Lisbon (Lisboa to the locals) is the capital city of Portugal, located in the south of the country. People like to say that Lisbon is the San Francisco of Europe, what with the steep hills, trams and a large suspension bridge crossing the Tagus River. But Lisbon is rich with history, castles and fortresses are scattered around the city, reminding us of the power of the past Portuguese empire. So I think its more pertinent to say that San Francisco is perhaps the Lisbon of the USA! Lisbon is a great city, and incredibly cheap compared to other cities popular on the backpacker itinerary.
In the city
I tried to cram as many of Lisbon’s sights and activities into three days (more like 2.5 days), and it still wasn’t enough. In the bairro of Alfama, you can feel the Moorish influence on the city. The winding streets and alleys hide fado bars and lead up to the Castelo de Sao Jorge, an old castle that looks over the entire city, and obviously offering some sweet views of the city. Coming back down the sea level, if you are waking along the banks of the river, you will inevitably see the Padrao de Descrobmientos, a monument to the “discoveries”, as well as the beautifully named “25th of April” bridge – the one that looks like the Golden Gate. Cruising back into the city, or more specifically, the Belem district, this is where the heritage listed Monastery of Jeronimos and Torre de Belem, are both of which are a must see owing to the fairy tale-like intricacies of their architecture and design.
Around the city
Although I never had time to get there, Sintra is apparently an amazing day trip to be made from Lisbon, not to missed (I hear too late!). Brimming with castles, palaces and gardens, make the trip there if you can. It’s a forty minute train trip from Lisbon and will cost you around 5 Euro to get there and back – bargain!
Three things to know about Lisbon
- The food is super delicious and cheap too! Go to the Mercado de Ribeira, a food court for total foodies. I had Portuguese pumpkin rice with goats cheese and rocket + a drink for like 10 Euro. The second place is the famous Pasteis de Belem, home of the pastel de nada that we all associate Portugal with. This cafe is like older than my hometown. Get them sitting down, the place extends forever and you’ll skip the enormous takeaway line (seriously, it goes down the street)
- I stayed in the Lisbon Lounge Hostel and I can’t say enough how clean and comfortable it was. They also offer dinner and fado tours, so for like 15 Euro you get a three course dinner in the hostel and then taken out to a fado club to listen to this traditional music and drink port wine with some new friends.
- I spent so much time just looking at the buildings. Lisbon is home to some beautiful building facades and graffiti, it totally gives places like Berlin a run for its money.
I took the overnight train from San Sebastian in, with RENFE. Police officers boarded the train at 3am with drug dogs to sniff around and check passports. Lisbon also has an international airport with regular flights.
Got any advice for first time visitors to Lisbon? Let us know in the comments!