Lisbon, the sun drenched coastal capital of Portugal, is one of Europe’s oldest cities and one which has remained relatively unspoiled by tourism over the years. The city’s history is one of its main attractions and the wealth of monasteries, museums and monuments, in particular Belém Tower and the St. George Castle, are well worth taking the time to see.
Once you’ve seen the main sights, wandered around the pretty Alfama district and tasted a delicious Pastel de Nata, you might find yourself a loose end in Lisbon; here are our top picks from some of the activities you may have missed.
One of Lisbon’s best kept secrets, these ancient Roman ruins are directly underneath one of the most central areas of the city, every day thousands of people walk over this 2000 year old collection of bridges, corridors and chambers, having absolutely no idea what is below them.
Visitors will have to time their trip carefully, as the Galerias are entirely underwater and completely inaccessible for 362 days of the year. On the other three days, usually in late September, a team of experts pumps the water out and the public is offered the chance to climb down through a manhole in the middle of one of Lisbon’s busiest streets, and take a tour of these wonderful ruins which lie beneath the city.
The Thieves Market
Known locally as ‘Feira da Ladra’, the thieves market is a place where you could find anything, whether you were looking for it or not. Feira da Ladra is a chaotic affair, with every item imaginable, from iPhones and PCs to handmade or antique furniture, laid out on plastic sheets or makeshift tables in no particular order.
Frequented by both bargain hunters and wealthy collectors, this flea market is thought to have existed since the 12th Century. Some great bargains can be had if you’re willing to haggle a bit, if that’s not your style it’s a great place to just walk around and enjoy the atmosphere. The market takes place in the shadow of the impressive St. Vincent Church, making in easy place to stop off on a morning of exploring the beautiful Alfama district.
Our number one recommendation is, Chapito, a bar/restaurant/café which doubles as a school for circus performers an, art gallery and who knows what else. All of these functions mean that there is always something going on here. Inside a former prison building, dating back from the 17th Century, the bar is tucked away on a back street of Alfama, if you manage to find the entrance you’ll be treated to a great view over Lisbon’s rooftops and beautiful garden. Enjoying an afternoon coffee whilst circus performers practice their arts around you is a great and truly unique experience, show up a little later for dinner and be sure to check their schedule for any interesting events or performances going on during your time in Lisbon.
Other top places to dine in Lisbon include Taberna da Rua das Flores, a cosy restaurant showcasing creative cooking using local produce, and Ramiro, where mouthwatering Portuguese cuisine can be enjoyed.
Riding the waves may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you’re planning a trip to a European city, but Portugal’s Atlantic coast is home to some of the world’s prime surf spots, and there are plenty of Lisbon based companies offering lessons and day trips with transport included.
Epic Surf School operates out of a beautiful lodge, right on the beach on the Portugal’s blue coast. They offer half day and full day excursions, with equipment rental and transport to and from central Lisbon included.
Plenty of other companies offer similar deals to many of the areas beaches. Those who want to spend as much time as possible next to or in the water can also enjoy a coffee in a riverside cafe, or take a boat trip down the river and enjoy a different perspective of the city.
Visit Monsanto Forest Park
The largest ‘urban forest’ anywhere in Europe, Monsanto Park (Parque Florestal de Monsanto) is one of Lisbon’s most beautiful areas, affectionately known by locals as ‘the lungs of the city’. The forest takes up a massive 900 hectares, right in the center of the city. The forest is entirely man-made, planned and planted in the 1930s.
For the actively minded, there are almost 50 kilometres of hiking and cycle trails inside the park, as well as tennis courts and other sports facilities. There are also regular exhibitions, performances and other events. Even without all of this, the park is full of beautiful spots to bring a picnic to and enjoy some great views of the city whilst surrounded by the diverse nature of this unique park. The best way to reach Monsanto is via the ‘Green Corridor’ (Corredor Verde de Monsanto), which links the park with Restauradores Square.
Nature lovers can also visit Jardim das Amoreiras. One of the oldest gardens in Lisbon, it is a beautiful space with a playground and kiosk with terrace.