Lisbon is the picturesque waterfront city of seven hills. With it’s winding cobblestone streets, vibrant tiles and beautiful architecture the best way to explore Lisbon (as with most cities) is to wander around and get lost in it’s streets, just don’t forget to bring your camera along.
While you are wandering around Lisbon, there are a few things to make sure you don’t miss….
1. Street Culture
The vibe in Lisbon is amazing. There is no doubt that Lisbon residents love to spend most of their time outdoors. The streets are lively and everyone is out and about, from old to young, friends and families. Cafes, bars and restaurants spill onto the sidewalks, music is playing from every corner and street stalls, food trucks and other vendors line the water front and open squares in the city selling everything from fancy cocktails to roasted chesnuts. Parks are full of life. It’s impossible to walk down the street without finding something to do, music to stop and listen to or something to try. Make sure you spend a few days in Lisbon, walking around and soaking it all in.
The history of street art can be traced back to the Roman Occupation. It started as a way to broadcast a religious or political statement to a large audience. It was often used as a catalyst for progression and change. Today, street art in many forms has the same purpose or meaning.
Street art began appearing in Portugal around 1974 when the revolution happened. After freedom of speech had been oppressed for so many years under the dictatorship of Salazar. Many of the statements that began to show up around the city dictated the values of April, values of communism and socialism. The opposite values of the fascist regime that the country had been previously suppressed under.
Today the Portuguese approach to street art is to give beauty to things that are not always so beautiful. In Lisbon, graffiti or street art is being used to erase stigma and create social change. Lisbon is full of works by local and international artists like: slap sktr, eime, tinta crua, Mar, Ram and nomen. There are a number of different projects going on, such as;
The blue wall project which brings art to a wall surround a mental hospital, the art depicts faces, human expression and feelings.
The growing in colours project which brings tourism to traditionally poor neighbourhoods like Bairro Padre Cruz, where no one would previously go to. It erases the stigma from the neighbourhood, brings in outsiders and gives the residents something to be proud of.
Bringing Nature Back to the City Project by artist Bordalo II he uses old car parts to create beautiful 3D works of art around the city.
Another awesome place to see street art is the LX Factory, an urban fragment, kept hidden for years. It’s a creative island occupied by corporations and professionals of the industry serves also has stage for a diverse set of happenings related to fashion, publicity, communication, fine arts, architecture, music, etc.
Fado is a traditional type of Portuguese folk music. It is usually sung with one singer, a guitar, and a Portuguese guitar which has 12 strings. The origins of Fado music are not completely clear, some say it was started by slaves from the colonies, others say from the wives of sailors did not return, or from the sailors that returned after many months or years at sea to find the women they loved had moved on with someone else. However Fado started, it has one common theme. A feeling of Saudade. Saudade is a Portuguese word that is difficult to translate, but it is a feeling of sadness, of loss of longing. It is the feeling of missing someone or something, the feeling of loosing a love that almost was but could never be. It a feeling of melancholy and nostalgia. It’s a feeling we all understand so well at some points in our life but it’s hard to describe just how painful it is. Fado is not something that can be described, it can only be felt and you need to experience Fado at least once before you leave Portugal. You can find Fado any night of the week in different Fado houses around Alfama.
4. The Beaches and Surrounding Areas
There are a lot of great beaches around Lisbon, the water is a bit chilly but the sun and surfing are great. Take the train from Cais do Sodre train station going towards Cascais and stop at any of the beaches along the way.
Sintra is the kings playground. The fairytale land of Palaces and Castles that overlook the sea. Because of it’s altitude and proximity to the ocean, Sintra has a micro-climate that is about 5 degrees cooler than Lisbon making it the perfect summer getaway for royals and nobles alike. There are three different places to explore in Sintra. You have Pena Palace, this is probably the most popular one and likely the one that will pop up when you google photos of Sintra. It was built by the German King Fernando II who was married to the Portuguese queen. (In fairness he wasn’t King, he was prince-consort). It’s also the most expensive palace to visit at 14 euro per person. Next you have the Moorish Castle that was built in the 11th century. The views are impressive as it is the highest of the three. It is 11 euros per person to visit. Lastly, you can visit Quinta da Regaleira, beautiful gardens and a small palace. At 6 euro per person this is probably the best cost for value site in Sintra.
Cabo da Roca
Cabo da Roca is the western most point in continental Europe. Where the cliffs meet the Atlantic Ocean. The views are stunning and the sunsets are gorgeous. Only about 20 – 25 minutes away from Lisbon by car it’s a must see before you leave.
Although you could do Sintra on your own, if you want to fit in Sintra, the beach and Capo da Roca in one day as well as a porto tasting I would absolutely recommend taking Lisbon Destination Tours Sintra Tour. It’s a great value.
5. Cafes to Discover
As you may have already learned I am a digital nomad, in my case I have my own business and I build websites for clients around the world. This means that Although I am constantly traveling with no fixed address, I am not on a permanent vacation. I work (a lot) I just choose to work in a different way and instead of going to an office every day my office tends to be cafes and co-working spaces in whatever city I am currently exploring.
Cafe culture has always been something I’ve enjoyed, even when I wasn’t working as a digital nomad. so I thought I would take a moment to share with you a few of my favourite spots here in Lisbon. Just be sure to save a space at the table for me 😉
Located in the Alfama district, the oldest part of the city. This beautiful cafe is on a quiet side street. They regularly change art exhibitions and sometimes feature their favourite musicians in small concerts. They also have a mini library of international magazines, and if you are like me and you are trying to keep your luggage light you can exchange a book you’ve already read for a new book from their second hand library. Warm, cozy vibe and fast wifi, what more could you ask for?
Copenhagen Coffee Lab
For those of you who know me, you know I have a thing for Scandinavian design. Minimalist design and neutral colours. The decor in Copenhagen coffee lab is an inspirational design dream come true. Not to mention they have some of the best filtered coffee I’ve ever tasted. It’s located in a neighbourhood that is a bit of a hike from the city centre but this means a lot less tourists and a lot more locals which is always a bonus. It’s a great spot to enjoy good coffee and get some work done.
What are a few of your favourite spots? Leave some recommendations in the comments 🙂
Bonus: The View Points
Lisbon has 7 hills, that means that there are stunning view points all around the city. You don’t need to pay to access them. Go and watch the sunset over the city.