Are you planning to go to Lisbon and you are doing your research or are you just looking to decided on where will be your next destination? We traveled to Lisbon for 7 days in November 2018 to attend the WebSummit, the biggest tech event on the planet which starting from November 2018 will be hosted in Lisbon for the next 10 years.
By day Lisbon has a naive theatrical quality that enchants and captivates, but by night it is a fairy-tale city, descending over lighted terraces to the sea, like a woman in festive garments going down to meet her dark lover.
― Erich Maria Remarque, The Night in Lisbon.
We found Lisbon to be a fascinating compact town with a rich history, many things to do and see, and a place where you cannot get bored. In this article, we put together a few of the most important things to do in Lisbon that will guarantee Lisbon a place in your heart.
TIME-OUT FOOD HALL IN BAIRRO ALTO
Do not miss this one, you will regret it. The Time Out Food Hall it offers a high variety of food choices, a lot of meat and cheese and it is home of over 40 hand-picked restaurants. It is the only food market in Europe where everything has been tested and tasted by a team of independent panel of City experts, timeouts own journalists and critics, bringing more than 40 leading restaurants with no lower than 4 stars each offering everything from local specialties and traditional dishes to gourmet food, sweets, and Asian cuisine. The interior is set in a modern manner that promotes socializing by sharing seats at long common tables.
The Time Out Market had its first reference in 1100 and the first version of the Mercado da Ribeira Velha was on the square known as Praca do Pelourinho or Praca do Municipio (City Hall). In 1755 the great earthquake destroyed the entire Lisbon and deleted the market from the map. After years of renovation and innovation, the Time Out Food Hall has reopened its doors in May 2014 and has been ever since of the most popular food market in Europe.
If what you find on the ground floor of the Mercado da Ribeira represents the best of what you can eat and drink in Lisbon, the same can be said of all events and shows that the Time Out Market hosts – whether in the food hall or in the Time Out Studio. They are certainly the city’s best events, chosen and approved by the brand’s curators. SO do your homework before you travel to Lisbon and make sure to catch an event in the Time Out venue.
VIEW POINTS IN LISBON OR, MIRADOUROS
There are quite a few viewpoints in Lisbon where you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the graphic pastel houses and enjoy a coffee under a beautiful sunset. Below are some of the most beautiful ones along with pinpoints on the map to help you get there:
1. Santa Justa Elevator in Barrio Alto but very close to Alfama as well
2. Portas del Sol in Alfama
3. Miraduro de Santa Lucia also in Alfama
4. Miraduro de Graca In Graca. They say Lisbon is the city of 7 seven hills but actually they are 8 and this viewpoint is the highest of them all. Here at the Graca viewpoint, people put locks on the metal fence and they make a wish. Historically this was where young Portuguese couple would meet up for romantic liaisons, without the interference of parents or gossiping neighbors. It is also called Miradouro da Nossa Senhora do Monte and until today, it still retains the romantic ambiance although it doesn’t have any intimacy left due to a high amount of Tuk Tuk tourists tours. Close to this viewpoint, there is a beautiful church called Igreja de Graca which is worth seeing.
THE WALL WITH THE HOPE WINDOW
The city was rebuilt under the Legacy of the Marquis de Pombal who asked the architect to keep as much originality and authenticity as possible. There is a wall in Barrio Alto that has one displaced window. Looking from the street up to the sky through that window gave me
goosebumps. It is very close to the Carmo Covenant. That window is original and was still hanging on ruins having survived fire, tsunami, and earthquake. The window was kept as a symbol of hope and light.
This is the oldest church in the city and is the seat of the Archdiocese of Lisbon. It was built in 1147 as a Mosque and it has miraculously survived many earthquakes being modified, renovated, and restored several times. It is nowadays a mix of different architectural styles, middle eastern and European. It has been classified as a National Monument since 1910.
“What a pleasure to wander around this beautiful old castle. Beautiful views from its walls. The strangest thing we saw were peacocks roosting in the treetops. Quite a sight.” – so we were told. Unfortunately, we went to the Castle too late and there was a queue of 50 people. We couldn’t wait that long and after that, we didn’t have the chance to go again. It will forever be regret in our book of travels so learn from our mistake and go there early, take a spot because this is a do not miss one!
If you are in the mood for a creepily-cute amazing and different experience, the Hospital of Dolls in Lisbon will treat your curiosity and need to escape the common. I found it cute but terrifying at the same time, I kept remembering Chucky doll and in some cases, I could have sworn the dolls were looking right back at me. Nonetheless, the experience and feeling were amazing and it is worth living it.
The arch was built in order to celebrate the city’s reconstruction after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. Fans of Gulliver’s Travels will have no trouble recognizing it, as it was used in a movie version of this literary masterpiece. The top of the arch is accessible to the public and it offers magnificent views of Commerce Square and the surrounding area. Lisbon and visitors now have, since August 9th, the opportunity to visit the Rua de Augusta Arch, now rehabilitated and with access by a lift, whose entrance is located on Rua Augusta, the viewpoint at the top of this monument offers a breathtaking view of the Terreiro do Paço, Baixa Pombalina, the Sé, São Jorge Castle and the Tagus River.
One of the primary things that attract me when visiting a new destination, is the architecture of that destination. It says a lot about the locals’ cultures and art. In Lisbon, we were totally astonished by the beauty of the buildings and their originality in covering them in tiles. The primary reason was for thermo isolation and not only for decoration.
The tiles are called Azulejos and they date somewhere in the 13th century when the Moors invaded the land that now belongs to Spain and Portugal. The word azulejo stems from Arabic roots, meaning ‘small polished stone’. Originally they were fairly simple structures cut into geometric shapes in neutral tones. Nowadays, the tiles have evolved into different designs and variations that turn the heads of tourists at every step they take on the streets of Lisbon.
Want to see the art and history behind the Azulejos? Then you will love visiting the National Museum of Azulejos where it’s guaranteed to be astonished. They have a mobile app where you can register and book your entrance in advance. If you want to go the extra (s)mile and get a beautifully rewarding experience, then the Mosaic Classes are for you. There are different programs for adults, families, or kids that you could take and, instead of buying a souvenir, you can create your own.
The church at the Carmo Convent is a beautiful skeleton, a roofless reminder of the city’s tragic event that occurred in 1755. As you walk around the archaeological museum, pointed arches soar above you, and there is seemingly nothing but the blue sky to support them.
Even though Lisbon is one of the most ancient cities in Europe, reminiscence of its ancient glory is hard to find. In 1755 on November 1st, the King and his family were at the 9:00 mass at the Carmo Cathedral with hundreds of residents of Lisbon. It was a holy day celebrating All Saints and thousands of candles were lit in Lisbon, in the locals’ houses, in churches, everywhere. Within minutes, the ground began to shake and a devastating earthquake of 8.5 – 9 Richter totally destroyed Lisbon to the core. The lit candles started a big fire and the survivors run towards the open area with water, they run towards the square next to the Tagus river. But the tectonic plates creating the earthquake also displaced trillions of gallons of water which resulted in a tsunami that hit Lisbon in less than 40 minutes. The water though could not put out the fire and so Lisbon, one of the richest seaports, once a city of gold has been transformed into an open tomb of blackened bones, burning for 3 days until they were nothing left to burn. The fact that the earthquake had happened on All Saints Day and that it had destroyed most of the churches in Lisbon made them think of divine retribution.
These ruins are now a museum that has been left as it was after the hurricane clean-up. The convent still stands preserved, as a reminder to visitors and Lisboners alike of the destruction that was incurred. That said, space is much more than a monument: converted into a museum and sometimes concert venue, its the perfect place to enjoy a classical music concert, so be sure to see what’s on when you visit.
YELLOW FREE TOURS WITH LOCALS
We paid a lot of money for Professional Guide Tour Operators with Tuk Tuks and after that, we discovered the Yellow Badge Free Tour made by locals! I wish we had discovered them earlier because the tour we had with their guide was way better than the professionally organized ones, taking us to all hidden gems that are only accessible by walking. The tour lasts around 3 hours and it doesn’t have a specific price. It is left to the discretion of the tourist how much money to pay for the service he was given. With hit jackpot with our Free Local Tour Guide as she was a friendly humorous and passionate local architect. She wasn’t reciting a script, she knew all about arts, buildings, history, locals’ habits and traditions, unwritten rules etc. Choose the Local free tour and you will not regret it!
I am against Zoos and I was mostly dragged to go to this aquarium. But I’m glad I did. It is a conscious aquarium and a very educational one where people do learn something out of their visit there. The Oceanário opened in 1998, and it was the centerpiece of the XXth Century’s last World Fair, themed “The Oceans, a Heritage for the Future”, and eternally binds Lisbon to the Oceans. The Oceanário is massive and it is believed to be the biggest one in Europe. If you have visited the Dubai aquarium, I would say it is very close in size. My favorite part of the Oceanário was the sharks’ area – they do not have real sharks but pictures of different species and descriptions; in my opinion as an animal lover, this is how Zoos or Aquariums should look like!
Don’t forget to buy a souvenir from the shop downstairs – they have the cute weird looking and rare type of half-fish fish that you will not find elsewhere.
Walking through Alfama you can sense the smell of fresh laundry hanged one the small colorful balconies of the narrow and joyful streets. Here people are curios but welcoming and will soon make you feel like you have been living in Alfama forever. It is a magic place that wins your heart on spot and will make you feel guilty for leaving it behind. Here citizens are valued and as you explore the streets of Alfama you will see pictures of just regular people on buildings with short stories celebrating their footprint in Alfama.
The great earthquake, fire, and tsunami that destroyed Lisbon in 1755 did not touch Alfama. This is the oldest district in Lisbon and is where most of the tradition and culture of Lisbon is still preserved, including historical attractions. Its name comes from the Arabic Al-Famma meaning “hot fountains” or “baths”. Alfama is known for its steep and colorful streets, vivid nightlife and abundance of Fado bars and restaurants. Passengers pack the historic no. 28 tram, which winds through Alfama on its way up to 11th-century São Jorge Castle. Views from Miradouro da Graça terrace stretch over the city to the River Tagus.
When you get into a tram of Lisbon is not just transportation, you are hopping into a piece of history that will take you into a parallel and vintage dimension. Enjoy the tram for its magic to make you see the world outside its windows with a different perspective.
Getting around in Lisbon is very easy having multiple options to choose from. We used all of them and we can say that our favorite means was walking. We were using the subway to get from our hotel and then all walking. There is so much to see on all streets of Lisbon that only by walking you could really absorb its street arts, ambiance, and culture.
- trams – very affordable but they don’t go everywhere
- tuk-tuks – bit bumpy ride and bit expensive
- uber – affordable
- scooter – very very bumpy on the streets with texture tiles. Plus, the scooter won’t make the uphills of those steep streets. For rides around the Square though it is very useful. Works through the Limeware application and it costs around 8 euro per hour.
If you have time during your trip, Lisbon train and intercity transportation is very easy and affordable so consider visiting the following destinations around Lisbon:
5. LX factory
6. Belem Disctrict
7. Jeronimos Monastery
Eclectic and evocative
Woefully out of place