Lisbon is the capital city and is considered one of Europe’s most fashionable places to visit, but it’s also the name of a region that has a lot to offer. Portugal’s bright capital, spreads along the north bank of the River Tagus, which meets the ocean here. One of the few European capitals with both a river and a coastline, Lisbon has Praça do Comércio square as its main meeting area. The city has always been ready to welcome new visitors and to bid a fond farewell to those departing, something that was never more true than when saying goodbye to sailors at the time of the great Portuguese maritime discoveries.
This is why there are many important Manueline monuments shining in the light of Lisbon and its surrounding region, such as the Torre de Belém and the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. The modern leisure area of the Parque das Nações proves that Lisbon still maintains its close links with the river today. Here, for example, you will find the distinctive mark of Álvaro Siza Vieira on one of the buildings that hosted the last world exposition of the 20th century, dedicated to the theme of the oceans. In contrast to this, do not miss the picturesque mediaeval quarters of Alfama and Mouraria, above which stands the castle. This castle, matched by Bairro Alto on the other hill, leads down to the downtown city center known as the Baixa pombalina.
Lisbon is also at the center of a region rich in diversity. Just outside the city are the seaside resort of Estoril and the romantic hills of the Serra de Sintra, where the perfect bond between palaces and nature led to the area being classified as a world heritage site. It is the sea, the climate and the stunning nature that give this region its peculiar energy. Its many parks and nature reserves encourage visitors to spend time in the open air, enjoying the peace and quiet of a round of golf or the adrenaline buzz of surfing. Perhaps this is why Lisbon is a city that is full of life. Here people have an exuberant party spirit, doing things spontaneously for the sheer pleasure of spending time in the company of others.
To end your day you could experience the traditional and relaxed atmosphere of a Fado House. Or, if you’ve still got enough energy left, pop into the various discos along the banks of the river and dance until the early hours. In fact why not stay up until dawn and take in the day-break on the banks of the River Tagus, before enjoying a well-earned sleep?
Legend has it that Lisbon was founded by Ulysses. The name comes from “Olissipo”, which has its origins in the Phoenician words “Allis Ubbo”, meaning “enchanting port”.
Most likely it was founded by the Phoenicians and styled by the Moores which shows in the strong Arabic influences. It was, after all, ruled by the Moors for 450 years. In the 12th century the Christians re conquered the city but it was not until the mid-13th century that Lisbon became the country’s capital.
With the beginning of the Portuguese Age of Discoveries, Lisbon enriched as a spice and jewelry trade center.
The breakthrough for Portuguese expansion came in 1498 when Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route to India. This was indeed the beginning of a golden age, characterised by the Manueline architectural style named after King Manuel I, with its typical decorative use of maritime motifs. Over the centuries Lisbon naturally grew and changed. When the city center was almost completely destroyed by the earthquake of 1755, it was rebuilt by Marquise de Pombal, who thus created the Baixa Pombalina, a commercial area that still retains much of its original lay out.
Lisbon is a historic capital, a potpourri of unusual character and charm, where 800 years of cultural influences mingle with modern trends and life styles creating spectacular contrasts.
Lisbon is steeped in fascinating history and it is also the only European capital with Atlantic beaches. Take the train along the north bank of the Tagus estuary and you’ll discover mile after mile of golden sandy beaches. At the end of the line the beaches of Estoril and Cascais are home to a number of royal castles - a stunning legacy of the times when the kings of Portugal spent their summers here. Continue further and the coast turns westwards - be sure not to miss the truly breath-taking Atlantic sunsets.
Adding to this, Europe’s largest beach is also at Lisbon’s doorstep. South of the River Tagus and only half an hour from the city is the 30-kilometer long Costa da Caparica beach.
Filmed, sung and described by artists and visitors from all over the world, the famous light of Lisbon is the best guide to understanding this city of contrasts. It is impossible to discuss Lisbon for any length of time without someone making the comment - "ahhh, the Lisbon light..." And hardly surprisingly. Lisbon was founded over 20 centuries ago, built on hills along the banks of the river Tagus, as it approaches the Atlantic Ocean. Beyond the brightness characteristic of these latitudes, Lisbon has long benefits from plays on light and shadow.
Encouraged throughout centuries of architecture, this is reflected in the often extremely narrow streets winding their way up and down the riverfront hills, establishing the borders of historical neighborhoods each with their respective traditions and styles. This game has been visually opened up by more modern architectural styles, lighter and designed for the broad sweep of the avenues, even while always remaining interlinked with the river.
Culturally, Lisbon has managed to maintain its character through this play on light and shadow. The recognition of a past replete with maritime history, opened to the World by the Voyages of Discovery, born witness to in its museums, monuments and traditions. And the present is marked by an equal openness to the 21st century world with contemporary museums, prominent cultural events and all the styles of a cosmopolitan city.
Get to know Lisbon’s historical quarters: Alfama, Castelo and Mouraria, Bairro Alto, Chiado and Bica and the Baixa. Alfama is one of the oldest quarters in Lisbon. It has maintained its Arab structure, with its labyrinthine streets, courtyards and lanes. The Sé (Cathedral) is wonderful, and the Feira da Ladra (flea market) also takes place here.
Next to Alfama are the quarters of Castelo and of Mouraria. Throughout the month of June, during the Santos Populares (Patron Saints) celebrations, these quarters are packed with music, dancing and food. Bairro Alto dates back to the 16th century but is today one of the city’s most animated quarters, with trendy bars, restaurants and shops. Chiado is one of the city’s most attractive quarters. It has long been a cultural hot spot, something illustrated by its theatres, literary cafés (like A Brasileira), antique bookstores and the Museu do Chiado (Chiado Museum).
Bica, another of Lisbon’s historical quarters, has been home to the Bica lift since 1892, which passes between lines of houses situated on a street where the pavements are actually tiny, narrow stairways. The Baixa (downtown), rebuilt by the Marquis of Pombal following the 1755 earthquake, is a commercial and financial district characterized by the geometrical layout of its streets.
Take a stroll through Chiado, an elegant quarter that still maintains its 19th-century charm. Chiado is an elegant shopping and residential district, which enjoyed its truly golden period in the 19th century. It became the preferred meeting place of intellectuals and artists, such as Fernando Pessoa, Almada Negreiros or Eça de Queirós, and even today it is still frequented by art students.
While you enjoy a "bica", the traditional Portuguese black coffee, perhaps in the company of Fernando Pessoa, on the terrace of "A Brasileira", one of the district’s most famous cafés, take advantage of your position to admire the post-earthquake Pombaline architecture and the baroque churches of Igreja do Loreto and Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Encarnação, which are well worth visiting if only to see their remarkable interior decoration. Particularly impressive are the paintings and decorative azulejo panels that line the walls. Make sure to spend some time shopping. You’ll find countless clothes shops, others selling objects for the home, bookshops and florists... everything you could possibly need.
You may also like to pay a visit to the theatre, one of the great Chiado traditions. The opera program of the Teatro Nacional de São Carlos and the Teatro São Luís are important landmarks in Lisbon cultural life. In the same district, make sure to visit the Chiado Contemporary Art Museum, where you will be able to see interesting temporary exhibitions of some of the most important works in Portuguese modern art.
It is in the Baixa, Lisbon’s downtown area, that you can find the typical hustle and bustle of city life. It is also in the Baixa that you will find Lisbon’s oldest and most traditional shops.
Even today, this is still the area of town where much of the city’s business is concentrated, a tradition that dates from other times, as can still be seen in the names of the streets: jeweler’s stores in the Rua do Ouro (Gold Street) and the Rua da Prata (Silver Street) and draper’s shops and clothes stores in Rua dos Fanqueiros (Drapers’ Street).
As this is the heart of the city, it also proved to be the natural place for establishing the headquarters of Portugal’s main banks. The streets that run parallel to Rua Augusta identify the various tradesmen and craftsmen, who have continued to do business there since the time of the Maritime Discoveries.
The Baixa was almost completely destroyed by the earthquake of 1755, having later been reconstructed by the king’s minister, the Marquês de Pombal, which is why it is more popularly known as the Baixa Pombalina. This visionary statesman conceived of a uniform and perpendicular architecture for the city center, making no distinction between the various social strata that lived here, a phenomenon that can still be seen today.
Parque das Nações, site of the World Expo ’98, is a great space dedicated to the public’s enjoyment that has provided a link between the city and the river. Located in the eastern part of Lisbon and boasting a vast riverfront, Parque das Nações (the Park of Nations) hosts a wide variety of facilities, including a marina, a train station and a pleasant shopping center in addition to extensive cultural, leisure, residential and commercial zones.
The Portugal Pavilion, a daring architectural project designed by Álvaro Siza that surprises visitors, stands out for its contribution to Portugal’s cultural heritage. The oceanarium, the large multi-purpose space of the Atlântico Pavilion, the Camões Theatre, a variety of exhibition spaces and even design shops await you in a space designed for pedestrian movement, where water plays the main role. The green spaces are unforgettable. Don’t miss the Jardins da Água (Water Gardens); the Garcia de Orta Garden; the Jardim das Ondas (Wave Garden); and the Parque Tejo (Tagus Park), a long strip along the river in which the skate park is located.
A superb panoramic view of the River Tagus and the city can be enjoyed both at the Torre Vasco da Gama (Vasco da Gama Tower) and in the 1 km cable car ride crossing the Park. This large park is also home to bars, restaurants and esplanades stretching along the river as well as a fabulous open-air amphitheater, the Sony Plaza, where you can watch events live on a giant screen.
Tiles are a defining feature of Lisbon’s architectural heritage. Tiles punctuate the cities landscape but you can get a special experience if you start your journey at the Tile Museum, located in the Madre de Deus church cloisters. With a huge collection of multicolored tiles, from carpet patterns to reproductions of engravings, portraits and scenes from daily life and the bible, the Tile Museum tells of the evolution of tiles. One highlight to the exhibition is the priceless, blue and white mural depicting a panoramic view of the Lisbon that existed prior to the 1755 earthquake.
Next, move onto the Bairro Alto, and the Jesuit church of São Roque with its magnificent majolica tiles in a diamond point pattern. Take a break for lunch while continuing your tile hunt. Try the Trindade beer-hall, with its interior finished in 19th century tiles by "Ferreira das Tabuletas". The same artisan carried out the historically significant tile façade on a building in the Largo Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro.
In the suburb of Benfica, the Fronteira Palace and its gardens depicting a range of themes which include everything from battles, with scenes from the war of Restoration, to monkeys playing trumpets.
And to ensure you get to all these locations in the best possible style, try the Lisbon metro. Many stations feature tiled designs by various leading contemporary artists.
Discover Lisbon from a different perspective and wander its seven hills admiring its river-oriented layout. You can’t claim you have really seen Lisbon until you have traveled up to the top of one of its seven hills on one of the lifts or funiculars that are to be found around the city. If you travel to the top of Elevador de Santa Justa, you will have one of the most beautiful views over Lisbon, taking in the Igreja do Carmo, the Baixa Pombalina, Castelo de São Jorge and the River Tagus.
Make sure to take a trip up to Bairro Alto on the Elevador da Glória. At the top, there is a magnificent view over the city from São Pedro de Alcântara. Take advantage of being here to discover a truly unforgettable historical quarter. Walk along one of its narrow streets and listen to the excitement and commotion of everyday life. Stop for a while in one of the district’s many restaurants, bars or shops.
Walk down to Bica, the next historical quarter, and make your way across to the viewpoint of Santa Catarina. With its statue of Adamastor, this is the ideal spot for observing the ferry-boats making their way back and forth, whilst enjoying the magnificent view of the Cristo Rei statue and the 25 de Abril Bridge.
Contemplating Lisbon and its river takes on its own special flavor as night falls. From the viewpoint of Santa Luzia, near Portas do Sol, you can see the Tagus estuary, its south bank and the typical Lisbon quarter of Alfama.
Another memorable view can be enjoyed from the viewpoint of Senhora do Monte, in Graça, from where you can look out over the river and the city’s various hills. Finally, don’t miss the chance to enjoy yet another perspective of Lisbon, this time from the top of Parque Eduardo VII, offering a delightful view over the Baixa and the Castle, with the river in the background.
Visit Lisbon’s chief monuments and get to know the history of the city and of the country. Lisbon’s most symbolic monuments are located in the historical area of Belém, the Torre de Belém (Tower of Belém) and the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monastery), illustrious examples of architectural beauty and the Manueline style evoking the time of the Portuguese Discoveries. Both monuments have received World Heritage status.
The Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument of the Discoveries) pays homage to the greatest Portuguese explorers. From its top, you can see the Rosa dos Ventos drawn on the ground. The Castelo de São Jorge (Saint George’s Castle) was wrested in 1147 from the Moors by D. Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal. Here, you can visit an exhibition on the city’s evolution. D. Afonso Henriques also gave the orders to build the Sé (Cathedral).
Lisbon is also packed with amazing historical churches and monasteries. The São Roque Church, one of the first Jesuit centers in Portugal, boasts a magnificent baroque chapel dedicated to Saint John the Baptist built in its entirety in Italy. The Estrela Basilica, illustrative of the transition from baroque to neoclassical, is home to an extraordinary manger scene comprising over 500 pieces. In the São Vicente de Fora Monastery, discover the interesting decorative tiles inspired by the La Fontaine fables. In the baroque Santa Engrácia Church, today known as the Panteão Nacional (National Pantheon), visitors can see the tomb of the Portuguese fado singer, Amália Rodrigues.
Seeing Lisbon from the Tagus, with its old neighborhoods laid out above, is a great means of appreciating this city strung out along its estuary shore. Some cruises begin at the Praça do Comércio ferry terminal, lying in the shadow of the Castle and the Alfama.
Over to the left rises the Bairro Alto, with the Baixa downtown between these hill top neighborhoods. Defining their midway point is the magnificent Praça do Comércio square, the entranceway to Europe at the peak of Portugal’s maritime power. Sailing on past Cais do Sodré and its train station, there is Cais da Rocha, with its port and marina, before passing under the April 25th bridge. Cruises then proceed to the Belém historic zone.
There, try a frontal view of the huge Monument to the Discoveries. As the river opens up into the sea, emerging from behind the Viceroy of India Afonso de Albuquerque gardens and statues, looms the imposing Palace of Belém, the Monastery of Jerónimos and the Belém Cultural Center.
The next focal point is the Tower of Belém, formerly surrounded by water. Cruises then usually move away from the banks opening up sweeping views of the city from across the river. After again passing Praça do Comércio and the Sé, you’ll be able to admire the colossal Monastery of São Vicente de Fora.
The gentle pace and open boat deck invite passengers out to enjoy the breezes and the sun while appreciating views of the city only possible from out on the river. With the cruise over, head up to the top of any of the nearby hills and contrast the view from below with that from up above.
Lisbon has always been open to the sea that defined its destiny. By the riverside, take a walk packed with beauty and history. Begin with two of the capital’s defining landmarks, the Tower of Belém and the Monastery of Jerónimos. Both have been declared World Heritage and represent defining examples of the beauty of the Manueline style and the riches brought by the Portuguese Voyages of Discovery. In this area, there are also the Archaeology and Naval Museums and a Planetarium for those wishing to look at the beauty above as well as that around. Nearby, there is the modernist Belém Cultural Center, with a café terrace providing excellent views out over the river. Take the underpass over to the Monument to the Discoveries and admire the Wind Rose with the blue of the Tagus just beyond. Then, try one of the delicious Belém custard tarts or drop in on the Presidential Palace.
Continue eastwards as far as the Doca de Santos marina complex, packed with café terraces and restaurants. In the ferry stations of Alcântara and Rocha Conde de Óbidos admire the fine modernist tile panels. This entire area is lined with places to eat or to simply enjoy a glass of something cold while taking in the riverside ambience.
Then, keep on to one of the city’s most beautiful sites, Praça do Comércio, a square that amply represents the characteristic luminosity of downtown Lisbon. Halt to admire the 18th century lines of the square’s facades contrasting with the medieval neighborhoods clustered on the slopes of the hills above. Finally get to the easterly limits to the city and the famous Park of Nations, where the World Exhibition was held in 1998.
Lisbon is fortunate enough to be on the banks of one of the finest estuaries in Europe where watching flamingos and other birds can be a fascinating experience.
The Tagus Estuary is a nature reserve and is considered to be one of the ten most important wetlands in Europe for sea birds. If you enjoy direct contact with nature, don’t miss a boat trip through this large estuary, where you can observe many of the species that inhabit the area. Another way to catch sight of some of the 100,000 birds that spend the winter here is to take a stroll along the footpaths that surround the estuary. You are quite likely to surprise a flock of elegant pink flamingos as they take flight.
If you want to go beyond the nature reserve but still stay in the Tagus Estuary, why not visit the tidal mills, such as the one at Corroios, which bring to life old bread-making traditions? The riverbanks have always been a meeting point for different peoples and cultures throughout the ages, and there are still signs of the various occupations that were performed here.
But if you’re passionate about bird-watching there are plenty of other nature reserves within a 50km radius that you should not miss. The Paul de Boquilobo Nature Reserve, also in the Tagus Estuary, hosts the largest colony of herons in the Iberian Peninsula, and has been classified by UNESCO in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves.
The Sado Estuary Nature Reserve, which also has a huge variety of birds, boasts another attraction, the dolphins that accompany your boat trip. You can also take a sailing trip in one of the Galeões do Sal, the traditional boats that go up and down the estuary and the coast of Arrábida. And don’t leave Setúbal without tasting the delicious grilled red mullet, the gastronomic specialty of this fishing port. The Berlenga Island Nature Reserve has ideal nesting conditions for a variety of sea birds that can be observed there. The Berlengas are a small group of deserted islands where the walls of an old fortress are a reminder of the legendary stories of pirates. Surrounded by green crystalline waters, take advantage of the low tide to enjoy a motor-boat trip around the hidden caves. You’re sure to be captivated! And in Peniche, don’t miss the chance to sample a succulent caldeirada (fish casserole) prepared using sea water.
The Sado Estuary Nature Reserve, which also has a huge variety of birds, boasts another attraction, the dolphins that accompany your boat trip. You can also take a sailing trip in one of the Galeões do Sal, the traditional boats that go up and down the estuary and the coast of Arrábida. Don’t leave Setúbal without tasting the delicious grilled red mullet, the gastronomic specialty of this fishing port. North from Lisbon, the Berlenga Island Nature Reserve has ideal nesting conditions for a variety of sea birds that can be observed there. The Berlengas are a small group of deserted islands where the walls of an old fortress are a reminder of the legendary stories of pirates. Surrounded by green crystalline waters, take advantage of the low tide to enjoy a motor-boat trip around the hidden caves. Don’t miss the chance to sample a succulent caldeirada (fish casserole) prepared using sea water.
In old times Lisbon, the nights began with Fado. An accompaniment to the city’s history, Fado grew out of the old quarters of Mouraria, Alfama, Bairro Alto and Madragoa.
With themes of fate and conflict, this traditional music was shared by noblemen, vagrants and seafarers alike, frequently being sung in a way that displayed intense suffering. Fado also has a lighter side, describing the conquests, love affairs and different life experience of each neighborhood, immortalized by the artist José Malhoa in his famous paintings of the Fado. The music’s fame was gradually built up in the Fado houses, where only those with a professional license could sing.
Amália was the most charismatic of these early Fado singers and the first to take the music overseas. Possessing a great stage presence and being a natural entertainer, Amália left the classical image of the traditional Fado singer in a black dress and shawl. Her former residence is now a museum that is well worth a visit.
In 2011, Fado was classified as a Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. The intimacy of a restaurant or Fado house is still the best way of enjoying this music. A night spent listening to Fado by candlelight is a unique and unforgettable experience.
There are plenty routes in Lisbon specially made for romance, with delightful discoveries that you can share with your partner. Travel up and down the hills of Lisbon, through Alfama and Mouraria, listening to the sound of guitar playing and the voices of Fado singers telling of their loves and their misunderstandings, winding your way through the narrow streets in a No. 28 tram, or admiring the monumental Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and the splendid River Tagus.
Savor the magic of Sintra, one of the most beautiful towns in the world, and certainly one of the most romantic. Or enjoy a ride in a horse-drawn carriage and discover the mysteries of the mountains and the Quinta da Regaleira, letting yourself be charmed by the town’s rich and unique architectural heritage, of which the Palácio da Pena has become one of the great hallmarks.
Drive through the natural park of the Serra da Arrábida, sensing the presence of poems in the air, strolling through the streets of Sesimbra, Palmela and Azeitão, exploring the mountains and the precious beaches that surround them, feasting your eyes on the region’s cliffs and crags and admiring the wonderful setting of the Convento da Arrábida, or perhaps tasting the delights of a cuisine produced by those who have studied the art for many years, and savoring some of the local quality wines.
In Óbidos, a town designed for regal lovers, travel back in time to a period when courting was a real art. You can still sense the presence of love in all its nooks and crannies, in the details of its rich architectural heritage and the purity of its many beautiful decorative tiles.
A lively and upbeat city, Lisbon has a great deal for those visiting with children. It is safe and friendly, the climate is favorable and it is easy to get around on foot. There are also countless activities and facilities, both outdoors and indoors, especially put on for children.
If the weather allows enjoy the city’s parks and gardens. Try the city zoo with its dolphin shows and lion feeding or for a better view of the animals, ride the cable car. In Monsanto, the city’s forest, let the kids run off high spirits on the swings, slides and other amusements of the Park of Índios.
And if the day is a little cloudy, there is a full range of museums and libraries holding courses and workshops. The Calouste Gulbenkian Planetarium will tell them all they want to know of the stars above. The Pavilion of Knowledge will reveal the latest in scientific advances in a child-friendly manner. Another crowd favorite is undoubtedly the Lisbon Oceanarium where you can spend an evening in the unforgettable company of sharks and other amazing see creatures.
Lisbon is one European capital that benefits from one of the greatest assets available to the modern city: its streets may be fully and safely enjoyed after nightfall. As the heat of the day mellows with the setting sun, the gentler temperature entices us out into the street. For now, the calm of dusk holds sway. But, as night progresses, the pace begins picking up.
The streets of Lisbon are not keen on sleeping. The restaurants, ‘cervejarias’ or beer gardens, bars, café esplanades and discos are all geared for partying. For anyone wishing to bid the day farewell over an aperitif and a little chat or for those wishing to get into the mood for a night packed with bars and discos, the esplanades are the right place to be. Some can be found tucked away in leafy gardens, as is the case with the Príncipe Real and Jardim da Estrela esplanades. Others open up onto the hills of Lisbon such as the café-viewpoints of Santa Luzia, Santa Catarina and Graça.
Alternatively, head down to the river. To the east and to the west, there are esplanades turning their back on the city to look out over the water, taking in the silvery light show provided by the city’s reflection out on the waters. There are all kinds of options running from the Santo Amaro Docks at one end to the Parque das Nações recreational complex at the other. A meeting point for all ages, cosmopolitan by their very nature, this is where friends meet up to plan their nights out. As the hour advances, they gradually disperse out to the city’s many bars and discos.