Lisbon is Portugal’s capital and largest city, located along the coast and characterized by its hilly landscape. It also holds the distinction of being the second oldest capital city of Europe, next only to Athens. Its earliest recorded settlers were the Romans, and then Germanic tribes around 5th century B.C., followed by Arab conquerors in the 8th century, until the arrival of Portuguese crusaders in 1147. All these cultural influences can still be seen dotting the city, such as Islamic architecture and designs in Alfama District in the city’s old quarters, or the Monument of Discoveries in Belem, which honors the Age of Discovery of Portuguese explorers and conquerors. The city, with its ancient culture and traditions, as well as its beautiful attractions including its famous beaches, is a great place for all kinds of tourists, from the budget to mid-range, and luxury travelers. And when viewed from a high point on one of its hills, such as the Castelo de Sao Jorge, Lisbon exudes a romantic and nostalgic feel that is quite unforgettable, thanks to its passionate and emotional history.
1. Unique Form of Artistic ExpressionIt is a common joke among locals and tourists that there are two ways of sightseeing in Lisbon — one is to look up to admire its architectural marvels and the other is to look down to view its azulejos, or tiles. The Portuguese’s one-of-a-kind tiles are truly an ancient art form that was influenced by Moorish tiles of yesteryears. Whether it decorates the facades of old houses and buildings, or the interiors of churches and train stations, these beautiful, intricately designed tiles are a sight to behold. Tourists strolling around the streets of Alfama, Mouraria and Chiado do so with their heads down as many old tiles still decorate the roads. Contemporary-designed tiles, meanwhile, are found in the areas of Aguas Livres Aqueduct and Avenida Infante Santo.
2. Enchanting Transportation OptionOne of the must-try experiences in Lisbon is to hop on its popular trams that go up a steep slope while passing by charming old houses and looking back at a dramatic view of the Tagus River below. Called the Elevador de Bica, this famous Lisbon tram trip is every photographer’s and Instagrammer’s wet dream and the cheery yellow Tram No. 28 is, in fact, the ‘most photographed funicular’ in Lisbon. The trams, declared a national monument since 2002, has been operating since early 1900s and is one of Lisbon’s most popular attractions. The trip connects the city’s Largo de Calhariz and Rua de Sao Paolo.
3. Top Culinary DestinationMention Portugal and the first things that come to mind are the Bacalhau, Portuguese egg tart, and port wine. Bacalhau a bras is the fish dish of choice for many locals, consisting of codfish cooked with egg, potato, onion, olives, and herbs and spices. The creamy and yolky egg tart is well-loved the world over while Port, a fortified wine, gives off a mean punch that has satisfied many Port wine lovers worldwide. But there is more to Portuguese cuisine than these three. Other must-try dishes in Lisbon are Polvo a Lagareiro, or grilled octopus in garlic and olive oil, the famous Chicken Piri-Piri, or grilled chicken in spicy sauce, and the simple but tastebuds-titillating Sardinhas, or grilled sardines usually eaten with bread.
Lisbon Tourist Spots
1. Calcada Portuguesa: Lisbon’s Most Unique Tourist AttractionIt is one of Lisbon’s oldest hallmarks and even now it draws crowds of tourists admiring Calcada Portuguesa’s distinctively beautiful floor patterns made from glossy, colorful tiles. The tile-paved streets, one of the city’s most popular landmarks, is set in various designs from figurative to geometric, the more familiar being the billowing patterns along Avenida de Liberdade, or the symmetrical mosaics found in Chiado. The tiled pavements came into being in Lisbon in mid-1800s and until now, most of Lisbon’s streets and passageways are still covered in these attractive tiles. To get more in-depth knowledge about the history of this type of design, visitors can go to the National Azulejo Museum and view the decorative tiles’ 5-century history and other collections.
2. Chiado: Shopping Area with So Much HistoryChiado today is a combination of old and contemporary shopping establishments, which is also dotted with restaurants and cafes. This is a good place to buy clothing and souvenirs, books and even local handicrafts and pottery, or people watch while having a cuppa. But more than just a shopping area, Chiado is also where one can visit old buildings, theaters, and museums, including the 18th century Estrela Basilica constructed on a hill and whose huge dome can be seen from afar. Chiado is also home to Estrela Park, a favorite family hangout, where children can have fun at the playground and duck pond, and adults can marvel at sculptures, or watch films and cultural performances, even music concerts.
3. Museum of Fado: Soulful Expression Through MusicEven the saddest songs can be very beautiful, not to mention powerful. This is what Lisbon’s fado music is about. Nostalgic, mournful, and filled with longing, a fado singer croons to the accompaniment of a classical guitar and the result is a pure expression of the soul. The Museum of Fado traces the history of this musical genre, believe to have originated in the country in the 1820s, although there is a general belief that it has a much older beginnings. Named by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage, fado’s rich legacy can be seen in the museum’s permanent exhibits and temporary performances. It also documents the careers of numerous fado artists, as well as writers and composers who have been inspired by this musical genre. To get an authentic fado experience, visitors can wander down neighborhood pubs in the evenings to hear some melancholic fado singing.