With its rattling yellow trams and colourful, cobbled streets, it’s not hard to see why Lisbon has become one of Europe’s prime tourism destinations. Perhaps it’s the sea air, the laidback vibe or the beautiful scenery, but there’s something about the Portuguese capital that simply gets under your skin.
Just traversing the city’s undulating streets and alleyways is enough to make you fall in love. But if you really want to make the most of your time in Lisbon, here are eight sights and experiences you should probably tick off during your first visit.
- Ride Tram 28
As previously mentioned, Lisbon is famous for its vintage trams. So, it would be foolish not to ride one during your visit. The famous Tram 28 ambles its way through town, past many of the Lisbon’s major attractions. However, since it boasts the best route for sightseeing, it’s also the one of the busiest line there is. So, if your hoping for a seat, jump on at the tram’s starting point in Square Martim Moniz.
2. Take in the View at Sao St Jorge
Given the mountainous nature of the city’s terrain, Lisbon has many viewpoints (or miradouros, as the locals call them). We visited a few during our time in the city, but found that the vistas from Sao Jorge Castle were undoubtedly the best. From here, you can drink in the whole of Lisbon – from Alfama to Barrio Alto – and the stunning Ponte 25 de April beyond.
We went up at sunset, which I would thoroughly recommend. However, you will be facing the sun at this time. So, if you’d rather avoid backlit photographs an early morning hike might be the best course of action.
3. Get Lost in Alfama
Alfama is one of Lisbon’s oldest neighborhoods and the area screams rustic charm. The area consists of a maze of cobbled streets, white-washed houses and quaint plazas that climb the hill towards Sao Jorge Castle. Traditionally, Alfama was a working-class district. However, it’s now making a name for itself as the city’s bohemian quarter.
4. Feel the Fado
Before visiting Lisbon, Fado was right up there on my list of things to do. And gladly, the experience did not disappoint. After some research we opted to see a show at Tasca do Chino. The main thing that attracted us to this quaint little bar was the fact you don’t have to eat to watch the singers. TripAdvisor reviews also marked it out as the most authentic.
I’m so glad that we went with Tasca do Chino because the experience is unlike any other. When the show starts at around 9pm, the bar is packed with a mix of diners and drinkers. Before the first singer performs, staff close all the shutters on the windows, close the door and dim the lights. Only then does the show begin.
Fado is Portugal’s national folk music and often embodies the feeling of “Saudade”. The Portuguese word doesn’t translate easily into English, but it means to long for something that can never return. As such, songs are mournful, melancholic, and bound to get the emotions stirring.
Top tip: Queue early for standing space or wait until diners filter out around 11ish to grab a seat. The shows are on until late, and chances are once you’re in you won’t want to leave.
5. Party the Night Away in Barrio Alto
By day Barrio Alto charms with its narrow, cobbled treats and colourful houses. But by night it transforms into the beating heart of Lisbon’s drinking scene. Each street is lined with dozens of bars, each offering their own atmosphere. However, the real party is out on the streets, where throngs of people lounge on curb sides and socialise with strangers until dawn.
6. Admire the Praça do Comércio
Praça do Comércio is Lisbon’s most important and impressive squares. Located on the banks of the Tagus estuary, the plaza is were traders from across the globe would arrive in Lisbon to sell their wares. Today however, the Praça is simply a nice place to visit and admire the architecture, before ducking beneath the iconic yellow archway into the city.
7. Take a Shot of Ginjinha
A trip to Lisbon wouldn’t be complete without sampling this famous cherry liquor, which apparently cures all manner of ailments. Indecisive drinkers may be happy to learn that the beverage is served just two ways – with a cherry or without. Tradition dictates shots should be swigged at breakfast time, preferably somewhere outdoors where you can spit your cherry stone straight out onto the street.
The city’s most famous Ginjinha joint is handily called A Ginjinha bar, where we stopped multiple times during our visit.
8. Stumble Down Pink Street
Pink Street is Lisbon’s other drinking spot. Located down by the river, it’s in easy reach of the city’s clubbing district. Therefore, the area makes the ideal spot for pre-drinks or a more sedate night out. Over the time we were in Lisbon, Pink Street became one of my favourite places to catch a drink, before heading off for the livelier scene in Barrio Alto.
As always, there’s so much more of Lisbon to uncover. These are my top eight attractions, but if you feel differently, please add your favourite spots in the comments below.