Being able to visit Lisbon transported me into the decadent and rarefied atmospheres of the former capital of the Portuguese Empire.
Reading Erika’s article on Lisbon by Antonio Tabucchi, made me want to take a tour of Portugal and visit Lisbon, an experience destined to remain well preserved in our memory for the special sensations that the city gives to all those who spend a stay there.
In Lisbon, there is a singular architectural mix that sees the presence of the Roman style, the Manueline Gothic style together with an Arabic style due to the domination of the Moors who replaced the Romans at the fall of the Empire.
Yet it all seems strange, since the powerful earthquake of the mid-eighteenth century had razed the city to the ground. Going to its discovery for the first time, Lisbon gave me a taste of a charm I found in Naples and typical of Havana and Buenos Aires with dots full of bright colours that reminded me of the villages in southern Morocco.
Wandering through the narrow streets of a city that is almost always sunny gives rise to a good vibration that, with time, gives rise to saudade and the desire to return. There are emotions that go beyond the simple descriptions of any tourist guide because they must be experienced first hand, smells, colours, sounds, that only directly can offer their magic. Telling what this trip has given me and some indications on the best way to visit Lisbon as a wish to make other friends curious and encourage them to undertake this trip.
The city of azulejos, sunny little squares, narrow alleyways full of humanity, trams that trudge on steep climbs and melancholic fado, has points that must be included in any tourist itinerary.
Lisbon tour – 10 things to see in Lisbon
On our Lisbon Tour I spent enough time to tell you what impressed me most about visiting the Portuguese city, because as a habit of mine on the tours I do I try to visit as many places as possible. I suggest you the places that impressed me the most:
1. La Baixa
It is one of the most famous districts of the city, located between the Avenida da Liberada and the Tagus River. The Baixa was almost totally destroyed by the terrible earthquake in the mid-eighteenth century, it was rebuilt at the time in neoclassical style.
It is one of the districts where the nightlife is very active and it develops inside wide pedestrian areas where you can find clubs, shops, restaurants and bars that are crowded at all hours of the day and especially at night.
Don’t miss a visit to Praca do Rossio and the Station, characterized by the double horseshoe entrance and the magnificent Azulejos of the central hall.
To reach this area you can take either a taxi or the metro (green line and get off at Rossio stop), but the main and characteristic means of transport in Lisbon is the tram (take 15E, Praça Figueira stop).
2. Convento do Carmo
Another destination not to be missed is the convent Nossa Senhora do Vencimento do Monte do Carmo or, better said, the ruins that remained standing after the 1755 earthquake. If the adjoining convent was restored and is now used as a museum with exhibits from the Roman and Visigothic periods, what deserves to be seen is the church that attracts visitors because of its imposing Gothic arches that stand out in the sky, framing it.
3. Bairro Alto
Originally inhabited by the wealthy class of Lisbon, it was in the 19th century that this neighbourhood saw a change thanks to many personalities of art and culture that led to the opening of shops, clubs and bookshops. Nowadays it is the territory of young people who, especially on weekends, crowd it and create an interesting nightlife. Here you can find the densest concentration of restaurants and clubs of all kinds and it is easy to find places that offer fado, the folk music famous all over the world. Visiting Bairro Alto you cannot miss the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcantara, from where you can enjoy an extraordinary view of the city and which can be reached by taking the Elevador da Gloria funicular.
Here we find the café A Brasileira, the oldest in Lisbon where Pessoa used to go.
The shallowest house in the world
If on my trip to Amsterdam I had the chance to see the house with the narrowest facade in the world, about 1.80 metres, in Lisbon there is the shallowest one.
Behind a facade apparently of a bourgeois building, hides a depth of just over 2 metres. I wondered how they were able to carry out their normal daily activities and how they were able to sleep inside, but the presence of cloths lying on the windows confirmed that it was possible.
4. Quartiere e Torre di Belém
Famous and wide district located near the Tagus, this area is full of gardens and monuments. The symbol of Lisbon stands out among them all: the Tower of Belém, originally a fortress and lighthouse.
Today declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you can visit all its three floors where you can see the Hearing Room, the Governor’s Room, the King’s Room.
5. Monasterio de Los Jeronimos
It is the most important monument in the Portuguese capital. It was built to celebrate the discoveries of Vasco de Gama in the early 16th century and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Inside it are the mortal remains of Vasco de Gama and the most famous Lusitanian writer, Fernando Pessoa.
6. Sao Jorge Castle (San Giorgio)
It is a fortified castle located on top of a hill overlooking the city. It houses an archaeological museum but the main attraction is the towers where you can enjoy an extraordinary view of the whole city.
7. Miradouro de Santa Luzia
Another point that I recommend is the panoramic terrace just below San Jorge. From here you can admire the roofs of the Alfama district below. Also noteworthy are the typical decorated tiles (azulejos) that adorn the belvedere wall.
It is certainly the most characteristic and historic district of Lisbon. Roofs of red tiles overlooking the sea, small streets full of clubs, bold staircases, flowery balconies and a continuous buzz alternating with melancholy fado, will be the common denominator you will find yourself living. A genuine working-class neighbourhood that preserves the Cathedral, the Castle and the remains of the Roman Theatre.
9. Tram 28
One of the symbols of Lisbon is the tram that rattles on the climbs that distinguish this city and this can be traced back to Tram 28.
Taking a tour of the city as a passenger on this yellow vintage tram that connects Praça Martim Moniz with Campo Ourique in about forty minutes is an experience not to be missed. My suggestion is to get on one of the two terminals, perhaps in the early morning, choosing to sit on the seats next to the windows to enjoy the view, especially when passing through the Alfama.
- Elevador de Santa Justa Another exciting experience is to take one of the lifts that leads to the upper part of Lisbon and the one in Santa Justa is definitely the most beautiful. In total Art Nouveau style designed by architect Mesnier, it was built at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and inserted inside another architectural jewel: the eighteenth-century Baixa Pombalina. Reserve this experience early in the morning so as to eliminate the risk of running into long queues.
10. Mercato de Ribeira
I love street food and the Mercado da Ribeira was a truly unique dining experience for me, superior to the food market in Cadmen town in London.
Inaugurated about five years ago, this is the largest and most varied food market in the city, where in a huge space set up with large tables, where it is normal to socialise with others, you will find kiosks and small restaurants offering complete dishes and, if you are demanding, you can choose one of the four Gourmet restaurants to order starred but inexpensive menus.
The Market is open every day from ten to midnight and on Friday and Saturday until two in the morning.
In Lisbon I ate more than well and at very reasonable prices. The national dish is cod and I had no idea that you could cook it in so many ways. Legend has it that the Portuguese know 365 recipes so that they can eat cod every day of the year without getting tired.
Il Baccalà o Bacalhau
It is estimated that the average annual consumption of cod per person is 6 kg. and this data confirms how much a dish is almost always present.
Don’t be surprised if even in the hot summer you find hot soups written on the menu, because it seems to be a local custom to order it before moving on to the only main course consisting of meat and fish together with rice and vegetables.
One of the best restaurants in Lisbon to taste the cod: Restaurante Laurentina, Av. Conde Valbom, 71-A. If you want to get off to a great start to your day and if you’re a glutton for gluttony, write down this address: Confeitaria Nacional (Placa do Rossio + Placa Dom pedro IV). This is a historic pastry shop that was founded in 1829 in the city centre by the Roiz Castanheiro family and has been handed down through the centuries until today. It is a small place but where you will find every kind of cake: from egg cakes to croissants, up to the most classic pastais de nata.
Pasteis de Nata
One of the typical sweets of Lisbon is Pasteis de Nata, a real drug in my stay in the Portuguese capital.
The tradition goes back to the monastic tradition of the end of the 17th century, when many monasteries produced sweets based on egg yellows as whites were used for the treatment of fabrics and in the production of wine. After the closure of many monasteries the recipe was made public, making this cake one of the most consumed by every Portuguese.
The best place to eat them is Fabrica de Nata.
Lisbon is a particular city where you really have to walk a lot. The problem arises from the fact that many areas of the historic centre are paved with tiles and I suggest you not to wear shoes with smooth soles because you could easily slip.
Avoid restaurants where, outside the door, there are buttadentro: you would eat badly and go to pay an exaggerated bill.
Choose well also the restaurant where you will surely, like us, listen to Fado while dining. We came across really badly. Good music, but the menu left something to be desired. They also have the custom of bringing an appetizer without having asked for it. It might sound like a gift from the restaurant, but if you don’t refuse it they will put it on your bill, usually at a high price!
If you want to listen to Fado without paying anything, you can go to the Bairro Alto in Tasca do Chico, where on Mondays and Wednesdays the entrance is free with a drink or something to eat. Alternatively, you can go to the Povo, in Cais do Sodré, where young Fado singers perform on weekdays from ten o’clock in the evening.
The last useful tip is that even in Lisbon you have to pay attention to crowded places especially if you use the tram: thieves and pickpockets are always in action and a tourist is their favourite prey.
Live Lisbon in total lightness, informing yourself specifically about the institutional sites, about the things you want to know with the aim of coming prepared to visit Lisbon.