Lisbon seems to be on everybody’s and their cousins travel list these days, and for very good reasons.
With my first and only trip here already ten years ago, it also was on top of my own list for a while as well, as I was keen to revisit the city. To avoid hot summer temperatures and in an attempt to stay clear of the large crowds entering town during the European summer holiday season, I decided to go in late September.
Nevertheless, the city was still packed with people. In particular during the day when large cruise ships brought huge numbers of day visitors into the city. In hindsight, early Spring or late Autumn would probably be the best time to explore Lisbon with more serenity. Aside from this, I enjoyed every minute of my trip.
With around 290 days of sunshine each year and temperatures that rarely drop below 15°C degrees even in winter, Lisbon is almost an all-year round location. It is also ridiculously affordable. Which is probably another reason for the rising visitor numbers.
Lisbon is a city that you can explore fairly well in two or three days and it’s ideal for walking. Just make sure to wear comfortable shoes as the hilly cobblestoned streets in the historic barrios Alfama, Bario Alto and Baixta are not always easy to walk.
There are a number of historic churches and beautiful squares that are worth taking some time to admire (access to most churches is free), so take your time to walk the streets, and every now and then sit down, have a coffee or cold drink and simply enjoy the views and life around you.
One of the most beautiful squares in the city no doubt is Praca do Comercio at the end of Augusta Street, and on its other end is bordering the Tagus River. The square, lined by impressive large symmetrical buildings, was built following the complete destruction of the location during the 1755 earthquake that destroyed large parts of Lisbon.
Definitely catch a ride up the historic Santa Justa elevator lift that will lift you from the Baixa district up to Largo do Carmo, where you will find the ruins of the Carmo church. More than that, at the top of the lift there is a little viewing platform overlooking the historic Baixa district. The elevator is actually considered a part of Lisbon’s public transport infrastructure but today is predominantly a tourist attraction. There can be large crowds lining up to buy tickets and get on the lift, and the viewing platform (where you have to buy a ticket to enter as well) is restricted to around thirty people at any time, so there might be another queue there. Go either early in the morning or in the evening hours when fewer people will show up.
Another nice way to explore the city is to take a ride on historic Tram No 28 that runs through the Baista and Alfama districts past many of Lisbon’s main attractions.
If you want to be a bit more flexible, hop on one of the many colourful tuk tuks that will take you through the city either on pre-set sightseeing tours or, if you wish to the specific places you want to explore. Just ask the driver.
The Castelo de Sao Jorge on top of the Alfama is a great place to overlook the whole city. Go here late afternoon and stay until sunset for some of the most beautiful views of the city.
Definitely head out to Belem to take in the beautiful Belem Tower.
While there, also explore the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos just a short distance away on the other side of the street.
Next to the Mosteiro you will also find the birthplace of the famous pastais de nata, the Pastais de Belem bakery, where the famous custard tart is made since 1837 following an ancient recipe from the Mosteiro. If you actually want to sit down to enjoy a pastais (or two), or just want to take some away, you will likely need some patience – the place is usually packed with tourist groups and locals lining up for a place or take away. Note: If you are anything like me and don’t have the patience and a certain dislike to sit down at a place that constantly feels like yet another tour bus is just storming in, try the pastais at any other bakery or café, there are plenty and they are all equally delicious.
If you have some time left, make a day trip to Cascais. Less than an hour drive from Lisbon this beautiful little seaside town just 30 kilometres outside of Lisbon is a popular spot for those living in Lisbon to spend leisure time at the beach outside of the city.
It has a small pedestrianized town centre with a lot of cafés, restaurants and shops selling typical Portuguese fare.
There are trains to Cascais but if you want to be more flexible, just hop on a taxi. Lisbon to Cascais will be somewhere around €40 so it’s not really expansive. Make sure your driver takes the scenic route along the coast; the distance is actually shorter than the motorway and will it will take about the same time.
Cascais is a perfect place to spend some time at the beach, than head to the small pedestrianized old town centre to have some lunch.
Have you been to Lisbon yet? What was your experience?