Lisbon – as the capital of Portugal – is one of the most popular destinations for travelers and tourists from all around the world. This city is full of contrasts – on one hand it is the authentic relict of the past with old yellow trams and ceramic tiles (Azulejos) everywhere. On the other hand, nowadays it is also one of the most attractive destinations for people engaged in art and culture with the extensive range of local hip spots – from cafes and bars to co-working spaces and cultural hubs. I’ve prepared a list of must-see places* consisted of some traditional spots that are worth to explore as well as new corners on the map of Lisbon – all of them confirm the city is the centre of creative minds.
*The order is random as every place has unique advantages, and it depends only on your preferences which of them would be most suitable for your preferences.
The yellow tram is one of the most recognizable hallmarks of Lisbon and probably it is not far-fetched to say that any visit can be completed without at least one trip by this traditional way of transport (this kind of vehicles have been operating there since the end of the XIX century). Nowadays, there are five different routes to choose – mainly in the central area of Lisbon. You have an excellent opportunity to observe the unique construction of this old tram, and, at the same time, you can also explore the historical areas of Lisbon.
The oldest neighborhood of Lisbon is called Alfama. In the past located outside the city walls, Alfama was considered as the place to live for the poorest social class.
Nowadays, it has become a very trendy area of the city where you can spend long hours walking through the narrow and steep streets*, observing local people during their daily activities or listening to Fado in one of the plenty bars or restaurants.
For those, who want to explore historical monuments and buildings, it’s good to mention that in Alfama are located, among others, the Sé Cathedral (Sé de Lisboa) and National Pantheon (Panteão Nacional). *Alfama is located on the hill, so the transport system here is very limited.
The Graça District is another of the historical areas of Lisbon and offers a unique journey to the old times. Everything around looks like a postcard from the past. Some buildings are still in good condition, some of them are empty and destroyed. However, all of that impact a very specific but charming atmosphere of this place. Graça is located on the highest hill in Lisbon – to reach its streets you have to climb many and very steep stairs. Is it worth to do it? Definitely yes! First of all, on the top, there is located Castelo de Sao Jorge – the Moorish castle dating back as far as the 6th Century BCE. Secondly, this district offers spectacular views from almost any point you can reach. Thirdly, it’s a very charming area with plenty of cozy cafes, night bars or elegant restaurants.
There are many different dishes that you have to taste to feel that you are in Lisbon for real! The world famous sweets from Lisbon are called Pasteis de Nata – it’s a tart filled with an egg cream. Often served with cinnamon and powdered sugar, they have become a guilty pleasure of everyone who once tried. The one and the only traditional recipe for these delicious sweets you can find at the Antiga Confeitaria de Belem bakery located on the western side of the city where they are known as Pasteis de Belem. When you are visiting Lisbon, you have to try at least one of the most traditional fish dishes in this region like for instance “Bacalhau”. It’s a salted cod fish typically served with potatoes and spinach. There are of course much more kinds of seafood – from caracoles (caracóis) or prawns to fish cutlets or raw fish steaks. What I’ve also found very interesting is the fact that there is a broad range of vegan spots in Lisbon (click here to read a review of The Food Temple restaurant). In almost each district you can find an interesting place to grab a vegetable snack or eat a vegan dinner. I also have to admit that it was in Lisbon where I’ve found one of the best ice-creams that I’ve ever eaten!
In the majority of city guides related to the alternative culture, you can find reviews that best places to hang out with friends in the evening are hidden in Bairro Alto. It’s true that this area has a unique atmosphere – on almost every street, you can find a fancy coffee shop or bar. However, Bairro Alto is not all about the city life – there are also plenty of museums, theaters, and other buildings to explore. The architecture is diversified – you can observe there high, renovated buildings as well as little, colorful tenements with the laundry hanging outside the windows.
For the first time, I’ve heard about LX Factory after a few days in Lisbon from a friend I met during my trip. He strongly recommended me to visit this place giving a lot of reasons why it’s a great spot for everyone interested in the contemporary art and alternative culture. However, I didn’t realize how big epicenter for creative minds it is until I arrived there on my own.
The concept is pretty simple – some creatives decided to transform the old industrial area into the modern and vibrant hub for young professionals.
It’s like a small village in the city where you can find everything you need to work on your projects, find some inspiration or just have a chat with friends. Bookshops, handicraft shops, art galleries, bars, restaurants as well as a co-working space in the one, green (yes – between buildings of the old factory you can find a lot of greenery!) and modern area – could we ask for more? 😉
It’s hard to say that this chapter will be dedicated to the off the beaten track place because it won’t be. However, in spite of the massive crowds, it’s still worth to explore numerous green areas in Sintra, especially because all of them look like from the fairy-tale!
Sintra is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List because of its various Romantic architectural monuments from the XIX century that include e.g. the Castle of the Moors (Castelo dos Mouros), the Pena Palace (Palácio da Pena) and the Palace of Sintra (Palácio Nacional de Sintra).
The municipality is a part of The Sintra-Cascais Natural Park – due to this fact all famous monuments, castles, and palaces are located in the mountains between lush plants, forests, and gardens.
Belém is a district in the western part of Lisbon just near the Tagus river. This residential area is often considered as the most beautiful neighborhood with a lot of official buildings. There are located famous museums (e.g. Cultural Centre of Belém and Berardo Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art), architecture gems (e.g. The Jerónimos Monastery) as well as the most famous Portuguese monuments (e.g. Belém Tower (Torre de Belém) and Monument to the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos)).
For some people, the primary hallmark of Lisbon is a yellow tram, while for others it could be Pasteis de Belem.
If I have to share with you the most significant hallmark of Lisbon for me, I would say it’s street art!
Street art works cover almost the whole Lisbon – you can find great pieces of paintings on the buildings, walls, pavements, windows, fences, ruins and at many more places! The creativity of authors seems to have no end, and it’s entirely understandable because in Lisbon you can find works of the most talented local and world famous artists. The city seems to appreciate the cultural aspect of the street art scene – there are printed books dedicated to the most interesting pieces of art as well as guided tours aim to explore Lisbon’s street art.
Viewpoints of Lisbon
The City of Seven Hills is the nickname of Lisbon. In fact, there are even more hills around, but this name indicates the very significant meaning of hills for local people. In the city, there are a few popular viewpoints called “Miradouros” – all of them have a proper infrastructure with cafes, balconies and benches included.
Viewpoints called “Miradouros” in Portugeese are perfect meeting points for people in all age to hang out with friends, listen to live music and just observe the city or the Tagus river from the top.
Some of the most recommendable viewpoints in Lisbon included: Miradouro das Portas do sol (the view of the Alfama’s rooftops), Miradouro de são Pedro de alcântara (the view of the castle), Miradouro da graça (the view of the 25 de Abril bridge), Miradouro da Nossa Senhora do monte (a lot of people admit it’s one the most romantic spots for watching a sunset over the Lisbon).
Let me know what do you think about the list of must-see places and must-do activities in Lisbon! 🙂 Have you ever visited this city? If so, share with me your opinion about the best spots to explore!