April Travels: Lisboa
Being back in Germany hasn’t kept me from exploring, though. There’s still so much world to see out there – places close and far to put my feet on. In April, I was lucky to take a family trip to Lisboa (Lisbon), the Portuguese capital.
Never having been to Portugal before, I knew little about what to expect. I associated the place with sun and its green and red flag. That’s about it.
Having little expectations is probably one of the easiest ways of having a great trip. My family and I don’t do much planning before a journey and we rather see where each day takes us. This method served us well throughout our short vacation to Portugal and I would like to share some assorted recommendations on what to do, eat and see if you have a few days to spend in Lisbon.
Fado and fish
Fado (meaning destiny or fate) is a traditional Portuguese type of music that is part of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. It originates two centuries ago and is characterized by a melancholic tone and texts that express longing, loss and resignation. If you go up to Bairro Alto (the upper quarter in the area of central Lisbon) you will find many traditional Portuguese restaurants that offer cozy in-house fado concerts for you to listen to while enjoying a typical Portuguese meal. I recommend you to order bacalhau (dried cod), the fish of the region. Listening to fado on-location is an unforgettable experience. It isn’t uncommon for the cook and waiters to join in the singing. The costs of a meal including fado are quite pricy so you may take it as a treat or consider eating somewhere else before heading to one of the Bairro Alto restaurants for some Portuguese w(h)ine.
Pastéis de Belém
Belém, one of Lisbon’s most visited districts, is the place from where many Portuguese explorers set off to their discovery expeditions. Places to see are a tower (Torre de Belém) that originally served as a lighthouse and the Jerónimos Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos). Believe it or not, my family and I skipped the latter one as we were scared off by the long queue underneath the midday sun. The historical building looked very nice from outside, though. We settled for a much shorter queue that was worthwhile as well in order to try the famous pastéis de Belém, a typical Portuguese egg tart pastry. They are sold in a famous bakery near the monastery that has been operating since 1837. Make sure to add powdered sugar. Mmmm!
If you’re travelling with kids or have a sister that LOVES sea animals, the oceanário (aquarium) located in the former exhibition grounds of the 1998 Expo is well worth a visit. It’s Europe’s largest indoors aquarium. Sharks, penguins, sea stars, jelly fish, ray… You name it, you’ll see it.
The Castle of São Jorge
This castle overlooks the historical center of the city. If you walk up there on a clear day, you may notice that the city has a quite manageable size and it will help you get an overview of what’s located where. You can easily spot Lisbon’s 25th of April Bridge and the view point in Bairro Alto, for instance.
This pedestrian street runs through the heart of the city in a district called Baixa. It’s marked by a triumphal arch on the Commerce Square. This arch and the building it’s incorporated in were constructed as an act of commemoration after the severe 1755 earthquake that struck the city. In this area, you’ll also find the elevator of Santa Justa that was built in 1902. It’s a beautiful piece of architecture that somehow reminded me of the Asansör in Izmir, even though their structures are a bit different.
Once you’re in town, don’t miss to take a ride on Lisbon’s traditional yellow trams. Unless you’re claustrophobic. Then you should walk and take a glimpse at them from outside. Those little carriages can get quite packed with people on busy parts of the route.
Take a stroll through the historical streets of Bairro Alto and Alfama. Explore the small alleys and see what and who you come across. I had the impression there was a “still life” on every corner. Lots of graffiti, historical buildings paired with Mediterranean flair and interesting encounters make this an extraordinary setting for photography lovers. You may also notice poverty and the effects of the euro crisis that has struck Portugal quite hardly in recent years. My family and I enjoyed this colourful city, its friendly people and good food. A short city trip like this helps opening up horizons and strengthening family bonds at the same time as new inside jokes arise and experiences are shared.
Have YOU ever been to Lisbon? Which places and dishes did you like best? Tell us about your experiences.