People always seem to forget about Portugal. Stuck on the side of Spain like some sort of geopolitical afterthought, it’s a bit like Canada is to the US, or New Zealand to Australia or Wales to England – the constant bridesmaid to its larger, better-known and internationally more popular neighbour.
But just as bridesmaids can provide the best fun at a wedding – and on a wedding night! – so Lisbon, Portugal’s capital, can show you what you’ve been missing by spending all your time on the other part of the Iberian Peninsula.
From the grandeur of Belem where monuments seemingly occur on every corner to the ancient narrow lanes of Baixa to the pumping dance scene in the hills of Bairro Alto, Lisbon is a city that enchants with its diversity and acceptance of the old and the new. Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, it’s easy to see why the population of Lisbon is so obsessed with the sea and its exploration. With glorious beaches on the coast and the unbelievably magical Sintra, with its Moorish castle and trendy inhabitants just a short drive away, Lisbon really is Portugal’s crowning glory.
Lisbon provides all the best elements of Europe, and yet somehow offers a completely unique experience. Happy to thrive on its history and embrace tomorrow at the same time, Lisbon is the perfect blend of tradition and innovation. The Ponte Vasco de Gama is the longest bridge in Europe and proof that Lisbon is a city that is experiencing a new Renaissance, thriving where others are failing, and well worth visiting.
Lisbon's Top 10
10. Feira Popular This amusement park is not a cookie cutter of its Western counterparts but maintains its local flavour with a fairground atmosphere.
5. MuDe – Design and Fashion Museum Comprising over 1200 pieces of high fashion and over 1000 pieces of earth-shattering design. If you read Vogue, this museum is for you.
9. Jardim Botanico Arguably the most beautiful garden open to the public in Lisbon.
4. Gulbenkian Museum An enormous collection, collated over 40 years, of ancient art in the form of paintings, murals and sculptures.
8. Arcadeas da Faia Specialising in the best Portuguese cuisine, opening late night and closing early morning – this is for the night owls with a hunger.
3. Berardo Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Home of one of the world’s largest and best modern art collections, including Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso.
7. Oceanarium Named after Portugal’s most famous explorer and dedicated entirely to sea life, it features over 4000 specimens and 200 live examples.
2. Belem Tower Originally a fortress to defend Lisbon harbour, its famous white wall has become an icon of both old and new Lisbon.
6. . St. Georges Castle Iconic Lisbon landmark, the current building dates from the middle ages. Fascinating history and wonderful views.
1. Jeronimos Monastery A World Heritage monument and the final resting place of Vasco De Gama. Jeronimos’ spires have been carefully hand-sculpted over 500 years ago and it seems otherworldly in its perfection.
- St George’s Castle (Castelo de São Jorge) – A trip to this ancient, commanding castle is a favourite tourist activity and offers great views.
- Lisbon Cathedral (Sé Catedral de Lisboa) – The oldest church in Lisbon and features Romanesque, gothic and baroque architecture styles.
- Torre de Belém – This ancient monument is one of the main historical attractions in Belém and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Discoveries Monument (Padrão dos Descobrimentos) – This impressive monument at the river’s edge commemorates 33 explorers representing the Age of Discovery.
- Jerónimos Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos) – This grand masterpiece of Manueline-style architecture was built in the 1500s and is where the Lisbon Treaty was signed.
Lisbon Art & Culture
- National Museum of Ancient Art – This museum is dedicated to the understanding of Portuguese artistic development before the nineteenth century.
- Teatro Nacional da Sao Carlos – This opera house, located in the historical district, opened in 1793.
- Anthony of Lisbon – The city holds a holiday every June 13 to celebrate its patron saint.
- Belem Cultural Center – Containing more than 140,000 square meters of meeting space, this conference center hosts artistic and cultural venues year round.
- Gulbenkian Foundation – Aiming to support the arts, science and works of charity, this organization was founded in 1956.
- Avenida da Liberdade – Home to luxury stores such as Prada and Louis Vuitton.
- Ribeira Market – Go here for fresh produce and authentic Portuguese dishes.
- Feira da Ladra – Flea markets and great deals abound in this atmospheric section of the Alfama district.
- Principe Real –This district is home to many interior design stores, including Portuguese and international designs.
- El Corte Ingles – The largest department store in Lisbon is located in a popular mall.
Gay & Lesbian Lisbon
- Lux – This popular club welcomes gay and straight clientele.
- Kremlin – An underground club that receives mostly gay visitors.
- Arraial Pride – Show your pride at the city’s annual gay pride parade held every June.
- Spartacus – This gay sauna is found in a neighbourhood known as Bairro Alto.
- My Rainbow Room – A centrally located bed and breakfast specifically for gay clientele.
- Escola de Equitaco da Quinta da Marinha – Horseback riding stables.
- Estufa Fria – This sanctuary for nature in the heart of the city is located near Parque Eduardo VII.
- Praia do Guincho – The soft white sands of this beach offer a stunning view.
- Jardim da Estrela – A vast park populated with ponds, benches, patios and playgrounds is also home to a small library.
- Miradouro das Portas do Sol – From this high vantage point, you can see Lisbon contrasted against the ocean.
- Sport Lisboa e Benfica – Home to a multi-sport team best known for football.
- Lisbon Half-Marathon – This abbreviated marathon occurs annually in March.
- Estadio de Restelo – With a capacity of more than 30,000 seats, this multipurpose stadium mostly hosts football games.
- Estadio da Luz – A renowned football stadium, which seats more than 65,000.
- Handball – This sport is very popular in Portugal, and Lisbon hosted the 2003 World Championship.
The heart of Lisbon is a place of broad squares and massive pedestrian-only boulevards. The primary shopping and business district was rebuilt after a great earthquake, meaning houses that would have been odd and sprawling are now uniform in design and size.
Comercio Square borders the river and is centred on a grand statue of King Jose I. The cafes and shops that flank the streets create a cosmopolitan vibe, but be sure to check under your feet as the pavement design is very intricate and almost mosaic in its patterns. Rossio Square is the liveliest spot in the city, with so much happening you may miss the two baroque cupid fountains flanking it. Its cobblestone streets lead up to the doorway of the neoclassical Dona Maria II National Theatre.Belem
You’d be forgiven for thinking that you’ve stepped back in time as you enter the Belem district. Here, it’s easy to see how Portuguese explorers and traders once held the world in their palms. Belem and its enormous monuments celebrate the Age of Discovery. Although home to some of Lisbon’s most-famous attractions, there are some lesser-known yet still magnificent sights that are often overlooked. The Ajuda Palace and Coaches Museum are an experience in 18th century grandeur and lavishness. If you choose to travel by foot, the 25 de Abril Bridge provides a perfect view of the surrounds.
While Belem allows you a glimpse of 16th Century Lisbon, Alfama takes you further back to the days of Roman settlement and medieval occupation. Experience some of the unique art that Lisbon has produced at the Tile Museum. Room after room is lined with beautiful paintings, including the 23-metre-long landscape of Lisbon before the Great Earthquake of 1755.
The narrow streets and white buildings are more reminiscent of Greece then the rest of Portugal. It’s easy to get lost in these maze-like alleyways. The National Pantheon is also a source of local pride, partly because it took several centuries to build!
Take a step forward in time and realise what the Lisbon of the future will bring, in the trendy and up-and-coming suburb of Parque das Nacoes. Modern attractions include the Vasco De Gama Shopping Centre and the innovative Oceanarium.
Lisbon Casino is both modern and stylish, and is home to restaurants and bars as well as the casino itself. It is also worth taking a life to the top of the Vasco De Gama Tower, the city’s tallest building, and taking in the view.Medieros e Almeda Museum
Medieros e Almeda Museum provides the best of business, art and shopping – all in one convenient location. Colombo provides one of the largest shopping experiences in Europe, with a wide range of international chains as well as local boutique gems. The Fronteira Palace is home to extravagant gardens and a palatial estate. Once summer home to the Portuguese court, its moat is unbelievably deep. The Medieros e Almeda Museum is one of the largest private collections of fine art in the world and houses some unique treasures.
Lisbon Eat & Drink
Eleven Boasting two Michelin stars and consistently ranked the best restaurant in Portugal, Eleven creates a new international take on local classics.
Cinco Lounge Known for its exceptional cocktails and low light. The hardest decision you’ll make is not whether you want to go here but what you should drink – with a cocktail list exceptionally varied for every tastebud and budget. Principe Real
Bocca Sophisticated yet unpretentious, Bocca provides an extensive collection of international dishes at (comparatively) reasonable prices. The set menu offers a lot of options, but go for the seven-course taster and follow the wine recommendations (the sommelier is the nicest old man you will ever meet).
Manga Rosa The closest Lisbon has to a chic New York cocktail bar, Manga Rosa offers affordable opulence – the décor is somewhere between modern and antique and its clientele are out to enjoy themselves!
Pap’ Acorda One of the more expensive Lisbon options, Pap’ Acorda has a lot of critics but also its fair share of champions. The common criticism is that the waiters are incredibly arrogant and the décor obsessively ‘rich’, but this should be taken with a grain of (expensive) salt.
Bedroom Bar:With giant beds, cushions and bedside tables, Bedroom Bar sets the scene for a less-than-sleepy night out. Top-class DJs, excellent sounds.
Tavares Opening in the 18th Century, the menu offers central European fare with Portuguese takes – expect French and Italian with a seafood edge.
In January, the Winter Festival occurs, with a combination of art and music on offer.
In June, Lisbon celebrates the Christian Pantheon of Saints. The city is packed with bright and colourful parades, costumes and streamers. If you can, take in the St. Anthony’s parade every 12 June. Twelve couples get married and parade through the city – then the procession ends with a flourish of folk dancing and samba bands.
On the 9 July every year, over 10,000 people cram the streets in the city centre for the Gay and Lesbian Pride March. The local LGBT community comes out (so to speak) with whacky costumes and bright colours, filling the streets with a lot of happiness and a lot of music.
The best international and local jazz musicians call Lisbon home during the month of August, for the Jazz in August Open-air Festival.
When To Go
Lisbon has an extremely mild climate, capturing the heat of Spain but the cool of the Atlantic perfectly.
Summer (June-September) days can be ridiculously hot, but the nights make up for it by being very cool.
Autumn (September-December) and winter (December-March) are the coldest and wettest periods, although they are also the perfect time to discover a slower-paced Portugal.
What To Avoid
Avoid ticket hawkers or counterfeit goods sellers. They often double as drug dealers and are everywhere. The police seem to have turned a blind eye to the sale of drugs in public.
Beware of small groups of local hooligans lurking around nightspots. Also, pickpockets are rife in the city centre at night, so leave all unnecessary valuables in the hotel safe.
Avoid music clubs with good food – it’s a sign that the music won’t be any good! Similarly, avoid restaurants with music. The two don’t seem to mix in Lisbon!
Buses are the most convenient way to get around Lisbon. Pre-buying tickets ticket provides discounts.
The metro is the most beautiful way to travel around Lisbon as it’s slow enough for you to catch a glimpse of the city passing by, and the insides are usually decorated quite extensively and painstakingly.
Lisbon shows the glories that brought fame to the maritime world. When conquests were made from one end of the world to the other, Portugal was the port-of-call for many seafarers. As such, the capital Lisbon became the center of maritime greatness in the 15th and 16th centuries. Commerce flowed in from all corners of the globe making the city more powerful than ever in trade and commerce. All of the fame died down however when empires started to fall and a more democratic means of governance ensued among countries.
How did Lisbon gain back its winsome reputation? Visit the Vasco de Gama bridge and you'll see how. This amazing feat in engineering linked the airport to national roads and other sections of Portugal. Another icing on the cake for Lisbon is the sleek Gare do Oriente rail station which connects the country to the rest of Europe.
Lisbon has other charms to show apart from these fine achievements. Medieval towns, old buildings showing maritime history and of course, the beaches. All these and more are waiting to be explored in Lisbon.
The streets of Lisbon make wonderful walking itineraries as the sights along the way demonstrate the diverse culture of the people. The architecture is definitely impressive!
Starting from the riverfront to the main avenue of Avenida de Liberdade is the heart of the city called Baix, the seat of commercialism in Lisbon. Most of the shopping can be done here as the long avenue is filled to the brim with all sorts of cafes and souvenir shops. While resting in any of the charming squares, you can watch street performers or tottering trams around the area.
Bairro Alto is an arty precinct because of its cosmopolitan buzz. Here you will find shops, boutiques and bars filled with character! There is a multicultural feeling in the atmosphere as cafes and restaurants are frequented by artists and intellects. Nightlife, needless to say, is a definite must-see! Historic features include Sao Roque and Carmo Church, two of Lisbon's beautiful cathedrals. The same bohemian vibe can be observed at neigbouring Chiado district. But the presence of high-end designer shops, classy theatres and jewelry stores add elegance to the air.
To relive the glories of the legendary seafarers who sailed from Lisbon onto greater lands, one must visit Belem. Ferdinand Magellan, Prince Henry the Navigator and even Christopher Columbus set sail from this port to embark on their historical journeys. Highlights include Belem Tower, Design Museum, Jeronimos Monastery, Ajuda Palace and those delectable local custard tarts, an institution in itself since 1841 in Lisbon.
Medieval churches, lots of them, can be seen at Alfama district. Some of the old castles dating back from the Roman period have been turned into hotels. And lastly, the local traditional music known as Fado flourishes among those who keep it alive here in this quarter.
More modern sights such as condominiums, financial institutions and large shopping malls are in uptown Lisbon where the business district is. In the nearby suburb of Benfica stands Fronteira Palace, delighting visitors with its amazing gardens and exquisite art pieces inside the estate.
Going on a futuristic route, Parques das Nacoes area is an exhibition site which gained fame during World Expo in 1998. The list of attractions including Vasco de Gama bridge, Oriente station and Oceanarium, all sleek and ultra-modern, are a far cry from those seen in the older sections of Lisbon. It just shows how multifaceted this city is.
Lisbon's Carnival held on February is the grand opening salvo for Lisbon's yearly events. As any Latin city in the continent, the carnival here also runs at a frenzied pace with streetdancing, concerts, plays and food stalls set up and drinking binges until the break of dawn. In March and September, runners prepare for the Half-Marathon covering major areas in Lisbon.
Then as summer starts, the Lisbon Pride Month makes it a more sizzling affair with its wild parties and flamboyant finale parade. The city toasts to great music when Estoril Musical Festival presents five weeks of concerts and special performances for the public. The major activities are held in Lisbon. Also in June, a big religious event in honor of three saints, John, Anthony and Peter, brings out a wave of wining, dining, street dances and fireworks not only in Lisbon but in the whole of Portugal. And then, the port city gets busy for the Tall Ships Race when all of Europe participates in this historic race from July to August. Sailing fans stare in awe at the sight of these magnificent boats as if coming alive from a pirate movie!
A parade of beauties gets underway during Moda Lisboa in October as forecasts for fashion trends are presented by local designers. Lastly, Lisbon celebrates the end of the year with Noite Magica with festivities centered around Torre de Belem.
- Winter (December to March) ; windy with some rainy days
- Spring (March to May) 5-20°C; generally mild
- Summer (June to August) 15-32°C; weather is pleasant but temperatures tend to touch on 40s towards the end of summer
- Fall (September to November) 5-25°C; chill in the air, frequent rainfall
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