Spread across the hillsides that overlook the Rio Tejo is the colourful cityscape of Lisbon, where gothic cathedrals, majestic monasteries and white bleached limestone buildings are lit up by the all-year-round sunshine (Lisbon boasts one of the mildest winters in Europe!). Portugal’s capital is the oldest city in Western Europe and one of the oldest in the world. It predates London, Paris and Rome by several centuries and its streets are dotted with reminders of its rich and varied past.
The city is divided into barrios (districts) according to their historical culture and architectural landmarks. The Islamic influence on the city can be seen especially in Alfama, the oldest quarter of the city, where place names are derived from Arabic as Lisbon was taken over by Muslim forces in the 8th century and they ruled the city for over 450 years. Then, in the 16th century the city enjoyed great prosperity and flourished thanks to its exploitation of the trade in spices, slaves and sugar. Many of the city’s most iconic landmarks, such as the UNESCO world heritage sites, the Jerónimos Monastery and the Belém Tower, are a testament to this time and can be found in the barrio of Belém.
However, Lisbon’s interest doesn’t just lie in its history; it is one of the most important growing financial centres on the continent. Sitting side by side with the monumental quarter of Belém is the modern area of Parque das Nações which is the newest district in Lisbon. It emerged from an urban renewal programme leading to the World Exhibition of Lisbon 1998. Similarly, in The Chiado district you will find a shopping haven, and Barrio Alto is home to the city’s hip underground music scene, eclectic boutiques and bars, and nightlife until dawn. And if you want to take a break from the bustle of Lisbon’s historic streets, you can find a slice of paradise in Monsanto Forest Park, which at 10km square is one of the largest in Europe.
It is no wonder that Lisbon Airport serves 16 million people annually – visitors can relax in the city’s parks, gardens, belvederes, cafes and esplanades and all under the warm Mediterranean sun.