Portugal was once the most powerful country on the planet, and the heart of that lion was Lisbon. The city's rich cultural heritage is not a museum piece, but lived-in and used by the locals and visitors who sleep in hotels housed within two-hundred year old buildings and dance the night away in clubs that were once the halls of kings.
Where to Start
The geographic and social center of Lisbon is the Baixa, an area much younger than the rest of the city (it was rebuilt in the eighteenth century after being razed by earthquake). There is a flow to the design here that is absent in other parts of the city, and the shops and restaurants are decidedly touristy, but fun to explore anyway.
Places to See
Just down the road from the Baixa (on foot, as most of Lisbon's sights can be walked to) is a shabbier area of the city. This part is surprisingly lacking in tourists, considering how close it is to the center, and its retro charm is well worth a visit. Head to Napoleao for some of the best wines in Portugal (and that's really saying something). It's on the Rua dos Fanqueriros and the staff routinely hand out samples of all the wines.
The Elevador de Santa Justa will take visitors from the Baixa to the almost-summit of the Rua do Carmo where the view of Lisbon is unbeatable, and the Carmo Museum is easy to reach. The Carmo is not your typical museum – it has no roof and is essentially the ruins of a convent that was destroyed in the same earthquake that leveled the Baixa. There is something about this place that has a distinctly tranquil air, and the odd little collection of historical artifacts in the back are worth a look (Lisbon may be an unusual place for Egyptian mummies, but here they are nonetheless).
From here, head further up the hill to the Bairro Alto - translating as, naturally enough, the High Neighborhood. This area's name doesn't just describe its altitude, but also its attitude. It is the coolest place in town and is packed with cafes, bars and designer boutiques, all fighting for space in the single-lane cobble-stone streets. Drug dealers are on every corner (hence the name) but are very Portugese in their dealings (laid-back and friendly), and a simple 'no thankyou' will usually earn you a smile and a few minutes of practicing English before you move on. Try to spend some time in one of the fado bars (fado is a word that roughly translates as 'group mood' or 'collective consciousness') and the music in these will center around drum beats and intricate melodies. Very danceable.
Back at the ranch, the other side of the Baixa will lead you to the suburbs of Alfama and Castelo. These are the only places to be on the Eve of St Antonio's Day (the eve is the 11th of June and St Antonio's day is the 12th). The entire city comes out to play on this night, and dinner is traditionally a sardine in a piece of bread, chased with Sangria (and followed by many more glasses of Sangria). It is a rare partygoer who is home before dawn during this time, so get your dancing shoes on, no matter what your age – this is not only a night for the young.
Lisbon is inexpensive, and the hotel rates reflect this. A four-star room in the center of the city can be had for as little as €60 per night, and for slightly longer stays, serviced apartments in great neighborhoods like Alfama can be found for around €40 per night.
Use the Hotelsio Rate Finder on the left to find cheap hotels in Lisbon.