10 Things You Never Knew About Lisbon

Record-breaking bookstores. Closely guarded recipes. The invention of tea time

With its proliferation of elegant eateries and trendy drinking dens, Lisbon is now firmly on the map as Europe’s new capital of cool. Aside from its legendary landmarks and Port-soaked Fado sessions, there’s plenty more to discover about this fascinating city. From quirky World Records to government-approved street art, we present 10 unique facts you never knew about Lisbon.


1. Lisbon Isn’t Actually The Capital

Or rather, it was never declared the capital in any official document. In 1255, Alfonso III got bored of the then-capital, Coimbra, and moved his court to Lisbon. It quickly became the most important city in Portugal, and thus, the de-facto capital city.

2. A Very Portuguese Mexican Wave

Since 2007, Lisbon is the proud holder of the Guinness World Record for hosting the longest Mexican wave ever, which was 8,453-man strong. It also holds a record for the longest construction time of any church, with the Church of Santa Engrácia taking a whopping three centuries to complete. Speaking of Guinness, it was also the first city in the world to import the drink from Ireland.

3. An Earthquake In 1755 Killed A Third Of The City’s Population

The destruction it left in its wake nearly wiped Lisbon off the map. Today, you can visit the ruins of the Carmo Convent, where a library of 5,000 books was destroyed. To this day, its arches remain roofless as a reminder of the disaster.

4. It’s The Oldest City In (Western) Europe

Well, so it claims. There are a few contenders claiming the title of Europe’s oldest city, with many in Greece included. However, archaeological finds show that ancient populations inhabited the city in 1200BC, making it older than Rome.


5. The City Of Seven Hills Actually Has More

Lisbon has long been hailed the ‘City of Seven Hills’, but in actual fact there are more than just seven. It’s rumoured that the number seven was arbitrarily decided on to make it seem more like the Holy City of Rome.

6. Lisbon Guards Some Seriously Secret Recipes

The pastels de nata at Lisbon’s Pasteis de Belem are so revered that the centuries-old secret recipe has never been written down. A mere three bakers have been entrusted with the recipe for these flaky custard tarts, and they’re strictly forbidden from travelling in the same car or plane together. Superstitious, but sensible.  

7. The Portuguese Are The True Creators Of Tea Time

The quintessential English tradition of tea time was actually invented by Portuguese princess, Catherine de Braganza. She brought the tradition to Great Britain when she married Charles II and relocated to the UK, bringing loose leaf tea with her.

8. The Government Loves Graffiti

Unlike other cities, Lisbon’s city hall has a taste for street art and runs its own public art programme called Gallery of Urban Art. There’s no boutique gallery space however; instead, they hire artists to make murals over old, decaying buildings. Look out for pieces by Vhils, Portugal’s answer to Banksy.

9. Lisbon’s Trams Aren’t Authentically Theirs

Lisbon’s iconic yellow trams are part of any picture-postcard image of the city. The idea, however, came from the USA, which explains why locals affectionately call them Americanos.

10. It’s Got Record-Breaking Bookstores

Lisbon is home to the oldest bookstore in the world still in operation: Bertrand Books, which opened in 1732. You’ll also find one of the world’s smallest bookstores in Lisbon. There’s only enough space for one person and an impressive 3,000 books, meaning you’ll have to ask the eponymous owner, Simone to leave the store as you peruse.

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