If you’re wondering what to do in Lisbon, Portugal then something that I recommend is appreciating the architecture. Often referred to as the San Francisco of Europe, Lisbon definitely carries a similar charm with its own European flair. The yellow streetcars creak their way through winding, narrow streets. Many of the buildings are shades of white, making the distinctive yellow of the streetcars stand out against them. However, one of my favourite things about Lisbon is that in amongst the white buildings tiled with brown roofs are the random smatterings of brightly coloured buildings. This character feature adds to the thrill of turning the next corner. In comparison to San Fransisco, I find that Lisbon has a much more relaxed atmosphere.
I love these splashes of colour.
Another lovely feature of the buildings in Lisbon is the Azulejo tiles on many buildings. These are an Iberian art form and absolutely beautiful. They come in a variety of colours and add so much character to the buildings. They help with temperature control and are easy to clean. Lisbon hosts a San Fransisco-esque bridge which leads towards the interior of Portugal and the large statue of Jesus paying homage to the one in Brazil.
The trademark number 28 tramcar on a sunny street.
What To Do In Lisbon, Portugal
The São Jorge Castle or Castelo de São Jorge offers stunning views of the city. For students, it is 5 euros or 8.50 otherwise. As always, I brought my outdated student ID and got in at the lower price. The guidebooks tell you to check out the castle, as may gut instinct upon arriving and seeing such a distinctive piece of architecture. But the locals will tell you that there are numerous free miraduoros (viewpoints) around the city. In the end, whichever you choose is up to you. Keep in mind that aside from the view there isn’t terribly much up at the castle.
The bridge with Big Jesus in the distance.
Another one of the main sights to see in Lisbon is the Praça do Comércio Square that can be found along the Tagus River. Locals refer to this as the Square of the Palace. However, the actual palace was destroyed during an earthquake in 1755. Currently, a variety of restaurants now border the square. From the square you will notice an arch that was created during the rebuilding of Lisbon after the earthquake. Beyond the arch are many cafes, restaurants and tourist shops. In essence, this is a great tourist area of Lisbon.
Just beyond this arch are tons of sunny cafes and restaurants.
While traveling through Lisbon keep an eye out for the word “miraduoro.” This will be a viewpoint.
You may have heard of the Santa Justa lift also called the Carmo Lift. This is the only remaining vertical lift in the city. Skip it. No locals from Lisbon ride this elevator, as it isn’t worth it. The lift costs 5 euro and after waiting in a long, long line you’ll find that it doesn’t even go to the top!! To add insult to injury, you can reach the same level of the elevator by walking FOR FREE.
To avoid this typical tourist trap first head to the Museu Arqueológico Do Carmo. Second, when standing in front of this building, head around the corner to the right. This will bring you up some stairs, which are in line with the top of the elevator. This isn’t even the best view of the city as it is blocked by metal fencing. Fun Fact: the Museu Arqueológico Do Carmo is one of the few buildings that withstood the earthquake of 1755. It has been preserved in the same state to show future generations just how devastating the quake was.
The view from the castle.
In the same way, a second tourist trap to avoid is the elevators or funiculars that will take you up larger hills. I only recommend making use of them if you are unable to walk a steep hill. Locals used to use these; however, once tourists noticed them the prices more than doubled. For 3.60 euro you can essentially be transported up a hill. These cars are yellow and similar in colour to the tramcars but don’t confuse them. An example of one of these elevators can be found across the street from the Hard Rock Cafe. Anything near such an iconic tourist restaurant is definitely overpriced and for unsuspecting tourists only.
The Calcada da Gloria street, located across from the Hard Rock Cafe. If you look closely you can see the lift.
Authentic Drinks and Food of Portugal
An alternative viewpoint to the Santa Justa lift is located up the hill across the street from the Hard Rock Cafe. Once you reach the top of the tram elevator turn right and walk up the hill. There is an area that will give an excellent view of the city as well as the São Jorge Castle. On the day we stopped there was a market set up. This gave us an opportunity to sample the traditional Portuguese alcohol Ginjinha or Ginja, which is made from sour cherries. It is fairly strong and served in a chocolate shot glass. I liked it but Jess doesn’t like cherries.
The viewpoint from the above mentioned location.
Another drink we tried that is unique to Portugal is vinho verde. This is a green wine; however, it doesn’t look that green. It has a bit of an acidic taste and must be served very cold. It will get you drunk and is a must try for any wine connoisseur.
Ginja served in chocolate cups.
Before you leave visit Time Out Market. This place has all of the foods you could imagine and is packed. We each ordered two different dishes and shared them. This is an excellent way of sampling Portuguese foods. As a result of sharing, we managed to try octopus rice and peri-peri chicken. It was mouthwateringly delicious. The market is packed and provides so many food options it was a struggle to choose just two. Make sure to do a full lap around before letting your stomach decide.
Lastly, sample some Portuguese tarts. They are divine.
Nightlife in Lisbon
Unexpectedly, Lisbon has an excellent nightlife. The Bairro Alto area contains tons of different bars perfect for bar hopping. The whole area is a grid and some buildings contain helpful maps on the outside. The Atalia Street is busiest because it has the cheapest bars. The Portuguese music Fado can be heard in some of the bars in the area. We didn’t get a chance to hear it but I’m told it is very emotion inducing.
Throughout the area we noticed maps painted on the sides of buildings to help guide your drunken self.
Here are some recommended bars in the area:
Finally, while in Portugal, exercise normal security precautions. This includes keeping your bag in front of you and being aware of your belongings to avoid pickpockets. Do this especially inside the tram cars where you may may find yourself pressed between strangers.