Lisbon's position on seven low hills beside a river once lured traders and settlers, and it's still a stunning site. Add to that its cultural diversity, laid-back feel and architectural time warp, and you have one of the most enjoyable cities in Europe - and also one of the most economical.
At Lisbon's heart are wide, tree-lined avenues graced by Art Nouveau buildings, mosaic pavements and street cafes. Seen from the river - one of the city's many great viewpoints - Lisbon is an impressionist picture of low-rise ochre and pastel, punctuated by church towers and domes.
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What To Do
When in Rome - well, when in a city that has Roman ruins - do as the locals do: eat, drink and be merry. Soccer aside, exertion in the name of fitness doesn't rate all that highly among the food-and-wine-loving Lisboêtas. If you really must indulge your sporting side, you will find swimming, skateboarding, tennis and even the pseudo 'sport' of ten-pin bowling available. With six major golf courses in the area, those who wish to spoil a good walk are well catered for; river cruises and guided walks are other activities that needn't prove too much of a cardiovascular strain.
What To See
Lazy in Lisbon just lookin' and loungin'.
Lisbon is the kind of place where you can sit at street cafes - sampling food or fado - and watch the world go by. But for the eager there are also plenty of cultural activities. In addition to architectural masterpieces at Belém, Lisbon has over 50 museums to visit.
Wander down (to save your legs) through Alfama's steep, narrow, cobblestoned streets and catch a glimpse of the more traditional side of Lisbon before it too is gentrified. Linger in a backstreet cafe along the way and experience some local bonhomie without the tourist gloss.
Centro de Arte Moderna
Situated in a sculpture-dotted garden alongside Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, the Centro de Arte Moderna reveals a stellar collection of 20th-century Portuguese and international art, including works by David Hockney, Anthony Gormley and José de Almada Negreiros. Feast your eyes on gems like Paula Rego’s warped fairy-tale series Contos Populares and Sonia Delaunay’s geometrically bold Chanteur Flamenco. There’s also a well-stocked bookshop and garden cafe.
Igreja de São Vicente de Fora
Graça’s serene, gorgeous Igreja de São Vicente de Fora was founded as a monastery in 1147, revamped by Italian architect Felipe Terzi in the late 16th century, and devastated in the 1755 earthquake when its dome collapsed on worshippers. Elaborate blue-and-white azulejos dance across almost every wall, echoing the curves of the architecture, across the white cloisters and up to the 1st floor. Here you’ll find a one-off collection of panels depicting La Fontaine’s moral tales of sly foxes and greedy wolves. Under the marble sacristy lie the crusaders’ tombs. Seek out the weeping, cloaked woman holding stony vigil in the eerie mausoleum. Have your camera handy for the superb views from the tower.
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos
Belém’s undisputed heart-stealer is this Unesco-listed monastery. The mosteiro is the stuff of pure fantasy; a fusion of Diogo de Boitaca’s creative vision and the spice and pepper dosh of Manuel I, who commissioned it to trumpet Vasco da Gama’s discovery of a sea route to India in 1498.
Museu do Palácio Nacional da Ajuda
This grand neoclassical museum of the Royal Palace building replaced the original, which was destroyed by fire in 1795. It was used until the royal family went into exile in Brazil in 1807, and then not again until King Luis I married an Italian princess in 1861 and lavished it with the riches that can be seen today. The Winter Garden is wonderful!
The closest you’ll get to scuba-diving without a wetsuit, Lisbon’s Oceanário is mind-blowing. No amount of hyperbole, where 8000 species splash in 7 million litres of seawater, does it justice. Huge wraparound tanks make you feel as if you are underwater, as you eyeball zebra sharks, honeycombed rays, gliding mantas and schools of neon fish.
Parque Eduardo VII
An urban oasis with British roots, Parque Eduardo VII is named after his highness Edward VII, who visited Lisbon in 1903. The sloping parterre affords sweeping views over the whizzing traffic of Praça Marquês de Pombal to the river. The estufas are a highlight, with lush foliage and tinkling fountains.
Museu do Fado
Fado was born in the Alfama. Immerse yourself in its bittersweet symphonies at Museu do Fado. This engaging museum traces fado’s history from its working-class roots to international stardom, taking in discs, recordings, posters, a hall of fame and a re-created guitar workshop. Afterwards, pick up some fado of your own at the shop.
The Chiado, a wedge of wide streets between Rua do Crucifixo and Rua da Misericórdia, is elegantly 18th century, with upmarket shops and cafés. It leads up to the contrastingly weblike Bairro Alto (upper district), a fashionable 17th-century residential quarter, now the Lisbon Soho with one-off designers, vintage boutiques, record shops, restaurants and boho bars and cafés.
A Arte da Terra
In the stables of a centuries-old bishop’s palace, this cobbled store brims with authentic Portuguese crafts including Castelo Branco embroideries, love hankies and hand-painted azulejos.
Feira da Ladra
Browse for back-of-the-lorry treasures at this lively flea market. You’ll find old records, coins, baggy pants, dog-eared poetry books and other attic junk. Haggle hard and watch your wallet – it isn’t called ‘thieves market’ for nothing.
Belém Bar Café
The self-consciously cool BBC attracts fashionistas to its glass-walled lounge bar and terrace with cracking views of Ponte 25 de Abril. DJs fill the dance floor with hip hop and R ‘n’ B at the weekend.
It’s a bedroom, but these beauties aren’t sleeping. Join them on the dance floor for electro and hip hop, or recline on the beds in the lounge shimmering with gold wallpaper and chandeliers.
Op Art Café
Located on the water’s edge, this slightly hidden glass-and-wood cafe attracts a more laid-back bunch than other Docas bars. On Saturday nights, the DJs spin house and lounge till dawn.
Catholic Portugal celebrates festas (festivals), feiras (fairs) and romarias (religious pilgrimages) like they're going out of style. When you add in an almost-religious love of soccer and a vibrant arts calendar, Lisbon is abuzz almost all year round.
Along with the usual Christmas, New Year and Easter public holidays, Lisbon celebrates a range of other religious days: Carnaval Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday), Corpus Christi in May/June, Feast of the Assumption (15 August), All Saints' Day (1 November) and Feast of the Immaculate Conception (8 December).
Historical and political holidays are Labour Day (1 May), Liberty Day (celebrating the 1974 Revolution of the Carnations) on 25 April, Portugal Day, or Camões & the Communities Day (10 June), Republic Day (commemorating the declaration of the Portuguese Republic in 1910) on 5 October, and Independence Day (commemorating the restoration of independence from Spain in 1640) on 1 December.
Food and Drink
Cervejaria da Trindade
This 13th-century monastery turned clattering beer hall oozes atmosphere with its vaults and azulejos of quaffing clerics and seasonal goddesses. Feast away on humungous steaks or lobster stew, washed down with foaming beer.
Jardim dos Sentidos
Vegetarian-minded diners flock to this attractive restaurant with back garden and extensive lunch buffet. Among the offerings: four-cheese lasagna, vegetarian chilli, warm goat’s-cheese salad and stuffed eggplant, plus a substantial tea menu.
Solar do Vinho do Porto
The glug, glug of a 40-year-old tawny being poured is music to port-lovers’ ears. Part of an 18th-century mansion, the low-lit, beamed cavern is ideal for nursing a glass of Portugal’s finest.
Nathalie, the sister of Lisbon masterchef Olivier da Costa, is the perfect host at this intimate, low-ceilinged Bairro Alto restaurant. The Med-inspired tasting menu features delicacies such as thinly sliced octopus carpaccio and fall-off-the-bone osso buco (veal shank) in port sauce. Save room for the legendary chocolate coulant (a small cake with a liquid centre). Advance reservations are essential.
Santo António de Alfama
This bistro wins the award for Lisbon’s loveliest courtyard: all vines, twittering budgies and fluttering laundry. The interior is a silverscreen shrine, while the menu stars tasty petiscos (appetisers): gorgonzola-stuffed mushrooms, roasted aubergines with yoghurt, as well as more filling traditional Portuguese dishes.
This one-time printing factory now rolls out innovative cuisine in industrial-baroque surrounds. Lisbon’s fashionistas love the celebrity treatment and decor: a fusion of red velvet, dark wood and steel pipework.
Hipsters, old men in flat caps, office workers and tourists all meet at this microscopic ginjinha bar for that moment of cherry-licking, pip-spitting pleasure their euro buys. Watch the owner line ’em up at the bar under the beady watch of the drink’s 19th-century inventor, Espinheira. It’s less about the grog, more about the event.