The capital city and physically the largest in Portugal, Lisbon consists of a central municipality that is home to just over 550,000 people. It stands today as the economic, historical and cultural nucleus of the country and is generally considered the most desirable city in which to live in Portugal.
The rich architecture that marks the city is very much a reflection of Lisbon’s long and rich history, which began over 1000 years before Roman rule. It went through periods of Germanic and Moorish influence, as well as recapture by the Crusaders, and this colorful past is mirrored by the Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, and Traditional Portuguese, Modern and Post-Modern constructions that can be found all over. More impressive still is the fact that some of the sites still standing today survived an earthquake that hit the city in the mid-18th century.
European Capital of Culture in 1994 and subsequently host to Expo 98, Lisbon offers a plethora of museums and architectural sites that cater for many different tastes, from ancient to modern and from fashion to theatre. Your “to-do” list ought to include some of the following: the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga (National Museum of Ancient Art), the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian (Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, containing varied collections of ancient and modern art), the Lisbon Oceanarium (Oceanário de Lisboa, the second largest in the world), the Museu Nacional do Traje e da Moda (National Museum of Costume and Fashion), the Berardo Collection Museum (Modern Art) and the Museu Fundação Oriente (Lisbon Orient Museum).
Lisbon’s opera house and theatres are also active, especially in the autumn-winter season, while contemporary culture and interests are well represented by annual festivals given over to Gay and Lesbian Cinema, Street Magic, Literature, Photography, Fashion and Design, amongst others.
Depending upon your personal preferences, you may want to begin with the oldest district in town (Alfama) with its winding streets, Fado clubs and steady ascent towards St. George’s Castle which overlooks downtown and the Tagus River, alternatively Chiado with its galleries, cafés and bookshops. Bairro Alto is the youthful heart of the city and home to art, design, hip stores and alternative nightlife, whilst Estrela and Belém are an essential stop if you wish to see the Baroque-Neoclassical Estrela Basilica and the Jerónimos Monastery, or drop-by the Centro Cultural de Belem (CCB) the largest cultural centre in Portugal.
Because of the layout and landscape of Lisbon, which is built upon seven hills, you are well advised the see the city by tram or, better still, funicular if trekking around becomes a little too much for the feet.
Football remains king, with Benfica and Sporting Portugal the most prominent clubs in the capital, with both club’s stadiums located in the heart of Lisbon. The infrastructure is of a very high standard, a legacy of Portugal’s having hosted the 2004 UEFA European Football Championship. Other sports that are well represented include handball, basketball, roller hockey, athletics, rugby, sailing, golf and mountain-biking and Lisbon has the facilities to match.
So, whether you’re a culture vulture, an architecture buff or a sport billy, “Lisboa” is in danger of having much to keep you occupied.
SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO BE A TOURIST
- Go to the Castelo de São Jorge in the late afternoon to watch the amazing view over the city.
- Take a walk around the former Expo Pavilions at Parque de Nações - the most modern part of the city – and pass by one of the free concerts at the Casino de Lisboa Monday nights in fall.
- Visit Belém – one of the nicest suburbs of Lisbon – and check out the Torre de Belém, have some of the famous Pastéis de Belém (typical Portuguese sweets), walk around the botanic garden and visit the Jerónimos Monastery.
CAFES, RESTAURANTS & NIGHTLIFE
- Have an Apfelstrudel whilst reading their international press, travel guides or books in many languages at the cosy Austrian Café Pois (around the corner from the famous Sé cathedral).
- Enjoy after-work hours at Café Noobai at the Miradouro Santa Catarina and have one of their yummy sandwiches and bagels.
- Drinks, Restaurant, Theater or Art – Don’t miss the creative all-round talent Chapitô located in Costa do Castelo – right around the corner from there: O Terraço - An open-air lounge on a rooftop!
- Have one of the best Pizzas in Lisbon at Casanova (across the street from the metro station S.Apolónia).
- Check out the many bars and discos at the Docas near the Alcântara station.
- Party at Lux – Lisbon’s most famous club owned by John Malkovich (best DJs on Thursday nights).
- Tip: Subscribe to the newsletter “Lecool” to be informed about the hottest parties, exhibitions, theatres or happenings in Lisbon on a weekly basis http://lecool.com/cities/lisboa/subscriptions/new
- AND: get the magazine “Lisbon Time Out”
There are busses that you can take from Praça Espanha (right next to NOVA) to get to the Costa Caparica: wide beaches south of Lisbon, great surf spots.
Tip: don’t stay at the part of the beach near the town Caparica, but go further along the coast, here you can find nice beach bars and even a little train that takes you along the coast!
You can also take the train from Cais do Sodré that takes you to Carcavelos, Estoril and Cascais (beaches west of Lisbon).
Tip: get off at Estoril, walk down to Cascais, have ice-cream at the famous “Santini” and rent bikes (for free, just next to the train station) and head to one of the most beautiful beaches: Guincho.
AROUND LISBON & THE REST OF PORTUGAL
Get the train from Rossio and head to Sintra: in this touristy but lovely town 40 minutes from Lisbon you can take a walk up a forest path (the lazy ones can take a little train) and visit the colorful Castle.
North of Lisbon you should visit the small town Obidos and have Ginga in chocolate cups (let it be a surprise), head up further north to the number one students’ city Coimbra and further to Porto: Portugal’s second biggest city.
South of Lisbon you could travel down the Cost Alentejana: nature and very nice beaches! Further south, you have to see the Algarve: rocky beaches, great weather, the Portuguese’ favorite vacation destination within the country. Cities like Faro, Carvoeiro, Silves, Portimao and Sagres (the most western point of Europe) are very nice to see.
Tip: take a boat trip to see the caves that you cannot reach from the beaches. You will feel like in “The beach” – amazingly beautiful.
HOW TO GET AROUND
There are 4 metro lines, several tram lines (eléctricos) and many busses. You can either get one-way tickets at any metro station automate and in case of busses and trams, right at the driver when entering (1.50-1.70€).).
Another possibility is getting a 7 colinas or viva viagem card at the mentioned automates. These you can charge and use for more than one trip.
If you use public transportation on a daily basis it is probably the best to get a Lisboa Viva card: you can get it for 7€ at the main metro stations: once ordered it will normally take around 10 working days until it’s ready. You should bring your passport, a proof that you are a student as well as a picture of yourself. This card can be reloaded monthly for metro, bus and tram for 33.85€ / 16.95€ (sub-23 years old).
Tip: Get it at the stations Campo Pequeno, Avenida or Alameda, it will cost you 12€, but you will be able to pick up the card within 1 working day.
Here you can calculate routes, metro/bus/tram maps and find schedules: www.carris.pt
Within the city, it is not necessary at all to have a car. When considering going to the beaches and making trips around Lisbon and Portugal, a car makes your life much easier.
Driving in Lisbon is easy, after a while you will find you way through, even though there are many one-way streets and some traffic. Parking within the very center is difficult and often payable. In residential areas it is easy to find and not payable. Highways in Portugal are payable. Once entering a highway you pass a toll/road charge station after a while, charging an amount between 1.30 and 3€ depending on the highway or bridge you are using. However, if you want to go to a distant city, like Porto, by car, you’ll be charged around 20€. There are also very inexpensive car rentals where you can rent a car for one or a few days (for trips etc.) at rates around €20-40 a day: http://www.avis.com.pt/
Taxis in Lisbon are very inexpensive (relative to other European cities). This is very convenient when going out. Most of the people take cabs to get home and also to get from one bar to another club.