What is so special in this colourful city, spreading its ups and downs on the 7 hills, like Rome, but still very different? Where to go when you only have 16 hours (including sleep time)? Is it even worth driving long hours and many kilometers to visit Lisbon?
Oh, hell yeah.
Check our full Portugal roadtrip route HERE
Lisbon amazed me from the first sight. Narrow cobbled streets, orange roofs, tiled houses and winding steps leading to the hills overlooking the city – say it all.
Full of light
Lisbon is a city of brightness. Located on the elevation and opened to the estuary of the river Tejo which is reflecting the sunshine, it has access to the light from every side. Buildings are painted white or yellow, with joyful orange roofs and big windows. Pleasant weather and winds clearing up the sky from the clouds make a nice change from a bit gloomy and grey cities of Scotland.
Do you like colorful towns? Check this little hidden gem – Porto Covo
If you arrive to Lisbon by car – better find accommodation with a car park or save yourself some time to find a safe parking space. We stayed a bit outside of the city center with airbnb (want £30 gift from me for travel with airbnb? Click here) and although there were not many parking restrictions – it was crazy. Cars were stopping in the middle of the road, parking as they liked and “double stacking” blocking other cars. I was just hoping that they won’t block our little Toyota. We were advised to not to take the car to the center and visit in on foot, which we did and recommend – you can use metro or trams instead.
Where to go?
Lisbon is a big city with many tourist attractions. We arrived there in the evening and had only time until the next midday, so we needed to choose what to focus on. We walked through Alfama, Baixa and Graça districts, but the first one intrigued me so much, that I wanted to come back there the next day. That’s why we mostly spent our time in Portuguese capital, leisurely strolling the sunny streets of Alfama and exploring its every corner. It was a very good decision.
Here are some photos from Baixa, which is also worth visiting (but for me Alfama is the one)
- The Praça do Comércio – it’s a big square in Baixa district in Lisbon, situated just next to the Tajo river. It’s also known as Terreiro do Paço, as it used to be the location of the Royal Palace – Paços da Ribeira before the big earthquake destroyed it in 1755. On the square you can see the statue of King José I on a horse, who was the Portuguese ruler at the time of the Lisbon reconstruction. In the back of the square you will find the impressive arch – Arco da Rua Augusta, marking the entrance to the Rua Augusta street.
- The Santa Justa Lift (also called Carmo Lift or Elevador de Santa Justa ) – is located in the historical part of Lisbon – Santa Justa and connects lower streets of Baixa district with the higher Largo do Carmo (Carmo Square). It’s the only vertical lift in the city, offering great panoramic views from the top floor and it’s very popular with tourists.
Open everyday from 7:00 – 23:00, might get very busy in the summer months. Single ticket costs
€2.80 and can be bought in the ticket office at the bottom of the lift. However, since the elevator is a part of the public transport network in Lisbon, the metro/bus passes are also valid there (which makes it cheaper) – you can combine a ride on the Santa Justa Lift with an extended tram trip. We didn’t have a chance to try it, so let me know if you did.
Alfama – where you should be
Alfama is the oldest district of Lisbon, that wasn’t destroyed during the earthquake which hit the city in 1755. It’s a picturesque labyrinth of narrow cobbled streets with small squares and terraces where you can drink coffee, eat pastel de nata and look at the city rooftops below. It covers the area from the river estuary, climbing up to the São Jorge Castle. Colorful houses are glued to the sides of the streets, pretty flowers dance in the pots with every wind blow, laundry is freely hanging on the strings and artists are showing their work in the ateliers.
In the evenings, the district is full of Fado. This traditional Portuguese music dating back to 1820, filled with melancholic and longing tunes and poetry lyrics, can be heard in every corner.
It is usually played in the restaurants, where people can eat and enjoy wine or port while listening to the live performers. In more popular places you need to pay for it or book it in advance, however, you will find many others that will be inviting you to join them from the street. That’s what we did and it was very good – both the food and the music! I even got a flower as a bonus, hah.
Cherries + alcohol
Ginjinha, a famous Portuguese cherry liqueur, is a typical drink in Lisbon. It’s made from ginja berries (sour cherries) soaked in alcohol with the addition of sugar and some other ingredients. It’s typically served in shots, that cost from €1-2,5, depending where.
Have a break in the sightseeing and refresh yourself with a sip of that sweet beverage bought from the hole-in-the-wall bar, that you can find many in Alfama.
The most famous tram in Lisbon – a classic yellow model originating from 1930, containing only one carriage is full of traditional charm, with original levers and polished wooden benches. The tram can climb steep hills and make sharp turns on the tracks. It travels through the longest route in Lisbon, covering Baixa, Graça and Alfama districts, finishing in Estrela and Campo de Ourique, stopping by many touristic attractions.
However – the ride on the tram used to be much better. Now, the carriage is packed with people and you need to wait in a long queue to get in. We didn’t have time for that, so we chose to use power of our own legs and to admire from the outside the yellow boxes passing by.
Miradouros – revealing the hidden city parts
If you, like me, love watching the cities from above, you will enjoy those stunning viewpoints that offer the best views in the area. Many of the miradouros – terraces located on the top of the hills, are in Alfama district and are really worth a climb.
Take time to relax and contemplate Lisbon’s beauty on some of the best ones.
Miradouros, that I can recommend are:
Miradouro das Portas do Sol – big terrace overlooking the river, Alfama rooftops and many of the Lisbon’s churches.
Miradouro de Santa Luzia – providing the the views to Alfama, Tajo river estuary and the National Pantheon, all framed in the pretty picture by the grapevine surrounded pillars.
Miradouro da Graça (official name Miradouro Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen) – it’s a romantic pine shaded terrace with the 18th century church Igreja da Graça located directly behind it and great views to the castle.
You can find plenty more here and each one of them offers something different!
How to visit Alfama?
This maze of cobbled streets is the best to be seen on foot. You can follow the walking route from Baixa to Miradouro de Santa Luzia or start from the Santa Apolonia metro station and climb uphill the castle. The best, however, is to get lost in the colourful labyrinth, feel the city pulse and explore its hidden treasures.
Fancy a drink?
After dinner with Fado, we went to the Lisbon’s liveliest nightlife district – Bairro Alto for a drink (or two).
Even on Monday evening it was full of people with young crowd covering narrow streets and sipping beer. You can find there anything you like – from sophisticated places serving top class cocktails, through jazz and blues pubs to Wine Inn or holiday Bali Bar with hammocks and palm trees.
Most of them have cheap (and strong) drinks offers, and in some you can even get a shot for a bra exchange (as you can see below – many did ;)). Check more about places in Bairro Alto here.
On the way we also passed another Lisbon’s lift – the Glória Funicular (Elevador da Glória), which connects the Pombaline downtown with the Bairro Alto. At night, it wasn’t working anymore, but it must be funny to use one carriage just to go up and down the street 😉
Would you like to visit Lisbon and would you go to Alfama? Or have you already been? Let me know in the comments!
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