Lisbon, Portugal’s capital, is one of the underrated cities of Europe. It rarely makes it into a top anything list and it gets a fraction of the tourists you find in London or Paris. But it has a lot to offer from historic buildings and museums to fairy tale castles and beaches and great food and nightlife – and the secret is out, the number of visitors has been growing rapidly, so go while it is not too crowded!
Lisbon has a proud history, reaching back as far as the Phoenicians and Romans to the golden age of explorers who discovered Africa, India and Brazil from here, bringing back unspeakable wealth that you can still see in the city today! And Lisbon tells its history well – rarely have I seen a city history museum as well done as the Lisbon Story museum, introducing you to the city. Just like Rome, Lisbon is built on seven hills, giving you so many angles to see this city from. The best views are from the Castelo de S. Jorge high above the town and the old neighborhood of Alfama at its foot is a great place to wander through the alleys. And just like Rome, it manages to combine the ancient history seamlessly with modern live – grand plazas, like the Royal Plaza facing the waterfront, flowing into shopping streets like the Rua Augusta. Historic buildings are towering over cobblestone streets with hopping nightlife, and the fantastic museum of modern art in Belem sits side-by-side with the imposing Jeronimo’s Monastery, a monument to the influence of the church!
Unlike Rome or other European capitals, Lisbon feels a lot more compact. It’s easy to explore on foot or if you don’t like the hills, you can hire a tricycle, brought into the modern times courtesy of electric engines. And it is less hectic, with lots of cafes and restaurants along the streets and plazas inviting you to relax and observe city life. And similar to cities in neighboring Spain, much of life is happening in the public squares, so there is lots of people watching to be had!
And there are some things you won’t find as easily in other European capitals: If you tire of the city life, you can escape to Sintra, the old mountain retreat of royalty. You can hang out in the small town, check out the Royal Palace or the moorish fortress overlooking the town. It even has a fairy tale castle that would make any Disneyland proud!
If, after all that sightseeing, you can relax on the beaches of Caixcais or famous Estoril, a short train ride away. There is a long stretch of sandy beach between the two towns and a wide promenade allows you to stroll from one to the other, with plenty of cafes and restaurants at either end!
With all these choices so close together, Lisbon makes a great base for a more spontaneous trip or a family vacation with something for every interest. And because it’s so easy to reach, you can make up your mind in the morning: mountains or beach? History or shopping? Add to that prices that are much lower than Paris, London or Rome, and it’s an affordable trip, so you can spend a few extra days – it’s worth it!