Portugal’s biggest city and its capital, Lisbon is recognised as one of the oldest cities in the world. Steeped in history and recognised as a global city, it was awarded the title of European Capital of Culture in 1998, and is in the top ten most visited European cities. Visitors to Lisbon can expect delicious food, a relaxed atmosphere, friendly locals, and a great climate to boot!
History and Culture
Predating cities like Rome, Paris, and London, Lisbon was recognised as a great city thousands of years ago, when Julius Ceasar made it an official municipium of the Roman Empire. It has passed through a few hands over the centuries, worth Germanic tribes and Moors controlling the city during its history. Jumping forward to 1755, Lisbon experienced a devastating earthquake, which levelled the city and killed somewhere in the region of 30,000 to 40,000 residents. The tsunami that followed devastated much of Portugal’s coastline and the many settlements along it. Lisbon was pretty much rebuilt from scratch, and some of that city still stands.
Lisbon has two UNESCO World Heritage sites that are certainly worth a visit. One is the Belém Tower, also known as the Tower of St Vincent, which was built early on in the 16th century. Its original purpose was as a defence system on the Tagus River, but now it is a ceremonial gateway to the city. Back in the Age of Discoveries, when Portuguese often sailed off in search on unexplored lands, it was often from the Belém Tower that they began their adventure.
The other UNESCO World Heritage site is Jerónimos Monastery, which now houses the Maritime Museum and the National Archaeology Museum. Construction of the monastery began in 1501, and it took a staggering 100 years to complete, but once you see it you will understand why. This huge building is intricately decorated and is a fine example of Manueline-style architecture.
There is much to see and do in Lisbon, so if you do not have a lot of time it will be difficult to see it all. One place that you simply must visit is Lisbon Botanical Gardens, or Jardim Botanico in Portuguese, not only because it is cheap to get in. The story goes that hundreds of years ago a King of Portugal wanted to create a garden containing all the different plants of the world, and these gardens are the result. It’s the perfect place to wander, unwind, and escape the noise and bustle of busy Lisbon.
One area of Lisbon that lets you step back in time is the Alfama district, where 19th century buildings have been built next on medieval buildings. For great views over the city head to Santa Luzia viewpoint, and check out the medieval Lisbon Cathedral while you’re here, just be careful not to get lost in the labyrinth of narrow alleys and streets.
Lisbon has a vibrant nightlife that should not be missed, and parties here last long into the morning. One of the most famous clubs in the city is Lux / Fragil, found at the docks near Santa Apolonia train station. If you fancy a bit of a pub crawl, then head to Bairro Alto to find a variety of different bars and clubs on offer. Walk around here in the daytime and you’ll find it empty, but after dark the streets become crammed with revellers.
Getting In, Out, and Around
Being the capital of Portugal, there are plenty of international flights connecting the city to the rest of the world, so flying is a great choice to get in an out. If you are already on mainland Europe, then travelling by train from neighbouring Spain, or even France, is possible, but don’t expect the journey to be too quick. Driving here is another option, and if you do decide on this make sure you budget in the toll roads on top of fuel. Once in the city, if you are visiting as a group it is worth considering getting your own mode of transport, as people carrier hire is easy to arrange here. If you are travelling alone, better options would be to use the metro and rail network, or if you are feeling energetic, why not rent a bicycle and tour the city using your own energy. If nothing more, it is a great way to work up an appetite!