If you’re in love with Europe’s cobblestoned streets of the past, Lisbon is the place for you.
Okay, so my first suggestion is not something you must do, but something you must eat. Pastéis de Belém (pash-TAYSH duh ba-LINE) refers to the popular pastry dating back to the Portuguese medieval period. It is egg-based and creamy, like a sweet custard baked inside a delicate flaky crust.
Convents and monasteries were historically large consumers of eggs, with the yolk often left over. The yolks were quickly adopted into a mouth-watering recipe, which was then patented by religious clerics seeking to guard Portugal’s sweetest secret. You can wait in line for the real deal at Antiga Confeiteira de Belém, or grab a standard variety at any cafe.
Nearby the Antiga Confeiteira in Belém (Bethelem) is the exquisite Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. It’s outside of the city’s center, but this UNESCO World Heritage Site is more than worth a visit. The cloisters are breathtaking, and Manueline in style. Inside the adjacent church is where explorer Vasco de Gama is buried.
Catching a live Fado performance is par for the course when visiting Lisbon. Fado is a powerfully evocative genre, sung by both men and women. Lyrics are often mournful or melancholic, though some artists would say that there is never sadness without happiness.
Fado shows designed for tourists are more professional, but there is something special about restaurants in which Fado is sung casually. Ask your hotel concierge where the best place is to watch a performance.
Visit the Alfama, Lisbon’s oldest and picturesque neighborhood. Here you can lose yourself in the winding streets, and feel like you’re in a cozy neighborhood not far from home. In Alfama there are Fado bars by the dozen, as well as spectacular lookouts from which the whole of Lisbon unfolds in front of you.
The lookouts are popularly referred to as miradouros, and are popular gathering spots for people young and old. Set high on Lisbon’s hills, they are a great way to cap off a busy day and take in the sunset. Many miradouros have adjacent restaurants, or charming patios where you can enjoy a coffee.
For a local’s view of the Alfama, hop on Tram 28, an old-school, wooden contraption that feels safe… most of the time. How the tram makes it up the steepest Alfama hill is a mystery, but it’s a great way to see the city. Watch out for pickpockets, and go during daytime or before sunset.
If Tram 28 is not exciting enough for you, you’ll surely want to ride in Lisbon’s only vertical street lift, Elevador Santa Justa. You may feel like you’re in Paris, and for good reason; it was constructed by Gustave Eiffel’s apprentice, Raoul Mesnier.
The style is neo-gothic, and the viewing deck from the top offers outstanding views of the city. Rossio Square is particularly impressive from high up.