Lisbon is the capital and the largest city of Portugal. It is the westernmost capital in mainland Europe, located in the west of Portugal on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, where the River Tagus flows into the ocean.
The city boundaries are drawn closely around its historical center but several cities have developed around it and have become part of the larger metropolitan region of Lisbon.
The historical center of Lisbon was built on seven hills, giving the city a unique layout. There are even some streets too steep for motorized vehicles. The public transport is unique too; including, as it does, three funiculars and an elevator. The tram system is also very picturesque as the wooden trams are about a hundred years old. Otherwise, the city center is easily navigable by foot. For longer distances use the rapidly improving metro system, buses, charming trams, funiculars, elevator or ferries.
The Portuguese capital has recently been rejuvenated, infrastructure has been improved and many landmarks refurbished, in addition, new ones have been created, such as the new Vasco da Gamma Bridge. It spans the River Tagus and has greatly facilitated access to other parts of the country. Today Lisbon once again shines in all its glory as it did in the 15 th and 16 th centuries, when it was a major trade and exploration center.
Lisbon ’s surroundings are rich in attractions. Beautiful sandy beaches are within easy reach at the resorts of Costa da Caparica, Estoril and Cascais. In a different vein, but also worth visiting, are the forests of Sintra
Lisbon has a warm climate throughout the year as it lays both in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean climatic zone. In fact, it is one of the warmest European capitals. Its climate is strongly influenced by the Gulf Stream. Summers and springs are sunny and warm with temperatures frequently around 30ºC or above. Winters are wet and windy but relatively warm, with temperatures around 10ºC. Snow is rare. July and August are the hottest and driest months; November and February are the coolest and wettest.
January average temperature 10.5 deg Celsius, 109.2 mm rainfall February average temperature 11.6 deg Celsius, 111.8 mm rainfall March average temperature 12.8 deg Celsius, 68.6 mm rainfall April average temperature 14 deg Celsius, 63.5 mm rainfall May average temperature 16.6 deg Celsius, 38.1 mm rainfall June average temperature 20 deg Celsius, 20.3 mm rainfall July average temperature 23 deg Celsius, 5.1 mm rainfall August average temperature 23 deg Celsius, 5.1 mm rainfall September average temperature 21.6 deg Celsius, 25.4 mm rainfall October average temperature 17.8 deg Celsius, 81.3 mm rainfall November average temperature 14 deg Celsius, 114.3 mm rainfall December average temperature 11.6 deg Celsius, 109.2 mm rainfall
Aeroporto de Lisboa (Aeroporto de Portela) is located 5 km north of the city and handles international and domestic flights.
There are no train or subway services connecting the airport and the city but the distance is so short you can easily take a taxi, which is not expensive. Expect to pay from €11 to €14 for a fare to the city center. There is also a bus line, Aerobus 91, which runs every 20 minutes from 7:00 am – 9:00 pm. Tickets can be bought directly from the driver and cost from €3 to €6.
The Lisboa Card is a pass to all transportation services with an additional discount to museums and galleries, as well as certain shops and restaurants. Passes can be purchased at tourist offices throughout the city. Several varieties are available: 24 hour, 48 hour, or 72 hour pass.
Central Lisbon is small and is best explored on foot. Remember, the city is hilly and the streets are cobbled so wear comfortable shoes.
Trams in Lisbon are a century old and an attraction in itself. A visit is not complete without riding in the picturesque wooden trams. The services operate from around 5:00 am – 1:00 am. Night services are also available.
The Metro has recently been renovated. It is quick and efficient, has 4 lines and 44 stations and runs from 6:30 am – 1:00 am. The metro system is also a giant free gallery featuring artworks by contemporary artists. Beware of pickpockets during the rush hours. www.metrolisboa.pt
Cycling in the city is not easy due to the hilly nature of the city. In addition, the traffic is mostly heavy, the drivers are inconsiderate and there are no bike paths so be very careful.
The traffic is heavy, the drivers are wild, streets are narrow and parking is a nightmare. You have to share the streets with tram lines so it is usually better to avoid driving in Lisbon, if possible.
The services run from around 5:00 am to 1:00 am. Night buses are also available.
The city has a unique transportation system, but the most fascinating are the funiculars. There are three funiculars and one elevator, all an essential part of the Lisbon experience. The funiculars are Elevador da Glória, Elevador da Bica and Elevador da Lavra. The most famous is the Elevador de Santa Justa, a 32 m high iron structure in Baixa.
Ferry services connect several stations along the river. The main station on the river is Terreiro do Paço in the vicinity of Praça do Commercio.
Taxis are available everywhere and are not expensive. Note that weekend and nighttime tariff is 20% higher.
Address: Campo Ourique-Martim Moniz Web: www.carris.pt Open: 6:00 am – 1:00 am
The best place to start sightseeing is the legendary tram no. 28. This vintage tram takes you by many of Lisbon’s most famous sites. It gives you a taste of the local atmosphere and offers a splendid view over the city and the River Tagus.
The tram is not only popular with tourists but with pickpockets as well, so be careful.
Lisbon, like Rome and Istanbul, is built on seven hills. This is why it has such a unique transportation system. Riding the funiculars can be a picturesque way of sightseeing in itself. There are three funiculars but the most pleasing is probably the Elevador da Bica, which passes through a charming residential neighborhood just below Bairro Alto.
ESTORIL AND CASCAIS
In the summer there is nothing better than relaxing on a beautiful sandy beach. Take a trip to the twin resorts of Estoril and Cascais for some fun in the sun. Remember to bring a strong sun cream, sunglasses and a hat for protection against high UV exposure.
SINTRA & THE BEACHES
Sintra is a popular nature park rich in historic and natural attractions and a reserve of Portuguese culture. It is located just 25 km from Lisbon and makes up for a nice day trip from Lisbon. Its top attraction is the Moorish castle. When in Sintra you have to check out the beaches. There are numerous great beachesto be found north of Lisbon, west to Carcavelos or south in the popular Algarve.
Address: Largo do Chäo da Feira Phone: (21) 887 7244. Open: daily: April – September: 9:00 am – 9:00 pm; October – March: 9:00 am -6:00 pm Admission free
The castle sits on Lisbon’s highest hill overlooking the River Tagus. Its origins go back to the Moorish occupation in the 10 th century but a fortress had been on the site from the 5 th century onwards. Today, visitors can enjoy exploring its ramparts and esplanades. The castle offers a fantastic view of the river and the medieval quarter of Alfama situated below.
TORRE DE BELÉM (BELÉM TOWER)
Address: Avenida de Brasília Web: www.mosteirojeronimos.pt Open: Monday closed. October - April: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm; May – September: 10:00 am – 6:30 pm
The Tower is a monument to Portugal's Age of Discovery, often serving as a symbol of the country. It is one of the most famous and most-photographed sites of Lisbon. It was built in the early 16th century to guard the entrance to Lisbon's harbor. The outside walls are impressively decorated with stone–carved ropes and balconies, Moorish towers and battlements in shape of shields. The building is a UNESCO world heritage site. Inside the tower houses a museum.
MOSTEIRO DOS JERÓNIMOS (HIERONIMITE MONASTERY)
Address: Praça do Império Web: www.mosteirojeronimos.pt Open: Monday closed. October – April: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm; May – September: 10:00 am – 6:30 pm.
The monastery dates back to the 16 th century. It is a monument to renaissance architecture of the Manueline style and a UNESCO world heritage site. The monastery features tombs of Portuguese kings, a sarcophagus of the nation’s most famous poet, Camões, and the final resting place of Vasco da Gamma, the famous Portuguese explorer.
Situated on the hill beneath the castle of São Jorge, the Alfama quarter is the oldest part of the city. The area was the seat of Saracens and has retained much of its original charm and atmosphere. There are narrow cobbled alleys lined with taverns and shops, houses are tightly packed together, and the entire area is dotted with important historic buildings and churches.
There is a famous flea market held at the Campo de Santa Clara every Tuesday and Saturday.
THE BAIRRO ALTO
The name literally means ‘The upper City’ and is a colorful historic quarter. It can be accessed via an unusual elevator from the lower city.
The district becomes a lively and buzzing area at night where the finest fado cafes in town are located.
CALOUSTE GULBENKIAN FOUNDATION MUSEUM
Address: Avenue de Berna 45A Web: www.museu.gulbenkian.pt Open: Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 5.45pm Access: bus (16, 26, 31, 46, 56); metro (S. Sebastiăo or Praça de Espanha station) Admission free for students with ID.
Calouste Gulbenkian was an Armenian oil magnate who assembled a breathtaking collection of art from around the world. This is now on display in the modern museum in downtown Lisbon. The collection includes Egyptian, Greek and Roman artifacts, Islamic ceramics, Syrian treasures, Chinese ceramics and Japanese prints. In addition there is a rotating exhibition of Portuguese and foreign artists, among which such masters as Rembrandt, Monet and Renoir, are found. The art center also hosts numerous other art projects.
Lisbon is a carnivore’s paradise. Food is cheap and delicious and the portions are big. Classic Portuguese dishes include grilled sardines or cod fishcakes (bacalhau). Portuguese cuisine does not include many vegetarian dishes but you can find vegetable soups, salads and pastries.
It is best to have lunch at one of the narrow and rather uncomfortable eateries. They are usually crowded but you will get a generous portion of good food for very little money. A good place to look for restaurants is in the Bairro Alto where many small and reasonably priced taverns (tascas) are located. Lunch at restaurants is usually served from noon to around 3:00 pm. Dinner starts at around 7:30 pm and is served until 11:00 pm.
Portugal has very good wines and is world famous for port, a strong wine fortified with brandy.
Lisbon 's Carnival celebrations have a Brazilian atmosphere. The city streets fill with people in extravagant costumes dancing to the beat of samba music. The four-day celebration culminates on the last day with a procession of colorful floats and street artists. Events are free.
FESTOS DOS SANTOS POPULARES
Date: June Location: various
In June, 3 feasts are held in honor of the city’s three most popular saints: St. Anthony (12-13 June), St. John (23-24 June) and St. Peter (28-29 June). The Feast Days of the popular saints are Lisbon’s most lively and jovial festivities. A month long festival abounds in feasting, dancing, music and fireworks. The most popular is St. Anthony day, so on June 12 the city goes wild; streets are adorned with lights and paper chains, fado music is played everywhere, and there is a parade along the Avenida da Liberdade. The old town districts of Alfama and Mouraria are particularly lively. St. Peter’s day is celebrated with a boat procession on the River Tagus.
BULLFIGHTING OPENING SEASON
Date: May - September Location: Campo Pequeno bullring
Campo Pequeno is one of the largest bullrings in the world; it seats up to 10,000 people and boasts spectacular Moorish architecture. From May to September the calendar is filled with corridas and bullfights.
Lisbon celebrates the New Year with huge parties and street celebrations. Torre de Belém is the focal point where numerous events take place with music, an extra large disco and fireworks. It all starts happening around 10:00 pm so get to Avenida de Brasilia a little earlier to ensure a good view. At midnight a firework display is held, followed by lots of partying.
Lisbon originated in pre-Roman times. According to a legend, Ulysses founded the city but the Phoenicians are a more likely candidate. The city’s beginnings were turbulent; there were always constant battles between Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians and Phoenicians. In 205 BC a two hundred-year Roman rule began during which time Lisbon became the most important city in the western Iberian region. In 714 the Moors arrived and began a long occupation. They brought to Portugal not only their culture and architecture but also their agricultural knowledge. They were finally driven off the peninsula during the 13 th century. In 1255 Lisbon became the capital of Portugal and grew rapidly as a thriving maritime and inland trade center.
The 15 th century was a golden era of sea exploration for Portugal, mostly due to the efforts of Prince Henry the Navigator, to find new trade routes beyond the sea. He gathered the best map-makers, seafarers, ship builders and astronomers he could find. In 1434 one of his ships managed to sail past the Cape Bojador, a much-feared place because of the superstition that it marked the end of the world. In 1497 Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route to India, which was the achievement of the century.
During this era Portugal reached its peak of power and wealth. The Portuguese Empire stretched as far as India, the Far East, Brazil, and Africa. Lisbon was the world’s most prosperous trade center.
The empire fell into a decline in the 16 th century with the arrival to the throne of the Spanish king, Felipe II. The Spanish rule only lasted 60-years but Portugal never regained its previous might. In the 17 th century gold was discovered in Brazil, and Lisbon had another bout of excess. In 1755, however, Lisbon was hit by a disastrous earthquake. 90,000 people were killed and 85% of the city’s buildings were destroyed.
At the end of the 18 th century Portugal was invaded by Napoleon’s forces but they were repelled by the Anglo-Portuguese alliance. After Napoleon’s defeat the country fell into a century of political instability and military revolt.
MODERN (20 TH CENTURY)
In the beginning of the 20 th century a 16-year period saw 45 changes of government. In a coup in 1926 Antonio de Oliveira Salazar seized power and ruled Portugal for 36 years with an authoritarian regime. The country fell into a dictatorship governed with censorship, propaganda, brute force and the much feared secret police. After a heart attack in 1968 his reign came to an end.
During WW II Lisbon was one of a few neutral European ports and served as an important refugee gateway to the United States as well as a notorious spy nest.
In 1974 the Revolution of Carnations brought an end to Portuguese hold on its colonies.
The grant of independence to the colonies resulted in a wave of immigrants; over 500,000 fled to Portugal.
In 1986 Portugal entered the European Community and with the help of EU funds managed to shed its depressing ‘Salazar’ look and lifestyle. In 1999 Portugal also entered the European Monetary Union. In 1998 the World Expo was held in Lisbon, the date was chosen to commemorate the 500 th anniversary of Vasco da Gamma’s voyage to India.
Portugal ’s last colony, Macau, was handed to the Chinese in 1999.
Today the city is one of the most beautiful capitals of Europe, with a rich history and culture, and an international mix of inhabitants from former colonies.
Portuguese society is pretty traditional and conservative. The family is the foundation of the social structure. Appearance is very important, especially in the cities. People are fashion conscious and believe that clothes indicate social standing and success. They take great pride in wearing good fabrics and clothes of the best standard they can afford.
Meeting people: At first, greetings are reserved, yet polite: a handshake and direct eye contact. When the relationship has developed, greetings become more personal: men may greet each other with a hug and a handshake and women kiss each other twice on the cheek starting with the right.
If you are invited to a Portuguese home for dinner, bring flowers, good quality chocolates or candy to the hostess. Do not bring wine unless you know which wines the hosts prefer. When you are giving flowers, do not give 13, as the number is considered unlucky.
Lisbon is a relatively safe city but petty crime is on the rise. Tourists are usually the victims of pickpockets and bag snatchers. Most thieves operate on trains, buses and trams during peak hours. Be especially careful on tram line 28 as it is frequently used by tourists and thus also muggers and pickpockets. Theft from rental cars is also common. It is best to park rented cars in a hotel garage or an underground car park.
Keep cameras hidden and leave your valuables in a hotel safe. Carry only the amount of cash you intend to spend.
It is not wise to wander alone late at night in certain areas, especially Alfama and Cais do Sodré.
There is quite a lot of illegal marijuana and hashish smuggling emanating from Morocco. If you are approached by a suspicious character offering hashish or ‘chocolate’ a determined “no, thank you” should be enough to deter them.
Use a strong sun cream, wear a hat and quality sunglasses, especially near water and sand. The UV exposure is high and sea and sand will intensify the sun’s effects.
Lisbon is one of the warmest European capitals. Any time is a good time to visit Lisbon. Spring and summer are usually sunny. Summer temperatures are between 20 to 35°C. Autumn and winter are rainy and windy with some sunny days. Early autumn is still comfortably warm and hotel prices are reduced so it is a good time to visit.
The tourist season begins in spring and lasts until autumn. In February or March the carnival draws large crowds and the prices rise accordingly.