Lisbon is Portugal's capital and the hub of a multifaceted area that appeals to different tastes and senses.
In a city that has been influenced by many different far-off cultures over time, there is still a village feel in each historic neighbourhood. Stroll through the Pombaline grid of streets in the Baixa district that opens on to the Tagus in Praça do Comércio, then follow the river to discover some of the city’s most beautiful parts: the monumental area of Belém with its World Heritage monuments, the mediaeval quarters and the latest contemporary leisure spaces, such as the Parque das Nações.
If you continue to the mouth of the river, you'll understand why we say that Lisbon is the centre of a vast resort. Along the coastal road you’ll find beaches and beach resorts that combine villas and hotels from the beginning of the 20th century with marinas, terraces and excellent golf courses. Further along the coast you’ll come across world-renowned surfing beaches, but also the palaces scattered across the cultural landscape of Sintra, a World Heritage Site.
The wide variety of landscapes and heritage is always close by, whether to the north or south of the capital. With beaches, natural parks, cultural routes and accommodation for all tastes, it is hard to escape the Lisbon region on a visit to Portugal.
Fado is another expression of what it is to be Portuguese that has also been awarded World Heritage status. You can hear it at night in a fado house or in a traditional neighbourhood. But go, as well, to the lively bars and nightclubs, to find other types of music. From reggae to African music, new wave, indie or electronic, there’s a great diversity of sounds and environments, but all are good excuses to have a drink and dance the night away.
10 things to do and see in Lisbon
Lisbon is a cosmopolitan city, with good access and a few hours away from any European capital.
And there is so much to see and do that it is difficult to have enough time to see everything you want at your leisure... Here we present a selection of things from amongst all those you can do, which cannot be missed in the Portuguese capital.
1. Climb to the Castle of São Jorge and stroll through Alfama
Anyone coming to Lisbon and not going to the Castle of São Jorge will have surely missed an unforgettable moment. It is the highest point in the city, set amongst the most typical of neighbourhoods. A unique opportunity to feel and understand the city’s relationship with the river Tagus.
2. Listen to Fado
Whether or not you like the style of music, dinner by candlelight listening to fado in Lisbon is unmissable. Consider yourself lucky and do stop, if you hear it sung while strolling through some street in Alfama, Mouraria or Madragoa. This style is the so-called fado vadio, or amateur, sung when someone gets the urge to sing, with the guitars simply joining in.
3. Go to Terreiro do Paço
The largest square in Lisbon and also one of the most iconic symbols of the city and its rebuilding after the great earthquake of 1755. Currently, it mostly offers a very pleasant walk along the river in the late afternoon. It is also a very beautiful view from the river as you pass on a boat.
4. Go up in the Santa Justa elevator
You cannot miss it when you pass it while ambling through the downtown district. It offers enviable views over this old part of Lisbon, and it is a privilege to travel in this elevator designed by Ponsard, a disciple of the great master of iron works, Gustave Eiffel, more than a hundred years ago.
5. Take a tram ride
The tram is a common means of transport for Lisbonites, but also one of the best ways to travel through the historic neighbourhoods. It looks good on any photo, and the sound of the trams running on their rails is one of the most characteristic of the city. The no. 28 is the best known, but there are others...
6. Visit the Jerónimos Monastery and the Tower of Belém
Lisbon has two unique monuments which are World Heritage Sites. They are two jewels of the Gothic Manueline style that easily impress. Apart from the vaults carved in stone that are a remarkable piece of engineering, the wealth of decorative elements linked to maritime aspects and the voyages of the Navigators is fascinating.
7. Taste a pastel de Belém
This is a highlight of Portuguese cuisine and its recipe is a closely guarded secret that makes them unique. Not to be missed! A sweet pastry that Lisbonites like to eat along their coffee.
8. Visit the Oceanarium in the Parque das Nações
The Parque das Nações is a success story in the revitalisation of an industrial area, with a privileged location on the river. It is worth visiting the Oceanarium, one of the largest in Europe, where you can appreciate the flora and fauna of the various oceans of our planet.
9. Visit the National Tile Museum and the Coach Museum
These two museums are unequalled anywhere in the world. One tells the story of the tile in Portugal from its first uses on 16th century walls to the present day; the other has an unrivalled collection of carriages, with fine examples from the 18th century, exuberantly decorated with paintings and gild work.
10. Dine in Bairro Alto
Lisbon is also known for its very lively and busy nightlife. After an afternoon shopping in the elegant Chiado district, there’s nothing like a late afternoon at one of the viewpoints of Santa Catarina or São Pedro de Alcântara, then staying for dinner in the Bairro Alto. It’s the place to be for those who enjoy a night out having fun.
A night out in Lisbon
Lisbon is one of those European capitals where you can enjoy one of the greatest freedoms of city life: walking its streets at night in safety and with pleasure.
For those keen on a bit of buzz, the nights start early and end late. Where? Preferably in the old quarters, with the River Tagus for company. Relaxing on a terrace, in a garden or a viewpoint are always very popular ways of spending the late afternoon.
Bairro Alto and Cais do Sodré are the most traditional quarters, but new places keep opening up by the river, breathing new life into the Lisbon night.
Evenings are always lively and weekends are the busiest, but regulars who like more relaxed atmospheres start their night out on the town on Thursdays.
The night starts in Bairro Alto, either on one of the vibrant terraces in Largo do Camões and Chiado or watching the sunset from the São Pedro de Alcântara viewpoint with the city spreading at your feet, or from the Santa Catarina viewpoint with the river down below. Then just carry on along one of the quarter’s narrow streets, where you will also find trendy late-night shops, and choose a restaurant for dinner. You will be spoilt for choice, and a fado house can be a good option. But there’s much more. The wide range of bars with their mixed clientele, and the street bustle in Bairro Alto make a good start for night owls.
As you go up Bairro Alto, you will find Príncipe Real to the north. This residential area, also known for its antique and design shops, has a number of bars well-established in Lisbon’s nightlife, and is a popular meeting point for the gay community.
Cais do Sodré
If you want to dance the night away, Cais do Sodré is currently one of the trendiest spots. This area of bars bearing the names of the Northern European capitals and faraway countries that provided the fun for sailors who arrived in the port of Lisbon decades ago, is now one of the most relaxed in the Lisbon night scene, with cultural venues, restaurants, bars, clubs and discos. The music on offer is varied, from reggae through to African music, new wave, indie and Gothic rock, the club programmes are appealing and the atmosphere eclectic. For the more energetic, the excitement lasts throughout the night, until the sun comes up.
Terreiro do Paço
Considered to be the gateway to Lisbon from the river, Praça do Comércio, or Terreiro do Paço, is an iconic square for its history, symbolism and size, and until a few years ago was the seat of government, housing various Portuguese ministries. Today, one of the oldest cafes in Lisbon, formerly frequented by the poet Fernando Pessoa, can still be seen under its historic arcades, and a number of terraces and restaurants with innovative menus have sprung up, as have a minimal techno/house disco and a private club in the former premises of the Ministry of Finance.
Santa Apolónia / Jardim do Tabaco
As you go down the hill in Alfama, you will find Santa Apolónia and Jardim do Tabaco by the river. These have always been associated with the mainline railway station and the port of embarkation, where cruise ships dock today, but recently have been given a new lease of life. Landmark restaurants and one of the most popular and busiest discos in the city now occupy the former warehouses that provided support to the port.
Parque das Nações
The vast riverfront area in the eastern part of town was completely converted to accommodate the 1998 Universal Exhibition, and developed into a modern quarter with many commercial and leisure spaces. With promenades along the riverbank, it has other attractions such as the Teatro Camões, the headquarters of the National Ballet Company, the Pavilhão Atlântico, where many of the capital’s concerts are held, and the Lisbon Casino which, besides the usual gambling rooms, has multicultural musical and exhibition venues.
Santos / 24 Julho / Docks
Santos, Avenida 24 de Julho and the Docks were formerly Lisbon’s port area, where there used to be old, derelict warehouses, but it went through glorious times in the 1990s, featuring at the top of Lisbon’s nightlife. Frequented by a young public into pop and mainstream music, and some of the key restaurants, bars and discos still survive.
In the Docks, the riverfront terraces and restaurants overlooking the small marina close to the 25 de Abril Bridge, are also patronised at lunch time and in the afternoons.