Visiting Lisbon – A City Guide
Rising up from the banks of the River Tagus, Lisbon is a spectacular city of cobbled streets and hilltop views. It has all the museums, restaurants and boutiques you’d expect of a European capital, but with a refreshingly laid-back attitude.
Lisbon: city layout
The city fans out from Praça do Comércio, a large square beside the River Tagus. To the north lies Baixa, packed with shops and restaurants, and to the east ancient trams head up the hill to the castle and on to the picturesque Alfama district.
The majestic Avenida da Liberdade runs north of Baixa, while to the west are chic Chiado and Bairro Alto, a warren of restaurants and bars.
Down on the riverfront, the Cais do Sodré neighbourhood is another nightlife hotspot. It’s also a transport hub for ferries across the river or trams that take you west to the monasteries and monuments of Belém.
Top attractions in Lisbon
Your top priority in Lisbon should be to roam the neighbourhoods on foot. You’re sure to stumble across tile-clad buildings, panoramic viewpoints and terraced restaurants selling grilled sardines. The Moorish neighbourhood of Alfama is full of such delights, as is Mouraria, beneath the São Jorge Castle walls.
The castle itself offers spectacular views. Nearby is medieval Sé de Lisboa, Lisbon’s first church. Both are served by the number 28 tram, an iconic route that also takes in Baixa, Chiado, São Bento Palace (home to the parliament) and the 18th-century Estrela Basilica. Time your ride for early or late in the day to avoid crowds.
Trams also head west to Belém, home of the Belém Tower and the Jerónimos Monastery, two of the oldest buildings in Lisbon, as well as the Centro Cultural de Belém (CCB), a haven for art lovers.
More art can be found north of the city centre at the Gulbenkian Foundation, a multi-building complex surrounded by gardens. To the east, the waterside Oceanarium is a big draw.
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Hotels in Lisbon
Lisbon is easy to navigate on foot or via metro, so there’s no great need to be based downtown. Located halfway between the airport and the city centre, Avenida da República is in the heart of the commercial district and close to the Gulbenkian park and galleries, making it one of the best places to stay for business travellers and city-breakers alike.
The tree-lined Avenida da Liberdade runs from Baixa to Parque Eduardo VII, a park overlooked by some of the best hotels in Lisbon. There are a number of top hotels on Avenida da Liberdade itself, and in and around Praça Marquês de Pombal and Praça dos Restauradores, the squares that bookend the boulevard.
The coastal towns of Oeiras and Estoril on Lisbon’s western outskirts offer the best of both worlds for families and city-breakers: hotels with beaches on the doorstep just a 30-minute train ride away from the city.
Eating Out in Lisbon
Portuguese cuisine is based on seasonal produce and simple cooking techniques. It’s hard to beat eating grilled sardines in an Alfama courtyard, washed down with a glass of vinho verde, a young white wine.
Chiado is where you’ll find boutique restaurants that put a modern spin on traditional dishes, while neighbouring Bairro Alto and Santa Catarina abound with bars serving petiscos, Portuguese tapas. Try salada de polvo (octopus salad), pica-pau (marinated beef strips) and any of Portugal’s pungent soft cheeses.
At Cais do Sodré, the Mercado da Ribeira is a produce market with a vast food court to one side. Northeast of the city centre, the multicultural neighbourhoods of Anjos and Mouraria are ideal for discovering the delicious cooking of Portugal’s former colonies, such as Mozambique, Cape Verde and Goa.
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Shopping in Lisbon
Lisbon is a city where multinational emporiums stand next to specialist stores that have been selling nothing but gloves or hats for the last hundred years. You’ll find a rich variety of these old-school shops in Baixa. For top brand names, head to Chiado and Avenida da Liberdade.
Armazéns do Chiado is a downtown shopping centre. Larger suburban malls include Colombo, next to the Benfica football stadium, and Centro Vasco da Gama at Parque das Nações.
In Príncipe Real, the city’s trendiest shopping district, Embaixada gathers a multitude of fashion, jewellery and handicraft independents in a 19th-century palace. Another good bet for independent labels is LX Factory, a collection of shops and artist studios set in former warehouses.
East of the city centre, the Feira da Ladra flea market fills the streets around the Panteão Nacional every Tuesday and Saturday.
Best Retro Shops in Lisbon
Culture & Nightlife in Lisbon
Seafaring has shaped many aspects of Portuguese culture, not least its folk music, fado, which is infused with the anguish of sailors leaving loved ones behind. The best fado bars are found in the Alfama, Mouraria and Bairro Alto neighbourhoods.
There’s a strong overseas element to the rest of Lisbon’s music scene too. B.Leza is a great place to experience African music, Brazilian artists regularly play at Musicbox and Zé dos Bois, and international DJs headline at Lux, Lisbon’s premier nightclub. There are bars to suit all tastes in Bairro Alto and Cais do Sodré, while Príncipe Real is home to Lisbon’s gay scene.
For a classical vibe, the Gulbenkian Foundation hosts frequent free concerts. It’s also popular with art lovers thanks to the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian and the Modern Art Centre. You’ll find more contemporary art at the Museu Coleção Berardo and the Electricity Museum in Belém.
Best Rooftop Bars
Visiting Lisbon with a Family
The Portuguese are family-oriented people and most hotels and restaurants are child-friendly. Parks such as Jardim da Estrela and Campo de Santa Clara have cafés where adults can sit soaking up the views while children play in playgrounds.
The Botanical Gardens features a butterfly house, Lisbon Zoo has the usual attractions in respectable surrounds, and the Oceanarium has an amazing variety of fish and a delightful pair of sea otters. Or experience sea life in the wild at beaches scattered along the coast from Lisbon to Oeiras, Estoril and Cascais, all 20 to 30 minutes away by train.
For rainy day diversions, try the Pavilhão do Conhecimento, a science museum full of interactive exhibits, or the Benfica Football Club museum and stadium tour.
Fun Ways To See Lisbon