Lisbon is slowly but steadily asserting itself as one of the most enjoyable capital cities in Europe. A playground for history and architecture lovers, heaven for gourmets and a hotspot for party animals, the largest Portuguese city is an allround magnificent city with a lot to offer. Here are some suggestions on how to spend a few days in the Portuguese capital.
History and overview:
The origins of Lisbon date back to as far as 1200BC when Neolithic settlements were located on the Tejo river. Lisbon is thereby one of the oldest cities in the world and predates the likes of London, Paris and Rome.
The city was later turned into a Roman municipium (municipality) by Julius Cesar and it became an important trade entrance to the Atlantic. The city had already evolved into a striving port town before the dawn of Portuguese exploring.
For centuries, Lisbon was the epicentre of the Portuguese Empire which at some point stretched from Brazil to Hong Kong. Remnants of these times of great wealth and global power are still visible all over the city.
Portugal suffered tremendously during the 20th century when Salazar’s totalitarian rule isolated the country. The accession to the European Union in 1986 brought massive infrastructure development to Portugal which was only halted by Portugal’s economic downfall during the 2008 crisis.
Lisbon has slowly recovered and is nowadays a thriving tourist destination. The Portuguese capital is witnessing a new tourism boom and its place as cultural, academic and economic centre of Portugal has been cemented once again.
A good area to stay is the city centre around Avenida Libertade, Lisbon’s equivalent to Oxford Street or the Champs Elysées, or Marques de Pombal. You will find many hotels for every budget and taste in this area
The style option: Heritage Avenida Liberdade:
An innumerable amount of small and stylish boutique hotels can be found in the Portuguese capital, especially in the centrally situated areas. FWB chooses the Heritage Hotel as it is located right on the city’s most important shopping avenue, the Avenida Liberdade. The exterior of the hotel acts as a remnant for glorious past times when Portugal was discovering new lands and conquering the world. The interior is modern and crisp with a lot of 21st century design combined with traditional materials. The small and charming hotel will moreover delight travelers with its cozy yet stylish rooms and its extensive breakfast buffet.
In addition to that, visitors can enjoy a swim in a beautiful basement pool adorned with classical mural paintings.
The budget option: Home Lisbon Hostel:
The Home Lisbon Hostel is a centrally located and well priced hostel and an excellent place to meet fellow travellers. If you are in Lisbon for a few days and on a budget, this is the place to stay.
Hotel Marques de Pombal:
A great upper mid range hotel right on the busy Marques de Pombal square, well equipped, close to the metro and in walking distance to Avenida Libertade
Cultural Offer and Activities:
Praca do Comercio: Lisbon has several immensely beautiful squares such as the Praca do Comercio which symbolizes Portugal’s former glory and influence.
The old tramways: Lisbon has an old fashioned tramway system which looks like the one in San Fransisco. It is nowadays more of a tourist attraction than a genuine mode of transport but taking it up the narrow streets in the Old Town is a fantastic experience.
Castelo de Saõ Jorge: A great viewpoint in the old part of central Lisbon from where one can admire the skyline and the 25th April Bridge.
The Maritime Museum: (Praça do Império, 1400-206) Portuguese explorers have sailed the oceans and conquered new lands for centuries. Their maritime endeavours have been well documented and models of their old ships can be visited in the Maritime Museum (Museo da marinha) in the area of Belem, close to the famous Belem tower. The museum is worth a visit as it also features some beautiful old barges and airplanes. There are moreover endless collections of documents, paintings and photographs about among others the discovery of Brazil and the route to India.
Jerónimos Monastery: (Praca do Imperio) Just a stone’s throw from the maritime museum you will find the Jerónimos Monastery, a sublime piece of Gothic architecture and a prime example of the Portuguese Manueline Style. A Unesco world heritage site, Jerónimos monastery will please travelers who are fond of architecture and sacred locations and who like to explore the interior and exterior of flamboyant ancient buildings.
Belem Tower: Closely located to the monastery is also the Belem Tower, a structure that needs no introduction. One of Portugal’s most famous landmarks, it is one of the must visit places in Lisbon, even tough a bit mainstream.
Vasco da Gama Bridge: The VDG Bridge is a stunning feat of modern engineering perfection and named after one of the greatest Portuguese explorers. With a lenght of 12.34 km, the VDG is the longest bridge in Europe and connects both banks of the Tejo river bay.
Discovery Monument: Finally, the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, the landmark that serves as an homage to Portugal’s legendary explorers is definitely also worth a glance. It was built in 1960 to commemorate 500 years since the death of Henrique the Navigator, who launched the Portuguese exploration policies.
Wine & Dine:
Bairro Alto area: the Upper Quarter is known for its many restaurants and bars serving a variety of local dishes and excellent Portuguese wine
Mercado da Ribeira: (481, Av. 24 de Julho) In addition to the many restaurants in the centre and around the Bairro Alto area, Lisbon also has a large, haute cuisine indoor food market where local delicacies can be bought and tested on large wooden tables inside the spacious hall. A large assortment of Portuguese wines, meat and fish but also various international cuisines and spirits are available in this food temple.
Lisbon has a varied and exciting nightlife located in different areas. You will find many rooftop bars and other types of locations in the central areas and Bairro Alto. Here are some suggestions.
PARK Bar: (Calçada do Combro, 58) An absolute must among the many nightlife options Lisbon provides are the rooftop bars that offer staggering views over the city, such as the PARK Bar which is located on top of a car park.
The Pink Street:(R. Nova do Carvalho) As an alternative, the pink street in the city centre is a fantastic area when it comes to trendy pubs, chic bars and burlesque cafés.
Pensão Amor: (pink street) This bar reminds patrons of Paris in the 19th Century. It has several rooms which all meet a different concept regarding musical background, furniture style and atmosphere. In this context the bar’s various concepts range from nightclub environment to cosy laidback bar. Due to this variety, everyone will find a nice spot to his taste in this love pension (meaning of the name) and therefore it is an excellent option for spending a night out in Lisbon.
Cinco Lounge: (R. Ruben A. Leitão 17A) A fantastic cocktail bar in the city centre with a great drinks selection, a stylish interior and a laidback feel to it
Final tips & verdict:
Lisbon is a fantastic city that is becoming more and more popular every year and rightly so. Note that the city is quite hilly and quite spread out by European standards.
The metro is an excellent way to get around and moreover scores points with its beautifully decorated stations. Taxis are also a good way to get around since they are cheap and have a taximeter.
English levels are not too bad with Lisbon being an up and coming tourist hub but knowing a few basic Portuguese phrases will still be very useful (check the picture below).
Check out what’s around Lisbon in this photo story
Check out other European destinations to visit this summer