European San Francisco – Lisbon, Portugal

When I saw this bridge for the first time, it instantly struck me how similar it was to another well-known bridge, on the other side of the Atlantic. Elsewhere, Lisbon is hilly in places; there are fancy trams and the sun is scorching – altogether a perfect recipe for a “European San Francisco” adventure.

It’s no secret that Lisbon is a popular tourist destination. As we went there in the summer, we were prepared for quite a few visitors. The number of tourists is magnified by the fact that Lisbon is smaller than you might expect, with a population of only about 0.5M! Surprisingly enough, most visitors occupy the plazas in the centre of the city and other “beaten path” attractions, so that if you avoid these, the town does not feel crowded at all. Even in the summer.

Tip: Be your own tram! – just invent a bumper sticker for your car. Seriously though, skip the queues and traverse through the hills on foot. You will see and experience a lot more.

Away from the main path, Lisbon

Tram Queue to “Hills Trancar Tour”

Another Tram tour– there’s no doubt that it looks appealing, not to mention a lot like San Francisco

We saw so many cosy, cobbled, narrow streets, local shops and private art galleries just a few streets away from the centre of Lisbon. Many of them were almost deserted, except for a few locals.


Cobbled narrow street in Lisbon
Lisbon street, be prepared for hills!


Where is everybody They are waiting for the Tram while we enjoy our quiet hike!
Narrow street in Lisbon

Interesting lighting contrast on Lisbon street, further away from the centre

Tip: If you are able – walk. You will have a great excuse to indulge in more food in the evening!

It was hot, even in the shadow of the narrow pathways, and climbing the hills/steps didn’t help. I remember that we found a pleasant café and ended up resting there twice.

A tasty super fresh mid-day sandwich

An octopus salad for Sylwia

Tip: Away from the town centre, we didn’t find many cafés. So find your favourite one and remember where it is!

There are of course some people who do not mind, or even prefer crowded surroundings and sometimes are completely oblivious to it. Just look at this couple below near the busy centre of Lisbon. How adorable it is when you see people in this phase of life, still deeply in love with each other! It makes me so genuinely happy to see that.

A couple kissing in Lisbon

Lisbon junction, locals on the right please, tourists to the left!

I think that you could set aside at least a solid day solely for walking around the centre. This is how we spent our day and we are not slow walkers! You can find great views from many “terraces” on the hill – do it in the siesta time and later in the busy period for a totally different experience. We found a wonderful spot with a wonderful view, where we met a 4-legged friend. An absolutely charming French bulldog appeared out of nowhere and instantly we found a common language because we had a small picnic there. We thought that he was lost, so I gave him nearly all our water. Fortunately, this was not the case as the owner was just right the corner!

Our French bulldog friend

Meet Chefe – these eyes don’t lie! He was very thirsty.

Tip: It is always safer to only give water to breed dogs. Unless you know what food they require, you could harm them or/and upset the owner! Water is always the safest bet.
View from one of many terraces

Street market on the hill nearby – we never skip the local market!

On our second day we decided to go to “Lisbon’s Oceanarium” (which is a far more impressive name for an aquarium). You can get there by train from the centre.

Tip: You can use the Metro Red line to get there (Oriente East Station stop). There are buses available too, but I would suggest always choose trains/underground where possible.

When we arrived, our plans changed when I spotted a cable car that traveled along the coast. I just had to go for a ride first!

View from our cable car

View from our cable car towards the promenade

The interesting thing was that this area of the city was very quiet, populated almost solely with locals. They literally turned a part of the promenade into a camping ground under the shadow of the trees. Their heads moved to follow our path as we walked by ilk the crowd watching a tennis match. Even so, we became a part of the “local community” in the end when we sat nearby to join them in people watching.

An empty boulevard view from the cable car with some locals “camping” under trees!

We walked along the promenade which led to the park and a long, impressive bridge.

Ponte Vasco da Gama, Lisbon


Us in the park in front of the Ponte Vasco da Gama

Pomenade view from the ground, Lisbon

At last, it was time for the Oceanarium. We have seen many aquariums during our travels, but this ranked among the best, and was certainly one of the prettiest.

Inside the Lisbon Aquarium

Stingray in Lisbon Aquarium

“I am good here, thank you” look

After we left we decided to eat in one of the restaurants on the promenade. It was shockingly affordable for what we got. It was all frutti di mare, which we thought would be appropriate after our visit to the aquarium, but without the smell of fish. Very fresh, tasty and not too heavy on your stomach!

Frutti di mare selection, Sylwia’s face says it all! (and yes we ate everything, just the two of us.)

Our final day in Lisbon started out as a lazy, relaxing morning but quickly got a little more exciting. We spent most of the morning in local cafes, but later we decided to amend our plans. I noticed an interesting bridge on the horizon – the Golden Gate style suspension bridge pictured above – and decided to walk there. It was further than I thought, a total of about 6km/4 miles one way! This part of town was different, and calmer in a way. There were plenty of cafes, bars and restaurants. I think that it probably changes completely in the evening.

Bars, cafes and restaurants near Ponte 25 de Abril, Lisbon

Just under the Ponte 25 de Abril, Lisbon

My hope is that this article inspired you to go and explore Lisbon yourself! Now would be a good time to book flight tickets for April, or later on in the Summer. Not convinced? In that case, I have another suggestion for you, or a very good excuse, if you prefer. Considering it was only recently Valentine’s Day, a trip to beautiful Lisbon could count as a “late surprise gift” for your significant other!

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