Lisbon: Only one visit to this city and you'll fall in love with its cultural charm. Those who visit Lisbon, in fact, usually come back. Let's think about the citation by Antonio Tabucchi, who described this curious Portuguese city: "Small streets climbing modest houses, taverns, shops, old men relaxing on benches, artisans", and amplify these words in an authentic experience that will immerse you in a lifestyle very different from what we are used to.
Despite being one of the most popular touristic destinations over the last years, Lisbon still has a part of its somewhat unknown and exotic charm and remains a destination that will make you fall in love as soon as you see its panorama. Romantic and a bit melancholy, chaotic, and at the same time with its head in the air, Lisbon is a city where you will love the streets, the atmosphere you breathe, the monuments, and the food. Whomever visits this city, has to understand that time flows differently, and doing too many things would take away from the suggestive beauty of the places you visit. Forget looking at your watch, and enjoy the journey without haste: that's how you live in Lisbon!
We have chosen some of the best locations to see, to fully understand the life and culture of Lisbon:
- Bairro Alto
- Neiborhood and Belém Tower
- Monastery of Los Jeronimos
- Trams, funiculars and elevators
- Nações Park
- St. George Castle
- Miradouro of St. Luzia
- Surroundings of Lisbon: Royal Palace of Sintra
- Surroundings of Lisbon: Sanctuary of Fatima
Baixa is the heart of modern Lisbon. Also known as the lower city, it is the most elegant district of Lisbon and is the symbol of its rebirth as the capital after the earthquake of 1755. The reconstruction, desired by the Marquis Pombal, was so radical and glorious that it made the Baixa Pombalina one of the centers of life in Lisbon. When walking through the neat streets of this neighborhood, reminiscent of a chessboard, you will realize that Lisbon is not only the incomprehensible maze of streets of the Alfama, but it is also order, rigor, and precision. At the Baixa, there are large spaces, pedestrian streets, openings onto the river, and elegant buildings that will leave you speechless. Here, you will need to walk around, not only to admire the architectural beauties but also to take advantage of the clubs and shops.
The wide Plaza of the Commerce is the center of the city renovation wanted by the Marquis of Pombal, and it is a vast square space characterized by neoclassical symmetries, enclosed on three sides by arcades and elegant buildings. At the center of the square stands the statue of King José I, a work by Joaquim Machado De Castro dating back to 1775. In the past, Lisbon was mainly accessible from the sea, and this statue was the first thing you could see coming from far away, inspiring a sense of respect and wonder. In the Plaza of the Commerce, you need to see the Arch of Rua Augusta, on the north side of the square. The construction of this magnificent triumphal arch started in 1755 and was completed in 1873. It’s decorated with statues representing historical figures of Lisbon, including the explorer Vasco de Gama and the Marquis of Pombal.
On the opposite side of Rua do Augusta, stands the second most important square of the Baixa: the Praça D. Pedro IV, also known as Rossio. It is the center of the neighborhood and the place of passage for all the tourists visiting the city. The square is surrounded by beautiful buildings, but even when looking at the ground, you will be left speechless due to the spectacular floor, paved with white and black limestones creating an elegant wave pattern, a clear reminder of the sea. Also, it is impossible not to be hypnotized by the facade of the Rossio station.
Among the other masterpieces of the Baixa is the Elevator Santa Justa, a large elevator connecting the neighborhood to the Collina do Carmo. Working since the twentieth century, it has a classic charm thanks to its wooden and brass cabins. It is illuminated in the evening, creating a truly evocative atmosphere for those walking beside it.
The Bairro Alto
The Bairro Alto is among the most active areas of Lisbon, famous for its nightlife and the rough historical beauty breathed there. Despite being the center of the "Lisboetas" nightlife, the Bairro Alto remains a neighborhood full of history, which was once the house of the aristocracy, and became only later a popular area. Just like the Alfama, the Bairro Alto is located on a hill and is the icon of ideas and projects. This is where you go if you would like to discover the artistic effervescence of Lisbon, among boutiques, art shops, and street artworks dominating the walls of the buildings. After 11 pm, the Bairro is populated by youngsters looking for a drink and local entertainment. The variety is impressive: in just one evening, you can enjoy beer and rock music, trendy cocktails, and premium Portuguese wine. Among the streets crowded with bars, we must mention Rua Do Diario de Noticias, and also the streets descending towards Chiado, such as Rua da Rosa, Rua da Misericordia, Rua Dom Pedro V, and Praça dos Camoes.
Whoever arrives in Bairro Alto must visit the Church of Saint Rocco, the oldest Jesuit building in the city, with an austere facade rewarding the brave who decide to enter, reaching a secret chest of marbles, gilded stuccos, paintings and, of course, azulejos, the colorful traditional Portuguese tiles. From Bairro, you can also reach San Pedro de Alcantara, one of the most loved viewpoints of Lisbon, from where you can admire the Baixa. On the balustrade, decorated with azulejos, there is a sort of map showing you some of the most important places you can see from here. The area was created in the nineteenth century, and has charming gardens, benches, and fountains - the perfect place for a relaxing break among the busts of Portuguese heroes like Edoardo Coelho.
The Neighborhood and the Belém Tower
In Belém, you can visit the famous Monastery of Los Jeronimos, one of the most significant Manueline-style architectural examples in Lisbon. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this extraordinary place of worship is considered one of the most beautiful in the world of its kind. The monastery is one of the popular destinations in Lisbon and was built upon request of King Don Manuel I, near the place where Henry the Navigator, a key figure in the Portuguese overseas expansion, built a church dedicated to Mary of Belém. The visit to the Monastery is a touching experience thanks to the lavish decorations, the extraordinary contrast of the stone with the blue sky of Lisbon, and the richly carved portals of a monumental cloister. From here, you can continue to the famous Tower of Belém, white and enchanting, shining according to the inclination of the sun: the bastion rises over 30 meters and stands over the mouth of the Tagus.
Trams, funiculars and elevators
A city with steep hills and slopes like Lisbon would be a nightmare for residents and tourists without the "elevadores", elevators or funiculars allowing you to move around the city without too much effort. The most famous elevadores of Lisbon are four: the Elevator of Santa Gloria is a tram departing from Plaza of dos Restauradores, reaching the heart of the neighborhood in a few minutes through an alley. It has been working since 1885, and is powered by electricity since 1915; it covers only 200 meters, but it is always crowded with tourists and residents who are trying to avoid walking up the hill. Then, there is the Elevator of Bica, departing from Cais do Sodré and arriving in Largo do Calhariz, traveling along the Rua da Bica de Duarte Belo, one of the most photographed streets of Lisbon.
The wagons of both Bairro Alto funicular railways are the typical white and yellow trains on the Lisbon postcards. Those visiting the city have surely heard of Tram 28, a vintage yellow and white tram, which is a local means of transport. Its complicated route goes through the most characteristic neighborhoods of the city, offering both comfort and adventure, due to the innumerable steep paths. For some people, Tram 28 is a romantic experience, while for others, it is an exciting adventure. The route runs through the historic districts and connects Baixa, Alfama, Bairro Alto, and Graça. Almost all the most important attractions in Lisbon are reachable thanks to this extraordinary means of transport that will delight you.
The Alfama is the historic district of Lisbon par excellence. Here, you can experience the magic of golden Portugal and dive into an incredible atmosphere accompanied by the poignant notes of fado. The Alfama district is located between the castle of Sao Jorge and the Tagus river, guarding the traditional soul of Lisbon. It is a picturesque neighborhood spread vertically, and meant to be discovered without a planned itinerary, simply by letting yourself be transported through the little streets, stairs, squares, and the panoramic terraces. Alfama preserves this ancient charm because it was not affected as much as other districts by the earthquake of 1755. Here, time seems to have stopped between the project buildings and the clothes drying on the streets of the center.
The neighborhood is the cradle of fado, the poignant traditional music of Lisbon. Here, you can dine in one of the neighborhood fado houses, eating on the notes of this romantic, melancholy music. From here, you can visit the Castle of Sao Jorge, standing on top of a hill, where the first settlements of the city were founded. Then, comes the enchanting Lisbon Cathedral, a famous Catholic place of worship in the city, also known as Sé Patriarcal. From here, jump into the excursion to the Church of St. Antony of Lisbon, less famous than the Cathedral, but still beautiful. Continue on the panoramic terraces of Miradouro das Portas do Sol, and the Miradouro de St. Luzia: enjoy the city view below you, and the small, but wonderful views of the Tagus, looking towards the horizon among the comforts of gardens, benches and colored porticos with azulejos.
Alfama is also the home of the Museum of Decorative Arts, located in a 17th-century palace. The exhibition area displays a collection of furnishings, decorations, and works that will make you feel in an eighteenth-century Portuguese elegant home.
The Lisbon Oceanarium is one of the largest aquariums in the world and welcomes tourists looking for underwater discoveries in a world that will leave them speechless. The pools host sharks, rays, clownfish, otters, penguins, and over 15 thousand animals and plants, belonging to 450 different species. For example, the yellow-tailed damsels, the blue-spotted stingray, the sea dragon, Commerson's antennary, and the sea devil. Not only: in these areas, you can also see birds, invertebrates, amphibians, and mammals, in a healthy environment aiming to build a natural habitat. This extraordinary journey into nature hosts a permanent exhibition and spaces dedicated to temporary expositions. The Oceanarium is the perfect place for a child: in addition to the visits explicitly designed for children, the structure offers the "Sleeping with sharks" experience. Children can sleep in a bedroll in front of the shark tank, enjoying the beauty of the aquarium before falling asleep. Small curiosity: all the corals visible at the Lisbon Oceanarium are artificial: removing a substantial quantity from their original habitat would have disastrous consequences on the global ecosystem.
Park of Nações
Modernity and beauty merge in the Nações Park, the Park of the Nations of Lisbon extending along the north-eastern side of the mouth of the Tagus. The neighborhood has been modernized for the 1998 Expo, and since then, it has been the center of Portugal's entrepreneurship. The Park of Nações has become a vital district of structures suitable not only for the Lisbon area, but also for tourists. Here, you can find the Oceanarium, the Casino of Lisbon, and you can enjoy modern architecture and a vital and sparkling center of daily life.
St. George Castle
The Castelo de São Jorge, or the Castle of St. Giorgio, is located on top of the hill where the city began to settle. Everyone will be fascinated by the extraordinary charm of the Castle, which is an imperious, magnificent, and reassuring image at the same time, designed to dominate. São Jorge Castle is a complex and extensive monument including buildings, ruins, and gardens. The most complicated part is the Castle, built by the Moors in the first half of the 11th century. It was not a palace for the sovereigns, but a military garrison used in case of siege and designed to house the nobility during the war. The Ruins of the Ancient Royal Palace are also to admire: here, in the 13th century, the structures were expanded to also house the court, the bishop, and the royal archives. In these areas, there is a permanent exhibition of relics from the archaeological site, covering about two thousand years of history with a focus on the period of the Moors occupation between the 11th and 12th centuries. Inside the Ulysses Tower is one of the great attractions of the São Jorge Castle: the Dark Room. It is a periscope located at the top of the tower capturing 360 ° images of the city thanks to an elaborate game of mirrors and lenses.
Chiado is a historic neighborhood located in the lower part of Lisbon, which was severely damaged by the earthquake of 1755 and then rebuilt as an artist's neighborhood. It is situated between the Bairro Alto and the Baixa Pombalina and has as its fulcrum the Largo do Chiado. It is a must-visit location for those exploring Lisbon. Known as the picturesque neighborhood of artists, it was here that the intellectuals met. Fernando Pessoa was born here, in a neighborhood that today is rich in statues and monuments dedicated to the writers of the times, like Antonio Ribeiro and Luis de Camoes. In the Chiado, you can also visit a series of theaters, like the one in Sao Luiz, the Theater of da Trindade and the Teatro Nacionale de Sao Carlos, for many years the only opera house in the country.
When visiting Course of Chiado, you can also admire the beauty of the Virgin of Loreto Church, also known as the "Church of the Italians" because it was built for the adoration of the Virgin of Loreto. The mass is still in Italian. At Chiado, you must visit the Course of Carmo, a fantastic square where the lilac flowers express their exceptional beauty, especially during spring. The Valadares Palace and the Archaeological Museum are also worth seeing, whose entrance consists of a beautiful Gothic portal built on the ruins of the Convent do Carmo.
Royal Palace of Sintra (15 km from Lisbon)
The Royal Palace of Sintra is a collection of buildings on a hill. From the outside, its bright colours are striking and have strange stylistic combinations, and even inside, this place holds many surprises. Among the most famous areas, is the Room of Gazze, which takes its name from the 136 birds painted on the roof. Here, you can also visit the Pena Palace, which, as suggested by the name, requires a winding walk uphill, rewarded by a beautiful landscape. The complex, almost fairy-like in appearance, is a colorful structure enclosing the expressions of the European romantic architecture in Portugal. When visiting Sintra, you must also admire the Regaleira Palace, a project by the Italian architect Manini and classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area is surrounded by lush vegetation, including a garden that seems coming from a beautiful fairy tale. Last but not least, the Monserrate Palace is a beautiful and charming place and a romantic-oriental style Victorian paradise. It is over an hour's walk from Sintra, and it is surrounded by a botanical garden of tropical trees, one of the most appreciated in Europe.
Sanctuary of Fatima (120 km from Lisbon)
The Sanctuary of Fatima is one of the most majestic religious sanctuaries in Europe after Lourdes, and it stands right where the three little shepherds saw the Virgin in 1917. Fatima is a village lost in the countryside of Extremadura, and thanks to this place of worship, it attracts over six million visitors each year.
The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary is the most important monument located in the Sanctuary of Fatima and is composed of an enormous tower and an aisle of about 65 meters in height, decorated with a bronze crown weighing 7 thousand kilos. Designed by the Dutch architect Gerardus Samuel van Krieken, it is composed of a main mosaic porch representing the crowning of the Virgin by the Holy Trinity. It also includes a series of stained glass windows, showing the moments of the Marian apparitions. The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, a minor church built and consecrated in 1953, is also worth seeing, even if it was too small to accommodate the tourists coming to this place. Don't miss the Apparition Chapel, built "according to the will" of the Virgin - or so people say.
Travel to Lisbon with Costa Cruises
Lisbon, city rich in history, picturesque views, and things to do and see will fascinate you right away. Take advantage of the Costa Cruises excursions to let this beautiful city seduces you, and visit some of the most evocative places, such as the High Bairro, the Belém Tower, and the Alfama.