One of the most beautiful and vibrant cities in Portugal is the capital Lisbon. Situated over seven hills near the mouth of the River Tagus, it is renowned for its warm character, historical monuments and world class museums. Exploring the narrow streets of the old quarter or just walking along the riverbank will bring you into its beguiling charm.
The most recognised and popular site in Lisbon would have to be the Castelo de São Jorge, situated near Alfama on the crown of a hill overlooking the capital. The 11th Century Moorish fortress will transport you back to the Middle Ages with its inspiring battlements, charming museum and fascinating archaeological site.
The Torre de Belém (Belém Tower), is arguably the most emblematic of all of Lisbon’s historical monuments. Sitting near the mouth of the River Tagus, Belém Tower is a symbol of Portugal's 16th Century Age of Discovery. The UNESCO World Heritage Site has a decorative Manueline architecture with an ornate façade and maritime motifs. The tower is set over several levels and the most interesting interior feature is the King’s Chamber where the room opens onto a Renaissance loggia. The royal coat of arms of Manuel I is placed above the elegant arcades. If you can climb the impossibly steep spiral staircase to the top floor terrace you will be rewarded by a spectacular panorama over the waterfront and river below.
Lisbon has many museums including the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, a sparkling jewel in Lisbon's cultural crown. The Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga or The National Museum of Ancient Art is another gallery, housing the largest collection of Portuguese 15th-16th Century paintings in the country. Museu Nacional do Azulejo is dedicated to the art of decorative tile work with its unique collection of azulejos. Housed in a 1912 old villa at the northern end of Campo Grande is the Museum Bordalo Pinheiro celebrating ceramic work. The Fado Museum in Alfama is another that defines the Portuguese spirit, showcasing Fado’s origins and the genre’s most famous singers and guitarists.
A highlight of Lisbon is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the 16th Century Jerónimos Monastery, a stunning monument of immense historic and cultural significance. Located near the attractive Belém neighbourhood, the monastery, also known as the Hieronymite Convent, was commissioned by King Manuel I in 1501. Built in honour of Vasco da Gama's epic 1498 voyage to India, Jerónimos is as much a symbol of the wealth of the Age of Discovery as it is a house of worship.
Other areas to explore include the Praça do Comércio with its grand 18th Century colonnades, trams, triumphal arch and enchanting square. The Ponte 25 de Abril is an iconic suspension bridge where visitors like to take selfies. The Moorish quarter of Alfama is the most charismatic with its cobblestone alleyways, pastel houses and bars that ring of melancholic Fado music. The Alto neighbourhood is a trendy area with expensive shops, Fado houses and small intimate restaurants. Looming over the rooftops of Lisbon's Baixa district is the odd looking Elevador de Santa Justa, a neo-Gothic elevator and the most eccentric and novel means of public transport in the city. From the Elevador you can reach the skeletal ruins of the Carmo Church, which overlooks the picturesque Largo do Carmo in Chiado, the centrepiece of which is the filigree Chafariz do Carmo fountain.
Climb up the steep Calçada do Duque steps from Rossio Square and at the top you’ll find the São Roque Church, unassuming on the outside, however fabulously ornate on the inside. The church and museum of São Roque in Bairro Alto combine to offer an absorbing cultural experience with embellished marble, azulejos and gilded woodwork.
The gleaming chalk white dome of the Basílica da Estrela (Star Basilica) draws admiring glances from all across Lisbon. The church is one of the capitals grandest and is situated on a hill west of the city centre. The interior is calm and serene and the dome resembles a huge inflated balloon bathed in a soft translucent light.
Arguably one of the most rewarding day trip experiences out of Lisbon is a visit to the wonderfully romantic UNESCO World Heritage town of Sintra. Nestling in the foothills of the rugged Serra de Sintra a rolling landscape of verdant woodland peppered with outcrops of granite, this enchanting destination unfolds as a scenic picture book of the regal 19th Century Pena Palace, mysterious mansions and a mighty Moorish Castle that dates back to the 8th Century. Once the summer retreat for the Kings and Queens of Portugal, Sintra remains a destination of majestic appeal.