Nestled amid rolling hills and along the Tagus River is Lisbon — the capital city of Portugal, and an ideal travel destination for anyone who enjoys history, art, Mediterranean cuisine, music, unique architecture, and a happy environment. Practically everything about the city is cheerful and bright, from the sunny skies to the friendly residents; and tourists quickly fall in love with their surroundings.
There is plenty to keep you busy, but the first thing to do when you wake up in Lisbon is head to a local café and enjoy coffee with a simple breakfast of bread and butter or a tosta (a toasted sandwich of your choice). Few cultures bake bread better than the Portuguese, and the butter will have you salivating for more. Also, for around $3 (or less) how can you go wrong?
Literature lovers may opt to enjoy their morning coffee at Café A Brasileira, which was commonly frequented by writers and artists, including the famous Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa in the early 1900s. This charming spot is one of the oldest and most famous cafés in Lisbon.
One of my favorite things to do in Lisbon is meander through the neighborhoods on foot. There is so much to see and walking gives you time to absorb the sites. Plus, walking allows you to see half of the city streets that are connected with stone steps leading up and down the seven hills.
Asking for the city center is a vague request, and a few neighborhoods are all considered central. Baixa-Chiado is one that attract droves of tourists for its shopping and proximity to other hotspots. There is also Avenida, known for designer stores and big name hotels, Bairro Alto, which is full of restaurant patrons by day and swarming with party animals at night, and the beautifully eclectic Cais de Sodré, famous for its Pink Street (Rua Cor-de-Rosa), colorful history, and sexually-charged burlesque shows and risque themed clubs.
Freckled across these neighborhoods are parks decorated with gardens, statues, and benches, and crowned with lookout points that allow visitors to see across the city. Some have views of the river while others look over the city and toward the Moorish castle of São Jorge. They are the perfect locations for picnics and picture-taking.
Though much of the city will make you feel like you’ve gone back in time, not everything is old and historic. When you need a modern setting, check out Parque das Naçoes, the site of the World Exposition 1998. Here you will find the aquarium, a theater, and plenty of restaurants, all settled along a boardwalk where people run, hang out, and walk their dogs along the river. This is also the location of Oriente train station, where trains connect travelers to other locations across the country.
From Parque das Naçoes, visitors have a close view of the Vasco da Gama bridge, the longest bridge in Europe. South of the city you will find two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Jerónimos Monastery and the Belém Tower. Both were built in the 16th century and are worth a visit for a glimpse of Portugal’s traditional gothic-themed architecture mixed with the renaissance flair.
While exploring, you will get hungry, and Lisbon has no shortage of delightful restaurants and cafés to satisfy most palates. Like its history, the Portuguese cuisine is rich in maritime influences. Squid, clams, cod, sardines, mussels, and snails are a few examples of seafood you can find in a Portuguese dish. Other popular dishes include a variety of soups, pork-based sausages, and surf-turf blends.
Do you want to sit outside with friends and hear music? Visit Martim Moniz! The expanse of green lawn is lined with food vendors that reflect cuisine from the mainland as well as Madeira Island and the Azores, and almost always serenaded with concerts reflecting various music styles.
When dining in Lisbon, there is usually never a need to pay more than $20 per plate, and budget savvy travelers can eat well at dinner time for under $10. And don’t miss dessert! The residents of Lisbon, known as Lisboetas (pronounced leesh-bow-et-ash), have a sweet tooth; a fact that won’t be missed when looking through the windows of the bakeries and sweet shops. Pasteis de Nata, small custard cakes with egg cream filling, are a must-try that melt on the tongue. You should also sample the variety of cakes, puddings, cookies, creams, fried dough, and truffles available at every street and corner.
Of course, there are times when we feel like escaping the hustle and bustle of city life, and the Lisbon district has the perfect getaway location. Hop on a train from Oriente Station and in under an hour later, you will find yourself in the enchanting, storybook town of Sintra, located in the mountains and with a view of the ocean. Surrounded by forest and dotted with castles, remnants that date back to the Bronze and Iron Ages, and lavish gardens, this location will make you feel like you’ve traveled to the world where kings and queens still rule and fairies grant wishes.