One of Europe’s most beautiful and cosmopolitan cities is the capital of Portugal, Lisbon. It’s set over a series of hills near the mouth of the River Tagus and is as colorful as it is vibrant. Its best known for its warm and sunny disposition, its abundance of historic monuments, world-class museums and some truly unique and captivating attractions. Whatever you decide to do here, make sure you soak up Lisbon as the locals do, at a slow and steady pace!
Top Attractions in Lisbon
Castelo de São Jorge
Out of all of Lisbon’s attractions, Castelo de São Jorge is the most popular. St. George’s Castle with its glorious position near Alfama atop a hill overlooks the Portuguese capital. With its impressive battlements, museums and a captivating archeological site, the castle is an attraction you cannot miss out on. The observation terraces rewards visitors with some of the best views over the city, the River Tagus and in the distance, the Atlantic Ocean.
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos
The 16th century Jerónimos monastery is one of Portugal’s greatest landmarks. The monument is immensely significant in both cultural and historical aspects as is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The monastery is located near the riverfront of the Belém neighborhood, and was built on 1501 in honor of Vasco da Gama’s 1498 voyage to India, and as such, symbolizes Portugal’s Age of Discovery. The elaborate south portal and the beautiful Manueline Cloister are among its star sights.
Oceanário de Lisboa
The Lisbon Oceanarium is one of the largest in the world, making it one of Europe’s best. It’s one of Lisbon’s most family-oriented attractions and can be found in Parque das Nações. Housing an amazing array of fish and marine animals including dozens of different bird species, the oceanarium has 4 distinct “habitat” zones, effectively the habitats of the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Antarctic oceans.
Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga
Lisbon’s National Museum of Ancient Art is a must see on any itinerary. Its Portugal’s National Gallery and houses the largest collection of Portuguese 15th- and 16th-century paintings in the country. You’ll need to set aside a good 2 hours of your time for seeing the collections. Make sure you see St. Albert Chapel on Level 1 with notable pieces like Hans Holbein the Elder's Virgin and Child with Saints and the beautiful 1521 portrait of St. Jerome by Albrecht Dürer. On level 2 of the museum you’ll see items like jewelry, ceramics, gold, silverware and art from the Portuguese Discoveries. Level 3 is devoted to Portuguese painting and sculpture with the altarpiece that portrays the Panels of Saint Vincent, painted in 1470-80 by Nuno Gonçalves, the official artist for King D. Afonso V.
Elevador de Santa Justa
Looming over downtown Lisbon is the odd-looking Santa Justa Lift, a neo-Gothic elevator which is by far the city’s most eccentric public transport system. The apprentice of Gustav Eiffel (the man who designed the French Eiffel Tower) was the mastermind behind the wrought-iron construction that was inaugurated in 1901. Tourists find it fascinating to embark on the 32 meter jaunt to the top, traveling in wood-paneled cabins with original polished brass instruments. From the platform above you can walk across a bridge into Bairro Alto or climb up to the upper terrace. The views from up here are simply breathtaking.
Torre de Belém
As the most emblematic of all Lisbon’s historical monuments the Belém Tower lays near the mouth of the River Tagus as a symbol of Portugal’s Age of Discovery. The monument is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and comprises of various levels, the most interesting feature being the second-floor King's Chamber.
Lisbon’s Castelo district is home to the fortified Romanesque cathedral - the Sé that dates back as far as 1150. What’s still visible today is a blend of architectural styles given the any rebuilds and makeovers the building has undergone. On the exterior, the twin bell towers are the most iconic sights and inside a striking rose window illuminate the interior. The Treasury and the Gothic Cloister are well worth seeing if you’re a history buff or sorts. There’s also an archeological dig nearby that might spark your interest.
Arco da Rua Augusta
The Arco da Rua Augusta is one of the best places to see Lisbon’s huge riverfront square, Praça do Comércio, in all its glory. The arch of Arco da Rua Augusta lies at northern edge of the concourse near the southern tip of of Rua Augusta, the city's main pedestrianized thoroughfare.
Igreja do Carmo
Among the most evocative of all Lisbon’s historical sites, the skeletal ruins of the Carmo church stand out. It’s one of the city’s oldest churches and dates back to 1389. The church was destroyed during a massive earthquake in 1755 and never rebuilt, but visitors can still stroll through the open nave and see the surviving arches that bow upwards into the sky. Look out for the Museu Arqueológico do Carmo where exhibits include a Visigoth pillar and a Roman tomb. Nearby you’ll also find the Largo do Carmo in Chiado that is best known for its Chafariz do Carmo fountain.