Lisbon has long been a gateway to the world. Now, thanks to Air France, France's largest carrier, which connects Lisbon to Johannesburg or Cape Town via Paris and Amsterdam in a flight lasting as little as 14 hours 30 minutes, you can experience this vibrant city to the full. There's easily enough to see in Lisbon to keep you occupied for a week's stay, but it's compact enough to make an ideal short holiday destination too. The best time to buy your airplane ticket is naturally enough outside local school holidays. The climate is Mediterranean, meaning that even in Winter, temperatures rarely dip below 7 or 8°C. Greater Lisbon is home to some 3 million people, or more than a quarter of Portugal's entire population. The city is one of Western Europe's oldest continuously inhabited places, having been founded around 1200 BC. The identity of the city is inextricably linked to its location on the western edge of the old world. Great sea voyages began and ended here, and trading links with Africa, the New World, India and the Spice Islands (modern-day Indonesia) helped make Lisbon rich and contributed to its expansion and architectural flowering. Many of Lisbon's most famous buildings were built during this period, including the Belem Tower and the Jeronimos Monastery. This stunning former religious complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a masterpiece of what is called the Manueline style, a flamboyant, distinctively Portuguese approach to architecture. The building is now home to the Portuguese Navy Museum.
Lisbon is a city with very strong local loyalties, notably to one's 'bairro' (neighbourhood). The city's history may be retraced through the lay-out and architecture of individual bairros. For example, Alfama, the city's oldest district, still retains something of an eastern, souk-like feel, with its very narrow streets. This lay-out helped preserve this district from severe damage during the catastrophic 1755 earthquake. Baixa, on the other hand, offers a stark contrast to much of the rest of the city with its modern grid pattern. It was built in response to the disaster of 1755 and is a very early example of earthquake-resistant construction! Bairro Alto, meanwhile, has something for everyone - shopping, restaurants, cafés and a happening nightlight scene. With all this choice, you may be struggling to decide where you'd like to stay when in Lisbon. The dedicated Air France hotels section should be able to help…If you'd like to escape the hustle and bustle of urban life for a while, there are several excellent options within easy reach of the city centre. Lisbon Botanical Gardens are a wonderfully eclectic collection of plants and trees from all over the world - it's a great place to just relax. The Lisbon Oceanarium offers another way in which to appreciate the beauty of the natural world in the heart of the city, in the shape of the largest indoor aquarium in Europe. Sea otters, penguins, sharks, rays and an enormous Ocean sunfish all feature. Lisbon Portela airport is just a couple of miles from the Oceanarium and about 5 miles north of the city centre.