Lisbon is a city of contrasts. A Cidade das Sete Colinas (the City of the Seven Hills) lies by the Rio Tejo (Tagus River) and is bustling with life (and traffic!) whilst keeping a relaxed and laid back attitude.
Portugal’s capital is full of history and tradition alongside more funky and modern trends. You can travel several centuries in time by walking through the narrow and steep lanes of Alfama and then find some of Europe’s most amazing modern architecture at the Parque das Nações, formerly the grounds for the millennium’s last exhibition, Expo 98.
The best way to visit Lisbon is on foot or by using public transport as driving is a nightmare and parking almost impossible to find. But no doubt the best way to enjoy the atmosphere of this city is to mix in with the locals. The steep hills can take anyone’s breath away, especially in hotter days, but there is a system of elevadores (funiculars) or trams that take you through some of the most scenic routes.
As with any capital city there is too much to see and do and it would take a whole guide book to list all the attractions and activities.
We recommend that you allow yourself at least two days to visit Lisbon, one where you mainly stay in the downtown area and another one where you go to the east end of town and visit the Parque das Nações and the Oceanário, the biggest in Europe.
One of the easiest ways to get into Lisbon is to drive to the Belém area where you can leave your car and visit the modern cultural centre, the Planetarium or the Jerónimo’s Monastery, a Manueline masterpiece.
From here you can take tram no.15 which takes you to the centre of Lisbon’s downtown. After that it’s all upwards as the hills spread around you. You can visit Bairro Alto, Chiado or Alfama and the São Jorge castle. After stopping for a good meal in one of Bairro Alto’s cosy bohemian restaurants, you’ll be ready to go further into the centre of Lisbon, try some Port at the Port Institute and maybe pay a visit to the Chinese Pavillion, an eclectic and enchanting café/bar only open from 6.30pm and into the late night.
Another way to get to Lisbon is by driving to Sintra and taking the train into Rossio station, a journey that should take you about 45 minutes and brings you to the centre of downtown Lisbon. Train is possibly the best way to get to Parque das Nações as well, since the Oriente station is just by the entrance to the area, through a modern shopping centre.
Trains in Portugal are reliable and always on time so make sure you allow yourself plenty of time to get to the station and purchase your inexpensive tickets.