OVERVIEW: Although Lisbon has many modern amenities, it still has managed to maintain the feel of old world Portugal. The beautiful architecture of the buildings and the quaint alleyways make an ideal location for wandering around this beautiful city. Transportation is easily available so a rental car is not necessary. We walked around the city most nights after dinner and never felt unsafe. In fact at night, the city has a charm to it as the outdoor cafes and bars fill up and people stop to have after-dinner drinks.
TORRE DE BELEM: As you head to the waterfront you will see this beautiful tower looming over the water. Although you can just admire it from the outside, it is great to go in and do a self-guided tour to the very top level. The staircases that lead from one floor to the next are so narrow that they’ve developed a light system to direct the traffic. When the light is red you patiently wait for the crowd to come through and when the light turns green it is now your turn to enter the twisting stairwells. While you are in the area, you must go into a pastry shop and taste some pasteis de Belem. These custard filled pastries are famous throughout Portugal and you won’t be sorry you stopped for one.
- Tickets are € 6 and can be purchased online. (There are also combination tickets for other attractions.)
- Open on Tuesdays- Sunday 10:00-5:00
OCEANARIO DE LISBOA (AQUARIUM): Since my girls were such great travelers the entire trip, we decided to treat them to a day at the aquarium. There were great exhibits with many hands-on activities for kids. There were animals such as puffins, penguins, frogs, devil rays, several different types of sharks, and many more. Our favorite were the otters. They came right up to the glass and were curious as they watched us as they were playing. The layout of the aquarium is easy to navigate and there is a great variety of different fish.
- Open 10:00-8:00 (After October 25 through winter, it is open from 10:00-6:00)
- Cost: Kids (4-12) € 11, (13-64) € 17, 65+ € 11. They also sell a family pack of tickets (2 adults and 2 kids) for € 44.
MOSTEIRO DOS JERONIMO: This beautiful church and cloisters was built in the early 1500’s and is the burial site of Vasco de Gama. It would be my number one attraction to see in Lisbon. It is located down by the water and there is usually a long line to get in but that is just an indication that what lies within is worth the wait. The church is breathtaking and no matter what religion you are, you can appreciate the amazing architecture of the building. The best view of the church is from the 2nd floor balcony where you can peer down at the pews and altar. The cloisters open up to a beautiful view of the gardens.
- Individual tickets cost € 10 but if you are planning on seeing other attractions you may want to look into a combination ticket.
- There are also several discounts for seniors as well as families.
- It is free on the first Sunday of each month but be prepared to have a ton of people there with you.
COACH MUSEUM: The coach museum has improved since we were there three years ago. I hear it now consists of 2 buildings but the coaches we saw are still there and is a nice experience. They are from the 17th, 18th, and 19th century and they are works of art. My girls have loved fairy tales since they were babies and we could have never imagined that coaches could be so beautiful. The intricate details on the wood, the gold foil, and the embroidered seats made us step into Cinderella’s world. Some coaches are displayed on fake horses so you can see just how grand they were.
LISTEN TO FADO MUSIC: Fado is a genre of music that dates back to the early 1800’s in Portugal. If you were to translate the lyrics of the songs they just might make you grab a box of tissues because many are about lost loves or a horrible occurrence in one’s life. Sounds fun doesn’t it?? In reality, if you don’t know Portuguese then you can just sit back, enjoy a glass of Port wine, and pretend the song is a romantic love ballad. All around Lisbon you will see signs promoting different venues that have live Fado shows. The best shows are the ones that play during dinner and are usually held in small taverns serving food using family recipes, homemade wine, and small crowds. My girls loved it even though they didn’t understand a word of what was being sung.
ALFAMA DISTRICT: If you want to get a true feel of what authentic Lisbon city living is like, then you should visit the Alfama district. It is the oldest section of the city and as you stroll around you will see elderly women dressed head-to-toe in black hanging laundry on their clotheslines, men sitting in courtyards playing cards, and outdoor cafes with people enjoying a very long leisurely lunch. One night we decided to try a restaurant next to our rental. Every evening the restaurant set up tables in a large alleyway and about 2 hours later every seat was filled with people laughing and shouting across the alleyway to their friends. It reminded me of Sunday dinners when I was younger. We immediately felt like we were a part of the community and it was one of the best meals of the trip.