View breaks >>
The most famous part of town is the Alfama district, a labyrinth of cobbled alleys, miniature squares and whitewashed houses, rising in tiers from the Tagus. Though inhabited by Greeks, Romans and Visigoths it was the Moors who left the most visible mark here by way of its labyrinthine street plan aimed at deterring invaders.
The architectural contrast with the nearby, low lying Baixa district, which was totally destroyed in the devastating earthquake of 1755, is dramatic. The area was rebuilt in precise grid form with magnificent squares and avenues and is now a showpiece of 18th century architecture and the heart of the capital. Taking the influence from Paris, it was redesigned with a central area immediately behind the river. Lisbon’s main gateway in the 18th century was via the River Tagus from the sea, and they were eager to create an impression of grandeur worth of Portugal’s glorious past, the vast three-sided Praca do Comercio did exactly this.
Another popular district is the Bairro Alto. This is the most bohemian quarter of the city, rising to the west in steep streets and stone staircases. The lower part of the district, from which several lifts (elevators) rise to the upper reaches, is the elegant Chiado, with fashionable department stores and tea houses. Westwards along the Tagus, the other area of Lisbon not to be missed is Belem. This is home to some of Lisbon’s finest Manueline architecture, evoking Portugal’s great era of world discovery.
Read more on this destination in the AA Citypack Guide to Lisbon.
Must see attractions in Lisbon
Lisbon Cathedral - The oldest church in Lisbon and one of the last lines of defence for the city during the 16th century. A mix of gothic and Romanesque style, the cathedral features detailed cloisters, beautifully constructed arches and fascinating statues.
Belém Tower - Built on a small basalt island in 1514, this fortified tower acted as a defence fortress and a gateway to the city. Earning UNESCO World Heritage status in 1983, Belém Tower is one of Lisbon's most popular attractions.
St. Jerome's Monastery - Established at the start of the 16th century, this breath-taking Manueline structure was built to commemorate great Portuguese voyages around the world. It was UNESCO listed in 1983 and feature magnificent carved cloisters and a fountain.
Oceanarium - The largest in Europe and second largest in the world behind Osaka. It's inhabited by over 16,000 animals and plant species including sharks, sting rays and Eusébio and Amália, the centre's famous sea otters.
Rossio Square - The lively Rossio Square in the centre of Lisbon is dominated by two huge baroque fountains complete with marble statues of justice, wisdom, moderation and strength. Many café's, bars, restaurants and shops line the square.
Fatima - 90 minutes from Lisbon is the catholic centre of Fatima. The once small village now houses an enormous church, hosting millions of pilgrims every year and it's claimed that visions of the Virgin Mary were experienced here in 1917.
The São Jorge Castle - Crowning a hill surrounded by the Alfama district, the castle was built on 5th-century Visigoth and 9th-century Moorish foundations. the present 12th to 14th century edifice was begin by Afonso Henriques, following his capture of Lisbon from the Moors in 1147.
Torre de Belem - This 16th century fortress on the edge of the Tagus has defended the capital and housed thousands of political prisoners. Today it is one of Lisbon’s most photographed landmarks. Inside is a museum of weapons and armour and you can climb to the top tower for views over the Tagus.
Museu da Marinha - This is the place to go if you want to understand how, in the 15th and 16th centuries Portugal rose to become one of the greatest maritime and trading powers on earth, housing maps and documents, navigational instruments and models of ships from the era of discoveries through to this century.
Sintra - High on a hilltop the town was a summer retreat for royalty up until the abolishion of the monarchy in 1910. So many monarch added their own style that the whole thing defies any architectural classification, two wings added by Manuel II in the 16th century sit awkwardly with the main structure. Though not in Lisbon itself this is well worth a trip.