Lisbon is far more than just pastei de natas and azulejos; it’s a beautiful port city waiting to be explored. As the oldest city in Western Europe, Portugal’s capital is known for its attractive weather, charming residents, storybook setting, and red-roofed neighborhoods.
To get the most out of this magical place, here’s everything you need to know.
- Nickname: The City of Seven Hills
- Incorporated: 1256
- Population: 545,245
- Architectural style: Romanesque, Gothic, and Manueline
- Climate: Mediterranean
The Lisbon Portela Airport gets extra points for its proximity to the city center, as it’s located just four miles (6.5 kilometers) away. This airport is also the country’s largest and busiest, servicing roughly 40 different airlines. So if you intend to fly into Lisbon, you won’t need to look anywhere else.
When it comes to taking the train to Lisbon, there are three main stations in the city. Santa Apolónia Station is located in Alfama, and its trains service cities across Portugal and as well as the rest of Europe.
But if this one doesn’t fit your needs, there are a few other options throughout the city. There is Rossio station, located in Rossio Square, and Cais do Sodré, a sation especially handy for those wanting to see the waterfront.
For those visitors arriving from other countries, there plenty of resources to help you find your way to Lisbon, such as Seat 61, Loco2, and Comboios de Portugal.
Who can blame roadtrippers for wanting to arrive by car? Portugal’s coastline is packed with beautiful landscapes, and its cliffs and beaches are a constant temptation to pull over and take a break. This is especially true in the southern region between Faro and Lisbon, a route that follows the coast and passes the likes of Odeceixe and the Nature Park of Arrábida.
That said, drivers can also venture south from Porto (the A12 Motorway is the recommended route) or west from Madrid (the A5 Motorway will be your best bet) — just remember to drive on the right side of the road!
PLANNING YOUR VISIT
Home to a favorable Mediterranean climate, Lisbon can easily be enjoyed year-round. Spring and fall are popular times to visit, though, as both the crowds and heat aren’t as intense as during the summer months.
Note that prices tend to follow the weather, rising during the summer and tapering off as the seasons change throughout the rest of the year. Hotels are easy to find in the city any time of year, but booking in advance is always recommended. For those looking for cheaper accomodation options, check out the many hostels around the city or the plentiful options on Airbnb.
The city’s neighborhoods — or, bairros — are spread out over its seven hillsides. Most of the neighborhoods, with the exception of Belém, intertwine with one another, which makes moving between them easy enough that you can choose to stay in any when booking your accommodation.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Due to the city’s mild weather, it’s no surprise that the people of Lisbon are notoriously welcoming and easy-going. They’re eager to chat, share insights, or just say hello. Although their native tongue is Portuguese, you’ll be impressed by most people’s ability to converse in English. Regardless, it’s still good to learn a few Portuguese words before you go.
Another thing to note is that Lisbon locals have a tendency to eat dinner later than many cultures around the world — so don’t panic if the restaurants are still completely empty come 6 p.m. As far as cuisine goes, Lisbon’s location makes seafood an abundant feature on menus across the city. And, many restaurants and cafés also feature live fado music — a soothing genre native to Portugal.
Lisbon is small enough to be completely walkable, but be prepared for a bit of a physical challenge — it’s built on hillsides, remember? If you plan on tackling its cobblestone streets by foot, sandals likely won’t do the trick. Wear sturdy footwear, and if it’s hot, be sure to bring water and stay hydrated.
If you’re not up for the trek, Lisbon’s public transportation systems can easily get you from A to B. It’s possible to ride buses, trains, ferries, or the famous street cars — and, to make things easier, there’s Carris, an all-in-one website that can help navigate the city’s many options and pick which works best for you.
WHAT TO DO
The amount of attractions in Lisbon appear endless, with monuments and museums around every corner. But with superior public transit and a favorable climate, getting around is made easy. So here are few places that are easy to access and should be on every to-do list!
One of Lisbon’s newest offerings, the Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology is located on the Tagus riverfront in Belém. Since opening its doors in October of 2017, this sleek museum has attracted international acclaim, making it one of the city’s biggest attractions. And if you’re wondering about admission fees, the museum charges accordingly to what you want to see.
Torre de Belém
From the Tagus River, you’ll find a thin pier leading right to the Torre de Belém, a tall limestone structure built in the 16th century. As one of the city’s many UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Torre de Belém is a staggering feat of architecture, highlighted by its long halls, staircases, and bastions. A visit to this impressive structure costs just six euro, and can be done between 10 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. (10 a.m. and 5 p.m. between October and May).
Not far from Torre de Belém is Jerónimos Monastery, a historic site that exemplifies the Late Gothic Manueline architecture style found around the city. The Monastery is home to the same seasonal hours as the Torre de Belém, and is surrounded by a lush courtyard that can be experienced for 10 euro. Inside you’ll find intricately carved columns and arches that are sure to strike photo inspiration.
São Jorge Castle
The São Jorge Castle is situated on one of Alfama’s many hillsides. Used as a defense mechanism throughout Lisbon’s history, the castle continues to be a hit with tourists as it pairs an educational opportunity with viewpoints of the city’s iconic red rooftops and the river below.
Header image by Igor Danajlovski