Flights to Lisbon land at Lisbon Airport (Humberto Delgado Airport), the main international airport of Portugal. From here, the centre of Portugal’s capital city is an easily accessible 7km away. When flying from South Africa to Lisbon, cheap flights often go via Amsterdam or Paris, or via Dubai or Doha. Direct flights to Portugal from South Africa are not yet available but Lisbon Airport does offer flights to major European cities and many other destinations worldwide. When it comes to visa requirements for Lisbon, South Africans must apply for a short-stay Schengen visa – the correct visa for holidays in Portugal. Then you’re ready to explore! Lisbon is one of the most vibrant cities of Europe, with a history linked to its seafaring heritage. It offers tradition and modernism, side by side. Lisbon nightlife is lively and varied – the bars kick into action around midnight and the party continues until daylight. With a rich history, Mediterranean climate, and lovely beaches nearby, Lisbon is perfect for a cultural trip, a family holiday, or an exciting city break.
St. George's Castle is one of the most popular attractions in Lisbon, overlooking the city atop a hill near Alfama, which is the oldest district. The hilly, coastal city boasts beautiful pastel- coloured buildings and azulejo-clad surfaces (the famous ceramic tiles of Portugal) – there’s even a National Azulejo Museum, displaying five centuries of decorative tiles. If you’re looking for nightclubs and bars, try the riverfront of Alcântara, with its converted waterfront warehouses. Known as ‘Docas’, the dock warehouses have been transformed into the likes of upscale restaurants like Doca Peixe and super-clubs such as Lux, co-owned by John Malkovich. In Bairro Alto, you’ll find another centre of nightlife which draws hipsters and a variety of music subcultures. Belem features the famous Tower of Belem, built in part to defend the 16th-century Jerónimos Monastery. Also popular with tourists is the elegant Baixa district, with its impressive plazas and avenues, and boutique shopping boulevards. Along with the area’s sightseeing attractions, there are many restaurants and top hotels. You’ll find Lisbon’s beaches strung along the Atlantic coast, just outside the city, a short bus or train ride away. The Cascais-Estoril coastline is to the west of Lisbon and the Costa de Caparica to the south.
Lisbon’s traditional shopping area is the Baixa Pombalina. Some shops have been around for three centuries, and certain street names reflect the commercial activities that used to take place there – Rua dos Fanqueiros (Draper’s St.) or Rua do Ouro (Gold St.). Further up, art, fashion and a mix of old and modern can be found in Chiado, with bookstores, clothing and pottery, alongside galleries and coffee shops. Head to Principe Real for small, inventive labels and artisanal products. For big international brands and luxury shopping, stroll the famous Avenida da Liberdade – a stretch of over 2,5km lined with acacias and palm trees along the cobbled pavements. The Feira da Ladra, or flea market, is Lisbon’s answer for all things vintage and antique. Held every Tuesday and Saturday in Campo de Santa Clara, it dates back to 1272 and offers some real treasures amongst the bric-a-brac.
There is a huge variety of accommodation in Lisbon. Those with a hefty budget can stay in the mansions of Torel Palace (dating back to 1902 and 1904), at the Pestana Palace – a National Monument originally built for the First Marquis of Vale Flor – or at the Real Palacio, converted into a hotel from the 17th-century Guedes Quinhones Palace. Of course, there are many options to suit all budgets, from backpackers and hostels to Airbnb homes. If this is your first holiday in Lisbon, you’ll probably want to stay close to the historic centre so you can walk to the main sights and attractions. Aim for the districts of Baixa, Chiado, Bairro Alto, Alfama and the Avenida da Liberdade. Alfama is full of character, but the steep, narrow streets can be draining on a hot summer’s day. The Mouraria district and the Avenida Almirante Reis offer cheap accommodation in Lisbon for backpackers and budget travellers, but wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Bairro Alto and Cais do Sodre are good for nightlife. If you’re travelling for business, check out the Parque das Nações district for modern business hotels and proximity to the airport.
If you fly via London or other main European hubs, you can book cheap flights to Lisbon with a low-cost carrier, such as Easyjet or Ryanair. While there are no direct flights to Lisbon from Johannesburg or elsewhere in South Africa, you can fly with Emirates or Etihad, or other carriers such as Air France or Lufthansa. You will land at the Humberto Delgado Airport, which is the headquarters and international hub for TAP Portugal and is located within the city limits.
Getting from Lisbon Airport to the city is simple: just hop on the metro or Aerobus bus service. The Lisbon Metro comprises of four lines and connects the city centre with the upper and eastern districts, and with suburbs of the wider Lisbon Metropolitan Area. There is also a local bus service, and the city’s famous trams. A traditional form of public transport, the trams were introduced in the 19th century (the earliest ones can be seen in the Museu da Carris or Public Transport Museum) and the tramway system still employs distinctive little yellow trams of a design from the early 20th century. One of the city’s tourist icons, they are well suited to the steep hills and narrow streets of central Lisbon. Various commuter train lines depart from Lisbon: the Cascais, Sintra, Azambuja, and a fourth line to Setúbal, which crosses the Tagus river, over the 25 de Abril Bridge.
The Oceanário de Lisboa was named the best aquarium in the world by Tripadvisor in 2015 and 2017. It has 8,000 marine creatures, making it one of the best things to do in Lisbon if you are interested in all things aquatic. Also recommended are the many day trips from Lisbon. The beautiful hill-top town of Sintra is very popular, as is the fishing town of Cascais. If you have a bit more time, you could venture further to the palace of Mafra, or to the port city of Setubal, to Sesimbra (a charming beach-side town) or to the beautiful walled town of Obidos.