While I have never been to San Francisco, California, I’ve only ever heard generally good things from those that have visited. Time and time again, I’ve heard Lisbon referred to as Portugal’s version of San Francisco. Since I have yet to go to San Fran I cannot speak for the comparisons, but I did greatly enjoy Lisbon as it far exceeded my expectations.
I went to Lisbon not expecting much as it was never a “must see” place on my list. In fact, I knew very little about it when a few of my friends convinced me to go – not that it took too much convincing to go to some place I’ve never been. Upon arriving after a long midnight bus ride from Granada to Madrid, a sleepless night in the Madrid Barajas Airport, and an early flight to Lisbon a bus seamlessly took us from the airport into downtown. We were told on the bus that there was a cyclone approaching Lisbon and the Portuguese coast and that the weather wouldn’t be great. It wasn’t. High winds and rain started when we arrived and continued throughout the long weekend. Weather aside, on the way in I immediately noticed the layout of the city and was intrigued.
Lisbon was built in a valley and on the two hills that create it. It’s the oldest cities in western Europe, and one of the oldest in the world. To my surprise, Lisbon predates the more heavily visited London, Madrid, and Rome. This factoid really peaked my interest as I began to wonder why I had never looked into anything about Lisbon before.
The population is roughly 550,000, so it’s not a small city. However, Lisbon is said to be the cheapest European capital to visit. From my experience here and other places, I can attest to the fact that it is far less expensive than many other cities.
Overlooking the city’s main square is the Castle of São Jorge, which stands majestic above the city. The castle is open almost all day and is only 4 euros to visit – since I was under 25 and considered a student. The admission price was well worth it. Not only was the castle completely open to tour and explore on your own, but it provided amazing views of all of Lisbon and its terracotta rooftops. It can be a hike to get up to the entrance, but trust me, it’s worth all the huffing and puffing.
The Alfama neighborhood is probably Lisbon’s most recognizable, as it’s the oldest and contains many of the cities famous trams. Barrio Alto was also a lot of fun with its eclectic mix of nightlife. A visit to Lisbon should definitely include a night out in Barrio Alto, even if it’s just a walk through the area as your evening is nearing a close because the area’s hip, trendy vibe is all too palpable.
3 other sites which are all located in the Belém neighborhood – a short tram ride from the city center – in Lisbon include:
The Jerónimos Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos)
The Monument to the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos)
The Belem Tower (Torre del Belém)
In 1998, Lisbon hosted the World Exhibition of Lisbon – Expo ’98 – and built the Park of Nations (Parque das Nações). Located here is the Lisbon Oceanarium, which is the largest indoor aquarium in Europe. It’s right on the water and just north of the city, but easily accessible by the metro. The area around the aquarium was built in a new-era modern fashion (for the 90’s mind you) similar to the Sevilla Expo ’92. However, Lisbon’s has been kept in much better condition.
Overall, Lisbon was an incredible city to visit, especially given that I didn’t know much about it when it was suggested I go there. I should also mention that the Portuguese language is a beautiful one that I could at least somewhat understand with my knowledge of Spanish. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Lisbon even though I was there during Cyclone Xynthia and there were high winds and downpours during the vast majority of my visit. If you’re looking for a major European capitol to visit, especially if you’re already located on the Iberian Peninsula, I would highly recommend Lisbon, Portugal, and remember, it’s also one of the most inexpensive European capitols, in case you’re pinching your pennies.
What are your thoughts on Lisbon? Have you been there or are you planning to? Are there other things you’d recommend doing or seeing in Lisbon?