Story and Photos by Sophia Barnhart
After checking into your hostel, find the nearest lookout point and get a lay of the land. Then start your day with a walking tour around historic Lisbon, starting in Bairro Alto (the city’s highest district) and making your way down through the theater district of Chiado to Baixa’s Rossio Square.
Make sure to see:
• Praça Luis de Camões Square, a fun plaza in the center of everything; also where you can catch the Tram 28.
• Teatro Nacional de São Carlos, a beautiful opera house rebuilt after the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake.
• Elevador de Santa Justa (Carmo Lift), a massive elevator that lifts visitors for a panoramic view of the city.
• Igreja do Carmo (Carmo Convent), the remnants of a Gothic church destroyed in the 1755 earthquake.
• Elevador da Glória, a graffitied funicular on a huge hill that has trams running up and down.
• Fado Vadio, a famous graffiti mural done by a group of artists as a tribute to fado, a beloved type of Portuguese music.
For lunch, grab a bifana, a typical Portuguese sandwich that street vendors all around sell for cheap. Don’t forget to ask for queijo, or cheese. If you’re thirsty, try some ginja – a sweet cherry liqueur unique to Portugal. It’s served in chocolate cups at Ginginha do Carmo, about a euro a pop.
Spend the afternoon strolling the streets or visiting one of Lisbon’s many beautiful lookouts. Most of these spots have cafés overlooking the Tagus River. For dinner, try bacalhau, a typical Portuguese dish with cod prepared whichever way you’d like. Portugal is renowned for its seafood.
If you’re looking to check out Lisbon’s nightlife, Bairro Alto is Lisbon’s liveliest neighborhood, dotted with tons of fun and quirky bars.
Grab breakfast at a local pastry shop, then find the closest tram stop and hop on the uphill Tram 28. Ask the operator to let you off at the Feira da Ladra, or flea market. Lisbon’s flea market is a real treasure, with a view of the river as a backdrop. Spend your morning strolling among the vendors and checking out what the market has to offer.
Take the tram or walk back down the hill to the train station. Catch the next train to Sintra. It’s only five euros both ways for a trip that’s es sential, even if your time in Lisbon is limited. Try your best to see:
• Castle of the Moors, a medieval castle perched on another hilltop.
• Quinta da Regaleira, a palace in the woods with a chapel and mystical park that has tunnels leading to a lake, a cave, and an initiation well.
• Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of continental Europe and a breathtaking place to watch the sunset.
While it’s easy to spend the entire day in Sintra, do try to leave some time to visit Cascais, one of Portugal’s most charming beach towns. One option is to visit the Bay of Cascais after watching the sunset over the Cabo da Roca, and enjoy the nightlife at the beach front. When you’re finally ready to go, simply hop on the train back to Lisbon from either Sintra or Cascais.
Finish your evening by catching a fado show. In Lisbon, a solo fado performer combines the emotion of operatic singing with the soothing lullabies of acoustic guitar. But keep in mind that many fado performances require an included dinner, which can get pricey quickly. Instead, ask the host at your hostel for a local spot that only requires the purchase of a drink as admission.
Rent a bicycle and ride west from the riverfront toward Belém. As you ride along the Tagus River, stop every now and then to soak in the views at sightseeing points such as:
• 25 de Abril Bridge, a beautiful bridge with a striking resemblance to San Francisco’s Golden Gate.
• Torre de Belém, a massive tower that used to be part of the military defense system, but now provides a lovely view over the river.
• Padrão dos Descobrimentos, a monument on the riverbank celebrating the Portuguese Age of
After biking around Belém, grab a bite at Belém’s crown jewel, Pastéis de Belém. Pastéis de nata are custard tart pastries famous in Portugal, which pair perfectly with coffee or juice. The line will seem daunting, but by now they’ve nailed down a system that will have you in and out in 15 minutes or less.
With a happy heart and full stomach, bike back toward Lisbon. Enjoy the rest of your afternoon at one of Lisbon’s many wonderful museums, dedicated to topics like ancient art, tiles, and fado.
Before it gets too late, head up to Castelo de São Jorge to watch the sunset on one of Lisbon’s highest hills, ending your trip with one last sun-drenched view of the city.
For dinner, an absolute must is Restaurante Cabacas, a little hole in the wall establishment in Bairro Alto. There, order their famous naco na pedra, which means “steak on a stone.” You cook your meat yourself on a hot stone brought to you, and it comes with dipping sauces and fried potatoes.
This story appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Baedeker.