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What is Lisbon Known For & Famous For
Lisbon is Portugal’s capital and home to a vast array of cultural attractions and landmarks. Here, travelers can enjoy the rich traditional cuisine, visit some of the most famous buildings in the country, and learn about the nation’s proud history. A fresh tourist in Lisbon might ask themselves, “What is Lisbon known and famous for?”
Lisbon is known for being home to some of Portugal’s most famous sites, including the Ponte 25 de Abril, a beautiful suspension bridge. The city is also renowned for its Belem Tower, Museu de Marinha, Lisbon Cathedral, Mercado de Santa Clara, and impeccable seafood.
In this article, I’ll take you through the many fantastic sites, foods, and cultural aspects to enjoy while visiting Lisbon. Together, we’ll explore some of Lisbon’s most famous buildings and the city’s rich history.
Cheap for Western Europe
Tourists will be pleased to learn that while Lisbon is a richly beautiful place to explore, it won’t deplete your wallets.
In fact, according to Lisbon Lisboa Portugal’s analysis of traveling in Lisbon, this city is one of the best choices for traveling on a budget. The food and public transportation options are pretty affordable and accessible.
For living accommodations, the best choice is to find a hotel in the Baixa district. The best seasons to visit Lisbon are spring and autumn, which provide gorgeous scenery and more leeway compared to the busier tourist months in the summertime.
When it comes to inexpensive food, your best bet is to head to the locals’ favorite dining places, such as cafes. While there are tourist-dedicated options in Lisbon, these tend to be pricier.
One of the most popular sites to visit in Lisbon is the Belem Tower. This former military defense building was later converted into a lighthouse.
What makes this building fascinating is that in 1513, when the Belem Tower was built, the very first Indian rhinoceros stepped foot into Portugal. There’s a possibility that the gargoyle found on the side of the structure pays continual homage to this moment.
Like the Lisbon Cathedral, UNESCO named the tower a World Heritage Site in 1983. Visitors will get to see the old cannons once used to defend Lisbon centuries ago. They can also enjoy climbing the stairs inside and exploring each of the 5 tower layers.
Castelo de São Jorge
Next up on the list we have the Castelo de São Jorge.
The Castle has stood solid throughout turbulent changes in history. Many conflicts raged around it, including the fall of Roman forces and battles between Arabic and Christian armies.
Nowadays, the Castle stands as a delightful tourist attraction. It received a significant renovation in the 40s to help enhance its historic appeal.
The fascinating history behind the castle is its namesake. Saint George is the Patron Saint of England. The Castle received his homage when the Portuguese King Afonso Henriques gave it as a wedding gift to his English wife, Phillipa of Lancaster.
Padrão dos Descobrimentos
One of Lisbon’s most famous historical monuments is the Padrão dos Descobrimentos. This piece is dedicated to the Portuguese voyagers and explorers who made their nation an emblem of seafaring.
Originally, the monument came to be in 1940 as a wood and plaster piece. Because these materials don’t last as long as others, the monument received sturdy renovations in the 60s, creating the beautiful structure we see today.
Palácio Nacional da Ajuda
We Heart Lisbon provides an excellent analysis of this palace’s history. At the time of the Great Earthquake (in 1755), the Portuguese royal family lost their home and needed to choose a place to build their next residence. They chose a hilly area in the Ajuda district for their new palace.
Sadly, the palace would never reach completion. Because Napoleon invaded Portugal in 1807, the royal family had to flee to Brazil. As a direct consequence, their home remained unfinished.
In modern days, the Palace has become a museum open to the public. Visitors can explore 2 layers of the palace and have the chance to enjoy some intricate art from centuries ago.
You can visit the Palace any day of the week besides Wednesday. Visiting this historical place will provide a rich insight into what could’ve been the royal family’s most beautiful home.
Mercado de Santa Clara
Those who enjoy flea markets will be pleased to learn that Lisbon has a particularly famous one. Lisbon Directory showcases the market as a historical addition to the city that dates back all the way to 1877. This market offers food, tools, and antiques among the many wares on display.
Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara
Lisbon also offers scenic views that shouldn’t be passed up during visits. As Visit Lisboa recommends, tourists should consider visiting the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, which offers a stunning view of Lisbon. This is an excellent area to take pictures and relax after a day of exploring the city.
Ponte 25 de Abril
This suspension bridge received its name in remembrance of Portugal’s Carnation Revolution.
Something to remember for travelers to Lisbon is that, unfortunately for pedestrians, there’s no way to travel across the bridge on foot. On top of that, you have to pay a small but necessary toll fee.
However, the bridge offers a scenic view of the surrounding area that shouldn’t be passed up.
LxFactory – creatief centrum met veel street art
Lisbon has a reputation for being a center of creativity. With LXFactory showcasing their works on their official site, it’s easy to see why the city continues to flourish in this regard. What first started as an industrial spot in 1846 is now a bustling hub for the arts.
Among the most famous religious sites in Lisbon is the Lisbon Cathedral, more so known as Santa Maria Maior. This beautiful cathedral managed to survive the terrible Great Earthquake in 1755 and has received a small number of renovations throughout the last few centuries. One can find the remains of Roman, Arabic, and Medieval-era individuals inside the cloister.
For all visitors, the cathedral is open daily. While visiting the cathedral is free, you have to pay a small fee to explore the cloister and treasury.
Pastéis de Belém
On top of the wondrous places you can visit in Lisbon, the city also offers delicious (and famous) food to enjoy.
One example is Pastéis de Belém, delicious Portuguese sweets with a fascinating history, provided by the official site of these pastries’ creators.
In essence, Pastéis de Belém is a testament to survival through the bitterest of times. These sweet pastries first came to be in the aftermath of the 1820 rebellion in Portugal, which led to the expulsion of the country’s religious workers.
To survive, in the Jeronimos Monastery, the workers worked hard to create the first generation of Pastéis for sale. The recipe they used hundreds of years ago is the very same one used today.
Seafood lovers will be thrilled to learn that Lisbon offers a wide array of restaurants ready to satisfy their cravings. Lisbon Guru Travel Guide offers a list of the city’s finest seafood restaurants, including Ramiro, where the legendary chef Anthony Bourdain once visited. Ramiro and other fine restaurants in Lisbon offer delicious takes on fish, lobster, and many other seafood delights.
Lisbon has some wonderful museums to peruse during your visit. These include the Museu de Marinha, which features marine exhibits, and the Museu Nacional do Azulejo, which showcases Portugal’s unique tile art. We’ll explore these museums in greater detail below.
If, while in Lisbon, you find yourself wishing to explore neighboring towns, Sintra will be one of your best options. Per Sintra-Portugal.com’s description of the town, Sintra is a quaint place with many historical buildings, including castles and villas. This is an excellent spot for taking in Lisbon’s history throughout the centuries.
You might have heard of Lisbon’s yellow trams, also referred to as “Remodelado” trams. While the yellow trams aren’t as modern as other attractions in Lisbon, they provide a beautiful, scenic view throughout the city. When taking the E28 path on a Remodelado tram, you get the chance to explore Lisbon’s historical center.
Be advised that when planning a trip on the E28 path, it’s best to take a trip earlier in the day to avoid tourist traffic. Because the E28 route is so scenic, it becomes bustling later in the afternoon.
Elevador da Bica
The Elevador da Bica is almost a cross between the Yellow Trams and the Santa Justa Lift.
Lisbon Portugal Tourism Guide notes that the Elevador is a funicular railroad car that takes passengers along Lisbon’s most wondrous street, Rua da Bica de Duarte Belo. This yellow car takes people from a special waterfront district, Cais do Sodre, to the hilltop Bairro Alto neighborhood.
Regarding passengers, the Elevador da Bica can take up to 23 people at one time for a 5-minute ride. It can be rode up until 9 p.m.
Museu de Marinha
One of the most famous museums in Lisbon is the Museu de Marinha, which showcases Portuguese maritime wonders.
Transport Museums discusses the vast archives in the Museum, full of thousands of artifacts from the country’s love of the sea. Visitors get to see models of Portuguese ships throughout the last couple of centuries, along with smaller vessels used for fishing.
This museum is a definite go-to site for lovers of the oceans, sailing, and maritime history.
Praça do Comércio
At the center of Lisbon lies the Praça do Comércio, the city’s historic core where the royal family’s palace once stood. The city center is so massive that only St. Petersburg in Russia rivals it in size. This is a prime spot for tourists to check out, as it can guide them on where to go next on their journey in Lisbon.
Lisbon comprises many districts within its quarters, and the Alfama district is the oldest of them all. The old houses here are decorated with beautiful art, upgrading the area from its poverty centuries ago. Tourists will enjoy wandering these streets, taking in the art and history around them.
When it comes to music, Fado is Portugal’s most famous genre. Fado originates from the 1700s, beginning as a somber form of music that typically focuses on the sea. The word “fado” traces back to Latin, and means “destiny”. If you’re the artistic type, you won’t want to miss out on listening to some Fado.
While Lisbon provides tourists with plenty of daytime activities, its nightlife is also full of adventures. Nightflow gives a detailed guide of the options for night enjoyment in Lisbon, ranging from clubs to spots showcasing Fado music. There’s something for everyone during nights out in Lisbon.
It’s always good to know about a destination’s weather before adventuring there. Lisbon is known to be among the warmest European cities, with plenty of rain as well. Thankfully, the city rarely experiences severe weather swings, making it an ideal vacation spot all year round.
Queluz National Palace
Another wondrous palace to explore in Lisbon is the Queluz National Palace.
Per Portugal.net’s summary of Queluz, this palace is called the Versailles of Portugal because its splendor is similar to that of the famous French palace. The Palace came to be in the 18th century and is primarily known as the home of Queen Maria I.
Ironically, she was the only member of Portugal’s royal family to live here. The others treated it merely as a place for recreation.
These days, you can visit the palace by taking a short train from Lisbon. While you can, in fact, find lodging here, it won’t be cheap.
The Santa Justa Lift
People use the historic Santa Justa Lift to get to different parts of Lisbon.
This elevator has a rich history behind it. The Lift first came to be on July 10, 1902, and was first called the “Carmo Lift”. The Lift was an inspiring innovation for the people of Lisbon.
On its first official day of use as a means of public transportation, 3,000 tickets were sold.
Coincidentally, the designer of the Lift, Raoul Mesnier de Ponsard, admired the works of the French architect Eiffel. Because of this admiration, the Lift has a few apparent similarities to the Eiffel Tower, including a wondrous observation deck at the top that offers a view of the Baixa district.
Something to keep in mind before getting on the Lift is that it can only take up and down a few people at a time. If you have a party of over 10 people, you’ll need to split yourselves up into two groups.
Lisbon’s visitor site reveals that this monastery is the resting place of none other than Vasco de Gama.
For this reason and many others, the Monastery is typically seen as the most unique attraction for visitors in Lisbon. The Monastery is so famous worldwide that UNESCO made it a World Heritage Site in 1983.
Vasco de Gama has a unique connection to this monastery’s creation. In fact, it was made in his honor. Diogo de Boitaca, an excellent Portuguese architect, began building the Monastery on January 6, 1501, in honor of de Gama’s triumphant return from his voyage to India. Naturally, because of the Monastery’s elegant beauty, it wouldn’t see full completion until later in the 17th century.
The connections to de Gama go even further here before he set sail with his crew to India. The Jeronimos Monastery was formerly the site of Ermida do Restelo. In this chapel, de Gama prayed before departing on his voyage.
Besides its connections to de Gama, the Monastery is also the resting place of Luis de Camoes, a famous Portuguese poet.
Capital of Portugal
Lisbon is the capital city of Portugal. WorldAtlas notes that Lisbon contains 27% of Portugal’s overall population. The city lies on the Atlantic coast, offering a gorgeously scenic view of the surrounding area. However, as you might’ve gathered by now, Lisbon is unlike any other European capital you might’ve visited before.
Time Out Market Lisbon
While Lisbon is a city full of rich history, it also showcases lots of modern inventions as well. One of these more recent wonders is the Time Out Market, which offers a breakdown of its history on the Market’s official site. This market came into creation as a result of a collaboration between journalists and shopkeepers coming together to make a unique marketplace.
Museu Nacional do Azulejo
Another fantastic museum to visit is the Museu Nacional do Azulejo, a place featuring magnificent Portuguese tile art.
The Museum used to be a convent and contains art pieces dating back centuries to the 1400s. This museum is a testament to Portugal’s leadership in pursuing excellence through art.
One of the Museum’s most famous art pieces is a tile piece featuring the birth of Jesus. This wonder was created in 1580, involving a whopping 1498 tiles. For all people of religious convictions, this is a sight to contemplate.
There are many other wonderful art pieces to look at in the museum, showing highlights from across the centuries. Admission is relatively cheap and worthwhile for everything you get to see.
Cimetière de Alto de São João
Easily the most famous cemetery in Lisbon, the Cimetière de Alto de São João continues to be actively used to this day. This cemetery first came into use after a horrific cholera outbreak in 1833. It also became the site of Portugal’s first crematorium in 1925.
Arguably the most melancholic part of the cemetery is a statue of a soldier on top of a tall pile of stones, standing forever in front of the tombs of soldiers from World War I.
As Portugal’s capital, Lisbon features an excellent summary of the country’s cultural influences. Lisbon-Live.com discusses the Roman and Moorish art elements left behind from invading forces. Lisbon’s museums continue to tell the story of how internal and external influences created the unique blend of Portuguese art we see today.
You’d be surprised to know that over its long history, Lisbon has changed hands numerous times.
According to World Travel Guide’s breakdown of Lisbon’s history, the city was occupied by the Romans and the Moors. In more ancient times, the surrounding region was home to a Phoenician trade site. Lisbon would later become the target of Chrisitan crusaders, who seized the city from Moorish rule in 1255.
Vasco de Gama, the explorer who found an ocean path to India, first set sail from Lisbon when his journey was set to begin. Per History.com’s biography of de Gama, the explorer departed from Lisbon in 1497. His mission was a success, and after de Gama first explored stops in Africa along their path, he landed in Calicut, India, in 1498.
While Lisbon has been the historic site of many achievements, the city has unfortunately been a victim of many natural disasters as well. In 1755, Lisbon was almost entirely destroyed by what would become known as the “Great Earthquake of 1755”.
Even in the aftermath, Lisbon had a spot of hope thanks to a remarkable man, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Mello, later referred to as the Marquis de Pombal. Britannica’s article on the Marquis discusses that Carvalho was already planning the city’s reconstruction just a day after the earthquake. He’d ensured that in the immediate wake of the earthquake, Lisbon had makeshift hospitals set up along with necessary supplies.
Unfortunately, Carvalho let the people’s praise inflate his ego, and he would go on to become a dictator. While he wasn’t the official ruler of Portugal, his prestige had given him a special connection to the king. Carvalho ruthlessly used his alliance to get rid of longtime enemies.
Even with his ruthless tactics against his opposition, Carvalho instituted many necessary reforms for Lisbon. These included trade and educational reforms establishing Lisbon as a shining beacon of progress in the 1700s. For his devotion to improving the city, the king gave him his official title as the Marquis de Pombal in September 1769.
Years after the rise and fall of the Marquis, Lisbon stands as a bustling site of rich culture and a popular site for tourists to explore.
Lisbon, Portugal, is a gorgeous and relatively affordable vacation spot. With its wide array of historic buildings and delightful food options, tourists will quickly become enchanted with what they discover here.
From the city’s religious sites to its museums, there’s something here for everyone to enjoy.
- World Travel Guide: Lisbon History
- Britannica: Marquis de Pombal
- History.com: Vasco de Gama
- Lisbon Lisboa Portugal: Lisbon on a Budget and Tips for Low Cost Holiday
- Lisbon Lisboa Portugal: Lisbon tram guide – updated for 2022
- Lisbon: Santa Justa Lift in Lisbon
- Lisbon: Lisbon Cathedral
- Lisbon: Jeronimos Monastery
- Lisbon Portugal Tourist Guide: Elevador Da Bica Tourist Guide
- Pastéis de Belém: History
- Lisbon: Belem Tower
- Lost Lara: Tombstone Tourism: Cemitério do Alto de São João, Lisbon
- Lisbon Lisboa Portugal: The Ponte 25 de Abril
- We Heart Lisbon: Palácio Nacional da Ajuda – palace of great splendour
- Lisbon Lisboa Portugal: Castelo de São Jorge
- Portugal.net: National Palace of Queluz
- Transport Museums: Museu de Marinha
- Lisbon Portugal Tourist Guide: Tile Museum
- Food & Drink Destinations: Lisbon Food Guide
- Lisbon Lisboa Portugal: Padrão dos Descobrimentos
- Lisbon Directory: Mercado de Santa Clara
- Visit Lisboa: Miradouro de S. Pedro de Alcântara
- LXFactory: Homepage
- Lisbon Guru: Lisbon’s 10 Best Seafood Restaurants
- Sintra Portugal: Sintra Portugal
- Lisbon Portugal Tourism Guide: PRAÇA DO COMÉRCIO
- Lisbon Lisboa Portugal: The Alfama District of Lisbon
- Lisbon: Fado Music
- Nightflow: Lisbon Nightlife • A Complete Guide
- Lisbon: Climate of Lisbon
- WorldAtlas: What is the Capital of Portugal?
- TimeOut: The Best of Lisbon
- Lisboa-live.com: Culture in Lisbon