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7 reasons you should visit Lisbon
Everyone who has read the "Night Train to Lisbon" feels the urge to visit this enchanting city and discover its tiny alleys, admire its architecture and dive into its long history. Indeed, one can instantly fall in love with the beauty (and decadence) of Lisbon and everything it has to offer.
Here are some reasons to visit Lisbon and things to do in Lisbon, viewed through the eyes of a tourist who truly loved the city.
#1 Visit Lisbon for the walks
Lisbon is a city that can truly offer you the joy of getting lost. Besides, getting lost is the only way to discover everything it has to offer. It is built on seven hills, so walking can be quite a challenge; you know that every time you go downhill you'll have to go up again! But will you get rewarded! The city is full of picturesque streets, buildings decorated with beautiful tiles and viewpoints (miradouros) that will take your breath away. It is for sure that at least once, when you'll be really tired of walking up a hill and start complaining, an 80-year-old woman will walk past you so quickly that she'll make you feel ashamed. But you will always be able to catch your breath in an authentic small cafe that will serve you a nice cup of coffee for 60 cents.
The best place to walk around is, without doubt, Alfama, Lisbon's older district, with the city's castle and the medieval cathedral. You should also wander around the streets of Belem and admire the tower and the monastery! And after you see all that, walk more!
#2 Visit Lisbon for the nightlife
When it comes to nightlife in Lisbon, choices are endless. People in Lisbon know how to have fun, they go out a lot and stay late! Whether you'll choose a more traditional place or the latest cool nightclub, Lisbon will not let you down.
Most people who visit Portugal, spend at least one night at a Fado Restaurant. Fado is a traditional Portuguese music style; a singer accompanied by a Portuguese guitar. Most Fados in Lisbon are located in Alfama and in Barrio Alto, but the Barrio Alto ones are, as a rule, a lot more touristy. We ran upon the most charming little Fado place when we were walking around Alfama (ok, I have to admit we were completely lost)! It was a tiny restaurant, 7 tables, very affordable, amazing music and friendly atmosphere. Every time the song required a female voice, a woman would sing from the kitchen while cooking. Occasionally the waiter would stop serving and join in the singing. We had the most amazing time, enjoyed the great wine and music, and were really proud of ourselves for discovering such a place. Of course we were later told that the city is full of cute little places like that!
You should also definitely spend a night at Bairro Alto, the city's most vibrant area during nighttime! The narrow streets of Bairro Alto are full of tiny bars that serve beer and cocktails for very reasonable prices. But the bars themselves are usually only half full, as most people get back to the streets after buying their drinks and keep walking around the area with their friends!
The city's old red light district has also become the "place to be". The most popular bar in the area is the unique "Pensao Amor", former brothel, now serving great cocktails and selling lingerie and erotic books! It really is one of a kind!
Unfortunately, we never made it to a nightclub after spending a whole day out in Lisbon, so I don't have any suggestions there! There must be some great choices there as well, you could sense that people were moving towards the port (where most clubs are located) after 2- 3 am!
#3 Visit Lisbon for the hostels
Now, I realize this is an unusual suggestion, but Lisbon has some of the greatest hostels I have ever seen. We were actually tempted to stay in a different one every day! If you decide to visit Lisbon and stay in a hostel, you will find a long list of centrally located, stylish and cheap hostels with great reviews!
What is really impressive about Lisbon's hostels is that they (almost) all have character! Instead of going for the ordinary standard decoration that would be all that a low budget backpacker would expect, owners go out of their way to make their hostel unique. Everything from their name, to their theme and their decoration is truly inspired. And of course they are clean, have friendly staff and offer breakfast!
It is not surprising that so many people choose to stay in a hostel while visiting Lisbon. You'll come upon many couples, families and many many young travelers!
#4 Visit Lisbon for the food
Lisbon is full of cute, small and very affordable restaurants, run by families that serve truly delicious food. Portuguese cuisine is famous for the dried cod and the sardines; in fact there is a million different ways of cooking sardines, you can eat them every day and feel like it's a different food each time! There is also a wide variety of different sausages and salamis; you'll probably not be able to take your hands off them! And the wine, oh, the wine! There are many places in the world where you can get great wine, but not for these prices! A 10 euro bottle of wine will probably be the most expensive in the restaurant's wine list and the most amazing wine you've ever had! Also, don't forget to try pasteis de nata, a kind of Portuguese cream tart, that will go great with your coffee!
Some things you'll need to know: Lisbon is not the best place for a vegetarian. Every menu we came upon was practically divided into two sections- meat and fish! But Portuguese cuisine does have a wide variety of vegetarian food, and most restaurants were willing to wrap something up for the vegans of our group! Also, they use a lot, A LOT of garlic. Just so you know! Last, if they bring to your table a dish you haven't ordered, it's not free. You can either eat it (and pay for it) or send it back!
#5 Visit Lisbon for the culture
Even if you have never heard of the famous Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, it is for sure that after spending one day in Lisbon you will learn all there is to know about him! You won't need to know a thing about Portuguese history: Lisbon's street art will guide you through Salazar's dictatorship and the Carnation Revolution. You will come upon signs of Portugal's long history, architecture and interesting culture everywhere in Lisbon.
The city has some great museums and famous buildings that you can visit, depending on your interests (art, history, architecture, engineering). But even if you are not the museum type, as a visitor you will quickly learn about four things: the Manuelino architecture, tile decorations, Pessoa's verses and the Carnation Revolution. I will be the streets of Lisbon that will teach you all that!
What's most impressive about the city, is its street art! The quality and the content of some of the graffiti is truly impressive. After all, it is not everywhere that you can read something like "I bear the wounds of all the battles I avoided", sprayed on the wall of a centrally located building...
#6 Visit Lisbon while it's still cheap and authentic
Even though Lisbon is gradually become a popular destination for tourists, it remains, until now, a cheap and authentic city.
Many low cost airlines fly to Lisbon, and you can find a nice double room downtown for 50 dollars per night (or a lot less if you go for a hostel!). But, most importantly, the city itself is not expensive. As opposed to other European capitals, Lisbon has countless affordable restaurants with great food. Also, supermarkets are cheap, taxis are not expensive at all, and you will not believe the quality of wine you can get for 6 dollars!
What's most important, most locals will not try to exploit tourists. The hospitality and authenticity of Lisbon is obvious, even in the most touristy places. Most people will speak some English, or try to communicate with gestures and welcome you to their city!
#7 Visit Lisbon for the river
I usually find cities with water magnificent, and Lisbon is no exception. You will not always be able to see the river, but when you reach a viewpoint, it will take your breath away. You will also feel a cool breeze on your skin when you need it the most.
Walking by the river is not always possible (or nice), but you should definitely visit one of the restaurants in Doca de Santo Amaro. Afterwards, if you have time (and a hat) walk from there to Belem. Also, the ferry to the suburbs across the Tejo river will offer you a great view of Lisbon from the water.
What's most appropriate is to end with some verses by Pessoa that I read at the airport, on my way back.
"Life is what we make of it. Travel is the traveler.
What we see isn't what we see
but what we are".