Lisbon – Why visit the Instafamous capital of Portugal?
Lisbon is increasingly named by so many as the place to visit in Europe right now but why visit Lisbon? There is no doubt about it Lisbon is a vibrant city, a city as you wander the streets your eyes seem to dart from one sight to the next. Head over to Instagram and there seems to be a deluge of photographs taken in Lisbon at the moment…making it Instafamous! Full of colour, cool architecture, and great views it’s no wonder why. The sunshine and blue skies makes for a perfect backdrop to the sights and sounds of one of the oldest countries in Europe, a place which has had such an important historical influence on the entire world! Portuguese is the sixth most spoken first language in the world! It is also massively accessible for travellers, flights from the UK to Portugal are amongst the most affordable to anywhere in Europe, there is a huge selection of accommodation on offer covering all budgets and Lisbon (compare flight prices and accommodation including from Expedia and Opodo on TripAdvisor) has been named as the most affordable capital in western Europe…but digging a little deeper throws up more and more reasons to visit Lisbon…
We started our trip to Lisbon by hunting down that Instafamous view of the 25 de Abril bridge which connects Lisbon to Almada across the Tagus River. We found the view at the National Sanctuary of Christ the King (Santuário Nacional de Cristo Rei). Here not only do you get to take in the amazing view of Lisbon across the river but there is also Portugal’s version of the Christ the Redeemer Statue.
The Christ the King monument is 110 metres tall, the pedestal being 82 metres high and the actual statue of Jesus standing at 28 metres. It is set on cliffs which over look the river and is positioned as if to embrace the city of Lisbon. It is located in really peaceful gardens which were being tended to by nuns while we were there. There is car parking at the site and there are loads of coach tours to the location.
It was only 6 euros to take an elevator to the top of the pedestal part of the statue and the views over the river across to Lisbon were fantastic, this is a must if you are in the area, we could have spent a lot of time just taking in the views here.
We started our exploration of the city at Restauradores and charged ourselves up by enjoying a coffee at the outside Banana Cafe there in a little parked encircled by palm trees…perfect!
Restaradores square is dedicated to the restoration of Portuguese independence from the Spanish in 1640 and the obelisk monument in the middle of the square commemorates the battles fought during this struggle. This for us seemed like a natural centre of the city and we found it easy to navigate from here and there is a really convenient car park here and it is a pretty major public transport hub.
Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara
So you can either hitch a ride on the Ascensor da Gloria from Restauradores up the hill into the area or walk the steep pavement…I worked up a sweat doing this, passing the boards erected for street artists to practice their trade.At the top you are rewarded with views from the Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara.
This is a terraced park area with fountains, trees, and benches with perhaps the best view over the city looking out across to Sao Jorge Castle. A Moorish castle on a site where there is evidence of a fortification being present as far back as the 2nd century BC! This is a lovely spot to catch your breath after the climb up and the view really is a wow moment.
So this is where to get those Instafamous snaps of the trams! But there is much more to this sprawling area of Lisbon to the south of Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara. This is where we felt like we found the real Lisbon.
Narrow streets jam packed with cafes, bars, restaurants, galleries, museums…it feels like this is the social hub of the city, the place where everybody meets for a drink and a catch up, the pace is slower here and the atmosphere is lovely. This is the place to go for the best nightlife in Lisbon as well, they say that Madrid has the best nightlife in Europe but Lisbon can’t be far behind with people bar hopping till the sun rises.
The streets are lined with wonderful colourful tiled buildings with decorative balconies overhanging the pavements. The architecture here is unmistakably Portuguese! Drivers line the roads with their tuc tuc style vehicles waiting to give you a tour of the city here too. Its vibrant, this area really is buzzing, full of life!
Praca do Comércio
The square of Commerce was built during the rebuilding of Lisbon following the great earthquake and tsunami which destroyed much of the city in 1755. The square of commerce was built with matching buildings surrounding it which were filled with government offices. Now these buildings are home to restaurants, cafes and bars which line this pretty square looking out over the river.
We had lunch…Portuguese tapas at Ministerium Cantina on the eastern side of the square. The food was good here and the place is converted into a bar/club in the evening. There is a whole range of places to eat and drink at around the square…including the Museu da Cerveja, the Musueum of Beer! Celebrating the beers of the Portuguese speaking world and the traditions associated with it. Not just a museum but a really nice place to eat and spend an evening.
Standing in the centre of the square is a statue of King Jose 1st, in the middle of the side opposite the river is the Rua Augusta Arch built to commemorate the city’s reconstruction after the earthquake and tsunami.
It is like a gateway to the city, once you pass through it feels like you have really entered the city. I guess in history this may well have been the case as the Praca do Comércio was the location of a palace which was located outside of the old city walls.
It’s an impressive structure and makes my mind flick back to other triumphal arches, it is a grand welcome to the excitement within the interior of the city…and another very well photographed part of Lisbon!
If the pace of life is slower in the Praca do Comércio during the day, where the most strenuous activities are lifting glass to lips, fork to mouth, and people watching then as soon as you step through this gateway it is as if the pace is shifted up a couple of gears! The featured picture at the top of the page was taken from a little further up Rua Augusta looking back at the arch. The streets here are bustling, cafe terraces, shops, tourists…lots of tourists! But still the atmosphere is nice. The only things which made us feel slightly awkward was that 4-5 times we were approached by people offering to sell us weed and a couple of times when we said no we were then offered coke…nothing aggressive or anything… and I know that it is only classed as an administrative offence here not a criminal offence… but still after the 2nd or 3rd time it got a little irritating and we could spot the person approaching us who was going to offer it and waved them away before they had even started speaking…this was like Lisbon’s version of people asking you to let them perform a magic trick on you outside Park Guell in Barcelona, people offering to paint your portrait in Paris, or people offering you knock off watches or sunglasses in Spain and the Spanish islands…it was that common!
Taking a stroll along Rua Augusta and the surrounding streets is a must, it’s not just shopping and cafes there seems to be music and street entertainers everywhere. As you are walking along there were so many moments when one of us would stop and say “Oh look at that!”
Take Rua de Santa Justa west of Rua Augusta and you will find the Elevador de santa Justa or Santa Justa Lift…the last remaining vertical lift in the city which connects the lower city to Carmo Square via a walkway at the top. It is such a unique looking structure which looks impossibly top heavy to me! It is worth taking the lift to explore historic Carmo Square and the buildings of the Carmo Convent.
There is so much more to do in Lisbon especially if, like me, you are a bit of a history buff and I highly suggest investing in a good guide book like Lonely Planet who have an ongoing 3 for 2 offer.
We enjoyed our time in Lisbon, it’s different to most other major European capitals, there may not be the huge massive tourist sights like for example the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, or the historic sights of Rome, but there is an atmosphere and a warmth to this city which makes it a lovely place to sink into and allow yourself to be wrapped up in. It’s a fun city with fun loving friendly people and a tropical feel to it as well…one thing is for sure…there is no where quite like Lisbon!
The Awesome surrounding area
Lisbon is not only an awesome city to explore but a great base to explore the whole country, there is so much to see and do so close to Lisbon which makes it the perfect base.
This beautiful place alone was enough to get us planning our return to Portugal before we had even left! The short time we spent here was full of excitement, narrow winding streets, pastel coloured buildings, amazing architecture and colours, a fortress and incredible tiled national palace…this is somewhere not to be missed during a trip to Portugal…look out for my next post on this awesome place!
A district to the west of Lisbon which was historically the home to the Lisbon elite, a picturesque place and home to what many guides say is the number one attraction in the whole of Lisbon the Jeronimos Monastery. Commissioned to celebrate the great Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama’s discovery of a sea route to India.
The Lisbon Beaches
This is one of the best cities to combine a beach and city break, the coastline around Lisbon is beautiful, perhaps not as spectacular as some of the coastline along the Algarve…check out my post on that here. Beaches to the west of Lisbon with the waves of the Atlantic rolling in perfect for surfing.
This port town is further south of Lisbon on the coast of the Sado Estuary. It is the perfect base to take in some Portuguese nature, exploring the national park of the estuary and the Arrabida. Dolphins, storks, and flamingos are found in numbers in this area. The town itself is full of colour and pretty cafe and bar lined squares.
Thanks as always for checking out my post! Look out for my next post on our all too short time in magical Sintra! We are heading off to camp in the Bavarian Alps next month and then continuing our adventures in Romania after that…keep up to date with everything we get up to on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.