Lisbon Area Map
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 5 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 World Exposition, which was held in Lisbon.
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 a pick pocketing hot spot, 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. To start your day in Alfama, ride Tram 28 up to the Graca district and walk downhill. That way, you can avoid walking uphill from Baixa.
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 cafes and shops, as well as train/tram stations that connect visitors to top daytrip options, such as Belém, Sintra and Cascais. As a result, visitors will probably find that these neighborhoods offer the most convenient hotels.
While many consider it overrun by tourists, Baixa's pedestrian-only Rua Augusta is still one of the city's main shopping streets. Other streets in Baixa are named after the crafts that were once practiced there: Rua dos Sapateiros (shoemakers), Rua da Prata (silversmiths) 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.
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 Lisboetas 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.
Twenty 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 da 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. To get from the downtown area to Belem, hop on tram No. 15 or No. 127 from Figueira Square.
Parque das Nações
The Parque das Nações (Park of the Nations) project was unveiled during the 1998 World Exposition, which was held in Lisbon. In less than 15 years, the Parque has become a district unto itself, with ultramodern buildings, a world-class aquarium, a casino, parks and dozens of shops and restaurants. It's hard to fathom a place that contrasts more with aging downtown Lisbon.
The top reason you might visit the Parque das Nações are for the contemporary architecture and the area's grand Oceanarium (Lisbon Aquarium). Several bus lines, including 5, 25, 28, 44 and 708 provide stops nearby; the Lisbon Oriente Station (which welcomes red line trains) is the closest metro station.
Around 40 minutes northwest of downtown Lisbon, beautiful and exotic Sintra is the city's most popular daytrip. Even if you're only in Lisbon for a few days, many people recommend you dedicate some of your itinerary 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 the National Palace of Sintra, the National Palace of Pena and the Moors' Castle, an 8th or 9th century castle built during the Moors' occupation. Sintra is best reached by train (the Rossio train, to be specific). If you're thinking of driving, consider this: road are narrow, and there is very little parking.
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 offseason. 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.