Europe’s most westerly capital has taken a battering economically in recent years. But with its world-class restaurants, excelling in seafood, its reputation for style and long pedigree in art and culture, Portugal’s first city remains high on every discerning weekend-breaker’s hit-list. In this guide to their capital, the Portuguese team at Time Out Lisboa have covered the major attractions in Lisbon and also offer their insider’s tips on the essential things to do in the city that many visitors (and many non-resident guides) miss. Explore their guide to Lisbon’s best museums and attractions, restaurants and cafés, and clubs, bars and live music – along with the best shopping and recommended hotels – and immerse yourself in their city.
Bafflingly, Lisbon didn’t take off as a destination until after its World Expo in 1998. Hard to understand, as historically it’s dynamite – Western Europe’s first capital city, it predates Rome and London by hundreds of years. Its glorious past can be felt in every street, just turn a corner and you’re face to face with a relic of its role as a big-hitting maritime power. This is a history reflected in its name – Lisbon comes from Allis Ubbo, Phoenician for ‘safe harbour’.
Home to some half a million residents, Portugal’s capital is split into bairros (neighbourhoods). While some are more lively than others, each bairro has its own draw and charm, from the oldest, Alfama, to Cais do Sodré, fast emerging as the hippest.
Despite the city’s history – and its network of antiquated yellow trams – Lisbon has a distinctly modern edge. Street art is huge in the capital, often in the literal sense. Look up from time to time and you’ll see the work of famous scrawlers adorning abandoned buildings, including that of world-renowned Brazilian twins Os Gêmeos. And there’s much more to modern Lisbon, from its updated take on traditional dining establishments to its new cultural spaces and its white-hot nightlife and clubbing scene. It’s a city ripe for discovery.
Museums and attractions
Central Lisbon is relatively compact, and traffic can be awful, so it’s best to explore on foot. Get an idea of its layout from the top of the Aqueduto das Águas Livres – the city’s majestic aqueduct, erected in the 18th century under King John V. Go in the morning or late afternoon to escape the crowds and get an unrivalled view of Monsanto forest and the city’s sprawl.
A trip to the capital should take in the Torre de Belém, a UNESCO world heritage site and one of Portugal’s most famous monuments. The Gothic tower was built to guard the entrance to the harbour and has some fine examples of Portuguese stonework dating from the 1500s.
Some of Lisbon’s quirkier attractions have maintained their appeal despite natural disaster. The grass-carpeted Convento do Carmo had its roof destroyed in the infamous 1755 earthquake, and its open-air nave is a unique sight. Unlucky Igreja da São Domingos was a victim of the quake and several other catastrophes besides – its flame-licked interior (following a fire in 1959) gives it a cave-like feel. For more history, the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian‘s world-class collection of Islamic and Oriental art is not to be missed – and its Centro de Arte Moderna opposite is well worth a trip for its impressive haul of Portuguese works from the last century.
More of contemporary Lisbon is to be found wandering around the striking concrete shell of MUDE. The Museu de Design e da Moda, to give it its full name, brings together over 2,000 pieces of haute couture and innovative design in the minimalist interior of a gutted bank building.
It’s easy to while away an afternoon in some of the city’s most charming bairros. The Chiado is one of the chicest, and the perfect place for a café crawl. Try some of the black stuff at the legendary Café A Brasiliera or Pastelaria Bénard.
For a whistlestop tour of the capital, hop on the No.28 tram, which winds a trail around some of the city’s most picturesque streets.
Museums and attractions details
Aqueduto das Águas Livres access from Calçada da Quintinha, Campolide. +351 21 810 0215.
Torre de Belém Praça da Torre de São Vicente, Belém. +351 21 362 0034.
Convento do Carmo Largo do Carmo. +351 21 346 0473.
Igreja da São Domingos Largo de São Domingos. +351 21 342 8275.
Museu Calouste Gulbenkian and Centro de Arte Moderna Avenida de Berna 45. +351 21 782 3000.
MUDE Rua Augusta 24. +351 21 888 6117.
Café A Brasiliera Rua Garrett 120. +351 21 346 9541.
Pastelaria Bénard Rua Garrett 104. +351 21 347 3133.
Veja o nosso Time Out Lisboa edição – para uma cobertura completa de restaurantes, bares, teatro, arte, shows e eventos em Lisboa.
See our Time Out Lisboa edition – for full and up-to-date coverage of restaurants, bars, theatre, art, shows and events in Lisbon.