Warning! We have been told all visitors to Lisbon develop a certain sickness, an addiction. You can leave the city but you must always return. Maybe it’s happening to us, maybe we have become infected by it. Well, it’s a risk we are willing to take.
Someone asked me recently, what is your favorite part of Lisbon. The answer without a doubt is the historic Alfama neighborhood. I can’t seem to get away from it. It’s shabby, it’s charming, and there is always something new around the next corner. You might walk along the street and all of a sudden come upon an impromptu concert. The stage is a balcony and the seating a broken wall, and there is a bucket on a rope for contributions. Or maybe you as you pass a tiny courtyard, you see an old woman selling shot glasses of homemade ginjinha, Portugal’s famous sour cherry liqueur, for a euro.
Alfama is also the center of fado, the traditional music of the Portuguese people. I highly recommend the fado museum as an introduction to this style of music. I learned a lot about fado there, and it helped me to really appreciate the performance we later enjoyed along with a delicious dinner in one of the many fado houses in the area.
Lisbon is a city of steep hills, in fact often the street turns into a staircase. So if you get tired of walking and even if you don’t, hop on a tram, especially the E28. Riding the Lisbon trams is an experience that can’t be missed. The trams are rattley things from another age. Every once in a while the driver has to stop and get out to manually operate the switches before continuing on his route. There seems to be no limit as to how many people can ride on the trams, so it can get really crowded. There are signs warning of pickpockets, so keep your purse and wallet secure. The front seats are reserved for the elderly, and it’s fun watching older Lisboners defending their rights to these seats with their walking sticks if necessary.
A single ticket purchased as you board the tram is € 2.90. It is usually better to buy some kind of transit card, there are different options available. They must be purchased at the metro stations. I found the ticket machines confusing but there is also a ticket window where the helpful staff usually speak enough English to help you chose the ticket that’s right for you. As we were actually staying in Almada across the river, we bought a 24h card that was good for the ferry as well as all other forms of transit in Lisbon for €9.50.
Google maps works really well in Lisbon, so we just ride trams at random and if we see anything interesting, we get off and walk around a bit in that area, maybe stop for a coffee and pastry. Now Lisbon pastries are another experience you simply cannot miss. A fellow tourist told us that back home he has cut sugar out of his diet to be healthier. However as he was told that he must try the pastries here, he has suspended this restriction while in Lisbon for and rightly so. Every street has several pastry shops and after extensive sampling I haven’t found one yet that wasn’t amazing. So after exploring this or that neighborhood we simply let Google maps show us how we can get back to somewhere more familiar. Lisbon feels totally safe, so it’s ok to let yourself get lost a bit for a while.
Since, as I mentioned we are actually staying in Almada across the river all our adventures in Lisbon start at Cais do Sodre. This is a ferry terminal, train station and metro station, and as you leave the terminal building there is a bus and tram stop. But there is much do see and do even in walking distance. If you leave the terminal and turn right for example you can walk along the riverfront. This area is full of buskers and places to sit and relax. There are also many cafés and restaurants. If you keep walking you reach Praça do Comercio, one of the largest squares in Europe. Across the square you see a huge archway. Go through there and you are on Rua Augusta, an amazing shopping street. So do some window shopping and enjoy the crowds.
Or you could catch the E15 tram in front of Cais do Sodre and check out Belem, a laid-back area on the Tagus River. Walk along it’s streets and admire the beautiful houses decorated with colorful tiles. This neighborhood is also known for its seafood restaurants. Some historic landmarks that recall Portugal’s seafaring past out here are the 16th century Tower of Belem and the sail-shaped Discovery Monument. All along the riverfront here you see people going for walks or cycling. It’s also possible to rent segways and scooters. Not far from the river is located the enormous Gothic Jeronimos Monastery. It’s monks are credited with inventing the absolutely fabulous pastel de natas, the tastiest custard tarts you can imagine. Near the monastery, the popular Pastels de Belem patisserie claims to make the best ones.
We are leaving Lisbon tomorrow to continue our adventures in Spain. I thought, a flight at 7:50 am was quite a civilized time, we’ve certainly had earlier flights. However the Lisbon metro doesn’t start running until 6:30 am (the metro shuts down at 1 am, some stations close earlier) so the earliest you can get to the airport using the metro is 7:05 am. So we have hired a car to pick us up instead.
After totally enjoying this unique city, what can I say, I’ll be back as soon as I can!