Portugal's largest city and capitol, Lisbon is a wonderful city to visit. As one of the oldest cities in the world and the second oldest capitol in Europe (after Athens), Lisbon offers a plethora of
sights that can easily fill a couple days worth of sightseeing. It also makes a great home base to visit other nearby areas such as Sintra or Belem. As one of the most vibrant cities in Europe, you will fall in love with it's cobblestone streets, grand plazas, medieval alleyways, endless cafes and friendly locals. Here is how we spent two days exploring this amazing city.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
GETTING AROUND LISBON
Public transportation is super convenient and easy to use in Lisbon - first buy a Via Viagem Card for €0.50 at any metro station and set it up for 'zapping'. Destinations will cost anywhere from €1.27 to €2.78. Load the guesstimated amount you think you'll need (in €5 increments) and additional dollar amounts can be added to the card if needed later. Children 4 and under are free.
This card can then be used on all Metro, Trams, Bus, Ferry, Funiculars and City Trains.
TRAVELING WITH SMALL CHILDREN
One super awesome tip for anyone traveling with small children: in Portugal, anyone traveling with small children are able to cut to the front of the line! No joke! Portugal has got to be one of the most family friendly countries we have ever been to! Yes, it's a bit strange to just walk right past the long lines everywhere and just go straight to the front - but boy did we enjoy it! We actually found this out as we were standing in line for the Jerónimos Monastery in Belem when a staff member came and pulled us from the line and took us directly to the front! For the rest of the trip, we took full advantage of this wonderful benefit that Portugal offers families!
PRACA DOS RESTAURADORES
Day 1: Spend the day exploring the Alfama district and Baxia district of Lisbon. Excited to begin exploring this wonderful city, we began our morning by enjoying the Praca dos Restauradores. In the center of this grand square is a giant obelisk that was built to commemorate Portugal's fight to regain independence in the 17th century after 60 years of Spanish rule. Look down and admire the Portuguese cobblestone that stretches across the plaza. The iconic black and white patterned cobblestone is found throughout the city of Lisbon.
LARGO DAS PORTAS SOL
From the Praca dos Restauradores, we began our journey to head up the hill to visit the Castelo de Sao Jorge. Head to Praca da Figueria, where you can catch one of Lisbon's iconic trolleys - the 12E. Ride the trolley to the Largo das Portas do Sol stop. As we got off the tram, the views from Largo das Portas do Sol were phenomenal and offered us our first overlook of this beautiful city. Cafes and street artists fill the area, grab a coffee or pastry here and just sit and enjoy the views looking out over the Alfama district out towards the Tejo River.
MIRADOURO DE SAN JORGE
Continue up the hill towards Castelo de Sao Jorge. Standing majestically overlooking the red roofed hills of Lisbon, Castelo de Sao Jorge provides outstanding views out over the city. Dating to as early as 200 BC, Castelo de Sao Jorge saw the fall of the Romans to the Visgoths, experienced the fierce conflicts between the Arabs and Christians and eventually became a castle used by Portuguese royalty starting in the 12th century. Today, the castle that remains was restored in the 1940's and is mainly just the castle walls. Although none of the interior remains, it is still a wonderful place to wander and explore just knowing how much history has taken place on these grounds. Once inside the castle gate, spend some time enjoying Miradouro de San Jorge. The views from here overlooking the red roofed buildings of Lisbon out towards the Tejo River were breathtaking! Our son especially enjoyed the cannons that were looking out over Lisbon protecting this beautiful city.
CASTELO DE SAO JORGE
We then entered into the remaining walls of Castelo de Sao Jorge and were able to walk up along the ramparts and towers. What a fun experience! For us, exploring the castle was a definite highlight as our 2 1/2 year son loved playing on the cannons and seeing the peacocks that roam the castle grounds. He was a bit concerned though as why we didn't see any kings, princesses or knights at the castle!
EXPLORE THE ALFAMA
After finishing at the castle, we spend the rest of the morning exploring the Alfama district. Situated between the Tejo River and the Castelo de Sao Jorge, the Alfama is an amazing place to just get lost and enjoy! Filled with amazing viewpoints, shops, cafes and endless maze-like alleyways, this area is best explored by just wandering and getting lost. The Alfama is Lisbon's oldest neighborhood and is one of the few areas that wasn't damaged during the 1755 earthquake that destroyed most of the rest of Lisbon. Originally situated outside the castle walls, the Alfama was a gritty, poverty filled area - today it is now one of the most charming areas in Lisbon.
Not to far from the castle walls we came across a delicious traditional Portuguese petiscos (Portuguese tapas) restaurant called Petisqueira Conqvistador - what a hidden gem! This tiny little restaurant delivers amazing food and friendly service and was a true jackpot that we happened to stubble across! As petiscos are served in small portions, you can order a variety of items! Some of our favorites included the pasteis de bacalhau (cod fritters), cenouras algarvia (marinated olives and carrots), salada de polvo (octopus salad) and presunto (cured Iberian ham). Be adventurous, try something new! Everything we ate in Portugal was absolutely delicious!
MISS CAN & GINJINHA SHOTS
Continuing on with our exploration of the Alfama district, we next came to the popular shop - Miss Can. Selling different kinds of canned fish in bright colored tins, this is a great stop for a souvenir of some of Lisbon's famous canned fish. You can also have lunch or a snack while at this shop as they will serve the canned fish along with other petiscos for an authentic Portuguese experience. As we continued to wander the Alfama we also came across numerous locals selling Ginjinha shots in chocolate shot glasses - what a treat! This traditional Portuguese liqueur is made from Morello cherries soaked in a distilled spirit called aguardente. Our first experience was with a chocolate shot glass and was delicious!
We then came across Se Cathedral or the Lisbon Cathedral which is the oldest church in the city and was built in 1147. Commissioned by the first king of Portugal - Dom Afonso Henriques, this cathedral has survived multiple earthquakes including the massive 1755 earthquake and is one of the most important buildings in the city of Lisbon. Step inside for a look at it's beautiful interior and appreciate this ancient building.
From Se Cathedral, we headed down to the waterfront into the Baxia district. The Baxia district is the heart of Lisbon and is filled with grand avenues, plazas and Pombaline architecture. After the earthquake of 1755, most of this area was destroyed. The Marquis of Pombal was given the task of rebuilding this area and thus much of the architecture of the area came be known as Pombaline architecture. The Baxia district was the first city to be built on a grid pattern and was the first to start using earthquake resistant features.
CAIS DAS COLUNAS & PRACA DO COMERCIO
Along the Tejo River waterfront, enjoy the Cais das Colunas, it was here that nobility and heads of state would arrive to the marble steps and Lisbon's beautiful Praca do Comercio. As the most prominent plaza in Lisbon, the Praca do Comercio is lined on one side with the Tejo River and the other three sides with the bright yellow Pombaline style buildings. A statue dedicated to King Joseph I stands proudly in the middle of the square and the entire square proudly boasts of the wealth and prestige that Portugal enjoyed late into the 18th century from successful sea-explorations. Spend some time just taking in the views and enjoying this iconic Portuguese plaza! For a break, head to the Wines of Portugal Tasting Room and spend some time sampling one of the many delicious Portuguese wines!
RUA AUGUSTA ARCH
Standing tall over the Praca do Comercio is the Rua Augusta Arch which was built to commemorate the rebuilding of Lisbon after the 1755 earthquake. The columns are adorned with famous Portuguese historical figures such as Vasco da Gama (Portuguese explorer) and the Marquis of Pombal (who was in charge of rebuilding Lisbon after the earthquake). Today, visitors can climb to the top of the arch for views out over the Baxia district and down to the Tejo River over the Praca do Comercio.
RUA AUGUSTA & BACALHAU
Crossing under the Rua Augusta Arch from the Praca do Comercio leads you to the Rua Augusta, Lisbon's main pedestrian street. This lovely street is paved with Portugal's iconic cobblestone and connects the two main plazas of Lisbon - Praca do Comercio to Praça Dom Pedro IV or Rossio Square as the locals like to call it. From high end shops, to street performers to numerous cafes, this street offers a wonderful place to grab a seat and enjoy some people watching along Lisbon's most famous street. For dinner we ended up at a wonderful restaurant called Taberna Vela Branca - the Bacalhau com natas (cod with cream) was delicious and is a common way of cooking the popular bacalhau (salted cod) that is the national dish of Portugal. As you tour thru Lisbon, you will see shops all over selling bacalhau, piles of this dried cardboard looking fish line the shops. The history of bacalhau actually dates back to the 14th century when large amounts of cod where found off Newfoundland and were salted and brought back to Portugal. Cod does not even live off the coast of Portugal, but today continues to the main staple of Portuguese cuisine.
A GINJINHA BAR
After dinner it was time for some Ginjinha. Walking to Largo de Sao Domingos, we headed to A Ginjinha Bar, the oldest Ginjinha bar in Lisbon. Originally opened in 1840, this tiny bar has been run by the same family for five generations and is a great place to mingle with the locals and enjoy a shot of ginjinha. Order your drink either 'com' or 'sem' meaning with or without a cherry!
A common Portuguest phrase is 'Sabe que nem ginjas' which literally translates to 'tastes like ginja' and is meant to mean something that is really good!
ROSSIO SQUARE (PRACA DOM PEDRO IV)
To end our day, we spent some time enjoying Rossio Square - which is also known as the Praca Dom Pedro IV or King Pedro IV Square. Located in the Baxia district, this lively square is where both locals and tourists mingle and is located in the very center of Lisbon. Rossio has been the focal point of Lisbon for centuries and has seen everything from public execution's, to political demonstrations to bullfights - today, it is lined with popular restaurants and cafes where you can sit back and enjoy the stately buildings, grand fountain of King Pedro IV and the almost dizzying cobblestone. It was here in Rossio Square that Portugal's traditional cobblestone was born. The famous wave pattern in Rossio Square dates back to 1849 and from here spread throughout Portugal and even to other countries such as Brazil and Macau. Make sure to not look down for too long while walking thru this square - the wave pattern definitely can cause a bit of seasickness!
BAIRRO ALTO DISTRICT & MIRADOURO DE SAO PEDRO DE ALCANTARA
Day 2: Spend the day exploring the Bairro Alto district. Typically the Bairro Alto has been the more bohemian area of Lisbon filled with artists and writers and is a great place to wander thru traditional Portuguese neighborhoods. Quiet during the day, this area is bustling during the evening hours with bars, Fado houses and restaurants. Catch the Funicular da Gloria up to the Bairro Alto. Riding this Funicular is a must do while visiting Lisbon! Dating back to 1885, this Funicular serves over three million people a year, whisking people up the steep hills to the Bairro Alto. After a quick few minute ride up the hill, you arrive near the Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara. Take in the great views out over Central Lisbon. From here wander the streets of the Bairro Alto - enjoy the glimpse into everyday life in Lisbon - laundry hanging from the buildings, colorful tile murals and locals going about their daily business.
SAO ROGUE CHURCH
As we wandered thru the Bairro Alto we came across the Sao Roque Church. From the outside this super plain exterior doesn't do much for curb appeal but once inside, this church is sure to impress. Inside is the most exquisite church in Portugal. Sao Rogue Church was built in the 16th century and was the first Jesuit church built in Portugal. Inside the church is a series of ornate chapels, with the most spectacular one being the Chapel of St. John the Baptist. It was originally built in Rome and blessed by the Pope before being shipped over on three separate ships to Lisbon. Covered with silver and gold, the church is an absolute masterpiece and one of the most beautifully decorated churches you'll find anywhere.
CERVEJARIA DA TRINDADE
Ready for break? Stop by the historic Cervejaria da Trindade which is the oldest beer hall in Lisbon. This Portuguese restaurant and beer hall resides in a 13th century convent and is lined with beautiful decorative wall tiles.
CONVENTO DO CARMO
As we continued exploring, we came to the Convento do Carmo which was built in 1389. This memorial/church is a stark reminder of the 1755 earthquake that struck Lisbon. At the time of the earthquake, it was the largest church in Lisbon, today just the skeleton of this once beautiful church remains. Sadly, when the earthquake hit, mass was taking place inside the church on All Saints Day and the roof collapsed killing the worshipers. The Margues de Pomal who was placed in charge of rebuilding the devastated city after the earthquake ordered that this church be left as a reminder of all those who lost their lives in the 1755 earthquake. Today, you can walk thru the roofless church and look up to the arches that somehow survived the massive earthquake. Also, the ruins house the Carmo Archaeological Museum dedicated to Portuguese history.
ELEVATOR DE SANTA JUSTA
Wrapping up our afternoon, we headed to the Elevator de Santa Justa. This iconic elevator lifts people up seven stories on one of the steepest hills in Lisbon, providing a quick access between the Bairro Alto and Baxia districts of Lisbon and offers fantastic views out over central Lisbon. Part of the cities transportation system, it was opened in 1905 and today has become one of the top tourist sights in Lisbon - an observation deck has now also been added to the top of the lift. Built by Raoul Mesnier de Ponsard, who was an admirer of the Eiffel Tower in France, this iron tower has many of the same characteristics of the Eiffel Tower.
ADEGA MACHADO FADO DINNER & SHOW
To end our time in Lisbon, we spent the evening enjoying some authentic Portuguese Fado. This style of music is unique to Portugual and can be found in various bars and pubs throughout Portugal. Thought to have originated in the early 1800s, this form of music is very expressive and quite often has to do with what the Portuguese call "saudade" which is similar to a feeling of loss or yearning. To experience Fado, we headed to the Adega Machado Fado Dinner & Show. Lasting for a few hours, this venue offers a wonderful spread of Portuguese foods that can be enjoyed while listening some authentic Fado singers. The singing is taken quite seriously and silence is required while you eat and listen to the wonderful singers. We definitely enjoyed this unique experience and would recommend that everyone should experience some Fado music while visiting Lisbon!
Interested in planning your own trip to Lisbon, Portugal? Below is our summarized itinerary for you to follow or adjust to your own preferences. ENJOY!
Day 1: Alfama district: Praca dos Restauradores, walk to Praco da Figueria and catch Tram 12E, get off at Largo das Portas do Sol, Sao Jorge Castle (opens at 9am - Sao Jorge Gate & Miradouro de San Jorge), Heart of the Alfama - explore/wander Alfama streets here, Se Cathedral, walk towards Baxia waterfront.
Baxia district: Lisbon’s Riverfront - Cais das Colunas, Praca do Comercio (Wines of Portgual Tasting Room in Square, Arco de Rua Augusta €2.50 to viewing platform), Walk up Rua Augusta, Praca da Figueira, Largo de Sao Domingos, Ginjinha Bar - oldest bar in town, Rossio Square.
Day 2: Bairro Alto: Funicular da Gloria to Barirro Alto, head right to the Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara, Sao Roque Church, Cervejaria da Trindade (oldest beer hall in Lisbon), Largo do Carmo & Convento do Carmo €3.50, Elevator de Santa Justa & viewpoint, Adega Machado Fado Dinner/Show