Lisbon is the destination du jour, what with the Portuguese capital piquing the interest of investors and casual travellers alike. There’s something for everybody in Lisbon—from gorgeous vistas and gastronomic delights, to streets perfumed with Jacaranda trees. The capital’s narrow streets and hilly topography lend an old world charm to the city. Visitors will find that the locals are laidback and warm, which only adds to its appeal as a destination.
There’s also a host of other great destinations that are just train ride away from Lisbon—there’s the mountain marvel, Sintra, and the picturesque, coastal city, Porto. But the city central should definitely be the visitor’s first stop. Below are twelve things that should be on your to-do list in Lisbon.
1. Visit the Águas Livres Aqueduct
This marvel of Portuguese engineering was the pet project of King Joao V who wanted to source drinking water from a nearby municipality to quench thirsty Lisbon. In a course that covers 18 km, the aqueduct is also one of the best places to get a good view of the city.
2. Visit São Jorge Castle
One of the main attractions of Lisbon is the São Jorge Castle, which overlooks the city and the Tagus river. The city is an excellent example of Moorish architecture, and watches imperially over Lisbon, much like its kings and protectors.
3. Go to the Jerónimos Monastery
Located in Belém, the former monastery is another beautiful example of Manueline architecture, and was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There’s a richness of gables and sculptures on the façade, while tympanums above the two main portals show either scenes from the life of Saint Jerome (after whom the order was named), or the life of Christ.
4. Visit the Belém Tower
Also classified as a World Heritage Site, the Belem Tower was built during the time of King Joao II who wanted to create a defense system against unwanted visitors who had access to Lisbon. Situated near the Jerónimos Monastery, the Tower also boasts Manueline architecture with some other influences thrown in the mix. There are two parts to the structure—the bastion which has Moorish influences, and the four-storey tower which has turrets and arches.
5. Go for A Pastel de Nata at the Pastéis de Belém
One of the most famous products of Portugal is the Pastel de Nata, a crusty egg tart created by monks from the Jerónimos Monastery three centuries ago. One can say that the most authentic pastels are found in Belem, and that the pasteleria mentioned above makes arguably the best in the land. The best egg tart we tried had a flaky, singed top, and a sweet flan-like taste and consistency.
Pro Pick: Paséeis de Belém
Rua Belém 84-92, 1300 085 Lisboa, Portugal
6. Score some Sardines at Alfama
Lisbon smells alternately of two main things: aromatic jacaranda trees and grilled sardines. Sardines are another great Portuguese product, and there’s no better place to find them in Lisbon than in the Alfama district. In Alfama, as in all of Lisbon, the fish is grilled and served with greens and potatoes. The famous fish washes down well with wine or beer. We tried it at the Florista Das Escadinhas and were not disappointed.
Pro Pick: Floresta Das Escadinhas
Rua de Santa Justa 3, Lisbon 1100-483, Portugal (Baixa, Rossio & Restauradores)
+351 21 887 2052
7. See the Elevador de Santa Justa
This elevator is but one of the many places one can view a glorious sweep of the city. If riding a lift with dozens of other tourists isn’t your style, actually just seeing and appreciating the Neo-Gothic lift is enough, especially while enjoying a double scoop of gelato.
8. Go to the Mercado da Ribiera
The Mercado da Ribiera has been around since the 1800’s, but it’s now one of the trendiest food markets in the city—thanks to Time Out Lisboa. The magazine now runs a food court in the old Mercado, where a merry mix of Portuguese food and snacks fill the stalls of the food court. The country’s Michelin starred-chefs also hold court here, with budget-friendly samples of their dishes.
9. Take the Tram 28
You’ll never really have the full Lisbon experience until you’ve taken the famous Tram 28 which will connects Martim Moniz with Campo Ourique, and brings you through the narrow streets of Alfama, Baixa and Estrella, The tram network has been around since the 1930’s and the ride makes for an authentic city experience, giving the visitor access to streets ubers, buses, or taxis can’t squeeze into and through.
10. Take a Train from Rossio Station
Rossio station is, by itself, a tourist destination, with its façade that recreates late Portuguese Gothic architecture. The portals resemble horseshoes, and a clock, nestled in a small turret in the façade, literally gives locals and tourists the time of day. It would stand out in any city.
11. Take a trip to the Museo Nacional de Arte Antiga
Known in English as the National Museum of Ancient art, the museum collection was originally a trove of religious art after the confiscation of iconic ornaments and art from monasteries in 1833. The collection now houses the work of 16th-century Portuguese artists, as well as metalwork from the Dark Ages and the Renaissance.
12. Listen to Some Fado Music
Spain has the flamenco, and Lisbon has the fado (fate, in English). It’s traditional Portuguese music that revolves around the core emotion of saudade, or longing. Characteristically the music is mournful but the sentiment is true. Lisbon as awash with clubs that showcase its signature music.
Pro Pick: Club de Fado
R. de São João da Praça 86, 1100-135 Lisboa, Portugal