Lisbon, Portugal's capital, lies across seven hills and overlooks the River Tagus. It's a charming old city, from Alfama, the Moorish-influenced part of town that survived the earthquake in 1755, to the lower town (or Baixa), that was flattened by it and later rebuilt in elegant 18th-century style.
Belem, the historic quarter, is beside the river. It is from here that many of the explorers headed off on their voyages of discovery. The beautiful Belem Tower, awesome Jerónimos Monastery and the Monument to the Discoveries are all here. It's also the place to sample Lisbon's delicacy - the custard tart. The Antiga Confeitaria de Belem has held the secret recipe to the cinnamon-dusted treat since 1837.
Bairro Alto, the high neighbourhood, is the cultural centre, a lively district with fado singing clubs, restaurants and bars.
One of the best things about Lisbon though is getting around it. There are funiculars and a fantastic elevator connecting lower Lisbon to the upper parts. The number 28 tram trundles from Baixa to Campo Orique, taking in the Alfama and Graca districts. Getting to Lisbon is easy too. As Portugal's main international airport, there are plenty of cheap flights to Lisbon Airport.
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Lisbon has warm summers with temperatures often in the high 20s (Celsius), and wet, windy winters with temperatures around 10 degrees. Even in the coldest months of December and January the city rarely sees freezing temperatures, although the rain can make it feel colder. The hottest months are July and August, and the coolest are December through February.
When to fly to Lisbon
Tourists start arriving in the spring and the flow continues through the autumn. The highest point of peak season is mid-June to August when prices also peak. During the European Football Championship (EFC) games, the city is mobbed with supporters, so check the schedule or join the party. Another drawing card is Carnaval in February or March, when prices are as high as those in summer.
Early spring, late autumn, and winter visitors can often find cheaper Lisbon flights and reduced hotel rates. The Indian summer of late September into early October is a particularly pleasant time to visit.
Getting around Lisbon
You’ll quickly discover that Portugal’s capital city is built on seven hills surrounding the Bay of Lisbon. Unless you’re an extremely fit walker, you’ll want to avoid the streets that go out from the city centre and curve up and down hills, often at steep angles.
Lisbon insider information
- Alfama is Lisbon’s oldest district and has a kasbah-like layout with narrow streets and small squares. Its greatest attraction is the Castle of Sao Jorge, which was taken from the Moors in the 12th century and became the residence of the Portuguese kings. It fell into disrepair over the centuries but was renovated in 1938.
- The Se Cathedral is simple with a beautiful stained glass rose window.
- Belem: several of the explorers (Prince Henry the Navigator, Bartholomeu Dias, Ferdinand Magellan and Vasco da Gama) left from here. The Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (built by Manuel I after Vasco da Gama's return from his voyage to India), Torre de Belem and the Monument of the Discoveries - built in 1960 to honour the patrons and mariners of the Age of Discovery - are the must-sees.
- Baixa is the commercial heart of the city. It was completely rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake. It's a popular area with cafes and restaurants.
- Sao Roque church was founded by the Jesuits in the 16th century. The facade is plain, but inside there are several chapels, one of which – Chapel of St John the Baptist – is decorated with gold, silver, ivory, porphyry, agate and lapis lazulli.
- The Museu de Artes Decorativas houses furniture, jewellery and porcelain dating from the 15th-19th centuries.
- The Ponte de Vasco da Gama, spanning the River Tagus, is Europe’s longest bridge.
- The National Coach Museum has one of the largest collections of royal coaches in the world.
- The Palacio da Ajuda was destroyed by fire in 1795, but rebuilt in the 19th century as a royal residence. The rooms are certainly lavish with silk wallpaper and Meissen porcelain. Royalty left here in 1910 when Portugal became a republic and it is now a museum.