The city of seven hills, as it’s often referred to, Lisbon is a city with postcard perfect panoramas and bright facades juxtaposed against centuries old monuments. It’s a city that has constantly reinvented itself – against foreign invaders, earthquakes and now via a hipster-chic revival. I fell in love with the vibrance of the city, the kindness of the Portuguese people, and with pasteis de nata & ginja (Portuguese custard tarts with caramelized sugar topping, and Portuguese liquor). It’s a terrific destination all year round, a makes for a good central location to take in nearby coastal towns or to even visit my favorite spot in all of Portugal, Sintra.
7 incredible sights in Lisbon to check out
In this oldest part of Lisbon, you get to meander through a maze of narrow alleys, cobbled streets and steep flights. Our host explained, Alfama’s streets were designed this way to confound any foreign invaders, deter them from making way to the city interior. Alfama used to be home to the country’s fishermen & sailors, much of old ways are preserved in the Fado songs, humble homes, with clothes hanging by clothesline between narrow alleys. Getting lost in this winding labyrinth is a sheer joy. We stayed in this part of town, and it was one of my favorite things, to get lost in the alleys and suddenly stumble on a miradouro, a panoramic view of Lisbon, tucked behind those cobblestone streets. A reminder that the most beautiful and incredible things in life, are sometimes the things you don’t plan for, you chance upon them.
Top Alfama Sights:
Miradouro Portas De Sol
History of Lisbon cartoon wall (by Portas De Sol)
Sao Jorge Castle
Panoramic city view from Sao Jorge Castle
Chiado & Barrio Alto Districts
Chiado is a popular & bustling shopping area, it also has a lot of interesting shops; Barrio Alto (“high town”) is known for its bars & nightlife, and these two districts are conveniently adjacent. I also recommend riding the Santa Justa elevator from Chiado down to Baixa district; most tourists line up to ride the elevator up from Baixa to Chiado, and the lines are incredulously long, for a 15 second elevator ride. I found it much more relaxing and scenic to take in the view from Carmo convent, walk to the nearby miradouro/viewpoint by the Santa Justa elevator and then ride it down.
Top Chiado & Barrio Alto Sights:
Miradouro/Viewpoint leading to the Santa Justa Elevator
São Pedro de Alcântara Miradouro/viewpoint
BA wine bar
Cafe a Brasileira
Bica or Gloria furniculars
Carmo Convent – Chiado/Barrio Alto District
I have to give this an extra call-out from above, because I found it to be one of the most dramatic sights in Lisbon. Carmo Convent is a magnificent roofless ruin, spectacular arches are all that remains of a once magnificent structure. Although closed for renovation on New Year’s Day when we went, this façade struck me as a reminder of how transient, fragile & temporary we all are, in the grand scheme of time. And that every ending does after all, mean a new beginning.
This is Lisbon’s downtown, and to be honest, I wasn’t as impressed with this part of town. It’s known for plazas & squares, ginja bars, and the above pictured Santa Justa elevator (which in my opinion is better accessed from Barrio Alto/Chiado at the top – see the tourists lining up at the base of the elevator? Yup. You don’t want to just wait around for 1 hour or more, on holiday, do you?). All the restaurants and coffee shops here are heavily marked up, because Baixa is tourist heavy. If you’re short on time, I recommend skipping this part of town, and spending more time in Alfama, Barrio Alto.
Top Baixa Sights:
Praca de comercio
Viewpoint from Rue Arcos
Once upon time, an abandoned, rickety industrial area slumbered under Lisbon’s 25 Ponte Abril bridge, until some hipsters chanced by it. Fast forward 10 years later, this space has reinvented itself as LX factory: a humble epicenter of urban street art, eclectic shops, coffee houses, restaurants, and nightlife. They’ve even got a cheesecake store (LXeese Cake), run by “Madame CheeseLova” – yes really! Take in fabulous views & cocktails on the 4th floor of Rio Marvilha (don’t miss the Caipirihna). The famed bookstore, Ler Devager is yet another example of the urban-chic-hipster vibe of the place.
Top Sights/Stores to visit:
Wish Coffee shop
Rio Marvilha for fabulous views & cocktails
Once Lisbon’s red light district, Pink Street has now become one of the coolest bar hopping & clubbing spots in Lisbon. It’s also experienced a resurgence in visits, thanks to Instagram tourism – about 4 blocks of the street are colored bright pink, earning Rua Nova de Carvalho the name, ‘Pink Street’. We ended up making a quick stop here to grab a bite and take some pictures.
Photo Credit: Alex Paganelli
Although I didn’t get to visit Belem this time around, due to lack of time, I was taken by the opportunity to see the below top sights. I was also salivating at the prospect of eating Pasteis de Belem, a 187 year old recipe for Pasteis de Nata, originating in this namesake cafe in Belem (I heard wait times are long, most folks take their Pasteis to go).
Pasteis de Belem
There is plenty of beauty, quirkiness & brightness to be found in Lisbon, no matter where you go – safe travels!