Lisbon was one of those cities, like Madrid, that I didn’t really know what to expect. Despite being so easy to get to from the US, I don’t even know that many people who have been. Why I don’t feel like there is a tons to do there in terms of things like museums or major landmarks, Lisbon ended up being a beautiful city where trusty travel BFF Sarah and I felt like we could slow down a little but still feel like we were seeing a lot. Even before sitting down to write this post, I kind of thought “well, we didn’t do that much” but, in fact, we actually did. So what started as a list of my favorite five things has now ended up a list of ten.
1. Alfama District
The first thing I really researched about Lisbon was Alfama, which is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Lisbon. Around every winding corner is one picturesque street after another but the neighborhood also lives up to the rumors about how hilly Lisbon is as well as the questionable, and apparently ancient, indoor plumbing. Nevertheless I was so excited that we ended up with the most adorable Airbnb near the Castelo de Sao Jorge but after a day of trekking up and down a massive hill to get to the apartment, we discovered the glory that is the #737 bus. Although it’s a tiny version of a normal public bus, its size allows it handle the small streets and hills of Alfama and it seemed to be used only by Lisbon grannies and us.
The main squares and overlooks of the neighborhood can be crowded, but once you get out of these areas you feel like you have the streets to yourself. BUT I do think it’s worth hanging out with the crowd at least one evening to take in a beautiful sunset at Miradouro de Santa Luzia or Miradouro das Portas do Sol.
2. Santa Justa Lift
While the line at the bottom makes you question if it’s really worth it, walk up to the Carmo Convent, and go around to the right towards the back and you will see a restaurant. Go up the stairs on the left and through the patio and you will walk right up to the elevator. You can pay to ride down (with probably no line!) or do what we did and just pay the €1.50 to go up to the overlook for a panoramic view.
3. Pastis de Belém
Getting a traditional pastel de nata, or egg tart, at Pastis de Belém is, in my opinion, completely worth it. I do recommend going earlier, but skip the long line at the to-go counter and weave to the back to be seated. We also took the bus out to Belém instead of the tram, which seemed much less crowded. Other things to do while you are in the area are the Belém Tower (go walk by, line was way too long to go in) and the Palace of Ajuda (take the local bus to get up the hill, and you will be rewarded what I found to be probably the cheapest and least crowded European palace I’ve been to).
4. Elevador da Bica
I ended up with so many photos of the Elevador da Bica, but it’s such a cute little tram that it just begged to be photographed! We had read about the crazy lines people have waited in, but we got there right at 10am and didn’t have to wait at all! While it is a super short ride, it was so fun because of the steep incline and crazy groaning noises this thing makes as it goes up the hill but I could see how the fun would be zapped right out of I had waited in the heat in a long, and what I would assume, is a fairly slow moving line. You can also use the Viva Viagem metro card, which is very convenient.
5. The #28 Tram
When you see the infamous yellow #28 tram rattle by you if you are in the central or Alfama areas you might think, “I’ll never subject myself to that crowd.” But, dear reader, there is a trick to getting to ride the tram and actually enjoy it. After finishing up at the Elevador da Bica we were going to find a bus to take us back to our Airbnb, but the tram stop happened to be right there. We managed to squeeze on to what was then a very crowded tram, but we thought “why not?” because we probably weren’t going to ride it for that long anyways. Well, after lots of people got off in central Lisbon and another massive group got off in Alfama, we were able to secure seats, so we decided to stay on for the whole time.
They do make you get off at the end of the line in Martim Moniz, but going through the tiny alleys and up the hills was pretty cool, I must admit, and it was a great way to see some parts of Lisbon I might not have seen otherwise. So in short, get on near Elevator da Bica (or earlier is probably even better) and ride to the end at Martim Moniz (the line to board can be long here so I do recommend ending, and not starting here) and you could end up with a lovely scenic ride on one of Lisbon’s best known icons.
6. LX Factory
It’s Brooklyn meets Lisbon at this former warehouse turned outdoor shopping and eating destination. Grab a beer at Dois Corvos for prime people watching or go to Ler Devagar bookstore to get up close and personal with a printing press.
7. Fundação Millennium BCP – Nucleo Arqueológico
I don’t even know how Sarah found out about this place, but it’s definitely on the top of my list of Lisbon recommendations. First, it’s free. Second, because of the earthquakes in Lisbon’s past, it’s hard to see anything here that’s too terribly old, so this is your chance to get up close and personal with authentic Roman ruins. Our group was only about 10 people and our guide was really fantastic and informative. Sadly, I don’t have many photos from this as we were underground and in the dark most of the time. The museum is located in the heart of central Lisbon, but the entrance itself isn’t very obvious. The most help I can be is to say don’t actually go into the bank building (like we did) but it’s right next door and the building has blue and white tile on it. Book a tour time before you go as the groups are small and not all tours are in English.
Getting a taste of the cherry liquor at one of the original spots – A Ginjinha (where I went) or Ginjinha Sem Rival- is a fun and quick stop while you are exploring central Lisbon. Look like a local and get it with cherries.
9. Time Out Lisboa
At first I was a little skeptical of going to the Time Out market in Lisbon as I thought it might end up just being a tourist trap, but we enjoyed our first time eating here so much we ended up going back for dinner on our last night. It’s in the Cais do Sodré neighborhood, which looks kind of rough around the edges but you can tell it’s probably going to be the next It area of Lisbon, if it isn’t already. The market itself is great with tons of amazing food and drink options. For dinnertime, I recommend going a little early to have a drink before eating so you can claim your seat as it can get crowded by dinnertime. There are also a few nice stalls in the back where you can pick up some gifts made by local artists.
10. A Vida Portuguesa
For a quality souvenir that’s created by local artists, A Vida Portuguesa is the place. We went to the location at R. Anchieta 11, which was a beautiful little shop. They also have a small shop inside Time Out Lisboa.
Have another favorite spot in Lisbon? Leave a comment below!
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