8 reasons why you should visit Lisbon

Situated on the Atlantic coast at the mouth of the river Tagus is Lisbon; the capital of Portugal. It is one of the oldest cities in the world with archaeological records indicating permanent settlements since 2500 BC. Lisbon’s history has been shaped by successive empires including those of the Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths and the Moors to name a few. During the Age of Discovery, Portugal was a colonial power which influenced world trade and politics for nearly six centuries.

As a result of its long history, modern-day Lisbon is a culturally rich and vibrant metropolis and a must-visit destination for travelers. Here are 10 reasons why we feel Lisbon should make it onto your Europe trip itinerary.

1. Explore the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monastery)

The monastery of Jerónimos (or Heironymites) is a UNESCO World Heritage site located in the Belém parish of Lisbon. The 16th century monastery is most famous for its ornate Portuguese late Gothic (or Manueline) style of architecture. This is most evident in design of the side entrance and the square cloister. The two-storey design of the cloister is quite unique and a novelty at the time of its construction. The main chapel of the monastery is also quite beautiful with its high ceiling and stained glass mosaics. In the 17th century, the monastery served as the resting place of the Portuguese nobility including King Alfonso VI and Catherine of Braganza. Also interred here are the remains of the famous explorer Vasco da Gama. Today, the monastery also houses the National Archaeological Museum and the Maritime Museum in its western wing.

2. Pay homage to the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument of the Discoveries)

The Monument of the Discoveries is a modern homage to the Portuguese Age of Discovery in the 15th and 16th century. Located along the banks of the river Tagus, its western and eastern sides are lined with statues representing 33 key figures from the era. The monument is just a short walk from the Tower of Belém so we would recommend exploring both together.

3. Visit the Torre de Belém (Belém Tower)

The other UNESCO World Heritage site in Lisbon is the Torre de Belém. Originally conceived as a defence structure due to its location at the mouth of the river Tagus, it rose to prominence as the starting point for many expeditions during the Age of Discovery. Famous explorers such as Vasco da Gama and Pedro Álvares Cabral set sail for India and Brazil respectively from here. For many of the sailors on these voyages, the sparkling white Tower of Belém was the last sight of their homeland before heading out to sea.

4. Climb the Castelo de São Jorge (Saint George Castle)

Photo Credit: Castelo de S. Jorge

Located on a hill in the centre of Lisbon, Castelo de São Jorge is a fortification dating back to 10th century. Although the present day construction is mostly of Moorish and Christian origin, archaeologists have found fortifications from as far back as the 2nd century BC. It’s a great feeling to stand at a site so ancient and take in a panorama of the city. The castle also hosts a multimedia show called Olissipónia about the history of Lisbon.

5. People watch at the Praça do Comércio (Commerce Place)

Praça do Comércio is a large open square situated on the site of the former Ribeira Palace; home of the Portuguese nobility until its destruction in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. Two of its main features are the statue of King José I in the centre of the square and the Arco da Rua Augusta; a triumphal arch-like structure. The archway leads onto Rua Augusta; a lively pedestrian street lined with mosaic pavements, outdoor cafés, buskers and shops. It’s quite crowded during the day so we’d recommend visiting in the late evening.

Photo Credit: Amruta Prabhu

6. Go up the Elevador de Santa Justa (Santa Justa Lift)

The Santa Justa lift is a 19th century wrought iron elevator located in the old city centre of Lisbon. Built to ferry passengers up the steep hill from Baixa district to Carmo, it is still in use today. The elevator has become a tourist attraction for its neo-Gothic arches and geometric patterns. At the top is a observation platform from where visitors can get a panoramic view of the city. However, be prepared for a long wait if you visit in the middle of the day. The observation gallery can only accommodate about 30 people at one time.

7. Walk around Alfama

Alfama is the oldest parish of Lisbon and is generally considered a poor neighborhood. However, this part of the city is extremely picturesque with its labyrinthine narrow streets and small houses. It’s a great place to explore on foot and in particular experience the Fado. Fado is a musical performance art which traces its origins to early 19th century Lisbon. It is best experienced over dinner and Alfama has a number of Fado bars and restaurants to choose from.

8. Traverse the Almada:

Almada is the city on the opposite shore of the river Tagus. A visit to Almada gives you a chance to see two attractions; the 25 de Abril (25th of April) Bridge which connects the two cities and the Sanctuary of Christ the King.

The 25 de Abril Bridge is a beautiful suspension bridge which bears a strong resemblance to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. In fact, it was built by the American Bridge Company which constructed the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and thus has a very similar design but its colour is the familiar reddish-orange of the Golden Gate. The Sanctuary of Christ the King is a Catholic monument dedicated to Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ and the highest point in Almada. It bears a strong resemblance to the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro.

Looking for recommendations for accommodation? Read: Where to stay in Lisbon by Kelly at girl with the passport

If you have visited Lisbon, tell us what your favorite things about the city are in the comments below. Did we miss any must-see attractions?

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  1. June 16, 2018 / 6:33 PM

    I was in Lisbon a couple of months ago and completely fell in love with the city! Where did you enjoy Fado in the Alfama? We watched a performance in another neighbourhood but I’d love a recommendation for when I go back.

    • Siddharth Prabhu
      June 18, 2018 / 11:47 AM

      It was some no-name restaurant in one of the back alleys of Alfama. Going through our pictures, we could not find its name, only its building number (471…that’s no use without the street name of course). We’d suggest wandering through the neighbourhood and picking a Fado bar which looks interesting. The area has loads of good places so you shouldn’t be disappointed.

  2. Sofia
    June 17, 2018 / 5:55 PM

    I was in Lisbon exactly one year ago and remember all of these 🙂 It was a gem indeed! I especially loved Belem and Alfama 🙂

  3. June 17, 2018 / 11:27 PM

    We will be in Lisbon the first week of November! Can’t wait to explore these 8 landmarks!

  4. June 18, 2018 / 7:04 PM

    Brilliant – I saved this post instantly, I’m actually heading over to Portugal next week to start my adventure over there and this post will come in handy for Lisbon. Did you guys prefer Porto or Lisbon? I’ll be exploring all 8 of these, the monastery looks incredible and so does the Castle

    • Siddharth Prabhu
      June 18, 2018 / 7:06 PM

      Thanks. We did not visit Porto during this trip. But it’s definitely on the list for the next time we’re in Portugal.

  5. June 19, 2018 / 12:15 PM

    Very valid reasons to visit Lisbon. We didn’t go up the Santa Justa lift, others all done.
    Was reliving my moments there through your post.

  6. June 19, 2018 / 5:57 PM

    My boss just got back from a conference in Lisbon and he had the best time there. He listened to fados and wandered around Alfama district. If I only I could stroll around these picturesque alleys now!

  7. June 19, 2018 / 7:18 PM

    I love the detailing on the Jerónimos Monastery building – especially around the windows. I’ve not been to Lisbon, but this has definitely made me want to go more. I’d love to wander around the little streets of Alfama!

  8. June 20, 2018 / 1:02 AM

    It is nice concise list of things to do in Lisbon. The white archway is quite beautiful. For me this and the Monastery are the real highlights. Nice Camera work!

  9. June 20, 2018 / 6:02 AM

    You had me at Lisbon! I have been wanting to visit for 3 years now and this just makes me want to visit more. Hoping I can go this year or next year!

  10. June 20, 2018 / 1:06 PM

    Wow, Lisbon is beautiful! I cant wait to visit Portugal! The Castelo and the monastery look really magestic! My aunt was there last year and she said it was really a beautiful city with lots of interesting places and culture!

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