Europe’s second-oldest capital city (and the sunniest!), Lisbon is perched on the cusp of the Atlantic, with scenic vistas as far as the eye can see. Once the starting point of some of the world’s most intrepid voyages, today it is a dynamic tourist destination full of history, romance and charm. Offering cultural treasures and a serene holiday feel, Libson is a compact and intimate city that’s perfect for both short weekend breaks and longer stays. Considering Lisbon for your next trip? Let’s take a deeper dive into what makes the Portuguese capital so special.
Lisbon really has the best of both worlds, with four distinctive coastlines and views of the azure sea, along with an amazing array of attractions spread across this vibrant city. While you’d have to spend weeks in Lisbon to experience all of its historic buildings, monuments and museums, there are a few that come out on top. Here are some of our must-see highlights for any trip to Lisbon.
This expansive, harbour-facing square is one of the largest in the country, and certainly the most magnificent. Surrounded on three sides by yellow Pombaline style buildings, it was constructed as the symbolic entrance to the city for 18th-century voyagers. Along with panoramic views, visitors can soak up the atmosphere, enjoy some wine-tasting or even pay a visit to Martinho da Arcada, Lisbon’s oldest restaurant dating back to 1782.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, this ornately detailed monastery is one of the main attractions in Lisbon. It was first built in 1501 to commemorate Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama’s milestone voyage to India. With breathtaking architecture throughout, it’s now known as one of the most prominent examples of European Gothic style.
This hilltop castle towers over the city, offering a birds-eye view along with a rich history. Human occupation of the castle can be traced all the way back to the 8th century BC, with the first fortifications built centuries before. Here, you can walk through these ancient walls in the company of roaming peacocks, visit a small archaeological museum and immerse yourself in a real piece of history.
Art-lovers can’t miss a trip to this impressive museum, boasting one of the world’s finest private art collections with over 9000 pieces. With a focus on the 20th century, you’ll find work from both Portuguese and international artists alike, including famous names like Rembrandt, Rubens, Monet and Degas. Along with European art, there is a fascinating display of Egyptian treasures including a haunting silver-gilt funerary mask.
As with many European destinations, the ideal time to visit Lisbon is late spring or early autumn. These months are ideal for avoiding the crowds and at better value for money while still enjoying the warm weather. Lisbon has a fairly mild climate year-round, and visiting in September you can still expect pleasant highs of up to 23°C.
If a visit to one of Lisbon’s many beaches isn’t on your radar, then don’t discount a trip over winter. When most of the tourists have headed home, this is when Lisbon is truly for the locals and the pace of life winds down. You may experience a couple of days of rain, but this provides the perfect excuse to explore the city’s countless museums and historical buildings.
Lisbon is full of unique neighbourhoods that each have something different to offer. Here are a few of the most popular areas.
Baixa is a flat grid of streets at the base of the city centre, making it an extremely convenient base for your stay (you’ll often see it grouped together with Chiado, as the two are close enough to share a metro station). It has seen something of a revival in recent years, with lots of new shops and restaurants to enjoy. Of course, the downside of this is that it can feel a little touristy, particularly in the summer months.
History lovers may prefer the cobbled streets of Alfama, the city’s oldest district that feels almost like a village. However, while it certainly has a unique feel, it’s not quite as well-connected as other parts of Lisbon (and if you’d like to rent a car, think twice, as it may not even fit down some of the narrow alleys).
Principe Real is one of the trendiest neighbourhoods in the city, with independent designer shops, cool cafes and picturesque gardens. It’s close enough to the biggest nightlife spots for a good evening out, while far away enough to ensure a good nights’ sleep.
Walking is perhaps the most enjoyable way to explore all the attractions in Lisbon, though it’s worth noting that it’s called ‘the city of seven hills’ for a reason. Fortunately, the public transport network is excellent, with buses, trams and a Metro system. The Viva Viagem card is the best way for tourists to get around the city, as it can be used across various modes of transport and simply topped up as you go.
While it’s perfectly possible to rent a car in Lisbon, the public transport is so good that there’s really no need, and taxis are very affordable should you want one during your stay. As noted above, not all areas are accessible by car, and parking can prove a problem in any part of the city.
With cinematic landscapes steeped in history, countless attractions and an undeniably lively atmosphere, Lisbon is one city destination that truly has something for everyone. Great for a visit at any time of year and with a diverse collection of neighbourhoods to choose for your stay, you won’t need to search long to find an ideal spot in Lisbon for your next trip. Whether you end in the bustling hub of Baixa or the winding alleys of Alfama, we’re sure you’ll enjoy a unique city break that will leave you wanting more.
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