Lisbon is the capital of Portugal, the starting point of the routes of the legendary navigators and one of the oldest cities in the world, located at the mouth of the Tagus River, 15 km from the Atlantic Ocean. Lisbon’s most distinctive feature is its strikingly harmonious appearance, something not often seen in places with such a distinguished and, without exaggeration, illustrious past. The orange roofs of apartment buildings, Berberian ornaments on the walls and modern business buildings not only do not contrast with the Gothic, Baroque and Manueline architecture, but also add a pleasant variety to the overall picture.
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Lisbon’s hilly terrain of continuous descents and ascents, mild Mediterranean climate and almost palpable multiculturalism have turned the city into an original tourist destination, interesting at any time of year and day. A curious peculiarity – the most colorful neighborhoods and historical monuments are crowded along the banks of the Tagus and in the areas close to it. However, the farther from the river, the more modern and minimalistic the scenery.
Travellers usually begin their exploration of Lisbon’s character with the Baixa area, which has a privileged location and a host of impressive but not very old cultural sites: all the buildings had to be rebuilt in the 18th century following a devastating earthquake. The squares of Terreiro do Paço, Rocío and Figueira are a particular source of pride, as are the Avenida Liberdade and Calle Augusta.
If you need a dose of Moorish domination, visit the Alfama quarter, one of the few places in Lisbon spared by the elements. You can still feel the breath of Arab culture here, because it was never spared by the local aristocracy. The main population of Alfama has always been simple people who do not seek transformation and have kept the appearance of the quarter almost unchanged in its medieval form.
The second historical center of Lisbon is Belem, which is geographically “isolated” from the rest of the city. You can not bypass Belem for one simple reason: about half of Lisbon’s monuments are located precisely in this area. Perhaps this is why the Portuguese President prefers it to all other areas.
And yet, despite the reverent attitude to its own history, the Portuguese capital does not intend to completely abandon the trappings of modern life. If you take your eyes off the colonial era sights, in Lisbon you can see modest residential districts, glass towers of offices and Vasco da Gama cable-stayed bridge, until recently the longest in Europe. It’s no surprise, though. As with any major city, Lisbon looks for the perfect balance between past and present, where neither tourist attractions nor modern architecture are stymied, but rather where they complement each other peacefully.
Climate. Best time to visit.
Lisbon has a distinctly Mediterranean climate. Winds, rainfall and sudden changes in the weather are the big boss in the Portuguese capital, and it is the Atlantic that determines what the temperatures will be like in the next month. winters are mild (+12. +14 ° C), moderately sunny and ideal for cozy gatherings in stylish coffee shops, souvenir shopping and rides on the yellow cable car, an unofficial symbol of the city.
Lisbon’s winter scenery isn’t dull either, with mimosas in full bloom in February and evergreen shrubs livening up the squares and streets. And there is always a chance to experience the national culture – at New Year and Christmas there is a magical pre-holiday atmosphere in the Portuguese capital, which fades into fireworks and festival euphoria. And of course, the main “bonus” of winter is the prices of accommodation and seasonal sales. Cheaper than in January and February in Lisbon, there is almost never.
Spring is the most photogenic and sightseeing pleasant phenomenon in the local year. The city is drowning in young greenery, exotic flowers bloom everywhere, and it is almost summer-like warm outside. In addition, spring is a time for great festivals. Lisbon people celebrate Palm Sunday (Palm Sunday) and Easter in incredible style.
Going to Portugal’s capital in the summer, prepare for the heat and the ultraviolet. Despite the fact that the official average July temperature is only +22 ° C, in practice the city thermometers often show +30 ° C in the shade. However, this does not prevent the summer to remain the most party time of the year. The beaches of neighboring resorts are taken by storm by tourists and Portuguese, the bars and discos are always crowded, and in the shady parks those who have had time to get tired of excursions to the historic locations of Lisbon are relaxing.
The beginning of autumn is a continuation of the beach season: the temperature of the water in the ocean remains at +18. +20 ° C, and the sun continues to “hand out” a glamorous golden tan. Gathering the remnants of strength, in September, European resorts go to the last break, so by the middle of the month to pack a suitcase and say goodbye to Lisbon until next summer.
By the end of September the streets and squares of the city can be wandered entirely quietly and unhurriedly – until October in these parts only the most enthusiastic adherents of excursions linger. The reason for this sudden desolation is obvious: It is impossible to predict the vagaries of the weather in the second half of autumn in Portugal. So if you are enjoying the sunny days of November in Lisbon this year, there is no guarantee that you will not have to spend your next visit sitting in your hotel room watching grey skies and drizzling threads of rain outside your window.
History of Lisbon
Traces of the first settlements in the vicinity of Lisbon can be traced back to the Neolithic period. Later the Celts invaded and mingled with the natives, who were later joined by the Phoenicians. When the Romans arrived in Portugal, Lisbon became part of the Lusitania colony. Construction was begun in the city and its borders were surrounded by military fortifications to protect against the raids of pirates and nomads. In the V century the Roman Empire fell into decline, “taking” for the company of the Portuguese capital, which since then, alternately passed to the Sarmatians, then to the Vandals, the tribes of the Svea.
In the Middle Ages the city and surrounding areas took over the Berbers, zealously planted among the local population Muslims. But in 1147 the Crusaders conquered Lisbon, returning it to the previously oppressed Christian religion. In the fifteenth century the Portuguese merchant class became interested in seafaring and trade expeditions were regularly launched from the port of Lisbon. However, only one hundred years later the country again lost its independence and, together with Lisbon, became part of Spain, from whose oppression it was possible to get rid only in 1668.
At the beginning of the XIX century Napoleon paid a visit to the Portuguese capital and so frightened the local queen that she hastily emigrated to Brazil. The French army ravaged valuable historical monuments and the city’s institutions as a result of this military conflict. There were three revolutions in Lisbon in the 20th century, which saw Portugal change from a monarchy to a republic. During World War II it became a ferry for thousands of refugees fleeing Hitler’s Germany and occupied France.
Despite its eventful past, Lisbon has a limited number of truly ancient sights. The reason for this is the earthquake of 1755, after which most of the monuments were destroyed and died in flames. There is plenty left to see and do, so don’t expect to see everything there is to see in a day. Given the hilly terrain of the city, this is something even a professional track and field athlete cannot do.
The architectural history of the Portuguese capital begins at the walls of Castel Sant Gheorghe. The formidable fortress sits on a high hill, once a lookout point for Roman legionnaires, and is visible from just about any quarter. The Praça do Comércio, or Market Square, is a huge tiled square jutting out from the banks of the Tagus. There was once a royal palace next door and the harbour adjoining the square was where the ships of Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan were moored. After 1755, however, the palace crumbled into dust and the Praça do Comércio grew larger and more pretentious.
The Augusta, Lisbon’s Broadway, branches off from the Market Square and contains charming coffee shops and souvenir stores lining its sides. It ends in Augusta with an eclectic triumphal arch decorated with sculptures of Portuguese politicians and military leaders. One of the capital’s landmark structures that survived the earthquake is the Torre de Belém, which commemorates the discovery of the sea route to India at Belém. Today, anyone can get inside the snow-white structure to see the 16 ancient military guns.
Crossing the 25th of April bridge between Lisbon and Almada, the city of Almada, one might think for a moment that one is in Rio de Janeiro. That’s because the religious Portuguese have erected a statue of Christ in his arms here, an exact, though slightly smaller, copy of the legendary Brazilian monument. A popular sightseeing spot that became available to visitors just a few years ago is the Aguas-Libris Aqueduct. The monumental arches of the ancient aqueduct have safely survived the fateful year of 1755 and to this day supply life-giving water to part of the neighborhoods.
A marvel of engineering and simply unusual for a city with a distinctly medieval flavor is the elevator of Elevador di Santa Giusta. At the end of the XIX century a mechanical device solved the problem of height differences in the city, transporting Lisbon citizens from the street Oru for 32 meters up to the Largo do Carmo. Today the elevator is more aesthetic than functional, but it still carries tourists and citizens.
The Gloria funicular looks modest and unassuming compared to the emphasized, flamboyant appearance of Santa Justa. Nevertheless, it has every right to be called a city landmark. The yellow retro cable cars have been running since 1885, helping tourists and locals not to wear themselves out climbing and descending steep paths and stairs in the Portuguese capital. By the way, in addition to the Gloria, there are several funiculars in the city, but it is the first one that is always included in the top local must-see.
Another attraction of Lisbon, which you do not need to look for because it accompanies the tourist in his walks through the city – the azulejo tiles. The tradition of decorating the walls of houses with ceramic plates with ornaments and subject paintings dates back to the time of the Moors, so buildings with azulejo in Lisbon are practically on every step. As for the most spectacular tiles, look for them in the Chiado and Mouraria, where the decoration of buildings with ceramic squares is practically a cult.
Portuguese rulers and aristocrats loved to live large, and there are many impressive mansions and palaces in Lisbon and its suburbs. Topping the list of royal residences is the Mafra. At first the building was erected as a monastery – thus King João V wanted to beg for an heir. Gradually, however, the monarch acquired a taste for it, and before he knew it he had added a whole residency complex to the cloister.
The chateau and park ensemble in Kelusa looks almost like Versailles of Paris from the outside, and in luxury interiors is not inferior to its French twin brother. All the more incredible is the fact that the Portuguese kings were not keen on living here and entertained themselves in the palace halls only during the summer months.
The Belém palace looks more modest compared to the first two buildings, but because of the marshmallow-pink hue of the walls it has a special, unique charm. A striking representative of the neoclassical trend in architecture – Ajuda Palace. The building was a royal residence was not long, but its age is not so old – the complex was put into operation in the XIX century.
Temples and monasteries
Lisbon has several architectural masterpieces protected by UNESCO. One of them is the Jerónimos Monastery, which in addition to its late Gothic facades and Baroque interiors also boasts the tomb of Vasco da Gama. The city cathedral externally resembles a sketch of the notorious Notre Dame de Paris – the Portuguese spared on the intricate bas-reliefs and gargoyles, but still designed a rose window on the front wall.
Snow-white baroque complex of the Basilica da Estrela is located in the western part of the capital and attracts pilgrims with a sculptural group of 500 figures depicting the Nativity, and the tomb of Queen Mary (the one who escaped from Napoleon in Brazil). The most revered building by Lisbon Catholics is the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora. As well as its ornate exterior and no less opulent interior, it has a giant organ and a fantastic azulejo collection that could take half a day to explore.
The modest facades and strikingly pompous interior is the Church of San Roque. The building was built on the site of an ancient cemetery where they buried the victims of the plague, so the atmosphere in its features. By the way, it is in San Roque is the Chapel of John the Baptist, which until recently was considered the most expensive in the world – real gold and semi-precious stones were used in the decoration of the niche.
The National Pantheon of Portugal, aka the Church of Santa Engracia, appears in tourist reviews as the main “long construction” in Lisbon. There is a legend associated with the structure, according to which Santa Engracia was cursed by a heretic burned at its walls who wished that the temple had never been completed. As a result, it took nearly 300 years to rebuild the cathedral after the storm’s devastation. Church of St. Peter Alakantara no one cursed, but it did not save her from the raging elements: in 1755 the walls of the construction “shattered” by an earthquake. Its interiors remained intact, so the paintings and themes on the ceramic tiles inside are the same as they were hundreds of years ago.
Getting around the museums of Lisbon is time consuming. There are so many interesting exhibitions in the city that to get to know them and then rethink what you see, you need to allocate at least half a vacation. In the top of the most colorful and interesting places are invariably included National Museum of Azulejo (all the most unusual tiles – here), Carriage Museum (even a carriage of the Pope) and the National Museum of Old Art (Bosch, Dürer, Velázquez and many exhibits of other, less famous masters of art).
The Archaeological Museum at the Carmo Monastery is worth visiting for its Peruvian mummies and tile collection, the City Museum – for the Neolithic artifacts, the Military Museum – bronze mortars, the legendary machine gun Maxim and a collection of ceremonial cold steel arms. And of course, what is Portugal without the Maritime Museum, the exposition of which is located in the building of the Jeronimus monastery.
The Museum of the Orient is a young but ambitious institution, with a serious collection and incredible temporary exhibitions, offering fascinating tours and immersion in ancient history. Paintings by Dutch painters, fanciful seventeenth-century furniture, Chinese sets and other attributes of aristocratic life should be sought in the House-Museum of Medeiros i Almeida.
The Museum of Sacred Art will be of interest to tourists who are not indifferent to Christian culture and everything that goes along with it. But fans of trendy paintings and sculptures will be more interested in the Berardo Museum of Modern and New Art, whose collections are full of masterpieces by artists who are practically not represented in Russia. Rafael Bordalo Pineiro Museum is another local landmark. Inside a white mansion, there is a collection of comics to which the Portuguese cartoonist had a hand, as well as photographs of the author.
Theater buffs should check out the Roman Theater Museum for the remains of the Eternal City concert stage and ancient mosaics. Children are best taken to the Museum of Puppets, where puppets from different eras and continents are on display. Young technicians will be surprised and interested in the interactive exhibition of the Museum of Electricity – the main part of the exhibits can be twisted, turned on or run.
Lisbon as a tourist
Sintra and Cascais – personal excursion
Guided tour of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Sintra
Private guided gastronomic tour
Four hour tour of Lisbon to discover and taste traditional Portuguese cuisine
Wine region of Lisbon – private excursion
Guided tour of two wineries to the north of Lisbon with walks and tastings
Dolphin Watching in Arrábida Natural Park
Watching dolphins and other sea creatures
Portugal – Wellington Defence Frontiers Tour
Excursion to three forts that were impregnable frontiers during the Napoleonic War.
Belém and Cascais-a full-day excursion
Exploring the historical monuments and visiting the beach
Sintra, Cascais & Estoril – full day excursion from Lisbon
Full day trip from Lisbon to three of the most beautiful places on the Portuguese Riviera
Obidos and the Mafra Palace – personal excursion
Guided tour of the historic city and the Baroque palace from Lisbon
Lisbon – personal excursion
Guided tour of Lisbon’s main sights
Full day private city tour
Guided tour of Lisbon’s main sights
View other Lisbon options
Recommended museums in Lisbon
Culture and Art in Lisbon
Center of Myths and Legends of Sintra – ticket
Exploring the mysteries of Sintra
Modern Lisbon – guided tour by bus and visit to the Lisbon oceanarium
Guided tour of the city by bus with stops and exits upon request and visit to the Lisbon oceanarium
Visit to the Cod History Center
Ticket to the center on cod and its place in Portuguese culture
Berardo Museum of Contemporary Art – admission ticket
Ticket to an exhibition of contemporary and modern art from the 20th century to the present
Visit to the Myths and Legends of Sintra Interactive Center
Ticket for the interactive museum on the history of Sintra
Calouste Gulbenkian Museum
Visit the famous museum with two impressive collections of art in different buildings
Berardo Museum of Contemporary Art – admission ticket
Ticket to the famous Museum of Modern Art
Royal Treasure Museum – admission ticket
Museum of Treasures, once the property of the Portuguese royal family.
Lisbon’s best neighborhoods
Find a great neighborhood to live in Lisbon
Welcome to the Old Town. Baixa’s pedestrian streets retain the charm of the past and the enormous Market Square epitomizes Lisbon’s 18th century heyday. The Chiado is on a hill. Stop at A Brasileira, a favorite café of the poet Fernando Pessoa, and then take the old Elevador de Santa Justa elevator to the impressive ruins of the Carmelite Monastery.
Accommodation options from €9.50 per night
Lisbon – city center
There is so much to see in the center of the city you can’t get enough of. Baixa impresses with its architecture, Chiado with its sophistication. The picturesque Bairro Alto is the center of a vibrant nightlife scene and Prospecto da Libertad impresses with its designer stores. If you want to see the city through the eyes of a Lisbon citizen, take a walk through the streets of the Saldanha residential district.
Accommodation options from €6.80 per night
6 km from the city center
The era of great discoveries has begun! The district of Belém is full of rich mansions built during Portugal’s golden age, when its discoverers reigned over the seas. See the stunning Jerónimos Monastery, look at the nautically inspired decorations in honor of Vasco da Gama and his crew, and then climb the unique Belém Tower, which towers like a caravel over the waters of the Tagus.
Accommodation options from € 7,20 per night
7.2 km from the city center
A classic spot for a Sunday stroll is Parque Nasoix. Its appearance, replete with gleaming glass and steel, is in stark contrast to the solemnity of Old Town. Stroll along the riverfront promenade along the new buildings and sculptures. Order fish at one of the waterfront bars, then discover the underwater world at the magnificent oceanarium.
Accommodation options from €28 per night
The Bairro Alto neighborhood is reminiscent of the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Walking over the cobblestones by day, you’d never guess the grotesque transformations that take place here at night. The narrow streets are lined with revellers who emerge from bars with drinks in their hands. Watch the sunset from the terrace of Park Bar before plunging into the maze of bars. Saúde!
Accommodation options from €10 per night
Check out our recommendations for when to visit Lisbon
Lisbon is one of the most charming cities along the Atlantic Ocean. Explore the cobblestone streets of the capital, filled with the sounds of fado and the perfume of traditional sweets. Or take a ride on vintage Tram 28, one of the last working streetcars of its generation. It’s a great option to see the popular neighborhoods of Grasse, Alfama, Baixa, and Estrella.
The central neighborhood of Bairro Alto is a great place to taste the local cuisine for which the capital is famous. Try the bacalao abrás (a cod dish with onions, egg and potatoes) or the traditional Portuguese stew.
If history and scenic views interest you, visit St. George’s Castle or take the Santa Justa elevator. Lisbon is also home to the Vasco da Gama Bridge, the longest in Europe, and the April 25th Bridge, reminiscent of San Francisco’s Golden Gate.
Lisbon is popular with surfers, especially the Carcavelos and Costa da Caparica areas for their long sandy beaches.