Lisbon is just as much fun in the cooler months as it is in the summer! It’s quieter and easier to do the ‘must-do’ sights without tripping over tourists. Alright, you probably won’t be enjoying the surf vibe that summer brings but the relative tranquility is just as rewarding. Lisbon seems to have hit everyone’s top city break list and for the last couple of summers it has been difficult to experience the main attractions of the city without either getting up a dawn (and who wants to do that on holiday?) or being surrounded by other eager travelers. The best time to visit Lisbon to get a flavor of the local’s Lisbon is when the holiday season winds down in the autumn and winter.
Here’s 5 great reasons why you should visit Lisbon in Winter
1. To ride the tram from top to bottom
A favorite symbol of Lisbon is its iconic yellow trams or electricos as they’re known in Portuguese, they are all over the city and are great fun to ride. The classic rollercoaster-esque ride up and down the hills of the city is the number 28 tram but in the summer? Forget it. Too crowded, queues at tram stops a mile long, no seats, can’t see out of the windows, risk of pickpockets, it all just saps the fun out of the experience. However if you visit Lisbon in winter it’s a completely different proposition. Go on a week day from November to February and you will have a great ride.
Top tip: Depending on where you’re staying and how fit you’re feeling, get the metro or walk up to the top of the line at Campo de Ourique and head right down into the city towards the Martim Moniz stop. Most visitors get on at Martim Moniz as it’s closer to the historic centre so if you do the reverse you’re almost guaranteed to have the pick of the seats and a fantastic view.
2. For Spice and Sailors
The Jeronimos Monastery in Belem is also accessible via tram, take this short trip to the west of the city and hop off right outside the monastery. The huge Jeronimos Monastery overlooks the wide Tagus river flowing out to the ocean. The church previously on the site was the final place for sailors to pray before they set out for the New World. Portuguese hero Vasco da Gama prayed here with his crew before their successful trip toward Asia in 1497 and this prompted the building of the current monastery, which started in 1501 and finished 100 years later in 1601.
The monastery and attached church are well worth visiting, if you go inside you are still able to walk around the two-story cloisters and admire the breathtaking architectural details inspired by the monastery’s position next to the water and the marvels brought back from far off lands.
Top Tip: You have to buy your tickets in the main booth then walk around to the entrance, in the summer time there are huge hot queues for both in full sun which does not make for a peaceful, contemplative experience. Go in the winter and you’re likely to have the place to yourself.
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3. Marvel at the Monument to the Discoveries
Walk past the fountain and through the underpass to take you to the Padrao dos Descobrimentos monument. Marvel at the tiled map in front which shows all the Portuguese sea discoveries. The monument itself was constructed in 1960 in time for the 500 year anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator, and is a replica of a temporary structure originally built in 1940. Alongside the monument you will see two wrought iron armillary spheres, also a motif well used in Lisbon.
4. Visit Lisbon in winter for the great weather
Did you know that Lisbon is the sunniest capital in Europe? Well it is, average temperatures for the coldest month of January show a low of 8c and a high of 15c and as someone who was in a T-shirt on the beach outside Lisbon on Christmas Day, I can confirm that the winter sun is warm. Even if it feels chilly the sun is often out, anyway you don’t want it too warm or you’ll melt walking up all the hills in the historic Alfama and Bairro Alto districts.
5. Get lost in the uncrowded back streets
Whether you prefer to wander around and discover the secrets tucked around corners in winding roads yourself or join a walking tour of the the city, the best way to get to know Lisbon is on foot. August temperatures are regularly in the 30c range and combined with crowds it’s easy to become exhausted and just not enjoy your break. Lisbon is a living city, it’s not somewhere that is only open in the summer, Lisboners (or Lisboetas in Portuguese) like to work hard during the day and then get out in the evening to enjoy themselves all year round. Even in the winter you can find people dining or having a drink outside, just bring a jacket, or tuck a scarf in your bag.
Sure, you’ll replace ice cream with a coffee or a hot chocolate in the morning but the rooftop bars will still be going strong in the evening. Enjoy cocktails at one of the epic rooftop bars with river views and great DJs or find a fado hideaway in the older part of town such as the highly rated Restaurante Solar Sao Cristovao (O Almeida).
Weather definitely doesn’t stop play here so visit Lisbon in winter for an unforgettable and less crowded city break. Have you visited Lisbon during the winter months? Share your own experience in the comments section below!
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