Travel report Lisbon
It’s a sunny day in Lisbon,…
but it has the perfume of the moon…
when the early morning comes quietly.
The first tram in the street…
makes a chorus with the sound of the slippers in Ribeira
when it rains, Lisbon has the perfume of promised land.
The processions have the smell of rosemary.
In the taverns of the most hidden alleys,…
there’s a perfume of appetizers and wine all together.
Living in the Portuguese Capital
This iconic song best describes how we experienced the atmosphere of beautiful Lisbon. We stayed in the city for more than 3 months and enjoyed its unique joie de vivre that you can feel at every corner. The taverns are filled with people enjoying cheap local wine and amazing food. Iconic tramways crossing, tiled house facades, narrow streets and bright sunlight make every visit special. Lisbon is a very different experience from other European city trips. Moreover, locals as well as the ones among us that have visited Lisbon before keep on rubbing their eyes. The earlier dull, provincial and peripheral city has become a hot spot for development. Tourists take over the tramways, European hipsters fill the streets, innovative startups take over vacant buildings, new trendy locations with contemporary foods open every day!
This feeling of awakening in the air made our stay in Lisbon a very special experience. Staying here means being part of something new and sharing a life with Europe’s young cosmopolitans. There is some places where we felt this especially: Miradouro de Santa Catarina is a viewpoint with an iconic view over Lisbon and its own Golden Gate Bridge “Ponte 25 de Abril” where we joined youngsters enjoying life by drinking wine and watching numerous street artists. We neither missed to have a drink with every of our visitors at Pensão do Amor, a former house of prostitution that has become a trendy bar. Last but not least LxFactory is an old industrial site that has re-invented itself into an artsy complex how you might have only happened to see in Berlin or Brooklyn. The mixture of tradition and change have been impressing us alike.
Once known as the Olissipo (“enchanting port”) during the Phoenician empire, Lisbon has been a “lady” of many others during its invasion periods. Greeks and Carthaginians came later and stayed until the Romans finally stole the show and set foot for two consecutive centuries. They renamed the city to Felicitas Julia and set Lisbon on the map as one of the most lucrative and prominent ports in Europe. Later the Moors took over bringing mystic and sexy Arab magic until the city was finally reconquered by the Christians.
During the 15th century, Portugal (and particularly Lisbon) was one of the most wealthy centers of the world. The country’s vast empire of colonies was spreading throughout Africa, South America, Atlantic islands and Asia. However, such days didn’t last for long since the Portuguese royal family got their princess married with the British King and all the gold and precious gems started being shipped straight up to the United Kingdom. To top it up a huge earthquake destroyed a huge part of the city and the country in 1755. After this, the city was rebuilt pretty much from scratch bringing new technologies and ways of construction. Former prime minister Marquees de Pombal was a revolutionary structuring the city with squared/parallel streets and anti seismic buildings.
Discovering the center and the old neigborhoods
It’s a beautiful walk from Lisbon’s main square Praça do Comércio through the Rua Augusta Arch along Rua Augusta to Rossio Square with the National Theatre and the colorful store O Mundo Fantástico Da Sardinha Portuguesa. Continuing on impressive Avenida da Liberdade we felt like on Champs-Elysées surrounded by world famous designer high-end stores. Gladly, some old neighborhoods such as Graca or Alfama have been kept intact. These still represent some of the liveliest parts of the city and our favorite destinations to chill or spend the night. Click on the different tabs below where we have consolidated some more information.
Very narrow streets with whitewashed houses touching each other, old women selling Ginjinha and a smell of charcoal from the grills spread throughout this neighborhood. This is a must-go and must-see place in Lisbon! Alfama represents the heartbeat when thinking about Portugal and specially Lisbon culture. Here you can still join neighbors having long chats just by leaning on their windows or you see a paraphernalia of clothes drying outside. On top of the hill is not only Sao Jorge Castle but also viewpoint Portas do Sol which is facing the river.
There is a lot to see and do in Alfama such as Tiles National Museum, Lisbon Cathedral, Castle of Sao Jorge or Fado Museum. We have consolidated this information in the section Lisbon… 40 things to do and places to go.
The Moorish quarter was once a ghetto of Moors and has been home for minorities and immigrants coming from India, China, Bangladesh and Africa during the last few years. However, more and more of the historical buildings refurbished and restored have been restored. Nowadays, it is one of the most vibrant and prominent neighborhoods of Lisbon. Hosting some of the best bars and restaurants in the city this is the place to join a young, diverse and multicultural crowd.
Mouraria well known as the birthplace of Fado music where singers such as Mariza lived and had their breakthrough. Even the legendary and infamous Severa used to live and sing in a wrath and pain through the streets. She is considered by many to be the mother of Fado as the first one singing this style of music.
Another old neighborhood of Lisbon is located on the northeast side of Sao Jorge Castle. Considered the Notting hill of Lisbon, Graca is one of the poshest and most visited places. Here you find plenty of beautiful cafés, restaurants, bars and cake shops. In our opinion, what is more charming about this cheeky neighborhood, are the miradouros and the beautiful typical tiled houses. At Miradouro Sophia de Mello Breyner and Miradouro da Senhora do Monte you may find two of the best views of Lisbon.
For more info about this check Lisbon… 40 things to do and places to go.
If Graça is the Notting Hill of Lisbon, Bairro Alto and Baixa Chiado could be something like the Soho or Oxford Circus of Lisbon. It is an old neighborhood that has grown outside the city walls and established its own as a trendy place. Baixa do Chiado is located on the western side where can find a big shopping zone. The quarter hosts several theatres such as as the opera house São Carlos Theatre and one of the oldest and most emblematic cafés of the city “A Brasileira”. The café was frequently visited by famous Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa. On the top side of Rua Garret is Do Carmo Square with one of the most peculiar churches. It has had its ceiling completely destroyed during the earthquake of 1755 with only the side walls remaining.
Bairro Alto is located on the Eastern side of this quarter. Once a dodgy area known for prostitution, nightlife, drugs and rock’n roll, it has become a popular place for Lisboetas to go out and have a drink or simply start the night. Mixed crowds reaching from intellectuals, artists to night owls roam through the cobble streets heading for restaurants, fado houses, cafés and bars. From Thursday to Saturday all streets are fully packed with “drinkers” holding their wines, cocktails or beers. This neighborhood goes as far as Principe Real, which is known to be a gay area. Not far from here you will also found one of our favorite bars called Pensão do Amor (Rua do Alecrim, walking down to Cais do Sodré), the popular viewpoints Miradouro do Adamastor and famous Elevador da Bica.
Check out for more on Lisbon… 40 things to do and places to go.
Lapa and Estrela, Campo de Ourique, Santos-o-velho, Alcantara are more residential neighborhoods rather than tourist hotspots. However, there are still some highlights to explore:
Lx Factory: Alcantara
Lisbon Village Underground: Alcantara
Museu da Carris: Alcantara
TimeOut Market: Santo-o-Velho
Palácio Assembleia da Républica: Estrela, Largo do Sao Bento
Basilica da Estrela: Estrela
Casa Museu Amália Rodrigues: Estrela / Sao Bento
Casa Fernando Pessoa: Campo de Ourique
Aqueduto das Águas Livres: Campo de Ourique / Rato
The new Lisbon
Lisbon renews its own city center with new buildings and developed areas but it’s in the outskirts where it expends and creates a new imprint. In 1998 the world’s fair event Expo ’98 brought new life to the east side of the city. New new living spaces, commerce and even Europe’s second longest bridge Ponte Vasco da Gama were created. Parque das Nações hosts the Lisbon Oceanarium, a pleasant promenade, top hotels as well as some of the city’S most technological houses. It is also home to Europe’s 3rd biggest arena Altice Arena so that we did not miss the opportunity to follow the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 live.
Belonging to our favorite parts of the city, brand new places have emerge recently. They are bringing new forms of art, technology, start-ups and ambiance. The vibrant energy is now putting Lisbon on the map as one of the most prominent cities in Europe. We regularly visited vibrant Lx Factory being an old factory turned into a start-up hub, trendy restaurants and bars. Lisbon Underground Village constitutes a group of containers piled up and hosting small companies, a restaurant and a skate park. TimeOut Market is an old food market that has been split in two and a paradise for food lovers as ourselves. One part serves still as a food market and the other half is a buzzling food court hosting the best restaurants, cafes ans tascas of Lisbon.
Pastel de Nata and Pastel de Belém
Coming to Portugal without knowing a Pastel de Nata is a problem! We started our Portugal adventure with having one of this amazing custard tarts every day. It’s simply heaven on earth! However, we still discovered that you should not have too much when wanting to keep on shape for the beach. Portugal’s national sweet originates from Belém at the city’s boundaries. The original Pastel de Nata can still be bought here. For more about this sweet you can check on our post Portuguelishes.
Visiting the outskirts
Click on the different tabs below where we have consolidated some information about the best tourists attractions in the outskirts of Lisbon
Belém is without any doubt a must-see during any Lisbon trip. Located southwestern of Lisbon, it is only a 7-minute train ride from Cais do Sodré station in central Lisbon. Belém had been a major port and a strategic point of interest for centuries. From here the Portuguese Royal Family fled to Brazil during Napoleon’s invasion, also many explorers started their world wide adventures such as expeditions to India or Brazil. Therefore, important monuments have been erected here over the centuries. The historical and social activity that has been taking place in this western part of Greater Lisbon is undeniable. Symbol is the most famous national sweet that was born and first commercialized in Belém: the mouth watering Pastel de Nata. Check more on our favorite local foods in our section Portuguelishes!
Places like Torre de Belém (Belém Tower), Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monestry) or Museu dos Coches (Coach Museum) can all be found here make you breathe history and legendary stories.
For all sights around Belém check Lisbon… 40 things to do and places to go.
30 kilometers west of Lisbon, Cascais once was an old and simple fisherman town until King Luis I decided to make the town the Portuguese Royal Family’s summer residence. In fact, the king fell so in love for this place that he ordered to install the country’s first electrical light installation in its citadel. This hasn’t been an exclusivity for the Portuguese Royal family but rather several European royal families. Specially during WWII many found refuge and exile here, e.g. the House of Bourbon (Spain) and the House of Savoy (Italy). Nowadays, Cascais is home to the international jet set and local celebrities such as TV stars, football players or writers.
For more about Cascais see Lisbon… 40 things to do and places to go.
Sintra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is our favorite Portuguese town! Once described by Lord Byron as a “Glorious Eden”, it was a refuge and summer house for Portuguese Royals during many years. This tiny village is almost made out of one single street only and embedded in stunning landscapes. Sintra features magnificent houses, chalets, farmyards, and a romantic atmosphere that seems to have inspired Disney’s fairy tales. From castles to palaces, Baroque to Renaissance, gardens to forests – Sintra has it all!
Check for more on our post Lisbon… 40 things to do and places to go.
Have a look at our other TurtleJournal entries to know more about Lisbon:
Lisbon… 40 things to do and places to go: List of all the places to visit (e.g. museums, monuments, viewpoints and gardens)
Travel tips and info
Where is it? Central West (capital city)
What is it famous for? Culture, Fado, urban vibe, historic sites, Pasteis de Nata (custard tarts), drug dealers
What is good to know? Be aware of pickpockets and drug dealers
A funny Fact?
- It is said that Lisbon was chosen by the Romans as a “look-a-like city” and therefore named the capital city. It meant good fortune that it is tucked within seven hills just like Rome. Nowadays the city is known as “city of 7 hills and 7 lights”. The latter is related to how the sunlight spreads throughout the streets creating different shapes and intensities.
- The inhabitans of Lisbon are called “little lettuce” (Alfacinhas). It shall be related to the fact that the surrounding lands of Lisbon once were full of lettuce plantations. The name became “official” when Portuguese writer Almeida Garret used the expression on his book Travels in My Land dating from mid-19th century: “For you shall be Alfacinhas forever, supposing that all the squares of this world are like the Palace Square …” .
- The beautiful patterned pavements are made of limestone pebbles and basalt stones (Calçada Portuguesa or “Cobbled Streets”). There is a legend saying that these streets were actually built to prevent royals and nobles getting dirty while parading Lisbon. A massive Indian white rhino offered to the sitting king Dom Manuel I would also parade leaving spectators astonished. However, the animal would splash the mud and leave the beautiful and delicate costumes completely dirty. Therefore, the king ordered the route to be paved and so the Calçada Portuguesa emerged.