This guide is for anyone that plans on visiting Lisbon, and needs information quick and fast! Here’s what you need to know about visiting Lisbon!
OK, your plane has landed at the Lisbon airport: what’s the best way to get into town? Here’s a link from the City of Lisbon’s official tourist site, which should answer all your questions:
That same site also has really helpful and useful information on public transport options in Lisbon, as well as maps, top attractions, places to eat, and even a two-day itinerary. Check it out:
The first thing that you need to know about Lisbon is that the city, like Rome and Istanbul (among others) was built on seven hills. And when I say hilly, plan on it! What makes Lisbon unique among vertically-challenging cities is how the local people deal with the sometimes big differences in elevation from one street to the next.
For one thing, they build the COOLEST ELEVATORS I’ve ever seen! They connect places in ways that are truly remarkable. Some are called “elevador” in Portuguese, while others are called “ascensor“. (The words are used interchangeably: you might see signs for the same one with either word.) Some of them really are elevators, while others are funiculars. There are five of them in Lisbon, all are National Monuments, and all of them will save you a LOT of serious climbing. They also give you amazing views of the city!
The most popular ascensor is the Elevador da Glória. Built in 1885, it connects Restauradores Square in the Baixa neighborhood (the main “downtown” area of Lisbon) with Rua San Pedro de Alcántara in Bairro Alto (the “Upper District”). Views from the top are incredible. It’s just up the street from the Restauradores metro stop. Cost to ride is €3.70 at the time of this post: if you’re going to be doing a lot of public transport, consider getting a “7 Collinas” card or a 1-day transport card.
When you get to the top, I recommend a visit to the Igreja de São Roque (Church of Saint Roch). Built in the 16th century, it was one of the few structures in Lisbon to survive the massive earthquake, fires and tsunami that struck the city in 1755. (Seismologists estimate that the quake had a magnitude of 8.5-9.0.) The church is open 09.00-17.00 every day, and there is no admission fee. (The museum next door is closed on Mondays and charges admission.)
If you’re thinking of visiting the Castle (Castelo de Sao Jorge), you will DEFINITELY want to consider riding the Elevador Castelo, which is not very well known, but is the perfect way to get up to the Castle. Here’s a video made by a local guy in Lisbon which gives you an idea of what to expect!
The entrance from Baixa is located on Rua dos Fanqueiros, in front of the exit from the Baixa-Chiado metro station. Get off the lift at Rua da Madalena and switch to another one in the Pingo Doce grocery store. Once you get out of the elevator, it’s only short walk to the Castle. Oh, and the best thing about this particular elevator? IT’S FREE!
My favorite elevator in Lisbon is the Elevador de Santa Justa, which like the one to the castle really is an elevator. It was built in late 1800s in a neo-Gothic style, and at the top there is an observation deck with some of the best views of the city and the river below. It’s centrally located, just off the Rua Áurea.
What else is worth seeing in Lisbon? Here are my “don’t miss” places to visit.
1. Oceanário de Lisboa This is one of the largest aquariums in Europe. You’ll either love it or hate it. Admission is not cheap (€19 for adults) but I love this place. If you can, be there for the 12:45 “feeding of the sea otters”. It’s really cool. (My picture below shows a couple of the otters waiting for feeding time!) And if you like penguins like I do, the Oceanário has THREE kinds of penguins! AND PUFFINS! What’s not to like? Open daily 10.00-19.00 (winter), 10.00-20.00 (summer). Get there on the Red Line Metro, get off at the Oriente (East) Station.
2. Visit the suburb of Belém This area just west of downtown Lisbon probably has the most interesting sights in the city. There are several really fun things to see and do (and EAT!) here, including a UNESCO site. Best way to reach Belém: take the number 15 tram from Praça do Comércio downtown.
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monastery) along with the Torre de Belém (Tower of Belém) make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The monastery was built in 1501 and is big, incredibly beautiful and well worth a visit. Open 10.00-18.00 (summer) or 10.00-17.00 (winter), closed on Mondays. The church is free to enter but it costs €7 to enter the monastery (and worth every penny, especially if you’re at all interested in history and architecture.) Entrance for the monastery is FREE on Sunday mornings.
The Tower of Belém Built to protect Lisbon from attack, the Tower is now the symbol of Lisbon. Open hours are 10.00-17.30 (winter), and 10.00-18.30 (summer). Closed Mondays. Entrance fee: €5. A combined entrance ticket for the monastery and Torre de Belem can be purchased for €13.00, but since you can buy the individual tickets for €12, why bother?
Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument of the Discoveries) Large impressive monument that celebrates the Portuguese Age of Exploration during the 15th and 16th centuries. There is a small museum and a viewing platform at the top, from where you get a great look at Belém and the Tagus River estuary. Viewing platform and museum are open Tuesday to Sunday between 10:00-19:00 (summer season) 10:00-18:00 (low season). Entrance fee is €3.00.
Try a “pastéis de nata“ Also called “pastel de Belém”, this is a custard tart first made by the monks at the Jerónimos Monastery. When the monastery was closed by the government in 1833, the monks sold the recipe to a neighbor family, who opened a pastry shop (and still run it today!) If you’re in Belém you really have to try one. But I’ll be shocked if you only eat one, they’re that good! Here’s a picture of the shop and some of the famous custard tarts.
3. Wander in the Alfama district The Alfama is one of the oldest parts of Lisbon. Narrow, twisting cobblestoned streets and lots to see and do. You’ll see lots of interesting things….like these, for example.
Here are a few of the OTHER things there are to see in Alfama.
The Castle (Castelo de Sao Jorge) Mostly for history fans and for photographers (great views!). 0900-2100 (March-October), 0900-1800 (November-February). Entrance fee: €10
Sé Cathedral Most important religious building in Lisbon, construction began in the 12th century. It was built over a Moorish mosque. Open daily from 0700 until the evening mass, held in Portuguese, at 1900. There is no admission fee.
Igreja de São Vicente de Fora (Church of St-Vincent outside the walls) 18th century Baroque church which is the burial place of all of the kings and queens of Portual from João IV who died in 1656, to Manuel II, last king of Portugal who died in exile in England in 1932. Tuesday-Sunday, 10:00-18:00, entrance fee €5.
4. Visit the plazas and squares of downtown Lisbon has some really beautiful public areas. The plazas and parks are worth a visit. Here are some you should check out if you’re out and about in Lisbon.
- Praça do Comércio
Praça Dom Pedro IV (called Praça Rossio by the locals)
Praça da Figueira
- Praça Marquês de Pombal
I hope this short guide to Lisbon will be of help to you should you be planning a trip to Portugal’s capital!