Like most major cities, we’ve always been curious about Lisbon. We were particularly interested in their royal history and their golden age of exploration. Still, with so many places to go, it was never extremely high on our bucket list.
Then again, right around Christmas, when we found an awesome travel deal for Portugal and Spain for an excellent price, we of course, jumped at the chance to visit both countries!
Also, being that the available dates were only 3 weeks right after the date of our wedding-–we naturally decided to make these countries our honeymoon destination!
Given our relatively modest expectations, we were then pleasantly surprised with what we saw and experienced in Portugal’s capital city, Lisbon and its nearby areas.
Here are our top places to see in this amazing city and beyond:
1) Torre de Belem (Belem Tower)
If you only had 1 hour in Lisbon and wanted to prove to your friends that you were there, this is the place to go.
This iconic landmark, which is also known as the Tower of St. Vincent or Belem Tower, was built in 1515-1519 to be the ceremonial gateway to Lisbon as well as to be part of the defense system at the Tagus River. Made with lioz limestone, it is a prominent example of the Portuguese Manueline style of architecture and boasts of a 98.4 feet or 30 meter four-storey tower.
|TIP: It’s only a 15 minute walk from the Monument to the Discoveries. Also, there are good views from the top of the tower and it’s 6 euros to get in. But if your time is limited, you could just take pics from the outside and move on.|
2) Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries)
Built right on the Tagus river where the ships departed to explore and trade with the world, the monument celebrates the golden age of Portuguese discovery, when Portuguese explorers became some of the first westerners to sail all over the world.
The monument, known as Padrão dos Descobrimentos in Portuguese, reminds us of the figures behind Portugal’s ascent into becoming a global superpower starting in the 14th century.
|TRIVIA: Each of the figures has a corresponding historical figure. Henry the Navigator, credited as the main patron of explorers, is at the very tip of the statue. His mother, Philippa of Lancaster, is the only woman on the statue and is located as the second to the last figure on the Western side.|
3) Praca do Comercio (Commerce Square)
Portugal loves its plazas and this one might just be the grandest. Built right after the devastating earthquake of 1755, this riverfront square features an impressive equestrian statue of Jose I, King of Portugal during the earthquake, and a grand triumphal arch leading to Rua Augusta, Lisbon’s main shopping street.
Given its picturesque location on the banks of the Tagus, the area is almost always filled with tourists, vendor, street performers and occasional art exhibits. Nevertheless, the area is quite spacious and there are plenty of stores and restaurants with places to sit and relax.
|TIP: Somehow there is a way to climb to the top of the arch, which will give you fantastic views of the square and the river upfront. We didn’t do it ourselves, but it might be a great thing to do if you have time!|
4) Santuário Nacional de Cristo Rei (Sanctuary of Christ the King)
The Cristo Rei or Christ the King is a Catholic monument and shrine dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ. It was inspired by the Christ the Redeemer statue of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, after the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon visited the former Portuguese colony. It was officially inaugurated in 1959, while Portugal was ruled by the authoritarian president, António Salazar who gave the go-signal for the project.
An iconic figure prominently towering over the Tagus riverfront, the Cristo Rei is also said to have been erected as thanks to God for sparing Portugal from the horrors of World War II. It is situated on the other bank of the river, officially in Almada, Portugal and can be reached by car (via the Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge) or by ferry from Lisbon.
|TIP: It’s free to get in while it’s 6 euros to climb the monument via elevator. The entrance to the monument ends at 5:00 or 6:00 pm while the whole sanctuary closes 6:00 -7:30 pm (time depending on the season).|
5) Castelo de Sao Jorge (St. George’s Castle)
Visitors will find it hard to miss this beautiful ancient castle-slash-fortress atop a hill clearly dominating the downtown Lisbon skyline. The Castelo de Sao Jorge, built by the Moors medieval period of Portuguese history in the mid-11th century, was once the city’s last defensive stronghold.
Nothing much of the original castle survived the famous 1755 earthquake but it’s definitely worth a visit thanks to its 360 degree views of the city. You could easily spend hours here and enjoy a stroll around the grounds while admiring the stunning cityscape.
|TIP: It’s the perfect place to enjoy a 360* view of the city, and it’s even more spectacular at sunset. It’s 8.50 € euros for adult entrance, while students, families, seniors and people with disabilities can enjoy discounted rates.|
6) Time Out Market Lisboa
Foodies, listen up! Make sure to make time for Time Out Lisboa, an impressive gourmet food hall located in the Mercado da Ribeira (Market by the River) at Cais do Sodre in Lisbon. The first of several planned projects by famous online publisher Time Out, this section of the historic market was transformed into a modern food court and opened in May 2014, housing a variety of the best food in Lisbon.
Though admittedly touristy, it’s a great way to sample both traditional specialties (such as custard tarts, sardines, wines and chocolates) and also modern fusion meals under one roof. Five top local chefs have restaurants here, offering five star dishes at affordable prices (8 to 12 euros on average). The place also gives a taste of what the market would have once looked like, with the original fish, fruit and vegetable market stalls still occupying the other half of the building.
|TIP: Don’t leave without trying the pasteis de nata from the Mantegaria stall. Many claim that it even rivals the original creator of the pastry, Pasteis de Belem Cafe.|
7) Bairro Alto
Long known as a bohemian hangout for the artists, writers and students of the city, Bairro Alto (or literally, Upper District) is a lively area filled with character and a distinctly alternative vibe, almost reminiscent of an older version of San Francisco.
The neighborhood, characterized by its steep streets, has an endearingly edgy atmosphere with its old buildings and even its signature trams covered in street art and colorful graffiti. In the daytime, it is usually quiet but once nighttime falls, the neighborhood transforms into a nightlife haunt, with most bars and restaurants open into the wee hours of the morning. A lot of locals even frequent some of the area’s small local parks and bring their own drinks, enjoying it right on the streets.
|TIP: To save energy, take the Elevador da Gloria, a funicular built in 1885, which will save you a lot of climbing by carrying you up from the Baixa and Chiado districts below.
Some of the best views in this neighborhood can be found in the Santa Catarina and Pedro de Alcantara Viewpoints or Miradouros. People congregate in this area usually starting sunset for the golden hour views.
How about you, have YOU been to Lisbon? Tell us your recommendations and favorite places to go in the comments section below! 🙂