After our misadventure trying to take a bus to church on Sunday, Leslie and I should have known better than to expect that we would fare any better on Tuesday.
We should have.
But we didn’t.
Leslie had mapped out our entire plan for the day and figured out which buses we need to take to get to our various destinations. Our steps were light with optimism as we ventured down to Praça do Comércio to wait for our first bus.
After a solid 40 minutes of waiting for a bus that never showed, we opted for plan B: pay far too many euros for a ride on a special tram that stops at the city’s most iconic landmarks. We paid for our tickets in the square, then had to walk a bit to the tram stop. It was a bit tricky to find the stop, despite the map given to us by the ticket agent, but we finally found the square where the tram was due to arrive any minute.
And we waited.
After a solid 30 minutes of waiting for a tram that never showed (how does a tram disappear? It’s on TRACKS!), we opted for plan C: Pay for another ticket on another tram that actually showed up.
We finally arrived at Castelo de São Jorge, a massive Moorish castle built on the top of a hill overlooking Lisbon. The earliest construction dates back to the 2nd Century BC, and in 1498, King Manuel I threw a big party here when Vasco da Gama came back from India.
We were able to climb all over the walls and ramparts of the castle, which was equal parts fun and terrifying.
Leslie: I seem to remember you weren’t too keen on the narrow and steep stone steps, with no railing, that took us up to narrow walkways… It seems like they were slowly doing restoration work, since so many of the stairways and walkways looked incomplete and a bit dangerous.
Okay, so maybe it was slightly more terrifying than fun, at least for me. It’s really saying something if Leslie says a high place looks “a bit dangerous…”
But our death-defying trip along the ramparts of the castle definitely yielded some incredible views of the city. Despite my fear of high places, I love rooftop views in cities, and Lisbon was no exception. The city is so colorful, especially from above.
Leslie: I thought this place was pretty cool! It was worth going just for the beautiful views of Lisbon from up on the hill. I also thought it was fun that they had displayed a panorama of what the city had looked like in the past. I don’t remember what year the photo was from, but I enjoyed comparing the two to see the growth and changes.
The castle even had an extra surprise for us: baby peacocks! I’ve never seen anything but adults before, so it was really fun to see some fuzzy little babies running around with their mama.
- Castelo de São Jorge
- Official Site
- Price: Adults €8.50, Students €5
- (3 / 5)Our Rating
After the castle, we walked back down a steep hill toward the city below. The area around São Jorge is called the Alfama district, and it is the oldest district in Lisbon. There are lots of little shops selling azuleijos, painted plates, rooster souvenirs, and those delicious pastéis that I love so much.
Leslie: I enjoyed wandering here and taking in the sights, sounds, and smells. It was fun to see regular people going about their day in the places we walked. One of my goals was to hit some great viewpoints (there are tons to choose from in this area), and I definitely think we succeeded in that! One place I kinda wish we had had time to visit was the Tile Museum. After seeing the range of azuleijos all over the city, I really think it would have been interesting to look at all the different styles and designs over the years in the museum. Also, I just learned about a tradition we totally missed out on! There’s a statue of St. Anthony (patron saint of love) in front of the Igreja Santo Antonio (built on his birthplace), and he’s holding a book; if you are able to throw and land a coin in the book, you’ll find a new (or better!) partner, hahaha. I guess I didn’t do my research well enough…
Our wandering also took us to two cathedrals, Sé Cathedral and Igreja de São Roque.
Sé Cathedral (also known as Lisbon Cathedral or Santa Maria Maior de Lisboa) is the oldest church in the city. It was built in the Reconquista style, where the facade of the cathedral looks more like a fort than a church. And for good reason, too—these cathdrals could actually be used as a fort from which they could attack enemies storming the city.
Igreja de São Roque is one of the oldest Jesuit churches in the world. It was originally constructed as a shrine to Saint Roch, patron saint of plague victims, after the city was overrun by the disease in 1505. St. Roch is also the patron saint of dogs because, as legend has it, when he was evicted from Piacenza, Italy, after contracting the plague, he lived alone in the woods and only survived because a dog brought him bread and healed him by licking his wounds.
One of the things I love most about Lisbon is how proud they are of their history. Most of the tourist attractions in the city seem to be history related, and much of it is really well preserved.
And then there was Bertrand Books, the worlds oldest bookstore. This place has been around since 1732.
I repeat: SEVENTEEN THIRTY TWO.
That’s longer than the US has existed.
Leslie: I think that’s such a cool claim to fame, even though it looked very much like a modern bookstore inside. Their Harry Potter books looked like this. I hadn’t seen these covers before and now I want them. I was giddy looking at all the books in Portuguese with such cute covers, wishing I could somehow have them all, or at least be able to transport more than just one with me. Still, the book I finally chose is definitely a souvenir that I love!
That night, we bid a fond farewell to our pal Lisbon and boarded a night train bound for Madrid. I was excited to be visiting another new country, but also super sad to be leaving Portugal again. It truly has become one of my favorite places.
Até mais tarde, Portugal!
Read more about my trip with Leslie here.
 I wish I had gotten a picture of this. It was pretty cool!