These go-to activities are sure to make your trip worthwhile.
I recently went on a trip to Lisbon, Portugal with my study abroad organization and we had free reign for an entire day to do what we pleased. This article will be about my top five recommendations of things to do while in Lisbon.
To get the ball rolling, I’m going to start off with a little bit about the geography of Lisbon. This will provide a better understanding as to why these places and things, especially the food, are must sees.
Lisbon, Portugal is located at the end of the Tagus river where it dumps out into the Atlantic ocean. The Tagus is the longest river in the Iberian peninsula at 626 miles (1,007 km) and has been an important entry point for trade in Portugal for centuries. This has made Lisbon a very culturally enriched city especially after the discovery of the Americas and its resources.
Due to its proximity to the ocean, seafood is an important part of the gastronomy of the city. Bacalhau, or cod in English, is a Portuguese staple and can be found in almost any restaurant in the city. If you end up in Lisbon, its a must try. This leads me to the first place.
This was probably one of the best markets I’ve been to yet. The amount of variety and diversity of food available seemed endless. They had something for everybody and things I had never seen before. Seafood was a big continuity between a lot of the places (although prepared in variety), however they also offered Thai food and even something as familiar to me as a burger.
They even sported a bar where you could pour beer out of the tap yourself. Also if you need a boost of vitamins or antioxidants there is a juice bar where each juice is made to order from fresh ingredients. The menus themselves aren’t very big, however this allows for the mastery of a few dishes. Maximizing the flavor experience.
The one thing I do have to warn about is the seating arrangement. Just as most markets or breweries you find in the United States, the layout is open seating, but finding a spot is like a fight to the death.
It took me a good 15 minutes walking around the place to snatch a seat. With this in mind I recommend going before or after peak lunch time which is around 2:00-3:00pm (Note it closes at 5:00pm). That was our first mistake.
Once you’re done with your savory main courses and looking for something to satiate your sweet tooth, go to the booth called Manteigaria to get a taste of Portugal in a pastry called pasteis de nata (portuguese) or pasteles de nata (Spanish) for just one euro.
It is a Portuguese custard tart typically served with a dusting of cinnamon and powdered sugar on top. The pastry is such a well protected tradition in Portugal that only three people know the recipe!
2. Jerónimos Monastery (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
This beautiful building is located in the parish of Belém and was commissioned by King Manuel; construction started in 1501 and was completed 100 years later in 1601.
The building was designed by the Portuguese architect Diogo de Boitaca to commemorate the return of Vasco da Gama. It’s style is Manueline; a richly ornate architectural style incorporating maritime materials and objects discovered during naval expeditions carved in limestone.
Manuel selected the order of Hieronymite monks to occupy the monastery. There they stayed for four centuries until the religious order was dissolved in 1833 and the building was abandoned.
The landmark consists of the monastery, the cloister and the church of Santa Maria which houses the tombs of Vasco da Gama and Luís de Camões.
- Church of Santa Maria: Free
- Monastery: €7.00 or free for children under 14
This is one of the most eye opening museums I have been to besides maybe the Holocaust museum in Washington DC (a different kind of reality shock). There are two different sections to this museum; the electrical museum that focuses on technology and gives an inside look into an old electrical plant, and the actual maat building which houses two art exhibits.
You can buy the tickets separate if you want but I highly recommend buying both, it’s only nine euro and very worth it. If you are a student and show your student ID or a journalist you get half off the ticket price at €4.50.
The start to the museum is a semi-interactive exhibit all about the relationship between human and machine called Hello, robot. It questions the ethical, social and political issues associated with technology and how it is effecting our relationship with humanity.
When first walking in, there is a wall full of colorful meme style phrases about technology to prompt thought and introduce the topic. Next you walk into a darker room full of robots, each in a different phase of robotics, and a photo display showing everyday activities using electronic devices, but with the devices removed from their hands.
It made the people and moment look almost devoid of life. Makes a girl think about her own technological habits.
The next room focused on the idea of the robotic breakthrough in industry. How may have already started to take the jobs of humans and in the near future could take almost 50 percent of them.
Lastly, the third focused on robots entering our day to day lives in the form of helpers and friends and what that means in the long run. Finally the exhibit confronts the question of the blurred lines or ethical boundaries as we are confronted with new technologies.
Next, you walk into the old electrical plant or The Tejo Central where its original machinery has been maintained. The Central Electric Circuit teaches us about past technologies by providing explanations and interactive stations to better understand how it once worked.
The whole plant is pretty big and took me a good amount of time to get through it all. It had multiple levels to check out and a lot of information to absorb.
At the end of the electrical plant there sits an exhibit for architecture, right now they are showing casing the works of Ana Santos and Carlos Bunga. These artists aren’t really my cup of tea but I also have limited knowledge about the art world period. So for those of you who like to find your own meaning in art, these are definitely for you.
Lastly we come to the actual maat building itself. It is definitely the more architecturally appealing out of the two as it shows up in most photos on Instagram. Mine included.
This building houses only two art exhibits from contemporary artists but each are equally powerful pieces.
The first is Over Flow by Tadashi Kawamata which focuses on global tourism and ecology issues and invites visitors to experience, “An immersive installation… a maritime landscape following an imaginary ecological catastrophe in which the debris transported by the oceans engulfed civilization,” (maat website). This exhibit ends April 1.
The second was Linguistic Ground Zero by João Louro with a recreation of ‘Little Boy’, the atomic bomb that rocked Hiroshima, Japan. MAAT’s website describes it as being a “moment of inflection in which art and society seem to coincide with the need to end everything – the two Great Wars and the artistic vanguards.” It ends April 22.
Highly recommend a trip to these two places. It was quite an eye opening experience to say the least. A quick tip though, most of the explanations at the actual location are in Portuguese (not all) so look up the exhibits on their website to get a better idea of what you’re looking at.
4. Castelo de Sao Jorge
I’m quite the history buff so when I found out this castle was the ancient seat of power for Portugal for almost 400 years I nerded out a bit.
For those of you who are like me and appreciate the history of a place as much as the present amenities, this is a good one to visit. Even if you aren’t big on the history, the view of Lisbon from the castle is breathtaking.
The castle was originally built by the Visigoths, then taken over by the Moors (Muslims from North Africa) and later turned into the royal palace after the reconquest of Iberia by the Catholic Christians in the 13th-14th century.
The castle had many different looks throughout the centuries but the earthquake of 1755, decimating most of Lisbon, did the most redecorating. The castle is now mostly in ruins and has undergone reconstruction, but the awe is still there in its history and its views.
The grounds also offer a coffee and gift shop with the occasional peacock running around or perched on top of walls and trees.
Ticket lines get pretty long in the middle of the day so I suggest getting there earlier or going through a group tour that prepays for the tickets. This way you also get the history to go along with the castle.
5. Belém Tower (Torre de Belém)
This monument, originally made to defend Lisbon and then turned into a lighthouse, is situated on the bank of the Tagus River and is another World Heritage Site classified by UNSECO.
It is close to the monastery and sits in the neighborhood of Belém, giving the tower its name. The floors from top to bottom consist of the The Governor’s Hall, The Kings’ Hall, the Audience Hall, the Chapel and the roof terrace.
The bottom floor has 16 windows of canons from the days of its use as defense against enemies entering the city. Its twin sits across the river for protection from both flanks.
You can also visit the pits and holes the prisoners were thrown into during their stay in the tower. Each floor is also connected with a spiral staircase that can get clogged on busy days and become a bit of a nuisance when going up and down.
Tickets to enter the tower are €6 for adults and free for children under 12.
When visiting a country you don’t speak the language of, make sure you look up and know typical questions and phrases you may need to use during your time there.
Simple things like ‘thank you’ or ‘where’s the bathroom’ are great starters. Not only does it help you if someone doesn’t know English, but it also shows that you have respect for a countries religion and culture. Locals will appreciate the effort.
Lisbon has multiple types of transportation available in the city.
One is the metro system with four different lines (yellow, green, blue and red) and it is an inexpensive mode of transport for those traveling on a budget.
You can buy a ticket at one of the machines located in any metro station. There is an option of getting a rechargeable metro card (Viva Viagem) that is fifty euro-cent for the card and you can load it with the amount of money you’ll need for your time there. I recommend that.
The one thing I found difficult about the metro is they don’t call out the stops as you arrive on some of the lines, so you really need to know where your going. This is where the app CityMapper comes in handy. Its the google maps for public transport and has saved my life more than once. See my post Went to have tea with the Queen for more info on it.
Trams are another source of public transport. They run along the street and are also inexpensive. You can find them just about anywhere but again you just have to do you research about what stops are near your destination. I didn’t use them while I was there but a couple of my friends did and said they worked great.
Taxis are everywhere in Lisbon however they can sometimes be a little dicey with their prices. If you end up taking a taxi make sure you get a quote from the driver before getting in to make sure you’re charged fairly and know how much it will cost.
If you want to experience more authentic cuisine in a less touristy area, wander the side streets around Lisbon and stay away from the big avenues. You can find great hole-in-the-wall restaurants where the locals like to eat and its often cheaper than staying in the touristy parts of town.