This Is My Personal List Of Favorite Attractions In Lisbon
Lisbon is probably one of my most favourite cities in Europe, and possibly in the world. Situated in the southern part of Portugal in south-western Europe it enjoys fantastic weather with about 250 days of sunshine every year. The city offers a wide range of historic attractions and has fantastic nightlife to go with it. As most of Lisbon is built on quite hilly, in parts steep, terrain, it is probably not the best place to visit with young children.
Apart from all the attractions, food and nightlife, what stood out most for me was how safe I felt in the city even late at night when surrounded by thousands of people enjoying nightlife in the streets. At no time did I feel uncomfortable, which can be a common thing in large cities when lots of people are on the streets and drinking. Despite no obvious police presence we often saw single or small groups of local women walking alone late into the night without ever seeing anyone of them being bothered or hassled. So, if you are planning a trip to Lisbon, be sure to check out some of my personal favourite sights that I think everybody will enjoy.
1) Castelo Sao Jorge
This Moorish castle is in an incredible state of repair. Sitting atop a hill over Lisbon, you have some of the best views of the city and Tagus River. While the climb up to the castle through the Alfama district (more on this below) is quite a trek on a hot day, it is well worth a visit. Note, there are also busses and trams going to the castle so you don't have to walk it.
Despite being severely damaged in the 1755 earthquake that destroyed so much of the city, this castle has been remarkably well restored. While there are organised tours with a guide walking you around the grounds, we decided to not take a tour as the queues at the time were quite long, and it didn't take away from the experience.
2) Bairro Alto
Translated this area of Portugal's capital means Upper District which makes sense when you first walk to it. From all sides you have climb some quite steep hills to get to this part of town that is home to some of Lisbon's best restaurant's and bars.
To kick of a night out, I would strongly suggest going to the roof top terrace at the Bairro Alto Hotel just before sunset. The views from this terrace are incredible especially as the sun slowly fades. And for a 5 star hotel they have a very reasonable bottle of local wine for about €14, and they serve a range of small snacks.
From about 10 o'clock in the evening the bars and streets in the pedestrian part of Bairro Alto start to fill with people of all ages and back grounds. Spend some time exploring the small roads and alleys stopping off for a drink in some of the many bars. Two bars we especially enjoyed were Portas Largas and Catacumbas Jazz Club, which are very close to each other. The former is a great bar with large open doors and live music, while the later is small Jazz club with some great bands playing.
A day trip to Sintra is well worth it, just to see this magical, almost fairytale like, little town, which is why I place at the top of my top things to do in Lisbon. The train journey takes about 50 minutes from Lisbon's main train station and trains are very regular and not over crowded.
One of the main attractions is the Moorish Castle (Castelo dos Mouros) which is best accessed by one of the busses that leave at regular intervals. Dating back to Arab occupation in the 9th century this is a truly incredible place to visit. Not only is the castle itself incredibly well preserved, but the views from the top of the mountain are just fantastic.
Another fabulous place to see here is the Palácio Nacional da Pena with its wonderful colour range, architecture and internal and external views. Tickets are available to cover both of these locations, and probably the best place to get them is in the tourist office in Sintra village.
4) Belém Tower
This fortified tower stands right on the Tagus River and was part of a maritime defence system to protect Lisbon from a naval invasion. One of the best times to see this tower is around sunset, as the warm light of that time of day reflects beautifully off the tower.
You can access and explore the interior of the tower but be aware that the staircases are very narrow and winding and can be quite difficult to get around.
This district is the oldest part of Lisbon and the best way to experience this place is by getting lost in the labyrinth of winding streets and seeming dead end alleys. As luck had it for the residents of this area, it was built on bedrock, which saved it from catastrophic damage in a 1755 earthquake that almost completely destroyed the remainder of the city.
One great attraction is the Lisbon Cathedral, which is worth a visit to escape from some of the heat of the day. The other great attraction for this area of the city is the castle, but I have listed that separately.
6) Monestry of São Vicente de Fora
Dating back to the 12th century, this monastery is dedicating to St. Vincent, the patron saint of Lisbon. While exploring the endless rooms and halls of this incredible building you should not miss the pantheon with its huge tombs or the sacristy with its ornate detail.
Make sure you climb to the top of the monastery as you get some very nice views of Alfama from above, and of the greater area around Lisbon. Especially on a hot day this is a good place to cool down.
This district of Lisbon is the main shopping and business district, and is probably one of the easiest to get around. Pretty much all of it is quite flat, with very large pedestrian areas. There is a very large selection of cafés, so don't miss out on a pastel de nada (custard cake) and an espresso.
If you follow Rua Augusta towards the river you will eventually come to a giant square which has been recently restored. It is a great place to watch people go about their daily lives, and the historic statues and government buildings that surround this square make for great photo opportunities.
If you have the time you should check out the free wine tasting at the eastern side of the square. The Portuguese Wine Industry have set up a great location where you can sample lots of different wines as long as you provide some feedback.
8) Tram 28
A great way to get to see the city and an alternative to using one of the city tour buses is to get on Tram 28, ideally at one of the end points to ensure a seat. The small trams wind around the narrow streets of Alfama and Bairro Alto, and it is quite common to see people hanging off the sides.
While queues can be quite long, it is definitely a cheap and fast way to get from one end of town to the other, while seeing and experiencing a lot of the major landmarks of Lisbon.
9) Jerónimos Monastery
If you plan on going to see the Belém Tower then should not miss the opportunity to visit this 15th century monastery. What is so fascinating about this place is incredibly intricate design of the façade of the building; make sure you get up close to really appreciate the craftsmanship that when into it. When you enter the buildings and walk around the interior gardens you will see a lot more of the decorations.
10) Cristo Rei
You may have noticed the statue of Jesus across the river from Lisbon, and if you have some time to spare this is also one of the great things to do. There are several ways to get there; one is by getting a boat across the river and then getting on a bus. Alternatively there are tour buses that go from Lisbon directly.
Many people will see the similarity to the famous statue of Jesus in Rio de Janeiro, on which this statue was modelled. It was built in 1949 to celebrate the fact that Portugal had escaped the worst of WWII. There is a lift that takes you up to the base of the statue from where you have a great view of the surrounding area and Lisbon city itself.