Lisbon: The Complete Guide
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.
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. Top help you plan your trip, I have also included an interactive map and practical tips for visiting!
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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!
São Jorge Castle (Lisbon)
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 Lisbon's neighborhoods, Alfama and Castelo.
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Address: 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 | Distance: 1.06km
Arco da Rua Augusta
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.
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Address: Arco da Rua Augusta, Rua Augusta, Lisbon, Portugal | Hours: 9am-8pm | Price: €3 | Distance: 1.55km
Museu Calouste Gulbenkian
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 features exhibits on Egyptian, Graeco-Roman, and Islamic art, as well as European painting from the 16th to the 19th centuries. The painting collection includes works by renowned artists such as Rubens, Rembrandt, Manet, and Degas. The museum also has a notable sculpture section, with a focus on pieces from the 18th and 19th centuries, Renaissance tapestry, and French furniture from the Louis XV and Louis XVI periods. The architects, Ruy Jervis Athouguia, Alberto Pessoa, Pedro Cid, Gonçalo Ribeiro Teles, and António Barreto, designed the building and gardens as a cohesive whole, winning the Valmor Prize in 1975 for their work, which included the gardens. Visitors can use computer points to access information about the works on display, the collector, the museum building, and its services and activities.
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Address: 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: 2.12km
Museu Nacional do Azulejo
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 charm, making the existence of a tile museum unsurprising. The National Azulejo Museum, or Museu Nacional do Azulejo in Portuguese, features a permanent exhibition that chronicles the history of Portuguese tiles from the 16th century to the present day. The museum's collection ranges from tiny fragments to striking panels depicting Lisbon before the devastating earthquake of 1700, showcasing beautiful tiles of various shapes and origins. The subjects depicted on the tiles are diverse, encompassing geometric patterns, religious figures, and everyday objects.
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Address: Museu Nacional do Azulejo, Rua Madre Deus, Lisbon, Portugal | Hours: 10am-6pm Tue-Sun | Price: adult/child €5/free | Website | Distance: 2.23km
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos
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 donated to the Order of the Friars of St. Jerome. This monastery, linked to the Discoveries, is the most remarkable Portuguese monastic complex of its time and one of the major European churches.
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Address: 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 | Distance: 6.44km
Padrão dos Descobrimentos
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 monument was eventually built in 1960 to celebrate 500 years since the death of Prince Henry the Navigator. The renowned architect Cottinelli Telmo was responsible for the design, while the talented sculptor Leopoldo de Almeida contributed to its creation.
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Address: Padrão dos Descobrimentos, Av. Brasília, Lisbon, Portugal | Hours: 10am-7pm Mar-Sep, to 6pm Oct-Feb | Price: adult/child €6/3 | Website | Distance: 6.58km
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) and designed to combine firepower with the St Sebastian tower on the other bank of the river.
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Address: 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 | Distance: 7.47km