LISBON - One of our Favorite Cities - trip report
Checks all the Boxes. Lisbon has a wonderful feel, with its gracefully aging look and multitude of charms. It really checks off almost all the boxes - rich history, beautiful geography and architecture, easy walk-ability, congeniality, great cuisine, enchanting music, art, beaches, and more. Here is a little photo tour to give you a feel for this lovely city. After the tour, we give you some ideas of where to stay and some suggestions.
The City of "The Discoverers." Lisbon was the center of world exploration in the Age of Discovery. It is the Portuguese capital that in the 15th and 16th centuries - the Age of Discovery - launched a host of World Discoverers who boldly explored new oceans and continents.
Lisbon has a physically beautiful setting with hills and vistas,
and treesy plazas
Lisbon has so much history, reflected in its mix of Moorish, Gothic, Baroque and other architectural styles spanning centuries,
and reflected in its monuments.
Lisbon has plenty of performance arts and music everywhere (including the wonderful and unique Fado music),
and a multitude of charming restaurants with wonderful food.
In addition there is great shopping in the many boutiques, and in beautiful nearby beach towns, including Cascais (right).
A very walkable city. Lisbon has great “walkability.” The sights shown here can easily all be visited on foot in less than a day. But beyond seeing “sights,” Lisbon is fun to walk because it is dense with interesting neighborhoods like the restaurant-lined Bairro Alto district, the Baixa district with its pedestrian mall and shops, the Moorish Alfama, with lanes as little as 3 feet wide, and the Principe Real with its great views.
And be sure to visit the nearby mountain town of Sintra, with its historic castle and palaces.
As well as Cascais with its great beaches, promenades, restaurants, and shopping.
Where to stay
We really loved staying at Memmo Principe Real on the Principe Real hill overlooking Lisbon with amazing views, in the heart of town, steps away from neighborhoods of Chiado, Bairro Alto, and Baixa. Another nearby neighborhood - the Baixa district - is also a great location, with Bairro Alto and Chiado neighborhoods close by.
A private tour.
As shown in the photo tour, there is plenty to see and do in and around Lisbon. We recommend starting your visit with a private tour from one of the many operators that offer tours in everything from Tuk-tuks, to class VW beetle convertibles, to vans. Having your own guide avoids waiting for others, allows direct interaction with the guide, and gives you the ability to tailor your tour to your liking and even change it as you go. This will give you the “lay of the land” so to speak so you can make better choices of where to visit and spend time during the rest of your stay. You can get a lot of the “must see” sights out of the way, so that you can take it easy and really get to know Lisbon the rest of your stay.
Walking Lisbon. If you enjoy exploring a town on foot - staying in Principe Real, Chiado, Baixa, or Bairro Alto neighborhoods is ideal because you can step out your door and walk almost everything of interest in Lisbon – and it is a short taxi ride to the rest. Of course, Lisbon is small enough that you can stay almost anywhere and get to this area fairly quickly in a taxi or on foot.
Getting to Cascais. There is a train to Cascais which leaves every 20 minutes and takes about 75 minutes. It is very cheap – about 7 or 8 Euros for two people. But we preferred to take a taxi because otherwise you have to get to the train station, wait for the train, ride the train, and then walk from the station to your destination in Cascais which altogether can take almost two hours. A taxi is about 40 minutes from your hotel door to the beach and costs about 30 Euros. So it costs more, but we felt saving over an hour was worth the extra cost because vacation time is precious. There are a number of beach towns between Lisbon and Cascais, at which the train stops, so you need not go to Cascais to go to the beach. But Cascais is by far the most interesting of the beach towns – with tons of restaurants and great shopping.
Fado music. Be sure to attend a Fado performance – it is offered in many restaurants and music venues in town. It is really remarkable and unique to Portugal.
Food and wine. Some restaurants we really liked: Decadente, Insolito, Ibo, and Pao A Mesa. Seafood in Lisbon is terrific, and the non-seafood items are delicious too – particularly lamb dishes. Wines are a real bargain and if you like dry white wines, as we do, it is hard to find a bad one. We are a bit picky on our wines but found we could just ask for a dry white wine and were never disappointed. Reds are very good too, of course, Portugal is famous for its port wines.
Bairro Alto. Bairro Alto at night is abuzz with music venues, outdoor (and indoor) restaurants, bar and clubs. It is a warren of small streets. Fun to walk around streets and find a spot that pulls you in.
Good times to visit. Shoulder season months of April & May, and September & October are always a very good time to visit Lisbon – the weather is very good and tourism is not at its summer peak.
Top sights. The top places to visit in town include: the Se Cathedral, the Jeronimos Monastery, St. George’s Castle, Monument to the Discoveries, the Belem Tower, Carmo Church, Museu Arqueológico. Santa Justa Elevator, Rua Augusta, The Triumphal Arch, and Praca do Commercio, Porto do Sol, Panteao Nacional and St. Vincent’s Church. But, for us, simply walking through the neighborhoods mentioned above - the Alfama, Bairros Altos, Principe Real, Chiado, and Baixa – were our “top sights” (and top sounds of music and aromas too).