View from the top of the MAAT
Built across a series of hills, Lisbon is a very photogenic city and a European capital like no other. It’s a scenic, luminous, authentic and soulful place, with a seductive beauty admired from strategically-placed viewpoints and down colorful streets decorated with tiles and cobbled designs. Walking around the timeless neighborhoods is the highlight of any visit, but there’s a variety of noteworthy attractions, from World Heritage monuments to one-of-a-kind museums, grand squares, waterfront promenades, and parks with exotic plants.
Where to Go
The Discoveries Monument on the Belém waterfront
You should set aside almost an entire day to explore Belém, the district linked to Portuguese maritime exploration during the so-called “Age of Discovery.” Also related to the oceans and the “Discoveries” is the modern district of Parque das Nações, where you should spend half a day, even if you don’t plan to visit its star attraction, the Oceanarium.
The neighborhood of Alfama, with its many picturesque lanes, viewpoints and historic monuments (the castle is the must-see) can also take much of the day. You may want to start your day in Alfama, and end it in Parque das Nações.
The perfect ways to end the days are with drinks with sunset views at the viewpoints, or sampling the local cuisine at the restaurants in Bairro Alto, Chiado, and Príncipe Real. For a taste of local culture, dine at a “casa de fado” (an establishment offering traditional food and live fado performances), and then join the local night owls for drinks on the streets of Cais do Sodré and Bairro Alto.
The Ribeira das Naus promenade in Cais do Sodré
Tourist Card for Free Sightseeing
The tourist pass in many cities isn’t always worth getting, but in Lisbon it’s essential. It’s a major time and money saver, allowing free or reduced admission to almost all attractions, and free unlimited rides on the city’s public transportation (metro, buses, trams, funiculars, and trains). It’s called Lisboa Card, and can be acquired for periods of 24, 48 or 72 hours. For complete details look here: Lisboa Card.
Avoid the long lines at major sights like the Jerónimos Monastery by getting the Lisboa Card.
The Main Neighborhoods
If you’re in Lisbon for just 24 hours, the neighborhoods that you can’t miss are Alfama and Belém. The first one is the village-like medieval district on the waterfront topped by the castle, and the other is the monumental district of the “Age of Discovery,” with the World Heritage landmarks and major museums. Downtown is Baixa, an urban planning wonder of the 18th century, with lively squares and shopping streets. They lead up to Chiado, the city’s most elegant district, where everyone meets for coffee or dinner, before joining the street parties in the neighboring nightlife districts of Bairro Alto and Cais do Sodré. Up the hill is Príncipe Real, a trendy neighborhood with green spaces, cool shops and restaurants. Then there’s Parque das Nações, the modern waterfront district, with contemporary and futuristic architecture and a scenic promenade.
View over Lisbon from the castle
Managing Your Time
When planning your sightseeing, note that most monuments and museums are closed on Mondays. The exceptions are the castle and the Oceanarium, which are open throughout the week. That means that you should skip Belém on Mondays (where the major monuments and museums are), and head to the districts of Alfama and Parque das Nações instead. The royal palace of Ajuda, up on the hill from Belém, is the only attraction that’s open on Mondays in that part of town (it closes on Wednesdays).