The capital of Portugal since its conquest from the Moors in 1147, Lisbon is a legendary city with over 20 centuries of history. It boasts magnificent palaces, monuments, churches and museums and is blessed with a picturesque natural landscape, bordered by one of Europe's widest rivers, and spreading across the slopes of seven hills and down to the ocean.
Lisbon has the mildest climate in western Europe and is blessed with a cool Atlantic breeze and long hours of sunshine. Culturally diverse and laid-back, it is one of the most enjoyable cities in Europe – and also one of the most economical. Its tree-lined avenues are flanked by art nouveau buildings, mosaic pavements and street cafes, making it a city walker’s paradise. In fact, Lisbon is also an artist’s dream, and from its various vantage points is a picture of low-rise ochre and pastel, punctuated by church towers and domes.
Lisboa International Airport is just 7km from the city centre and there are regular bus transfers between the two. The nearest train station to the airport is Oriente in the Parque das Nações district, a short taxi ride away.
Most of the major European airlines fly to Lisbon as well as an increasing number of low-cost carriers. The national Portuguese airline TAP Portugal connects Lisbon to a number of European cities, as well as to the US (Lisbon is the closest European capital to America), including daily direct flights from New York.
Several national and international trains arrive in Lisbon every day. In addition to Santa Apolónia terminal station, there is the modern Gare do Oriente, adjacent to the Parque das Nações. Both stations have direct bus or underground connections to the city centre. There is an overnight train service from the Spanish capital Madrid, with a journey time of 10 hours.
The Port of Lisbon is the busiest port on the European Atlantic coast. It has three terminals for cruise ships: the Alcântara, Rocha de Conde d’Óbidos and the Santa Apolónia terminals. Taking a car ferry from the UK to northern Spain can be a leisurely (albeit expensive) travel option, though there will still be around 1000km for you to navigate by road to Lisbon.
Lisbon can be enjoyed all-year-round thanks to its consistently mild climate. However, whilst the city avoids extreme weather conditions, it can still get uncomfortably hot in the summer (though it always cools down in the evenings). Winter months remain temperate, although there is still plenty of rain. For uninterrupted calm and warm weather, Spring is perhaps the best time to visit.
Belem, a short train ride or a long walk along the seafront from Lisbon centre, boasts a stunning selection of cultural venues and some of Lisbon's most striking historic monuments. But enough of that. If you visit Belem for one reason and one reason only, it has to be for the legendary, iconic, cemented-in-gastronomic-folklore, Pastais de Natal. Essentially a custard tart, these are something of a Portuguese delicacy, but nowhere makes them like the Cafe Pasteis de Belem, which serves up tens of thousands of them a day. No need for an address – just look out for the queues.
Alfama is the oldest district in Lisbon. Perfect for an afternoon amble, check out the Lisbon Cathedral, the Museum of Decorative Arts, and several observation points that offer wondeful views. This is also the home of fado music, and you will hear it oozing melancholically from quaint little bars all around.
Bairro Alto is Lisbon's cultural and bohemian heart, brimming with alternative fashion stores and graffiti sprayed facades. But whilst the district remains calm and relatively quiet by day, it transforms into a vibrant and jostling party neighbourhood by night.
Inaugurated in 1998 as one of the attractions of the World Exhibition of Lisbon (EXPO'98), the Oceanário de Lisboa is the second-biggest aquarium in the world. The impressive stone-and-glass structure features four aquariums replicating the ecosystems of the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Antarctic oceans.
Baixa is one of the most historically important districts in Lisbon. In the aftermath of a deadly 1755 earthquake, the district emerged from the rubble to become the beating heart of Lisbon, with its stunning neoclassical design and ground-breaking urban planning. Today, defying its turbulent past, it also houses banks and commercial institutions, whilst retaining its elegance and charm.
Sitting atop the highest hill in Lisbon’s historic centre, St. George's Castle (Castelo de Sao Jorge) can be seen from virtually any part of the city. Inside you will find a series of canons, a multimedia exhibit on Lisbon's history, a fountained park, and a pleasant restaurant.
To escape Lisbon city centre, you have various options. Take the train to the vibrant seaside resorts of Cascais and Estorel or visit the UNESCO world heritage town of Sintra, a 30 to 40-minute drive from Lisbon, which boasts castles, palaces and other fine residences dotted across steep hills.