Celebrating our Anniversary in Lisbon was an easy choice! Our four-day trip was quickly filled as there are numerous options in the beautiful city of Lisbon.
Things to do in Lisbon
Ride Tram 28
This is an easy must-do for Lisbon. Ride through the winding streets of old Lisbon, going down some alleyways so narrow you’re sure the tram will scratch its sides! See the beauty of Alfama and other older quarters of Lisbon. Tram 28 is a great first-day option to get you going. If you stay in the apartment mentioned below, Tram 28 will pick up across the street at the Lisbon Cathedral.
Lisbon is one of those cities that makes you just want to walk around. And meandering the districts of Alfama & Graça are probably the best ways to get a taste of traditional Portugal. The small, short doors along the alleys, cafe’s, laundry and outdoor decoration everywhere, and narrow cobblestone streets give you a sense of the city before the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 that destroyed so much of Lisbon. Thankfully, the Alfama and Graça quarters were left largely untouched by the earthquake. Enjoy a cup of coffee, the traditional Fado music and the beautiful views of these districts. If you’re comfortable walking, it’s pure fun to explore. Another option is to get on and off Tram 28 for less walking.
Tour Lisbon Cathedral
The Cathedral was built in 1150 by Portugal’s first King. As you would expect, this is the oldest cathedral in Lisbon and is Roman Catholic. Standing inside will make you feel very small! Our AirBnB apartment was right across the street from this Cathedral and a city bus stop, in Alfama and a short walk from the Lisbon downtown, making it extremely convenient for touring Lisbon so I’m recommending it here.
Explore the Castle of St. George
If you’re not into walking the climb, Tram 28 is also a great way up to the Castle of St. George. Castelo de São Jorge towers over the city of Lisbon. Besides enjoying the castle itself, you get some great views of the city and shore. We also enjoyed the dozen or so wild peacocks hanging out around the outdoor cafe!
Tour Jerónimos Monastery
The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos was essentially built across the entire 16th century and was an operating monastery until 1833. It’s massive, amazing and very accessible. The Monastery hosts a tremendous exhibition focused on the history of the monastery, but its design really provides a great overall history, covering what was happening in Portugal and the world during the 500 years of the monasteries existence. Jerónimos Monastery is a good morning activity, as the lines get very long and online tickets are not available. We took the city bus from our apartment and most of the bus got off at the monastery.
Taste Tradition at Pasteis de Belem
After you tour the monastery, don’t miss the Pasteis de Belem just down the street! (As you face the monastery, Pasteis de Belem is to your right, on the same side of the street.) These pastries are a traditional must-eat while in Lisbon and you will find them all over town. Pasteis de Belem is the originator and the pastries have an historical tie to the monastery. There will probably be a long line down the sidewalk in front of the cafe. That’s for the people who want to grab the pastries and eat them on the go. We went inside to dine and didn’t regret it. If nothing else, it was amazing just to see how huge the seating area was – it kept going from one room to another. Yum!
Shop with the Locals at Feira da Ladra
There are several flee markets in Lisbon but the Feira da Ladra (ironically, “Thief’s Fair”) in Alfama is considered one of the better ones. We were pretty fascinated with what we found there on the day we visited – numerous phonographs, old accordions, vintage clothing, antique lace, paintings, pottery and, of course, lots of Portuguese tiles. There was also another large market in the district of Belém, in front of the monastery, but that seemed more touristy. This one was full of locals. We had fun perusing. If you want to buy, don’t forget you’re expected to haggle!
Explore Europe’s Largest Aquarium
The most visited location in Portugal, Oceanario de Lisboa boasts a huge array of sea life and is one of only a few aquariums in the world with sun fish. We loved the way the aquarium was layed out, making it difficult to miss anything. The massive aquarium in the middle (the “Global Ocean”) gave children and adults alike numerous opportunities to relax or interact with the sea life on the other side of the glass. A wonderful experience and highly recommended. All the info you need to buy your tickets online and find your bus route is right here.
Eat, Drink and be Merry
Eating was a complete delight for us in Lisbon. Truly, there are so many wonderful options in romantic nooks, along the classic alleys of stairs that I would hate to think of anyone wandering around looking for a specific, recommended restaurant. While meandering through Baixa (downtown), Graça or Alfama it is far more fun to just pull into a cafe that strikes your fancy. Just remember that Portuguese restaurants and cafe’s will automatically place appetizers, or “entradas”, on your table. This is usually bread, pâté , cheese, olives, etc. You will pay per item what you eat. It usually doesn’t cost much, but just be aware. Even though I’m not much of a seafood person, I think I had seafood at every meal. We tried octopus soup twice, had “hot chocolate” eaten with a spoon, tried “green” wine and brought home some Port wine and cans of sardines. I’m a fan!
Take a Day Trip from Lisbon – Sintra
For a ridiculously inexpensive price, we took a train ride to Sintra to tour the castles and palaces there. For one price, purchased at the Lisbon Rossio train station in the center of town, you can get the 30-minute train to and from Sintra and the city tour buses at Sintra. Sintra has an unusual setup geared specifically for touring the surrounding castles and palaces. A short walk outside the train station, Sintra offers two one-way loop tours of various palaces and castles. They have a nice layout that shows your options per loop. We took Bus 434. Once you’re on the loop, you’ll know why the buses only go one way! One word of caution: you will likely wait outside a castle for a while for the next bus so this won’t be the most efficient day, but the variety of castles, ruins and palaces available from Sintra makes it a wonderful day trip.
– Palácio da Pena
I’ve been touring castles for a few years and Palácio da Pena, though young, is my favorite. An artsy use of vivid colors and stone carvings, it’s a delight to see both from afar (from the Moors Castle ruins) and close up.
– Castelo dos Mouros
Moors Castle ruins are from the 9th century when the Moors built it to protect the city of Sintra. My imagination ran wild while there. The walls go on and on. From here, you also have a wonderful view of Sintra and some of the area palaces.
What we didn’t Do
This post would be incomplete without mentioning two options we didn’t use: Lisbon’s Hop-on-Hop-off and the Lisboa Card. Both offer great opportunities to see the city and save some money along the way.I enjoyed Lisbon’s warmth and energy so much, I don’t think you could go wrong, no matter how you decide to see the city.
Transport to and from Lisbon Airport
Transportation in and around Lisbon is inexpensive. You have several options to get into town from the Lisbon airport. We used the simplest, most straight-forward: the Aerobus express from airport to key areas downtown. Our host told us which bus stop to use and we walked from there.The city bus is also an option (Carris). Another great option is to take the Metro Red Line into Lisbon. If you are arriving early, you may want to just buy a day pass, which covers all forms of city transport – metro, tram, bus and train. If you prefer to use taxis, you’ll be happy to know the airport is only about 6 miles outside of Lisbon’s city center.
Enjoy your visit in Lisbon!