Presenting things to do in Lisbon, Portugal, co-written by my sister Mirabella Pulido.
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 spontaneous trip to surprise my sister Mirabella for her 21st birthday, where she was studying at the time.
Interested in traveling with your sisters? Check out the reasons Why I Love Traveling With My Sisters.
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 things to do in Lisbon, Portugal!
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 Padrão dos Descobrimentos, the Monument of Discoveries to the north, and ends at 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 among tourists makes pickpocketing rampant.
Cost: €2.85 for a single ticket that can be purchased onboard/€6 for a 24-hr pass
- Feira da Ladra a.k.a The Thief’s Market is a flea market that started by selling only stolen goods (Campo de Santa Clara). So scandalous! 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) is an arts and circus school hosting a number of social enterprise initiatives that includes a gorgeous restaurant serving sangria 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 (Calçada 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.
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.