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Top Five Things To Do in Lisbon, Portugal

Top Five Things To Do in Lisbon, Portugal

Top Five Things To Do in Lisbon, Portugal

Presenting “Lisbon, Portugal,” according to me with a little help from my sister, Mirabella.

The “Whereabouts” series is now taking guests! Have a location to share? Pitch your idea here.

With Portugal being named Travel + Leisure’s 2016 Destination of the Year, now’s the perfect time to visit Lisbon, Portugal’s capital. In 2014, I went on my first impromptu trip to surprise my sister Mirabella for her 21st birthday, where she was studying at the time. Condensed into a five-day visit, I was amazed by everything I had done in such a short amount of time, and marveled at what was still left to do. In fact, this is one of the toughest “Top Five” lists I’ve had to compile yet!

Lisbon is a destination that frequently gets eclipsed by the allures of its larger neighbor, Spain, but it possesses similar characteristics that attract tourists to its eastern counterpart. For example, sangria comes cheap there at only a €1 per cup, but don’t forget to try porto, a rich-tasting, fortified wine and Portugal’s national libation. For gorgeous beaches, you don’t need to travel further than the outskirts of town as the southwestern border of Europe’s westernmost capital city edges out into the Atlantic Ocean. The popular beach destination,Cascais, is an easily reachable 30-minute train ride from the Cais do Sodré metro station. And like Spain, Lisbon’s hilly terrain has forced the city to adapt to numerous inclines and declines, creating a textured visual of pastel-colored buildings capped with terracotta roofs. But unlike Spain, high costs and bad weather won’t cloud a day of your trip. In fact, Lisbon ranks the continent’s sunniest capital, boasting an average of 300 days of sunshine per year, which means the odds are in your favor to catch Lisbon on a sun-soaked day. Now onward to the top five list!

top five izzy

1. Ferry over to Cristo Rei

Portugal has long been a Catholic dominion, bringing the faith over to colonial outposts, like Brazil and Goa, India.  It is no surprise that a goliath statue  of Jesus Christ keeps watch over the capital from a hilltop in the southside district of Almada. Inspired by the original Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janiero, Cristo Rei (Christ the King) is one of Lisbon’s most treasured landmarks, reaching a height of over 360 feet (110 meters). Here, you can also spoil yourself with the most impressive views of the picturesque 25 de Abril suspension bridge, which is often compared to a famous American landmark.

Where? Alto do Pragal, Av. Cristo Rei, 2800-058 Almada, Portugal
Entrance: €4.00/€2.00 (adult/child)
How to get there: Ride the Cacilhas ferry across the Tagus River (known as “Rio Tejo,” or just “Tejo” to the locals) and then take the 101 bus to the base of Cristo Rei.

2. Take a day trip to Belém

The historic district of Belém sits on the banks of the Tejo and is the site of the famous Passeio Rebeirinho de Belém promenade. Many pedestrians are unaware of the boardwalk’s history . The passeio, or promenade, is flanked by O Padrão dos Descobrimentos, the Monument of Discoveries to the north, and ends at O Torre de Belém, the Belém Tower. The Monument of Discoveries pays homage to the great Old World Portuguese explorers, notably Vasco da Gama, the first European to sail to India, and Ferdinand Magellan, the original captain of the first successful circumnavigation of the world who was killed mid-voyage. The Belém Tower on the other end of the boardwalk is the actual embarkation point for many of the expeditions launched out of Portugal. It is also famous for being a UNESCO World Heritage Site and being the fortification that protected Portugal from intruders coming in via the Tagus. Read on to number 4 to see why people also visit Belém!

How to get there: Take tram 15 or tram 127 from the downtown area’s “Praça da Figueira” or “Praça do Comércio” and get off it as soon as you pass Jeronimos Monastery.

monument of discoveries top five things to do lisbon portugal

Sitting on the bank of the Tagus River

3. Party the night away in Bairro Alto

So many things can be said about Bairro Alto, both good and bad, but it is a rite of passage for many visitors looking to get a taste of the local party scene. Don’t get me wrong, Bairro Alto, arguably the city’s most happening district for nightlife, is nothing short of a good time. With crowds of young Portuguese locals, international students, and tourists clogging the cobblestone streets, it is a prime site to meet new people and clink cups of cheap sangria. To clarify, Bairro Alto is an area named after Lisbon’s hilly terrain, lined with hole-in-the-wall bars so tiny that customers are forced to convene out on the streets. And with Portugal’s open-container policy, the outdoors ultimately become one massive, unconfined bar with the European night sky as its ceiling. Bairro Alto, which literally translates to “Tall Hill,” is accessible via a quintessentially Portuguese yellow tram, or if you’re feeling particularly spirited before a night of debauchery, it’s a steep 10-minute walk from the Baixa-Chiado metro station. The walk can prove treacherous for any heel-wearers, so opt for good walking shoes to be able to bounce from bar to bar. Don’t worry, there are various miradouros (viewpoints) dotted at the top of the hills, so your efforts will be rewarded. Most importantly, stay alert! Keep in mind that sweet wine and cheap prices don’t erase the effects of alcohol – Mira brought her camera and me my new iPhone to Bairro Alto one balmy night and we both left without them. Bairro Alto, we hate that we loved you so.

How to get there: Take the blue or green line to the metro station “Baixa-Chiado” and is on both the blue and take the exit “Largo Chiado” to avoid climbing up the steep hill from Baixa into Chiado.

bairro alto top five things to do lisbon portugal

Mira and her study abroad friends in Bairro Alto

bairro alto top five things to do lisbon portugal

My sister Andrea and a crew of study abroad students walking the cobblestone streets of Bairro Alto

4. Indulge your sweet tooth with “pastel de nata” and “Ginjinha”

For a taste of confections distinctively Lisbon, check out the original and prospectively praised spot for egg tarts, Pastéis de Belém and for ginjinha shots, A Ginjinha. These sugary delicacies cannot be missed if one is to understand the local eats. Egg tarts, or pasteis da nata, are decadent and creamy custard tartlets powdered with cinnamon, also the signature fare at the 180-year-old Pastéis de Belém. Ginjinha is a liqueur made from the sour ginja berry and sugar and is sold at a hole-in-the wall bar. The shot, which can be taken out on the street, is served with the puckery, cherry-like berry at the bottom of the glass as a lip-smacking glimpse into the liqueur-making process. At A Ginjinha, you can down one of these shots for only €1 a pop. Saude!

Where? Pastéis de Belém is at Rua de Belem n0 84 a 92 and A Ginjinha is on Largo de Sao Domingos 8, Rossio, Lisbon.

pastel de nata top five things to do lisbon portugal

A delicious serving of Pasteis de Belem

5. Take the Tram 28 to take in all the best districts

Rickety tracks, unpolished wooden benches, and narrow cars — Lisbon’s vintage yellow trams are what double-decker buses are to London and cable cars are to San Francisco: charming and iconic and completely Lisboa. If time isn’t on your side and/or you’re a fan of leisurely travel, a circuit on one of Lisbon’s iconic rail vehicles is a convenient  way to take in the city’s most notable sites. The Tram 28 scenic route gently loops around the winding cobblestone streets of the Campo de Ourique, Graça, Estrela, Baixa and Bairro Alto neighborhoods, and plods past major tourist attractions like St. George’s Castle and Alfama. Many of the trams still in operation are the original Remodelado cars dating back to the 1930s .  Keep your eyes open and belongings close, as the trams’ increasing popularity amongst tourists makes pickpocketing rampant.

Cost: €2.85 for a single ticket that can be purchased onboard/€6 for a 24-hr pass

tram 28 top five things to do lisbon portugal

The Tram 28 takes you to all the best spots in the city. Photo by Transpress NZ

Praça do Comércio top five things to do lisbon portugal

The sisters in Praça do Comércio

Honorable Mentions:

  • Feira da Ladra a.k.a The Thief’s Market is a flea market that started by selling only stolen goods. Ooh lala! The market is open all day on Tuesdays and Sundays and looks out onto the ocean.
  • Only one hour away from Lisbon, Sintra is quaint fairytale town will transport you to charming pastel-colored castles (Quinta de Regaleira, Sintra National Palace, and Pena Palace) and balmy greenery. A quieter and magical contrast from the bright and active capital, allot a day for a trip to Sintra.
  • In the heart of downtown Lisbon, the Elevador de Santa Justa (or the Carmo Lift) stands proudly as a marvelous standalone elevator connecting the lowest point of the city to its highest point. The ride is free to all Viva Viagem (a metro promotion)passholders, as the lift counts as part of the  city’s public transportation system.
  • Looking to give back? Chapitô à mesa (Costa do Castelo 7, Lisbon, Portugal) is an arts and circus school hosting a number of social enterprise initiatives that includes a gorgeous restaurant with a great view of the Vasco da Gama Suspension Bridge.
  • The locals are so fond of their lookout points, they have a word for them: miradouoros. There are a number of beautiful ones but Mira’s favorite one is Miradouro da Graça, where you can find a quote that sweetly captures Lisbon sentiments: “Que amor é este que me faz ir e voltar, Lisboa?” or, “What love is this that makes me go and return, Lisbon?” If that isn’t enough to urge a trip to Portugal,  then I don’t know what will.

 

mirauduro top five things to do in lisbon portugal

The best viewpoints of the city with one of our closest family friends, Desi

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ABOUT THE CO-AUTHOR

mirabella pulido author

Mirabella Pulido is a Filipino American fascinated by the ways of the world. Swears by green tea, home remedies, and journaling before bed. Don’t bring her along on a trip if you don’t expect to do some walking. Foodie crushes on Alton Brown and everyone at Bon Appetit magazine. Formerly lived in Poland, Portugal, and Brazil; has a big interest in Portuguese-speaking places.

👉 Special thanks to my sister Mirabella for co-writing this guide with me! Do you have any tips for Lisbon that we’ve missed out on? Comment below.


Izzy Pulido is a Bostonian by way of the Philippines who loves to vagabond. At twenty-seven, she’s traded in gallivanting around Europe for the 9-to-5 grind… but don’t count out the vagabonding! With a new long distance relationship, she’s bringing American travel to the forefront. She lives for good times, good food, and good peeps.

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  1. Yes Bairro Alto is where the party is at! For extra tips: the marionnette museum is fun for geeks like me. Plus, there is a street art tour on Trip advisor that I loved.

  2. Candy

    5 April

    I have always heard such amazing things about Portugal. It’s definitely on my wish list. The egg tarts look so yummy! I like the photo of you holding it with your coffee. It made me see how small they were, which is perfect cuz I love bite sized treats 🙂

  3. Sarah Kim

    5 April

    Your sister is adorable! That’s so sweet she got to go on a trip with you. I loved Lisbon too and those pasteis– oh my yum! I need to check out Sinta though and other towns.

  4. RunawayBrit

    5 April

    I am planning to go to Lisbon in June, and I can’t wait to spend some time in the ‘continent’s sunniest capital’ – I really hope I don’t get one of the 65 non-sunny days a year! I can’t wait to try pasteis da nata. I have had them before (in Hong Kong of all places!), but I bet they are so much better where they come from!!

  5. Lisbon looks like a wonderful city. I loved the tram, it must have been a great experience for sure. Great to know that you had a good time with your sister!

  6. Aparna

    5 April

    I’m hearing so much about Lisbon and Portugal in general these days! The tram ride sounds so lovely, and I would be stuffing my face with the pastries!

  7. Melbtravel

    5 April

    I was only in Lisbon last October for my 40th birthday and I loved it. Your post brought back so many memories for me, especially riding those little yellow trams. Did you get a chance to head to Sintra?

  8. Portugal and Lisbon are really very intriguing places. They have such a charming allure and are tinged with history and culture. The cobbled stone streets seem a pleasure to walk on. I am really fascinated by the tramway, it looks so well maintained.

  9. Veronica

    6 April

    This is right on time as I am planning my trip to Portugal. Love the picture of the tram and a castle!

  10. Mimi & Mitch

    20 April

    Portugal is high on our list, although probably for next year! Love the electric trams so much, it looks super vintage! Also didn’t know they had their own “cristo” Brazilian style!

  11. Lisbon is a truly special city. We did all the iconic things to do you mentioned. Pastéis de Belém and Alfama…I miss you!

  12. I feel like I am seeing alot of travel photos of Portugal lately and it’s making me interested but this post is making me really want to go! I love that your sister wrote this guest post and that you travel with your sisters! That’s some seriously family envy! I wish I could get my family to travel with me! Great guide and I will be referring to this when we finally make it!

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