Lisbon is cool in more ways than one. The small hills surrounding Lisbon create a light breeze which will keep you cool in the height of summer, making sightseeing much more relaxing. There’s nothing worse than trying to visit monuments in the blistering heat, so this accident of geography is just one thing that makes Lisbon a great place for a sunny getaway, which won’t leave you exhausted and sun burnt.
Lisbon has a lot to offer for both city breaks and those who want to extend their stay. There is easy access to beaches at the resorts of the Estoril Coast if you fancy feeling the sand between your toes at some point.
Lisbon has enjoyed something of a surge in popularity in the last few years, and has risen magnificently to the challenge. Not a city to be stuck in the past, you can find plenty of beautiful traditional boutique hotels in Lisbon, which are very popular stays in Portugal.
There is also great shopping in the Chiado area, where you’ll find a great deal more than the usual European city souvenirs. There are some genuinely original goods for sale here, suggesting that the creative side of the Portuguese people has been allowed free rein.
There is a refreshing sense of the ‘possible’ here, and an un-jaded attitude amongst the people. Perhaps because they haven’t had the massive influxes of visitors enjoyed by other European cities, they are extremely friendly and welcoming of tourists.
What To Do
Before starting to look at what to do in Lisbon, it is very useful to know the following information. Lisbon locals refer to specific areas of the city, known as bairros, with names such as Bairro Alto, Baxia, Alfama, Chiado, Belém and so on. This is really useful when you are trying to understand directions. It’s just like saying ‘downtown’, ‘the Latin Quarter’, or ‘The West End’. It’s the local framework and it’s helpful when you are asking for directions.
Here’s a quick guide to what each area has to offer. But why not take the yellow tram Electico 28, which will take you all round the city for an overview when you arrive. The old yellow trams are mainly for tourists, so you’ll be in good company if you do. They are regarded affectionately by locals, since they have been running in the city since 1873.
If you’re travelling with transport mad children, you can visit the Carris museum, which tells the story of the trams. Either way, it makes a cheap alternative to organised city tours, and is quite an experience. Otherwise, the metro system is superb, so you can use it with confidence.
One other fun activity, referenced elsewhere on My Travel Guide Posts, is the Santa Justa Elevator, which connects the lower streets of the Baxia (city centre) with the more lofty streets and square of the Largo do Carmo.
If you’re more in the mood for walking than riding, you can wander through the streets of old Lisbon, in the bairro of Alfama, which is a labyrinthine tangle of little streets and ancient alleys, which are carved into the living rock. You’ll arrive at the stunning St Jorge's Castle, (Castelo de São Jorge), which is perched on top of Lisbon’s highest hill.
If you fancy seeing Lisbon’s answer to The Golden Gate Bridge, then don’t forget to visit the Ponte 25 de Abril (25 April Bridge), which is its sister, designed by the same architect.
Another familiar sight for Brazilians is the Christ the King statue, which is another smaller sibling of a bigger brother – the one overlooking Rio de Janeiro.
Older monuments can be found mainly in the Belém area of Lisbon. Put Se Cathedral on your list of 'must see' churches and the Carmo convent and museum, if you enjoy religious sites.
You should also visit the Hieronymites Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jerónimo), which was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status, along with the nearby Belém Tower (Torre de Belém).
Sao Roque church is also well worth a visit. If you're still hungry for more then put the simply breathtaking Queluz National Palace, the Aqueduct or the popular Ocenarium on your itinerary too. For a day excursion, the famed city of Fatima is only 123 km from Lisbon. You never know what you may see there.
As you fly into Lisbon Portela International airport, look out for the river Targus and the seven hills around which the city is built. It’s a very easy city to fly to, and transfer to the city is a breeze. To really expand your options, consider a cruise to Lisbon, which is becoming increasingly popular too. Operators such as Fred Olsen cruises and others are keen to promote the new found popularity of Lisbon as a destination, so you could really arrive in style.
Lisbon is a lively modern city, up to date with current tastes in accommodation and with friendly locals. Its refreshing climate makes visiting the many monuments and modern sights a pleasure.
Lisbon is perfect for a city break or as a base for exploring the nearby beaches of the Estoril Coast. Lots that is new to delight visitors who haven’t considered Lisbon as a destination – a bit of a well-kept secret that’s getting out…
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