Lisbon is surely one of Europe’s most under-rated capital cities. Tucked away in the bottom left corner of the European map it is not a places that you pass through to get to anywhere else. But for those who make the effort to visit this fascinating city Lisbon offers many rewards in its unique architecture, its mixture of the old and new and in the warm hospitality of the Portuguese people.
Lisbon is well spread out and you do need to use public transport to get between the main sights. That said the metro, buses and trams are very easy to negotiate and are inexpensive (compared to prices in most western cities). Most of the areas of interest can be grouped in three main parts of the city:
Lisbon’s downtown is easy to get around by foot and trams are frequent around the centre of town. It’s a surprisingly hilly city and this allows visitors to make the most of the bright yellow Elevadores. These funicular trams have worked their way up and down the hills of Lisbon for over 100 years and are a tourist attraction as well as a reliable means of getting people between the hills of the city and its sea-level downtown.
Don’t miss the impressive cathedral which you’ll pass on the steep road up to Castelo de Sao Jorge. This old fort enjoys a prominent position high over the rest of the city and the ramparts are a good place to rest and enjoy the panorama. The castle is open until 9pm in the summer months.
Parque das Nações
This modern seafront district was developed for the World Expo 98 event and it still gleams in the shadow of the 17km long Vasco da Gama Bridge. Stop to admire Calatrava’s daring Oriente station building – you won’t be able to miss it.
Most visitors come to this district to visit the Lisbon Oceanarium, said to be the second largest in the world. The queues can be long at peak times but it does house an impressive collection of pretty much every marine creature you can imagine (apart from whales of course). A personal highlight was the mystical sea dragon, which looked for all the world like a piece of plant life until it floated gracefully across its circular tank.
The Parque das Nações has many quirky artworks around its vast grounds, and a cable car provides an aerial view over the whole park. There is even a musical playground, volcano fountains and some very strange interactive sculptures.
The Belem Tower is probably Lisbon’s most prominent landmark and it sits here, 5km west of the centre. The park beside this 16th century fort is popular for Lisbon families to while away the afternoon sunshine with a picnic or an ice-cream. The tower has been designated World Heritage Site status along with the nearby Jeronimo Monastery which is also well worth a visit.
Don’t miss the nearby Padrao dos Descobrimentos, or the Discoveries Monument. This was built to celebrate the many Portuguese explorers of the 15th and 16th centuries. There is an exhibition inside the monument and you can climb to the top (via an elevator) to see sweeping views of the Tagus estuary.
Visit our Lisbon holidays pages for more ideas about great itineraries and quality accommodation in the Portuguese capital.
by Andy Jarosz