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Lisbon: The Portuguese Jewel - Things to Do in a Must See City

If you only have two to four days in Portugal and can only pick one location then Lisbon (Lisboa in Portuguese) should be it. Stop researching and look no further. This stunning city, referred to as "Paris of the Portuguese speaking world", is a jewel with so much to offer. Bubbly Tourist was absolutely blown away by its beauty, charm, ambiance, history, cleanliness, and safety. See why and explore with us below...

Castelo de Sao Jorge. At the highest point above the city in the old town, you'll find this 11th century hilltop moorish Castle of St. Jorge. Image all the history it witnessed: the fall of the Romans to the Visigoths, the fierce conflicts between the Christians and Arabs, the sieges by the Castillians and the birth of Portugal as a seafaring nation. You can tour the ramparts, gardens and museum and /or take a break in the shade with a refreshment. Regardless of where you are, you'll find some spectacular panoramic views over the city and out to the river as seen in the photo below.

Castle of St. Jorge sitting high above Lisbon's old town
Castle of St. Jorge sitting high above Lisbon's old town

Visit the Praça do Comércio (Commercial Plaza). This large plaza is right along the harbor and lies at the heart of city center. It's lined with shops and cafes and is the location for periodic events and street performers. This plaza is rich in history which includes the tragic earthquake of 1755 and the subsequent tsunami that killed all the city residents gathered there seeking refuge. You'll find the equestrian statue of King José I and the Arco da Rua Augusta (Augusta Street Arch) which provides the gateway (as well as views) from the plaza to downtown.

Equestrian statue of King Jose I on the Praça do Comércio in Lisbon
Monument to King Jose I on the Praça do Comércio in Lisbon

Ride a funicular up the hills. The hills up above the city center can be quite steep and can test your cardiovascular endurance. Never fear, there are several funiculars and elevators sprinkled around the city. We took the Gloria Funicular up the almost vertical hill to Bairro Alto to enjoy the nightlife bars and restaurants sprinkled in this maze-like area of town or to see the Pink Street. Cost-saver tip: although not expensive, we bought our funicular roundtrip ticket and used it twice to go only uphill (instead of roundtrip).

A view from the inside of the Gloria Funicular riding up to a very steep street to Bairro Alto
Riding the Gloria Funicular up to Bairro Alto

Take in some live Fado music. This soulful melancholic music is a symbol of Portuguese culture and tradition. It translates to "fate" in Latin and evokes a despairing belief in a futile destiny filled with pining and hopelessness. Up above the city center in Bairro Alto you'll find some of the best Fado houses in Lisbon. Most are restaurants that have a minimum spend or an expensive menu that includes the fado show. The Bubbly Tourist opted for Tasca do Chico which introduced us to the music in a less expensive venue without the traditional dinner and show experience.

Listening to live Fado female singer at a small cramped bar in Lisbono
Listening to Fado at Tasca do Chico in Lisbon, Portugal

Take an eBike tour. If you're comfortable on a bike then this can be a really fun thing to do as you can explore vast areas of the city on a guided tour, and the electric assisted bikes make it a breeze to go up all the steep Lisbon hills. One might find it daunting but the tour operators are very careful in ensuring their clientele know how to operate the bikes, stay safe and remain out of harm's way. Bubbly Tourist decided to take the Lisbon Hills guided eBike tour and had a blast. We're obsessed with eBikes!

Bike tour downhill on shaded cobblestoned streets of Lisbon
Electric bike tour through the hills of Lisbon, Portugal

Explore the old town in Alfama. In addition to Castelo de S. Jorge (described above), you'll find plenty of other sites, restaurants, cafes and shops. If you don't mind the hills, it's a beautiful area just to walk and explore. You'll find the Lisbon Cathedral (Sé de Lisboa), you'll see the traditional Alfama houses with red roofs, you'll encounter multiple viewpoints with panoramic city views including the Miradouro de Santa Luzia, or you can just relax in a café or restaurant with outdoor seating like we did at Tapas n' Friends, Sé. Ahhh!

View of the old town looking down at the Praça do Comércio and Tagus River
View of the old town looking down at the Praça do Comércio and Tagus River

Share in the culinary dishes of Portugal. Pastel de Nata is a custard tart and it is the most famous Portuguese dessert. It's a sweet caramelized custard with a flaky golden brown puff pastry and is found throughout Portugal. Chances are you'll have plenty of opportunity to try some before you leave the country. The other national food is bacalhau (dried and salted cod). Fresh cod is referred to as bacalhau fresco. There is even a saying in the country that bacalhau can be served in 1001 ways so indulge when you get the opportunity. Finally, try the sardinha (sardines). If you like them, there are even tourist stores dedicated to the canned sardines that you can bring home with you.

Shop selling five types of Bacalhau in downtown Lisbon
Shop selling Bacalhau in downtown Lisbon

Treat yourself to an amazing dining experience with bubbly, of course. There are countless delicious restaurants in Lisbon including 18 Michelin restaurants. So on our last day in Lisbon, Bubbly Tourist ventured up to Bairro Alto once again and splurged at Suba, a restaurant on the top floor of the Verride Palacio Santa Catarina hotel. We chose a late 2pm lunch and were offered seating both inside and out. Believe us that the views are amazing regardless where you sit (we sat inside), the service was impeccable, and the Portuguese style cuisine was presented beautifully and just out of this world delightful! Following your meal, head up to their rooftop for incredible 360º views.

View of the River Tanges from the rooftop restaurant Suba
View of the River Tanges from the rooftop restaurant Suba

Shop the upscale Avenida da Liberdade. The avenue is wide and lovely with plenty of shops and restaurants. It reminds us of the Champs Elysees in Paris only more shaded with all the mature trees and somehow more relaxed. All the high-end shops can be found along the Avenida da Liberdade. If you're interested in purchasing something fashionable you will find it here. And don't forget this cost-saver tip: take advantage of VAT refunds. Certain purchases over a minimum euro limit qualify for a VAT (Value Added Tax) refund of between 12% - 15% by the government but require the retailer to provide the appropriate documentation.

View up the Av. December 1 past the Monumento dos Restauradores to the Av. da Liberdade
View up the Av. December 1 past the Monumento dos Restauradores to the Av. da Liberdade

If you have time for a day trip out of Lisbon, try these popular destinations...

Sintra (day trip from Lisbon) - Romantic palaces of a bygone era.

Cascais (60 minutes from Lisbon) - Beautiful seaside village near Lisbon


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