Situated in western Portugal, Lisbon is located near the mouth of the Tagus river, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean. The city’s maritime location has played an influential role in shaping the country’s history, connecting it to communities from around the world. Indeed, drawing inspiration from Lisbon’s roots, ‘All Aboard!’ is the motto for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, which is being held in the city between 8-12 May 2018.
I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Lisbon when I visited last September and I am eager to return. I hope that my latest Destinations blog post inspires and provides ideas for your very own visit.
Many of Lisbon’s tourist attractions can be found in the historic part of the city as well as in close proximity to each other. As a result, explore this part of Lisbon on foot, if you can. I recommend starting at Praça do Comércio, which is an impressive square located on the riverfront. Flanked by rich yellow facades, you will be immediately drawn toward a magnificent central arch at the northern end of the square, beckoning you into the heart of the city. Take your time to explore the many shops and cafes situated along Rua Augusta, which is a long pedestrianised street leading from the central arch.
At the end of the street, you will come across another impressive square albeit much smaller called Rossio – it is unmistakable for its dizzying mosaic floor pattern. After exploring this area, head east toward Castelo de São Jorge, a magnificent castle that overlooks the old city. The castle provides some stunning vistas of Lisbon and the surrounding area. From here, wander further south and you’ll discover the oldest cathedral in Lisbon, the Sé.
The nearby district of Alfama is the place to be during the evenings and where you can experience traditional Portuguese music called Fado. Also situated here is the Museu do Fado, a museum dedicated to this particular genre of music.
Other places that I recommend seeing include Elevador de Santa Justa, which was previously utilised as a service lift. It now entertains tourists, providing unique vistas of Lisbon from the top viewing platform. The best time to go to avoid the queues is before 9am. To the north-west is Parque Eduardo VII, a lush green space with a statue of Eduardo VII and a large Portuguese flag at opposing ends. Finally, don’t miss the opportunity to ride on one of Lisbon’s many trams, which rattle and snake through the old city.
…don’t miss the opportunity to ride on one of Lisbon’s many trams, which rattle and snake through the old city.
Located to the west of the old city, the district of Belém holds some incredible architectural jewels with links to Lisbon’s maritime past. I recommend visiting the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, a magnificent 16th-century gothic style monastery, and the Torre de Belém, an imposing former battlement from the same era. Also worth seeing is the nearby Padrão dos Descobrimentos, a sky-reaching monument, which pays homage to Portugal’s past explorers.
A delicious reason to visit Belém is to taste the best Portuguese custard tart in the world! Head to the popular Pastéis de Belém to sample this treat; however, be prepared to queue. For more information, click here.
On the south side of the river is Almada, which is connected to Lisbon by the 25 de Abril Bridge and various ferry terminals. Indeed, one could mistake the bridge for the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. I headed to Almada principally to see the massive Cristo Rei statue, which overlooks Lisbon and was inspired by the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. The views here are really spectacular and perfect for taking photos.
Not many capital cities can boast fantastic beaches like Lisbon. For sunbathing and taking it easy, you shouldn’t be disappointed with the beaches along the Estoril coast – farther along from Belém. Easily accessible by train from Lisbon, alight at either Estoril and Monte Estoril train stations or the terminus, Cascais.
For more expansive and less populated beaches, head further west via bus from Cascais train station to Guincho. Bicycles can also be rented from Cascais if you prefer to cycle to Guincho via the coastline. The beaches here face the brunt of the Atlantic Ocean, so expect it to be a little breezy, but worth travelling the extra distance. There is also a nice nature reserve close to Guincho beach.
Located in the hills to the west, Sintra is definitely worth seeing. A retreat for Portuguese royalty in the past, Sintra offers a refreshing contrast to Lisbon both in scenery and climate. In the light of this, I think it works well if you visit toward the end of your trip. Accessible by train from Lisbon, you will be dazzled by fairytale castles and stunning vistas. Take your time to explore this magical area.