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Lisbon turned out to be one of our favorite places so far on our travels, so after three weeks in the Portuguese capital, finding thirty-three things to shout out over the rooftops was easy!
1. The yellow trams
Similar both in look and feel to the San Francisco trams, these beautiful yellow trams serve as a very useful public transportation system spanning the central city area. The older street car trolleys continue to connect the coastal areas to the high up hilltop neighborhoods, while the trams travel across town on the streets at sea level. Most are slightly aged but in full working order (like much of Lisbon, actually) and they are lifesavers for getting you up and down the steep hills in comfort. The Number 28 route has become the de facto tourist tram, as it circles the city center. You’ll see tourists seated on the wooden benches, hanging out of the open windows with their cameras, while the locals have tend to cram into the aisles to keep using the line.
Lisbon’s mighty maritime history in the 15th to 19th centuries means that Portugal gained several colonies throughout the centuries. The effects of this can be seen in the cultural make up of its capital city today, which, along with more recent immigrants from all over Europe and further afield, make Lisbon a culturally rich cosmopolitan city.
3. Vinho Verde
Despite its name, Vinho Verde or green wine, is not green at all. It is a light white wine, made of green grapes, and is one of Portugal’s specialties along with the more globally known Port wine. At €7 a bottle in the restaurant and much less in the store, there is no excuse not to try this delicious Portuguese wine.
Cascais is the biggest beach town just outside of Lisbon, and it could not be easier to get there. The train leaves from central Lisbon and glides along the coast, with several stops throughout the various beach villages on the way to Cascais. Easily my favorite way to get to the beach, this sunny ride got me right in the mood for a day of ultimate relaxation! Make sure to ride on the left side of the train when traveling from Lisbon to Cascais for the best beach views.
5. Santa Justa Elevator
Lisbon is built on seven hills, and climbing this multilevel city can get tiring, especially without car. Raul Mesnier de Ponsard, a Lisbon native born to French parents, Mesnier served as an apprentice to Gustav Eiffel, and brought the inspiration from the construction of the tower home and applied them with the Santa Justa lift. The lift was commissioned and created to facilitate the movement of people from down in the Baixa section up to Carmo Square. The design is intricate, beautiful, and the lift itself is free, but for just €1.50, you can climb the stairs to the top of the elevator for great views over Lisbon.
Within a one-minute walk from the door of our hotel, we had the choice of six pastelerias, or Portuguese bakeries. While we are sure that plenty of people in Lisbon eat breakfast at home, people are pouring out of these pastelerias, all of them, each morning. We ordered a double espresso and one of the many delicious pastries for around €2 to start our day sugar shocked and uber-caffeinated! You can take a look at some of our favorite breakfasts in Portugal here.
7. The views
In Lisbon, there are views just about everywhere, from hilltops to hotel rooftops, plus countless parks and even from the castle. My favorite place for a view was to climb the streets up to the Miradouro e jardim do Torel viewpoint which is a little park in a residential area just off the Avenida da Libertade. The benches were so comfortable, and the trees provide a breezy, cooling shade. Even on days of intense summer heat, this park is the perfect spot to have a coffee and read a book while the rest of Lisbon is baking below.
8. The Berardo Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Belem
The Berardo Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art has a great collection of the world’s biggest artists of the 20th century- Warhol, Picasso, Dali, Duchamp, Magritte, Miró, Jackson Pollock and many more. And the best thing: the museum is always FREE.
9. The beaches
We just can’t get enough of the beaches in Lisbon. The city itself is lined with coastline, along the Tagus River and the Atlantic Ocean – which can be reached by car, train, bike, bus or GoCar within minutes. A second option for more beaches lies just across the 25 de Abril bridge (the Golden Gate Bridge’s twin). A ten minute ride once across leads to the Costa da Caparica and miles and miles of Atlantic Ocean beach access. Both areas have a laid-back beach culture, surfing, and plenty of great restaurants to keep everyone fed and happy.
These pastries are a Portuguese institution, and one of Dani’s favorite sweets from our time in Europe this year. They are custard filled pastries, with cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on top.
They love their coffee in Lisbon, and while walking the city streets, an espresso is available just about every 50ft. Known locally as ‘bicas’ these super strong espressos kept us buzzing all day long.
We kept that buzz going at night as well, with these two popular Portuguese brews. Both are light, crisp, and delicious cold – which after a day in that sizzling Lisbon sun feels gooooood.
13. Sculptures everywhere!
Lisbon is filled with sculptures – the biggest one being the Cristo Rei statue in the Almada neighborhood on the left-bank of the Tagus River, a giant stone Jesus Christ figure, which is overlooking Lisbon and was inspired by the ‘Christ the Redeemer’ statue in Rio de Janeiro, but you will come across bronze and stone sculptures everywhere in the city, including the magnificent Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) in Belem, and a gigantic Fernando Botero sculpture on the north end of the Eduardo VII Park.
The tiles of Lisbon are what help to maintain that intensely old school charm of this capital city. The buildings and sidewalks are both covered in tiles, and form designs or patterns, or even larger murals.
This area of Lisbon is a combination of bohemian creativity and classic luxury. A place where art museums and fusion restaurants meet live music and old-world wine and whiskey bars. If we lived in Lisbon, this is where we would go out for all occasions.
16. Indian Restaurants
Goa, India was a Portuguese territory until the mid 20th century, and one culinary result is that Lisbon has over 50 Indian restaurants in the city and counting! We couldn’t have been happier with the Indian food as it was both vegetarian and delicious. In fact…we managed to eat at a different Indian restaurant almost every single night, and no, it wasn’t healthy. But it was good!
17. The subway system
You may be charmed by the trolleys, the sleek super quiet trams, the buses which provide a great tour for the price of bus fare, or the fun ferries which cross the Tagus river – but don’t forget about the fully functional, easy, clean subway system. Our hotel entrance was at the top of the Almirante Reis exit, so we took the subway often and found it to be very convenient.
18. Ponte 25 de April
We’ve mentioned it before, but we just love how this twin of the Golden Gate – only one of many similarities to San Francisco – adds an extra touch to the classic beauty of the skyline.
From food and transport to clothing and tourist attractions, Lisbon is a fabulously affordable city. The capital is home to some of the finest theater and hotels, but the luxury here seems present, but muted – Lisbon is also the most no-fuss capital we have visited and can easily be done on a budget.
20. The Alleys of the Alfama quarter
The Alfama quarter of Lisbon is the most romantic area of the city. Built upon dense bedrock, the Alfama survived the 1755 earthquake, which makes a visit to this area like a trip back in time. Stepping through the narrow medieval cobblestone areas brought us to tiny squares, inside mystic churches, and past whitewashed houses decorated with colorful flowers and laundry hanging out to dry.
If we ate seafood, then it would surely be on this list of thirty three things we love, since Lisbon and all of Portugal is known for its fresh, delicious seafood. And although don’t eat seafood (or meat), we can appreciate the way it is sold and eaten here in Lisbon. Even in expensive downtown real estate, streets are lined with family-owned shops and restaurants open for generations. Shops specialize in specific products – fabric, yarn, bags, antique books, florists, tools and, of course, seafood. It’s a great feeling to pay someone for an item and know that the cash is going right to them, not to an (inter)national chain.
22. Wine and whisk(e)y in wooden boxes
Continuing along our love of the old school style of Lisbon and the survival of the mom-n-pop, we love peeking in to the dimly lit downtown booze shops which still sell dusty bottles of wine and whiskey packed individual in wooden boxes.
23. Santo Domingo church
Its nondescript facade hides one of the most beautiful churches we came across in Europe during this trip, and believe us, we have seen a ton of churches! The salmon-colored walls are so unusual, the detail on the many statues and columns incredible. We don’t actually attend church, but we’d go back to this one again any time!
Under the 25 de Abril Bridge in the Alcantara area of Lisbon between Baixa and Belem, former warehouses now house a string of bars and restaurants which now overlook a trendy yacht marina. You can eat everything from Tapas and Mexican to traditional Portuguese, but the best part is enjoying a drink and a view of the lights twinkling on the water at night.
25. Bike path to Belem
The 7km cycle path along the coast leads from the downtown train station to the area of Belem, and is a flat, easy ride under the 25 de Abril Bridge, past countless trendy bars and restaurants and toward some of Lisbon’s most popular and significant tourist attractions.
This area is the heart of downtown Lisbon. It’s beautiful, wide squares and great shopping streets were re-built after the earthquake of 1755 leveled the city. The neo-classical architecture today houses some modern shops, but several of these downtown store fronts are still run by sole retailers selling hand-crafted goods and services. Baixa is the main area for public gatherings in Lisbon as well.
27. Street Art
Cities with great street art always win our hearts, and parts of Lisbon are like outdoor art museums, with eye-catching, intellectual street art.
This central, tree-lined boulevard across town from the Rossio Square to Parque Eduardo VII, and is the main shopping street and thoroughfare for parades in the city. The Libertade is known as Portugal’s equivalent of the Champs Elysees in France, and with its luxury shops, it sure feels that way.
29. Queijo mestiço de Tolosa
As we do in any European country, we grabbed a bottle of red wine, a freshly-baked baguette and this delicious soft white mestiço de Tolosa cheese and had a picnic in the Jardim do Ultramar. At some point, we ran out of bread, and then out of wine, but we kept right on nibbling at this excellent cheese anyway – so good!
30. Campo Mártires da Pátria
The statue that sits on this space, Sousa Martins Statue, is dedicated to Dr José Tomás de Sousa Martins, who, in the 20th century, worked with the poor treating tuberculosis. Today, there are thousands of engraved plaques and stones still thanking the doctor for his help. The attached park, Jardim da Cordoaria, has peacocks, pheasants, ducks and geese paddling around a pond, plus a cafe called O Coreto, which is popular with locals who like the solitude of this peaceful park right in the center of the city.
31. GoCar Tours
Exploring the town from the view of a little yellow GoCar is a great way to see Lisbon. Read what we thought about our Lisbon GoCar Tour, and if you are on your way to Lisbon, you can book a Gocar tour here.
Lisbon residents are a handsome bunch. Golden brown from the summer sun and thin thanks to climbing the city’s many hills, people here have the bodies to pull off tight, short and barely-there attire – but no one does. Instead, the style is much more natural and comfortable. Men wear button-down shirts and linen trousers, while women wear long, flowing dresses/skirts and loose-fitting linen shirts. Overall this brings such a relaxed fashion sense to match the laid-back attitude and a lack of pretentiousness that we could really get along with.
33. A Ginjinha
Ginjinha is the name of a liqueur which infuses sour cherries in alcohol with sugar. This super sour shot burns its way down and doesn’t taste all that pleasant at all – the pleasant part is that it shots are available all day long from A Ginjinha, essentially a gritty, singular market stall, right on Rossio Square. The wrinkly old Portuguese vendor slaps shot after shot on the counter for the continuous stream of locals and tourists who gather to spend five minutes with their cherry shot throughout the day.
If you enjoyed these 33 things – check out the things we love about some of our other favorite destinations:
For highlights in Central America, Mexico and Europe, we’d love you to have a look round all our Things We Love articles!
Have you been to Portugal? More specifically to Lisbon – Did you love it as much as we did? What were some of the things you love the most about Lisbon?