Centuries of reinvention and restoration pile on top of one another in Portugal’s dazzling, sun-blessed capital.
Here, time-worn trams trundle through medieval streets and the scent of freshly baked custard tarts permeates the air. Modern Portugal has emerged in this historic city, too, offering nightlife, shopping and business to rival Europe’s major capitals.
Most Lisbon neighbourhoods are best explored on foot, including the Moorish streets of Alfama and the medieval monuments of Belém. Bring sturdy footwear, though; the streets are often steep and cobbled.
Lisbon ranks among cities such as San Francisco and Hong Kong for its iconic tram system. Hopping on rickety, historic Tram 28 and riding through some of the city’s most attractive districts – including Estrela and Baixa – is a must-do (although hold on tight as the brakes are sharp). Several other trams around the city connect the various neighbourhoods.
Buses and metro
A comprehensive network of buses runs around the centre of Lisbon and out to the suburbs, with services starting at 5.30am every morning and running until after midnight. The metro is a bit more limited but can be quicker for certain routes. Pick up a pass that covers multiple modes of transport, such as the Lisbon Card, for easy connections around the city’s neighbourhoods.
Lisbon’s taxis have meters, so you’ll never have to haggle. They can be hailed on any of the busiest city streets.
Belém: for sightseeing
One of the most elegant suburbs of Lisbon has enough attractions and monuments to fill an entire city. Head west of the historic centre to reach this waterfront district, where you’ll find the medieval Belém Tower, the Palace of Justice and the near-mythic Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, a UNESCO-protected monastery from the 15th century. Take some time to explore the district’s fascinating museums too. The National Museum of Coaches is particularly popular for its collection of historic vehicles.
Alfama: for atmosphere
No trip to Lisbon is complete without a wander around the colourful streets of this area that largely survived the devastating earthquake of 1755, giving it some of the oldest buildings in the city. It’s home to the Castle of Lisbon and Sé Cathedral, but part of the appeal of the region is simply immersing yourself in the old-world atmosphere and getting lost in the dense network of alleyways, stumbling upon cosy art galleries and independent cafés. Much of the architecture here dates back to the era of the Moorish occupation.
Parque das Nações: for business
Experience modern Lisbon in the north-easterly Park of Nations, one of the business centres of the city. In the 21st century this neighbourhood near the airport has emerged as the go-to destination for conferences and exhibitions. The striking modern architecture is best seen from a cable car ride across the district. But it’s not all work here: the marina is home to the Oceanarium, with a kaleidoscopic collection of fish, while a casino and several restaurants allow you to relax when meetings are done.
Time Zone: Western European Time (GMT +0).
Language: Portuguese is the official language. Many people working in hotels, shops, restaurants and attractions speak good English.