Lisbon travel guide

Lisbon travel guide for first time visitors

The first city to come in a person’s mind on hearing Portugal is it’s capital city Lisbon. This charismatic city comprises of seven picture perfect hills overlooking the lovely River Tejo coupled with colourful buildings, stunning murals, cobble stone roads and magnificent historic sights scattered across the length & breadth of Lisbon. Situated on the south of the country’s west coast, this largest city of Portugal is also home to plethora of cute cafes, buzzing nightlife, origination of Fado music any many more things that has helped in shaping the country for the stunningness that it is today. Read on the lisbon travel guide to enjoy the mesmerizing city on your future trip to Portugal

THINGS TO DO IN LISBON:

1) Belém

monument of discoveries belem

Belém is a historic district located on the Tagus River of Lisbon that is popular for its sea-faring past. This area of Lisbon is home to many historical monuments of Lisbon, such as the Belém Tower, the Jerónimos Monastery, the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, and Belém Palace. During the 16th century, Belem was a buzzing port filled with seafarers in the city. The life during that time revolved around this port and hence in today’s time plenty of places around this district commemorates the importance of Portugal’s sea-faring history.

The Belém Tower is the most photographed tower in the city. In the olden times Sea-farers considered this tower as a gateway to Lisbon. It is from here that the sailors and explorers would embark and disembark on their voyage. The Padrão dos Descobrimentos translates to ‘the monument of discoveries’ and was built in the olden times to signify the bravery of the navigators who crossed the perils of the sea and discovered new lands in the far east of the world.

The Jerónimos Monastery holds a special place in the heart of the Portuguese as one can find the stone tombs of the greatest sea-farer Vasco da Gama (1468–1523), and of the great poet and chronicler of the Age of Discoveries, Luís de Camões (1527–1580). There are several other important monuments in the area and each and every monument narrates its own glorious story. Missing out on Belem would mean missing out on a vital part of Lisbon’s history and culture for sure.

2) Sintra

Pena palace sintra

Sintra is not just a UNESCO World Heritage Site but also is a historic center of the Vila de Sintra and is famous for its 19th-century Roman architecture, historic properties, gardens, and royal palaces and castles. Not just that it is consistently ranked as one of the best places to stay in Portugal and in the Iberian Peninsula. The best way to reach Sintra is by the local trains starting from Rossio Square station to Sintra Station. It takes about 40 minutes of train journey with around 4-5 trains per hour running to and fro Sintra from the Rossio square. If you are using the daily train pass then the tickets would get cheaper with the help of Viva Viagem card to pay for the journey. Sintra has plenty of beautiful locations out of which the important landmarks are the Pena National Palace, Moor’s castle and the Portuguese Renaissance Sintra National Palace.

3) Explore the Fado Music

fado music

Fado music is a melancholic genre of music that originated in the 1820s in the city of Lisbon. However, it is said that Fado music had birthed long before 1820s in the Lisbon’s neighborhoods of Alfama, Barrio Alto and Mouraria. Some say that Fado originated due to Moorish influences, while the others say that they are the chanting of the sea farers however none of the theories are conclusive in nature.

Fado music mainly consists of a tragic stories of love, miseries of life, criticism of society and politicians etc. and usually refers to the Portuguese word ‘saudade’ meaning “longing”. In the olden times the Fado performers were common working-class people mainly the sailors, bohemians and courtesans who performed on the streets of their respective neighborhoods. Slowly this music became popular and started moving out of the streets to the cities and in today’s time Fado music has become popular internationally. If you are a music lover then you should visit the cafes, bars and pubs in the above-mentioned neighbourhoods to experience Fado music in its authentic form.

4) Pastel De Nata

pastel de nata

A traditional tart that consists mainly of custard made of cream, egg yolks, sugar, flour, and lemon zest, the Pastel De Nata is one of the highlights of things to do in Lisbon. There are plenty of shops that sell their own version of the tart with their own secret ingredients in addition to the above mentioned recipe and one can find several shops in Lisbon selling this traditional dish.

Before you head out to the best shops on your trip its important to know that Pastel De Nata was invented during the 18th century, by monks at the Jerónimos Monastery in Santa Maria de Belem. In the olden times, these monks had to frequently use the egg whites to starch nuns clothes which left the monks with a ton of leftover yolks. In order to reduce the wastage of the egg yolk, they began baking them into delicious, two-bite-sized custard tarts. Slowly this particular dish started to become popular and today the place of invention is known as Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém. It is located near to the Jeronimos monastery and claims to be the only place in Portugal serving up the original recipe. Interesting isn’t it?

5) Ride Tram 28

Tram 28

Tram 28 is a tiny yellow tram that takes you on a ride through the popular neighborhoods of Lisbon like the Alfama, Baixa Chiado, Graca and Estrela. This classic tram passes through he cobblestoned streets of Lisbon taking a person on an experience of a lifetime. This one hour train journey takes you through some of the historical sights in Lisbon. One can hop on the tram from Rua Conceição stop that is located at the southern side of the Baixa district, which is close to the pedestrianized street of Rua de Augusta and the Praça do Comércio. A single ticket purchased onboard the tram costs €3.00. One also has an option to purchase the 24-hour unlimited public transport ticket that costs €6.40 from the metro stations only, with which one can use metro services and all tram and bus services. Amazingly affordable, isn’t it?

6) St. George’s Castle

saint george castle

St. George’s castle or as the Portuguese call it ‘São Jorge Castle’ is an 11th century Moorish castle built on the hills of Lisbon that overlooking the river Tagus. The insides of this castle consists of some ruins, archaeological museum and the residence of the royals. The strategic location of this historical castle has played an important role in the history of Lisbon especially for the Lisbon’s indigenous Celtic and Iberian tribes as well as the Romans, the Visigoths and the Moors.

In 1147, Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques with the help of his crusaders conquered the St George’s Castle from the Moors as part of the Seige of Lisbon. Later on when Lisbon was named as the Capital, St. George’s castle served as the royal palace to the then rulers. The name of the castle originated from their patron Saint called as Saint George. King João I had dedicated this castle to the patron saint in the fourteenth century. Although, St George’s Castle was damaged by earthquakes in 1531 and 1755 and never properly rebuilt, it still serves as a tourist attraction in today’s times for its beautiful views, courtyard & battlement grounds, historical presentations and city exhibitions. The entrance costs around €10 per adult and is open in Summer (March to October) hours from 9 am to 9 pm and in Winter (November to February) from 9 am – 6 pm. 

7) Rossio Square

rossio square

Rossio square is the kind of place where historical monuments and modern architecture meets. Its one of the busiest and the liveliest square that is located in the heart of Lisbon where people relax for food & drinks at the several atmospheric cafés, bars and pubs. Rossio square is one of the places where the youngsters come to hang out with their friends and relax.

On each side of the square are two baroque fountains, and in the center is a tall structure measuring approx 30 meters in height. This structure of a pedestal with four marble allegories of Justice, Wisdom, Strength, and Moderation describes the qualities of Dom Pedro IV, whose statue stands on top of the monument. The black and white cobblestones in wave patterns is a popular design that was first built in the 19th century on the Rossio square. This design has become extremely popular worldwide and can also be found in the Portugal’s former colonies from Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) to Macao near China.

HOW TO REACH LISBON:

Lisbon’s location on the map of Portugal is such that one could easily reach this capital city from any part of the country. This city is connected to every other Portuguese city by all kinds of transportation and hence plenty of people visiting Portugal usually stay in the capital and then take up plenty of day trips to different cities and villages located nearby. Due to its easy connectivity, visitors find it convenient to make a base in Lisbon and then go around.

lisbon square

BY ROAD: 

You will find buses from everywhere in Portugal to come to Lisbon. The bus is the cheapest way to travel between cities however, it takes many halts and goes through many villages which is why it is a time-consuming journey. Apart from that one can also carpool with the other people doing the same two cities through this website called as BlaBla car. It is quite safe and the best way to have a road-trip along with some strangers, who probably could turn friends and help you discover new locations, and at the same time are going the same way. You could also drive down from different European cities quite easily. Lisbon has a overall good connectivity through road.

BY TRAIN: 

The cost-effective Metro network of Lisbon lets you to move around the city at ease and is also considered to be the fastest way to reach from one point of the city to another. Lisboa viva is the ideal personal card for frequent public transport users in Lisbon and it can be topped up with travel passes or money (pay as you go ‘zapping’ credit). Check out the details of different types of travel passes available online depending upon your requirement and travel plans in the city.

If you are coming to Lisbon from other cities anywhere in Europe then Trans-European high-speed rail network of Europe like the EU rail or ICE are well known modes of train transport options available to travel between European cities. This mode of transport lets you experience the beauty of picturesque natural surroundings. However it is a bit of an expensive mode of travel and slower as compared to air travel from other European cities.

BY AIR: 

Humberto Delgado Airport, also known as Lisbon Airport or Portela Airport, is an international airport located 7 km northeast from the city center of Lisbon. The airport is the main national as well as international gateway to Portugal. The Lisbon Airport has its own Metro (subway) station also called as ‘Aeroporto – Saldanha’ line that can directly take you to the city centre in about 20 minutes. It is the most convenient & efficient way to reach the city centre. Lisbon is a tourist hub which is why people from all over the world can easily reach this city by air.

BEST TIME TO VISIT AS PER THE CLIMATE:

sintra

Being one of the most popular destinations throughout Europe, the summer months (May – September) are too hot, usually crowded and comparatively expensive throughout Portugal. Visitors often head to beaches and nearby cities during these months hence it is best to avoid travelling during Summer unless you are okay with spending more money and you enjoy exploring with the crowd.

The best time of year to visit Lisbon would be during spring (i.e from February to April) or early autumn (September–October). It is during these times that the weather is not too hot, the sea is warm and the summer crowds have thinned out. The ideal temperatures during these months makes for perfect time for sightseeing in Lisbon and to even go around the beaches of Portugal.

The winters (November – January) are colder and often rainy yet offers a good amount of sunny days. It is not recommended to swim in the beaches during winters due to cold temperatures of the sea and rains. But winters is the cheapest time to visit Lisbon thus it still can be a good time to explore the cities and inland areas.

SOME FESTIVALS & EVENTS CELEBRATED IN LISBON:

Lisbon street art

Epiphany

The Epiphany festival celebrated every year on 6 of January marks the arrival of the Three Kings at the stable where Jesus was born. During the Epiphany festival, families, friends and loved ones gather together to have a traditional meal similar to the one on Christmas Eve, including the essential bolo rei (king cake). The Epiphany week starts from New Year’s day till the 6th of January where it is quite common to see groups of people in rural areas singing traditional New Year carols.

The Carnival

The Rio Carnival is a world-famous event that originated in Lisbon. It is one of the major events in Portugal, celebrated all over the country and the grandest one celebrated in Lisbon due to its origins here. It takes place at the end of the winter i.e. between February to March thus making it a great time to visit the city. The Rio Carnival happens on the streets and is full of fun, music, dance, costumes, beer, and traditional Portuguese food. Visitors flock to this Carnival from all over the world.

Peixe em Lisboa

Apart from celebrating Easter in April, Lisbon also celebrates the popular Peixe em Lisboa or the Gourmet Seafood Festival. This traditional yet popular festival is celebrated sometime between during the month of April every year. Besides there being a fantastic gourmet market filled with dozens of fish vendors selling fresh fish, seafood, and local products. There are wines and food workshops, cooking classes and demos held by top chefs from the country and abroad.

Out Jazz Festival

‘5 meses, 5 jardins, 22 domingos a fazer a festa da música, da alegria, da família, da amizade e da partilha’ is what Out Jazz Festival all about. It means ‘5 months, 5 gardens, 22 sundays of partying to the music, of happiness, of family, of friendship and sharing‘. Out Jazz festival is a free outdoor concerts that includes music of various types like soul, funk, hip-hop. This event is celebrated in Lisbon on weekends between the months of May to September. The otherwise quiet weekends of Lisbon turns quite lively during the summers with music and concerts happening all around the city. Every weekend there is something new to do and one can find several locals of all ages relaxing and chilling outdoors during this time.

San Antonio Festival

The San Antonio festival takes place every year usually on the 12th and 13th of June, although the locals start their celebrations a bit earlier from the main days. This festival is a celebration of Portugal’s patron saint namely Santo Antonio, to whom many miracles have been attributed. The whole city celebrates on the streets with free daytime parades and evening street parties. It clearly is a very popular celebration in Lisbon. Different neighborhoods of the city organizes collective dinners and celebrations. The areas of the Castle, Mouraria, Graça, Alfama, Ajuda and Bairro Alto gets comes to life with music and popular dances.

Festival de Sintra

Music is a vital part of the Portuguese culture. Every visitor exploring Lisbon comes across the history and the beauty of local and cultural music. This classical and opera music is one such important part of the Portuguese culture. Hence during the months of September to October people celebrate Festival de Sintra to have a best cultural experience of Lisbon through music.

Christmas

Lisbon is decorated with plenty of sparkly lights and decorations during the month of Christmas which continues upto the celebration of Epiphany. The traditional way to celebrate Christmas in Lisbon for families is to have a traditional meal that consists of cod, boiled potatoes and cabbage. Apart from that people do gather and party around with their friends and loved ones. Europe is popular for their Christmas markets and so is Lisbon. In the capital, Christmas market is located in Rossio square and Eduardo II park which offers the visitors the complete Christmas experience along with some great shopping options.

WHERE TO STAY IN LISBON?

stay in lisbon

As Lisbon is one of the largest cities of Portugal choosing a place of accommodation that is near to most of the sightseeing spots, different modes of transportation, restaurants etc. is of utmost importance as it helps to save plenty of time and cost as and when one travels. Best areas to search for an accommodation is Lisbon would be Baixa district, the Chiado district or near the Avenida da Liberdade. I stayed at Rossio hostel that was located centrally at Baixa/downtown. The hostel had several modern facilities and the best part was that the city’s major transportation systems were located right at the doorstep. This made Lisbon accessible and easy for me to explore.

WHAT TO SHOP?

shopping in lisbon

Lisbon is a city that has developed and accumulated great knowledge in the area of craftsmanship and the same is quite evident throughout the city. There are several things one can buy and take back home, some of them are:


(i) The centuries old Portuguese ceramic painted tiles are the most popular and unique souvenir to buy in the city.
(ii) Colourful handcrafted Roosters as Roosters being the national symbol of Portugal
(iii) Cork Handbags, Hats and Wallets etc. can be found in Lisbon as Portugal is one of the largest producers of cork in the world
(iv) Football jerseys as Portugal in general, is a place where people go mad over soccer
(v) Leather goods like gloves, jackets, shoes, belt etc. as the Portuguese have been making fine leather products for hundreds of years; and last but not the least is the
(vi) Portuguese olive oil as people claim that Portuguese olive oil is the world’s best olive oil and Portugal prides itself on being the world’s leader in olive oil production.

HOW MUCH DOES EVERYTHING COST & HOW TO BUDGET?

ACCOMMODATION

Lisbon is reasonably priced in terms of accommodation charges for a budget traveler. Hostels start from 15-30 euros per person whereas mid-ranged hotels will start from as low as 70 -100 euros for 2 persons. Hence, if travelling in groups it is convenient and reasonable to book hotels. Hostels are a safe bet for solo travelers on a budget. Also, there are plenty of luxury options for persons wishing to live a luxurious stay and lot’s of hotels are located right in the city center. The cost for luxurious hotels start anywhere from 200 – 250 euros per night.

FOOD

Food outside is mid-ranged. The cost in any restaurant for a complete meal can start anywhere from 10 – 20 euros. If cooking by yourself then this cost can be brought down to almost half. You will find supermarkets almost everywhere. That is definitely the best way to decrease the overall cost on the food. 

TRANSPORT

The best way to travel within Lisbon is to take the metro. Some places are easily walk-able while the rest of them will need you to go by metro. Lisbon is one of the biggest cities of Portugal and some sightseeing places like Sintra and Belem are far away from the city center. To reach such cities, trains are the easiest and the cost-effective. Also, this is the category where one can save a lot of money. All you need to travel by metro is the metro card filled with a certain number of trips. Paying individually for each trip is expensive which is why the metro card is useful for further reducing the cost per trip in comparison with the individual paying option!

ACTIVITIES

As per this Lisbon travel guide, there are plenty of things to do here some of which I have already mentioned above. Most of the places doesn’t require you to pay any entrance charges. The entire country is more about historical monuments, elegant boulevards and exploring beautiful neighborhoods some of which are free of cost. Therefore, you need to pay only to enter the museums, some historical monuments and also if you take any other extra tours. Hence, you could end up saving money on the activities as well.

Hope you liked this Lisbon travel guide for first time visitors. Do let me know your views in the comments below

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lisbon travel guide

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