Lisbon (Lisboa), the capital city of Portugal, is a compact city with enough attractions for about 4 days of visit, 2 or 3 more days if you go beyond the city. Like most European cities the street bustle and vibe is one of the key attractions. Sights are thin on the ground, due to a massive earthquake in 1755, but the Castelo and sights at Belem are definitely worthy of a visit. Attractions include several good museums and one of the worlds biggest and best oceanariums. Food is good, particularly the Brazilian influence. Costs are low, making Lisbon the cheapest capital city in western Europe.
Today’s Lisbon retains its 18-century layout. Built around the Tejo river, with the river mouth and sea visible from many vantage points. Two vast bridges cross the Tejo river. The Baixa is the lower town, and heart of the city. The Bairro Alto is the center of nightlife, with restaurants, bars and clubs.
The influx of EU cash for Lisbon has given the city a new feel of optimism and has made the city a great and happening place to visit.
Sights and attractions of Lisbon
Most of the museums are free on Sunday.
Castelo de Sao Jorge
The Castelo is Lisbons most splendid monument, in appearance and the views it offers. The views from the castle are incredible, reaching right across the Tejo and out to see. Within the old Moorish walls are gardens, terraces, walkways fountains and peacocks. Perched up on ancient hills, giving the approach to the castle an extra atmosphere. €5.
An excellent museum with several great collections including: Egyptian, Greco-Roman, Islamic, Oriental and European art. Housed in the lovely Fundacao Calouste Gulbenkian culture centre, alongside the Centro de Arte Moderna. Free on Sundays.
At night the home of Lisbon’s nightlife, with the greatest concentration of quality restaurants, bars and clubs. During the day it’s a different vibe with the narrow streets being home to elderly people sitting in doorways and children playing in the streets. Home to impressive churches.
Vasco da Gama set sail from Belem in 1497 on route to India, and the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, a grand massive monastery, celebrates this voyage. The Torre de Belem is an intricate tower once marking the entrance to the port, although the Rio Tejo has now receded. The Museu de Arte Popular is at Belem, with a diverse collection. The Monumento dos Descobrimentos is also worth a stop. Visit the Antiga Confeitaria de Belem and try the pasteis de Belem, delicious flaky tartlets filled with custard-like cream. There is a great outdoor market here on Sundays.
The oldest part of Lisbon. Narrow atmospheric streets run down from the castle, towards the Tejo river. The only region to survive the 1755 earthquake. Take a walk around to see the old Lisbon, with steep streets, narrow houses and rattling trams.
The Baixa is the heart of the city. The home of many offices and banks, but also stores, cafes, restaurants are artists. The grid like arrangement was one of the first in Europe. It is one of the oldest parts of Lisbon. The tiny Nucleo Arqueologico museum shows the remains of Roman walls and a mosaic floor. Many of the streets in Baixa retain the tradition of a craft per street.
Lisbon’s cathedral, the Se, is like the others found in Portugal. A large fortress-like Romanesque building. Inside it is not very exciting, but worth a stop if you are returning from Alfama.
Oceanario de Lisboa – Oceanarium
Set in the Paruq das Nacoes (park of nations) with great views of the Rio Tejo, alongside an excellent shopping centre and the Centre of Live science, which is great for kids, big and small. One of the worlds biggest oceanariums, and one of the best. Avoid weekends which are the busiest. Adults €10.50
Basilica da Estrela
A vast domed church away from the city centre. Housed in the beautiful Jadim da Estrela garden; with a pool of giant carp, bandstand and a cafe.
Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga
Portugal’s national gallery, and a great collection of Portuguese, European and Oriental paintings and art. A must for art and museum fans. Has several excellent biblical paintings. Free on Sunday before 2pm.
Centro de Arta Moderna
Within the same grounds as the Museu Gulbenkian, the Centro de Arta Moderna is a well laid out collection of some of Portugal’s biggest names in twentieth-century art. A good collection, worth a visit for art fans. Free on Sunday.
Museu do Chiado
A good museum containing contemporary art. Has good paintings and sculptures, housed in a stylish building, once a biscuit factory. €3
Colombo shopping centre
The biggest in Iberia, home to 400 stores, 60 restaurants and 10 cinema screens.
A real life bustling market, located in a domed roof building. The sights, smells and sounds are amazing.
Transport around Lisbon
Most of the sights around Lisbon can easily be reached by walking. Those that sit further out from the city centre can be reached on the excellent Metro system, tram or bus. All are good value and efficient. Taxis are amongst the cheapest in Europe. Lisbon also has several Elevadors, tram like carriages that ascend the very steep hills around the city.
Lisbon’s airport is just 20 minutes from the city centre. The airport has a tourist office (open daily 6am – 1am), exchange bureau, and an information desk which can help you book accommodation. There are several car rental agencies at the airport. A taxi from the airport to the city centre is cheap. There are also several buses to the city from the airport.
Long distance, and local trains are easy to catch from the city. Lisbon also has a very good bus service to the major destinations in Portugal, and other European cities.
Driving in Lisbon is not recommended. There are official car parks in and around the city.
Accommodation in Lisbon
The Bairro Alto is the best place to stay to be amongst the thick of the nightlife. However, if you want a quiet nights sleep stay elsewhere. The Alfama offers the most atmosphere.
Lisbon has many inexpensive pensoes (cheap hotel like rooms) which are the best value accommodation. Many are located in high tenement buildings in the central area of the city. Perfect for sightseeing, but not so good if you have lots of luggage, as pensoes are unlikely to have a lift. Try around the Rossio, Praca dos Restauradores and Praca da Figueira. The rooms are always better than the staircases, so don’t be put off. Rooms facing onto the street can be very noisy, especially in summer when the windows will always be open.
There are several youth hostels in Lisbon. Most are close to the city centre, some are further out by the coast.
Lisbon has a selection of more upmarket hotels. They are spread across the city, and some are close to the city centre.
There are a few campsites around Lisbon. The main site, Parque Municipal de Campismo, is 6km from the centre and good. Others are by the coast.
Eating and drinking in Lisbon
The Baixa has many of the cheapest street cafes and restaurants. Seafood is the speciality, Brazillian food is also excellent. It’s easier to find a cheap meal in the Baixa than in Bairro Alto, where the restaurants fill quickly and are more expensive.
Sintra is a beautiful town, the former residence of the Kings of Portugal.
Mafra is home to the Palace-Convent, a vast convent built by one of Portugal’s most extravagant monarchs.
Cacilhas is a suburb of Lisbon and home to Cristo-Rei, a modest version of Rio’s ‘christ the redemer’, which looks out over the Rio Tejo.
Estoril is the ‘Portuguese Riviera’, a collection of grand villas and luxury hotels. The home of the former Grand Prix circuit, which sadly no longer hosts the event.
Carcavelos is a popular superb with a kilometer of beach, which is great for surfing. There are lots of bars and cafes, with a great market on Thursdays, which is especially good for clothes.