The City of Seven Hills
The capital city of Portugal is perhaps one of my favorite across all Europe. Lisbon has something special wherever you go, and no matter how many times you return, it is almost certainly guaranteed you will enjoy as the very first time. So much to see and to do, that every time is different. But its charm will enchant anyone who visit it, that being for its colours, its grand and elegant boulevards, the historic ancient trams or even the mosaic pavements not to mention cuisine and nightlife. And overall, its location between the many hills and the Tagus River waterfront.
Lisbon is a large city, where a weekend break is simply not enough. Feasible in merely 2 days but not so much enjoyable as at least 3 full days, or ideally 4. The good news is the little occasions you will need to take any public transport to move from one place to another, unless of course a ride in the trams or for reaching Belem which would be a long walk otherwise across some districts of no interest. The downside? The many hills, quite steep to be honest, but easily solved if you take any of the many old funicular lifts.
The city is clearly divided into very well marked districts, each of them having its own personality, history and sights. The most noticeable are Barrio Alto, Alfama, Mouraria, Baixa or Chiado to name a few. And for sure you will want to visit them all. The old tram line 28 will help you to move between all of them, but the same that it does to you, it does for the hordes of tourists wanting to do the same. Never mind how busy the trams can be, it is well worth it for its unique trip through incredibly beautiful narrow and bending streets packed with sights.
We have to take into consideration that Lisbon is the second oldest city in the European Continent, only behind Athens therefore, one of the world’s oldest inhabited cities since the Neolithic period. Subsequently, the Phoenicians, Iberian, Romans and Arabs left an immense rich legacy in the culture and arts lasting to this days considering what was lost through the millennia of wars, fires, floods, earthquakes or simply making the way for new constructions removing the old. Its prime location at the mouth of the Tagus River habour meant a great trading could be established, reaching its peak at the Time of the Discoveries when Lisbon became the capital city of the Portuguese wealthy and ever growing empire.
Expect from a city, capital of one of the greatest empires 500 years ago, full of history, monumentally rich, elegant and greatly preserved buildings from all eras, blended with a modern and growing new city. And aside from the main sights in the city, there is Belem, home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site San Jeronimo Monastery, the Belem Tower and the magnificent Monument to the Discoveries, all along the Tagus River. Without doubt, Belem comprises some of the finest icons of Lisbon.
Talking about food is talking about fish and seafood. You cannot miss the chance to get to some of these restaurants everywhere. You will notice many of them have a long queue and waiting list. Don’t just turn around because of this, it’s much worth the wait, believe me. But that’s not only about fish. Meats and gorgeous, and the grilled vegetables that usually accompany the dishes simply wonderful. Some of the best can be found around Barrio Alto. For example near the the upper station of the Bica funicular there is the restaurant Principe do Calhariz doing immaculate grilled octopus, fish and meats fresh from the grill. Another highly recommended for seafood, especially for their giants edible crabs is Ramiro along Alameda Reis, near the metro station Intendencia, northeast of the city. But no matter if you go to a recommended place or you figure out yourself any, the chances to have good experience are very high.
Lastly, there is a gorgeous berry liquor treat to have while visiting the Rossio District. This is A Ginjinha right at the front of the National Theatre, in Praca Dom Pedro IV. Easy to spot for the old ceramic tiles decorating the entrance, and how tiny the place is inside.
For more information about Lisbon check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. The currency of Portugal is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Lisbon
- Oriente Train Station This is the shiny train station designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. A sight in its own. Make sure you go up to the platforms as well as the view of the ceilings are quite impressive. The best and fastest way for reaching it is by metro, to Oriente.
- Santo Antonio District Mostly the elegant 19th/20th centuries extension of the city following a designed urban planning mostly orthogonal grid of streets, with the widest boulevard in Portugal, the Avenida Liberdade connecting the largest urban park with the historic Rossio Railway Station and heart of the city, Baixa.
-Parque Eduardo VII de Inglaterra One of the largest urban landscaped park in the city. Famous for its fountains at various steps.
-Praca do Marques de Pombal The northern starting point of Avenida Liberdade. The monument at its centre is quite impressive, overlooking the park and the avenue.
-Avenida Liberdade The widest boulevard in the city, with many mansions and elegant building aligning the sides.
-Parque Mayer At half way along the Avenue, it is the theatre district home to the major cinemas and theatres such as Sao Jorge, Tivoli, Capitolio, Variedades.
-Praça dos Restauradores One of the many squares in the city, but one of the most spectacular due to the architecture of every buildings around, being Palacio Foz and the former Eden Cinema, the Hotel Avenida and Hotel Altis the most notorious ones.
- Rossio and Chiado Districts One of the oldest areas in Lisbon, and so the most historic. It is the meeting point of several other districts such as Barrio Alto just behind Rossio Trail Station
-Gloria Funicular Built in 1885, it connects Praça dos Restauradores by the corner of Palacio Foz with Barrio Alto.
-Rossio Train Station An Art Nouveau train station. The entrance is at street level next to the main square, but the platforms are much higher on top of a hill.
-Praca do Rossio Packed with historical buildings everywhere, and on the side streets around.
-National Theatre Dona Maria II Along the north side of the square. Designed in neo-classical style in the late 19th century.
-A Ginjinha Mandatory stop when passing by this tiny place selling the delicious berry liquor. You will find it opposite the Theatre.
-Largo Sao Domingos This charming little square is adjacent to Praca do Rossio from its northern side. Here you can find the Sao Domingos Church, and farther beyond Martim Moniz Square and the Moureria District at the foothill of the Alfama.
-Santa Justa Elevator Dating from 1902, is a lift built to connect the hill areas above Chiado. Since it was built it became a tourist attraction itself. The views from the top platform offers a great perspective of Lisbon and beyond, but beware of the long queues of tourists wanting to do the same.
-Rua Garret The main througfare cutting Chiado from east to west linking it with Barrio Alto and Bica districts. All of these districts meet at the Praca Luis de Camoes.
-Martires Church One of the many especially in this area of the city. You’ll find it at the end of Rua Garret before reaching the Largo do Chiado.
-Largo Sao Carlos Just a block south off Rua Garret, behind Martires Church, you find this square home to the National Theatre of Sao Carlos.
-Largo do Chiado Connects Rua Garret with Luis de Camoes Square. Quite a busy hub for many tram lines, beautiful buildings and both Loreto and Encarnacao Churches at both sides.
- Barrio Alto and Bica Districts The most traditional Lisbon, famous for the great places where to see and listen live Fado music. It is adjacent along the western edge of the Chiado district.
-Praca Luis de Camoes The main square in this area, also packed with historic building on each side, plus the added charm of the many trams passing over here make it special.
-Bica Funicular Connects Barrio Alto with the lower areas near the Tagus riverside by the Cais do Sodre Railway Station, crossing through the entire Bica neighborhood as it descends.
- Baixa District Clearly recognisable if you see this area from the air, due to the perfect orthogonal street grid, legacy from the Romans where here they did settle part of the city. All the streets head south towards the Tagus River.
-Rua Augusta The major and most famous from all the parallel streets leading towards Comercio Square, where it terminates with the grand arch.
-Praca do Comercio This is the iconic square of Lisbon, symmetrical elegant buildings in yellow, and connected through an arch over Rua Augusta. The nearest metro station is Terreiro do Paço, and also some tram lines stop here, such as famous number 28. This is the door of the city opening towards the Tagus River just meters away. Several of the buildings along the sides are Ministries, while the monument in its centre is dedicated to Joseph I of Portugal. A small ferry terminal near the Columns overlooking the river comes quite handy to take a boat across and enjoy the views.
-Tram 28 ride The best line and the most useful as it connects the main tourist areas on an epic ride of small and tiny streets which bends on and on. You can find one of the major stop at this square, near the arch.
-Praca do Municipio Along the northwest of Praca do Comercio you will find this smaller and very charming square, home to the City Hall and the Bank of Portugal among other interesting buildings.
-Santa Apolonia Train Station It’s the historical train station, which acted as the main one until Oriente was built.
- Alfama and Moureria Districts The city’s oldest districts, where the city was originally founded. It is adjacent to Baixa along the entire eastern side. It is a maze of streets of different shapes, narrow and bending and at various levels as you climb up the hill.
-Largo da Se The main street connecting Baixa with Alfama as it heads uphill. An incredible great part of the tram 28 where there is almost no space for the tram to pass by the super narrow streets.
-Santo Antonio Church As you head uphill along Largo da Se you will find this 1767 Baroque-Rococo style church, built in the place said to be where the Saint Anthony of Padua was born in 1195.
-Cathedral Also known as Se. Located just behind Santo Antonio, it is the oldest in the city, dating from 1147 yet modifier and rebuilt several times hence the 6 different architectural styles currently visible, especially the Romanesque.
-Ruins of the Roman Theatre Just north of the Cathedral you can find some musealised remains of the former Roman Theatre. Quite an idyllic location using the hills slope.
-Largo Sao Martinho Continuing uphill on the same street as the famous tram 28 line you will reach several viewing points offering views towards this part of the city and its hill and the Tagus river and Santa Apolonia Railway station down below.
-Gate of the Sun The best viewing point, near the access to continue towards the Castle entrance. Saint Stephen’s Church is right at the front of you atop another hill.
-Castle of São Jorge You can access it either walking from Alfama or via the bus 37 from this side of the city, or by the funicular located near the Martim Moriz Square, northeast side of Baixa. Open from 09.00 am through 18.00 pm. 7 Euros to enter. The views from the top are arguably the best, covering the whole of the city and beyond. Founded on top of the Roman fortifications which date back to the 1st Century therefore making it one of the oldest in terms of a fortification existing for over 2000 years.
-The Moureria This old medieval quarter along the northwest slopes of the castle hill are where the Fado music was born. Nowadays very gentrified, offers a multicultural and diverse community with very well marked traditions.
- Belem A must while in Lisbon, located along the river front. The best way to reach it is by taking the tram number 15 from Praca do Comercio to Praca do Imperio.
-Belem Tower Perhaps the most representative building of Lisbon, UNESCO World Heritage Site listed and world renown fortified tower, built as part of a defense system at the mouth of the Tegus River at the Age of Discoveries, in 1519.
-San Jeronimo Monastery The magnificent buildings also listed by the UENSCO as World Heritage Site sit In Praca do Imperio, and can be visited in conjunction of Belem Tower for 10 Euros. Built in the 16th century and having an important role at the Age of Discoveries, it is nowadays the prime tourist attraction in the whole of Portugal. The tomb of explorer Vasco da Gama can be found inside among wonderful cloisters and invaluable works of art and architecture.
-Monument to the Discoveries Right along the Tegus River waterfront and opposite the Monastery complex is this large monument depicting the glories of the discoveries.
-Pasteis de Belem Perhaps, one of the world’s most known pastry and without doubt, the most widely extended across the world in all the colonies that once were under the great Empire of Portugal. Their origin is here, however expect very long queues to get these from the most famous bakeries.
- Cristo Rei On the other side of the river, it does offer the best views of the Ponte 25 Abril. A Ferry from Cais do Sodre (near Praca Comercio) costs 2.3 Euros for a return to Almada ferry port, from where the bus 101 for an extra 1.90 Euros goes all the way up to the Christ.
-Ponte 25 Abril A sister of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, designed by the very same architect.
Humberto Delgado International Airport is the largest in Portugal with airlines serving flights all over the world, with hundreds of European destinations. Finding a good fare deal is easy specially during low season months, but during the peak tourist months this is hard to find good options. From the airport to anywhere in the city centre of Lisbon the best and easiest way is to take the metro; it is only few stops and you will be downtown in no time and for very little cost.
Coming overland from elsewhere in Portugal is also easy. After all, distances are not too large, although the country is long. So any connection to Porto or the Algarve is straightforward. And into neighbouring Spain more of the same. The main motorway and rail link from Lisbon connects with Madrid.
Within the city, there are 5 metro lines and commuter railways, all very efficient and cover most of the city. Similar to London’s Oyster card, in Lisbon the system is called Zapping. With this card the fare is lower when you touch in than buying single tickets each time.
But nothing beats the best way to move in the city as taking the many frequent trams everywhere, where some of the routes are widely used by tourists such as number 28. It’s wonderful to take this historic trams which made Lisbon so popular and well known. So well preserved they keep the charm and beauty of a bygone transport era, a truly sight on their own.
Since Lisbon is built in many hills, there are many “lifts” going up and down. They are ancient funiculars with the original carriages. They cost the same as a single ticket on the metro, and I strongly recommend you to use them whenever you need to go uphill to save you from tiredness.
Being such important city in the world and one of the largest European capital cities, the incredible large amount of hotels speak for itself. You have absolutely every hotel name and chain, and finding a good deal is not difficult, specially during low season. As usual, a good point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engines such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
From experience having stayed at various hotels in multiple times we’ve visited the city, we can strongly recommend any of the following:
- DoubleTree by Hilton Fontana Park, Rua Engenheiro Vieira da Silva 2. The nearest metro station is Picoas, and yet again, as for the other previous hotels we’ve been in the city, matter of meters away from the central Avenida Liberdade and as such, walking distance to the entire new and old town. This was by all means the best hotels we’ve been so far in Lisbon, and will definitely not hesitate in trying to stay here the next time. Beautiful rooms, spotless in every sense, nice and caring stuff at all the times, and a very large breakfast, nothing to compare to the other hotels.
- 3K Madrid Hotel, in Rua Conde Redondo 24. It was much more simpler hotel than the one we were the year before, but still nice and centrally located, walking distance from the main streets (Avenida Liberdade 2 minutes away) and the historical old centre. While the room was basic, it was very comfortable bed and quiet room, the most important we are looking in any hotel. Also the breakfast was OK, nothing too special but good enough to start the day.
- Real Parque, in Av Luis Bivar. The nearest metro station is Sao Sebastiao (direct from Airport). From the hotel you are minutes away from the main park and avenue (Liberdade) therefore a good and easy way to start your touring around. It was a great decision, nice hotel, very clean large room, comfortable with great staff and nice breakfast. Around the corner from many restaurants, shops and the central avenues.