7 FUN THINGS IN LISBON
Postcard pretty Lisbon – a dainty capital set again the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean – will captivate you with its by its simple old-world charm and maritime magic.
This hilly city, bursting with pastel colours and tile-splashed architecture, will surely leave you with sweet memories of wandering through the web of narrow storybook alleyways. Since Lisbon is the second oldest city in Europe after Athens – even older than Rome – there is a lot of fascinating heritage waited to be discovered…
Lisbon’s strategic seaside position means that fresh seafood is abundant and glorious – here you will find delicious tuna, sardines, octopus, barnacles, etc which take a prime position on the city’s restaurants’ menus.
1. Visit Belem to see the vestiges of Portugal’s glory in the Age of Discoveries
Belem, derived from the Portuguese word for Bethlehem, is the historically important parish, located 6 km from the city centre. Here you will come across two of the most notable landmarks, the Belem Tower and Jeronimos monastery.
Belem Tower is a ceremonial and unforgettable gateway into Lisbon – the city’s architectural jewel straddling the mouth of the Tagus river. This early 16th century pearly tower reminiscent of an elaborate chess piece epitomises the Age of Discoveries. Belem tower was built as a military outpost to protect the Tagus Estuary from pirates and enemy attacks.
Along with Jeronimos Monastery nearby, Belem Tower was designated the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 since it played a significant role in the Portuguese Maritime discoveries in the era of Age of Discoveries. Make sure you climb the narrow spiral staircase inside the tower; from the top you will be rewarded with sublime views of the surrounding areas.
The nearby Jeronimos Monastery was commissioned to celebrate Vasco da Gamas’ discovery of the sea route to India in 1498. ADD MORE
2. Admire the ravaged beauty of Igreja de São Domingos
Igreja de São Domingos is one of the most extraordinary churches I have ever visited, a surreal juxtaposition of the old and new. We popped in here out of simple curiosity and were instantly enthralled by the breathtaking ravaged beauty of its interior. The spacious airy interior vividly depicts many of the eras gone by.Its magnificent architecture had been encumbered by tragedy filled past: earthquakes, wars and fires. The fire damage on the stonework which has intentionally been left uncovered adds a chilling old-world character: as you are walking through you can still smell the lingering small of burning in the air.
3. Explore Lisbon’s complex maze of streets on a tuk tuk
Little tuk tuks – three wheeled cabins and a mode of urban transport you would associate with Asian cities – are perfect for discovering crochety back alleys and small squares and for stopping at lookout points with dazzling views inaccessible by trams or requiring too much serious legwork. Tuk tuks are quite a recent phenomenon in Lisbon.4. Indulge in fantastic seafood at Cervejaria Ramiro
This is the capital’s seafood temple, a historic Lisbon institution running for more than six decades. Glass cabinets and window displays showcase a dazzling array of the freshest seafood, tempting every passerby: fabulous lobsters, tiger prawns, crabs, oysters, clams, and more unusual offerings such as spiny dye-murex and barnacles. The restaurant is unfailingly busy, with a long queue of hungry tourists and locals alike looking to satisfy their seafood cravings. However, the speedy, well-oiled service guarantees that the wait is never too long! Wash down all the seafood with deliciously refreshing beer, brewed on the premises.
5. Learn all you can about tiles at the National Tile Museum
Intricate tin-glazed ceramic tiles (called azulejos) are everywhere in Lisbon – an artistic expression that differentiates the Portuguese culture and an important element of the local architecture – decorating everything from walls of churches and palaces to ordinary houses and shops.
The array of subject matter is dizzying – historic or religious scenes, scenes of comedy, or simply geometric patters. As soon as I got to Lisbon, I wanted to learn more about these exquisite ceramic squares!
National Tile Museum is an unusual, delightful museum, and a place a worship for these omnipresent tiles, adequately so since the museum occupies the rooms of a beautiful ancient Convent of Madre de Deus.
Here you can learn about the many different styles and patters that have developed over the centuries. My favourite part of the museum was the splendidly ornate Baroque chapel with lots of glittering gold and patterned blue and white tiles (in the photo above).
6. A day trip to Sintra to see a real-life fairytale castle in the sky…
A fairytale castle in the sky…Those are probably the best worlds to describe the enthralling Pena Palace, straddling a rocky mountain high above the town of Sintra in Portugal.
The Palace is perhaps the most astounding example of eclectic 19th century Romanticism architecture. Sintra is a postcard pretty Portuguese town set amidst the pine covered hills of the Serra de Sintra, only 30km to the west of LisbonLisbon, making it a perfect day trip destination from Lisbon!
7. Overindulge in the iconic pastel de nata
Portugal is universally known for its little round pastry: pastel de nata, custard cream enveloped in crusty golden pastry. A real melt-in-the-mouth buttery delight, this has been the staple food of the sweet toothed Portuguese for more than three centuries!
Pastel de nata was supposedly baked for the first time sometime before the 18th century by Catholic monks at the Jerónimos Monastery in Belem.
Pastéis de Belém is perhaps the most well-known bakery for these scruffy tarts – the original monk recipe is a heavily guarded secret by the master confectioners of the bakery. This spacious, airy bakery cafe has been some of the best pastel de nata in the city since 1837. Another place that was a real highlight for me was Manteigaria in Bairro Alto, where pastel de nata are baked continuously throughout the day, their custard unfailingly warm and the shell crispy. Luckily enough, i am lucky to live close an excellent and very authentic pastel de nata bakery in to one in Covent Garden called I LOVE NATA
Favourite places to eat and drink…
100 Maneiras (or 100 Ways en anglais) presents an imaginative take on Portuguese cuisine with the perfect wine pairing – the sommelier got us dangerously tipsy during our dinner! occasionally I do love a restaurant with tasting menu as the only option since making choices can be rather exhausting and it lets you sample an assortment of creative dishes you otherwise would not try. 100 Maneiras has a lovely intimate down-to-earth feel.
Lisbon’s biggest market has been recently transformed into a gourmet food hall with some of the best restaurants, Timeout Market Lisbon – around 30 of them to be more precise – in Lisbon all under one roof: you will surely be spoilt for choice! This place is a truly original concept that creates a food and cultural experience based on editorial curation based on local knowledge, independent reviews and expert opinions. Timeout Market Lisbon is a place where you can sample some of the best cuisine in the city, and the setting could not be better: a traditional market place feel with a contemporary twist.
Our favourite wine bar…Grapes&Bites
Refurbished from the shell of a former 18th-century coach house, this lively and inviting bar-restaurant features a cellar stocked with almost 1000 different wines, most of them Portuguese. Some of the tables are set around huge wine barrels. live music. in fact nearly 100 different labels that represent just about every wine-growing region in Portugal.
Enoteca de Belem is a quiet spot close to principal Belem sights and is absolutely perfect for a late leisurely lunch after taking in the glory of Belem tower. Discover Portuguese wines with knowledgeable sommelier using a very amusing binocular wine selection process
Where we stayed… LX Boutique Hotel
LX stands for ‘Lisbon Experience’, this is a lovely contemporary boutique hotel in the city centre overlooking the river.
A photo diary to finish off this mini city guide…