Lisbon, the capital of Portugal and a historic city, with its “fado” music, its colours and accent, was named one of the top 10 cities in the world to visit. So, one long weekend, my wife and I decided to take a trip over to Lisbon and enjoy this modern metropolis filled with a rich history.
The city itself can definitely convince everyone who loves to travel for culture, good weather and delicious food. Honestly speaking, Lisbon has long been one of my favourite cities and this time I wanted to show my wife why it is so.
Here are ten reasons to fall in love with Lisbon.
1 – There’s this amazing bridge
The Vasco da Gama Bridge is the longest bridge in Europe. It measures over 10 miles (17 km) long and connects the northern and southern part of Portugal.
If you want to see the bridge and other sights in style, then the classic Beetle convertible is the best idea, especially if you are passionate about old cars like I am.
We took the 4-hour tour with a private driver and it was well worth it. Very friendly as most of Portuguese people our guide was full of facts, history, and all of the insider knowledge.
We were picked up from our hotel and taken to Lisbon’s highlights including the districts of Alfama, Graça, Belém, Chiado and Bairro Alto. We stopped at famous monuments like the Jerónimos Monastery, Jesus Christ statue etc, and of course had a ride on the amazing bridge.
Travel Tips: We have booked our tour with Lisbon By Beetle and it was excellent service, no regrets at all.
2 – Fado – magical music
Fado, which is Portugal’s grassroots bluesy folk music, can be heard all over the city – you just need to know where to look. The best way to get recommendations and to book the table in advance to secure your place, otherwise you might end up on the doorstep with a glass of wine listening from the street – although that sometimes adds to the overall atmosphere.
As we had something special to celebrate with my wife I have booked a place at the best fado club in the city Clube de Fado.
Clube de Fado club is one of the best venues in Lisbon to hear professional fado, and over the years has attracted Portugal’s most celebrated fadistas. The building is centuries old. Guests dine under a vaulted ceiling of brick stone, and in one corner of the room an original Moorish well still stands. Between courses diners are regaled to the haunting strains of Portugal’s most emblematic musical style, delivered by both male and female singers. It was best part of our Lisbon tour: the food and service was great, the music was astonishing.
Travel Tips: Even during the week this slick restaurant fills up with tourists. A good meal without wine will set you back approx €50 per person, plus €7.50 fado fee. Still, you can turn up after 10.30pm just to listen. Recommend you book in advance as it is popular!
In my personal opinion Fado is a very magical music, it touches the emotions of people – even if they don’t speak the same language, may be because those emotions are universal?
Fado (literally: “fate” or “destiny”) is Lisbon’s version of the blues, marked by vocals dripping with heartache accompanied by a Portuguese 12-string guitar. Originating in the streets of the city’s Alfama neighborhood in the 19th century and influenced by Moorish songs, each eruptive ballad evokes the Portuguese emotion of saudade–a yearning or longing for something lost.
Fadistas, as fado singers are known, often wear a black shawl of mourning to show respect to tragic life of Maria Severa, a 19th-century fado singer.
3 – Iconic monuments
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. This landmark is called Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Portuguese. Curiously, the monastery was built on the site of the former Ermida do Restelo, the chapel where Vasco da Gama and the rest of the sailors prayed before setting sail down the African coast to India. Now the church houses the tomb of Vasco da Gama, for those who don’t know Vasco da Gama was a traveler and adventurer in the 15th century.
The Christ monument across the Tagus river from Lisbon, located in the city of Almada, is a magnificent sight from downtown Lisbon but even more so in person. The giant 92 foot (28 meters) Christo Rei statue was built in 1959 to thank God for sparing Portugal from entering World War II. Its design was inspired by the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. Located on top of a hill, the concrete statue of Jesus Christ opens its arms to Lisbon and flaunts the city’s incredible skyline.
4 – Hard-working trams
The city still supports century-old wooden trams and iron funiculars that lurch up and down the narrow streets, which is so charming. Just watching them trundle along is joy, while the metal tracks cut into winding cobbled streets is exemplary of Lisbon’s nostalgic character.
Enjoy the views, hold on to your valuables, be prepared to jostle for a seat and have a firm grip – the trams can brake suddenly, sending passengers flying across the carriage.
5 – World’s finest custard tarts
Generally food in Portugal is fantastic but top of the list no matter who you ask will always be: custard tarts.
The recipe dates back to the 16th century, when the confections, like many other Portuguese sweets, were made by nuns in convents. Now, locals eat pastéis de nata at breakfast, in the midmorning, after lunch, or in the evening — any time they’re craving a snack.
6 – Elevador de Santa Justa
The Santa Justa Lift is an elevator in Lisbon and is the fastest way to get from the Baixa neighborhood to the Bairro Alto district, it is not only popular tourist attraction but also a convenient means of transportation for locals.
The Lift has a stunning observation deck at the top and offers magnificent views over Baixa. Since it was opened to the public, it has become one of the most popular viewpoints in Lisbon.
Interesting fact: this lift can carry 20 people upwards, but can only take 15 people down.
Travel Tips: The Santa Justa elevator is technically part of the public transport network of Lisbon, and is managed by Carris, the public transport operator of Lisbon. This means that a ride on the lift is included in the 24-hour public transport ticket that cost €6.15 and can be purchased from any metro station. This 24-hour ticket cannot be purchased from the Santa Justa, or on-board buses or trams. The 24-hour ticket includes the Elevador de Santa Justa, the Gloria Funicular, the number 28 tram and tram to Belem, so is a good purchase for tourists exploring the city.
7 – Street art
As far as urban art goes, Lisbon is growing. Nowadays, a visit to the city is incomplete without a street art tour, and the art itself tells you a lot about the history of this city.
8 – Friendly people
Portuguese language expresses the friendliness of country’s inhabitants.
In Portugal, the family is the foundation of the social structure. Individuals derive a social network and assistance from the family. For the Portuguese, family loyalty comes before other social relationships, even business.
9 – Lisbon gets more sun than anywhere else in Europe
Lisbon is the capital with the sunniest days in all of Europe with an average of 2799 sunny hours a year, with Athens in Greece on second place with 2771 hours and Madrid the capital of Spain on third place with 2769 hours.
10 – Unique street tiles
Often, it’s the little, quirky things that seem to capture the spirit of wherever we travel, one of them is the unique street tile art of Lisbon.
“Calçada” is the name of the traditional Portuguese tiles or pavement that you can find throughout Lisbon and other Portuguese cities. There are plenty of different and original patterns and while it’s not easy to walk on, it’s pretty easy to admire. We found these tiles everywhere on the streets of central Lisbon in an incredible variety of artistic patterns.
Photography © Gurcan Sarisoy