Sunset over Lisbon's iconic 25 de Abril Bridge

Visitors Guide to Lisbon

By Julie Dawn Fox

Whether you're looking for a winter break with a little warmth or a vibrant city with historic buildings and architecture, great food and drink and lively nightlife, Lisbon offers all this and more.

One the most beautiful capital cities in Europe, Lisbon manages to retain its unique identity and the feeling that it is set apart from the rest of Europe. Attractive coloured houses in Lisbon

The unusual patterned pavements of this lovely city, the cathedral and the monasteries, the quiet tree-filled streets and the bright yellow wooden trams are all part of the quiet splendour that is Lisbon.

Built on seven hills and along the River Tagus, Lisbon's proximity to the Atlantic Ocean is evident through regular visits from cruise ships and a busy port. You'll find a blend of creative urban energy, timeless traditions, a relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere and a city that knows how to party all night.

Sit in one of the countless street cafes and sip a bica (expresso coffee) as you watch the world go by. Escape from the city bustle in tropical gardens or simply by exploring different neighbourhoods on foot. Indulge your passion for art, history and architecture in fascinating and unique museums.

Shop as long as your wallet and luggage allowance will bear - you'll find plenty to tempt you. When it comes to eating out, choose between international fare, modern Portuguese food or traditional favourites such as bacalhau (dried cod fish which can be rather salty).

Visitor suggestions

Rainbow over Lisbon at Portas do Sol Miradouro

Must Visit

Look out over Lisbon from the ramparts of St George's Castle to get a sense of the city. Then walk downhill through the narrow winding streets of Alfama, the oldest part of the city, perfect for losing yourself in. For a view across the other side of the city, the beautiful antique Santa Justa Elevator is hard to beat.

Next to the elevator lies the ruined Carmo Convent, a chilling reminder of the 1755 earthquake. Also in the area is a tribute to baroque excess and stunning craftsmanship in the interior of Sao Roque church.

The outlying district of Belem has long been engulfed by Lisbon and holds some of the city's finest monuments. Jeronimos Monastery is a spectacular example of Manueline (the Portuguese version of Gothic) architecture as is the neighbouring Torre de Belem, an iconic 16th century structure steeped in naval history from the Age of Discovery. In complete contrast, the Museu Berardo is Lisbon's finest contemporary art museum.

Shopaholics

Shoppers have plenty of options from the swanky designer stores that line Avenida da Republica to the chic boutique stores in Principe real and high street fashion in Chiado. You'll find a mixture of timeless family shops and modern outlets among the Baixa's grid of streets. Lisbon's biggest flea market, the Feira da Ladra, is held in Graca on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Getting Around Town

The yellow vintage tram 28 has been rattling around Lisbon's hills and city centre for over a century. A trip in one of these wooden vehicles takes you around some of the city's most beautiful and interesting spots and the experience is a highlight for most visitors to Lisbon. Lisbon trams

Lisbon Beaches

One of Lisbon's most recent and welcome additions is the redeveloped riverside zone of Ribeira das Naus. A pleasant walkway connects the former royal square to the shabby chic area of Cais do Sodre with ample sunbathing space in between but no swimming. If you fancy a dip, hop on a train to the beach towns of Estoril and Cascais. Costa Caparica lies to the south of the city and has long sandy beaches, popular with locals.

Music

Fado is traditional Lisbon music based around a simple guitar and vocals combination. Fado songs tell melancholic tales of love and life. There are many bars in Lisbon where you can find live fado music - head for either the Bairro Alto or Alfama regions of Lisbon, and listen out for the sound of singing.

If you're looking for a livelier dance scene or live music, head to Bairro Alto or Cais do Sodre or the late night clubs on Avenida 24 Julho.

Food and Drink

It's almost obligatory to try the nation's most famous cake, a custard tart called pastel de Belem made to a secret recipe handed down from the Jeronimos Monastery. You'll find the very similar pastel de nata all around the city. If you want to try something different try percebes (goose barnacles) with a cold local Portuguese beer such as Sagres or Super Bock. Pastel de Belem

Ginjinha (sometimes simply called Ginja) is a delicious digestive liqueur made from cherries. It's served in most of the local restaurants but best enjoyed from one of the tiny traditional bars or kiosks in the company of locals. Ask for um copo com or sem (pronounced 'sane') to order a glass with or without cherries.

When to visit

Lisbon is a year-round destination, and is often a good escape in the winter months, when it is much warmer than most of Europe with a mild Mediterranean climate. It can be very hot in July and August so you might appreciate air conditioning in your room. During winter, spring and autumn you may need jackets, since there can be strong winds from the ocean.

How to get there

Lisbon's main airport is the Aeroporto Da Portela, located to the north of Lisbon about 20 minutes by bus or metro from the centre of Lisbon. With many of the low cost airlines operating from Lisbon it has become a popular weekend break destination and a great starting point for exploring more of Portugal.