If you fancy some sun, good food, tradition and culture; take yourself to warm and welcoming Lisbon. If you want to know where to go to enjoy all these wonderful things, our list of the top places in Lisbon and its beautiful surroundings will give you some inspiration.
Alfama is considered to be the most traditional neighbourhood in Lisbon. It is known for its Moorish foundations and until today, was full of narrow streets, alleys, corners and small houses. This all contributes to the sensation of Alfama being a small village inside the city itself. This area is dominated by the Moorish-style castle on top of the hill, which dates back to the 11th century. Within the old fortified walls, there is a small archaeological museum, the ruins of a medieval palace, a shop and a restaurant serving traditional food. However, you really need to visit the Portas do Sol, or ‘Gates To The Sun.’ The famous Sé de Lisboa or Lisbon Cathedral, built in 1147 in the Romanesque style, was commissioned after the first king of Portugal D. Afonso Henriques took the city from the Moorish. Over time it underwent some renovations and for this reason it also has some gothic and baroque elements. The nearby Museu Antoniano (Museum of St. Anthony) exhibits some artistic works dedicated to this famous native of Lisbon – sculptures, engravings, paintings, ceramics, ornaments and religious objects, among others. The Museu do Fado (a Portuguese style of music), has a varied number of objects on display that help to tell the history of this traditional music. In this neighbourhood there are also a lot of Casas de Fado — local restaurants with musicians singing Fado day and night.
Belém used to be an important maritime port (especially during the Portuguese discoveries) and nowadays has a large number of museums and historical monuments. The most important monuments are Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Monastery of Jeromes) and Torre de Belém (Tower of Belém), both built in the 16th century, in what is known as Manuelino style in the tastes of King Manuel I. This combines maritime elements and others connected to the Portuguese discoveries and national heraldic symbols. Next to the monastery there are other places worth a visit, such as the Planetário (Planetarium) and the Museu Marítimo (Maritime Museum), C.C.B. (Cultural Centre of Belém) with its Berardo Museum, where you can enjoy the permanent collection of contemporary art. You can also enjoy a walk around the famous gardens of Belém and maybe even picnic in the park, or if you fancy something exotic you can visit the almost forgotten Botanical Gardens of Belém, which house various plant species from all over the world. One of the most remarkable places is the Pastéis de Belém factory, which produces the famous Portuguese custard tarts know as Pastéis de Nata. Other museums and monuments worth visiting are the Museu Nacional de Arqueologia, the Museu Nacional de Etnologia, and the Museu de Arte Popular, among others.
In Ajuda the Palácio Nacional da Ajuda is known for its rich and elaborate interiors that contrast with the austere aspect of the building that was once home to the Royal Family. It was built in 1795 in the neoclassical style, but the original plan for it was never completed and as a result, it suffered extensive renovations over time, especially during the 19th century. One of the most exuberant spaces inside this palace is the great ball used for private and political events. A short walk from the palace is the Jardim Botânico da Ajuda, which was the first botanical garden in Portugal, built at the end of the 18th century in the late baroque style. It is well-known for its precise geometrical plan. The best time to admire the garden in detail is during the spring and summer season, when the majority of the plants will bloom.
In the North of Lisbon, the Parque das Nações (Park of Nations) was completed in 1998, in order to commemorate the 500 years of the Portuguese Maritime Discoveries. The Expo logo symbolises the sea and the sun and welcomes everyone with open arms. In this park you get the feel for a modern city, with its futuristic architecture that contrasts with the historical Lisbon. For an amazing view from the riverside, you can hop on board the cable cars, before enjoying food and the shops at the Vasco da Gama shopping mall. We also recommend visiting the largest indoor aquarium in Europe, the Oceanario de Lisboa, to see various species of sharks, rays, penguins and tropical fish you will not see anywhere else.
In the outskirts of the city is a small village with palatial-style houses, beautiful landscapes and pure, fresh air. Sintra has numerous traditional restaurants such as Curral dos Caprinos and cake/pastries shops including Piriquita and Antiga Fábrica De Queijadas. The most important monument is the Palácio da Pena and its gardens that are part of the National Park of Sintra. The building on the top of the hill was constructed during the 19th century and incorporates parts of an old convent of the St. Jerome order. This was the first palace in Europe to be built incorporating the Romantic style, including an eclectic clash of styles in a historical revivalism (Gothic, Manuelino, Islamic and Renaissance) — in which each part is attributed a different colour. When the palace was being built, the original rock mountain foundation was covered with more than 500 plant species! When you visit the gardens at the Palácio da Pena, you feel as though you are embarking upon a mystical and spiritual trip; statues and other architectural features contribute to the esoteric mysticism of the gardens. Another unusual and unique site is the Bonsai Museum, with different and even rare species of bonsai, not only for garden-lovers but anyone who is curious. Art-lovers should pay a visit to MUSA (Museum of Arts of Sintra).
Located in Queluz is the Palácio Nacional de Queluz (The Queluz National Palace), the royal summer 18th-century palace. Along with its gardens, the palace constitutes one of the most extraordinary harmonious examples between landscape and architecture. It exhibits the tastes of the Portuguese court during the 18th and 19th centuries; periods dominated by the baroque, the rococo and neoclassical styles. The palace was built in 1747 for the then-future King Pedro III and the Royal Family, who lived there until 1807 until their departure to Brazil due to the French invasions.
The Baixa de Lisboa (Lisbon ‘City Centre’) is known for its cultural and commercial vibe, where its regular and perpendicular streets show the city’s planning after the earthquake of 1755. To understand the development and changes in this part of the city, we recommend a visit to the Núcleo Arqueológico (Archaelogical Centre) at the Rua dos Correeiros; situated in a old estuary that in Roman times was the centre of activities such as the salting of fish and the production of garum or liquamen. The Museu do Dinheiro (Museum of Money) is situated inside the old church of São Julião, where you can see the evolution of the Portuguese monetary system, as well as seeing the old altar and chapels inside. If you’re hungry, make sure you enjoy a beer and some traditional food at the Museu da Cerveja (Museum of Beer). For the foodies, this is one place you cannot miss — what better way to spend a day than in the oldest confectionary shop in downtown Lisbon. Founded in 1829 by Balthazar Roiz Castanheiro, it is known for its traditional Portuguese sweets and pastries.
When visiting Lisbon, many people will head downtown to shop and eat, but at the heart of all of this (and somewhere you should stop) is the famous Chiado. Take a break at the renowned coffee shop ‘A Brasileira’, famous for the statue of Fernando Pessoa — an important poet from the early 20th century — where you are free to sit and enjoy a coffee with him. Just next to this is the statue of famous satirical writer, António Ribeiro, from the 16th century. Another famous statue located at the Largo de Camões, is of the poet Luís de Camões. Here you will also find two baroque churches, the Italian Igreja do Loreto and the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Encarnação, both known for their exterior walls partially decorated with beautiful mosaics. A short walk will take you to the National Museum of Comtemporary Art, mostly known as Museu do Chiado, with artwork from the second half of the 19th century. However, if you would like to continue the historic architecture of Chiado, visit the famous ruins of the old convent of Carmo built in the 16th century. For those seeking a show, there are numerous theatres that also contribute to the cultural urban spirit of the city.
Head over to Campo de Ourique to visit the last house and museum of Fernando Pessoa (one of the most important writers of the 20th century), where you will have the opportunity to learn about the history of his life and his literary works. Another almost-forgotten monument is the Cemetery of Prazeres, built in 1833 and known for not only its size of 11 hectares, but also for housing some of the most important figures in Portuguese history, including artists, writers, and aristocratic families. For this reason, it is best-known for its private burial places, where monuments of unknown artists stand among pieces of renowned architecture. This is not to mention the many sculptures that have made their artistic mark on this site. Campo de Ourique not only served as the burial place for important families in Lisbon, but it also reflects the tastes and richness of the people, the notions and ideals of artistic production and the convictions and beliefs that are evident from the symbology of the decorative pieces there.
In Estrela, the Estrela Basilica — or Royal Basilica and Convent of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus — is a basilica and ancient Carmelite convent commissioned by Queen Maria I of Portugal, which had been promised to her if she gave birth to a son. The construction period was from 1779 to 1790, so the building exhibits both the late baroque and neoclassical styles and houses statues of saints and allegorical figures. Due to its architecture and style, the Basilica is considered to be one of the most beautiful churches in Europe. On the other side of this monument are the Jardins da Estrela. These gardens were built during the 19th century and are known for their beauty, as well as their many statues and plant and animal species.
Located in the outskirts of the city, Cascais is a short journey by train from the city centre and also happens to be one of the most sought-after destinations by both national and international visitors. Known for its gorgeous beaches such as Tamariz, Rainha and Santa Marta, you will find yourself enjoying the sun and wishing to jump into the water for a swim. Cascais is also renowned for its gastronomy, offering the best seafood dishes, as well as many other traditional foods. Pay a visit to the old Santa Marta Lighthouse and Museum for a splash of nautical history, or for those who want to experience art at its best, make sure to check out Paula Rego’s paintings at her art gallery Casa das Histórias (House of Stories). If history is more your scene, there are plenty of museums where you can enrich your knowledge: the Palácio da Citadela de Cascais, Museu do Mar and the Museu Condes de Castro Guimarães to name but a few.
In Almada, take the time to have a look at the Cristo Rei, or the Christ the King statue; a Catholic monument and shrine dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ overlooking the city of Lisbon. Everyone is welcome to go up to the top and have a look at the most amazing views of this wondrous city. Not to mention, along the coastal area of Caparica you can also find some of the best beaches in the country. While you are enjoying the coast, why not try some delicious seafood restaurants along the beaches, including Sentido do Mar and Unik Lounge.
Almada, Lisbon, Portugal
By Isa Morais