This week’s virtual travel journey takes us to Lisbon, Portugal’s hilly, coastal capital city. Lisbon is known for its wide glittering river, limpid skies, steep cobbled streets, palaces, churches (and a castle, of course), tiles in pink, mint and indigo, and cheap, fresh, grilled sardines to eat outside a tasca (bar) in the sun. It’s a place so beautiful you can’t believe people are using it to live in. And Lisbon is decidedly lively. Every year it seems there is more to do, more to eat and more distance to cover.
Lisbon faces the river Tagus, but its spirit is vast and oceanic, tied up with seafaring, fishing and adventures on the Atlantic, just around the corner in the river. Lisbon is also spectacular at night, as there is an orangey, sandybrown glow from the streetlights that bathes the city in a lovely tint.
Lisbon has long hot summers, pleasantly warm springs/autumns and mild, but possibly wet winters. The height of the tourist season is from June until the end of September, while the beaches are at their busiest in July and August. The best season to visit Lisbon is late Spring or early Autumn; where there are fewer tourists, but the weather is still glorious. Lisbon’s summers are very hot and the daytime temperature often exceeds 35 degrees. Late Spring temperatures are between 20 and 27 degrees which seems the perfect time for a glorious city break!
Do not miss the opportunity to travel on the famous and quaint yellow Remodelado Trams that rattle and screech through the narrow streets of Lisbon.
The top 3 activities to do/see in Lisbon:
A visit to the Belém Tower
The Belém Tower (Torre de Belém) was built between 1514 and 1520 in a Manuelino style by the Portuguese architect and sculptor Francisco de Arruda. It was classified as a World Heritage Site in 1983 by UNESCO.
Constructed on the northern bank of the Tagus River, this tower was used to defend the city. Years later, it was transformed into a lighthouse and customs house.
Roam the streets of Alfama
Alfama is Lisbon’s most emblematic quarter and one of the most rewarding for walkers and photographers thanks to its medieval alleys and outstanding views.
Because its foundation is dense bedrock, it survived the 1755 earthquake, and a walk through this old-fashioned residential neighbourhood is now a step back in time. It’s a village within a city still made up of narrow streets, tiny squares, churches, and whitewashed houses with tile panels and wrought-iron balconies adorned with pots of flowers, drying laundry, and caged birds.
Visit the Jerónimos Monastery
The Jerónimos Monastery, also called Hieronymites Monastery, is along with the Tower of Belém, one of the most visited sites in Lisbon. UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 1983. The religious building was designed by the Portuguese architect Diogo de Boitaca to commemorate the return of Vasco da Gama from India. The construction began on 6 January 1501 and wasn’t completed until the seventeenth century. The building is in a style of Portuguese late Gothic.
Traditional foods that locals and tourists love in Lisbon are: Bacalhau a Braz; there are a hundred ways to prepare this meaty fish, and one of the most traditional ways to prepare it is Bacalhau à Braz, scrambled eggs with olives and fried potatoes.
If you are visiting Lisbon during summer, you simply have to sample the fresh sardines.
In June, at the Festo de Santo Antonio, the whole city throws a party and fresh sardines are served everywhere. They are at their most delicious and juiciest at this time of the year. And they’re grilled right along Lisbon’s streets, and served with copious amounts of wine, roasted bell peppers, and boiled potatoes. Once you smell sardines being grilled during the Festo, you’ll always associate it with the city, guaranteed.
Bifana! This is our personal favorite, and it could not be simpler, but its taste is sublime. Bifana is one of the most popular snacks in Portugal, and can be found in almost any food stall or food truck in the streets of Lisbon.
Bifana is simply thin slices of pork marinated in white wine and a lot of garlic, then fried, and slapped into a bun. Instant happiness. Some people add mustard or hot sauce, but for us, it’s unnecessary, as the taste of the meat and the juices in the bread is all we need.
Pro tip: Have it with a cold beer.
They’re the most famous foods from Lisbon! And the recipe is under lock and key: Apparently, only three people in the world know it! Pasteis de Nata (known as the custard tart here in England) is golden puff pastry circle with a barely firm rich egg custard in the middle. It’s sold at Pasteis de Belem. The Clarinha family, heirs to the original bakers, have a copyright on the recipe, which is centuries old.
Keep a look out for next week’s post, where we will be taking you to explore another beautiful destination.
Research and Writer