Lisbon has somewhat rediscovered itself in recent years, reclaiming its rightful place as the 'golden city' of southern Europe. Much of this is due to the officials of Lisbon having elected to rejuvenate the city during the 1990s. This ongoing focus on the future has meant making the most of the attractions, both old and new.
One day can span centuries as visitors move between the picturesque medieval section of the Alfama district and historic São Jorge castle to being amazed by the spectacle of the futuristic Oceanarium of Lisboa.
Infrastructure has also been improved, with additions like the impressive Vasco da Gama Bridge across the River Tagus, which links the city's airport to a network of national motorways and has facilitated access to other parts of Portugal. There is also a new showcase railway hub, the Gare de Oriente, which is the pride of a new modern suburb on the east bank of the Tagus, creating an even better link between Lisbon and the rest of Europe. But if tourists really want to see the city in style, they must be sure not to miss a ride on the famous Tram 28, which winds its way through the oldest parts of the city and gives visitors a feel of the history and rich culture Lisbon has to offer.
The walls of Castelo de São Jorge sit atop a hill guarding the Tagus, dating from the Moorish occupation in the 10th century. But the site has been a fortress for centuries, possibly from 500 AD. The castle is regarded as the cradle of Lisbon and today it provides a panoramic view of the River Tagus and the Alfama medieval district below. Visitors can walk the esplanades and climb the ramparts while a multimedia show is available during the day which brings alive the history of Lisbon. The castle grounds are planted with olive, pine and cork trees and provide a pleasant spot to relax.
The oldest part of Lisbon, the Alfama quarter sprawls down the hillside from below the Castelo de São Jorge. It retains much of the traditional colour and atmosphere from the days when it was the ancient seat of the Saracens. Along the narrow cobblestone alleyways are taverns and street markets, interspersed with close-packed houses still occupied by stevedores, fishmongers and sailors. Lisbon's renowned flea market, the Feira da Ladra, is held in the Campo de Santa Clara at the edge of the Alfama, every Tuesday and Saturday. The Alfama is also full of historic buildings and churches, which are well worth exploring.
Sé de Lisboa is a Roman Catholic cathedral located in the Alfama district of Lisbon. Since the beginning of its construction in the year 1147, the Lisbon Cathedral, as it is commonly known, has been modified several times and survived many earthquakes. Nowadays, it is a mix of different architectural styles, including Romanesque, Baroque and Gothic architecture. It was built on the site of a Saracen mosque after the city was captured by the Crusaders in the 12th century. Inside, this ancient church features treasures like the font where St Anthony of Padua was baptised in 1195 and numerous notable relics, images and icons.
Gulbenkian was an Armenian oil magnate who died in 1955 having put together one of the world's finest private art collections. The collection is now housed in a modern centre where the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation sponsors a host of cultural and performing arts projects, featuring a rotating exhibition of works by Portuguese and foreign artists. The Gulbenkian collection itself covers Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities, Islamic ceramics and textiles, Syrian treasures, Chinese ceramics, Japanese prints and lacquerware, and European medieval illuminated manuscripts. The collection is vast and astounding. Among the paintings are two Rembrandts, a Rubens and a Renoir.
The Bairro Alto district is a historic enclave dating back to 1513, reached via the Santa Justa Elevator from the lower city. The colourful district resounds to the calls of vendors and fishmongers while the windows and balconies are festooned with laundry and bird cages. At night, the area comes alive with some of the finest fado cafés in the city along streets lit by Victorian lanterns. Fado is the famous brand of music and dance brought to Portugal by African slaves in the 19th century. There is no better place in Portugal to experience this musical genre than in the Bairro Alto of Lisbon.
One of the most famous sights in Lisbon is the imposing Padrão dos Descobrimentos, situated on the riverbank along Avenida de Brasilia in the district of Belém. Designed to commemorate the Portuguese Age of Discovery, Belém, where the Tagus meets the sea, is the point from which the maritime explorers of yore set forth in their sailing ships to discover the world. The monument was unveiled in 1960 on the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator in 1460. The massive monument takes the form of a caravel with Prince Henry at the prow, backed by images of renowned mariners, royal patrons and others who participated in the golden Age of Discovery.
Belém Tower, also known as the Tower of Saint Vincent, is a fortified tower located in the civil parish of Santa Maria de Belem. The tower was built in the 16th century to serve as a fortress in the middle of the River Tagus. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the nearby Jeronimos Monastery. The famous Belém Tower is one of Lisbon's most photographed landmarks. The outer walls are adorned with beautiful openwork balconies and a stone-carved rope, along with Moorish watchtowers and battlements shaped like shields. Visitors to the site should make sure to get a guided tour to learn the rich history of the beautiful structure.
In 1917, the Virgin Mary allegedly appeared above an oak tree and spoke to three peasant children in the valley of Cova da Iria, 79 miles (127km) north of Lisbon. The children claimed to have seen the apparition on five different occasions, and the spot has now become one of the great pilgrimage shrines of the world, known as Fatima. Between May and October, the 13th day of every month is pilgrimage day, when hundreds of the faithful gather in a square twice the size of St Peter's in Rome before the Chapel of the Apparitions. The original oak tree is gone, but has been replaced by a simple white column inside a basilica, which is flanked by statues of the saints.
Christ the King, known as Cristo Rei, is a Catholic statue and monument dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ. It overlooks the city of Lisbon in the central part of Portugal. The shrine was inspired by the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, after the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon visited that monument. Like the iconic Christ the Redeemer in Rio, the Cristo Rei spreads its massive arms as if to embrace all of Lisbon. Situated on the bank of the Tejo River opposite the city, the statue is over 328 feet (100m) tall and provides amazing panoramic views of the city from the top.
Marketed as the second best aquarium in the world, the world-class Lisbon Oceanarium is the most impressive achievement of EXPO '98, which used to be an abandoned waterfront. The centrepiece of the stone and glass building is the 1.3 million gallon (5 million litre) holding tank. The Oceanarium consists of four distinct ecosystems that replicate the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Antarctic oceans, each featuring the aboveground birds, amphibians and reptiles associated with those waters. Otters splash and dive in the warmer Pacific waters, while penguins shuffle around in their tuxedos in the Antarctic section.
The Navy Museum (Museu de Marinha) of Lisbon is dedicated to all aspects of the history of navigation in Portugal. It occupies a part of the neo-Manueline Western wing of the Jeronimos Monastery, together with the National Museum of Archaeology. With such maritime icons as Vasco de Gama and Bartolomeu Dias, it's no wonder that Portugal's Maritime Museum is one of the best in Europe. It evokes a sense of what it was like when the conquering Portuguese dominated the high seas. Visitors can marvel at the hundreds of models of 15th- to 19th-century sailing ships, merchant marine vessels, fishing boats and pleasure boats as well as a full range of Portuguese naval uniforms.
The Vasco da Gama Aquarium is a great attraction for children in Lisbon. As well as its wonderful collection of live fish and sea life, there are also preserved water birds, fish, seals, and mammals from King Carlos' oceanographic expeditions on display. The building includes two different sections, the Museum and the Aquarium, complementing each other to give a betetr understanding of the aquatic world. Outside, there's a small garden with a lake full of carp, which children enjoy feeding. Children under 6 go free and between 6 and 17 benefit from reduced prices.
The 330-seat planetarium, adjacent to the Maritime Museum, offers an entertaining and educational insight into the mysteries of the universe. Visitors can tour the exhibitions before marvelling at the astronomical shows projected onto the 25-meter diameter dome. Older kids are enthralled by a visit to the Calouste Gulbenkian Planetarium and they are encouraged to explore its astronomical wonders. The planetarium hosts astronomical shows daily, offering an entertaining and educational experience for young minds. Ask the hotel concierge to check the times of the Portuguese, English and French shows before you visit.
As wonderful as Lisbon's historical area of Alfama is by day, its culture can be even better experienced at night in one of the legendary fado bars of the area. Fado music dates back to the 19th century, characterised by mournful songs about ill-starred sailors. Essential to the music is the emotion of nostalgia and the sensation of loss and its permanent, life-changing consequences. An immensely popular pastime among Portuguese locals, the atmosphere inside any one of the Alfama area's fado bars can be truly magical and tourists to Lisbon are strongly encouraged to join in and become part of the unique, and strangely therapeutic, atmosphere.
One of Portugal's most iconic tourist sights, the Jerónimos Monastery is an absolute must-see attraction for visitors to Lisbon. A stellar example of Manueline, also known as Portuguese late-Gothic architecture, the Jerónimos Monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, earning its place in the registry on the basis of its architectural splendour that 'exemplifies Portuguese art at its very best'. The Jerónimos Monastery is a beautiful building, resplendent in a gleaming ivory hue with sharp spires, intricate sculptural details and maritime motifs. The cloisters are particularly magnificent, with each column individually carved with coiled rope, sea monsters, coral and other designs that bespeak an era of nautical adventure.
These yellow trams, with their polished wooden floors and vintage quality, might be loud and bumpy, having been in operation since 1901, but they also wend through the most historic and most interesting areas of the Portuguese capital city. The ride travels through Graça, Alfama, Baixa, Chiado, and Bairro Alto, where the largest concentration of great sights in Lisbon can be found. The hop-on, hop-off service is a wonderful way for visitors to get their bearings in Lisbon, and the ideal way to get to know the historic city centre. Tram tickets are sold in kiosks all over Lisbon. A 24-hour pass allows visitors to explore the city with maximum flexibility.
Lisbon has many things for kids on holiday to see and do, including museums, planetariums, zoos and aquariums. There are also great shopping centres and amusement parks for families to enjoy while on holiday in Lisbon. Another plus is that the weather in Portugal is warm most of the year, and the local culture is family-oriented so the people are welcoming towards kids.
Lisbon weather is warm with sunny spring and summer days (June to August), when average temperatures frequently reach 82ºF (28ºC). Winter in Lisbon (December to February) is wet and windy, with average temperatures dropping to 46ºF (8ºC) lows. The best time to visit Lisbon is in the spring (March to May) or autumn (September to October), because the weather is warm, hotels are cheaper, and the crowds are smaller than in the summer peak season.
With hundreds of restaurants on offer, eating out in Lisbon is a taste sensation and an experience not to be missed. With an emphasis on seafood and traditional Portuguese fare, this city has a love of spices, especially cinnamon and vanilla. This can be seen in their love of pastries, especially of the custard variety, such as the , a small custard tart sprinkled with cinnamon. small fiery peppers, saffron and black pepper, are all popular spices that are commonly used in Portuguese cooking. Try the with potato, shredded cabbage and chunks of spicy chorizo sausage, or authentic Portuguese sardines, grilled as Head to the city centre where all the trendiest and most popular Lisbon restaurants can be found, while the Bairro Alto is a good place to sample Indian cuisine. The area of Lapa is known for cosy and well-established restaurants while Estoril and Cascal's restaurants come with breathtaking ocean views. When in Portugal, many choose to have a lengthy and drawn out lunch, pushing dinner later into the night. Visitors will have to adapt to this.
This intimate wine bar has an excellent selection of more than 150 vintages available by the glass, as well as delicious tapas of Portuguese cheeses and cured meats. BA Wine Bar do Bairro Alto isn't the place to go for a full meal, but it is perfect for a pleasant evening sampling local delicacies as the staff is friendly and knowledgeable. Try the pumpkin walnut jam, the charcuterie selection or the sardines in tomato sauce! Open Tuesday to Sunday from 6pm-11pm. Reservations are essential as it is fairly small but always full.
Kais Restaurante Bar is set beautifully on an esplanade by the river, complete with a rich, wooden interior and warm atmosphere. This Lisbon setting is truly stunning, with its myriad of culinary delights being enjoyed in a large, restored warehouse. The upmarket and sophisticated menu offers superb cuisine including shrimp in champagne sauce, lamb chops marinated in wine and garlic and a delicious lobster risotto. For dessert, the saffron crème brulée is outstanding. Open Monday to Saturday for dinner. Closed on Sundays and the first two weeks in August. Reservations recommended.
Founded in 1936, Gambrinus has become an institution in Lisbon. Located in the heart of the city, its interiors are characterful with rich, warm tones offset by stained glass windows and a beamed cathedral ceiling. The restaurant offers some of the best shellfish and seafood found in the region, with a few Portuguese specialities. The menu features varied and unusual cuisine with dishes such as partridge casserole, Chicken Cafreal and smoked swordfish. They are particularly proud of their famous Crepes Suzette. This trendy establishment is open daily for lunch and dinner, reservations are recommended.
With only 12 tables available, the very trendy and first all-Brazilian restaurant, Comida de Santo, is situated in Lisbon. Step from cobbled road into a world that lends itself to a New World flavour. The décor is bold, boasting oversized panels depicting jungle scenes and paintings of vibrant, local street life. The potent caipirinha (aguardiente cocktail with limes and sugar) is a great way to kick things off and the feijoada (meat-and-bean stew) or vatapá (peppery shrimp) are highly recommended. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Bookings are essential.
Serving the trendy São Carlos square for the last 50 years, Belcanto, meaning 'beautiful song' in Portuguese, is one of the top restaurants in Lisbon. Extensively renovated in 2012, the restaurant has been awarded a coveted Michelin star for its excellent Portuguese cuisine and extensive wine list. Focusing on dishes that push the boundaries of fine dining, the kitchen staff strive to express themselves on the plate. Belcanto is perfect for a special dinner or decadent lunch on any visit to Lisbon. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 12:30pm-3pm for lunch, and 7:30pm-11pm for dinner. Reservations are essential.
Meaning 'Fish Dock' in Portuguese, Doca Peixe restaurant serves some of the best quality fish and shellfish in Lisbon. The establishment is found along the Santo Amaro Dock, an old area of warehouses now restored to a charming space of leisure. Fish can be seen swimming in the aquarium at the entrance, reiterating its mantra of fresh food straight from the local markets. Fish can be char-grilled, cooked in salt or baked. The flagship dish is codfish cooked with clams and flavoured with coriander. The grilled platter of shellfish comes highly recommended. Open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner. Booking advisable.
Nood is set in a modern and minimalist canteen, offering a great selection of Asian-inspired cuisine. Categorised somewhere between noodle bar and sushi restaurant, the fusion menu features (Asian pastries), (Japanese noodles) and (grilled chicken on skewers). Don't miss the signature Nood ice-cream with chocolate and wasabi for dessert! The kids will have their very own menu as well as colouring pens to keep them entertained. Open daily for lunch and dinner, from 12h00 to 00h00. Reservations recommended.
The imposing Castelo de São Jorge fortifications and the pale, refined towers of the Basilica da Estrêla greet guests at the Via Graça. Surrounded by a neighboured of Pombaline architecture, this is a setting designed with style and discretion. Boasting a romantic, warmly-lit interior and vast wine cellar, it is an ideal location for any lunch or dinner. The menu offers a selection of traditional Portuguese food including roast duck with Setúbal wine, and stuffed fillet of sole served with shrimp. Open for lunch Monday to Friday and dinner all week, reservations recommended.
Café de São Bento is a small eatery in Príncipe Real and has grown into the epitome of a Portuguese steakhouse. Receiving rave reviews from both locals and tourists for many years, the small restaurant has a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere designed for adults. Here, guests can enjoy excellent steak and side dishes, and a good selection of wines. Because it is small, Café de São Bento can be crowded during peak dining hours. The restaurant is open Monday to Friday from 12:30pm-2:30pm and 7pm-2am, and weekends 7pm-2am. Lastly, they discourage bringing children.
The Lisbon Marathon continues to grow its reputation as one of the world's best marathons. Attracting more and more runners each year, both the marathon and the half-marathon have joined Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series. Crowds gather to cheer runners as they depart from the town of Cascais and run along an impressive Atlantic coast, through the gorgeous gardens of Oeiras, then back along the banks of the Tagus River. The circuit is celebrated for its scenic route through the heart of Lisbon, with competitors afforded glimpses of Jerónimos Monastery and the Tower of Belém.
The Rio Carnival may be the most famous in the world but it all started here in Portugal's capital. Even though today the Brazilian infused mega-carnival on the other side receives most of the international attention, the Lisbon Carnival, a celebration of the end of winter, is still a major event on the city's calendar.
The entrudo is the highlight of the festival, closing on the last day, and processions of floats make their way down the colourful streets while jugglers and masked celebrators join in the cacophony of music and cheering. The focal point of the festival is in Parque Nações but parties are celebrated all along the coast.
Through its Great Orchestras of the World Series, George Enescu's International Festival reaches the top of the international classical music events. The Series features the most prominent orchestras worldwide, notorious for holding the headline on major scenes of the world, including Lisbon's Coliseu dos Recreios.
Lisbon becomes a place of grandeur when these enchanting orchestras visit the city. The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation presents its Grandes Orquestras Mundiais series, which include the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Mariinsky Theatre Symphony Orchestra from St Petersburg, Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra and the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra.
The Lisbon Book Fair is one of the oldest cultural festivals held in the capital of Portugal. It was inaugurated in the 1930s, and its traditional location is the Eduardo VII Park (Parque Eduardo VII), the largest park of Lisbon, which is located in the vicinity of the monumental Praça do Marquês de Pombal.
Exhibitors aside, the public can delight in reading and buying old and rare volumes. They can also enjoy the advantages of the generous discounts of the prices occasioned by the fair. Most of the books, either old or new titles and authors, are in Portuguese.
However, plenty of stalls showcase publications in English, which draws the interested of the English speaking people who don't only want to sample the charm of the event, but also to take some rarities back home from their stay in Lisbon.
Lisbon has a very active nightlife, offering everything from clubs and bars to traditional Fado music, international concerts to fantastic theatre. The Bairro Alto area is considered the entertainment centre but there are various other party destinations. The guide Follow Me Lisboa lists all the major events and venues in the city. A good way to start the eveing would be to have some late afternoon cocktails in a café in the Chiado square, before going to one of Bairro Alto's various nightclubs. These venues can be followed by pre-dawn partying and relaxing at the docks of Alcântara and in the Santos district, with various bars open until sunrise.
For the more discerning visitor, classical music can be enjoyed at venues including the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and Culturgest, while theatres such as Dona Maria II National Theatre offer contemporary works and classical plays. Additionally, there is good opera held at São Carlos Theatre.
Fado is popular in Alfama and Lapa, with many excellent venues scattered across the area. Furthermore, concerts are held at Atlantic Pavillion and Coliseu dos Recreios, featuring famous bands and artists from around Portugal and abroad.
Shopping in Lisbon is an all-day affair with plenty of major shopping malls, including two of Europe's largest, namely Centro Colombo and the Amoreiras Shopping Centre. Some of Lisbon's smaller independent shops can be found downtown in the Baixa quarter and strolling through these streets, visitors can marvel at the unique exteriors of shops lining the pavement.
The most famous market in Lisbon has to be the Feira da Ladra, held every Tuesday and Saturday on the Campo de Santa Clara. Here, bargain hunters can sift through clothing, hand-made goods, CDs, books, antiques, furniture and second hand bits and pieces. It's a must when shopping in Lisbon but tourists should beware of pickpockets.
Shops in Lisbon are generally open from 9am to 1pm and 3pm to 7pm, Monday through Friday. On Saturdays, shopping hours are from 9am to 7pm and many of the larger shopping malls stay open until midnight.
Visitors should look into obtaining a Lisboa Shopping Card, which is available from tourist offices and provides discounts for tourists at more than 200 participating stores.
There is a sales tax of 23% included in general prices and part of this tax can be reclaimed by non-EU visitors when leaving the EU. Visitors wanting to reclaim this tax should ask for a refund cheque at the point of purchase for more expensive buys. This is then stamped by a customs official on departure and is only offered by participating stores in Lisbon.
Public transport in Lisbon is inexpensive and useful for negotiating the hills between attractions. The fastest way to get around is by metro, which covers most of the city. Complementing this is a network of trams, buses, funiculars and a vertical elevator to connect the high and low areas of the city. There is also a modern electric train that links the city to all the towns along the Portuguese Riviera, and ferries across the Tagus River.
Trams and buses are inexpensive and the old trams have become a big tourist attraction. It is best to avoid public transport during rush hours though, as the crowded conditions are the perfect cover for pick pockets. Metered taxis are plentiful and affordable, and a popular means of transportation, but beware of drivers taking long, indirect routes. A car is not recommended for use around the city.
Perched on the coast of Portugal and steeped in a rich and diverse maritime history, it's no wonder that many of Lisbon's attractions are of the aquatic variety. Visitors will have a grand time exploring the many sights this exciting city has to offer. Visit the Lisbon Oceanarium, which is marketed as the second best aquarium in the world and boasts a 1.3-million gallon (5-million litre) tank and a wonderful array of marine life. For a slightly more historical look at the sea, the Maritime Museum is one of Europe's best and a must for history buffs. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Tower of Belem, stroll through the streets of the charming Alfama, Lisbon's old quarter, visit the São Jorge Castle and take a stroll through the Jeronimos Monastery, a World Heritage Site and the resting place of Vasco de Gama. Visitors wanting to see the sights in Lisbon should look into purchasing a Lisboa Card, which grants the bearer free admission or 50 percent off of admission fees to most attractions as well as free access to public transport. The card is valid for 24 hours and is available from tourist offices throughout the city.
Sintra is steeped in history and offers some of the most exquisite natural and architectural sites in the country. Verdant hills and pastureland wend their way northwest from Lisbon, out of the Tagus estuary and up towards Sintra. The resort town enjoys a picturesque location, nestled in the rolling hills and peaks of the Sintra mountain range. Here, at the northern-most extent of the protected Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, history, archaeology, architecture and natural beauty combine to create a compelling and enduring centrepiece that has enjoyed centuries of popularity. Lisbon and Sintra are connected by a reliable and inexpensive train service.
Setúbal, one of Portugal's oldest cities, is renowned for producing the most delicious muscadel wine in the world. Setúbal is also the capital of Portugal's sardine industry and has been a fish-salting centre since the 1st century. White mounds of sea salt drying in the sun are a familiar part of the local landscape. The city sits nearby the Nature Park of Arrábida. The park offers unspoilt nature and beautiful beaches. Lucky visitors may even be able to spot the dolphin colony, which inhabits the Sado River.
Boasting a remarkably well-preserved Old Town centre, partially bordered by medieval walls, as well as the outstanding Roman Temple (built in the 1st century AD), the gorgeous medieval town of Évora is really something special to behold. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the town is small, compact, easy-to-navigate and best explored on foot. Visitors will feel immersed in history as they pass by the Aqueduct of Silver Water, the Cathedral of Évora, the Palace of Vasco da Gama and the Renaissance Fountain at Largo das Portas de Moura, built in 1556. The town makes for a perfect cultural day trip from nearby Algarve.