From the hills, red bridges, trolley cars, great food, and ocean views, it seemed from my experience in the U.S., that Portugal’s capital was the San Francisco of Europe. Nevertheless, my day trip to Lisbon with a friend proved to have unique and fascinating differences when compared to any other town I’ve been to. I’ll walk you through a list of must-do activities in Lisbon (which can all be done in 10 hours or less).
Admire the Trolley Cars
You don’t necessarily need to ride on the trolleys to appreciate their exceptionalism. They run all over the city and some of the tracks are at impressive grades, which makes them a great choice for getting uphill! If you choose to walk the slopes (and subsequently work off the famous Portuguese pastries), at least make sure to stop and watch these impressive machines as they travel past you.
Check Out the Metro Stations
We used the metro to travel, which proved to be an easy and efficient way to see the city. In the process, we stumbled upon many remarkable sites. The Lisbon Metro System is known for their underground artwork; from statues and murals, to contemporary architecture. If you are traveling by trolley, or choosing a different mode of transportation, at least make sure to check out Oriente Station (the main train, bus, and subway station in Lisbon). The architecture of this building is beautiful, and it is best viewed at night when strategically placed lights illuminate it from all angles.
Eye the Most Elegant Elevator
Designed by Raoul Mesnier, the Elevador de Santa Justa is an elevator unlike anything else… well actually that’s not true. Mesnier was also a former student of Gustave Eiffel, and the neo-Gothic design has some similarities to the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The Elevador de Santa Justa is just as impressive, as it is almost a century old and powered by steam. For a small fee you can ride to the top and find yourself in the historical Bairro Alio part of Lisbon, which boasts wonderful vistas of the city.
Go On a Statue Hunt
Lisbon is full of remarkable, gigantic statues. It could take hours to observe all the detail and symbolism in each one. Here are some of the most famous statutes to hunt down for yourself.
The Arco da Rua Augusta: This whole area was breathtaking, but the most noteworthy element was the Arco da Rua Augusta. It is the huge archway shown in the left of the photo. It connects the Augusta Street (Rua Augusta) with the Commerce Square (Praça do Comércio).
Padrao dos Descobrimentos: This statue is a powerful site along the sea. It stands as a representation of Portugal’s explorers, honoring those who adventured into the unknown.
Estatua de S.Vicente (statue of St. Vincent)– As the name states, this large statue is of St. Vincent who is known to be the patron saint of Lisbon. He holds a boat and two ravens in his hand which are symbolic for the city of Lisbon.
Torre de Belem- This tower is a little bit away from Lisbon’s main city hub, however this 16th-century tower and UNESCO World Heritage Site is definitely worth a visit. I recommend taking the metro or bus to this location. Walking from the airport or train station would not be the best use of your day in the city!
There are many shops to find those perfect souvenirs. Leather products such as shoes and bags are typically made in Portugal and make for a great purchase. Linens, ceramics, and jewelry are also of high quality and variation in Lisbon. However, you cannot go wrong with taking home some traditional Portuguese food items. Sardines, cherry liquor, port, pastries, coffee, and candy are especially good from Lisbon.
Try Some Scrumptious Sardines
Lisbon has sardines everywhere. Painted, stuffed, wood, ceramic, and of course the real, edible kind. My travel companion, Lena, and I got the hint that Lisbon’s sardines must be good. I am not a huge fan of fish, so the idea of canned fish never seemed appealing to me. But, like they say, when in Lisbon… We knew we had to try some before leaving, to complete our experience. We ended up going to a place called Miss Can. It was the cutest little store with a whole wall covered in old fashioned sardine cans. The store served their sardines, beverages, and snacks, as well as sardines in cans as souvenirs or a snack to-go. I can say Miss Can made me a believer in the canned-whole fish idea.
Visit the Time Out Market
The TimeOut Market is the perfect destination for a meal in Lisbon, particularly if you want to try multiple things or are traveling in a group. This market consists of 24 restaurants, 8 bars, a dozen shops and including some adorable flower stands. Each of the stands offers a different type of food, from a highly reviewed restaurants. There are many live music events to look for as well. We visited for lunch and though many locals had the same idea, we could easily find a seat in the large Market. I had a delicious soup and Lena enjoyed a freshly made Poke bowl. We both left happy, full, and ready to continue our exploration of Lisbon.
Take in a Terrace View
Many restaurants in Lisbon offer a rooftop or terrace view. If you see one that peeks your interest, take advantage of the elevated views. We went to Delirium Tremens and were able to sit on the terrace shown above. It proved to be a great way to relax after a long day of seeing the city.
Visit the Lisbon Cathedral
St. George’s Castle
Situation at a high point, St. George’s Castle can easily be spotted on the Lisbon skyline. Similarly, it offers great views both inside and on top of the castle walls. there is a fee to tour this castle, however the photo above displays the castle walkways from the bell tower.
One of the things I found to be most fun about this castle was the hostels and apartments in and around the castle. Solar dos Mouros, Solar do Castelo and apartments can be rented out to experience a night in this historical area.
Ring the Bell
Located next to St. George’s Castle was a gem that we just happened to stumble upon, the Igreja de Santa Cruz do Castelo. During our visit the cathedral’s bell tower was opened to visitors to enjoy the views and ring the bell. The entry to the tower cost 2 euros, but the fee was completely worth the experience. The proceeds also went toward the maintenance of the cathedral.
This is one of Lisbon’s most visited gems. While it makes for photogenic pictures, it also has a interesting past. This site is ruins of a church that was mostly destroyed in an earthquake in 1755. With many other roles, such as being a place of refuge for President Marcello Caetano, the Carmo Convent still stands as a beautiful symbol of Lisbon’s history.
Feel the Liveliness of the City
I am not sure if it was the ocean air or a sugar rush from all the Pasteles de Nata I ate, but Lisbon released the inner child in me.
Every pastry shop we passed I just had to ask my travel companion if we could stop in and look(thankfully she was there to keep me from buying them all).
Every shiny tile caught my eye. There were many places to pause and look at the building’s walls completely tiled and reflecting the suns light.
When I marveled at the city from above, I immediately wanted to play I-Spy. The city was so dense it seemed to be the perfect (and also time consuming) place to people watch.
Overall, Lisbon is a fun city to visit, so be ready to release your inner child and enjoy it!
And, See the Sunset
If You Have More time …
Take the Night Train
The night train from Madrid to Lisbon is a great way to travel while making the most of your experience. We started in Madrid, and though the sleeping arrangements were not the most luxurious, it proved to be a fun experience which allowed us to wake up with the whole day to spend in Lisbon. If you have more time in Lisbon, a night train to Madrid could be a fun way to see another large capital in Europe with minimal effort in transportation.
Cross the Tagus River
Surprisingly that is not the Golden Gate Bridge pictured below, it’s the Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge. Both the Golden Gate Bridge and the Ponte 25 de Abril was designed by the same company (American Bridge Company), which explains the resemblance. The Ponte 25 de Abril is a stunning 2 and a half km bridge, leading Europe’s record for the longest bridge. Crossing the Tagus River on this bridge technically takes you out of Lisbon, however a ride on this bridge is worth the time. On the other side, the large Cristo Rei Monument is a site to see!
See the Sea (Indoors)
The Lisbon Oceanarium is the reigning champion in Europe for being the largest indoor aquarium. See the numerous sea creatures at the Lisbon Oceanarium, or use it as a unique way to enjoy some time in the air-conditioning. The temperatures during Lisbon’s summers can be pretty hot!
Visit During a Festival
There are many festivals holidays in Lisbon which everyone can join in on the celebration and fun. Here are just a few below.
March 1st-5th, 2019- Street parades, performances, costumes, decorated boats on the coast and more make up one of the most impressive celebrations in Portugal.
Lisboa Dance Festival:
March 8th-9th, 2019: This festival is for those who love to dance! Current music and traditional Portuguese songs invites everyone to move to the beat.
The Iberian Mask Festival:
May 16-19, 2019– Bright masks and creative costumes fill Lisbon during the Iberian Mask Festival. You too can flaunt a mask or costume and take home a souvenir with an interesting story to tell.