Of the 5 cities my family and I visited this summer, my kids enjoyed Lisbon the most. If you only have 24 hours in Lisbon, here’s what my son suggests.
POSTED BY POWEE CELDRAN
Lisbon, the capital of Portugal (called Lisboa in Portuguese) is surprisingly not a very large capital city and it can be explored in a day if you have a lot of energy. Lisbon is found at the mouth of the River Tagus, the largest river in the Iberian Peninsula which starts in Spain and flows through Portugal. There is a lot of history in Lisbon and lots of things to see dating back to different eras. Most are walking or tram distance from each other, except for the Belem district which is at the mouth of the river. When it comes to the appearances of streets, buildings, and squares, Lisbon is unique for having Azulejo tiles in the walls of buildings, black and white patterns on the pavements of squares called Calçada Portuguesa, and the purple Jacaranda trees.
Lisbon in a day begins at the flat downtown Baixa district, continuing uphill to the Chiado and Bairro Alto districts, then further west to the Belem district at the mouth of the river where the famous tower and monastery from the Age of Discovery of the 15th-16th centuries are found.
Start you morning at the Baixa District and the Santa Justa Lift
The lower town of Lisbon located at the bottom of the hills and at the waterfront is the Baixa district known for its grid pattern streets and the main squares of the city – Comercio, Rossio, and Figueira. The most famous landmark on the western edge of the area is the Santa Justa Lift ( Elevador de Santa Justa ) also known as the Carmo Lift.
It connects the lower district of Baixa to the upper parts of Lisbon including Bairro Alto. Constructed between 1900 and 1902 by French engineer Raoul Mesnier in the same architecture as the Eiffel Tower it was built to lift people up to the upper parts of Lisbon without having to walk up the steep hills.
Today, the more than a century old elevator will cost some euros. The lines are long so I suggest you take pictures of the lift from below and then walk up the steps at the side of the street to Carmo Square where the lift brings people to. You get the same views of Lisbon without having to pay to ride the lift.
The Santa Justa Elevator leads up to the Carmo Square and the Carmo Convent which dates back to 1389 but the structure seen today was damaged by the 1755 Great Earthquake of Lisbon. The Carmo Convent is one of the only sites in Lisbon kept as a visible trace of the earthquake’s damage. Beside it is Carmo Square with its purple Jacaranda trees originating in Brazil, a former Portuguese colony. From the Carmo Square it is just walking distance to the Chiado district, one of Lisbon’s main shopping districts.
Have lunch in the Chiado district. There are many restaurants and cafes to choose from. Be sure to have Bacalhau.
Ponte 25 de Abril and the Carnation Revolution
Take a tuktuk to Miradouro de Santa Catarina. One of the most iconic landmarks of Lisbon is the massive red suspension bridge that spans over the mouth of the Tagus River. This bridge is known as the Ponte 25 de Abril, built in 1966 as Ponte Salazar named after Portugal’s long time 20th century dictator, Antonio Salazar. The bridge was renamed to 25th of April Bridge to commemorate the Carnation Revolution of April 25, 1974. This bloodless revolution brought an end to the regime of Salazar’s dictatorship and began the democratic Portugal.
Modeled after the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California, it was also built by the same American company. The bridge starts in the town of Almada where the Cristo Rei statue inspired by the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro can be found.
From the city center of Lisbon, a good viewpoint to view the massive bridge over the Tagus with the Cristo Rei statue behind it is at the Miradouro de Santa Catarina.
Try to catch the sunset at the Belem District
You’ll need to take a cab or the bus. On the other side of Lisbon is the Belem district, where most of the events of Portugal’s Golden Age of Discovery took place. Major landmarks include the Jeronimos Monastery originating in 1501 with an impressive Manueline style façade. Inside it are the tombs of Portugal’s greatest figures of the age of discovery like the explorer Vasco da Gama and the poet Luis de Camoes. Facing the mouth of the river is the large Monument of the Discoveries. As you continue walking west from the monastery you will find another impressive structure, the Torre de Belem, one of Lisbon’s most visited landmarks, a 16th century Manueline architecture fortress tower guarding the mouth of the river and a lighthouse for ships that would sail in and out. The Belem district is also famous for something else, Pasteis de Belem, Portugal’s famous custard dessert which originated here.
In front of the monastery is a large map on the floor showing the discoveries of the Portuguese from the early 15th to mid 16th centuries.
Get ready for dinner. But first see the church that survived the great earthquake.
At the edge of the Bairro Alto district overlooking the lower town of Lisbon is the Church of Sao Roque (Igreja de Sao Roque), the first Jesuit church in Portugal and in the Portuguese world originating in the 16th century. This Renaissance and Baroque style church surprisingly is one of the few buildings in Lisbon that survived the 1755 earthquake. For a time it had the most expensive chapel in Europe which is the Capela de Sao Joao Baptista. From outside the church has a simple white façade, but don’t underestimate its outer appearance. Its interior has a painted flat ceiling made to look like a 3D baroque ceiling, the walls are decorated with azulejo tiles, and there are richly decorated chapels.
Continue to explore Bairro Alto. This is the night life district of Lisbon. A great place for dinner and drinks.
Thanks for reading.