With its medieval landmarks, red-roofed skyline, riverside promenade, and surreal vistas, Portugal’s hilly capital city is a destination for the ages. In case you need of some travel inspiration before your trip, here are eight ideas for exploring Lisbon:
If you’re in Lisbon on a Tuesday or Saturday, make your way to the Feira da Ladra, or “Thieves’ Market.” This flea market in the Alfama district is one of the oldest of its kind in the city. Its name derives from the oftentimes dubious origins of the items it sold. Today its wares include antiques and second-hand goods such as books, ceramics, coins, and trinkets. The items can be pretty hit-or-miss, so it’s wise to show up early (the market opens at 8am) for the best bargains. Oh, and be prepare to haggle.
Built in 1640 for the First Marquis of Fronteira, this exquisite palace in Benfica is a wonderland of formal baroque gardens and ornate tile masterpieces. After the National Tile Museum, Fronteira is the most stunning example of Portuguese tile art in the country. (The Battle Room, which depicts scenes from the Portuguese Restoration War, is considered the “Sistine Chapel of Tilework.”) Though interior visits are by guided tour only, you’re free to wander the 13-acre gardens on your own. Established in 1670, the fairytale grounds feature decorative hedges, geometric flower beds, exotic trees, fountains, a tiled grotto, and a collection of medieval statues.
Lisbon is a city of spectacular views. Its miradouros, or lookout points, are the perfect way to gain some above-the-fray perspective. The Miradouro da Nossa Senhora do Monte is the highest of its kind in the city. It overlooks the Castelo de São Jorge, central Lisbon, and the Tagus River estuary. Its position at the top of the steep Rua da Senhora do Monte in the Graça neighborhood means that you’re likely to have the place to yourself (for the most part). We suggest heading there in the morning or early evening for the best light and fewest fellow sightseers.
Flaunting a magnificent mix of rococo, baroque, and neoclassical architecture, this historic basilica is one of Lisbon’s best-kept secrets. Construction began in 1761 in honor of Queen Mary I’s newborn son, José. (José tragically died from small pox two years before the completion of the structure in 1790.) The basilica’s striking white limestone façade features a soaring dome and two bell towers. Inside, you’ll find black and pink Portuguese marble and a carved cork nativity scene comprising 500 intricate figures. After your visit, head across the street to relax in the picturesque Jardim da Estrela.
What was once the riding arena of Belém Palace now houses the largest and most valuable collection of royal coaches and horse-drawn carriages in the world. Opened in 1905, this small-but-mighty museum chronicles the history of carriages from the 16th through 19th centuries. Particularly noteworthy coaches include those once belonging to Spain’s Philip II and Italy’s Pope Clement XI.
Bike Riding in Cascais
If you’re looking to explore a bit outside of the city, you can’t go wrong with a bike excursion in Cascais. This coastal city is less than an hour west of Lisbon, and trains depart from the capital every 10 to 20 minutes. Cascais offers free bike rentals (BiCas) between 8am and 8pm at locations across the city. We recommend the six-mile coastal trail to Guincho Beach.
This flourishing botanical garden (translated to “Cold Greenhouse”), got its start in the early 19th century at the site of a former basalt quarry. A local gardener began using the space as a temporary home for his collection of species from around the world. His eventual goal was to transfer them to the Avenida da Liberdade. The start of World War I dampened these plans, and the plants remained where they were. When it became clear that the species were thriving, the city formally inaugurated the greenhouse in 1933. In 1975, the city added the Estufa Quente (Hot Greenhouse) and Estufa Doce (Sweet Greenhouse). Visitors to these three greenhouses in Parque Eduardo VII can explore such species as Tasmanian ferns, coffee plants, mango and banana trees, and a whole host of succulents.
Águas Livres Aqueduct
Built to supply clean drinking water to Lisbon, this baroque structure opened in 1748 and spans more than 36 miles. It is the largest public works project ever undertaken in Portugal, and it remained in operation until 1967 when it was deactivated by the Lisbon Water Company. Climb 213 feet to the top for outstanding views of the Alcântara Valley, Monsanto Forest Park, and Lisbon’s 25 de Abril Bridge.
Ready for your adventure to Lisbon? Here are some great new packages to help you get started: