lisbon City Breaks
A fascinating city in a beautiful location, Lisbon is built on seven hills overlooking the River Tagus close to where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. Lisbon is a city of contrasts, a rich mix of fascinating Portuguese history and contemporary culture yet also a busy port and thriving economic centre.
Lisbon has quite a compact centre which contains many of the important sights, including Sao Jorge castle and the Royal Palace. A little further out is the suburb of Belém with its famous Tower overlooking the River Tagus and the wonderful Jeronimos Monastery. Above all, it’s worth taking time to explore the different districts which make up the city centre including Baixa with its elegant squares, broad avenues and rectangular layout. This area is mostly flat and was completely rebuilt by the city’s mayor, the Marquês de Pombal, after the 1755 earthquake which destroyed much of the city. Baixa contrasts greatly with the narrow, winding streets and intimate corners of the Alfama district with its Moorish remains and the hilly Bairro Alto area. Take one of the 3 funiculars or the Santa Justa Elevador – a lift which is over 100 years old - for stunning views of the city. Lisbon is also well known for its historic yellow trams and a tram ride is an excellent way to explore the oldest and hilliest parts of the city.
Lisbon has a wealth of excellent museums, including the National Museum of Contemporary Art, the Military Museum which contains Vasco da Gama’s sword and the Maritime Museum in Belém, which tells the story of Portugal’s pioneering role in world exploration by sea. The centrally located Sé Cathedral dates back to the 12th Century and combines Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and Neoclassical styles. A former religious building well worth visiting is the ruined Carmo Convent and Church which is also home to the Carmo Archaeological Museum. Fado is the traditional Portuguese folk music which originated in Lisbon and it’s worth heading to the Alfama or Bairro Alto districts to find the most authentic Fado bars and clubs in the city.
Eat and Drink
It’s difficult to visit Lisbon without trying a Pastel de Nata, a type of creamy custard tart. The best place to eat the tarts is the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, a tile-decorated bakery where the recipe originated and where they are known as Pasteis de Belém. Here the delicious tarts can be eaten warm, straight from the oven. Most restaurants will offer bacalhau, (salt cod) which is the Portuguese national dish. A popular version of the dish is Bacalhau à Brás, a type of stir fry of salt cod, onions and thinly chopped fried potatoes mixed with scrambled eggs. The dish, which is usually garnished with black olives, is said to have originated in the Bairro Alto quarter of Lisbon. Not surprisingly, every dish should be accompanied by a glass of Portuguese wine, whether red, white or rosé
For upmarket shops head to Lisbon’s broad boulevard, the Avenida da Liberdade, whilst the elegant streets of the Chiado district offer a delightful mix of designer boutiques, book shops, jewellers and chic cafés.
Elaborately-painted Portuguese tiles, called azulejos, can be found everywhere in Lisbon, from the walls of churches and façades of townhouses to bar walls and even in metro stations. The Tile Museum is tucked away on the Rua Madre de Deus and gives visitors the fascinating background to these seemingly ubiquitous blue and white tiles.
For a break from the hustle and bustle of the city it’s worth escaping to the Monsanto Forest Park to the south west of the centre. Lisbon’s largest park also offers superb views over the city towards the River Tagus.
Just 19 miles west of Lisbon, on the Atlantic coast, lies the former sleepy fishing village of Cascais, now a popular resort with elegant pedestrian streets, fashionable shops, restaurants and bars. Cascais is just a short train ride away from Lisbon, as is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sintra. This picturesque town is set amidst the pine covered hills of the Serra de Sintra. Its slightly cooler climate attracted the nobility of Portugal who built the exquisite palaces, extravagant residences and decorative gardens visitors can enjoy today.
A subtropical Mediterranean climate with mild winters and very warm summers.
Any time of year as Lisbon is a year-round destination but you’ll find the best deals between November and March.
Goes well with
Porto, Portugal’s second largest city, which lies on the coast to the north of Lisbon, and is easily reached by train in less than 3 hours.
Feeling happily surprised because you’ve just spent time exploring one of Europe’s lesser-known capital cities which has far more to offer the visitor than you had realised.