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A First Time Traveler's Guide to Lisbon

Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, is one of the most picturesque and vibrant cities in Europe. With its stunning architecture, rich history, delicious cuisine, and lively culture, it's no wonder that Lisbon has become a popular destination for travelers from all over the world. If you're planning a trip to Lisbon, here are some of the best things to do in the city:

Explore the historic neighborhoods

Alfama is the oldest district in Lisbon, and it's one of the most charming areas of the city. With its narrow streets, historic buildings, and traditional Fado music, Alfama is the perfect place to get a taste of Lisbon's rich cultural heritage. Take a walk through the neighborhood's winding streets, stop at a local cafe for a cup of coffee, and enjoy the stunning views of the city from one of the many lookout points in the area.

Bairro Alto is another historic neighborhood, and it is famous for its nightlife and street art. Chiado is an elegant district, home to high-end boutiques and stunning architecture, and it is also a great place to enjoy a coffee or a pastry.

Maybe most importantly, make sure to bring comfortable shoes! Lisbon is a city of hills, and its historic neighborhoods are located on some of the city's highest points. Prepare for a lot of walking on steep and narrow cobblestone streets

Visit the Belem Tower

The Belem Tower is one of the most iconic landmarks in Lisbon, and it's a must-see attraction for anyone visiting the city. Built in the 16th century as a fortress to protect Lisbon's harbor, the tower is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a symbol of Portugal's maritime history. Visitors can climb to the top of the tower for panoramic views of the city and the Tagus River.

When you get to the tower, look out for the rhinoceros carved into the wall. Back in 1515, someone thought that it would be a good idea to try to make an elephant fight a rhinoceros. It didn’t go very well - the elephant simply walked away. But the rhino was declared the winner by default. The victor of this fight is now memorialized in the Belem Tower.

See the Jeronimos Monastery

The Jeronimos Monastery is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is one of the most impressive examples of Portuguese Manueline architecture. The monastery was built in the 16th century to commemorate Vasco da Gama's voyage to India, and it is home to the tomb of the explorer. Visitors can explore the monastery's cloisters, chapels, and other rooms, and admire the intricate carvings and decorations.

Take a ride on Tram 28

Tram 28 is one of Lisbon's most iconic attractions. The vintage tram takes visitors on a scenic tour of the city, passing through some of Lisbon's most historic neighborhoods. It can be a bit crowded, but it is definitely worth the experience.

Tram 28 is a historic tram line that winds its way through the narrow streets of Lisbon's old town. Riding on the tram is a great way to see the city's sights and get a feel for its unique character. Be prepared for a bumpy ride, as the tram navigates the steep hills and tight corners of the city's streets.

To get the same historic trolley experience while avoiding some of the crowds, try riding later in the day (after 6:00 - 9:00 pm) or taking a different route. Routes 24, 18, and 12 all go through different historic neighborhoods in Lisbon and are never as crowded as route 28.

Visit the Castle of Sao Jorge

The Castle of Sao Jorge may be Lisbon’s most misleading attraction. At first glance, it’s a stunning medieval fortress located on a hilltop overlooking Lisbon. It was built in the 11th century by the Moors and used as a royal residence until it was destroyed during an earthquake.

The castle you see today was completely rebuilt in 1938 by dictator António Salazar. It’s more of a Disneyland castle than a medieval one.

While it may not have the historic significance that you’d expect from looking at it, the Castle of Sao Jorge is still worth visiting. Visitors can explore the castle's 11 towers, climb along the castle walls, and enjoy panoramic views of the city.

Enjoy a Fado Performance

Fado is a traditional Portuguese music genre that is often described as soulful and melancholic. It’s a form of singing that originated in Lisbon in the 19th century, and it is still very popular today. Visitors to Lisbon can enjoy a Fado performance at one of the city's many restaurants and bars.

Visit the National Tile Museum

The National Tile Museum (Museu Nacional do Azulejo) is a unique museum that showcases the art and history of Portugal's traditional tiles The museum's collection includes tiles from the 15th century to the present day, and visitors can learn about the different techniques and styles that have been used over the centuries.

The museum is housed in a beautiful 16th-century convent, and it's a fascinating and educational attraction for anyone interested in Portuguese culture. The National Tile Museum is one of Lisbon's lesser-known attractions, but it is definitely worth a visit.

Take a Day Trip to Sintra

Sintra is a picturesque town located just outside of Lisbon. It is known for its fairy-tale castles, lush gardens, and stunning views. Visitors can take a train from Lisbon to Sintra and spend the day exploring the town's many attractions.

Some of the most notable things to do in Sintra include visiting Pena Palace, Quinta da Regaleira, and trying travesseiros, an almond pastry. If you have a car, it’s also worth visiting Cabo da Roca, the most western point in continental Europe.

Try the Local Cuisine

Portuguese cuisine is known for its fresh seafood, hearty stews, and delicious pastries. Some of the must-try dishes in Lisbon include bacalhau (salt cod), cozido (a meat and vegetable stew), and pasteis de nata (custard tarts). You can find these and many other traditional dishes in local restaurants and cafes throughout the city.

Relax in the parks and gardens

Lisbon has many beautiful parks and gardens where you can relax and enjoy the city's natural beauty. Some of the most popular green spaces include the Jardim da Estrela, the Parque Eduardo VII, and the Jardim Botânico. These parks offer a welcome respite from the busy city streets, and they're the perfect place to enjoy a picnic, take a walk, or simply soak up the sun.

Many of these parks are also home to dozens of peacocks! Be warned that they’re used to being fed and might end up following you around, hoping you give them a snack.

Take a Free Walking Tour

Whenever I visit a new city, I always like to start off with a free walking tour. They're not really free, it's expected you tip your guide at the end. They're led by locals and they're a great way to get an overview of the city and get an insider's opinion of the city. They'll usually give you restaurant suggestions that you won't find in travel guides. They're also a fantastic way to make friends while traveling solo!

Relax on the Beach

Lisbon is located on the Atlantic coast, and it has several beautiful beaches within easy reach of the city. Take advantage of Lison’s 9 months of sunny weather by visiting one of Lisbon’s most popular beaches, like Cascais, Estoril, and Costa da Caparica.

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