Lisbon - there's enough to keep you busy for days

The entrance to the Castelo de Sao Jorge (St George's Castle)

Whatever you’re looking for, Lisbon (or Lisboa as it’s known locally) has it. From great historical sights to exquisite churches to relaxing along the water to interacting with animals or just taking in a great view. Just don’t cut yourself short by not planning enough time in this dynamic and exciting city – the oldest in Western Europe.

Don’t leave Lisboa without seeing these incredible historical sites

Jeronimos Mosteiro (Monastery) is located in Belem. Its official name is the Mosteiro da Santa Maria de Belem. The origin of the name Jeronimos comes from the Portuguese transliteration for Saint Jerome. Monks, from the Order of Saint Jerome (Hieronymites), lived in the monastery and provided spiritual guidance to seafarers. Replacing a church, where Vasco da Gama and his crew spent their last night before departing for India, the monastery’s construction began in 1501 and was not completed until a century later. The tomb of Vasco da Gama can be found just inside the entrance of the monastery.

Belem Tower, built in the early 16th century, was commissioned by King John II to be part of a defense system, at the mouth of the Tagus River, and a ceremonial gateway to Lisboa. Situated on the edge of the Tagus River, it played a role during battles with Spain (1580) and France (early 1800s). Climbing the narrow circular staircase, you can reach the top of the tower and enjoy the incredible views all around.

Both the Monastery and the Tower were classified UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1983. During your visit to these sites, take a few moments to stop and have one of the famous Portuguese pastries at Casa Pasteis de Belem, which is located near the monastery.

Castelo de Sao Jorge (the Castle of Saint George) is a Moorish castle occupying a commanding hilltop overlooking the city of Lisbon and the Tagus River. It is believed that the initial fortifications on this hilltop were constructed in the 1st century BC and later rebuilt by Muslim forces during the 10th century. Knights of the 2nd Crusade took control of the castle and the city from the Moors in the year 1147. Some of the best views of Lisboa and the Tagus River can be seen from the edges of the castle.

Igreja is the Portuguese word for church. There’s a number of them to visit; but, don’t miss these three. The architecture and the paintings inside are exquisite.

  • Lisboa Cathedral (officially known as The Cathedral of St. Mary Major) is the oldest church in Lisboa with construction starting in the year 1147 after Portuguese soldiers and crusaders of the Second Crusade took control of Lisboa from the Moors. Take the 28E streetcar to the Cathedral’s location in the Alfama district.

  • The Estrela Basilica was constructed in 1790. It is the first church in the world dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Take the 28E to its end opposite the Lisboa Cathedral.

  • Igreja de Sao Roque, the earliest Jesuit church in the Portuguese world was built in the 16th century. It was one of the few buildings in Lisboa to survive the earthquake in 1755. With a rather non-descript outside, you will open the doors to its beauty inside. Located at the Largo Trindade Coelho in the Bairro Alto (exit the metro at the Baixa-Chiado station).

Lisboa is a very hilly city. With such landscaping usually come some incredible views. Lisboa does not disappoint. When you’re there, check out these vantage points.

  • The view from Castelo Sao Jorge. Your ticket into one of Lisboa’s main sites also gets you some of the best views of the entire city including the Tagus River.

  • In the Alfama district, just above the Lisboa Cathedral, take the number 28E cable car to Lg. Portas Sol. While sipping on a coffee or a beverage of your choice, kick back, relax and enjoy the incredible view.

  • In the Bairro Alto district, make your way again on the number 28E and get off at Calhariz (Bica) then proceed to Rua Marechal Saldanha and go to end (about 500 meters). Sip on a beverage of your choice at the kiosk located there.

Or relax in one of these beautiful parks –

  • Parque Das Nacoes - Contrasting with the city's oldest neighborhoods is this 21st-century district showcasing striking contemporary architecture with Europe's longest bridge as the backdrop. It includes a state-of-the-art aquarium, a casino, and a wonderful waterfront promenade. Take the metro to the Oriente Station, go through the Vasco da Gama Mall until reaching the waterfront area.

  • With the incredibly tall Marques de Pombal statue at its doorway, the Parque Eduardo VII is huge, has an excellent view of Lisboa with the Tagus River in the background and is located in the middle of the city. It can be reached via the metro exiting at Marques de Pombal. Stroll through the park and you might find a book fair going on as I did the other day.

  • Or just relax along the Tagus River anywhere from the Praca do Comercio to the Cais do Sodre. There are short walls on which you can sit or just relax on one of several grassy areas along this stretch

Looking for something fun to do, check out these things –

  • The Lisbon Oceanarium (Oceanario de Lisboa), near the Oriente metro and train stations at the Parque Das Nocoes, has two exhibits to view. The permanent exhibit has different tanks each representing one of the oceans of the world; however, coming together in the center indicating they are really one global ocean. The temporary exhibit is “Sea Turtles – The Journey”.

  • Take a ride high above the edge of the Tagus River in a skyway ride - also located at the Parque Das Nocoes (Oriente metro station)

  • The Jardim Zoologico is the Lisbon Zoo and was founded in 1884.

Want something a little more towards the arts? Lisboa’s got plenty to keep you interested.

Fado – it’s called the soul music of Portugal. There are plenty of restaurants throughout town to enjoy this Portuguese favorite (see below for a few of the most popular ones) or enjoy a one hour concert at Fado in Chiado. Most restaurants include the price of the Fado in their menu prices.

  • Café Luso (Bairro Alto)

  • Sr. Vinho at Rua do Meio a Lapa n. 18

  • Clube de Fado (Alfama)

Museums – Lisboa’s got plenty to keep you busy. With the Lisboa Card, you can get free or reduced admission to the museums noted below. See GoLisbon for more information on these fascinating museums.

  • Calouste Gulbenkian Museum - Treasures from the East and the West. It houses a magnificent collection of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Islamic, Asian, and European art.

  • Berardo Museum - One of the world's most acclaimed modern art collections, with works by Warhol, Picasso, Dali, Duchamp, Magritte, Miró, Bacon, Jackson Pollock, Jeff Koons, among others representing dozens of modern movements.

  • Coaches Museum - The world's largest collection of magnificent royal coaches. One of Lisboa's most visited sights, the Coaches Museum (Museu Nacional dos Coches) has the largest and most valuable collection of its type in the world.

  • Maritime Museum - The story of Portugal's pioneering role in world exploration. The interesting Maritime Museum is one of the most important in Europe, evoking Portugal's domination of the seas. Its colossal 17,000 items are installed in the west wing of Jeronimos Monastery, and include model ships from the Age of Discovery onward.

  • Chiado Museum - Portuguese contemporary art. This museum specializes in 19th and 20th century Portuguese contemporary art. The permanent collection is displayed in thematic exhibitions, with paintings and sculpture illustrating the development from Romanticism to Modernism. Most of the works are Portuguese, with a few international pieces including French sculpture from the late 19th century and some works by Rodin.

Check out the all-everything Lisboa Card, which provides discounts (many times free) access to a number of monuments, museums and even transportation. See ask me Lisboa for more information.

Tourist information about Lisboa can be found at visit Lisboa and when in the city, look for any of the “ask me Lisboa” tourist kiosks located at various locations throughout the city.

Arco da Rua Augusta on the Praca do Comercio

As Sunday evening approaches, the streets are quiet

Enjoy and don’t forget to plan enough time!

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