Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world, but that doesn’t mean it’s stuck in the past. The Portuguese capital is a vibrant and exciting place to visit, and with its rich history, unique cuisine, and beautiful architecture, it’s no wonder why so many adults are drawn to visit Lisbon. Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway, a pre- or post-cruise stay-overt, or a solo adventure, Lisbon is the perfect destination.
The first thing you’ll notice about Lisbon is that it is built in the valley between two mountains. The city feels very similar to walking around a cleaner San Francisco – lots of steep roads and sidewalks offering incredible panoramic views. Plus Lisbon has its own “Golden Gate Bridge,” the 25 de Abril Bridge, built in 1966. Lisbon is one of the most charming large cities in Europe.
History of Lisbon
Lisbon is an ancient city, first settled by the Phoenicians and later occupied by the Romans and Moors. Over the centuries, the city has seen many different rulers, and each one has left its mark on Lisbon’s culture and architecture. Perhaps the most influential of these rulers was King Manuel I of Portugal, who helped make Lisbon one of the most important cities in Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries. During this time, the city flourished, and many of its most iconic monuments, including the Belém Tower and Jerónimos Monastery, were built.
Though its history is important, one of the best things about Lisbon is its unique cuisine. Portuguese food is a mix of Mediterranean and Atlantic influences, and it’s renowned for its fresh seafood dishes. Some of the most popular dishes to try in Lisbon include bacalhau (salt cod), caldeirada (seafood stew), and peixinhos da horta (fried vegetables). For dessert, be sure to try the traditional pastel de nata (custard tart), which is a staple of Portuguese cuisine. If you are a wine lover, don’t forget to try some locally produced wines, which come in various styles.
You may be wondering why salted cod is so popular in Portugal. It began in the 15th century. Portugal had lots of salt and set up large fleets of cod fishing ships. Salted cod became a cheap source of protein that was easy to transport and store. It wasn’t until later that it became a dish for the middle and upper classes. Today the Portuguese proclaim there are over 1,000 ways to prepare salted cod. While in Lisbon, give it a try.
Blue Tiles of Lisbon
As you walk the streets, look up. You can’t miss the iconic blue tiles adorning many homes and businesses. Lisbon is home to these unique architectural elements. For centuries, these blue–tiles have been a symbol of the city’s culture, history, and identity. These blue–tiles of Lisbon have been used to adorn buildings since the 16th century. The tiles, or azulejos, are usually made of ceramic. They are an integral part of the city’s architecture and are used to decorate churches, monasteries, palaces, and other important buildings.
The blue–tiles of Lisbon are also a popular form of public art. Many of the city’s squares, streets, and monuments are decorated with these tiles, creating a unique visual landscape. The tiles are often used to depict scenes from Portuguese history, mythology, and culture. For example, some of the tiles in the city’s Praça do Comércio depict the arrival of Vasco da Gama in India in 1498. The tiles are also a popular tourist attraction. Visitors to the city can take a walking tour of the city and admire the tiles up close. They can also visit the National Tile Museum, which houses a large collection of tiles, including some that date back to the 16th century.
Christmas in Lisbon
We visited Lisbon during the Christmas season and boy does Lisbon celebrate Christmas! They go big-time. Different streets feature different decorations and lighting. One of our favorite decorations were the jellyfish lights near our hotel. We never understood why jellyfish, but they were beautiful as their tails fluttered in the wind. Also, just outside our hotel was a lighted globe of the world which you could walk inside. All of this added some magic to our time in Lisbon.
We enjoyed taking the trams all around the city. We were staying at the Bairro Alto Hotel which as the name implies is higher up in the city. The hotel has a tram stop a few steps away, and a variety of nice shops and restaurants around it. It is also just a few blocks from a good-size shopping mall.
We bought a multi-day pass that let us ride the trams, Metro and buses. The trams are so iconic Lisbon, you have to experience them. We’d take the tram down the hill to the lower part of Lisbon. Some days, we’d just ride the trams to the end of their line and gaze at the different buildings and parks as we passed by.
Important Places to Visit
One of the most iconic attractions in Lisbon is the Castelo de São Jorge. This 10th-century castle sits atop one of the highest hills in the city, offering stunning views of the city and the Tagus River. Visitors can explore the castle’s walls and towers, as well as the many museums and exhibitions inside. The easiest way to get there is by city bus. These large buses have to navigate very tiny winding streets at the top of the mountain. The streets are so tiny you can almost reach out the window and touch the buildings.
The Jeronimos Monastery is a stunning World Heritage site and one of the most important monuments in Portugal. This 16th-century building is an impressive example of Manueline architecture and is home to the tombs of Vasco da Gama and other notable figures. Visitors can explore the beautiful cloisters, chapels, and courtyards, as well as the nearby National Maritime Museum.
The Belem Tower is another must-see attraction in Lisbon. Built-in the 16th century to defend the city, the Belem Tower is an iconic symbol of Portugal’s Age of Exploration. The tower features beautiful Manueline decorations and is surrounded by a lovely garden. Visitors can enjoy stunning views of the Tagus River from the top of the tower.
Finally, the Lift (elevator) de Santa Justa, a 19th–century elevator that takes visitors up to a viewing platform in the heart of the city. It is free and one way to get from lower street levels to upper street levels. The Panteão Nacional, a grand mausoleum, is also worth a visit, as it contains the tombs of some of Portugal’s most important figures.
Interesting Things to Do
No trip to Lisbon is complete without a visit to the Alfama District. This is the oldest part of Lisbon and it is full of narrow cobblestone streets, colorful buildings, and historic churches. The area is known for its traditional Fado music, which can be heard in many of the local bars and restaurants. Visitors can also take a ride on one of the iconic trams that wind their way through the district.
If you’re feeling adventurous, take a surfing lesson at one of the city’s many beaches. The nearby Costa da Caparica has some of the best beaches in the region, while the beaches in Cascais are also popular with locals and tourists alike. For the foodies, be sure to sample some of the delicious street food, such as the pastéis de nata (custard tarts). Or if you’re looking for a more relaxed activity, take a ride on one of Lisbon’s iconic trams and enjoy the views of the city.
Take a side trip and visit Sintra
Sintra, Portugal is a beautiful city located about 20 miles outside of Lisbon. You can take a train from Lisbon to Sintra. This popular tourist destination, is known for its spectacular natural beauty, historical monuments, and cultural riches.
Its hillsides are blanketed with lush vegetation, while its valleys are filled with winding streams and cascading waterfalls. The Serra de Sintra mountain range provides an impressive backdrop to the city, with its highest peak, Pena Palace, towering over the landscape.
The city’s rich history also adds to its charm. Sintra was once the summer residence of the Portuguese kings and queens, and its streets are lined with palaces, castles, and other grand historical buildings. There are a lot of castles and palaces, over 10. Quinta da Regaleira and Palacio Nacional de Sintra are two of the most popular attractions, both of which offer spectacular views of the city and its surroundings. You can spend a couple of days visiting Sintra.
The cultural attractions of Sintra rival its natural beauty. The city is home to numerous museums, galleries, and cultural centers. The National Museum of Sintra features a variety of artwork, from ancient artifacts to modern art. The city also hosts a number of festivals throughout the year, such as the Sintra International Music Festival and the Sintra Film Festival, both of which attract visitors from all over the world.
Finally, Lisbon is a great destination for adults looking for a unique and exciting experience. With its rich history, exceptional cuisine, important architecture, and interesting things to do, there’s something for everyone in this vibrant city.
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