Loving the Sights in Lisbon, Portugal
Updated: Jun 15, 2020
I used to fantasize about putting a for sale sign in the yard, leaving my cares (and responsibilities) behind me and moving somewhere in Europe, somewhere close to the ocean, full of history with a thriving food scene. This fantasy led me to subscript to International Living which showcases places all over the world through their magazines and emails.
One email in particular from International Living spotlighted Portugal, which got me thinking... That's how our ten day trip to Lisbon in early 2020 came to be.
Touring with a Tuk Tuk
One way to get the feel for a new place when you travel is to do some sort of city tour, which is exactly what we did on our first day in Lisbon. The city is crazy hilly (think San Fransisco) with narrow streets, so the best way to see the sights is in a tuk tuk. If you're not familiar with this type of transportation, a tuk tuk is an open air taxi, named for the sound made by their small-capacity, two-cycle engines. Lisbon is teaming with these cute vehicles. We just walked up to the driver of a parked tuk tuk outside the Timeout Market, asked about the price then talked him down to 50 euros for a two hour ride around town.
Though by no means did we chose the fanciest, newest or most comfortable tuk tuk, the driver, a local passionate about his hometown, made up for the bumps and stall outs during our ride around the town. The driver shared with us the history of the city, the Castelo de S. Jorge, the battles with the Moors, and took us to several spots that had sweeping views of the city and river.
I don't think there is a need to prebook a tour for a tuk tuk; you really can find one anywhere tourists might be, just talk to the driver to figure out a price.
Step Back in Time at Castelo de S. Jorge
After riding past Castelo de S. Jorge on the tuk tuk tour, we decided to pay the castle a visit. This place is old, really old-like it was here when the Romans fell to the Visigoths kind of old. Touring the castle is a way to step back in time for an afternoon, just wandering around on ramparts, strolling through courtyards, and climbing up watchtowers. This is also one of those places in Lisbon where you can get a commanding view of the city and the river. And... something that makes the place just a little extra-the grounds are teaming with peacocks.
We took an Uber to the castle; the walk from our apartment up and down the hills to the castle would have done me in. In fact, our Uber couldn't even get all the way to the castle entrance; the driver dropped us off about a block away. Bonus for us though, there were lots of shops selling handmade tiles and souvenirs lining the street leading up to the castle. My favorite was Popbar; it's an ice cream bar shop that dips your ice cream bar into melted dark chocolate and rolls it in chopped nuts. Sweet!
Riding with the Royalty
The day we decided to check out The National Coach Museum, we caught the train at the central train station or you can ride a ferry. Either way, you want the Belém stop. The museum itself is easy to find, located a short walk from the Tagus River.
Once inside, you'll be blown away with not just the vast number of carriages found at the museum, but the grandness of them. It's fascinating to actually see carriages that kings, queens, popes and other, obviously well-to-do, folks used to ride around in.
The cost of the museum is 8 euros and the National Coach Museum offers a free virtual tour on its' website.
Check out these Sidewalks
Because Lisbon is a seriously old city and the capital of Portugal, it's packed with art just about anywhere you look. Some of the city's most distinctive artwork is actually found beneath your feet.
For us, it was great fun checking out the variety of patterns ancient artisans created using black and white stones for sidewalks and grand plazas, alike. I was able to snap the picture of the giant compass rose when we toured the Monument of the Discoveries in Belem.
Street Art is on Fire in Lisbon!
Okay, not on fire, but definitely on point. There are even tours dedicated specifically for street art; unfortunately, I didn't realize this until I was back in the states. But I did get to see some striking pieces just by walking around Lisbon.
I love, love, love street art. It's definitely my style; full of fun on a grand scale and found in some delightfully unexpected places.
We walked up on this piece while heading back to our apartment in Principe Real.
A trendy place to visit for street art is the LXFactory; we just grabbed a train to get there, and got off at the Alcântara-Mar stop. In addition to some cutting edge street art, LXFactory is also packed with restaurants, bars and shops. I can tell you first hand, it's an ideal place to do some people watching while cooling off with a couple of beers.
Disclaimer: We decided not to catch the train back, opting instead to call an Uber. Let's just blame it on the beers.
It's some serious up and down walking to get anywhere in this city. But, just like San Francisco, Lisbon is loaded with streetcars and even some funiculars to help folks get to where they're going. When researching for our trip, I read somewhere that when the city was updating its' public transportation system, they decided to restore these great relics instead of replacing them. Reason being that some places in Lisbon are so narrow, only a streetcar could get through.
The day we decided to ride the streetcars, we bought a day pass at the central train station. The pass let us ride any streetcar that might come by and and gave us the flexibility to just see where it takes us. As luck would have, we caught a ride on the famous #28. I loved this particular car because of its' windy route around the city. Apparently, lots of fellow tourists feel the same way-more often than not, the car is going to be packed. My favorite part of the ride was when the streetcar had to literally inch passed a parked car.
Riding in one of these cars, with its wooden seats and open windows, not to mention the different views of the city you get to see along the route, really gives you a sense of nostalgia.
The Sweet Sounds of Fado
Fado music is a distinctive part of Portuguese culture, and here is my limited understanding of Fado based on a conversation with a Fado guitar player. Each Fado singer brings his or her own emotional flavor to classic Fado songs; as a song progresses, the guitar player matches the notes from the guitar to the feelings the singer is conveying. Though the words to Fado songs are universal, each time the song is played, it sounds different depending on the emotions of the singer and the partnership between the singer and guitar player.
Lisbon is full of Fado houses where you can listen to performers singing their hearts out while you enjoy an authentic Portuguese meal. After reading several reviews for the best Fado house, we made reservations online for O Corrido using the TripAdvisor website. O Corrido turned out to be the real deal-the music, the food, the ambience. We were also able to talk with the performers between sets, which was my favorite part of the whole experience. This opportunity helped me gain a better understanding and appreciation for Fado. Maybe I'm ready for opera next.
I loved the music so much at the Fado house I totally forgot to take some pictures, so this is my super cute husband playing a Portuguese guitar in a music store instead.