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18 things that you didn't know about Lisbon

10 July 2014 ( 09 October 2018 )

Lisbon is the only European capital on the river and on the sea, with some great beaches. But did you also know...?

Lisbon Skyline

1. Tram number 28

The most famous tram and one of the city’s best rides. Built in England in the early 20th century, from polished wood and chrome, they clunk up and down the steepest streets almost brushing the sides of buildings on the way.

Starting at sea level in the city centre, the tram heads up steep hills through a veritable maze via the Alfama district, reaching St Georges Church at the top for wonderful views – especially at sunset.

2. Locals and the magic light before sunset

And speaking of sunset, in the hours before sunset, locals often wait and watch the ferries go between the Estação Fluvial and Barreiro on the other side of the Reiver Tejo – it is tradition.

3. Opera 

Opera tickets in Lisbon usually cost 50% less than in London. The city’s opera season runs from September and until June, with performances in the beautiful Teatro Nacional de São Carlos which boasts a stunning Rococo interior.

4. The museum below

The Nucleo Arqueologico is one of the city’s smallest but truly eclectic museums, and is located underneath the Baixa’s streets. The Baixa area was mostly rebuilt on a riverbed with wooden posts driven into the wet soil, the same building technique used in Venice).

5. Enoteca is underground too

This is an amazing wine bar located downstairs in an old bathhouse where the underground tunnels once piped all of Lisbon’s water. It's well worth a visit!

6. Earthquake and the Marques de Pombal 

The Great Earthquake of 1755 almost destroyed this important of European port. The destruction of the city and the death of 40,000 people led to the end of Lisbon’s golden age.

The Marques de Pombal was the minister responsible for rebuilding the city and there is reference to him in many places – usually just “Pombal”.

7. Ravens

It's not just the Tower of London that has an association with ravens, these birds are one of the city’s symbols.  The story goes that when the remains of Saint Vincent were brought to Lisbon in 1173 by sea, the boat was piloted by ravens. Thereafter ravens were kept in the cloisters of the Baroque Treasury until the last one died in 1978 – but the symbol remains.

8. Did the Portuguese invent tea-time?

The São Vicente de Fora church is a reminder of the sixteenth-century city and is open to visitors. Among the tombs is that of Catherine de Bragança, the widow of Charles II of England – and she is said to have introduced tea-time to the British.

9. Lux 

Once a meat warehouse on the docks, Lux is now one of Europe’s top clubs.Visitors include Prince, Cameron Diaz and Madonna. The rooftop terrace has amazing views with several bars.  But be warned – nobody arrives before midnight.

10. Fado bars (fado means fate)

...and lots of them. Fado is thought to have derived from music from the 18th century when immigrants from Portugal’s colonies settled in the Alfama district.  Think love, death and fate.

11. Classic funicular lifts 

There are several of them including the Elevador da Bica  up to the hillside district of Bica, and the Elevadir Panoramico da Boca that lifts you 30 metres up a cliff face to the old part of Almada for fabulous views across the city and the river.

12. Beaches

In addition to the beaches of Sintra, Cascais and Estoril which are easily reached, Lisbon has her very own city beaches at Carcavelos and Guincho – both an easy bus ride.
Discover Lisbon and the Douro valley on a Saga river cruise

13. Golf in the city

There are 24 excellent golf courses close to Lisbon with a couple of them just a 15 minute drive from the centre – something special for a capital.

14. Tavares

Lisbon’s oldest restaurant is all gilt and mirrors and boasts fantastic modern Portuguese cuisine and a Michelin star.

15. The birthplace of tarts

We're talking the famous Portuguese custard ones. The Casa Pastéis de Belém is where they were invented. You must try one while you're there. 
Related: Egg custard tart recipe

16. Sidecar tour 

Guests at the Four Seasons Hotel Ritz (one of Lisbon’s best hotels) can see the sights in an unusual way. You get a personal driver-guide and are whizzed around in your own sidecar.

17. Ponte 25 de Abril

Striking a remarkable resemblance to the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, the 25th of April Bridge opened in 1966 to link Lisbon with the south banks of the Tagus (Tejo) river.

It's over 2 km long and the main pillars are almost 200m tall. One lane is made of wire mesh – allowing the bridge to expand as necessary.

18. All change at the docks

The Alcantara district by the bridge is the new nightlife hub in Lisbon since bars, clubs and restaurants opened in old converted warehouses.