Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, is one of Europe’s most beautiful and cosmopolitan cities. Set over a series of hills near the mouth of the River Tagus, it’s a place inextricably linked with the sea. Intrepid navigators embarked from here in the 15th and 16th centuries to sail unknown waters and chart new lands, and the legacy of this golden Age of Discovery underpins much of the city’s culture and heritage.
Lisbon is a colorful and vibrant destination. Renowned for its warm and sunny disposition, the city is blessed with a wealth of historic monuments, world-class museums, and a host of other fabulous visitor attractions. You can explore the narrow streets of the old quarter, stroll the riverbank promenade, or wander through verdant parks and gardens. In fact, enjoy Lisbon like the locals do, at an easy and unhurried pace, and you’ll quickly fall for its welcoming character and beguiling charm.
Its commanding position crowning a hill and overlooking Lisbon’s bustling Baixa (downtown) district defines Castelo de São Jorge as the city’s most visible historic monument. Hugely popular with locals and tourists alike, the foundations of this impressive castle date from the late 12th century when King Afonso Henriques recaptured the city from the Moors and built a palace over the ruins of their hilltop citadel. In 1511 the royal residence was extended and reinforced with sturdy battlements. The great earthquake of 1755 leveled much of the structure, and what remains today is largely the result of substantial renovation.
Exploring the castle is great fun. Visitors can walk the ramparts and the castellated towers, one of which, Torre de Ulisses, has a camera obscura that projects views of the city onto the inside walls. The walls enclose an archaeological site with the remains of the original Alcáçova palaceand ancient Moorish foundations. The observation terrace near the entrance affords the most spectacular views across Lisbon and the river.
A highlight of any Lisbon sightseeing tour, the 16th-century Jerónimos monastery is one of the great landmarks of Portugal, a stunning monument of immense historic and cultural significance deserving of its UNESCO World Heritage Site accolade. Near the riverfront in Lisbon’s attractive Belém neighborhood, the monastery, also known as the Hieronymite convent, was commissioned by King Manuel I in 1501. Built to honor Vasco da Gama’s epic 1498 voyage toIndia, Jerónimos is as much a symbol of the wealth of the Age of Discovery as it is a house of worship (construction was mostly funded by trade in the spices brought back by da Gama). Star features include the fantastically elaborate south portal and the beautiful and serene Manueline cloister. Vasco da Gama’s tomb lies just inside the entrance to Santa Maria church.
The Lisbon Oceanarium is one of Europe’s finest aquariums, and one of the largest in the world. It’s also arguably the most family-orientated of all the city’s visitor attractions. Designed by Peter Chermayeff and built for the Expo 98 World Exposition in an area now known as Parque das Nações, the oceanarium is home to a mind-boggling array of fish and marine animals, including dozens of different species of birds. The ingenious layout represents four separate sea- and landscapes, effectively the habitats of the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Antarctic oceans. These surround an enormous central tank teeming with fish of all shapes and sizes including graceful rays, bulbous sunfish and sleek sharks – kids’ favorite denizen of the deep. The wraparound plexiglass allows a fantastic close-up view of this magical undersea world, but you should also seek out less obvious, but no less extraordinary species housed in smaller aquaria such as the exquisitely delicate sea dragon and the comic clownfish.
The different ecosystems are a delight to explore. The Antarctic habitat, for example, showcases playful penguins, while a pair of spirited sea otters steals the show in the Pacific tank. The Oceanário de Lisboa actively promotes conservation of the world’s oceans, and besides its envious reputation as one of Portugal’s most popular tourist attractions, has garnered global praise for its marine environmental awareness campaigns. But most of all, it’s seriously good fun.
Address: Esplanada D. Carlos I, Doca dos Olivais, Parque das Nações, Lisbon
A sparkling gem in Lisbon’s cultural crown, the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian is also one of the most celebrated museums in Europe. The facility, sited in a lush, verdant park in the north of the city, is named after Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian, an Armenian oil magnate born in 1869 who bequeathed his vast private art collection to Portugal shortly before his death in 1955. Following the terms of this endowment a foundation was created, the centerpiece of which is this purpose-built arts complex.
Gulbenkian’s astonishing hoard features priceless artworks from around the world, which span 4000 years, from ancient Egyptian times to the late 20th century. With so many pieces from so many different periods in history to absorb, you can easily spend half a day browsing the exhibition galleries, but your patience will be rewarded with a mesmerizing journey through one of the finest collections of art on the continent. Outstanding highlights in the Classical and Oriental Art galleries include 11 Roman medallions, part of a hoard unearthed in Abu Qir, inEgypt, struck to commemorate the Olympic games held in Macedonia in AD 242. The 17th-century Persian and Turkish carpets on display are some of the best preserved in the world and clear evidence of Gulbenkian’s keen interest in Islamic art.
Move through to the European Art (14th-17th centuries) and among the Rembrandts, Van Dycks, and other masters is Portrait of Hélène Fourment (c.1630) by Rubens – Gulbenkian’s favorite painting. Amazingly, the rare clocks and timepieces displayed in the French 18th-century Decorative Arts hall are all in perfect working order: arrive on the hour and hear them chime. While here, cast your eyes over the armchair that once belonged to Marie Antoinette. More painting and sculpture from the 18th and 19th centuries, where Turner’s vivid and dramatic The Wreck of a Transport Ship (1810) holds the eye, can be admired as you move through the building. One room is dedicated to Francesco Guardi and his studies of Venice. Look out, too, for Houdan’s graceful Diana, sculpted in 1780. The tour of the museum ends with the fantastic collection of jewelry and glassware crafted by French Art Nouveau jeweler, René Lalique (1860-1945). None of the brooches and necklaces were ever used, except for the startling and flamboyant Dragonfly woman corsage ornament, worn once onstage by actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844- 1923).
Address: Avenida de Berna 45A, Lisbon
The National Museum of Ancient Art is one of Lisbon’s great cultural attractions, and a “must see” on any tourist itinerary. This is Portugal’s national gallery and houses the largest collection of Portuguese 15th- and 16th-century paintings in the country. An equally impressive display of European, Oriental, and African art adds to the allure. The museum is set west of the city center within a 17th-century palace, itself built over the remains of the Saint Albert Carmelite monastery, which was virtually destroyed in the 1755 earthquake. Fortunately, the chapel survived and is integrated into the building.
Set over three levels, the extensive permanent collection requires a good two hours of your time. Begin by exploring the aforementioned St. Albert Chapel on Level 1 and then meander through rooms exhibiting Portuguese applied art – furniture, tapestries, and textiles, among other objects, many reflecting the influences of Portugal’s colonial explorations. (Look out for the exquisite 17th-century casket from India crafted in silver-gilt.)
Indeed, Level 1 houses some truly remarkable works. Notable pieces here include Hans Holbein the Elder’s Virgin and Child with Saints (1519) and the beautiful 1521 portrait of St. Jerome by Albrecht Dürer. The astonishing fantasy that is The Temptations of St. Anthony (c.1500) by Hieronymus Bosch is a highlight. Jewelry, ceramics, gold, silverware, and art from the Portuguese Discoveries all hold the gaze on Level 2, but make a point of studying the fascinating 16th-century Japanese Namban screens that illustrate the Portuguese trading in Japan.
Level 3 is devoted to Portuguese painting and sculpture. The “don’t miss” treasure is the altarpiece that portrays the Panels of Saint Vincent, painted in 1470-80 by Nuno Gonçalves, the official artist for King D. Afonso V.
The gardens at the rear of the museum deserve a mention. Fine views of the river can be enjoyed from the terrace, and there’s a café where you can relax and contemplate the visual feast just encountered.
Address: Rua das Janelas Verdes, Lisbon
Dominating the Belém waterfront is the angular Monument to the Discoveries, an enormous monolith that leans over the River Tagus to resemble the prow of a caravel, the type of ship commanded by the Portuguese navigators in the 15th century to chart unexplored oceans and discover new lands.
The design is deliberate. This landmark structure was built in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator. It pays suitable tribute to all those actively involved in the development of the golden Age of Discovery by way of an amazing frieze of statues set along both sides of the monument of the most prominent personalities, figures like Vasco da Gama, Fernão de Magalhães, and Pedro Álves Cabral. Henry himself stands at the fore, caravel in hand. After admiring those immortalized in stone, you can jump in an elevator and be whisked to the top of the monument for a seagull-eye’s view of the riverfront and the surrounding vicinity. Sunk into the esplanade below is a huge pavement compass, a giant mosaic map of the world that charts the locations and dates each new land was discovered. It’s one of Lisbon’s more unusual photo opportunities.
Address: Avenida da Brasília, Belém, Lisbon
Lisbon’s huge riverfront square, Praça do Comércio, is impressive enough seen from the ground, but it’s only when viewed from the Arco da Rua Augusta that its vast dimensions can really be appreciated. The landmark 19th-century arch lies at the northern edge of the concourse near the southern tip of Rua Augusta, the city’s main pedestrianized thoroughfare. Designed by Portuguese architect Santos de Carvalho and built to mark the reconstruction of the capital after the 1755 earthquake, the monument was inaugurated in 1873. It’s only recently that the public has been allowed to visit the top of the arch, where a terrace is surmounted by an allegorical statue of Glory, itself crowning figures representing Bravery and Genius and decorated with wreaths. Below this, an entablature supports additional statues of national heroes including Vasco da Gama and the Marquês de Pombal.
An elevator deposits visitors near the top, after which a steep spiral staircase needs to be navigated in order to reach the terrace. From here, the view south is majestic and stretches away across the square and over the river. Turn north, and the vista takes in Rua Augusta and Lisbon’s entire Baixa (downtown) district. A mechanical clock on the platform made in 1941 strikes the hour and half hour. The clock’s mechanism, based inside the arch, can be admired in all its intricate detail as can an illustrated panel outlining the arch’s own historic timeline.
Address: Rua Augusta, Lisbon
On Praça do Comércio, this is the first place you should head for if you’re new to Lisbon; there’s no better introduction to the history of the Portuguese capital than this marvelous interactive cultural center. The family-friendly facility consists of six zones arranged chronologically and each dedicated to a particular period, or chapter, in the city’s history. Clever use of multimedia applications brings each zone to life with some areas resembling film sets. Narration and dialogue heighten the sense of realism. Models, paintings, and photos all help to build up a picture of bygone Lisbon, but it’s the 4D film depicting the 1755 earthquake that really brings history crashing into your experience. The room shakes and trembles as the disaster unfolds, and the whole episode is frighteningly realistic. Equally impressive for the way key moments are brought to life is the hologram of the Marquês de Pombal (1699-1782) surrounded by the city fathers poring over plans for reconstruction shortly after the catastrophe.
Address: Terreiro do Paço 78-81, Lisbon
One of Portugal’s best-loved historic monuments and a Lisbon icon, the Torre de Belém stands as a symbol of the Age of Discovery and the voyages of exploration undertaken in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Completed in 1521 as a fortress to defend the approaches to the River Tagus, the tower is regarded as a masterpiece of military architecture. Designed in the Manueline style by Francisco de Arruda, the façade is a confection of beautifully carved stone, typified by maritime motifs such as twisted rope and the armillary sphere. An impressive Renaissance loggia heightens the decoration. The tower’s cultural significance is such that UNESCO has listed it as a World Heritage Site.
In the city’s Castelo district near the ancient Alfama neighborhood, Lisbon’s fortifiedRomanesque cathedral – the Sé – has undergone several design makeovers since the original structure was consecrated in 1150. A series of earthquakes culminating in the devastating 1755 tremor completely destroyed that which stood in the 12th century. What you see today is a blend of architectural styles, the standout features being the twin castellated bell towers that embellish the downtown skyline – particularly evocative late afternoon when a setting sun burnishes the brickwork with a golden veneer.
Inside, a resplendent rose window helps illuminate a rather gloomy interior, and you’re likely to head straight for the treasury where the cathedral’s most valuable artifacts are on display, items that include silverware made up of chalices and reliquaries, intricately embroidered vestments, statuary, and a number of rare illustrated manuscripts. It’s also worth lingering in the Gothic cloister, not so much for its series of chapels (including one that retains its 13th-century wrought-iron gate), but for the fact that on-site excavations have revealed the foundations of Roman and Moorish dwellings (the cathedral was built over the ruins of a mosque) and the archaeological dig is a worthwhile visitor attraction in its own right.
Fatima is a town and Parish located 142 km (88 miles) North of Lisbon. Fatima is one of the most important catholic shrines in the world dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Fatima’s Sanctuary welcomes millions of pilgrims and tourists from all over the world. Fatima’s fame is due to the Apparitions of Our Lady of the Rosary that appeared to three shepherd children; Lucia dos Santos and her two younger cousins, Francisco and Jacinta. Between May and October of 1917, the three children witnessed several apparitions. The last one, on October 13th, was confirmed by a miracle witnessed by 60,000 people known in the catholic world as “the day the sun danced”.
Fatima now attracts thousands of pilgrims from all over the world, particularly on the pilgrimage days in May and October. The large torch-light processions in the evening are particularly impressive, often lead by Cardinals and Bishops. The pilgrims gather in Cova de Iria an enormous plaza where a little chapel was built and where the Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared to the children. Around the plaza are a considerable number of shops and stalls selling various religious articles. On the far side of the plaza rises the great basilica, built in the in neo-classical style, with a central tower 65 meters high, the construction of which was begun on 13 of May 1928. It is flanked by colonnades linking it with the extensive convent and hospital buildings. In the basilica are the tombs of two of the three visionaries, siblings Francisco and Jacinta Marto, who died in 1919 and 1920 respectively, and were beatified in 1970. The third seer, Lucia dos Santos, died in 2005.
If you go to Sintra, you cannot afford to miss paying a visit to the westernmost point on the European mainland, the headland of Cabo da Roca.
Situated at a latitude of 38º 47´ North and a longitude of 9º 30´ West, Cabo da Roca is an important coordinate for anybody sailing along the coast, since it is the westernmost point on the European mainland, as attested by the certificate that visitors to this point can take home with them as a souvenir.
Roughly 150 metres from the sea, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the Serra de Sintra and out to sea over the coastline, all of which makes your trip here well worth the visit.
Historical records point to the existence in the 16th century of a fort at Cabo da Roca which played an important role in guarding the approach to Lisbon, forming a defensive line along the coast, especially during the Peninsular War. All that is left of this fort nowadays are some remains, together with the lighthouse that still serves as an important warning beacon for shipping in this area.
The headland is part of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park and is one of the main features of interest for those enjoying a walk along the coastline.
The Archipelago of the Azores is composed of 9 volcanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean, located about 1,500 km (930 miles) west of Lisbon. Renowned for world-class whale watching, hot mineral springs, and quaint seaside towns, each island has its own fascinating identity. São Miguel is the largest island of the Azores and is known as “The Green Island” while Pico is home to the highest mountain in Portugal.
World famous for its production of fine port wine, the busy city of Porto sprawls along the hills overlooking the Douro River in northern Portugal. At the heart of Porto is the charming pedestrian zone, the Ribeira, an atmospheric place on the river, buzzing in live music, cafes, restaurants and street vendors. Dominating this popular tourist setting is the Ponte Dom Luis, a metal, double-deck arch bridge that links Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia, well-known for its port wine cellars.
Sporting the nickname “Floating Garden of the Atlantic,” Madeira is a fertile oasis in the Atlantic Ocean between Portugal and North Africa, popular for its lush green landscapes, flower gardens and wines. The capital and largest city on Madeira is Funchal, home to historic churches, fortresses, tourist resorts and restaurants as well as the tree-lined Lido Promenade, which presents spectacular ocean views.
Nestled in the foothills of the Sintra Mountains on the Lisbon Coast, just a day trip away from Portugal’s capital city,Sintra presents a spectacular setting of verdant hills, sprinkled with pretty villas, royal retreats, castles and palaces such as the famous Pena’s Palace, a fantastical castle reminiscent of Germany’s Neuschwanstein.
Sunny Mediterranean climate, gorgeous beaches, picturesque towns, historic sites, fabulous cuisine and affordable costs are just some of the reasons that make the Algarve one of the best places to visit in Portugal. Located in the country’s southernmost region, the Algarve offers a feast for the eyes, from tranquil landscapes of olive groves, traditional whitewashed villages to the wild, windswept coast with its dramatic cliffs dotted with summer resorts.