The best 5 things to do in Lisbon
What you (surely) don’t want to miss on your trip to Lisbon.
Lisbon. The White City, as called by the Swiss director Alain Tanner. Lisbon of the Discoveries, the Tagus river, the Tower and Jerónimos Monastery. The traditional Lisbon, Alfama, Fado and the bohemian Bairro Alto. The Picturesque Lisbon, with its typical neighbourhoods and narrow streets and alleys, from Sé to Cais do Sodré. The Elegant Lisbon of Chiado. The Contemporary Lisbon, from the diverse architecture to the lively cultural life.
Belém/History and a little treat
Belém is linked to Portugal’s Golden Age of Discoveries, as the site was where the famous navigators set sail to discover the world. It’s the area where you will find the most visited Lisbon attractions, like Jerónimos Monastery, the Torre de Belém Tower (both world heritage), the Monument to the Discoveries and The Coach Museum.
First stop should be the Jerónimos Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos), a Manueline masterpiece that will leave you inspired. Nearby is the Belém Tower (Torre de Belém), a symbol of Portugal’s maritime glory.
A stroll in Belém gardens and waterfront is mandatory. Open sky, the river breeze, the white hues of the buildings.
Don’t miss the chance to taste the divine traditional Pastéis de Belém (Custard tarts), just a short walk away. If it’s too full and noisy, which is expected as it is rather touristy, take them with you to the gardens and have your delicious treat outdoors.
The Belvederes (enjoying life)/Santa Catarina & S. Pedro de Alcântara
To visit these spots, the only way is up. For a quick ride up some of the city’s steepest hills, Lisbon operates three bee-yellow elevadores (funiculars/trams), which were originally water-powered, and a wonderful bit of 19th-century elegance.
One of the most charming rides is on the Elevador da Bica which creeps up to the Rua do Loreto through the Santa Catarina district. At the end of Rua Marechal Saldanha, is the Miradouro de Santa Catarina with a few popular outdoor cafés, offering exhilarating views across the river and the 25 de Abril Bridge.
The other belvedere not to be missed is S.Pedro de Alcântara. Built in the 19th century, this Lisbon “hotspot” was recently lovingly restored. Located right in at the top of the journey of the Gloria Elevator, nearby Bairro Alto, this viewpoint provides a spectacular perspective over the Lisboa’s Eastern side, like the appealing old quarters of Graça and São Vicente de Fora and the São Jorge Castle. The best views are at the end of the day when the lights of Lisbon are lit and the slope of the castle is illuminated lightened.
National Tile Museum/The Portuguese Art of Azulejo
The National Tile Museum, one of a kind in the entire world, is housed in the 16th-century Convent of Madre de Deus, a rather secluded venue but well worth a visit.
Over the centuries the Portuguese have developed a particular form of art consisting of paintings on ceramic tiles striking by the prominence of the blue hues used in rendering sundry scenes, the Azulejo. You can admire a unique collection consisting of some 1,300 tiles, from ancient to contemporary styles. The cherry on the cake lies on the third floor with a Great Lisbon Panorama wall panel, dating back to early 18th century, depicting Lisbon before the 1755 earthquake.
Chiado, Baixa, Rua Augusta Archwa, Terreiro do Paço & Stunning Views
Start your stroll in Chiado, one of the most elegant parts of the city, with centenary cafés and the best shops. In the beginning of the 20th century, the menus of the finest cafés were written in French, as it was intending to be “Lisbon’s little Paris”.
Walk down towards Santa Justa Elevator, connecting the higher part of Chiado and Carmo to the lower streets of Baixa (Downtown). The next stop, and the best place to admire the typical Pombaline architecture of the district, all revamped following the earthquake of 1755 by the famous Marquis de Pombal, would be the Rua Augusta Arch.
The Rua Augusta Arch was built to commemorate the city’s reconstruction after the 1755 earthquake. It has six columns (some 11 metres/36 foot high) and is adorned with statues of various historical figures. The allegorical group at the top, made by French sculptor Célestin Anatole Calmels, represents Glory rewarding Valor and Genius. From here you can admire stunning views to St. Jorge Castle, Downtown, Terreiro do Paço/Praça do Comércio and last but not the least the Tagus River. Then head to Cais do Sodré, once a fishing, trading and sailors location, that became in World War II a meeting place for double agents and spies and, more recently, a bohemian district. Catch the Cacilheiro (ferry boat) to Cacilhas, in Lisbon South Bank. On the journey, and once at the other bank, you’ll probably have the best views of Lisbon. Have a little stroll around the harbour and finish your tour with a beautiful dinner on one of their finest cafés & restaurants. If you book in advance, you can even have a fine dinner outside, by the riverfront, with one of the best views over Lisbon.
The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation is a Portuguese private institution of public utility whose statutory aims are in the fields of arts, charity, education and science. Created in 1969, the Foundation premises include a large auditorium with a wide selection of music concerts, from classical to contemporary, a space for temporary exhibitions, a congress area with auditoriums and other rooms, as well as the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, the Art Library and a Modern Art Centre, showing an unparalleled collection of modern Portuguese art. Don’t miss the chance to visit its beautiful gardens.
If you visit in the beginning of August you will be lucky to get “Jazz em Agosto”, a rather quirky jazz festival with worldwide musicians playing live on a beautiful outdoor amphitheatre.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
When I’m not giving tours, I’m a professional in the field of branding and communication who’s worked with Portuguese and international clients for over 15 years. I’m also a published fiction writer, my latest being a collection of short stories.
Over the years, many national and international friends or friends of friends have asked me about what to do, where to go or dine in Lisbon for a truly authentic experience. I discovered not only did they appreciate my tours and recommendations; I really enjoyed the experience of guiding people through the city, sharing my abiding love, knowledge and appreciation for a place so rich in culture and history.
Whether it’s sight seeing, walking tours, a guide to historical sites, hidden gems – something Lisbon specializes in, to unique and memorable dining experiences, or a desire to attend cultural events, from an insider’s perspective, Lisbon with Pats will enable you to experience the best of what Lisbon has to offer, tailored to your interests and preferences.