I love Lisbon. I fell in love with the gorgeous Portuguese capital more than four years ago and this love has been growing stronger ever since. The five months I lived there in 2011/2012 have been filled with enduring sunshine, wonderful people and abundance of indescribable beauty. I dream of moving back every day!
Although Lisbon is the capital and largest city of Portugal, it is still pretty small compared to the other Western European capitals. To be honest, if you wanted to see all major sights, you could do that in less than two days: You would go see the Castelo, take a tour with the Eléctrico 28 and be awe-struck at the monastery of Belém. I did all that several times and I would recommend you to seize these guide book suggestions as well — but this is totally not everything that Lisbon is about!
For me, Lisbon’s incomparable atmosphere is best grasped by the five following tips — even if you don’t have months to explore my favorite city, I’m convinced you can have the most fulfilling, inspiring time by sticking to them.
1. Treat yourself
The Portuguese have an undeniable sweet tooth. Their pastries are so manifold that it takes weeks to try them all. In the fall and before Christmas they stretch out their scope of sweets even further. When in Lisbon (or anywhere else in Portugal) try as many pastries as possible – you won’t regret it!
My favorites were, of course, the famous pastéis de nata (custard tart) and tarte de maçã (little apple tart) and, in the Christmas season, sonhos.
If you fancy something more hearty in between sightseeing, sit down at any (!) little café and ask for the daily soup. The Portuguese love soup — even in the heat of summer. Soups are always delicious, often vegetarian and never cost more than 1,50 €. They are great traditional Portuguese cuisine (for example caldo verde, green soup) and they are so affordable! What more to ask for!
2. Go to the beach
A huge deal to Lisbon’s overwhelming charm is the Atantic Ocean being so close. I loved weaking up from the sound of seagulls in the morning, although I lived in the city center… Lisbon’s and thus Portugal’s history are so closely connected to the water that it is unthinkable to not be constantly aware of it — even the street lamps have little ships in their decor!
Water is an omnipresent factor in the Portuguese identity — so go and experience it! No matter what time of the year it is!
If you have a little more time on your hand, take one of the trains from Cais do Sodré station to Cascais, which leave every 15 minutes. Within a few minutes you will reach the ocean – the train ride alone is a highlight.
Get off the train in Estoril for a pretty broadwalk and to have coffee with a stunning view; get off in Carcavelos to see the favorite beach of the Lisbon people and to check out hot surfers; go all the way to Cascais to explore the little dazzling beach town. Taking these trips is quick, cheap, and absolutely worth it!
3. Go out
It’s not a secret anymore, but Lisbon has a wild party scene… you can dance at fancy clubs with a view of the illuminated Ponte de 25 Abril until sunrise. I had the time of my life going out in Lisbon!
All of those crazy party nights start out in Bairro Alto. This 18th century neighborhood is almost deserted during the day, but turns into a huge party area at night. Pretty much every house has a bar or a club in their basement. People buy drinks in the uncountable tiny bars and stand outside all night.
From stylish restaurants, live Jazz or karaoke bars, to student clubs with shots in glasses made out of ice, or giant Caipirinhas — there really is nothing you couldn’t find in Bairro Alto!
You can go there on every day of the week, but the best day is Thursday, because that’s the time the Portuguese enjoy their early weekend (most students leave for the weekend on Fridays), but there are not as many tourists as on the actual weekends.
Go to Bairro Alto, have blast, see where your unforgettable Lisbon party night leads you!
4. Take a break
The Portuguese like it slow. They’re almost never in a hurry, they take their time to seize every little good thing about their lives. So, please, don’t be a hectic tourist around them.
If the lady on the register in the supermarket asks her costumer for a recipe for the item she just bought, chill. They might be talking for a while. Portuguese mentality is a lot about taking it slow, being relaxed and enjoying what you got.
Do yourself a favor and discover the relaxed Portuguese in you! Maybe you can’t see every museum in town in three days, but that’s not the point:
Take it slow. Find yourself a little pastelaria on a pretty street. Sit in the sun. Order a coffee. Watch the people. Enjoy life. You won’t manage everything in time anyways. So, why hurry?
5. Get lost
Getting lost is the best way to get to know a city — and Lisbon is the most perfect city to get lost in. All the little streets, the moms drying their laundry in front of their kitchen windows, the old men peeling oranges and watching people pass by… Just wander aimlessly and keep your eyes open. That is the one and only way to truly see and experience Lisbon!
Best neighborhoods to get lost in are, of course, the medieval Alfama as well as Bica, Lapa, and lovely Principe Real.
Just stroll and see how Lisbon’s beauty finds you. Combine this with #1 and #4 and you will have had the best, most authentic experience in Lisbon.
I love Lisbon. Lisbon loves me. And it will love you too!