Lisbon: The San Francisco of Europe

From colorful houses, narrow streets and yellow trams to Instagram-worthy tiles and friendly locals. Lisbon has it all and is the ultimate destination for a great city trip!

Lisbon: The San Francisco of Europe by Paula van de Kamp

Paula van de Kamp

Photographer:Paula van de Kamp

The capital of Portugal is often mentioned in the same breath as San Francisco thanks to the hilly landscape, the red bridge and the historic trams. The many narrow and picturesque streets are ideal to get lost in and take you from one beautiful place to another, while you realize that you are still in Europe. The locals give you a warm welcome, speak good English and know only too well what good food is. In addition, it seems to be washing day every day and every street is decorated with colorful clothes lines. Are you still not convinced? Then these 7 reasons will probably persuade you!

1. Colorful azulejos

If there is one thing that the Portuguese can rightly be proud of, it is the colorfully painted tiles, also called azulejos. Lisbon has the most azulejos in the world and the tiles therefore largely determine the street scene of the city. They can be found on every corner of the street and are often printed with geometric motifs, historical events or other figures. There is even a Museo de Azulejos where you can learn everything about the history and the origin of the tiles.

Tip: Skip the tram, metro and bus and roam the streets of Lisbon on foot. The chance that you will encounter beautiful azulejos is greater and you will be surprised in every street.

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2. The lively Bairro Alto

Nowhere in Lisbon is it as lively as in the Bairro Alto district. It is seen as one of the most picturesque neighbourhoods of Lisbon and is extremely suitable as a shopping and entertainment area, but also for eating a delicious snack or walking around in the colorful streets. A must visit is the yellow cable car at the Elevador da Bica, which will take you from Rua de São Paulo to the higher located Largo do Calhariz. And since you’ve brought your camera, don’t put it away for now, because the streets surrounding Bairro Alto are also a pleasure for your eyes.

Tip: Getting used to walking? Then skip the ride with the Elevador da Bica since it is so short you might as well walk up and down the street. It is often very busy and that short ride is certainly not worth the price.

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3. The historic tram 28

This yellow tram can be found in every travel guide and you are not the only one who would like to take a ride. Yet it is obvious that it is so popular among tourists because it takes you from one side of the city to the other past the most beautiful sights. Although it is a hop-on / hop-off service, you can really enjoy yourself by staying seated, with the condition that you have managed to get a spot by the window. Want to avoid the biggest crowds? Then get on at the start or end point, as early as possible in the morning.

Tip: If you still want to take a ride in the afternoon, get on at the higher point Campo de Ourique. You will have to walk a bit up for this, but if you compare it to the rows at the low-lying point of Martim Moniz, it is definitely worth it.

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4. Magical Sintra

If you still have time, a day trip to the wonderful Sintra is definitely worth it. It is easily accessible from the Rossio train station in the center of Lisbon: you are in Sintra for just 2.40 euros within 40 minutes. Here you can then use different bus lines that run along most sights in a loop. We recommend bus line 434, with which you can get off at Palácio Nacional de Sintra to visit the palace and the village. In addition, the bus also goes past Castelo dos Mouris and Palácio da Pena, both to be found on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Put on good shoes because the hilly landscape here also provides a decent workout.

Tip: the earlier, the calmer. Sometimes the bus is so busy that you tend to climb up on foot. This is practically impossible between Palácio Nacional de Sintra and Castelo dos Mouris, but between Castelo dos Mouris and Palácio da Pena this is very easy to do and definitely recommended.

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5. The heart of Lisbon: Alfama

Alfama is the oldest neighborhood in Lisbon and is also seen as the heart of the city. You will find a maze of narrow alleys and stairs and the best way to explore the neighbourhood is on foot. Alfama is known for its fado, or the Portuguese song of life. This art of singing is performed in the evening in many bars, cafés and restaurants. For the best view you can visit Castelo de São Jorge, located on the highest hill of the city. It is a bit of a climb, but it is certainly worth the effort.

Tip: Don't be shocked if you get lost, this way you will come across the most unique places that cannot be found in many tourist guides.

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6. Delicacies in Belém

If one thing is clear in Lisbon, then it is that the Portuguese are sugar lovers. Everywhere in the city you come across pastelarias where the shop windows are full of delicacies and you get a great cup of coffee for 60 cents. One of the best-known pastries is the Pastéis de Belém, which in its original form can only be found in the Belém district. You can easily get there by train or tram and besides its famous pastries it also has other beautiful sights such as the Torre de Belém and the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. You will  find a tropical botanical garden where you can briefly escape the city and surrounded yourself with lush greenery and many colorful peacocks.

Tip: The original pastry is only sold in one store in Belém and there is often a long line that is not worth it for everyone. Fortunately, you can simply order a Pastel de Nata in the rest of Lisbon to get the idea what the Portuguese are talking about.

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7. The industrial LX Factory

LX Factory is a neighborhood not far from Belém. The cars literally drive above your head because it is located under the huge red bridge, the Ponte 25 de Abril. The district is a former industrial site where a flea market is held every Sunday, among the many restaurants, galleries and shops. It is a hotspot for creatives and has a packed schedule with parties, performances and other fun activities.

Tip: A visit to the LX Factory can easily be combined with Belém. You can choose to walk for less than half an hour or to take a direct tram connection of 10 minutes.

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Last updated on: 22.10.2020