Lisbon: The Complete Guide

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The eighteenth-century city of central Lisbon is known for its elegant design, proximity to the sea, and careful planning. This description applies within the boundaries of the old central triangle of hills, but not to the modern suburbs, some of which are grim. The Baixa, or lower town, was built in less than a decade by the Marquês de Pombal, a dictatorial minister, after the Great Earthquake of 1755 destroyed much of central Lisbon. The earthquake, which struck on All Saints’ Day in 1755, caused fires that raged throughout the city, and a tidal wave that killed 40,000 of the 270,000 population. Before the earthquake, Lisbon was one of the most active ports in Europe, having been prosperous since Roman times.

The city was twice at the forefront of European development and trade in the past, during the great Portuguese discoveries of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and the opening decades of the eighteenth century, when Brazil yielded gold and diamonds. These were the great ages of Portuguese patronage. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Lisbon experienced political upheavals, but the Art Nouveau movement made its mark on the city. In recent decades, Lisbon has undergone significant reconstruction and renovation, boosted by EU funding for economic regeneration in the 1980s, its status as European City of Culture in 1994, hosting of the Expo in 1998, and the European Championships of 2004. The city’s transportation infrastructure has been improved, and historic districts and riverfronts have been given makeovers, making Lisbon one of Europe’s most exciting capitals.

History of Lisbon

Lisbon, the capital and largest city of Portugal, boasts a rich and multifaceted history that dates back to prehistoric times. Its strategic location at the mouth of the Tagus River has made it a significant site of human settlement for thousands of years.

Ancient and Pre-Roman History

Archaeological findings suggest that the region around Lisbon has been inhabited since the Neolithic period, with a noticeable presence during the Bronze Age and Iron Age. The area was inhabited by various indigenous tribes before coming under the influence of Carthaginians and later the Romans.

Roman and Moorish Rule

Lisbon, known as Olissipo in Roman times, flourished as a trading center under Roman administration from 205 BC. The Romans enhanced its commercial potential by connecting it with other provinces and building grand theaters, baths, and roads. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Lisbon saw a series of rulers, including Germanic tribes such as the Suebi and the Visigoths. In the 8th century, the Moors conquered Lisbon, leaving a significant cultural imprint, especially in architecture and urban planning. The Moorish influence lasted until the 12th century.

Christian Reconquest and Expansion

In 1147, King Afonso Henriques recaptured Lisbon during the Christian Reconquista with the help of Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land. This marked the beginning of a significant transformation in Lisbon’s cultural, religious, and political landscape. Under Portuguese rule, Lisbon was rebuilt with churches and a cathedral, and the city became the country’s political and spiritual center.

Age of Discoveries

The 15th and 16th centuries, known as Portugal’s Age of Discoveries, saw Lisbon emerge as a global hub of commerce, culture, and science. Explorers like Vasco da Gama embarked on voyages from Lisbon to India, Africa, and Brazil, establishing it as one of the world’s greatest cities during the Renaissance. Wealth from colonial ventures funded the construction of numerous monuments, churches, and the magnificent Jerónimos Monastery.

Earthquake and Reconstruction

The catastrophic earthquake of 1755, followed by a tsunami and fires, devastated Lisbon, killing thousands and destroying much of the city’s architecture. The Marquis of Pombal led the reconstruction efforts, which included the design of the Baixa Pombalina district with its innovative anti-seismic construction techniques and modern urban layout.

20th Century to Present

In the 20th century, Lisbon underwent further transformations with the establishment of the Portuguese Republic in 1910, the Estado Novo regime in 1933, and eventually the Carnation Revolution in 1974, which transitioned Portugal to democracy. Lisbon hosted the Expo ’98, which further promoted its status on the international stage.

Today, Lisbon is known for its historical neighborhoods, rich maritime heritage, vibrant culture, and as a center of economic activity in Portugal. Its history as a center of world exploration, cultural exchange, and architectural innovation continues to captivate visitors and scholars alike.

Visiting Lisbon for the first time and wondering what are the top places to see in the city? In this complete guide, I share the best things to do in Lisbon on the first visit. To help you plan your trip, I have also included an interactive map and practical tips for visiting!

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10 Best places to See in Lisbon

This complete guide to Lisbon not only tells you about the very best sights and tourist attractions for first-time visitors to the city but also provide insights into a few of our personal favorite things to do.

This is a practical guide to visiting the best places to see in Lisbon and is filled with tips and info that should answer all your questions!

Praça do Rossio

Praça Do Rossio, Lisbon
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Berthold Werner
Rossio Square, also known as Praça do Rossio or Pedro IV Square, serves as the vibrant heart of Lisbon, drawing both locals and tourists alike to its bustling surroundings teeming with bars and restaurants. Nestled in the Baixa neighborhood, at the northern terminus of Rua Augusta and proximate to Restauradores Square, Rossio Square pulsates with […]
Location: Praça do Rossio, Lisbon, Portugal | Distance: 0.90km
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São Jorge Castle (Lisbon)

CC BY-SA 3.0 / GNU
Standing atop the São Jorge hill, the highest point in Lisbon, is the majestic São Jorge Castle, an iconic symbol of the city. This castle is one of Lisbon’s most famous landmarks and its silhouette is instantly recognizable, whether seen during the day or illuminated at night. The hill is also home to two of […]
Location: São Jorge Castle, Rua de Santa Cruz do Castelo, Lisbon, Portugal | Hours: 9am-9pm Mar-Oct, to 6pm Nov-Feb | Price: adult/student/child €10/4/free | Website | São Jorge Castle Skip-the-line Ticket | Distance: 1.10km
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Elevador de Santa Justa

Elevador De Santa Justa
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Pmk58
The Elevador de Santa Justa, nestled in Lisbon’s Baixa district, stands as a striking example of 19th-century industrial ingenuity, beautifully marrying function with the elegant art form of wrought iron. This neo-Gothic marvel not only serves as a practical mode of transport, lifting passengers 45 meters to the Largo do Carmo, but also as a […]
Location: Elevador de Santa Justa, R. do Ouro, Lisbon, Portugal | Hours: May to October: 7 am - 11 pm November to April: 7 am - 10 pm | Price: Elevator: € 5.30 (£ 4.50) (return) Viewpoint: € 1.50 (£ 1.30) (elevator not included) | Distance: 1.10km
Visiting Elevador de Santa Justa

Lisbon Cathedral

Lisbon Cathedral
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Kyle Magnuson
The Lisbon Cathedral presents an austere exterior, characterized by a predominantly Romanesque style, though subsequent modifications have seamlessly integrated various architectural influences, lending it a distinctive charm. Externally, stout walls flanked by twin bell towers impart a fortress-like aura, reminiscent of medieval strongholds rather than religious edifices. The façade, retaining its 12th-century Romanesque design, features […]
Location: Lisbon Cathedral, Largo da Sé, Lisbon, Portugal | Hours: Daily: 9 am to 7 pm. Cloister: 10 am to 6 pm (Sunday from 2 pm). May through September until 7 pm. Treasury: 10 am to 5 pm. Closed on Sundays and holidays. | Price: Adults: € 5 (£ 4.30) Children 7-12 years old: € 3 (£ 2.60) Children under 6: free entry | Distance: 1.50km
Visiting Lisbon Cathedral

Arco da Rua Augusta

Arco Da Rua Augusta
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Alvesgaspar
For a unique perspective of Lisbon, consider ascending one of the city’s iconic structures. Since August 9, 2013, the Arch has opened its doors to the public, providing an unparalleled view of Lisbon at your feet. Located on Rua Augusta, this triumphal arch has always impressed pedestrians with its grandeur. Now, visitors can ascend to […]
Location: Arco da Rua Augusta, Rua Augusta, Lisbon, Portugal | Hours: 9am-8pm | Price: €3 | Distance: 1.60km
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Museu Calouste Gulbenkian

Museo Gulbekian, Sala Del Mobilio Francese
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Sailko
The museum, which displays the impressive private collection of Calouste Gulbenkian, was inaugurated in 1969. Its architecture reflects modern concepts of museum design, seamlessly integrating with the surrounding park. Recently, the permanent exhibition space underwent renovation by the architect Paul Vandebotermet to simplify and reorganize the displays. The museum is open to the public and […]
Location: Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Avenida de Berna, Lisbon, Portugal | Hours: 10am-6pm Wed-Mon | Price: Coleção do Fundador/Coleção Moderna combo ticket adult/child €10/free, temporary exhibitions €3-6, free Sun from 2pm | Distance: 2.10km
Visiting Museu Calouste Gulbenkian

Museu Nacional do Azulejo

Convento Da Madre De Deus Lisboa Portugal
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Vitor Oliveira
Step into the Azulejos Museum and immerse yourself in the vibrant colors of Portuguese tiles. Housed within the former Madre de Deus convent, this unique museum offers an enlightening exploration of the history of tile art in Portugal. Lisbon’s alluring tiles, which adorn facades, streets, and metro stations, are a significant characteristic of the city’s […]
Location: Museu Nacional do Azulejo, Rua Madre Deus, Lisbon, Portugal | Hours: 10am-6pm Tue-Sun | Price: adult/child €5/free | Website | National Tile Museum Entry Ticket | Distance: 2.20km
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Mosteiro dos Jerónimos

Mosteiro Dos Jerónimos, Lisbon, Portugal
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Holger Uwe Schmitt
The Jerónimos Monastery, situated on the banks of the Tagus, represents the pinnacle of Manueline architecture. Originally, a small hermitage dedicated to Santa Maria stood in its place, built by Infante D. Henrique in 1452. In the 16th century, King Manuel I obtained the Holy See’s approval to construct a large monastery there, which was […]
Location: Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Lisbon, Portugal | Hours: 10am-6.30pm Tue-Sun Jun-Sep, to 5.30pm Oct-May | Price: adult/child €10/5, free Sun until 2pm for Portuguese citizens/residents only | Website | Jerónimos Monastery Entrance Ticket | Distance: 6.40km
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Padrão dos Descobrimentos

Padrão Dos Descobrimentos, Lisbon
Standing proudly on the riverside of Belém, the Monument to the Discoveries makes a striking impression. Originally designed in 1940 to commemorate the “Exposition of the Portuguese World,” an event organized by the Salazar government to honor the 800th and 300th anniversaries of the founding and restoration of Portugal in 1140 and 1640 respectively, the […]
Location: Padrão dos Descobrimentos, Av. Brasília, Lisbon, Portugal | Hours: 10am-7pm Mar-Sep, to 6pm Oct-Feb | Price: adult/child €6/3 | Website | Distance: 6.60km
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Torre de Belém

Torre De Belém
The Tower of Belém is a magnificent example of architectural beauty and delicate ornamentation. Its quadrangular shape and polygon bulwark, reminiscent of medieval castles, provide a formidable and imposing bastion to defend the entrance to the Tagus. Built by Francisco de Arruda between 1514 and 1521, the tower was ordered by King Manuel I (1495-1521) […]
Location: Torre de Belém, Av. Brasília, Lisbon, Portugal | Hours: 10am-6.30pm Tue-Sun May-Sep, to 5.30pm Oct-Apr | Price: adult/child €6/3, free Sun until 2pm for Portuguese citizens/residents only | Website | Belém Tower E-Ticket with Multilingual Audio Guide | Distance: 7.50km
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Best Time to Visit Lisbon

Lisbon, the vibrant capital of Portugal, offers a rich blend of history, culture, and stunning scenery, making it a popular destination year-round. However, the best time to visit depends on your preferences for weather and crowds. Here’s a guide to help you decide when to plan your trip:

Spring (March to May)

Spring is one of the best times to visit Lisbon. The weather starts to warm up, with temperatures ranging from 15°C to 25°C (59°F to 77°F), and the city bursts into bloom. This season provides comfortable weather for exploring the city’s many sights and enjoying outdoor activities without the peak summer crowds. Additionally, hotel rates are generally lower than in summer.

Summer (June to August)

Summer in Lisbon can be quite hot, with temperatures often climbing above 30°C (86°F). However, it is also the liveliest time of year, with numerous festivals and events, such as the Festas de Lisboa in June, celebrating the city’s patron saint with parades, music, and sardine feasts. The warm evenings are perfect for enjoying Lisbon’s vibrant nightlife and dining at its many outdoor restaurants. Be prepared for larger crowds and higher prices during this peak tourist season.

Autumn (September to November)

Autumn is another excellent time to visit Lisbon. The temperatures begin to cool down, making it comfortable for sightseeing, but it’s still warm enough to enjoy the city’s outdoor cafes and late sunsets. The crowds diminish, and you can often find better deals on accommodation and flights compared to the high season.

Winter (December to February)

Winters in Lisbon are mild compared to much of Europe, with temperatures rarely falling below 10°C (50°F). Although it’s the rainiest season, Lisbon still offers many sunny days. Winter can be a great time to visit if you prefer to avoid crowds and don’t mind packing an umbrella. It’s also an ideal time to enjoy the city’s cultural offerings, such as museums, historic sites, and theaters, at a more relaxed pace.

Best Times to Visit

Ultimately, the best times to visit Lisbon are during the shoulder seasons of spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November). These periods offer the best combination of pleasant weather, fewer tourists, and lower costs. Visiting during these times allows you to explore the city comfortably and immerse yourself in local events and festivals without the peak season hustle.

Average Temperatures in Lisbon

  • January 16°C 6
  • February 18°C 7
  • March 19°C 8
  • April 24°C 7
  • May 25°C 5
  • June 27°C 1
  • July 31°C 0
  • August 30°C 0
  • September 28°C 4
  • October 26°C 9
  • November 20°C 10
  • December 17°C 10

How to get to Lisbon

Getting to Lisbon, the vibrant capital of Portugal, is straightforward due to its status as a major European hub for travel. Here’s how you can reach Lisbon:

By Air

Lisbon Humberto Delgado Airport (Lisbon Airport), also known simply as Lisbon Airport, is located about 7 kilometers from the city center. It is the largest and busiest airport in Portugal, serving numerous international and domestic flights daily. Airlines from all over the world operate flights to Lisbon, making it easily accessible from most major cities in Europe, North America, South America, and several other destinations. From the airport, you can reach the city center via metro, bus, taxi, or private transfer.

By Train

Lisbon is well-connected by train to other major cities in Portugal and neighboring Spain. If you’re traveling from cities like Porto, Faro, or Coimbra, you’ll find regular train services that bring you directly to Lisbon’s central stations, such as Santa Apolónia and Gare do Oriente. From Spain, you can take international trains from cities like Madrid and reach Lisbon overnight.

By Bus

Buses are a budget-friendly option for getting to Lisbon from other parts of Portugal and from many European cities. Bus companies like Rede Expressos offer extensive services connecting Lisbon to major Portuguese cities and towns. International bus services, such as Eurolines and FlixBus, also operate routes between Lisbon and cities across Europe.

By Car

Driving to Lisbon can be a great option if you prefer having the flexibility to explore at your own pace. Lisbon is connected to a network of well-maintained highways. Major roads leading to Lisbon include the A1 from Porto in the north, the A2 from Faro in the south, and the A6 from the Spanish border near Badajoz. Keep in mind that parking in Lisbon can be challenging, especially in the city center, and there are tolls on most motorways.

By Boat

For a more scenic arrival, you can also reach Lisbon by ferry if you are already in Portugal. The ferry service from cities like Setúbal and Almada across the Tagus River can add a picturesque start to your visit. Additionally, Lisbon is a popular stop for many cruise lines touring the Mediterranean and Atlantic.

Local Transportation

Once in Lisbon, the city offers an excellent public transportation system, including metros, trams, buses, and trains, that can take you to various districts and nearby suburbs. The historic trams are particularly popular among tourists for sightseeing.

Each mode of transportation offers different advantages, depending on your origin, budget, and travel preferences. Lisbon’s extensive connectivity makes it an easily accessible destination for travelers from around the globe.

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