The amount of people passing through Lisbon and decides to stay there, or goes back never to leave again, is impressive. Erasmus students, who arrived for an internship or a volunteer program and never to return home anymore, travelers who simply decide to miss the next plane and to take root there.
It’s enough to walk through Lisbon to meet them at every corner. I am part of the group. A week’s holiday was all it needed to make me decide that I would have moved into the Portuguese capital, sooner or later.
Three months of work have become almost a year and a half of life in the city of light (yes, the real city of light is not Paris, not even New York).
Where does the charm of Lisbon come from? It is not a small pearl like Porto, not a great European capital such as Berlin or Rome. Perhaps it is precisely from being so many cities at the same time, the incredible mixture that it represents and that makes it unique yet still reminding you of so many other places.
In Lisbon it is impossible to get bored, you cannot say ‘today I have nothing to do”
Even if you let yourself be overwhelmed by the Portuguese phlegm and the heat seems to dissolve all your remaining energy, in Lisbon there is always something to do.
New in town and you do not know how to find your way in the maze of alleys that suddenly make way for wide avenues ?
Trying to escape from the crowded local area to take refuge in a Tasquinha fado but the crowd seems endless ? Do not worry, you only need to build your Lisbon map and once done … well , I would say that the city will have no more mysteries for you, but it would be an outright lie as you can never really know Lisbon.
Getting around Lisbon
The Lisbon public transport are nothing short of exceptional. Of course, I hope you do not have the first impact with the Carris, public transport company, in one of the now frequent days of strike. Pickets aside, the metro takes you comfortably from any bus, railway station or airport you arrive in to the door of your hostel/hotel/apartment.
Where to stay in Lisbon
Keep in mind that hostels in Lisbon are like small realms : forget crumbling palaces and cardboard sheets, if the city continues to win tons of awards for the quality of lodgings, there must be a reason . The only thing to watch out for is the area where you decide to stay , if you ‘re a light sleeper I would avoid the Bairro Alto – more than apt choice instead if you are party– revelers.
If traveling in a group or with children , consider renting an apartment, I always book on Airbnb finding the best deals (if you are not a member yet, click here and I will give you €25 for free to use on your first booking). They are for all tastes, at more than affordable prices and usually in very central areas.
Hotels and B&B in Lisbon
What to do in Lisbon
Welcome to the city where you can do everything for free, or in any case at with small budgets!
Do you want to get to know the city from the point of view of an indigenous (or lisboeta acquired)? Join a free walking tour!
It’s a walking tour of the city, lasting about two hours, the thing that makes them accessible to all is the fact that you decide how much the tour is worth: the tour is free and once finished you can evaluate if and how much tip to leave, according to the competence and friendliness of the guide, the quality of the tour, to your budget.
There are a few companies, Lisbon based, that organize free tours every day with different itineraries.
To visit the whole center of Lisbon in a single morning, would be really too tiring (hills, stairs, climbs, descents, other hills, stairs, ascents and descents) so every other day they will make you explore the oldest neighborhoods in the city or the central areas rebuilt after the great earthquake of 1755.
Old Lisbon Tour
Departure from the Rossio square , after reaching the top of the hill of St. George Castle, the tour will take you through the maze of alleys that characterize the oldest bairro of the capital, built during the Moor domain.
Being, together with the Mouraria, the only district to have survived the earthquake and tsunami fury, it still retains the typical structure made of Arabic alleys that seem to be all the same and squares (in old Potrtuguese “Achadas”) where you can rest under the shade of orange trees .
Not to be missed a stop at the imposing Catedral da Sé and the Casa dos bicos, now the headquarters of the foundation dedicated to José Saramago , to finish then in Praça do Comercio, the largest city square on the river shore .
Baixa Pombalina and Bairro Alto tour
Six minutes of earthquake , twenty years of reconstruction and here is the result : the modern part of the center of Lisbon , Baixa Pombalina named in honor of its builder Marquis of Pombal.
Completely different from Alfama in style, architecture, atmosphere . The mazes are substituted by parallel and perpendicular streets.
The old tasquinhas by great cafes and shops.
The quiet wave of tourists and Lisboetas that pour through the streets of the Bairro Alto, especially at night ( remember, the higher you go up the hill , the cheaper are the bars ).
Only visible sign of the ’55 tragedy is the Carmo Convent, majestic roofless church as a reminder that “every day can be a good day for another earthquake”.
Sevilla has its own Flamenco (sevillana), Argentina has the tango, Lisbon has the fado. Kind of musical born in the late ‘800 to express the drama of the life of Maria Severa and with her all the inhabitants of the most ill-reputed parts of the city. The fado is the melancholic music that will make you think about lost loves, faraway places, unforgettable moments that, alas, will never return again.
The intense voice of the fadiste is shrouded by the notes of the Portuguese guitar (looks like a big mandolin) and of the classical guitar, called viola. The absolute silence that the musicians demand can be violated only and only with leave of the fado singer, who, on rare occasions, invites the audience to clap or to join in the chorus.
Let yourself be enchanted by the emotions of the moment, perhaps sipping a good glass of wine, and do not be afraid if your mood at the end of the concert is indecipherable. After all, “the sadness of fado makes me happy, because it reminds me of you and of our love that is no more”.
Other things to do and see in Lisbon
The flea markets are your thing ? Tuesday and Saturday mornings do not miss the Feira da Ladra , so called because if you have had something stolen in Lisbon … well, you know where to find it ( and buy it back at a good price ) . Easily accessible on foot or by tram 12 , it occupies the entire Campo de Santa Clara , between the São Vicente da Fora church and Panteão Nacional.
Sunday morning, perfect for visiting museums thanks to free admission from 10.00 to 14.00.
Arm yourself with a good dose of patience and cunning if you plan to go to Belem (to arrive there, 15 tram from Praça da Figueira and Praça do Comercio ) : the queue at the entrance of Monasteiro dos Jeronimos is infinite but not everyone knows that in reality it is the queue to enter the chapel ; to visit the monastery you just need to enter into box-office and within minutes you will be in the heart of a jewel in Manueline style , nothing short of amazing . And above all , once you have obtained the much longed-for ticket you will not need to wait to visit the church.
Not to be missed the Torre de Belem too, a few minutes from the monastery, and the Pastelaria de Belem where you can taste the famous pasteis de nata, original recipe.
You will recognize the pastry shop from the blue curtains and the queue even longer than that to get into the monastery.
Here, too , no panic : no table service to be paid , so sit inside and admire the azulejos panels ( the Portuguese tiles ) and above all, lie in wait in front of the windows to see from where the magic of these sweets that create addiction originate . A tip : they are definitely the most delicious pasteis to eat at the moment, but if you are going to take them home I would opt for those of Casa Brasileira (in Rua Augusta , the first bar on the right coming from Rossio) , the pastry is kept crisper and it lasts at least 3 days.
If you decide to stay in the area, on Sunday afternoon, do not miss LX market, in Alcantara ( a couple of tram stops after the April 25 bridge ) . Flea market animated by bars, concert , one of the finest libraries in the world, food tasting and so on.
And these are just the regular appointments . Take a look at the cultural agenda of the Tourist Office ( www.visitlisboa.com ) and you will be updated on shows, concerts, festivals, workshops and all kinds of conceivable events, especially during the summer months . And most of the time completely free of charge.
Where to eat in Lisbon
Indulge in all the sins of gluttony you want during your stay , and do it without any sense of guilt. The seven hills will relieve your conscience ( and to firm up your buttocks ).
We Italians do not make the time to cross the boundary that we are already in desperate crisis of coffee abstinence, and as good as in Italy nobody knows how to prepare, but the Portuguese espresso is definitely one of the best (obviously after that of our own ) only that in Lisbon it is called Bica . You can accompany it with an aforementioned pastel de nata , a bolo de arroz (rice cake ) or a pão de Deus (sweet bread covered with coconut cream , perfect those of Padaria Portuguesa.
As for the restaurants , the best for quality / price ratio are certainly the tasquinhas of Mouraria, Spartan in aspect but that will guarantee excellent dishes, in short, like dining at the home of a Portuguese Aunt. They are in hidden alleyways, a meeting place for local residents and almost always unknown to tourists and Lisboetas.
Absolutely not to be missed O Trigueirinho, in Largo do Trigueiro (at the beginning of the Mouraria district) , that offers the best grilled bream of the city.
A few steps away, O cantinho do Aziz: exceptional Mozambican restaurant, it is the best example of Portuguese influence in Africa (of course I am not speaking of colonial politics butof the use of spices and coconut milk ).
If you would rather stay in the Baixa area, Licorista and O Bacalhoeiro ( in Rua dos Sapateiros, immediately after the Arco da Bandeira Praça Rossio) are an excellent choice to spend your lunch break .
I travel independently taking mainly public transport. A world trip began in 2011 is not yet finished, my mission is to explore the world and write about it. Travel consultant Galapagos, Argentina, Morocco, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Namibia.