Exploring Lisbon: What To Do In 5 Days
Now that I’ve mentioned what you should consider when you visit Lisbon for the first time, it’s time to find out what this city has to offer. We spent 5 days in the city, before renting a car and exploring famous places nearby. If you’re wondering what can you do in Lisbon, read below to find out why this Portuguese marvel will steal your heart from the first day.
Here’s what we did…
We admired the city from above
Due to its construction on the seven hills, Lisbon has many viewpoints or miradouro. The apartment we had rented was very close to the São Jorge Castle, so we walked to our first sight in Lisbon. The castle itself is nice and all, but the view from the terrace beats every other miradouro as you can see almost the whole city. The picture above is from the castle. My favorite part though? Having a coffee and traditional pastries at the cafe inside the Castle walls and laughing at the funny peacocks that were showing off.
Connecting the Baixa and Bairro Alto districts, the Santa Justa Lift (or Elevador de Santa Justa) offers spectacular views of the area and it connects to the Carmo Square, where you’ll find the ruins of the Carmo Church. Although you can reach the two districts by subway now, for a hundred years this was the most convenient way, and I recommend visiting it, if not for the historical significance, but for the interesting view. Because what’s interesting about a dark subway tunnel?
On the other side of the Tagus river, inspired by the famous Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil, you can see the Cristo Rei statue from almost every point of the city. What you may not know is that you can visit it, by taking the ferry from the Cais do Sodre Station, then the 101 bus. We didn’t know about the bus and ended up walking on the streets of Almada until someone who spoke English told us how we can get there (it’s quite a lot to walk). My favorite memory though is when we got back, had the best traditional seafood dinner I’ve had in the whole country at a restaurant that didn’t seem much from the outside (inside it was ‘404 Error – English not found’), then saw the sunset from the ferry.
We learned a bit of history
A short walk from the castle stands the oldest building in Lisbon, built in the 12th century, Santa Maria Maior de Lisboa or simply Sé de Lisboa is a cathedral that you won’t want to miss. A mixture of Romanesque, Baroque and Gothic architecture styles, the cathedral is one of the most iconic places in the city.
Torre de Belém is probably the most famous sight in Lisbon. An UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was initially built in the 15th century to guard the city harbor, but later became the starting point for many discovery voyages. An exceptionally beautiful architectural construction, in the traditional Manueline style, that will keep you busy for hours, trying to capture on film every corner, facade or balcony.
Not far from the Belém Tower is the Discoveries Monument, that represents a ship ready for departure, with statues of important historical figures such as the explorers Vasco da Gama and Magellan. You can also go at the top of the monument for a great view of the Belém area.
Once the largest church in the city, only a roofless nave remains of the Carmo Church, a 14th century Gothic construction devastated by the 1755 earthquake. In what used to be the altar, nowadays it’s a small archaeological museum. Reading about the earthquake is one thing, but seeing the ruins you realized the impact it had to the city and it can be quite overwhelming.
We were amazed by the beauty of Lisbon’s very own Hogwarts
You may say we were….stupefied? 😀 A splendid display of Manueline architecture, the Jerónimos Monastery is a must-see as I’m sure it will fascinate you. The beautifully designed facade will keeps the camera of each visitor busy, just like Sagrada Familia does. The two-storey cloister was my favorite part, with its decorated arches and interior garden that reminded me of Hogwarts.
We walked….a lot
From the Sé Cathedral, we walked to Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square) and this is the first thing I see whenever I see or hear the word ‘Lisbon’ . The yellow walls, the grand arch, the statue of King José I in the middle of the square, yellow trams and a bright sunny day. What more could I ask for, it’s not a bad thing to imagine 😀 Its history starts with the earthquake as the royal palace stood for over two centuries in the vast waterfront known as Terreiro do Paço, until it was destroyed. With the royal family moved, the whole area was rebuilt to serve as a point of entry to the city. I regret not going to the top of the arch, as it gives some stunning views, but it’s something I’ll fix later this year 🙂
With its beautiful fountains and the wave pavement patterns, Rossio Square is surely the heart of the city. We were lucky to have the apartment nearby and we passed the square pretty often. A short walk ahead you’ll find the Restauradores Square, that commemorates the liberation of Portugal from the 60 years of Spanish rule. Here you’ll find a 30-meter obelisk with two figures depicting Victory and Freedom, the Hard Rock Cafe (the very first I’ve been to) and the famous Elevador da Gloria (Gloria Elevator) that will take you on a narrow street to the Bairro Alto district, at the Sao Pedro de Alcantara viewpoint.
We went shopping
Just behind the triumphal arch, Rua Augusta is Lisbon’s main pedestrian street, filled with all kinds of shops. The souvenirs may be expensive here, but there are some famous brands clothing stores where you can spend a few euros. If you rather prefer the AC in shopping centers, then the Colombo Shopping Center (just across the street from the Benfica stadium) and the Vasco da Gama Shopping Center are just what you need. To get to the latter, you’ll have to take the subway to the beautiful Oriente station. Both the station and the shopping center are a stunning display of modern architecture, with the rooftop made of glass and steel, to make them look like trees in the wind.
We visited one of the largest aquariums in the world…..and a Zoo
Eastern Lisbon is in contrast with the rest of the city, as it has a very modern look. From one of the longest bridges in the world (Vasco Da Gama Bridge) to the Oriente station I’ve mentioned above, this is an area where you’ll spend an entire day. And most of the time there will be at the larges indoor aquarium in Europe, the Ocenarium. Don’t listen if anyone tells you it’s just for kids, we laughed for a few good minutes at some floating otters. And I always love seeing penguins 🙂 .
Jardim Zoologico de Lisboa or simply Lisbon Zoo is worth paying a visit simply for the cable car that carries you above the entire zoo, because how many times can you say you’ve seen a lion from up the air (and said lion was laying on his back like a kitten). 🙂
We went to a festival
Each year, Lisbon is home to the Optimus Alive Festival and we found this out after we’ve booked our tickets. However, we didn’t want to spend three whole days at the festival, while we could be out exploring the beautiful city, so we settled on one day. But the atmosphere was great, the Portuguese people sure know how to have fun at a concert. This year there are a lot of great bands playing, so if you’re in Lisbon between July 10 and 12, I totally recommend going!
We ate traditional food
Portugal is the home of great seafood and wine and since the seafood that you may find in Bucharest is often expensive and not good, this was heaven for me. My favorite was the traditional Carne de Porco à Alentejana (pork and clams), that I’m dying to eat again. I’ve also tried for the first time octopus and I’ve loved it. Don’t even get me started on the pastéis de nata, that are so delicious, someone will have to drag me out of the restaurant to stop eating them! And of course, a meal is not complete with a glass of good wine and the Portuguese Vinho Verde (that means “young wine”, not “green wine”, as it literally translates) is very refreshing, perfect for a hot summer day.