Lisbon is the capital of Portugal and is known for its friendly people, vibrant nightlife, old-fashioned traditions, distinctive art, soulful Fado music clubs, delicious seafood, mosaic pavements, sidewalk portrait painters, riverside restaurants, street cafes, and its splendid architecture as witnessed in its Art Nouveau buildings, church towers and domes, and old monuments. The best time to visit Lisbon is in the off-season in spring or in fall when the weather is not too hot and the city not yet crowded by the deluge of summer tourists.
Geographically, Lisbon is spread out over seven hills and descends into the Tagus (Tejo) River. These seven hills include the Senhora do Monte, Santa Catarina, Estrela, São Pedro Alcantara, Penha de França, Graça, and the São Jorge, on which the famous castle, Castelo de São Jorge, is perched atop. Each of the seven hills offers a panoramic view of the city at the top, making them all worth the climb.
There are many things to do in Lisbon and all that is worth doing can be done without a car – the city is small enough and the public transportation extensive enough. Architecturally, there are a number of must-see historic buildings. The Moorish castle Castelo de Sao Jorge, the 12th to 14th century Romanesque Sé de Lisboa Cathedral (or Lisbon Cathedral), and the 16th century Mosteiro dos Jerónimos at Belém are all architectural marvels. North of Lisbon in Queluz, you’ll also find the Palácio de Queluz (Queluz National Palace), which is the 18th century palace of the King of Portugal. It features baroque, rococo-style architecture and gardens and it is nicknamed the “Versailles” of Lisbon. For 19th century romance architecture, the Lisbon municipality of Sintra is the heritage site of various palaces and castles, including the Pena Palace, the Castelo dos Mouros, and the Palácio Nacional de Sintra (or Sintra National Palace) where the King of Portugal used to reside in the summer.
Culturally, there are three major museums: the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, which is Portugal’s national art museum, the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, which has an extensive collection of ancient and modern art, and the Oceanário, which is Europe’s second largest oceanarium. For the outdoorsy traveler, there are beaches in the suburbs of Cascais and Estoril about a half-hour away from the city, as well as in the resort town of Sesimbra nearby where you can also enjoy sport fishing.
Other Lisbon points of interest include the Alfama District (or old town), which is the city’s oldest quarter. This district offers street cafes, flea markets, food stalls, Fado bars and restaurants, the June “Popular Saints” festival, and slopes and terraces that offer some of the best views of the city. For great bars, dance clubs, and restaurants, the Bairro Alto district is another place worth checking out.