As one of the oldest cities in the world, Lisbon is located on the western coast of the Iberian Peninsula where the Atlantic Coast meets the Tagus River is the ninth most visited of Southern European cities. With a colorful history that includes Roman, German & Moorish influences Lisbon offers many reasons to visit.
Lisbon is Portugal’s hilly, coastal capital city. The old cities’ pastel buildings, Roman ruins, Moor Castles, stunning views, the local Atlantic beaches, beautiful weather, fantastic gastronomy, the Fado Houses of the Bairrio District and to top it all off, the active nightlife. As a destination she already has so much to offer.
You can easily spend your day visiting the menu of historic and storied castles, exploring the vibrant local markets, riding the historic trolley or visiting the many museums. But if you are looking for some of the Lisbon’s “Secret” visits, here are 10 of our top lesser known worth seeing recommendations, Read on:
Misteiro dos Jeronimos
Formally known as the Royal Monastery of Saint Mary Belem, was built beginning in the early 15th Century by King Manuel I, the building process took 100 years, which can be seen in the detail of the facility which was inhabited as an active religious complex until the 19th Century.
It is not surprising that the monastery is Internationally recognized for the structure, the cloisters, the refectory and the library which can all still be seen today. The Manueline rich architecture and decor (as it is referred from the influences of King Manuel I), is seen throughout the complex and is considered both one of the most fantastic Portuguese churches and also one of Europe’s most notable.
The site is noted for her design encompassing ornamental columns, statues and facade paintings, but the magnificent church hall and the silver ornamental tabernacle are one of the most beautiful in Europe. A Portuguese national monument and also a UNESCO World Heritage site, the monastery can be found in Lisbon’s historical sea-faring, Belem District overlooking the River Tagus.
Padrao Dos Descobrimentos
The Monument of the Discoveries also located in the Belem District of Lisbon is a symbol of the historical achievements of Portugal’s Age of Existence throughout her lifetime. Originally designed in the 1940’s for the Portuguese World exhibition, as a temporary display, the 184 foot statue was reconstructed in 1960 as a permanent memorial for the anniversary of the death of Portugal’s most notable contributor and main statue, Prince Henry the Navigator who was instrumental in the maritime discoveries and expansion of Portugal throughout the world.
The location of the structure is of important significance for its location where the River Tagus meets the Atlantic Ocean. This is the location where many ships departed during the 15th and 16th Centuries during Portugal’s Age of Discovery when expansion was key.
The two sided display features 33 statues helmed by Prince Henry the Navigator holding a ship with others each holding an identifying artifact signifying their contributions to Portuguese exploration. You will find notable characters like Ferdinand Magellan who was the first explorer to circumnavigate the globe holding the world and Vasco da Gama holding a sword, who discovered the sea route to India among other explorers, sea captains, missionaries, writers, poets, royals, pilots and navigators who were all dedicated to the Portuguese act of discovery.
From the middle of the monument visitors can climb steps to a platform with views of the river and the area that surrounds you. Below the statue a cultural museum was designed featuring an exhibition hall and auditorium.
One of the highlights of visiting Lisbon is walking the medieval neighborhood streets and alleys of the historical districts. The Barrio Alto is the most notable for its traditional Fado quarter but seeing the town of Alfama is a must for the full Lisbon experience. Like a small village within the larger Lisbon city center Alfama offers many opportunities for snapping photos of the colorful homes, the Lisbon Cathedral, small city squares and narrow hilly streets that back up to the picturesque area where the Tagus River empties into the Atlantic Ocean.
Originally settled by the Romans, Alfama played an important role as both the old Jewish Quarter and as a central town originally designed by the Moors. Set below St. George castle which looms above, many of the buildings have been repurposed as hotels and gentrified apartments.
The magic of visiting the area is to see the 11th century Castelo de S. Jorge and the beautiful views from above before aimlessly wandering the streets indulging in the views, visiting the Lisbon Cathedral and immersing in the local culture of the residents who live here.
Parque Eduardo VII
Considered Lisbon’s “central park” the 64 acre location offers so much more than beautiful green space to stretch out and relax in the perfect Portuguese weather.
Well located in Lisbon’s city center the park stretches from the popular shopping boulevard of Avenida da Liberdade down to Pombal Square with a roundabout featuring the statue of the 1st Marquis of Pombal that connects many of Lisbon’s busiest thoroughfares.
One of the highest points in central Lisbon, the top of the park features panoramic views of the city. The cultured hedge maze attracts visitors to lounge in its shade while having a picnic or reading a book. However there are many opportunities for enjoying the shade from one of the benches or picnic tables found throughout the park.
If you are traveling with young children, the park offers playgrounds, a pool and has a sports complex that is popular with the locals. You will also find the Estufa Fria a 3 ½ acre greenhouse with three separate gardens to explore and further enjoy the outdoors.
Miradouro da Senhora do Monte
Our Lady of the Hill church offers some of the highest panoramic perspective with a birds eye view across central Lisbon, the Castelo (São Jorge Castle) in the distance, the Bairro Alto historic district below, the Ponte de 25 Abril Bridge and the Tagus River Estuary.
Located in the Graca neighborhood, the church is just outside the central Lisbon area, adjacent to a popular viewpoint, the Miradouro da Graça, the church is a lesser known location to also enjoy the sites surrounded by trees and a less bustling area filled with tourists.
The chapel is also worth a visit. Dating back to the 12th century, the original structure was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake and rebuilt in the late 1700’s.
Tip: The best time to visit is just before sunset to see the glow of the sky upon the city or visit the Miradouro da Graça at night to see the city come alive with lights.
One of the popular attractions to Lisbon for those fascinated with architecture is the many Azulezhu designs scattered throughout the city. An iconic part of the culture, the tin-glazed ceramic tile works tell the history and stories behind the capital city of Portugal.
Azulezhu is the proper name for the tiles the Portuguese used and continue to use among the walls of the faces of their buildings. Originally brought to Lisbon by the Moors to function as assistance with temperature control of the warm Portuguese summer, the design was later modified to create traditional Portuguese patterns to tell stories and became an ornamental art and traditional decor. Azulejos are commonly spotted within churches and palaces throughout the region but it is also not uncommon to see them on apartment buildings, shops, restaurants, bars and even public buildings.
Unfortunately it has become common for vandals to steal tiles and sell them on the black market to unknowing tourists and well knowing collectors. It is estimated that about 25% of the original tiles within the city were stolen and sold over 20 years between 1980 and 2000. So in 2007 a protection group was formed and in 2013 it became illegal to demolish buildings featuring them without protective measures first taken.
Many of the tiles that have been salvaged can be viewed at the National Tile Museum that will take you on a journey through Lisbon’s history through Azulezhu tiles.
Arco da Rua Agusta
The triumphal arch building was constructed after the 1755 earthquake that resulted in a tsunami and fire destroying much of the downtown area of Lisbon. Formally known as the Arco Triunfal da Rua Augusta, it welcomes you into the commercial waterfront area.
Designed to symbolize the strength and rebuilding of the city of Lisbon after the devastating event. The stone building features six columns and is decorated with statues of some of Lisbon’s well known historical personalities.
Standing at over 135 feet from the top of the arch to the bottom of the columns, the statues above the arch representing Glory, Valor and Genius each stand approximately 23 feet tall to coincide with the size of the arch. An elevator from the arch transports you to the top for 360 degree views of the downtown area.
Located along one of Lisbon’s busiest streets, the arch leads from the Rua Agusta as an entrance to the Praça do Comércio pedestrian waterfront area that faces the Targus River, filled with cafe’s, shops, restaurants and lots of local artists and entertainers.
Campo Pequeno Bullring
Located in the historical center of Baixa in a district named Campo Pegueno which means small field. Constructed in 1890 influenced by Moorish design and the original bullring of Madrid, Spain. The building stands as the official home of Portuguese bullfighting.
The North African inspired circular building located at Campo Pequeno Square was created with brick featuring octagonal towers topped with domes and turrets at the main entrance. The inside of the arena is covered with sand, traditional to a bullfighting ring.
Bullfighting season lasts from Easter to summer. During the off season the facility is used as a concert venue. Refurbished in 2006, an entertainment center was added to also feature an underground area filled with shops, restaurants and a movie theatre.
Because slaughtering the bulls was deemed inhumane by King Miguel during his reign between 1828 – 1834, Portuguese bulls are not killed at the end of the fight, as they are in Spain keeping the sport enjoyable for all who participate.
You might recognize this monumental statue as similar to the Christ the Redeemer statue that stands overlooking the Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. That is because it was inspired by the original after the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon visited the monument.
Built in 1959 on a hilltop 133 feet above Lisbon in Almada, the cement shrine is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ and similarly to the Redeemer in Rio, overlooks the city of Lisbon. Standing 630 feet above the River Tagus, the significance of the statue was to give thanks for Portugal being spared from the effects of the Great World War.
The 92 foot monument itself stands on a 269 foot high pedestal with its arms extended, similar to the original, in the form of a cross facing the city of Lisbon. The pedestal contains four arches that are each positioned in the directions of a compass rose.
On the 25th anniversary of the monument, the area was refurbished and a sanctuary and visitor center was added. The Chapel of our Lady of Peace features a rectory and a chapel and the visitor center offers exhibition galleries among administrative and meeting rooms. At the top of the pedestal is an observation deck with a not to be missed 360 degree view of Lisbon and the 25 de Abril Bridge over the Tagus River.
Known as the city facing the sea, Setúbal is a coastal town located just 40 minutes south of the city of Lisbon in southern Lisboa. A historic area dating back to before the Roman occupation features a historic center of Baroque churches within a busy coastal town, the area is also well visited for the beautiful scenery and its beaches.
Located on the Setúbal Peninsula the region offers a bustling downtown area filled with squares imbued with fountains and gardens surrounded by shops and restaurants offering the latest catch from the fisherman whose boats line the large harbor that spend their days fishing the area. The town is filled with many locations to relax with a glass of Setúbal celebrated locally grown moscatel wine and people watch the locals, the tourists and the street artists who are fighting for their attention.
Another reason that visitors come to the region is for Arrábida Natural Park. Just a five minute drive from the town of Setúbal, offers a mountainous area overlooking the sea. The mediteranean climate provides 27 thousand acres of preserved beauty deeper into the peninsula with fabulous views of the clear waters below. Hiking the protected area you may spot one of the many local species of mink or fox or see eagles flying above searching for their next meal.
Within Arrábida Park you will also find a protected marine area popular for scuba diving with beautiful untouched beaches. Praia de Galapinhos beach is a remote beach 15 minutes west along the coast from the town of Setúbal that is considered one of the best beaches in Europe and not to be missed if you are looking for a beach day. Further along the coastal road nearby Praia do Portinho da Arrábida is a quaint tiny coastal town with a beach and another great spot to stop to grab lunch and relax.
Tip: The Lisboa card will provide all inclusive access to many of the above named sites.
While a day will give you the highlights of the Lisbon region, if you want to see all of the above, at least three days are recommended to fully immerse in the area. One of our favorite ways to explore Lisbon is pre a 7 night cruise of the Douro river from Porto, Portugal.