11 reasons to love Lisbon, Portugal

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Prepare to fall in love with Lisbon. Whether it's the bakeries of Belem, the beaches of Cascais or the fairytale architecture of Sintra, you'll find you freely give your heart to the Portuguese capital with our guide to some of its best bits.

Part of the Alfama district in Lisbon © MF - Fotolia.com
Part of the Alfama district in Lisbon © MF - Fotolia.com

1. Portuguese cuisine

The best way to fall in love with the edible side of Portuguese life is to try one of Lisbon's food-focused city walking tours which will waive away your preconceptions about Portuguese cuisine.

Discovering the city on a four-hour eating and drinking fest sees you navigate Lisbon's atmospheric streets on foot with a ferry-ride to the fishing-harbour side of the city for fresh seafood thrown in.

If exploring the up-and-coming as well as on-the-beaten-track neighbourhoods and stopping at regular intervals for everything from coffee, pasteis, cheese, meats and quince jelly to fresh prawns and locally-made green wine doesn't make you love Lisbon, I don't know what will.

2. Pasteis de Nata at Pasteis de Belem

This may sound like a subset of the food category but here in Lisbon Pasteis de Nata are both a cuisine and a phenomenon in and of themselves and no Lisbon guide would be complete without a local pasteis.

The archetypal Portuguese sweet, it isn't a trip to Lisbon without a visit to the Belem bakery which serves up countless custard tarts to locals and visitors alike, well into the night.

3. Amazing street photography

Lisbon is a real urban melting pot, stirred with regeneration and investment of late. The city has a strong identity and thrilling atmosphere, chock-full of history but with eyes firmly on the future.

Dilapidated buildings, street art and graffiti are everywhere, leaving camera-wielding tourists plenty of opportunities to get their fill of photogenic urban decay.

4. Trams

Trams feature heavily in depictions of Lisbon past and present, and it wouldn't be a trip to Lisbon without a trip on the number 28, every Lisbon guide recommends the tourist-laden tram that winds its way up the picturesque hilly streets and, for good reason, this is a classic photo opportunity that's not to be missed.

Lisbon tram © Miguel Azevedo e Castro - Shutterstock
Lisbon tram © Miguel Azevedo e Castro - Shutterstock

5. Shopping at the Feira Da Ladra

For lovers of shopping Lisbon is a surprising and delightful destination; there are souvenirs, many of which are made from cork farmed in the nearby Alentejo region, and the old world shop fronts which lend even the most well-known chain store a certain romance.

However, for real trash-to-treasure finds head to the Tuesday and Saturday Feira da Ladra (that's flea market to you and me) which is accessible via the 28 tram.

6. Friendliness

Lisbon will really blow you away with its openness and friendliness. Within an hour of landing at Lisbon Airport, three unconnected kindly strangers had helped me with my bag, something that hasn't happened in any other European city.

7. Alternative transportation

Only in Lisbon can you take a journey around the city on army-style motorbikes with sidecars at dusk while onlookers applaud. Each of these growling machines takes two passengers; one perched precariously on the back behind the driver, the second jauntily placed in a disconcertingly low-to-the-ground sidecar.

It's hard to be sure if the applause is for the uniqueness of the vehicle in general or for you specifically managing to stay on board while the driver accelerates away from the lights around cobblestoned-corners and along perilous-looking tram tracks. Whatever the reason this is the way to see Lisbon.

8. Sintra

The UNESCO World Heritage site of Sintra is the perfect day trip from Lisbon - a pleasant drive through verdant hills to a fairy-tale setting that Byron described as 'perhaps in every respect the most delightful in Europe'. Wandering around the dainty streets and exploring and admiring the fantastical Pena Palace is the perfect antidote to the big city.

Sintra Palace, UNESCO World Heritage, Portugal © Taiga - Fotolia.com
Sintra Palace, UNESCO World Heritage, Portugal © Taiga - Fotolia.com

9. Super Bock & Sagres Beers

Sagres and Super Bock are Portugal's two omnipresent beers, one of the simplest and the best recommendations you can get from any Lisbon guide is to put some serious research into tasting the two and deciding which you like best. Be warned, the sampling phase may take longer than you think!

10. Cabo Da Roca

Cabo Da Roca, once thought to be the end of the world, is excitingly for travelling box-tickers, known to be the most westerly point of Europe, a sort of European version of South Africa's Cape Point with similarly wind-swept, rocky and symbolically barren scenery.

11. Cascais

Leave the metropolis behind and head towards the beaches of Cascais, knowing that so close to the hubbub of downtown Lisbon lies a stylish sandy beach resort and access to fresh, pure Atlantic breezes and salty good times makes the city even more appealing. Those lucky Lisboners have it all within easy reach.

Cascais Beach, Portugal © Husond - Wikimedia Commons
Cascais Beach, Portugal © Husond - Wikimedia Commons

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From the tasty food and friendly locals to art, culture and the seaside, we hope this Lisbon guide has inspired you to visit the Portuguese capital and find your own slice of happiness.

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Jaillan Yehia

Jaillan Yehia

Article updated on Sunday 29th August 2021 in: City Culture Europe Food & drink

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