Wondering what it might be like to visit Lisbon Portugal? Well, you’re not alone. It’s one of Europe’s most popular destinations. I just returned from a two-month winter stay in Lisbon. And as I hoped with such a prolonged visit, I got to know Lisbon fairly well. Let me show you some of what makes Lisbon great through 11 of my favorite Lisbon photos.
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Trams Rumbling Through Narrow Streets
A very common site in the historic center of Lisbon is the yellow tram. First introduced to Lisbon in the 1930s, these trams remain an important way to get around central Lisbon today. You’ll find different types of public transportation options in flatter parts of this large city. But the trams still operate in areas of hilly Lisbon where the streets are so narrow, winding, and steep, that modern light rail or long buses will not work.
This is a photo of the most famous of the trams – Tram 28. Riding Tram 28 through central Lisbon and up into the Alfama district is one of the most popular things for tourists to do during a visit to Lisbon.
And while riding Tram 28 is a Lisbon must-do, I enjoyed observing the trams more so from the street. And I always kept on the lookout, whenever I was walking on a railed street and could hear that rumble from afar, for a good photo. This is my favorite of many.
Alfama – A Maze Stacked Up a Hill
Downtown historic Lisbon is made up of several districts, and none is more scenic than hillside Alfama. This is the oldest part of Lisbon, and since it avoided most of the destruction wreaked by a massive earthquake in 1755, it retains a lot of its centuries-old character.
Wandering Alfama is wandering through a maze of narrow streets, staircase passageways, white-washed buildings, small town squares, and tiny restaurants.
And it’s in Alfama where you’ll find many of Lisbon’s most popular viewpoints called Miradouros. This was my personal favorite spot to look out over Alfama – Miradouro de Santo Estêvão. It’s a little more off the beaten path than some of the other miradouros in Lisbon. And unlike the very popular Miradouro das Portas do Sol (which is always overrun with Instagram posing), at this viewpoint I was often the only person.
Barrio Alto – So Many Quaintly Perfect Streets
Barrio Alto is another of Lisbon’s most scenic districts. Unlike the maze of Alfama, Barrio Alto was built in a “modern” grid-like pattern in the 1500s. The streets are straight, but they can also be steep, since Barrio Alta sits atop one of Lisbon’s seven hills.
The streets of Barrio Alto have retained their old world charm over the centuries – I think they are Lisbon’s most photogenic.
Barrio Alto is also the epicenter of Lisbon’s night life. The streets were always quiet during the day. At night though…the bars and restaurants would open with patrons spilling out into the streets.
The Convent That Lost Its Roof
Remember that 1755 earthquake I mentioned? Tens of thousands of people died and many structures throughout Lisbon were destroyed. One of these was the 14th-century Carmo Convent. The roof over the church nave collapsed during the great quake, and was never replaced. Many of the support arches remain though, providing a striking reminder of Lisbon’s biggest natural disaster.
The Convent is now an archeologic museum and was one of my favorite museums during our visit to Lisbon. Throughout the nooks and crannies of roofless nave, artifacts from other Portuguese monasteries are on display. Artifacts that were moved to the Convent in the 19th century for protection from the invading French.
A Visual Feast of Graffiti and Tile
It’s not just major landmarks like the Convent that make Lisbon a visual feast. Like many European cities, you’ll find brightly-colored graffiti everywhere (along with scattered street art too). And no surface is immune. Every funicular used to help transport people up the steep Lisbon streets is tagged. Like this one – the Elevador do Lavra.
And Portugal is well known for its ceramic tile building facades. Not every building in Lisbon is covered with these azulejos. But many are. With all kinds of patterns and colors.
It all provides an interesting contradiction – the order of the tiles, the disorder of the graffiti. Clearly Lisbon is a fun place to visually explore!
The Lisbon Landmark – Torre De Belém
The Belém Tower is generally considered Lisbon’s most iconic structure, and is probably the most popular symbol of the city. It’s certainly Lisbon’s most photographed structure. So here’s my contribution to the million photographs out there.
This tower sits on the shores of the Tagus River, in the suburb of Belém, a few miles west of central Lisbon. It was from the docks of Belém that all the great Portuguese navigators set sail on their voyages of discovery. The Torre de Belém was built as a fortification in the 1500s to prevent Portugal’s enemies from passing up the river.
Honestly, it’s smaller in person than I imagined. But as one of the 7 Wonders of Portugal and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s a necessary part of any visit to Lisbon.
Lisbon’s Best Site – Jerónimos Monastery
Not far from the Tower, you’ll find the Jerónimos Monastery. Like the Tower, it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site & one of the 7 Wonders of Portugal.
I think it’s Lisbon’s best site. Walking into the center courtyard was one of those great moments that happen sometimes in travel….when you don’t really know what to expect of a place…and you turn a corner and gasp due to the unexpected beauty.
The Monastery was built by Portugal’s King Manuel in the 1500s using money raised by import taxes on goods brought from Africa and Asia. He built it so the monks would pray for both him and all the navigators that were making Portugal rich. The uniquely Portuguese architectural style is called Manueline – a type of Gothic architecture marked by ornate nautically-themed detail. We were lucky and caught it on a sunny afternoon when the light really amplified its beauty.
Get Out of Town!
This is a photo of Sintra. I know…this is a Lisbon post, and Sintra isn’t in Lisbon. But it’s close. In fact, we could get to Sintra faster from our apartment via train than we could get to Belém. And we loved Sintra so much that we visited three different times. It’s quaint, it’s wooded, there’s an 8th century fortified wall on top of that hill, and the area is bursting with many great sites like Quinta de Regaliara & Monserrate Palace. The super popular Pena Palace is there too, but we honestly found it a bit overrated compared to Sintra’s other sites. I’ve written a dedicated blog post about Sintra if you would like to read more about this beautiful place.
And that’s one of the great things about a visit to Lisbon. It’s the capital city, and so it’s very well connected via public transportation to lots of places that make for great day trips. Places like Óbidos, Évora, Cascais, and Sintra.
Plus, you can get to Porto in less than three hours via train if you want to spend a few days in Portugal’s second largest city. (Sadly, there were three train strikes – yes three train strikes! – during our two months in Lisbon. Two of these forced us to cancel two different trips to Porto on a last minute basis. So we will have to visit Porto another time).
Fado – A Glimpse into Lisbon’s Soul
Fado is the traditional music of Portugal – born in Lisbon’s poorer neighborhoods centuries ago. It’s haunting, melancholic, and passionate. A musical expression of the Portuguese soul. It’s such an important and recognized part of Portugal’s cultural identity that it was placed on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2011.
Taking in a Fado performance is an essential part of any visit to Lisbon. This photo is from our first Fado experience at Lisboa Em Fado. As this photo shows, Fado typically includes a singer and two accompanying guitars – including the the unique pear-shaped Portuguese guitar.
You can read even more about Fado and our personal Fado experience in this post:
Portuguese Food is Really Good
I wasn’t really sure what to expect with Portuguese food. I’m fairly certain I’ve never seen a restaurant specializing in Portuguese food at home or in my travels, so I’d never eaten it before.
I found that I really liked it.
Cod is king in Portugal, and dishes featuring salt cod are among the most popular with the Portuguese. But Portuguese cuisine includes many other types of grilled seafood and seafood-based stews. Plus plenty of Iberian pork and beef dishes too.
Pictured is the best Octopus dish I’ve ever eaten anywhere. It’s called Polvo à Lagareiro and features grilled octopus, on a bed of grilled whole baby potatoes, and topped with hot olive oil loaded with garlic. So tender and delicious!
Other popular foods Lisbon included the Bifana – a marinated pork loin sandwich. And Piri-Piri Chicken – charcoal grilled chicken marinated in a spicy pepper sauce.
I’ve written entire blog posts on both of these Portuguese favorites. Click below to read more:
And I’ve also written a post specifically dedicated to many more examples of the great Portuguese food we ate in Lisbon
The Best Version of Portugal’s Most Famous Dessert
Portugal’s most internationally famous food is actually a dessert. The Pastel de Nata. A small egg custard tart.
You will see them everywhere in Lisbon. Every restaurant, bakery, coffee shop, and grocery store sells its own version. And there is a lot of online debate about where to get the second best version. And I say second best, because it is universally accepted that the best is found at Pastéis de Belém.
Pastéis de Belém are the original Pastéis de Nata. Created by the monks at the nearby Jerónimos Monastery in 1837. The recipe is a long-guarded secret and 20,000+ of these beauties are sold daily. They were hands-down my favorite version during our visit to Lisbon – not quite as sweet as the others, with a slightly chewier puff pastry shell.
(And in case you are wondering, my second favorite version was at Pastelaria Versailles.)
As you can see, Lisbon is great! And very photogenic too! Beautiful views, quaint streets, impressive landmarks, and delicious food.
Visit Lisbon Portugal some day yourself and I’m sure you’ll fill up your camera with photos too!
If you do decide to visit Lisbon, then you may find these important Lisbon travel tips useful.
And if you want to check out some other photogenic places I’ve visited, then check out these similar posts: