By Natalie Montanaro
Looking for tips on what to see in the historic seaside city of Lisbon? If you have even just one day, Lisbon delivers with stunning architecture and charming streets, great shopping, friendly people, and amazing views by the water. Past meets present in the most subtle of ways and the city definitely does not have that touristy feel as with some other popular European cities.
Lisbon has a rich past and relaxing vibe that will urge you to return. The weather is comfortably warm for most of the year, with a bit of rain in the slightly cooler, but not freezing, winter months.
If you can visit in springtime, confetti colours of flowers and fragrant almond blossoms abound, with crowds not as heavy as in summer. Lisboa Cards (24- to 72-hour passes) providing perks for shopping, museums, dining, and free transportation are available at the airport or online. See https://www.lisboacard.org/ for details.
A decades-old Tram 28 runs up and over the steep grades in the city, chugging along at a comfortable pace on the best route to see castles, parks, and various neighbourhoods along the way. Lisbon has its share of picturesque alleyways and decorative building façades that make for pleasantly scenic walkabouts. Here are some of the highlights that will whet your appetite for more when travelling to Portugal’s prized capitol.
The Lisboa Story Centre
Make this your first stop since the museum collection with narrated tour outlines the beginnings of this port city, its seafaring and trade history, the influences of religion and politics, tragedies and triumphs, (including the devastation and consequences of the 1755 earthquake) through to modern day. The exhibits are informative and interesting, including a special section on the Age of Exploration. Admission is free with the purchase of the Lisboa Card mentioned above.
Elevador De Santa Justa (Carmo Lift)
Designed by Raoul Mesnier de Ponsard (also the engineer of the three still functional funiculars here and a Gustave Eiffel admirer), the Santa Justa lift is one of the best places in Lisbon for an engaging 360-degree view of the rooftops and sea below.
The cast-iron structure, in Neo-Gothic style resembling a massive erector set, towers above the centre of Lisbon at the end of Rua de Santa Justa above Carmo Square. Take the vintage lift most of the way up, then climb the spiral staircase to the rooftop. The fee for admission is nominal at only 5.15 Euro for a return trip ticket.
By The Seaside
Reminisce about Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan, Bartolomeu Dias, and Pedro Alvares Cabral while strolling the lengthy and spacious waterfront, taking a guided boat along the coastline from the nearby dock, or just sipping a sweet and robust glass of port (Portugal’s gift to the world of wine) at a seaside cafe.
Check out the stone artists whose painted rocks form animistic figures that grace the shoreline, changing shape on any given day. Watch the boats go by as the vast calm of the waters beckons you to think about a bygone era, teaming with trade, frequented by the elite, where emerging science and traditional values brought Lisbon its fame.
Portuguese Palate Pleasers
Delectable port wine from Porto is not the only memorable taste in Lisbon. Portugal’s waters provide the tastiest sardines on the planet, and you can buy all sorts of varieties of these tiny tinned fish dressed in sauces unique to Portugal’s early spice trade.
Wash them down with a craft beer in one of 100 blends made in Lisbon at the Museu de Cerveja, which also serves a variety of local dishes, including Bolinhos de Bacalhau (salt cod cakes) in a trendy/chic atmosphere.
Later in the day, head down to Paul—opened in the 19th Century and still one of the busiest cafes around—for its quality of desserts and oven-baked breads. Sit outdoors in the open square and order the sweetest of traditional pastries to accompany your coffee or tea, including Pastel de Nata, syrupy rum bites and a thick slice of egg-rich honey and spice cake.
Shopping And So Much More
Lisbon doesn’t disappoint with its cultural flavour, high hilltops, and sea views. In Lisbon, they are still preserving many old-world Portuguese traditions. Craft items, linens, and handmade artisan items are plentiful as well as all sorts of locally made foods.
It’s not a place to go to just once, as there are so many museums, galleries, markets, and seasonal events to experience, but sample this beginner’s list of sites in Lisbon to prime you for your next trip, and remind you of why this Portuguese treasure is a world-class destination with nice surprises to enjoy on every corner.