With its warm, sunny weather, art, culture, nightlife, proximity to the beach and excellent sailing conditions, it's no wonder that Lisbon is a popular travel destination
The capital of Portugal offers stunning architecture, mild Mediterranean climate, excellent food, lively nightlife and plenty to do for sailing enthusiasts – it’s no surprise Lisbon is regularly voted one of the top destinations to visit.
The city caters for all tastes with history, art, culture, cuisine, stunning natural beauty and sailing on offer.
After a period of recession Portugal is now enjoying a strong financial and political phase and this is apparent in its capital where fashionably dressed, well-heeled locals enjoy the city’s many restaurants and bars.
Lisbon’s position on the river Tegus, its proximity to the seaside villages of Cascais and Sintra on the Atlantic and year round good weather and strong winds, make it an excellent sailing destinations too.
Things to do
Lisbon is an incredibly easy city to explore with many attractions and landmarks no more than a fifteen minute walk from each other.
Standing above the city is the São Jorge Castle, once the seat of power for 400 years. The castle is well worth the 15 minute uphill walk from Rossio underground station and is located in the old Alfama district, a Moorish and once poor area perched above the city and famous for its narrow streets, tiny squares and plenty of cafés and restaurants playing Fado on offer.
Alfama also houses the Sé Cathedral, Lisbon’s most important church, which dates back to the 12th century, and the Baroque St Anthony’s Church, which was rebuilt after the famous 1755 earthquake which sadly destroyed a vast part of the city.
The National Pantheon, also known as the Church of Santa Engrácia is also in Alfama and it houses the graves of explorer Vasco da Gama and Prince Henry the Navigator.
Also in Alfama is the Museu do Fado, a museum dedicated to the famous mournful Portuguese music genre.
If walking up and downhill is not quite your thing, hop on the Tram 28. Its route goes through the districts of Alfama and other notable neighbourhoods such as Graça, Baixa with its famous Rua Augusta, and its eponymous spectacular Arco, Praça do Comércio, Elevador Santa Justa – where for a mere few euros you can enjoy the most breathtaking views of the city and the banks of the river Tegus – Chiado with its many shops and bars and Estrela with its lovely Basilica.
Slightly out of the city centre, but well worth a visit is the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum), an impressive collection of the famous azulejo tiles from the second half of the 15th century and also ceramics. The museum is housed in the Convent of Madre Deus, a beautiful building you won’t regret visiting.
If you don’t get a chance to explore the museum, you can see examples of the famous tiles all over Lisbon, decorating the façade of many buildings.
Unmissable is the Belém area, a short tram or bus ride away from the centre of the city. The district is well known for its custard tarts, the famous pastéis de Belém, which can be sampled in the eponymous bakery. The secret recipe for these delicious pastries is still based on the original one from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, which incidentally is just around the corner from the patisserie. The imposing former monastery, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a stunning example of late Portuguese Gothic and well worth a visit.
A ten minute walk from the monastery will take you to another UNESCO site, you’ll find the Monument of Discoveries and the Belém Tower, another must-see site. Commissioned by King John II in early 16th century as a defence building to sit right at the mouth of the Tagus river, this example of Manueline style architecture has become a symbol of the city and one of its most visited landmarks.
Belém not only houses some hugely important historical buildings, but it has also become a true hub for modern art with plenty of museums being opened in the area. One of the newest and most impressive is the MAAT Museum (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology). Opened in October 2016, this impressive construction, designed by renowned British architect Amanda Levete, sits on the river Tegus and its sinuous building has been created in harmony with its beautiful surroundings. So much so in fact that the curved roof, accessible by an outside staircase, offers stunning views across the river on one side and the city on the other, and can be enjoyed by the public at any time.
The MAAT has been conceived as a space “for debate, discovery, critical thinking and international dialogue” and along with impressive exhibitions (Utopia/Dystopia currently on until 21 August and the eerie and downright genius of Cuban artist Carlos Garaicoa’s site specific show, Yo nunca he sido surrealista hasta el día de hoy / I’ve Never Been Surrealistic Until Today II until 18 September), it hosts a vast educational programme and regular events.
Where to stay
Lisbon offers a great selection of hotels for all types of budget.
Located by the Rossio, Chiado and Avenida de Liberdade and overlooking Restauradores Square, Altis Avenida is a stunning five star boutique hotel right in the middle of all the action.
Its chic art deco design is elegant and luxurious, with dark wood panelling, clean lines and black and gold details throughout. It comprises 70 rooms and suites over five floors, some with balconies overlooking the square.
The ensuite bathrooms are beautifully designed and are stocked with gorgeous organic products by French brand Damana.
The hotel is eco friendly, so if you don’t feel you should have fresh towels every day (thus saving the water used to wash them), simply leave them on the hand rail. If you’d like them changed daily, just put them in the bath tub after use and they’ll replace them for you.
On the top floor the hotel boasts a fine dining restaurant, the Restaurant and Bar Rossio, which offers delicious meals in beautiful surroundings. Its menu offers Portuguese dishes with a modern twist. Fish features abundantly, but there are also plenty of meat and vegetarian options and the restaurant is happy to cater for different diets. The octopus carpaccio with Swiss chard salad and raspberry emulsion is the perfect starter: light, fresh and flavoursome. The grilled permit is also to be tried, as is the grilled cuttlefish with Nero risotto.
The bar has a great selection of expertly crafted cocktails to be enjoyed on the terrace, which offers stunning views of Restauradores Square. Make sure you go for dinner and watch the sundown with its stunning light over the city.
Breakfast is also served in the Rossio and the buffet has everything one could wish for: from cereals, fruit, yogurt, pastries and bread, to cold meats, smoked fish, eggs, sausages and cheeses.
Altis Avenida offers free, fast WIFI, a meeting room, business corner and valet parking. It’s also pet friendly for those who like to travel with their furry friends.
Alma Lusa is another fantastic option. Only a stone throw’s away from the Rua Augusta Arch, tucked away in the quiet Praça do Municipio (the square where Lisbon’s town hall stands), this is a gorgeous 28 room and suite boutique hotel housed in a lovely listed 18th century building. The decor is chic and stylish with an understated glamour and it celebrates all things Portuguese, from the bed linen to the beautiful bathing products found in the rooms. The staff are helpful and friendly and the hotel atmosphere, whilst very chic, is very comfortable and informal.
If you’d prefer to stay by the Tagus in Belém and do some sailing or other water sports, Altis Belém right on the river front is a great option. Smaller than the Avenida, but equally as beautiful, this hotel offers 45 rooms and 5 suites with views of the Tagus and the marina. All the rooms have a private balcony and a jacuzzi and you must take advantage of their SPA, which is a veritable oasis of relaxation with a dimly lit large heated pool and a small cold one, plus a sauna, Hammam, Turkish bath, small gym and a treatment room.
Don’t miss taking a dip in the hotel pool on the rooftop, which overlooks the river, marina and has a beautiful view of the Belém Tower, which is only five minutes away.
The hotel Michelin-starred Feitoria Restaurant and Wine Bar is also not to be missed and if you prefer a light meal the Cafeteria Mensagem offers deliciously prepared fresh food served on the terrace overlooking the river.
If you prefer to stay on a boat, British company Beds on Board has several options in the capital and nearby areas.
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Food and drink
Lisbon is a mecca for foodies. The local cuisine features plenty of bacalhau (salt cod) dishes, seafood, the typical Caldo Verde (a potato, kale, onion and local sausage chouriço stew) and plenty of vegetable dishes: what the Portuguese can do with green beans is a revelation! The city caters for all tastes and there are plenty of international and vegetarian restaurants too.
The Alma Lusa Delfina restaurant is open to the public and of course hotel guests and serves delicious, honest Portuguese food. The traditional code fritters or pastéis de bacalhau are flavoursome and light despite being battered and deep fried. Garlic and chilli prawns are fresh and make for a perfect starter, as does a beautiful cold soup of pumpkin and cress. For mains you can choose a variety of different dishes including hake with potatoes carrots and peas, which is filling and tasty, John Dory with an orange and sweet potato mash, spaghetti with mushrooms and asparagus, Portuguese liver with fries and a selection of sandwiches and salads also feature. Desserts are excellent too – the raspberry pannacotta comes highly recommended.
Portions are generous, so grab yourself a table overlooking the square and eat to your heart’s content.
Located in Belém, Descobre is an elegant restaurant offering traditional Portuguese cuisine, beautifully paired with national wines. The oven roasted grouper and the cod loin are exceptional and a side dish of mashed green beans must be tried to be believed. There are several meat options too, including duck, veal and pork and vegetarians are well catered for with many mains available.
Ao Pé Da Sé
Ao Pé Da Sé in Alfama is a trendy café right by the Sé cathedral. Ideal for a light lunch or dinner after visiting the area, their menu offers a variety of platters, including salads and sandwiches, but it’s their fish carpaccios and tartares that really stand out. Get a table outside, order a local sangria and watch the world go by.
Portuguese wine may not enjoy the international reputation that Italian and French wines do, mainly because the locals have kept it a little bit secret and they’ve started exporting it only a few years ago, but it has to be tried, because it’s delicious and there are many varieties of red and white available. Douro is probably the best known, but also notable are Alentejo, Trasmontano, Minho, Alenquer, Bucella, Colares, Tejo and the wines from the Dão region to name a few.
Lisbon and its surroundings offer plenty of sailing and water sport opportunities. If you’d like to sail the Atlantic, then Cascais and Sintra are ideal destinations. Leão Holandês offer some fantastic sailing trips and cruises, catering also for corporate functions, parties and weddings. If you’d like to charter your own yacht, Sailo has plenty to choose from and The Globe Sailor has 24 available yachts and catamarans to charter in Lisbon and the surrounding areas. If you are sailing to Portugal in your own boat, the Marina Parque Das Nações, Marina de Belém, Lisboa Marina and the Doca de Recreio de Santo Amaro all come highly recommended with excellent facilities and services.