Lisbon Sights & Attractions
What to See and Do in Lisbon
Pose for your camera by the storybook Belem Tower and the neighboring Jeronimos Monastery, two World Heritage monuments that stand as reminders of the great Age of Discovery. Cross the road through an underpass and do the same by the city's iconic DISCOVERIES MONUMENT, immortalizing the founders of the global village in stone.
A Portuguese millionaire businessman-turned-art collector needed a big space to place all of his Warhols, Picassos, Dalis, and Lichtensteins. It was provided to him inside the modern Belem Cultural Center (CCB), and a museum was created there with his name in 2007. The Berardo Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art now has one of Europe's most important post-war art collections, and a visit can be followed by a concert or performance at CCB.
And in the city's main pedestrian street, the Design and Fashion Museum presents one of the world's most acclaimed design and fashion collections by the top international designers (Charles & Ray Eames, Russel Wright, and Le Corbusier, together with Dior, Vivienne Westwood, Yves Saint Laurent, and John Galliano among many others).
Before Berardo there was Gulbenkian, an oil magnate who loved sunny Portugal and moved there with his art collection in the early 20th century. His outstanding treasures (including Egyptian and Greek art, fantastic Lalique jewelry, and paintings by Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Rubens, and Renoir) were inherited by the state upon his death, giving birth to a foundation and museum in his honor. The Gulbenkian Museum now holds one of the world's finest private art collections, and includes a separate building dedicated to modern art.
In between the two buildings are pleasant sculpture-filled gardens.
The Ancient Art Museum also holds a splendid collection, including works by Raphael, Dürer, and Hieronymus Bosch's "Temptation of Saint Anthony". Other highlights are the "Adoration of St. Vincent" (showing Prince Henry the Navigator and other historical figures), fascinating Japanese screens depicting the Portuguese arriving in Japan and the Japanese's first encounter with Europeans, and priceless gems brought back by Vasco da Gama. Take a break at the lovely garden and cafeteria.
In the late 1990's American architect Peter Chermeyeff designed a building rising from the water that opened in time for Lisbon's ocean-themed World Fair, Expo98. It is the Oceanarium, one of the world's largest aquariums, featuring high-tech displays. Inside the state-of-the-art tank, 25,000 creatures ranging from sharks to seahorses swim in harmony. It incorporates world ocean habitats in one place, allowing visitors to dive deep into the sea and discover the underwater world.
Once back outside, walk towards the river and climb into a cable car for views over VASCO DA GAMA BRIDGE, which is Europe's largest. Be sure to also take a look at ORIENTE STATION nearby, a stunning Santiago Calatrava creation, as well as the PORTUGAL PAVILION by Siza Vieira for its striking wavy concrete roof.
Some of its walls have been overlooking the city for close to a millennium, and still stand as the city's crown. From the peaceful ramparts of SAINT GEORGE'S CASTLE, visitors are offered breathtaking bird's-eye views over the city, while one of the rooms that have survived battles and earthquakes over the centuries exhibits archaeological finds from the site. Inside one of the towers is also a periscope projecting sights from around the city, while the terrace gardens are a great spot to sit and admire the sunset amid roaming peacocks.
Laundry hanging from wrought-iron balconies flap against graffiti-covered walls. Behind nondescript doors and windows are alternative clothing shops and cosmopolitan bars and restaurants. Sleeps during the day while old ladies gossip from their windows; awakes at night when different young tribes invade its cobbled lanes... That is the life of BAIRRO ALTO, Lisbon's bohemian quarter and decadent shabby-chic restaurants-bars-and-nightlife Mecca. Shop at its trendy shops in late afternoon just before a typically-late dinner, and stay for Europe's biggest weekend bar crawl.
TOURS & DAYTRIPS
To escape the city, the perfect destination has always been SINTRA. Just about 40 minutes by train from central Lisbon, this World Heritage town has quite a magical atmosphere, enhanced by its Disney-esque fairytale palaces. PENA PALACE is a must-see, being one of the most fantastic storybook royal palaces you'll find in Europe. QUINTA DA REGALEIRA and the NATIONAL PALACE are two other exquisite and exotic architecture highlights. End your visit with a stop at the Modern Art Museum which exhibits more pieces by international artists from the Berardo Collection not shown at the Berardo Museum in Lisbon.
If you prefer to go by the shore, take the train from Lisbon's central Cais do Sodré Station and in about 30 minutes you can be in ESTORIL's Tamariz Beach overlooked by the castle-residence belonging to the royal family of Monaco. Facing the beach is Europe's largest CASINO, which inspired Ian Fleming to write his first James Bond novel. During World War II this was the place for European nobility (and spies) to escape to. They also turned CASCAIS into a fashionable little beach town which is connected to Estoril by a waterfront boardwalk. Cascais is quite beautiful, especially its GUINCHO BEACH, made famous as a spot for World Surfing Championships. At the end of the day, relax at the shopping and leisure complex Casa da Guia. With breathtaking ocean views, this former residence of a count includes sophisticated shops and restaurants.
If you prefer to stay a little longer in the city, go on a tour.