Lisbon Neighborhoods & Towns
Lisbon is a hilly place. As long as you don't mind exercising your calf muscles, you'll find you can walk to most hotels, restaurants and the top attractions. If traipsing through a foreign city isn't your idea of fun, you might want to book a hotel in close proximity to public transportation. However, bringing comfortable walking shoes and a good map are good ideas regardless.
As far as general orientation goes, most visitors choose to stay in the tourist zone, consisting of the "lower" neighborhoods of Rossio, Baixa and Chiado and the adjacent hilltop neighborhoods of Bairro Alto to the west and Alfama to the east. Belém is about five miles west of downtown but is easily reachable by bus, tram and train. Five miles north of downtown along the Rio Tejo is the ultramodern Parque das Nações (Park of Nations) area, most of which was rebuilt for the 1998 Lisbon World Exposition.
Perched on a hill to the east of downtown, Alfama is Lisbon's most famous district and is a vestige of the city's Moorish heritage. In sharp contrast to the wide boulevards and logical, grid-based street plan of the adjacent Baixa district, the Alfama consists of a labyrinth of narrow, wandering streets that zigzag around a hillside, atop which the Castelo de São Jorge (St. George's Castle) presides over the lower city. The Sé de Lisboa (Sé Cathedral) lies at the south end, down the hill from the Castelo towards the Rio Tejo (the Tagus River). You could easily spend the better part of a day in the Alfama, visiting these sites and getting yourself lost among the vistas (intentionally, we hope). Although recently notorious for pick pocketing, Lisbon's Tram 28 is still immensely popular with visitors as an alternative to wearing holes into their shoes. The tram rambles up and down between the Alfama district and lower Lisbon throughout the day.
- Experiencing Alfama is more about luxuriating in the everyday than ticking off the big sights. Take a serendipitous wander through the lanes fanning out from Rua de Sao Miguel, Rua de Sao Joao de Praca and Rua dos Remedios." --
- For the cheapest city tour… hop aboard the rattling tram 28 from Baixa through the twisting streets of Alfama and all the way up to the Castle of St. George." -- Sherman's Travel
Rossio, Baixa and Chiado
Together, the Rossio/Baixa/Chiado neighborhoods form the center of Lisbon's tourist districts, sandwiched between Bairro Alto to the west, Alfama to the east and the Rio Tejo to the south. They are full of cafés and shops, as well as train/tram stations that connect visitors to top daytrip options, such as Belém, Sintra, Cascais and Estoril. As a result, visitors will probably find that these neighborhoods offer the most convenient hotels.
While many consider it over-touristed, Baixa's pedestrian-only Rua Augusta is still one of the city's most popular streets for shopping. Other streets in Baixa are named after the crafts that were once practiced there: Rua dos Sapateiros (shoemakers), Rua da Prata (silversmiths), Rua do Oro (goldsmiths), and more. Adjoining Baixa to the southwest, the Chiado area is even better known for shopping, with stores ranging from leather and crafts to fashion boutiques.
- The best close-up overview of the Baixa and Rossio, with the Castle above, is to be had from the terrace at the top of the Elevador de Santa Justa. There is also a café here (charging high prices), but it is worth climbing the last spiral staircase just for the view." --
To the west of Rossio/Baixa/Chiado, Bairro Alto is -- as the name would suggest -- uphill from most of downtown Lisbon. Trams and funiculars can take you there, but most Lisboans use their feet. This section of town survived a devastating earthquake in 1755, meaning that it is one of the best places to catch a glimpse of pre-18th century Lisbon architecture. Bairro Alto is probably best known for its rich and varied nightlife scene, including many of the city's best Fado clubs. This is not the place to book a hotel if you're the early-to-bed type.
- In the mornings, the historic Bairro Alto quarter belongs to the old men and women who navigate the hilly cobblestone streets with ease. At night -- and the later the better -- it belongs to frenzied club-hoppers (stay away if you're over 35)." -- New York Times
Ten minutes west of downtown along the banks of the Rio Tejo, the Belém district includes several of Lisbon's must-see sites. The 16th century Monastery of St. Jerome (Mosteiro de Jeronimos) is a must-visit; it teems with ornate stone carvings in the Manueline style (so named for King Manuel I who commissioned the monastery's construction to celebrate Vasco de Gama's seafaring voyage to India). Add the Torre de Belém (a Manueline style defensive post), year-round botanical gardens, a vibrant restaurant scene and a coffee paired with Belém's famed cream-filled pastries, pasteis de nata -- and you could easily spend a full day here.
Parque das Nações
The Parque das Nações (Park of the Nations) project was Lisbon's commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Vasco de Gama's sail for India, unveiled during the 1998 Lisbon World Exposition. In less than 15 years, the Parque has become a district unto itself, with ultramodern buildings, a world-class aquarium, a casino, dozens of shops and restaurants, and an estimated 15,000 residents. It's hard to fathom a place that contrasts more with aging downtown Lisbon.
The top reasons you might visit the Parque das Nações are for the contemporary architecture and the area's grand Oceanarium (Lisbon Aquarium).
Only 30 minutes from downtown Lisbon, beautiful and exotic Sintra is the city's most popular daytrip. Even if you're only in Lisbon for two days, many people recommend you dedicate some time to Sintra.
The town is perched at an elevation several hundred feet higher than seaside Lisbon. This gives Sintra both outstanding views of the greater Lisbon region, as well as a more temperate microclimate. Bring comfortable shoes: You'll need to do a lot of walking to enjoy the major sites, including National Palace of Sintra, National Palace of Pena and the Moors' Castle, an 8th or 9th century castle built during the Moors' occupation.
- The best bet is to take the bus around town and walk from the bus stops to the attractions. Parking is abysmal and on a holiday weekend Sintra can be absolutely packed with cars and people. If you must drive to Sintra, park in one of the several parking lots below the town center and walk up into town." -- Wikitravel
A former fishing village, Cascais (pronounced cash-ca-eesh) is now a premier and hip beach resort. With plentiful beach space, it's a very popular spot during the summer, but it has some appeal even during the off-season. Many Lisbon visitors who make the 45-minute trip to Cascais (typically departing by train from the Cais do Sodré station) combine it with a visit to the adjacent town of Estoril.
Estoril is a seaside village that is often considered the smaller sibling to Cascais. In fact, Estoril is within walking distance of the center of Cascais, so from a practical perspective these towns can be easily bundled into a single excursion. Like Cascais, Estoril has pleasant beaches, but many are drawn instead to the Casino Estoril, self-proclaimed to be the largest in all of Europe.
Recent Fodor's users have related several stories, in which crime against tourists has gone beyond pickpocketing to violent muggings. Some also report the existence of violent gangs and lackadaisical police. Be on your guard when traveling at night, especially around some of the top attractions and in Lisbon's outskirts. You should also be weary of pulling money out of ATMs; if you can avoid it, refrain from visiting ATMs at night.
You should also be on the watch for residents selling drugs: "Chances are you'll be approached at least a few times by certain types offering 'hash' or 'chocolate', especially in the downtown area on and around Rua Augusta," says Wikitravel.
Be wary of northern Lisbon at night, especially around Intendente and Martin Moniz. These areas are well-known for hosting a rougher crowd along with some brothels.