Lisbon is probably best known for its colonial history, its artistic architecture and the tradition of fado music. But some of the best features are in everyday life – spectacular views of the hills of Alfama or St George’s Castle, pleasant year-round weather and friendly locals. To enjoy them, bring comfortable shoes and a pocket map of public transportation or just get on tram 28 to see everything. Plan a half to full day exploring the Belém waterfront, or plan a day trip to palatial Sintra, 20 miles northwest of Lisbon.
Wonders in the Torre de Belém
If there is only one landmark to visit on a tour of the Portuguese capital, do it this way: this large tower, which rises high above the promenade of the Lisbon emperors, shows a true fusion of architectural styles from the Mudejar to the Moorish, from the Gothic to the Romanesque.
It has watched over the mouth of the Tejo since its construction under the patronage of Saint John in the 16th century.
Since then, it has become perhaps the most iconic feature of the city, famous as the adventurers who had the last sight, like the lost Vasco da Gama, when they were expelled into the vast Atlantic Ocean.
Jerónimos Monastery – A Monument to the Age of Discovery
The Jerónimos Monastery was built in honour of the historic journey of Vasco de Gama to India and has today been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In this exquisite monument to Portugal’s Golden Age of Discovery, you will admire the unique Portuguese Manueline architecture and visit the Chapel of St. Jerome, where you will find the tombs of Vasco de Gama and other historical Portuguese personalities.
Bairro Alto Alto
Get on a tram to climb the steep hills of Lisbon.
The most charming way to see some of Lisbon’s sights is to take the wooden tram 28 through the city’s most beautiful and historic streets. At the foot of Bairro Alto, the vintage car begins its journey through the Baixa and Chiado shopping districts before passing churches and castles on the cobbled hills of the Alfama and Graça districts.
Discover a remarkable private art collection.
One of the great philanthropists of the 20th century, the Armenian Calouste Gulbenkian, left much of his art and historical artifacts in his favourite city of Lisbon. The Museu Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, established in his honour, now houses one of the most epic collections in Europe. Look out for priceless Greek vases, ancient Chinese porcelain and paintings by Rembrandt, Monet and Van Dyck. Opposite there is also a museum of modern art.
Cais do Sodré
Scope out the best street art
Underdogs is a cultural platform in the capital and was founded by Lisbon’s most famous street artist, Vhils. By prior arrangement, you can book a three-hour guided tour to visit a variety of artworks throughout the city, including Obey Giant by Vhils and Shephard Fairey. You can also visit the platform’s gallery to see the current exhibits.
Castelo de São Jorge – The towering old castle
The Castelo de São Jorge (St George Castle) lies on top of the highest hill in the Alfama district and can hardly be overlooked when you walk through the city. This ancient 11th century Moorish castle not only offers you an abundance of history and stories, it also offers stunning views of Lisbon’s historic centre and the Tagus River, making it a must for every first visitor.
Calouste Gulbenkian Museum – the treasure chest of Lisbon
The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum is home to an abundance of precious works of art from all over the world, including ancient Egyptian treasures, Qing porcelain, Marie Antoinette’s armchair and European master paintings. A visit to this museum will easily take you half a day to indulge in the city’s treasure chest.
Berardo Collection Museum – An ultramodern gallery
The Berardo Collection Museum houses one of the most acclaimed modern art collections in the world and is the most visited museum in Portugal. Founded by Portuguese millionaire José Berardo, the well-designed gallery displays a compelling constellation of abstract, surrealist and pop art works including originals by Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock. It is undoubtedly a must see for every modern and contemporary art lover.
Oceanário de Lisboa: A modern aquarium
The Lisbon Oceanarium is one of the most beautiful aquariums in Europe and one of the largest in the world. It is perhaps the most family oriented of all the city’s attractions. Designed by Peter Chermayeff and built for the Expo 98 World Exposition in an area now known as Parque das Nações, the oceanarium is home to a stunning array of fish and marine life, including dozens of different bird species. Its ingenious layout represents four distinct sea and landscape environments, effectively representing the habitats of the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Antarctic oceans. These surround a huge central tank full of fish of all shapes and sizes, including ornate rays, spherical sunfish and slender sharks – children’s favorite denizen of the deep. The wrapped plexiglass offers a fantastic close-up view of this magical submarine world, but you should also look for less obvious, but no less special species housed in smaller aquariums, such as the beautiful delicate sea dragon and the comic clown fish.
Elevador de Santa Justa: An antique elevator with cityscapes
Rising somewhat incongruously across the roofs of Lisbon’s Baixa (city centre) district is the odd-looking Santa Justa Lift, a neo-Gothic lift and the most eccentric and new means of public transport in the city. At first glance, the riveted wrought-iron frame and grey paint of the battleship evoke images of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and there is a connection: the French architect Raoul Mésnier du Ponsard, a pupil of Gustave Eiffel, designed the lift, which was inaugurated in 1901. It was built to connect the Baixa with the Largo do Carmo in the Bairro Alto district, a trendy area of the city with expensive shops, fado houses and small restaurants.
You don’t have to look far to the nightlife, because you can just take a dip in the medley of the Fado joints and swish coffee shops in the Bairro Alto district. Then you might want to check out the latest digital installation art at the Berardo Collection Museum, or nose to nose with a grimace shark at the Lisbon Aquarium. Meanwhile, the mystique of acclaimed Sintra hides in the nearby hills, while endless pristine stretches of beach abound on the peninsulas around the mouth of the Tagus and the Atlantic coast.