DISTANCE FROM CENTRE
Lisbon brings the bright and colorful flair of the Caribbean to Europe. A quick trip will reveal the colorful and crowded streets, charismatic and friendly locals and culture, and many hidden and open adventures that will be sure to revive and energize any visitor traveling to this European capital.
For thirteen years, Rio de Janeiro was actually the capital of Portugal. Portugal’s colorful relationship with South America and Brazil in particular is plain to see in the culture and capital of Lisbon (in fact, on the other side of the river you may notice that Lisbon sports a very familiar statue... yes, it is a copy of Christ the Redeemer, the statue that overlooks Rio with outspread hands). It is common to see artists, musicians, and other creative types from all over Europe coming to make Lisbon their home, and it’s easy to see why. The colorful community welcomes creativity, innovation, and as one of the most affordable major cities in Europe, planning a trip to this beautiful City of the Seven Hills doesn’t have to break the bank. Tourists can enjoy the full spectrum of sights, activities, and food that Lisbon has to offer without having to worry about a strict budget or having to economize.
A smaller city that is easy to explore on foot, Lisbon is a favorite for both experienced and new travelers, and offers a different experience of the city to everyone who visits. Whether you are looking for a cultural immersion, a relaxing spa getaway, an eco adventure, or a foodie exploration, Lisbon is your place to visit.
Baixa and Rossio
If Lisbon were to have an official downtown area, Baixa and Rossio would be it. Situated in the middle of the city, this area is truly the beating heart of Lisbon. Travelers to this neighborhood will find that it boasts some of the loveliest hotels and bed and breakfasts that encapsulate the charm of the 19th century architecture of the area. Additionally, some of the most charming restaurants and bars that are loved by the locals to this day are located in this neighborhood. Because of it’s bustling day life and proximity to many of Lisbon’s best attractions, travelers who are only enjoying a day or two in Lisbon are recommended to stay in this area. Rossio train station is located in the middle of this neighborhood, as is Rossio Square, the end point for many busses and trams from the airport. Despite being the middle of the city, travel accommodation is easy to find as Baixa and Rossio boast a host of both modern and historic hotels and holiday apartments that take last-minute bookings.
If travelers are looking to explore the busier and more bohemian area of Lisbon, Bairro Alto is the place to be. Situated on a hill that overlooks downtown and the central part of the city, it’s nightlife and many bars are often filled every weekend with locals, artists, and musicians alike, all enjoying the unique energy that this neighborhood is known for. With several kooky and cool hotels as well as side streets full of smaller rental apartments, it’s easy to choose between being in the midst of the action, or to be next door, ready to join in at a moment’s notice. Travelers will quickly come to appreciate the scenic parks that dominate this neighborhood. Year-round visitors will notice that from the afternoon onwards, these outdoor spaces will slowly fill with locals enjoying a bottle of wine or a picnic dinner, and performing artists who fill the air with music, poetry, and even fire performances. An ideal neighborhood for the hip and cultured, Bairro Alto is not only a neighborhood that offer breathtaking views of the city, but a view of its creative side as well.
History buffs and food lovers alike will appreciate spending their holidays in the Alfama neighborhood of Lisbon. The oldest part of the city, it boasts labyrinth-like alleyways and delicious restaurants that serve traditional Portuguese cuisine. Enjoy some of the oldest churches in Lisbon, and beautiful views of the city from the Castelo de Sao Jorge or Portas de Sol. Travelers will be delighted by the traditional Portuguese tiles found throughout this neighborhood, and we highly recommend taking advantage of the holiday homes of this area, some of which still boast the features of traditional Portuguese houses such as Rococo details mixed with a modern neo-classical approach to detail.
For travelers who want to take advantage of Lisbon’s waterfront, the Alcântara neighborhood is a modern and hip take on the traditional Portuguese experience offered by the central city. While visitors may wonder if it’s location outside of the city center means that the neighborhood of Alcântara is quiet and sedate, the opposite is more true. Found between downtown and Belem, Alcântara is home to Docas, a floating dock filled with thriving bars and restaurants, and LX Factory, a strip of converted factory buildings that are now home to a multitude of shops, offices, restaurants, and more. Vacationers can expect to find affordable vacation homes in this area in the form of modern micro-hotels, factory space converted into modern, design-oriented holiday flats, and eco spaces. Enjoy the fresh breezes coming off the water while still being a short walk away from the city center, with modern food and nightlife close at hand.
Lisbon boasts a little bit of everything for the traveler, and can be easily curated depending on how long or short your stay is. Vacationers who are coming to Lisbon for a city break can easily see the main sights of the city in just one or two days, while those who are staying for a bit longer will have the luxury of time to explore some of LIsbon’s lesser known treasures.
A Day Walk in the City Center
Explorers can start at Rossio Square to catch a bite to eat at one of the plentiful cafes surrounding this beautiful open space. Admire the fountain and large statue situated in this plaza before making your way down to the Praça do Comércio, the large waterfront square that boasts of an impressive statue of King Jose I in the middle riding a horse that is symbolically crushing a snake under its hooves. Behind this statue is the equally impressive Arco Da Rua Augusta, which marks the entrance to the Rua Augusta. On top of this arch one can see the statue of Glory rewarding Valour and Genius. A brief walk away is the Santa Justa lift, an elevator built in 1902 that visitors can still ride up to a platform that offers breathtaking views of the city. On the opposite side of town explorers can enjoy the stunning architecture of the Lisbon Cathedral, built in the 12th century, the Church of Saint Anthony, and the Castelo of S. Jorge, which offers a stunning hilltop view of the city from the heart of a Moorish castle.
A short tram or bus ride away is the Belem tower, which was built in the early 16th century as a defense against attacks on the city via the sea. A tour inside will reveal the medieval keep within. The Padrão dos Descobrimentos, located close by, is a 1940 monument that marked the 500 year anniversary of Henry the Navigator’s death. It’s iconic exterior, marked with carved statues of well-known explorers, missionaries, monarchs, artists, navigators, and more, all positioned within the idealized bow of an exploring ship points outwards over the water and celebrates Portugal’s rich history of exploration and discovery. Belem is also home to the awe-inspiring Jerónimos Monastery, a late-Gothic style monastery that houses both the archeology and maritime museums. Visitors can explore the original architecture and layout of the museum while learning about the effects and influence of religion on this highly Catholic city.
A Book Lover’s Paradise
Not many people know that the oldest bookstore in the world is in Lisbon. Bertrand’s is a bookshop in Lisbon that opened in 1732 is the longest-operating bookshop in the world. After a fire destroyed the original in the mid 1700’s, it was rebuilt in the same location that it still stands today. The Ler Devagar (meaning “Read Slow”) is a bookshop in a converted factory that boasts floor to ceiling shelves of books with countless nooks for possible buyers to hide in and appreciate the sheer number of books within its walls. Books aren’t limited to brick and mortar stores however. The metro stop Oriente Station is home to daily book fairs, in which gently used copies of books are lovingly laid out on tables to peruse and purchase, often for a euro or less. Take advantage of these stalls to find a rare literary treasure or two, perhaps a book by Portugal’s most famous author Fernando Pessoa, or even a book inspired by this literary city, such as A Night Train to Lisbon, perfect for taking back to the hotel for a late night read.
Experience and Enjoy Portuguese Food
Portuguese food is nothing if not delicious. Affordable, easy to find, fresh, and simple, it’s difficult to narrow the list down to just several of the places you have to try. Instead, it is easier and perhaps better to recommend what dishes are necessary experiences for the Lisbon tourist. Polvo à lagareiro, or roasted octopus, is a must in order to experience the unique mediterranean notes that accompany Lisbon’s favorite food; seafood. In the same vein, alheira, a type of chicken sausage, is often cooked in olive oil. Alheira, interestingly enough, is thought to have been invented by Jews hiding from the Spanish Inquisition by pretending to eat pork sausages. Cozido à Portuguesa, or Portuguese stew, is a homely and traditional dish that will give visitors a true taste of Portuguese cuisine. And of course, one cannot visit Portugal without experiencing a traditional egg tart, or as it’s called in Portuguese, Pasteis de Nata. The best of these are from Pasteis de Belem, but watch out, the queue can be pretty long. In town, Manteigaria is generally thought to make the best, and some would argue, even better tarts, but it’s up to you to decide for yourself!
Lisbon is ideal for a weekend getaway any time of the year because it enjoys an extremely mild climate year-round with almost no rain during the summer months to spoil your vacation plans. Additionally, there is a good reason why it’s known as the city of the light! Averaging two more hours of sunlight per day when compared to cities such as London, Paris, or Berlin, Lisbon is perfect for anyone who wants to enjoy the warmth of the sun all day long, maximizing the outdoor limits of your vacation or weekend getaway.
Lisbon tends to skip fall and spring and stick only to summer and winter. Thankfully however, the winter is very short and you can still expect to find gorgeous holiday weather all the way through October and even November. While it may rain a lot in December and January, expect the rain to be broken up by many days of sun that will bring the locals out in droves, giving travelers to the city a special insight into local culture and appreciation for the winter favorites for beating the weather: outdoor grills, roasted chestnuts, and many indoor fireplaces.
Lisbon’s proximity to the ocean also means that your holiday stay will enjoy temperate and mild weather; with the frequency of storms being low. Happily, the water around Lisbon generally remains warm year-round for activities such as dolphin watching, sailing, and boat tours. The average temperature of the ocean around Lisbon averages around 20⁰ C, so even in the spring and fall, a dip into the water isn’t totally unheard of, and many locals enjoy a relaxing walk along the water on the many paths that follow the shore’s edge.
Because of its mild weather, visitors may be surprised upon arrival to find that hotels and vacation houses generally don’t need air conditioning or heating units to make your accomodations comfortable. Most people need nothing more than a light jacket or jumper year-round to defend against changes in temperature. Happily, the mild year-round weather means that many indoor activities such as eating, drinking, and concerts can be enjoyed outside all year, even in the colder winter months, making Lisbon an attractive destination for any season.
We recommend your visit to be during the fall or late spring, in order to enjoy the mild and dry climate, while not needing to be overly cautious about overheating. The brave (or foolhardy) can take advantage of the weather during this time of year to make the trek to the Belém Tower along the coast, while city-explorers can expect to walk comfortably around the city without need for umbrella or sunscreen. However, we do suggest that visitors bring shoes with a strong grip on the sole. While it usually only rains in December and January, early fogs off the water can make the polished cobblestones in the street unusually slick and slippery, increasing chances of a slip. Rubber-soled shoes or sandals are highly recommended!