A Lisbon travel guide – sights to see

Lisbon is a beautiful city, unlike any other in Europe. The city is bordered by two hills, a large park, and the Tagus (or Tejo) river which flows into the Atlantic ocean. To Americans, one might even call Lisbon the “San Francisco” of Europe. For everyone else, maybe San Francisco is the “Lisbon” of America.

Marques de Pombal square and the Baixa

Lisbon’s history accounts for many of the highlights in the city.  In the 8th century, the Moors conquered Lisbon and ruled for nearly 400 years before the city was ruled once again under Christian authority. In the 15th century, Lisbon became a powerful force in the mariner and trading empire during the age of discovery in Portugal. In 1755, a huge earthquake hit Lisbon killing thousands and causing major damage to the city.

In the 20th century, it was ruled by an authoritarian regime under Salazar before being set free in 1974 by the Carnation Revolution.  It is Lisbon’s history under Moorish rule, as a mariner power, a city destroyed by an earthquake and then rebuilt, and a country governed by authoritarian rule that highlights many of the sights today.  It is this history that brings life and culture to this beautiful European city.


Baixa – the heart of the city, mainly constructed after the 1755 earthquake.  Re-built by Marques de Pombal, it is considered the “downtown” part of Lisbon.  It features the famous squares of Lisbon – Praça do Comércio, Praça dos Restauradores, and Praça de D. Pedro IV (or Rossio) and includes the Elevador de Santa Justa, a Gothic elevator which connects to the Chiado.

Elevador de Santa Justa

Chiado – an area of old and new which includes shopping, theater, museums, and is one of the nicer parts of the city.  The Chiado area sits on one of the hills in Lisbon and includes one of the historical Lisbon landmarks.

Convento da Ordem do Carmo (Carmo Convent) – a monument of remembrance in the Chiado, this is the ruins of a Gothic convent and church destroyed by the great earthquake in 1755.  While the convent and church were destroyed, the remains serve as a reminder to this great tragedy.  The nave and the apse of the church now serve as an archaeological museum of Portuguese history.  Kimberly has written about Dancing the Night Away in the Carmo Convent.

Bairro Alto – this area is the heart of Lisbon’s nightlife and is a residential and entertainment area of the city that features Lisbon’s youth and its edgier sides of life.  Lisbon has a great nightlife and is becoming one of the great nightlife scenes in Europe.

Alfama – a neighborhood of small streets and squares, this is the Moorish area of this European ctiy, where the fishermen and poor areas of Lisbon lived.  While this may not appeal to many people, this is where much of the culture and history of Lisbon lies as Fado was born here.  Fado is melancholy music about sea life and the poor.  It’s the “blues” music of Lisbon and Portugal and still thrives today in this area.

Belém – while this is actually more of a suburb of Lisbon (about 4 miles from the city), it is the heart of the Portuguese explorers and the empire built by Portugal on the seas.  Three key monuments here are the Torre de Belém (Belém Tower), Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monastery), and Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries).  The Belém Tower served as a lighthouse on the Tagus while the monastery contains the tomb of Vasco de Gama and two museums dedicated to the Portuguese life at seas – Museu Nacional de Arqueologia (National Archaeological Museum) and the Museu da Marinha (Maritime Museum).  The Monument to the Discoveries rises high in the air and celebrates the 500th anniversary of of Henry the Navigator’s death. Heather also has some Belem sightseeing tips.

Monument to the Discoveries

Port Wine House (Solar do Vinho do Porto) – this 18th century palace contains a delightful taste of port wine.  Port wine is a sweet, red dessert wine that was developed in the Douro valley of Portugal.  For those who love a delicious, sweet wine, learn more about the history of this wine and enjoy a taste of the many different varieties offered.

Calouste Gulbenkian Museum – this is an art museum which includes art from various eras in history including Oriental, Eqyptian, Greco-Roman, Persian, Far Eastern, and the more popular European and foreign art.  For anyone interested in art, this museum presents a great collection of ancient and more modern art without overwhelming you.

Christ the King (Cristo Rei) – this monument, similar to the one in Rio de Janeiro, includes Christ on the left bank of the Tagus river looking towards Lisbon as he spreads his arms wide.

Ponte 25 de Abril (25 April Bridge) – For anyone who has traveled to San Francisco, California, this bridge will remind many people of the Golden Gate Bridge.  This is a suspension bridge which connects Lisbon to Almada.  It was given the name 25 April Bridge to commemorate the date of the Carnation Revolution in which the authoritarian regime and its dictator, Salazar, were defeated and freedom was restored.

Lisbon Travel Tips

Get more ideas on things to do in Lisbon in our Best of Lisbon post.

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