The Hills in Lisbon Have Eyes!
Have you seen that movie “The Hills Have Eyes” ? It’s about a group of inbred man-monsters terrorising an American family, and sorry to spoil it for you, but it doesn’t end up well for almost everyone involved. While I didn’t see any inbred “things” in Lisbon, I did see a lot of hills, and thanks to the explosion of street art in the city many of them did actually have eyes.
Lisbon, like a lot of famous cities around the world, was built on 7 hills, which would be bad news for the unfit if there weren’t so many trams and funiculars to help out. The hills in Lisbon, and the historical forms of transport climbing up and down them, give the city a unique atmosphere, closer to that of San Francisco (so people say) than anywhere else in Europe. It also reminded me a little of Budapest, obviously because of the yellow trams, but also in the fact that they are laid back cities that are thin on must see sights. The atmospheric streets are the real attractions in both Lisbon and Budapest, and it’s for this reason they are probably my 2 favourite cities in Europe.
Further reading: Crazy Castles and Palaces: A Day Trip to Sintra, Portugal
Unfortunately this post has almost nothing to do with low budget horror movies; there really isn’t anything scary about sunny days and amazing views – I just needed a name for this post, and after trying to come up with one for weeks this was the best I could do. I also thought of “An American Lesbian in Lisbon”, but that just wouldn’t have worked.
Keep reading for some tips on what to see and do in Lisbon.
During our 3 month exploration of Europe we took a slight detour to Morocco, but once we were back it felt like a part of Morocco had stowed away with us. Andalucía in Spain, and Lisbon (and Sintra) have been greatly shaped by the North African influence. Even though the last Muslim leaders on the Iberian Peninsula were ousted 600 years ago, the imprint they left on the art and architecture of the region makes it stand out pretty vividly from the rest of Europe. Alfama, the oldest district in Lisbon, with its snaking streets and colourful buildings (not to mention the huge St George’s Castle towering over it) adds a really exotic flavour to the already culturally rich soul of Lisbon. We even saw tuk tuks, something I hadn’t even thought about since leaving Asia. It’s a fairly easy uphill walk from downtown Lisbon to St George’s Castle, and the fact you get to walk through such a cool old neighbourhood means there really is no reason to take a taxi (or tuk tuk) – just wander the streets for a while.
Sunset at St George’s Castle (Castelo de Sao Jorge)
The castle itself was a little disappointing, perhaps because we’d seen similar (but way more impressive) examples of this kind of architecture in Seville (The Alcázar) and Granada (The Alhambra). The view from the top was worth the price of admission though, particularly at sunset. This hill housed plenty of eyes looking out over the city, but it was still easy to find a spot to sit, drink a glass of wine (they didn’t have beer), and admire the view.
A short tram or bus ride from downtown Lisbon lies Belém, home to Jerónimos Monastery and the Belém tower. It’s free to look inside the church at Jerónimos, but if you want to explore the monastery it’ll set you back a few Euro. We decided against it, and instead spent our time relaxing in the park and walking by the river. The Belém Tower looks really similar to Scala du Port in Essouira, Morocco, and dates back to when Portugal was a major world power. From the tower you could probably walk all the way back into the city centre, but we only walked for around 20 minutes and then got the bus back. The river side is full of people jogging, fishing and taking photos, and it’s a really nice place for a stroll – The 25th of April Bridge offers a great backdrop to proceedings.
Trams and Funiculars
I’ve been on plenty of funiculars, so we only chose to go on 1 (named Glória apparently) until we realised that the guesthouse we were staying at was already halfway up that hill. It would have taken longer (and cost €3.60 for a return trip), to go down the hill and catch it, so we just walked up. It’s a pretty short walk even from the bottom, but if you haven’t been on a funicular before it’d be a great place to try it. There’s a small park/viewpoint at the top, where you can get a reasonably priced sandwich and relax in the sun – even in January it was warm up there!
Tram 28 is an iconic tourist activity in Lisbon, but again, we had already walked almost the entire route by the time we thought about taking it, and so we didn’t end up doing it. A quick internet search also showed me that tram 28 is notorious for pickpockets, so watch your stuff if you decide to ride! The real beauty of the trams and funiculars in Lisbon is watching them amble up and down and through the old streets of the city. They add a flash of colour to an already lively scene, and pretty much any photo looks better with an old tram in it!
This apparently the place to come at night for dinner and drinks, but we explored it during the day and loved it. There aren’t many “sights” in Bairro Alto, but the steep streets and relaxed, local feel of the place makes it a great place to wander, stop off for a snack and take plenty of photos.
Street Art in Lisbon
We saw plenty of street art in Europe; it definitely seems to be in fashion these days. I never go out of my way to see street art, but some of the examples we stumbled across in Lisbon impressed me. The piece below really summed up Lisbon for me, the sound of guitars and singing emanating from squares and cafes, and the tightly packed houses of Alfama sitting quietly below the castle. We also saw some great street art in Belem, and some that might need a little extra work…
There are so many squares/plazas worth wandering around in Lisbon. Even on the bus back from Belém we passed quite a few that we wish we had time to visit. None are particularly overrun with tourists the way most squares in Europe are, and even if you’re not making a special trip to a particular square, chances are you’ll end up walking through quite a lot of them anyway, so they are always a nice bonus!
The hills in Lisbon are full of history, culture and amazing views. We spent 3 days in Portugal’s capital and it really wasn’t enough, but I’m sure we’ll be back.
Further reading: Check out the wikitravel guide to Lisbon for places to stay, eat and drink.
Have you been to Lisbon? What did you think?