The Lisbon Guide
Like all European cities, Lisbon oozes with history (truly, you can’t turn a corner without running into a castle or a UNESCO World Heritage Site), but it’s also been home to a meaningful renaissance as of late, with flocks of young creatives taking advantage of the city’s inexpensive rent and high livability factor. The result is a celebration of Portugal’s unique culture both in real time, and with respect to the countless monarchies and armies that ruled the city in centuries past, all in a locale that’s a stone’s throw from both seaside resorts and wineries that are considered some of Europe’s best. The city itself is built on a series of hills that are most easily navigated by foot, and though that’s all the better for burning off egg pastries and extra glasses of port, you’ll also want to take advantage of trams (most famously the antique Tram 28) to assist with some of the more onerous steeps. The many elevations of the city also offer constant viewpoints, with photo-worthy vistas of the river from nearly every street and restaurant. Several locals helped us suss out the best spots, including actress Annabelle Wallis, who grew up in the nearby, and enviably adorable, town of Cascais.
Castelo de São JorgeRua de Santa Cruz do Castelo, Alfama | +351.21.880.0620
Set on the city's tallest hill (where its Middle-Age inhabitants could best see incoming threats), São Jorge Castle was originally built by the Moors, before it was captured by the Christians who eventually ruled the city. Despite its dramatic history, today, the castle is one of the city's most relaxing and tranquil places—there are peacocks wandering around the grounds, and gorgeous views of the city from the defensive towers. Leave a little time to explore the camera obscura.
Cinemateca Portuguesa39 Rua Barata Salgueiro, Príncipe Real | +351.21.359.6200
Part film archive, part museum, and part movie theater, Cinemateca Portuguesa is the kind of place where you can wander in and watch an Ernst Lubitsch silent film accompanied by live piano. They screen a variety of classics; and there's a convenient restaurant and quiet patio in the back, too.
Day Trip to Cascais
This picturesque little village is a short drive from Lisbon and has some really great beaches, so it makes for a good day trip if you'd like to spend some time by the ocean sunbathing, surfing, or SUP (a local told us that Nick Evans at Diquesa beach is a great instructor—call him directly at +351.93.325.8114 to arrange a lesson). There's fascinating history in Cascais, too; originally a sleepy fishing village, it became a glitzy getaway for the Portuguese royal family in the late 19th century, and was famously the home of the Spanish King when he was exiled during the Franco regime. Cascais feels very much like a resort today, and accordingly, there are a few incredible hotels: Albatroz, Villa Cascais, and Oitavos all make excellent options if you'd like to make a weekend out of it. Photos: g.sighele
Day Trip to Sintra
The hill town of Sintra stays a little cooler than the city in the summer months, so it's been royal vacation destination for centuries—and has the castles to prove it. The Pena Palace (which has a German vibe, architecturally) gets a lot of attention for its bright pink and yellow exterior and hilltop location, but it's worth going inside, as the interior is equally (if not more) dramatic. It's also worth buying a ticket to the National Palace—style-wise it's a hodgepodge, since it was inhabited by so many different royals over the years, but the intricate tile work on the walls is like nothing else. Sintra is only a forty-minute drive from Lisbon, so it's an easy day trip, but there are more than a few hotels that are worth checking out if you want to spend the night. Lawrence's Hotel is a darling bed and breakfast with incredible views from each room, and Tivoli Palacio is a full-fledged palace that's been renovated into a luxury hotel, complete with a dream-worthy pool deck. Whether you come for the day or make a weekend out of it, we recommend buying the bus pass that takes you around to each castle—it's a hop-on-hop-off shuttle that makes the entire experience incredibly easy. Photos: Daniel GB
Alfama is one of Portugal's oldest districts, and since the hilly area is filled with sets of stairs and narrow alleys, it's best explored by foot (though the 1930's-style tram that makes up the only public transportation here is worth hopping on for fun). The neighborhood's never really been tony, and though hipsters have taken over several restaurants and storefronts, the original community is still very much intact thanks to generous rent control programs. There are several attractions worth exploring while you're here. Start with Castelo de São Jorge, the beautifully restored site of the Christians' 12th-century defeat of the Moors, where there are tons of lookouts with views of the sea and surrounding neighborhoods. Also visit the Church of St. Anthony, the birthplace of its namesake, the patron saint of lovers—newly married couples often leave flowers here in hopes of a happy marriage, and single people try to throw coins into his book for good luck finding a partner. Though it's not a must, it's fun to check out the Fado Museum, which memorializes a specific musical style born in Alfama: a solemn, dramatic singing and guitar style originally sung by the wives of sailors at sea. Photos: Dirk Olberz
Galeria Zé dos Bois59 Rua da Barroca, Bairro Alto | +351.21.343.0205
This teensy room (which opens up onto a lovely outdoor terrace) hosts experimental performance art and musical acts, plus a sprinkling of dance and theatre, both by local musicians and international creatives that the organization brings in. It's an excellent place to get a sense for the local creative scene, and makes an equally nice night-out activity.
GoCar16 Rua dos Douradores, Baixa | +351.21.096.5030
Leaning into being a tourist (or playing tourist in your own city for a day) can be extremely entertaining. Such is the case with GoCar's cool take on the common city tour: a talking, GPS-guided go-cart vehicle that takes you around the big—as well as some lesser known—sights of Lisbon. Following the suggested routes laid out for you is simple, as is making an unplanned pit stop for photos, or veering off to do more of your own thing. Each car fits two people (the driver must be at least twenty-one years old, but kids can ride shotgun); small groups and families can reserve a mini fleet of their own.
Harfang Spirit Sailboat ToursDoca do Espanhol, Alcântara | +3126.96.36.19958
The Portuguese have always been a seafaring people, and the tradition is alive and well at Harfang, a sailing concession owned and operated by Nuno Alexandre, an Olympic-class sailor, and his partner Carol. The duo provides breathtaking cruises along the Atlantic coast in their forty-four-foot Dufour yacht; you can watch dolphins surf the swells from the spacious deck, relax, and enjoy some snacks in one of the yacht's three cabins, or take up a personal sailing lesson.
Jardim da Estrela1200-667 Praça da Estrela, Estrela | +351.21.397.4818
Nestled into a sweet neighborhood on top of a hill and directly across from Estrela Basilica, this low-key park is a great place to take littles or go for a walk. The original design was a formal English garden, so you'll find interesting varietals, a pond, and an ornate green gazebo near the middle. Photo: Andrea Mann
Mosteiro dos JerónimosPraça do Império, Belém | +351. 21.362.0034
Secular since the 1800's, Jerónimos Monastery is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the incredible Manueline-style architecture, all done in limestone over the course of more than one hundred years. It's a required tourist destination because it's so photogenic (sculptures and intricate design elements are carved into every detail), but the grounds are enormous, so particularly if you come by on a weekday, you'll have plenty of moments to yourself. Photos: Paulo Valdivieso, Shadowgate
LX Factory103 Rua Rodrigues de Faria, Alcantara | +351.21.314.3399
This creative mini-neighborhood, where you can wander through restaurants, cafes, shops, and design studios occupies a heavily graffiti-ed industrial site. A hangout and workspace for members of Lisbon's vibrant creative crowd, it's also a nice repose from the more touristic parts of town. The Ler Devagar bookstore, which makes up the central hub of the development, is built around a two-story printing press and features floor-to-ceiling shelves of books.
Miradouro de Sao Pedro de AlcantaraRua São Pedro de Alcântara, Bairro Alto
Of course, Lisbon has no shortage of great views, but this is one of the best: Here, you'll find a panoramic look at the city from a scenic perch with a fountain and gardens. Plus, it's right next to the Elevador da Glória, the city's little yellow tram, which can take you from Bairro Alto to the center of the city.
Museu BerardoPraça do Império, Belém | +351.21.361.2878
Halfway between the Tower of Belém and Jerónimo's Monastery in the heart of the city's Belém District, this museum houses the collection of Lisbon businessman José Manuel Rodrigues Berardo, with a particular emphasis on Portugal's finest contemporary artists. The permanent collection contains the works of Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, and Andy Warhol (which are always on view on the second floor), but they also organize rotating, temporary exhibitions that bring in works outside the collection. There's a lot for kids to enjoy, and admission is free.
Museu Calouste Gulbenkian45A Av. de Berna, Avenidas Novas | +351.21.782.3000
Calouste Gulbenkian was actually a British collector, but he lived a very international life, growing up in Turkey and traveling extensively during his career. In that context, it's not so surprising that his collection is housed in Lisbon, where he spent his final years. One of the largest in Europe, it claims significant holdings of Egyptian and Greco-Roman art, Armenian art, and impressionists like Manet, Degas, and Monet. There's also an impressive contemporary collection, built with funds from Gulbenkian's foundation, which was created with his fortune after his death. Exhibitions switch over frequently, and there's always a great mix of old and new on the walls, so it's entirely worthy of repeat visits.
Museu de Arte, Arquitetura e TecnologiaAv. Brasília, Belém | +351.21.002.8130
Situated right along the riverfront, the Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology (MAAT) is one of the most recent additions to Lisbon's historic Belém District. Designed by the British architect Amanda Levete, the oval-shaped building is strikingly modern, allowing for individuals to walk along the top and take in the views; the new structure sits beside the Tejo Power Station, an older building that exemplifies Portuguese industrial architecture from the beginning of the 20th century and has housed a museum of electricity for many years. The schedule at MAAT is refreshingly eclectic, offering both standard contemporary art exhibitions and hybrid presentations that explore everything from music to performance art to the history (and future) of technology. Suitable for all ages.
Museo Nacional do Azulejo4 Rua Madre Deus , Penha de França | +351.21.810.0340
What Guinness is to Ireland, tiles are to Portugal, so it goes without saying that the National Tile Museum is a must-see: Housed in a 16th century convent, it features a collection of tiles that spans centuries, from the Renaissance through present day.
Museu Nacional dos Coches136 Av. da Índia, Belém | +351.21.073.2319
Locals weren't universally pleased when the long-standing Coach Museum moved from its beloved location in an 18th-century riding arena to a sleek, modern new building across the street last year. Though the new building brought much-needed space for the impressive collection, many worried that the stark surroundings served to sterilize the opulent gilded carriages on display. Despite the (ongoing) debate over the architecture, it's a mistake to skip this unique museum, devoted to transportation before cars. Inside, you'll find incredible carriages, cabriolets, and even some sedan chairs that housed Portuguese royalty dating back to the 1600's. Die-hards can visit the old riding arena across the street, which still houses a small collection.
Museu Nacional de Arte AntigaRua das Janelas Verdes, Lapa | +351.21.391.2800
Opened in 1884, the National Museum of Ancient Art contains the largest collection of public art in Lisbon. Hailing from Portugal and around the world, the artwork varies from sculpture and painting to decorative arts, covering a range of periods from the Middle Ages to present. Leave time to lounge on the outdoor terrace afterwards.
Torre de BelémAv. Brasília, Belém | +351.21.362.0034
This 16th-century tower, one of the city's most iconic landmarks, sits along the Tagus river. While the four-story structure was originally built to defend the capital against invaders, it has also welcomed Portuguese sailors home since the age of the great explorers; now, you can wander through its sparse inner chambers (littles, especially, will have fun exploring) and drink in the stunning Moorish architecture.