Best Places to Visit in Lisbon
Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, is the westernmost city of Europe, and also the largest of its country. Moreover, a large part of the population lives in the Lisbon Metropolitan Area, not only because the city itself is an economic hub (for business and tourism), but because many other things occur in this area as well.
Also known as A Cidade das Sete Colinas (The City of Seven Hills), Lisbon is to some, resembling of Ancient Rome, because it has maintained a lot of its architectural beauty and has a similar positioning.
As far as vacation destinations go, Lisbon is one of the most charming cities in Europe, but in the world as well, and the rest of Portugal sports the same beauty. Although its economy has suffered some in the past decades, it is precisely this drawback that seems to have maintained its old-world atmosphere which, coupled with the locals’ nostalgia, is like a time machine for those who visit. In what follows we are going to show you the best places to visit in Lisbon, this capital whose name meant “safe harbor”.
Table Of Contents
When making your list of places to visit in Lisbon, you should start with its landmarks, or at least use them as guides for your tour through the city. Take note that Lisbon is not necessarily a large city, but distances can seem bigger, especially on foot, because of the many stairs you have to go up and down on as you move between neighborhoods. Thus, you should begin your visits with a trip through the old center town, which is located right next to Alfama, the oldest neighborhood in the city.
If you are the adventurous type, we recommend staying in Alfama as well, a very authentic location where you get to interact with the locals, hear them tell stories of olden times and singing original Fado songs on the narrow, sinewy streets. The Fado songs that locals sing here actually originated here, which means their lyrics speak about Alfama and its people, and their saudade, an untranslatable word related to melancholy or nostalgia.
Keep in mind that you will probably get lost in this neighborhood a few times, but there’s something to see at every corner, so you won’t feel disappointed. Here is also where you can stumble across the Fado Museum, which tells the story of Portugal’s national and popular music.
The next great landmark among the places to visit in Lisbon that you shouldn’t miss is the Dos Jeronimos Monastery, a 500-year old monastery, built and subsequently added to by the royalty that succeeded to throne.
Dos Jeronimos is a World Heritage Site and it exemplifies numerous architectural currents; moreover, it hosts the tomb of Vasco da Gama, one of the greatest explorers in history. As a little side note, in this area you can also find Pasteis de Belem, the oldest pastry shop in Lisbon, utilizing centuries’ old recipes, and serving the best pasteis de nata that you will ever have.
As you move further from Dos Jeronimos, one bus station away you will find the Belem Tower, another landmark of the city and a symbol of the Age of Discovery, meaning the golden age when Portugal was exploring the world and discovering new lands. Just like Jeronimos, the Belem Tower was built in the 1500s and is a World Heritage Site.
Lisbon, like we were saying, is an old and charming city, and you can learn a lot about its history just by walking its streets; for example, you should stumble upon St. Georges castle, which offers a great panoramic view of the city, and of Alfama especially. There is a museum inside, and other places and small gardens that you can visit, but the views primarily are impressive. Another destination in your vacation should be Casa dos Bicos (House of Spikes), a unique example of 16th century architecture mixed with the Portuguese Manueline style.
Outdoor Fun & Nature
Lisbon is both an outdoor and indoor city; it has one of the best climates in Europe, so even during winter temperatures are not very low. There are quite a few parks scattered throughout the city when you feel like taking a break, and one of the most beautiful is the Parque das Nacoes; it offers a view of Europe’s longest bridge, some of Lisbon’s newest architecture, and an amazing aquarium.
The Jardim Botanico and Jardim Tropical are also quite spectacular, and there you will get to see rare and exotic flowers and plants. Visit all of the town squares, because they are usually nearby tourist attractions and offer amazing sights; thus, you shouldn’t miss Rossio, which has a lot of coffee shops and theaters, Praca do Comercio, or take the Santa Justa lift to admire the city’s panorama from a different spot. You can also travel from one place to another in Lisbon’s famous trams, which are an attraction in themselves.
They may be old, but they look fascinating and travel incredibly fast, especially up and down the narrow streets where sometimes even cars can’t get into. If you’d like to take a long walk, choose Avenida da Liberdade, a long and wide boulevard studded with large trees and sprinkled with shopping centers, fancy restaurants and expensive hotels. This is where you get to see one of the most luxurious sides of Lisbon, a city which seems divided between the past and present.
Moreover, the city offers great infrastructure when it comes to traveling in and out of the capital, so if you have a couple of days to spare, don’t miss out on visiting Sintra, a nearby small tourist town. You can get there by train, in less than an hour, and revel in some of the most spectacular views of Portugal.
The greenery is lush, but it is challenged by the extraordinary Pena Palace, as well as the medieval Moorish Castle. Pena Palace is something you should definitely see, because it is another great example of Portuguese architecture over time, also featuring the classical ceramic tile facades that beautify many of Lisbon’s buildings. Sintra used to be a destination for writers and artists, and names like Lord Byron would come here as often as possible for inspiration and peace.
For a trip to the ocean, choose between Cascais or Estoril, two small resorts with charm that make ideal destinations for surfers or golfers. If you’ve never bathed in the ocean, be prepared for a small shock, because even in the summer, the water temperatures can be very low. The locals don’t seem to mind it however, so you’ll have to muster up some courage as well.
Museums & Culture
When it comes to places to visit in Lisbon, culture addicts can definitely get hooked on a lot of attractions in this city which lies by the important river Tagus. There are very many museums, one of the most important being the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, a fine collection and exhibition of art objects from around the world.
Gulbenkian was an Armenian collector who traveled around the world, finally choosing to rest with his large collection in Portugal; upon his death, he donated all of his collections to the city, which built a museum in its honor. In fact, even the building and surrounding grounds are a sight to see, because they combine Asian and European elements, and the gardens offer numerous quiet, “secret” spots where you can take a break.
If you like paintings and art, you shouldn’t miss the Berardo Museum, another former private collection holding paintings by the likes of Picasso, Dali or Andy Warhol. Follow that up with a visit to the Ancient Art Museum, displaying objects from both European and Oriental culture.
Before we leave the subject of museums, we would also like to direct you towards a more unusual one, found nearby Jeronimos; it is the Coaches Museum, housing one of the most impressive collections of imperial coaches. It may sound boring so some, but the sights are truly impressive, especially when you see hundreds of gilded and ornate coaches aligned.
Lisbon’s culture is also a profoundly religious one, so if you want to get a better feel of the city, visit some of its churches and cathedrals as well. We recommend the Madre de Deus Convent, where you can also admire the beautiful ceramic tiles and admire this ancient artistry.
Baroque architecture is recurrent in a lot of Portuguese buildings, but none are as impressive as the Sao Roque Church, which contains the world’s most expensive chapel, dedicated to St. John the Baptist and adorned with mosaics custom made in Rome. The National Pantheon, located near Alfama, is also a great architectural feat, so make sure you put it on your list.
Entertainment & Children’s Activities
The capital of Portugal seems like an infinite resource of fun and entertainment, which is why it can be difficult to recommend something. Even if you walk aimlessly through the streets, there is always something to see, a view to admire, or bars or restaurants to stop in. The locals are always friendly and lots speak English, but you do have to be on the lookout for pickpockets; don’t worry, benevolent locals will caution you anyway, while they serve you a great coffee or some incredible fish dish.
The nightlife in Lisbon can be pretty hectic if you know where to go; the famous Bairro Alto, located next to Alfama, is the artistic and entertainment quarter of Lisbon, and every street in it features at least an interesting bar. The same goes for Alfama, where you can go to one of the Fado bars and listen to authentic songs; there are restaurants where you can reserve a table, and, while you’re serving a multiple-course dinner, listen to the soothing Fado music, usually played with the Portuguese guitar.
The food in Lisbon is amazing anywhere you go; you can eat just as fine in a small neighborhood bar, as you can in an expensive restaurant; a lot of their dishes are based on fish, thanks to their access to the Atlantic Ocean, which also means that you get to taste fresh, delicious ocean creatures that you may have not had access to, such as lobsters, tiger shrimps, or crabs. The most popular fish is the cod, and Portugal boasts over 200 different recipes with this fish alone.
The dishes are also usually accompanied by local Portuguese wine, the most famous of which is the Porto wine, a rich and sweet red wine made through a special procedure, which entails mixing the wine with cognac. A refreshing option is the vinho verde, a light and dry wine, which actually has a greenish color because it is made from unripe grapes; it is served chilled, like champagne, and it can be a delicious dessert companion.
There are lots of places to visit in Lisbon, and there isn’t enough room here to describe them all; however, the pleasure of discovering this city by yourself is just as great, and a little bit of mystery can go a long way. Lisbon is a city for all ages, and everyone can find something to do here. The parks, museums, restaurants, night clubs and surrounding resorts are truly amazing, and you will definitely wish to come back again.