a rather small sight, but a relaxing break from the hustle of the city. There is a square/terrace in front where you can grab a drink amongst the ruins.
Elevador De Santa Justa
Santa Justa is a crafted ironwork elevator built in 1902 to connect Carmo Square with the lower streets of Baixa. At the time, this lift was a major innovation and a symbol of the Industrial Age throughout Europe.
With time, the lift has evolved from a functional machine to become a unique attraction. There’s an observatory platform with panoramic views.
Although this viewpoint has the perspective advantage of being located exactly in the heart of Baixa district, the views from Rua Augusta Arch are slightly superior in our opinion.
Plus, we can’t really understand the idea of queuing for 1h just for a 20 second lift. Especially when there is a FREE access to one of the top floors through Carmo Convent.
Arco Da Rua Augusta
Arco da Rua Augusta is located at the southern end of Lisbon’s busiest pedestrianized street. This white ornated triumphal arch is the ultimate symbol of the rebirth of a new Lisbon after the 1755 combo tragedy when an earthquake + fire + tsunami destroyed most of the city.
The structure was only completed in 1875 and it contains several intricate marble sculptures of historical figures including Vasco da Gama (who discovered the sea route to India) and Viriatus (who resisted the Roman conquest of Portugal).
The arch is majestic from every angle, but it is from the top where ther is more potential to dazzle. And surprisingly there are rarely queues to go up! From there, you can expect amazing 360° views of downtown Lisbon, including Alfama, Sao Jorge Castle, Carmo Convent, the river and the Comércio Square just below.
Praca Do Comercio
The Praça do Comércio is the grandest of the squares in LIsbon and one of the largest in Europe. Historically this was the gateway to the city, where goods from the colonies were traded. Still today has the particularity of facing the river Tejo directly.
We love everything about this place. It is wide open, the yellow buildings all around are beautiful and is also one of the brightest places we’ve been. Not only Lisbon has a lot of sunlight already, but here everything’s brighter – the marble, the floor, the river – so don’t forget your sunglasses !
Ribeira Das Naus
The Ribeira das Naus aurea was where most of the Portuguese explorer’s ships were built during the 14th-16th century period. After being abandoned for many years, a recent regeneration project wanted to « give back the river to Lisbon’s citizens ».
A completely new reverfront promenade was born and was an immediate hit for locals and visitors who came here to read, cycle, jog or just relax. Don’t get too excited though, swimming is not allowed (and not recommendable either).
DAY 3. LAST DAY IN LISBON
Final day of our guide. We’ve picked up a completely different area to show the most traditional district of the city. To finish it off your trip, the most gorgeous panoramic view in Lisbon.
Contrasting to the rest of the city, the downtown area of Lisbon – Baixa Pombalina – has ordered streets and majestic buildings all around.
This area is usually where visitors spend mire time. If you are a fan of architecture, the whole district is a delight to walk around but you may find it too touristy. These days there’s a hudge concentration of souvenir shops, human statues and overpriced restaurants.
Se Catedral de Lisboa
Lisbon’s Cathedral was built right after the first King of Portugal conquered the city to the Moorish in 1147. He wanted an immediate symbol of Christianity as a definite proof of his victory.
Almost 1 millennium later and having survived fires and several earthquakes, the Sé still stands as a highlight in the landscape of Alfama district.
In essence a delightful maze of narrow cobblestone streets, Alfama is the oldest district of Lisbon. Inhabited since Moorish times – when it was an upper-class residential area – it occupies a rather large area between the Tejo river estuary and the castle uphill in the southeast of the city.
Enven though it’s now an entirely AirBnB-packed area, it is an opportunity to get a glimpse of what Lisbon once was. Wandering through the cobblestones streets, it is still possible to find kids playing soccer, neighbors chit-chatting, or get delightfully lost and end up in someone’s backyard.
Castelo De Sao Jorge
Standing on top of the highest hill in the city, it is impossible to overlook Castelo de Sao Jorge. Being a vantage point of excellence was exactly the reason why it been used as a defensive position by everyone in the past : Romans, Phoenicians, Visigothic, Moorish and Christians.
During the 10th century, the fortifications were rebuilt and strengthened by the Moorish who used Lisbon as an important trading port to North Africa. The Christans later reconquered Lisbon during the Second Crusade in 1147, taking the castle.
TIPS FOR EXTRA DAYS
Here are some suggestions in case you have extra time in Lisbon – we highly recommand you do !
Definitely our number 1 recommendation if you hacve time in Lisbon. Described by many poets and writers as a « fairytale village », Sintra has timeless and glamour vibe.
You do not need a tour to visit Sintra. Simply take the train from Rossio station. It’s a 40-min ride.
Cristo Rei is one of Lisbon’s most iconic monuments. The statue of Christ stands high above the southern banks of the Tejo Estuary, and depicts Christ with arms raised, blessing the city. Cristo Rei dates from the 1950s and its construction was in reverence for Portugal avoiding the horrors of WW2. Since its consecration in 1959 Cristo Rei has been an important Portuguese pilgrim destination and today is a major religious centre for the diocese of Setubal. Lisbon’s Cristo Rei has many similarities to the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio, and the Brazilian statue was the original inspiration.
For visitors, the main draw of the Cristo Rei is the 80m high viewing platform and the amazing panoramic views over Lisbon and the golden suspension bridge. Cristo Rei makes for an enjoyable excursion from Lisbon and is often the sole reason to cross to the southern side of the Tejo Estuary. The journey by public transport is not difficult, requiring a scenic ferry ride and inexpensive bus.
WHERE TO STAY IN LISBON
Lately, many buildings in the old neighborhoods in Lisbon have been refurbished to serve as accomodation for tourists on Airbnb.
If possible, book a hotel via Booking.com which does not have an impact on the local housing market.
Staying in any area in the central axis of Lisbon is absolutely a great choice in terms of shops, restaurants and transports. Look for areas like Sao Sebastiao, Marquês, Principe Real, Avenida, Restauradores and Baixa.
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