Portugal seems to be the “it” spot to travel these days, and deservedly so. With great weather, friendly locals, affordable prices, outstanding beaches and lively cities, it’s the kind of place that makes you want to plan your next trip back before you even leave. As Lisbon is the country’s capital, most visitors end up spending at least a couple days in the city before zipping off to other popular spots like Porto, the Algarve, the stunning Azores or the Duoro Valley, and it also makes a great base for day trips. Here are some of the best spots in Lisbon, to help make the most of your time in the lively, colourful city.
Best lookout points
With a topography that stretches from the Tagus River and up into the hills, there’s no shortage of fabulous vantage points. Here are a few standout spots worth making a beeline for:
Miradouro das Portas do Sol– This sun-soaked terrace is one of the most popular spots in the city, as it offers gorgeous panoramic views of the whitewashed, terracotta-topped houses tucked into the hillside below. The copulas of majestic cathedrals jut out above them, stretching out to the clear blue waterfront making for a postcard-perfect scene.
Elevador de Santa Justa– Black, wrought-iron railings frame this lift, which has been shuttling passengers in the Baixa district since the 19th century. Its neo-gothic design is striking, and while it could be considered a piece of art it actually serves as a form of public transport so people don’t have to slog up a steep hill. Enjoy the ride up as you rise above the city, then take in the view from the observation platform at the top for unbeatable views of Lisbon.
Tip: Buy a 24-hour public transportation pass from a machine inside any metro station. It gets you unlimited rides on the metro, bus and trams (including famous #28), as well as entrance to Elevador de Santa Justa and the Elevador da Glória.
Belem– The Belem district is a ways out from the city centre, but the half hour trip is well worth it. The district’s top spots are all situated along the pretty waterfront, framing monuments such as the sandstone Padrão dos Descobrimentos and the attractive Torre de Belem.
Tip: Head there on a Monday when the tower is closed, if you want a photograph without any tourists on the bridge. Go there any other day if you actually want to see inside!
If you love memorable and unique lodging, look no further than Castle Inn Lisbon. Located just steps away from Castelo de São Jorge, the 19th century building is in the heart of the historic centre and has been beautifully converted into bright, modern apartments complete with kitchens, air conditioning and wi-fi. The large windows and balconies overlook the narrow, cobblestone streets below, and once the tourists leave for the day it will be just you and the locals. Suites fit anywhere from two to eight people, plus you’ll get to say you stayed in a castle!
Best pastel de nata
Another perk of staying at Castle Inn is you’re just a one-minute walk from one of the best pastel de nata spots in the whole city. The addictive pastries can be described as a creme brulee nestled in a buttery tart shell, and are absolutely heavenly when baked to golden perfection. Grab some for breakfast at Pastelaria Santo Antonio which is just outside the castle’s front gates, or brave the crowds at iconic Pasteis de Belem in the Belem district, which has been whipping up the mouthwatering treats since 1837.
READ MORE: How to eat like a local in Lisbon
Best art areas
Street art, art districts, art galleries…Lisbon doesn’t mess around when it comes to art. Some of the best is found near the castle in the Alfama district, where bright murals adorn stone walls lining the area’s steep staircases.
A brilliant hidden gem that you likely won’t find on a tourist map is LX Factory, a former industrial area that’s transformed into a creative community for artists. The hip spot is tucked under the so-called Big Bridge, and boasts uber-cool bars, restaurants, independent boutiques and street art galore.
Just down the road is Village Underground, where creative-types work out of refurbished storage containers that are stacked on top of each other. The result makes for quite the photo-op, and the venue is frequently used to host outdoor events.
LX Factory is also home to what’s considered one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores: Ler Devagar. Its name translates to “read slowly”, which you’ll want to do to soak up every minute possible in this pretty space which was converted from a printing warehouse. The decor is perfection, there are plenty of books to choose from in multiple languages, and the store is also a popular event venue thanks to its two bars.
Those who normally eschew public transportation will want to rethink their ways once they arrive in Lisbon. Going for a spin in one of the iconic canary-yellow trams is a must-do in the city, a pastime so popular that queues to get on the famed #28 line that winds through the historic centre can stretch for an hour.
If you’re not in the mood for a long wait to get on #28, grab the #15 and head to Belem. On the way back, you can hop off at the Calvario stop to see LX Factory and Village Underground before returning to the city centre.
The haunting notes of fado singers float out of dark restaurants and into the quiet streets come nightfall, as diners tuck into their meals soothed by the soulful sounds. Fado music is traditionally performed by either a solo artist or group of young men, accompanied by a duo of acoustic guitars. It won’t be hard to find a performance: most establishments host fado performances several nights a week, advertised at the entrance to their restaurants. The historic Alfama district also has several intimate fado houses, which are the perfect spot to grab a nightcap.
Along with being home to some of the city’s most popular tourist attractions like the towering Arco da Rua Augusta and Comercio Square, the Baixa, Chiado and Rossio areas are also shopping meccas. Grand avenues feature patterned pavement, leading to swanky stores such as Armani and Burberry along Avenida da Liberdade. You’ll also find European staples like Zara, H&M and Mango mixed in with independent boutiques and souvenir shops on Rua Nova do Almada.
No visit to Portugal is complete without enjoying some port, which is produced in the Douro Valley in the northern part of the country. Sipping the sweet dessert wine is a great way to finish a meal, and can be ordered at every restaurant. There are also some fun walking tours in Lisbon that combine sightseeing with port tasting, as well as organized excursions where travellers can visit vineyards outside the city.
Another traditional Portuguese drink is vinho verde. While it translates to “green wine” it actually refers to “young” wine, and is usually consumed soon after being bottled. Vinho verde is like a hybrid between wine and champagne, as it comes in red, white and rose varieties but has a bit of a bubble to it.
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