We were headed to one of the oldest countries with a great history of discovery and explorations. Portugal is known for its traditional old quarters, beaches and delicious seafood. Lisbon is home to the famous personalities Vasco da Gama and Cristiano Ronaldo. Lisbon, the capital is a coastal city with steep snug streets with stairways and elevators connecting the hilly parts of the old districts.
We had booked our apartment in the old districts of Alfama which makes it easier to explore the historic city center of Lisbon. Due to narrow streets and limited public transport, the best way to see the old district of Alfama is on foot. Wandering through the narrow alleys winding through the pastel-colored choc-o-bloc of houses is a unique experience. We started our day early morning with a hike up to the Castelo de Sao Jorge.
Castelo de Sao Jorge
The Moorish castle sits on a hill overlooking the historic center and the old quarters of Alfama. To reach the castle one has to hike uphill for about 15 minutes.
The ramparts of the castle offer great views of the city and the Tagus River. The camera obscura located in the ‘Tower of Ulysses’ in the castle also offers wonderful panoramic views of the city.
There is a permanent exhibition housed in the former Royal Palace fo the Castelo de S. Jorge which offers information on the history of Lisbon.
One can easily descend down from the castle hill to the downtown Lisbon through a set of free elevators located on the seventh floor of a building in Rua da Vitória. The terrace of the restaurant is a viewpoint offering stunning views of the red roofs of the city. The elevator will take to the supermarket on the lower floor.
Lisbon Cathedral or Se Cathedral
Just a ten min walk from the elevator building through the maze of cobblestone streets will bring you to the oldest cathedral in Lisbon, the Se Cathedral. Alternatively, take a bus which will drop you at the cathedral. But we recommend you walk your way to the cathedral exploring the hidden gems and the old quarters of Alfama.
The Lisbon Cathedral with imposing twin bell towers looks more like a fortress. The fortress look is due to the fact that during the Reconquista period, the cathedral could be used as a base to attack the enemy. It has beautiful ornate interior and stained glass windows.
Before heading to our next stop, we stopped by a restaurant to taste the Lisbon special ‘Pasteis de Nata’ along with the dark espresso which is the best way to start your day in Lisbon. Pasteis de Nata are little custard-filled tarts originally from Portugal.
If you are looking for more foodie experiences in Lisbon read our post on ultimate foodies guide to Lisbon Portugal with Insider Tips
Few minutes walk from the Lisbon Cathedral is a restaurant/cafe called Portas do Sol restaurant. The terrace of the restaurant offers amazing views over the terracotta roofs, Alfama district, and the Tagus River. A wonderful place to enjoy the views of the city over a cup of coffee.
The Lisbon Cathedral falls on the route of the famed Tram 28. Due to the undulating routes and steep alleys, only the vintage trams can run on these tracks. Trams with their traditional charms operate as a Hop-on and hop-off service with a 24-hour ticket. It passes through some of the popular sights in Lisbon including the Castle, Alfama, and Bairro Alto.
A ride on the number 28 tram is a highlight of any trip to Lisbon, which is not to be missed. A poster of Bollywood favorite Priyanka for Quantico TV Series ad on one of the Lisbon trams came as a great surprise.
Our next stop after Lisbon Cathedral was the major landmark of Praca do Comercio or Terreiro do Paco is about 5 minutes walk. You can even take the Tram 28 and get down at Rua da Conceicao, from here Rua Augusta Arch and the Praca do Comercio is a couple of minutes walk. The street Rua Augusta Arch is lined with numerous shops, cafes, and restaurants with outdoor seating.
We wandered around to the banks of the Tagus River to an interesting old boat turned outdoor cafe overlooking the Tagus River. We enjoyed another cup of dark, rich espresso coffee with the views of the Tagus and the majestic square of Praca do Comercio.
Praca do Comercio
The square is also known as Terreiro do Paco is located on the banks of Tagus River. Terreiro do Paco translates to Palace Square in English referring to the Palace that was the main residence of the Kings of Portugal in Lisbon for around 250 years until it was destroyed by the 1755 earthquake.
At the center of the grand square is an equestrian statue of King Jose I. The square is surrounded by arcaded buildings which are occupied by cafes and restaurants.
Rua Augusta Arch
The Rua Augusta Arch is historical building with triumphal arch located to the north of Praca do Comercio square. The terrace of the building is accessible by an elevator and rewards with a breathtaking view of the Praca do Comercio and its neighborhood, the Sao Jorge Castle, and the river Tagus. The arch is picturized in the movie Gulliver’s Travels where the Lilliputians wheel Gulliver through the arch at the end.
Santa Justa Lift
We entered through the triumphal arch into a busy pedestrian street lined with outdoor cafes and branded shops.
We moved onto a parallel street Rua de Santa Justa where stands the remarkable structure Santa Justa Lift. The lift connects the lower streets of the Baixa and the higher Bairro Alto.
105-foot ride to the top is recommended for some awe-inspiring rooftop panoramic view of the Lisbon city.
After around half a km stroll, we walked into the heart of the city to the Rossio Square in the Baixa district. The Rossio Square is one of the popular squares in Baixa. During the middle ages, the square was a venue for celebrations, executions, and even bullfights. Today the square is popular with the tourists as well as the locals for several outdoor cafes where people sit and relax over a coffee.
On either side of the square are two gorgeous baroque fountains, and in the center is a monument with a statue of Dom Pedro IV. The statue stands on a marble pedestal adorned with figures of Justice, Wisdom, Strength, and Moderation. The cobblestones floor of the square is designed in a unique wave pattern in alternate white and black colors.
The Rossio Train Station next to the square is a monumental building built in a Neo-Manueline style of architecture. The building featuring horse-shoe shaped arch portals at the entrance is adorned with intricate carvings, turrets and a clock tower. The trains to Sintra, one of the top day trips from Lisbon run from the Rossio train station.
From we walked to Restauradores Square which is also one of the grand squares in Lisbon. The obelisk at the center of the square commemorates the victory of the Portuguese Restoration War. The obelisk is adorned with two allegorical figures of Independence and Victory and bears the inscription of important dates of the war. The square is surrounded by several remarkable buildings from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Till now every sight of the yellow trams filled us with excitement. But Restauradores Square being a major landmark we found dozens of trams all taxied near the square.
From Restauradores Square we took the HOHO bus to our next stop – Marques Do Pombal. Alternatively, you can take a tram to Marques Do Pombal which is just a 5 minutes ride.
Marques Do Pombal
Marques Do Pombal is a large roundabout and a monument about a km walk from the Rossio.
The monument is a bronze statue of Marquis of Pombal, the prime minister responsible for the rebuilding of Lisbon following the Great Earthquake in 1755. The statue stands on a column with his hand on a lion.
Parque Eduardo VII
Right behind the Marques do Pombal is the Parque Eduardo VII, a public park that stretches uphill from Marques de Pombal. At the top of the hill, on a small esplanade is a monument with four large pillars and a fountain in the shape of a rock that commemorates the 1974 Revolution. Monument has a beautiful view of the streets, square and the river Tagus in the distance.
For a Shopping spree, one can visit the El Corte Ingles biggest department store group in Europe just half a km from here. It was by now near dusk and we decided to return to our apartment.
We boarded the hop on hop off bus to our next stop the Campo Pequeno, the bullring of Lisbon. Marques do Pombal to Campo Pequeno is another 5 minutes tram ride.
We were by now hungry and were looking around for good restaurants. We by fluke found an Indian cuisine restaurant ‘Amigos da Montanha Nepal’ in a street opposite to the bullring.
We had scrumptious lunch with north Indian and tandoori dishes on the menu. We were delighted and euphoric after having the Indian food that we had been missing for last almost 11 months in Switzerland.
After lunch, we visited the Campo Pequeno museum. The museum exhibits artifacts which provide information on the tradition of bullfighting and its history through pictures and numerous items. One can also take a tour of the arena when we visited the arena was closed for some event and all we could do was to have a look at the arena from the first floor.
The arena can accommodate up to 10,000 spectators. In the present day, the bull-ring is a multi-event venue where various events, band performances, and live acts hosted apart from the bullfighting. Bullfights season last from Easter until late summer.
Where did We Stay?
Alfama – Lisbon Old Districts
The best way to experience the well-preserved bygone charm and cultural heritage of Lisbon is exploring the old district of Alfama and the Tagus riverfront. To get the authentic feel of the Lisbon we had booked an apartment in Alfama. Alfama is the oldest and the most charming locality to wander around the labyrinth of narrow alleys and typical choc a bloc houses. With an abundance of Fado restaurants, one is sure to fall asleep listening to a background of Fado melancholy music being played until late at night.
We ended our day at a seafood special restaurant savoring on the delicious menu in Alfama. Many tourists and locals alike were lip-syncing with the singer enjoying the music and the Fado experience. When visiting Lisbon, spending an evening at a Fado restaurant accompanied by delectable seafood is an essential authentic experience.
Bairro Alto is also one of the charming traditional districts in Lisbon. While Alfama is known for a quiet aura Bairro Alto is popular for its lively nightlife. There are ample of Fado Bars and cafes in Bairro Alto district. If you prefer a vibrant neighboorhood with lots of parties and activities then Bairro Alto is your place.
From exuberant nightlife and Fado houses of Bairro Alto to the elegant squares, streets of Baixa or downtown Lisbon – Lisbon has it all to allure the tourists. While Alfama offers a laid-back experience away from the hustle and bustle of city life, the Belem region has numerous monuments to experience the history of Lisbon which we had planned for the next day. Read about our visit to the Belem region of Lisbon.
For best deals and discounts on your trip to Lisbon we recommend you buy a Lisbon Card. The Lisbon Card City Pass is available for 24/48/72 hours depending on the number of days you will be spending in the city. The Lisbon Card offers visitors a wide array of discounts and benefits. With the Lisbon Card, you can enjoy free entry into the major Lisbon attractions like the Belem Tower, Jeronimos Monastery, and the National Pantheon.
You can also enjoy free travel on the public transport which includes trams, Metro, and buses. The Lisbon Card also includes the elevators which mean the ride on Santa Justa Elevator one of the major attractions in Lisbon is free. And the bonus also enjoy a free ride on the train from Lisbon to Sintra and Cascais which are amongst the top day trips from Lisbon.
Have you been to Lisbon and explored its rich history and heritage? What is your favorite part of Lisbon?
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