Lisbon is one of Europe’s most interesting capitals. It has historic charm but also a laid back feel. Packed with highlights, the city is a great representation of the larger country of Portugal. Climbing up steep hillsides along the Rio Tejo, the city is littered with great museums, cathedrals, parks, and more. In many ways the city feels old and classic, with traditional cafes and winding, old streets. At the same time, the city is home to many great examples of modern architecture and has a definite cosmopolitan feel with trendy boutiques and well known night clubs.
If you are staying in the center of the city, walking is a great way to explore. The winding streets of the Mouraria and Alfama neighborhoods take you back to Portugal’s golden age. Even the Castelo de São Jorge is within walking distance of many of the city’s main hotels. Keep in mind though that Lisbon is a city of steep hills and walking up and down them all day can definitely take a toll on your legs.
To see a bit more of the city, check out the excellent public transportation. With a large system of buses, a metro, ferries, and of course the famous Lisbon trams, you can get nearly everywhere in the city for just a few euros. Speaking of the trams, this is an iconic part of the city and is both a convenient way to get around and a travel highlight in of itself. While many of the trams in the city are now just expensive tourist traps, the historic Tram 28 is still often filled with locals commuting to and from work. The tram, which starts in Graça, runs up and down the hills through the most popular neighborhoods including Alfama and Barrio Alto.
A Few Highlights
Below are a few highlights definitely worth seeing on any trip to Lisbon. They just start to scratch the surface of this great city though so be sure you give yourself plenty of extra time for a bit more exploring.
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, a 16th century monastery, is the main highlight of the Belém neighborhood. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the beautifully detailed monastery was created in 1498 to celebrate the discovery of a sea route to India by Vasco da Gama.
If you like to explore a new city by just wandering, the barrio of Alfama is definitely the place to do it. Start at the top of the hill and wander your way down through the small, cobblestone streets. It has a real local feel with street vendors, little family run cafes, and small neighborhood churches.
Rising above the city, the grand Castelo de São Jorge is a true icon of Lisbon. The ancient castle has seen the city change again and again, from Moorish rule in the 9th century to the royal voyages of discovery that were planned out here in the 14th to 16th centuries. The view is the main highlight but also check out the historic artifacts displayed inside.
Praça do Comércio was once the main gateway to the city. The large square, sitting at the edge of the river was built after an earthquake destroyed the old royal palace that first stood on the stop. Today it is still a centerpiece of the city with a bustling commercial feel, making it a great place for a bit of people watching.