This capital city of Portugal is remarkably like our home city, San Francisco, except much older of course. It has cable cars, a Golden Gate Bridge, is situated on hills, and even suffers from earthquakes. We felt very much at home. Lisbon though, has a much more interesting history and architecture. Lisbon is a thriving tourist destination. We found it to be safe, clean, and as European cities go, affordable. The architecture, food, and history, all make Lisbon worthy of a "top 10" European City. Our only regret was not staying here at least one additional day as there was much more to see. In our three days in Lisbon, we stayed in the central Baixa District and walked to Bairro Alto for dinner, spent time in the Belém district, took a walking tour, visited Saint George Castle, and took an easy day trip to Sintra. We loved Lisbon for its great food, pleasant people, beautiful architecture, and relative affordability. If you're new to European travel and/or on a tight budget, Lisbon is a great way to experience a classic European city.
Belém District: We spent the better part of a day in the Belém District visiting: April Bridge (the Golden Gate look-alike), the Monument of Discoveries, Belem Tower, Jerónimos Monastery, Museum of Archeology, and The National Coach Museum. For a full day here, you can also visit Belem Royal Palace, and Museu Coleção Berardo. All of these sites are within walking distance. See our blog post for more details.
Baixa and Bairro Alto Neighborhoods: In the evenings, we strolled our Baixa neighborhood which was filled with nightlife, restaurants, and shops. For dinner we liked to walk to Bairro Alto, where we found beautiful night views of the City and also local, traditional Portuguese cuisine, including a glasses of the house vinho verde (Portuguese sparkling wine).
Free Walking Tour: One of our favorite activities to do in a European City is take a free walking tour. They typically run between 2-3 hours and are led by knowledgeable students or locals, all of whom work on tips only. In Lisbon, we used Sandeman's Free Walk Tours. It is a great way to learn a ton of history about the City at a modest cost.
Castle Saint George: Accessible by foot from our Baixa neighborhood, Castle Saint George is in the Santa Cruz do Castelo neighborhood. Dating back to 8th century BC, this restored castle is modest in terms of displays or things to see but it is still worth the trek up the hill. For starters, the views of the City from the Castle are beautiful.
Praça do Comércio: Commercial Square is located in the Baixa neighborhood. Situated along side of the Tagus River, this large square was first used in the early 16th Century as a commerce center where government officials regulated commerce that entered through this port City.
Daytrip to Sintra: Just 40 minutes by train, Sintra is a "must do," day trip from Lisbon. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the home of several palaces and castles, three of which we visited on our visit, namely: Pena Palace, Castle of the Moors, and Sintra National Palace. The exterior of the palaces and the landscapes they sit are the main attraction, though Pena does offer some more extensive historical displays inside the Palace. Once you arrive at Pena Palace (our recommendation is to start there), the rest of your time is spent on foot, including the brief walk back to the train station. Photos in order: Pena Palce, Sintra National Palace, and Castle of the Moors.
Where We Stayed
Air BnB Listing: We stayed at a simple apartment in the Baixa area of Lisbon. This apartment was clean, large, new, and fairly well-equipped. As you spend most of our time out on the town, we wouldn't recommend spending too much on a place in Lisbon. This one was centrally located and worked perfect for us. Photo credit: Air BnB listing.
Where We Ate
(Photo Left) Pastéis de Belém: This is a "must do," in the Belem district, even if you'll end up paying a little more for your Pastéis de Nata, Portugal's traditional custard dessert. During high season, we can imagine a long wait here. You can also buy treats at a to-go menu. This establishment was opened in 1837 after monks in the neighboring Monastery developed pastry recipes to sell for survival when the Monastery was shut down during the Liberal Revolution. During our visit we tried a variety of treats, along with hot chocolate and cappuccinos. This was a perfect mid-afternoon break.
(Photo Right) Babete: Located by brief walk from our Baixa location to Bairro Alto, this small restaurant was filled with locals enjoying a soccer match and traditional Portuguese cuisine, including a glasses of the house vinho verde (Portuguese sparkling wine). It is not fancy and more like a local pub but in this way, we loved it.