The World Heritage Belem Tower is to Lisbon what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris or Big Ben is to London. It is the city’s most photographed landmark, which along with the marvelous Jeronimos Monastery should top your list of must-see monuments.
Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, is one of Europe’s most beautiful and cosmopolitan cities. Set over a series of hills near the mouth of the River Tagus, it’s a place inextricably linked with the sea. Intrepid navigators embarked from here in the 15th and 16th centuries to sail unknown waters and chart new lands, and the legacy of this golden Age of Discovery underpins much of the city’s culture and heritage.
In the summer months, Lisbon swelters under a cerulean blue dome. ‘A praia’ (to the beach) sings out from the city’s sun-kissed, begonia blossomed streets as surf boards are stacked on top of cars and everyone makes for the beachy ‘burbs of Cascais and Estoril – 20 minutes drive from the city-centre. The aim being to cool off in the frosty Atlantic, get some sand between their toes, and tuck into the seaside classic of a plate of garlicky ameijoas (clams) washed down with a tumbler of brain-freeze cold lager.
Lisbon’s biggest attraction is the city itself, a city that is not spruced up for the tourist to see, but an authentic place that stands out in such an increasingly homogeneous world. Although it boasts a range of must-see sights, its biggest pleasures are its streetlife and setting, admired from a pavement cafe, from the top of a hilltop miradouro, or simply by wandering around the atmospheric “bairros.”
Lisbon is a colorful and vibrant destination. Renowned for its warm and sunny disposition, the city is blessed with a wealth of historic monuments, world-class museums, and a host of other fabulous visitor attractions. You can explore the narrow streets of the old quarter, stroll the riverbank promenade, or wander through verdant parks and gardens. In fact, enjoy Lisbon like the locals do, at an easy and unhurried pace, and you’ll quickly fall for its welcoming character and beguiling charm.
Top 10 Most Popular Attractions in Lisbon Portugal
1. Belém Tower
Arguably the most emblematic of all Lisbon’s historical monuments, the Belém Tower squats in the shallows near the mouth of the River Tagus as a symbol of Portugal’s extraordinary Age of Discovery during the 16th century. Built in 1515 as a fortress to guard the entrance to Lisbon’s harbor, the Belem Tower was the starting point for many of the voyages of discovery, and for the sailors it was the last sight of their homeland.
Indeed, so valuable and iconic is this monument that it’s protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Built in the Manueline style, it incorporates many stonework motifs of the Discoveries, sculptures depicting historical figures such as St. Vincent and an exotic rhinoceros that inspired Dürer’s drawing of the beast.
2. St. George’s Castle
The most recognized of Lisbon’s major attractions, St. George’s Castle commands a glorious position near Alfama on the crown of a hill overlooking the Portuguese capital. Saint George’s Castle can be seen from almost everywhere in the city and is one of Lisbon’s most popular tourist destinations. Its impressive battlements, engaging museum, and fascinating archaeological site combine to make the castle a rewarding experience for the whole family, and kids especially will love clambering over the sturdy walls and towers that encircle the grounds.
This beautiful architecture served as a Moorish royal residence until Portugal’s first king Afonso Henriques captured it in 1147 with the help of northern European crusaders on their way to the Holy Land. It was then dedicated to St. George, the patron saint of England, commemorating the Anglo-Portuguese pact dating from 1371, and became the royal palace until another one (that was destroyed in the Great Earthquake) was built in today’s Comercio Square. It is now an oasis of peace, but just past the main gate is a statue of King Afonso Henriques and a series of cannons, reminders of the castle’s original purpose.
Most of the part, visitors are happy enough to admire the fabulous views from the observation terrace that affords an uninterrupted panorama of the city, the River Tagus, and the distant Atlantic Ocean.
For a different perspective, there’s a Camera Obscura periscope housed in one of the towers that provides viewers with an unusual 360° projected view of the city below. Be prepared for this mind-blowing scenery.
3. Jeronimos Monastery
The resting place of explorer Vasco da Gama is a church built in the 1500s as part of a magnificent monastery. Its cloisters are considered among the most beautiful in the world and has been listed as a World Heritage Site. Jerónimos is as much a symbol of the wealth of the Age of Discovery as it is a house of worship (construction was mostly funded by trade in the spices brought back by da Gama). Star features include the fantastically elaborate south portal and the beautiful and serene Manueline cloister. Vasco da Gama’s tomb lies just inside the entrance to Santa Maria church.
Recent travelers were impressed by the beauty of the Jerónimos Monastery, but a few recommend only seeing the free part of the monastery (and not paying extra for the cloisters). A few also suggest you stop by the nearby Pasteis de Belém for some must-try Portuguese tarts.
4. Elevador de Santa Justa: An Antique Elevator With City Views
For some sweeping views of Lisbon’s rooftops — particularly St. George’s Castle, Rossio Square and the Baixa neighborhood — you might want to take the Elevador de Santa Justa. Designed by Raoul Mesnier de Ponsard, the elevator is about a century old and was formerly powered by steam. Connecting downtown to the Barrio Alto neighborhood, visitors say the view at the top is worth the small entrance fee. And although there is a cafe at top, recent travelers say that a table is hard to come by since it’s most always swarming with tourists.
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