This week, I traveled from Porto to Lisbon to continue my Portuguese adventures in the capital of Portugal itself. Built on a series of hills overlooking the Rio Tejo, River Tagus, Lisbon offers scenic views from several terraces around the city and possesses much of the country’s history within its cinematic hillsides. This was my second time visiting Lisbon, following a week-long trip that I took with my mom in August of 2014. While the city hasn’t changed much since then, my perspective certainly has. As I toured the city with my camera in hand and blog ideas running through my head, I found myself viewing the city with a different eye for detail and a newfound sense of purpose. Visit Lisboa kindly provided me with a Lisboa Card and a Hills Tramcar Tour Ticket to explore Portugal’s capital and I set out to discover, or rather rediscover, all that the city has to offer.
The first thing I like to do when I arrive in a city is to sign up for a free walking tour, and Lisbon was no exception. On Wednesday morning, I met up at Praça Luís de Camões for a two-hour tour with Lisbon Chill Out. The tour guide Gabriela was very friendly and extremely knowledgeable, which made for a positive experience and one that I can highly recommend. Gabriela led us through the neighborhoods of Bairro Alto and Chiado, between the bustling areas of Baixa Pombalina and Praça do Comércio, past the sites of Convento do Carmo and Elevador de Santa Justa, and more – all while educating us on the Earthquake of 1755, the Carnation Revolution, the Portuguese Inquisition, the Age of Discovery, and the Salazar Dictatorship. Nearing the end of the tour, the skies suddenly opened and we quickly said our thank-yous and goodbyes in the pouring rain. I hopped on the first tram in the direction of downtown which happened to be the famous Tram 28, an experience in itself.
Trams have become a symbol of Lisbon over the years and Tram 28 in particular is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. This traditional yellow tram offers a thrilling ride across town and is a convenient way to get around, but don’t expect much, if any, personal space. I rode the tram to the district of Cais do Sodré where I stumbled upon Ao 26 Vegan Food Project. I was quickly seated at the communal table and enjoyed a delicious veggie sandwich with sweet potato fries. Both the food and the ambience were on point and it’s definitely a restaurant that I would eat at again. Once the weather had cleared up a bit, I ventured to the nearby Mercado da Ribeira to explore the trendy Time Out Market. This recently opened food hall brings food and culture together under one roof and is growing in popularity among locals and tourists alike. Just outside the market lies Rua Cor de Rosa, Lisbon’s Pink Street and former Red Light District. This area is more or less deserted during the daytime, with burlesque clubs, cocktail bars, and tapas restaurants only opening their doors in the evening to cater to the prevalent Lisbon nightlife.
I began my Thursday morning at the Castelo de São Jorge, Castle of Saint George, a Moorish castle that was conquered by the Portuguese in the 12th century. From centuries of history to unbeatable views of the city and the river, this landmark is a must see on any visit to Lisbon. Directly below the castle lies Mouraria, the old Moorish district and a very multicultural neighborhood today. Next to Mouraria is the neighborhood of Alfama, Lisbon’s oldest district and a very special part of town. The way people live in Alfama is different from other neighborhoods. For example, the locals choose to use the outdoor communal fountain to shave and wash dishes, even though they do have running water in their homes. I spent an hour getting lost in these two neighborhoods, listening to the birds chirping and the wind howling, a little retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. Then I slipped into Pois Café for a latte and a quick brunch before catching the bus to Belém.
Belém lies to the west of the city center and is where many of Lisbon’s main attractions and historic monuments can be found. I hopped on Bus 728 from Alfama and spent the afternoon exploring Torre de Belém, Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, and Museu Nacional dos Coches. Both the Belém Tower and the Jerónimos Monastery are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, displaying stunning architectural features and possessing many decades’ worth of significant history. I climbed the narrow spiral staircase to the top of the Belém Tower where I was rewarded with magnificent views, then I proceeded to the National Coach Museum to see the world renowned collection of horse-drawn carriages, a one-of-a-kind exhibition.
For my third and final morning in Portugal’s capital, I jumped aboard the red tram in Praça do Comércio for a hop-on hop-off Hills Tramcar Tour. Winding through the hills of Lisbon on the original tram tracks, I had the opportunity to explore parts of town that I hadn’t reached on foot. And as the driver got out to change the power source for the tram and dump sand on the tracks to create friction, I learned more about the operations of this traditional form of transportation. We drove past the beautiful Sé de Lisboa, Lisbon Cathedral, and continued through the neighborhoods of Graça and Lapa, a worker district with a long industrial heritage and an upmarket district with palaces and embassies, respectively. In the afternoon, I headed further out from the city to some of Lisbon’s green spaces, namely Jardim da Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian and Parque Eduardo VII. Surrounded by nature and wildlife, I enjoyed some time to relax and reflect on my time in Lisbon before I boarded the overnight train to Madrid later in the evening.
A special thank you to Visit Lisboa for hosting me in Portugal’s capital. As always, all opinions are my own.