Lisbon has emerged as an increasingly popular tourist destination in recent years and an even more popular destination for expats to settle – and it is easy to see why. One of Europe’s oldest cities, Lisbon is crammed with fascinating historical sites, which are complimented by its accommodating Mediterranean climate, its thriving cultural centre and a relaxing, laid-back atmosphere, which distinguishes it from the frenetic pace of many other European capitals.
Sao Jorge Castle
One of Lisbon’s most significant historical sites, the Sao Jorge Castle was built during the period of Moorish occupation in the 10th Century and remains the city’s most enduring Medieval relic. For over a millennia, the castle has held an important role in Lisbon, remaining a significant building throughout several different the reigns of several different empires and republics. An heavily-fortified and impressive Medieval castle, the citadel overlooks the city centre, providing spectacular views of Lisbon.
Torre de Belem
Perhaps the defining building of the Portuguese Manueline architectural style, the Torre de Belem (Belem Tower) dates back to the early 16th Century, having been commmissioned by then-ruler King John II as a defensive fortification alone the banks of the Tagus River. The tower is one of the most culturally and historically significant sites in the entirety of Portugal, having played a pivotal role during the Age of Discoveries. Due to its major significance and distinct visual appearance, the Torre de Belem is one of the most unmissable sites in Lisbon.
Trams have been Lisbon’s major public transportation network for over 100 years, having been introduced in 1873. There are few better ways to effectively navigate the city, whilst also soaking in the city’s distinct, quirky culture. Many of the trams have an older, vintage look to them, which reflects Lisbon’s atmosphere. They are a cheap and easy way of getting around, and certainly worth using.
Monastery of Jeronimos
Another key example of Portuguese Manueline architecture, the Monastery of Jeronimos was built over a 100-year period, completed at the beginning of the 17th Century in 1601. The Monastery is one of the city’s most magnificent buildings and one of its most immediately recognisable, well-regarded for its opulent interior and exterior, in line with the Manueline style. One of Portugal’s key architectural contributions to the Renaissance, the Monastery was initially an important locale within the Portuguese Catholic establishment, but was secularised in the early 19th Century. In the present day, the Monastery remains open to the public and one one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, an important symbol of the country’s history during the Age of Discoveries.
Mercado da Ribeira
Lisbon’s most popular food market has been a cultural staple of the city since it opened over 100 years ago in 1892. The market not only sells local produce and goods but offers a vast array of Portuguese delicacies and foods. The building is also known for its distinct, domed exterior. For those seeking to sample the best of Portuguese food, this is the best place to start.
The Pharmacy Museum
One of the city’s most unusual destinations, the Pharmacy Museum has been one of the city’s most popular, quirky sites since its opening over twenty years ago in 1996. Comprised of a comprehensive collection of medical paraphernalia, the museum charts millennia of the medical profession across a variety of different cultures. There are over 15,000 archaeological medical objects within the museum’s collection. A true oddity, the museum is one of the most unique and popular in Lisbon and certainly worth a detour, regardless of one’s interest from the outset.
Museu Nacional do Azulejo
Another niche museum, the National Tile Museum is rightly considered to be one of the finest in Lisbon. Opened in 1965, the museum specialises in Azulejo, a specifically Iberian variety of ceramic, and there are few better places in the world to see these works. The museum houses an extensive collection of ceramics from the 15th Century all the way to modern times. Housed in a former monastery from the 15th Century-the Covent of Madre Deus, the museum’s jaw-dropping exterior and interior provide the perfect backdrop for the unparalleled Azulejo collection within.
Museu Calouste Gulbenkian
Another of Lisbon’s top tier museums, the Museum Calouste Gulbenkian houses the collection of the eponymous cultural foundation and includes an extensive and wide range of art and artefacts. Divided into two main sections, the first houses ancient works, primarily Hellenistic works from antiquity while the second house more contemporary European artworks from the 15th Century to the 20th Century. Arguably the city’s finest art museum, the Museum Calouste Gulbenkian is located in a serene park, a beautiful backdrop to one of the most culturally rich institutions in the city.
The oldest district in the city houses a number of its most important historical sites, including the aforementioned Castle of Sao Jorge. Alfama is one of the best places to visit for those wishing to gain as an authentic Lisboan experience as they can. In addition to the plethora of historical sites, the area is home to a variety of Portuguese restaurants and traditional Fado bars.
An easy day trip from Lisbon’s city centre, Sintra is one of the most dazzling places to visit in the whole of Portugal. Known for its colourful, Romantic-style architecture, impressive palaces, lush parkland and easy access to the sea, Sintra has established itself as one of the country’s major tourist centres in recent years, and for good reason. In addition to its astounding beauty, Sintra is known for its deep cultural legacy, having become a popular locale in Portuguese literature. While the tourist crowds can be off-putting, Sintra is well worth the visit.