The 14th and 15th centuries were the height of Portugal’s world power with colonies in Africa and Brazil, the nation was strong economically and geographically. That all came to end, however with several events spanning hundreds of years: civil wars, deposition of the church, military coups, fascist-like regimes, and then finally economical instability from the time of 1986 to 2009.
This history is a key ingredient making culturally rich tours a must-do when visiting Lisbon, particularly because much of the city is still intact and as it was hundreds of years ago with very little upgrading completed. They even have electrical trams cars. Plus during colonial times, many of the riches brought into the country through the Catholic Church still remain here today. Compared to other European cities that have built many new buildings or made concentrated efforts to revitalize neighbourhoods, Lisbon can feel quite run down, but that also comes with its own unique beauty.
When visiting some of the major attractions (and especially to go off the beaten path) it is really worthwhile to take a guided tour, particularly to hear the Portuguese describe their country. The people are incredibly friendly and will share their favourite lunch spots and such with you, but you’ll also feel the depth of their history in their everyday language. Lisbon is a rich city in terms of energy too, which is especially apparent in the nightlife here so be sure to venture out in the evening.
Places to Visit in Lisbon
- Guincho Beach
- Ourivesaria Alianca, (Rua Garrett, 50)
- Rossio Square and Train Station
- Rua das portas de Santo Antao
- Alfama neighbour of medieval alleys and spectacular views
Unique Things to See and Do in Lisbon
- Visit the Belem Tower
- Tour the Jeronimos Monastery
- See the Santa Justa Elevator
- Wander through the Museu Nacional dos Coches
- See the Rua Augusta Arch
One of the most distinctive reasons to visit Lisbon, especially if you are from other parts of Europe, is to go for the seafood. The seafood is cooked to perfection, simply dressed, and unbelievably good. Most importantly it is affordable! You can expect menus filled with offerings of tiger prawns, clams, crabs, sea bass, octopus, goose barnacles and more.
Of course, seafood is not the only thing to eat in Lisbon, as many locals will tell you. You will want to try other popular Portuguese dishes like carne de porco à alentejana, which is pork marinated in wine and is very tender. Another classic snack to try is their version of sandwiches (Prego) – you can usually choose any type of meat or cheese.
Finding restaurants in Lisbon is easy, but if you want a hint - to find the really good ones that cater to the locals – look for those that close between 3pm and 7pm-ish. This is typical in Portugal, where the restaurants close in the late afternoon and then open up again for the evenings. Another helpful hint is you will probably be served a small dish of olives or bread or both. If you eat them be warned you will be charged at the end of your meal. They are not complimentary, but they are also not compulsory either.
Getting around Lisbon
Lisbon offers some of the best sightseeing opportunities when you travel around on public transportation. The city offers funiculars, trains, subways, trolley cars, and buses too. They even have double decker buses brought in from London, but what makes taking the Metro (subway) so interesting is the artwork and stations themselves. Lisbon is a compact city and therefore walking is the best the method to get around, plus you’ll see so much more, but if you are going to visit quite a few attractions, consider getting the Lisboa Card. Not only does it include entrance into major attractions like Belem Tower and over 80 museums, but it also gives you free trips on the Metro, public buses, and the Elevator de Santa Justa.
Best time of year to travel to Lisbon
If you are looking for warm sunny beaches then Portugal is your destination in the summer. The temperatures are warm but not too hot as the city is coastal and the average summer day reaches a hot but not too-hot temperature of 25C. Overall, the country has a warm, temperate Mediterranean climate with warm summers and wet winters. Winter rains run from November to March.
Did you know…?
That the officials forgot to list Graça as one of the 7 hills of Lisbon, and it is the tallest! The hill posed such an accessibility issue that they even built a lift (elevator) at the end of Rua de Santa Justa in 1904!
Did you ALSO know…?
That there are only 5 men in Lisbon who know the recipe to the famous pastry Pastel de Belem!
Ready to plan your visit to Lisbon? Check out these popular guides and trips.