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Listing only five things to love about Lisbon is near impossible. The coastal capital of Portugal is adored for countless reasons.
It is full of architectural eye candy, is a culinary paradise and has diverse and welcoming residents. But check out the items listed below to become even more enamored with this beautiful European city.
Caldeirada (Fish Stew)
Yes, Lisbon has its own special take on all prized Portuguese dishes like pastel de bacalhau – fried balls of salty cod goodness, and pastel de nata, the Portuguese egg tarts legend says were first created at a monastery north of Lisbon.
But add caldeirada to the list of must-try foods. The flavorful dish typically features saffron-flavored broth, potatoes and fresh seafood. Celebrate the fishermen of Lisbon by enjoying a bowl of whatever North Atlantic Ocean creatures they managed to catch that morning.
The Knock-Off Attractions
No, you are not in Brazil, although Lisbon’s Christo Rei (or “Christ the King”) statue bears a striking resemblance to Rio de Janeiro’s famous Christ the Redeemer. Each stands high above their city, with arms outstretched blessing its residents.
Lisbon’s giant Jesus was built after a Catholic cardinal of Lisbon visited Rio in 1934. He was so impressed by Rio’s Jesus that he took up a campaign to build a similar version. It took over 20 years and a world war before the statue was finally inaugurated with the intent to give thanks to God for sparing Portugal the devastation of World War II.
Planning a last-minute trip to Portugal?
Top Experiences and Tours in Portugal:
- See the sights with a tour of Madeira: Skywalk, Porto Moniz Volcanic Pools, and Fanal Tour
- See Lisbon on the Lisbon: Pena Palace, Sintra, Cabo da Roca, & Cascais Daytrip
- Explore more with this tour of Fátima, Nazaré, and Óbidos Small-Group Day Trip from Lisbon
Where to stay in Portugal:
If you drive to visit Christo Rei, you will likely take the Ponte 25 de Abril (25th of April Bridge) steel suspension bridge across the Tagus River. The bridge, which opened in 1966, is a dead ringer for the Bay area’s Golden Gate bridge, with its rusty orange hue. It was designed by the same company responsible for the Oakland Bay Bridge, making the comparison to San Francisco unavoidable.
These two striking copycats are both fascinating to take in and good reminders of global connectedness. As Harry S. Truman said, “There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know. And no better part of traveling than to learn it.”
The Spirit of the People
On April 25, 1974, after more than 40 years of dictatorship, a leftist revolution brought democracy to Portugal with a near-bloodless coup.
The Carnation Revolution moniker was given after people took to the streets to celebrate the end of the dictatorship and placed carnations in the muzzles of the soldiers’ guns. This revolution brought about changes such as decolonization, freedom of religion, and a big increase in wages.
Today, Lisbon has a strong connection to the working class, values civil liberties and has managed to avoid significant far-right extremism. It is one of the few European cities where progressive values are not in a dire state of crisis.
Most big cities have plenty of large pieces of artwork imposed directly on walls and other permanent structures. But Lisbon stands out for an abundance of particularly impressive public art.
Shephard Fairey, well known for the “Obama Hope” graphic used during the 2008 presidential campaign, has two standout pieces in Lisbon. “Revolutionary Woman,” is found in the storied Graça neighborhood and pays homage to Portugal’s Carnation Revolution.
The second piece, done in collaboration with Portuguese artist Alexandre Farto, known as Vhils, is also in Graça. It depicts the face of a woman, with the left half done in famed Fairy style, and the right completed in Vhils’ signature medium of scraping and carving.
Across town on Avenida Fontes Pereira de Melo, sits the Crono Project, a street art project spearheaded by Vhils. Derelict buildings have been transformed into impressive art with murals by Vhils himself, as well as Os Gémeos, a Brazilian pair of identical twin brothers known for an imaginative, childlike style, and several other muralists of global fame.
Lisbon’s murals, often expressing political ideas, celebrating significant historical figures, or simply beautifying an abandoned building, are worth walking a few miles to see.
Lisbon’s quiosques – kiosks in public spaces that serve refreshments, snacks and sometimes light meals, have undergone a revival the last decade or so.
The best of these stylized gazebo cafes sits in miradouros – areas with striking views of such landmarks as the River Tigus, Lisbon gardens, Jerónimos Monastery or Christo Rei.
Many are next to playgrounds, allowing parents to savor a beverage while the kids savor the slide. Order a glass of sangria, relish the view and enjoy Lisbon’s laid-back lifestyle.
Lisbon offers something for everyone and many things for the culturally curious. Whatever highlights you choose to explore during your visit will surely have you in love with this very lovable city.
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Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara, in the Barrio Alto neighborhood, has a popular kiosk and panoramic views of the city.
Lisbon Street Art Tours, http://www.lisbonstreetarttours.com/, offers a comprehensive walking tour of Lisbon’s street art scene.
Alfama Celler, on Rua dos Remedios 1, not far from the waterfront, is popular for its caldeirada and other traditional Portuguese dishes.
Author Bio: Megan Starks is a writer and attorney based in Seattle, Washington.
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