Why visit Lisbon? As a historic, vibrant city with so much to see, it’s the perfect destination for a European weekend break. Here’s everything you need to know about a weekend in the capital of Portugal…
Famous for its narrow, cobblestone streets, colourfully-tiled buildings and haunting Fado music, Lisbon is jam-packed with history and tradition. But it’s not all historic fortresses and cathedrals – the Portuguese capital boasts modern art spaces, tech start-ups and edgy music scenes too.
I almost moved there once. Kinda wish I had TBH. It’s such a cool city with so much to do and see, and really easy to get to from the UK too.
The blend of old and new gives the city a unique feel, and is one of the main reasons why everyone should visit Lisbon at least once in their lives. Need more convincing? Read on for travel tips on one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.
Why visit Lisbon?
Here’s what makes the Portuguese capital a top destination.
1. Weather in Lisbon
Because it’s blessed with a Mediterranean climate, Lisbon enjoys pleasant weather almost year-round. Winters are fairly mild, with temperatures rarely dipping below 10°C, while summers are warm with temperatures ranging between 25 to 30°C. It gets plenty of sunshine, which certainly adds to the city’s charm.
2. Great travel links
Another reason why Lisbon is such a great destination is that it’s easy to get to. Humberto Delgado Airport has flight connections all over world and is just a few kilometres outside the city. Once you’ve landed, the metro system is a speedy way to get around; trams, funiculars and the historic Santa Justa Lift offer more scenic transport routes above ground.
We actually took a taxi, which cost around €25 if I remember correctly, and made things very easy.
3. Lisbon’s rich history
Founded by the seafaring Phonecians around 1200 BC, Lisbon is thought to be one of the oldest cities in the world. As you’d expect, it’s seen its fair share of drama down the years; it was a significant outpost of the Roman Empire before being conquered by the Moors in the eighth century.
Then, in the 12th century, it was recaptured by the Christian Crusaders, which set the stage for Lisbon’s golden age – known as the ‘Age of Discoveries’.
The city suffered a massive earthquake in 1755, which killed more than a third of its population. Many of its historic buildings survived though, allowing visitors a glimpse into its varied past.
4. Stunning architecture
Walking around Lisbon often feels like you’ve stepped into an architectural art gallery. Some of the most striking buildings include the Belém Tower and Jerónimos Monastery, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites found in the historic Belem district of the city. Lisbon is one of the most beautiful places in Portugal.
You’ll also want to check out the pastel-coloured Pombaline buildings of Baixa district, and you can’t miss the city’s iconic azulejo tiles, which decorate everything from churches to metro stations.
5. Amazing views
If you plan on doing lots of walking when you visit Lisbon, you’ll find that every day is leg day – it’s a hilly city!
You’ll be rewarded with some outstanding views for your efforts though, with notable lookout points including Miradouro da Senhora do Monte, the city’s highest spot, or Miradouro da Graça, which offers breathtaking views of the castle and the Tagus River.
For a more relaxed approach to taking in the cityscape, ride up the Santa Justa Lift to get an Instagram-worthy view of Lisbon’s historic district, including Rossio Square and the Carmo Convent ruins.
6. Diverse neighbourhoods
One of the coolest things about Lisbon, and one of the answers to the question of why visit Lisbon, is the distinctive character of its neighbourhoods.
Stroll through the steep streets of Alfama, the city’s oldest district with narrow alleys and Fado bars. Explore trendy Bairro Alto, known for its vibrant nightlife, or the sophisticated Chiado, with its boutiques and cafes. Parque das Nações is at the more modern end of the spectrum, boasting contemporary architecture and a swanky waterfront.
I loved just wandering around when I visited Lisbon.
7. Gateway to Portugal
If you’re planning to explore more of what Portugal has to offer, Lisbon is a great starting point. For an easy day trip, check out the romantic palaces of Sintra, the sunny beaches of Cascais, or the vineyards of the Douro Valley.
What is Lisbon famous for?
Here are just a few of the things that make the capital of Portugal so special…
8. Lisbon food
When you land in Lisbon, you’d better make sure you’ve worked up an appetite because the food is hard to resist. First, there’s the seafood and Bacalhau à Brás – shredded cod with eggs and potatoes – is a dish you just have to try. Carnivores will love the Bifanas, which are succulent meat sandwiches, while those with a sweet tooth should make a beeline for the Pastéis de Nata, Portugal’s famous egg custard tart. The answer to ‘why visit Lisbon?’ could just be ‘for the food’.
9. Fado music
Even if you don’t understand the lyrics, Lisbon’s famous Fado music will almost certainly tug at the heartstrings. Originating in the 1820s, these mournful tunes are all about feeling ‘saudade’ or a sense of longing, and they’re an emblematic part of the city’s cultural identity.
10. Tram 28
Hop on Tram 28 and you’re in for a treat. First operating in the 1930s, this iconic yellow tram is a journey back in time, trundling through Lisbon’s old quarters like Alfama, Baixa, and Graça. It’s the classic image of Lisbon and the best way to navigate the city’s steep, winding streets while catching a glimpse of its key landmarks.
11. The seven hills
As the locals will tell you, Lisbon’s seven hills aren’t just geographical features, they’re the city’s soul. São Jorge, São Roque, São Vicente, Santo André, Santa Catarina, Chagas and Sant’Ana each offers their own view over terracotta rooftops, the historic quarters and the Tagus. Climb them all in a day and you’ll certainly deserve a glass of something celebratory.
Unusual things to do in Lisbon
While the well-trodden paths of Lisbon offer plenty to admire, there are some things you just can’t do anywhere else…
12. Visit Christ the King
This imposing figure is inspired by Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer and stands over 100 metres tall. There’s an observation deck in its base which offers incredible views of the city.
13. Drink ginginha
If you’re in the mood for a tipple, give Lisbon’s traditional cherry liqueur a go. Often served in a chocolate cup, it’s like a pudding and a digestif all in one.
14. Have a drink at a brothel
Lisbon is known for its outstanding nightlife. One of the more unusual places to grab a drink is the Pensão do Amor (which translates as the ‘Love Pension’), a former brothel on the central Cais do Sodré district. Expect raunchy decor, eyebrow-raising artefacts and, importantly, tasty cocktails.
15. Hang out at LXFactory
Lisbon has a seriously trendy side to it, and nowhere encapsulates that better than this converted 19th-century industrial complex in Alcântara. It’s a hive of creativity, hosting an eclectic mix of artists’ studios, independent shops, and hip eateries.
16. Head for some of Europe’s best beaches
You don’t have to travel too far from the Portuguese capital to find some incredible beaches. Hop on a train from the main terminal in Cais do Sodré and explore the sands of Oeiras, Estoril and Cascais.
17. Visit Oceanario de Lisboa
Home to over 8,000 ocean-dwelling creatures, Oceanario de Lisboa is the largest indoor aquarium in Portugal. Besides a wide variety of our underwater cousins, Oceanario de Lisboa is also a sanctuary for an array of birds, mammals and amphibians. It’s also one of the biggest aquariums in Europe – well worth a looksee!
Is Lisbon worth visiting? Short answer: yes
Now that you’ve read this guide, hopefully it’s clear that the question isn’t ‘Is Lisbon worth visiting?’ but rather ‘How soon can you visit Lisbon?’ It’s a city with a rich history, diverse neighbourhoods, and a vibrant culture. And there are plenty of unusual things to do in Lisbon, too. So pack your bags and get ready to fall in love with with the Portuguese capital!