The beauty of Portugal’s capital city is impossible to ignore, but combined with its impressive culture, vibrant nightlife and fantastic weather, Lisbon is a jewel of Southern Europe.
Holidays to Lisbon
Why visit Lisbon? The real question is why wouldn’t you. Spread over seven hills and sitting along the Atlantic coast, Portugal’s capital city is a visual masterpiece, but that’s not the half of it.
Culture lovers will soak up the countless treats on offer, from the grand UNESCO World Heritage sites to the many different architectures from Portugal’s colourful history. However, you don’t have to be a culture lover to appreciate Lisbon’s charms. Just strolling along the winding alleys or exploring the city on the ancient trams that wind through the city is a perfect way to spend an afternoon, whilst world-class restaurants and buzzing nightlife waits for you once the sun goes down.
There are museums, galleries and performances to suit every interest; live music, bars and clubs for every mood; restaurants you won't want to leave, and all topped off with one of the best climates in Europe. Plus, for those who fancy going a little further afield, beautiful beaches lie waiting just outside the city for the Lisbon day-tripper.
Lisbon enjoys one of the mildest climates in Europe, with beautifully warm summers averaging 25°C during the day and 16°C at night, although it frequently gets a lot hotter. If you fancy escaping the UK for some winter sun, Lisbon is a great bet with some of the warmest winters on the continent averaging 15°C during the day and 9°C at night from December through February.
Summers are typically very dry, with the rains only tending to come in winter - albeit never for long, Lisbon’s rain tends to be spread out so a burst of rain is almost always followed by some warm sunshine.
Bear in mind though, Lisbon’s position on the Atlantic coast means it can be affected by windy and fast-changing weather, so you might want to pack an extra jumper and an umbrella, especially outside of the summer months.
Things to do on holiday in Lisbon
A trip to Lisbon will not disappoint – here are some of the experiences you can enjoy in this beautiful European city.
History & sightseeing
Portuguese culture is a fascinating mix of different foreign influences, from the eras of Roman and Moorish invasions to the explorations of their own intrepid travellers, and Lisbon is a stunning example of all these influences at their best.
The two UNESCO world heritage sites are well worth a visit; The Torre de Belém (Belem Tower), one of Portugal’s most famous monuments built in the 1500’s to guard the river entrance into Lisbon harbour, and the lavish 15th century Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jeronimos Monastery), whose church’s cloisters are considered among the most beautiful in the world. UNESCO sites aside however, thanks to the relative lack of damage to Lisbon’s history over the years you never have to go far to stumble across another site worth a visit - the Church of St Vincent, St Georges Castle, the Monastery of Saint Vincent and the Águas Livres Aqueduct being just a few.
For those just wanting to soak in the city, Alfama is the oldest district in Lisbon and is well worth spending some time simply wandering around and getting lost, enjoying the authentic feel of the area and its laid-back vibe. And if views are what you’re after, the Miradoura Sao Pedro de Alcantara is a beautiful garden sitting atop one of Lisbon’s’ seven hills, and an excellent place to relax and enjoy panoramic views of the city.
Museums and galleries
Museum lovers will also not be disappointed, and you’d be hard pressed not to find a museum to take your fancy. The Fado Museum explores the history of this dramatic music so integral to Portuguese culture, whilst the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian is one of Europe’s leading fine art museums, with a particularly breathtaking jewellery exhibit in its final room that is well worth saving time for.
The Museu do Design e da Moda has a fascinating collection of iconic and experimental fashion, household design and furniture, whereas the Museu Nacional dos Coches is your opportunity to see some of the most magnificent and ornate horse carriages in the world.
If modern history is more your thing, the Museu Do Aljube (Museum of Resistance and Liberation) is a must-visit, albeit a sobering one. Housed in a former prison and using the cells themselves within the exhibition space, this museum traces the periods of dictatorship throughout the 1900’s. There is also a lovely café on the top floor with excellent panoramic views of the city and harbour, which is the perfect spot for a drink after your visit.
There are plenty of places to satisfy your need to shop in Lisbon – Baixa is the old shopping district in the city and is home to some excellent locally-owned shops selling handicrafts and food produce such as chocolates, dried fruits, pastries and regional cheese and wines. This area is also home to all the usual European chain stores.
Chiado is one of Lisbon’s smartest districts and is your spot for the chic independent shops and well known higher-end brands such as Hugo Boss, Sisley and Levi’s.
Avenida da Liberdade is one of the widest and most impressive roads in the city, and the place to go for those with more serious cash to splash at the likes of Louis Vuitton, Armani and Burberry.
The best kind of shopping in Lisbon is when you get away from the chains and into the locally owned stores however. Ceramics, lace, jewellery, clothes, local foods and wine are just some of the more typical things you will find, locally made and from family-run shops, with Baixa and Bairro Alto being the best neighbourhoods to explore for these sorts of souvenirs.
Europe’s largest indoor aquarium - the Oceanario de Lisboa - is a must-visit for any family in Lisbon. With a vast tank separated into four separate habitats representing the North Atlantic, Antarctic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, and home to over 450 different marine species including sharks, rays, penguins, sea otters and all manner of other species, it's guaranteed to wow all visitors – children and adults alike.
The Jardim Zoologico is another popular spot for the kids with over 2000 animals across 370 species, as well as a cable-car ride and twice-daily animal shows.
Although not in the city itself, Lisbon is surrounded by many beautiful beaches. If hiring a car it’s possible to explore the region easily and discover any number of these, however the beaches of Praia de Carcavelos and Praia Sao Pedro are both easily accessible as day trips using public transport, both being on the Lisbon-Cascais train line, and they offer wide sandy beaches and clear waters. However, for those hoping to spend hours in the water, be warned – as it's the Atlantic the water is shockingly cold, even in the height of summer!
Lisbon has a great music scene where you can enjoy all and any genre of music from rock through to classical, and of course fado, Portugal’s traditional folk music for which Lisbon is famous.
Armazem F and The Music Box are some of the best-known venues for more contemporary music with world renowned bands and DJs frequently playing and the venues staying open long into the night.
The Hot Clube de Portugal is one of Europe’s oldest jazz clubs, and widely considered one of the best in Europe – if not the world! A brilliant option for an intimate late night jazz session.
For those in the mood to sample the infamous fado, Senhor Vinho offers an incredible authentic performance whilst you enjoy your dinner – it's very popular, so you’d be advised to book in advance. Povo is another great option, where a number of different up-and-coming artists play throughout the night. No food, but free entry, an intimate setting and a CD produced at the end of every night should you want a memento to take away.
Lisbon will not disappoint anyone looking for lively nightlife. Known to be among one of the best cities in Europe for its fun after dark, it is home to an enormous variety of bars and nightclubs, most of which are open well into the early hours and with prices well below many other European cities.
Bairro Alto is one of the most popular areas, and its small streets packed full with lively bars and restaurants make it the perfect place to head of an evening. The area around Cais do Sodré is best for a more classic nightclub and cocktail bar, whilst the stretch along the waterfront from Santos to Santa Apolónia is home to some of the best megaclubs.
Given its location on the coast it's no surprise that Lisbon’s restaurants are brimming with delicious fresh seafood; a must-try for all fish eaters. Lisbon is bursting with fabulous eateries however, and with cuisines from around the globe so you’ll have no trouble finding something to suit all tastes and budget.
For cheaper and more traditional options, try Casa dos Passarinhos and Bota Alta. Café no Chiado is a friendly café serving a nice variety of steaks, fish and salads, and Os Tibetanos is a brilliant vegetarian option.
For those looking to push the boat out, Gambrinus is the place to go for the best seafood you’ll have had in a while, whilst Belcanto, A Travessa and 100 Maneiras are also bound to impress.
Mercado da Ribeira is a large indoors farmers market perfect for those cooking for themselves, or wanting to stock up ahead of a day out.