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A few months ago I was lucky enough to visit Lisbon, and my short stay in the city represented my first trip to the Portuguese capitol. As far as capitol cities go, Lisbon is actually quite small in terms of its population, with around two-and-a-half million people in the metropolitan area - compare that to London's estimated 12 - 13 million, and you'll get an idea of the scale. I arrived in Lisbon via the sea, and the city is quite stunning from the water. The huge and bright red '25 de Abril Bridge' looks just like San Francisco's Golden Gate - and passing underneath it is certainly a sight to behold. Similarly, the Vasco da Gama Bridge (located further down the river Tagus) is very impressive, and happens to be the longest bridge in Europe, measuring a staggering 10.7 miles! On the opposite side of the river stands the monument to Christ the King, a large statue of Jesus which was commissioned as a thankyou to the fact that Portugal wasn't extensively damaged in either of the World Wars.
A good point to start your exploration of Lisbon is in the Pombaline Downtown area which is overlooked by the impressive Castelo São Jorge. The castle itself is a Medieval construction which is located above a number of squares, each with their own unique character. Of the squares, the Pedro IV (also known as the Rossio) is my personal favourite, with the grand Maria II Theatre at one end, and a statue of Dom Pedro IV in the centre. The square has an amazing wavy black and white tiled floor which makes you go a bit dizzy when you're looking at it. A winding path at the top leads you to the castle, which, although huge and easy to see from the square, can lead tourists astray on the winding streets which lead up to it. Whilst I was looking for the castle, a scruffy man (who seemed to be injecting himself with some dodgy looking substance) appeared from nowhere and asked me if I was looking for the castle. He then pointed out the correct direction and disappeared back into the shadows - it was quite surreal. Rather than being an unnerving occurrence however, the man was generally very helpful - I certainly couldn't see a drug addict being that helpful in London!
Just off the Alfama district is the Baixa district which is basically the city centre - this area was destroyed by an earthquake and three tidal waves in 1755, although you can't see any trace of this in modern times. A great tourist attraction in the area is the Santa Justa Lift - an ornate iron elevator which leads to a terrace with a great view of the castle and surrounding streets. One of the most impressive buildings in the city is the Art Deco Eden Theatre with its columned façade, inside which are full sized palm trees! The main shopping area can be explored easily by foot - although it's quite a hilly city which has a geometrically structured grid of streets that bear a similarity to San Francisco's. These hills make it fairly easy to get tired, and If you do it's easy to hop onto one of the many trams which frequent the area. If you wish, the trams will take you up to Largo das Portas do Sol, a beautiful area which offers one of the most impressive views of the city back down to the river. Here there is a statue of St. Vicente de Fora (Lisbon's patron saint), and also a little hut selling coffee - it's delicious and I recommend you get some.
In terms of Lisbon's history, the city was ruled by the Romans from as far back as 205 BC, at which point it was already over thousand years old! In the eighth Century Lisbon was captured by Moors, and then in the twelfth Century the Crusaders captured the city for the Christians. There's so much evidence of history everywhere you look, and the architecture and numerous statues really are a joy to behold. However, unlike here in the UK where the historic sites are well looked after, many of Lisbon's monuments are daubed in graffiti which is a shame to see - the figure of St. Vicente de Fora (which I mentioned in the previous paragraph) had an Anarchy symbol sprayed across his face. This may sound like a bit of a generalisation, but I found that Lisbon is quite a heavily grafittied city compared to some of the other European Capitols I have visited.
As it has a Mediterranean climate, the weather in Lisbon is pretty decent, with warm summers and fairy mild winters. During my visit in May, it was pleasant rather than hot, with a few rainy intervals. However warm it is in the day, you should remember to bring a jacket with you as the evenings can get cold quite quickly. Lisbon seems to be one of those places where the weather can change suddenly, with the rain soon replaced by warm sun. Speaking of sunshine, If a beach holiday is more your cup of tea, there are a few coastal resorts close to the city - Estoril, Cascais, and Costa da Caparica are all only a short train ride away, and will suit those who aren't into soaking up the culture. One place to definitely visit is the oceanarium in the Parque das Nações, which is widely considered to be one of the world's best - it's the biggest in Europe, and features more than more than eight thousand fish - impressive!
Overall then, Lisbon is a city of restaurants and bars, culture and history. There are a number of galleries to visit, sculptures to view, and marvelous architecture to appreciate. It's a city which needs time to explore, and although you can get a flavour of the area in a couple of days, you need at least a week to fully appreciate it. The city can be explored by foot, and it's one of those places which you can arrive at without a plan - wandering off aimlessly is actually a good way to discover the sights, and there are plenty of wonderful things to experience.
The Columbus shopping centre in Lisbon is fantastic and would give any UK shopping mall a run for it's money. It is located out of town (near the football stadium if I remember correctly) and if you are in Lisbon on holiday, the easiest way to get there by far, unless you have a hire car, is by taxi. Taxis are in abundance to get back to your hotel too, so no worries there. It is quite a beautiful shopping mall, if such a thing can be said and has some great European clothes shops. It's so nice to be able to take unique clothes home without breaking the bank. There are some great eateries in the mall too and excellent book and toy shops. I bought a gorgeous perspex wine rack from a Habitat-esque type store last time I was there too. Of course the shops in Lisbon itself are also good, but if you are sightseeing mainly and want all of the shops in close proximity to each others, this is the place to come.
Lisbon or Lisboa is the capital of Portugal and enjoys a marvellous position. To the northeast of the city the River Tagus opens out to form the shining Mar de Palha (sea of straw). The city stands on the northwest bank of this lake just before it narrows and flows out into the Atlantic Ocean. For miles and miles, homes, factories, warehouses and port installations carpet the steep hills and valleys along the estuary. Lisbon is sometimes called the Cidade Branca, the White City but actually its colour is really a matt pastel shade. The best view of the city can be enjoyed from one of the many excellent fish restaurants in Cacilhas on the south bank of the river. Between Alfama (see my review), the labyrinth of narrow alleys on the citadel hill, and the elevated Bairro Alto, lies the flat plain of the city centre, the Cidade Baixa, with its geometrical street plan. Leading down to the Baixa is the wide tree-lined Avenida da Liberdade. Old trams, known as, electricos, wind their noisy way along the inclines of the narrow streets. Funicular railways or elevadores and an unusual lift with an elaborate Gothic exterior negotiate the steep inclines of one of the hilliest harbour towns in the world. Lisbon has many miradouros (lookout points) that provide panoramic views over the river Tagus and the city. A tour of the city on foot will also reveal many otherwise hidden sights. Just a few yards from the roar of city traffic, steep flights of steps disappear into sleepy corners where caged birds sing. Idyllic parks with exotic plants and peaceful fountains are a refuge from the hectic hurly-burly of the frenetic city streets.
Between the huge, postmodern towers of the Amoreiras shopping centre, towering symbols of Lisbon's share in the prosperity of modern Europe, and the tiny buildings with doll's house facades in the old town, there are examples - small and large - of many different styles of architecture. Lisbon has resisted the melancholic decadence and progress of the late 20th century.
That's my romantic overview of the city now I will introduce you to some of the more interesting attractions in Lisbon. It is always difficult to write a review of a city as magical and diverse as Lisbon and to try and mention every attraction and sight. I have already written reviews of the Alfama and Belem so these areas will not be mentioned in this visual tour.
The best way to see the city is by foot. With many steep inclines and smooth limestone cobbles underfoot it is adviseable to wear a good pair of shoes. The city is hilly but I always find it a very easy to navigate as long as you have your wits about you crossing roads. Lisboan drivers are manic and the best advice I can give when crossing the road is to go with the flow. Don't hesitate - once the lights are on green - get your running shoes on and walk as fast as you can. City maps can be misleading, as the steep hills create a false impression of the distances involved. However, you may find it more rewarding simply to go with the crowd and observe the many-sided mosaic of Lisbon life in a haphazard way, rather than rush from one attraction to the next. All senses will be required to appreciate the busy street life with its confusing variety of shops, bars, sounds and smells.
The Cafe Scene
In my view, a good starting point to tour the city is the Rossio. This is a large square surrounded by cafe tables and is the heart of Lisbon. Heretics were burnt at the stake here and it was also a venue for bullfights. In the middle of the traffic free island stands two fountains and a statue of Dom Pedro 1V, hence its official name Praca de Dom Pedro 1V. Around the edge of the square are a number of celebrated cafes which are quite grandiose in design. The Cafe Nicola is a beautiful Art Deco cafe with a genuine 1930's exterior and the decor inside is filled with gems like Art Deco lamps, chairs, crockery, teapots and the like. This is an ideal place to sit and observe the multi-ethnic nature of modern Lisbon. Indian, African and Asiatic features in the faces of the passers by reflect Portugal's maritime history and status as a colonial power. The Pastelaria Suica is another magical cafe in the square and one I recommend. Not only do they serve a great coffee, it is an ambient place where you can sit, read and breathe in the cosmopolitan atmosphere in luxury. Next to the Cafe Nicola is the tiny Tabacaria Monaco and this is really worth a peek. This tobacconist and newspaper stand retains the original 1894 furnishings. There are a lot of these old Tabacarias' dotted around the city - part of the city's charm. This one is the most beautiful. Portugal's national theatre, the Classical Teatro Nacional Dona Maria II, stands on the north side of the Rossio and occupies the site of the former Palace of Inquisition. The decorative mosaics are very interesting to look at. They are pieced together from white limestone and black basalt that can be seen on the pavements and squares in the city centre and are work of former convicts.
The Commercial Centre
After the earthquake of 1755, the Marques de Pombal who was one of Portugal's able statesmen set in motion a rapid and well planned reconstruction of the city. One of his lasting legacies is the Cidade Baixa. This orderly street plan stands in stark contrast to the rest of the city centre where narrow streets wind and merge with no particular pattern. There is no other part of the old town where the right angle is so dominant. Pombal left no room for palaces and churches. The buildings were intended as town houses for the middle classes and as outlets for traders such as jewellers and leather suppliers. The street names testify to the districts past. Rua dos Sapateiros near the Rossio was the street of shoemakers.' Lisbon's first cinema was established here and in 1907 was called The Animatografo do Rossio. Beautiful building to look at with its flourishes of art Nouveau facade. Pombal's houses were built with cage-like timber framework capable of withstanding any future earthquake, and, if a similar disaster occurs again, they will fare better than the modern storey blocks which have been designed without any consideration given to the possibility of earthquakes.
Rua Augusta is now a pedestranised zone and some of the houses haven't changed snce the time of Pombal. Parallel to this street runs the streets for the gold and silversmiths, Rua do Ouro and Rua da Prata. If you love nostalgia as I do then this area is a real old walk down memory lane. Not only are there old silver and gold shops but a genuine grocer's store that dates back from the middle of the 19th century. A street that runs at right angles to Rua Augusta is the Rua Santa Justa and at the end of the street stands the amazing neo-Gothic tower for the Elevador de Santa Justa. This is an awesome lift and is so ornate. It was built in 1902 and overcomes a difference in height of about 32 metres. From the top of the lift, a spiral staircase takes you further up to a viewing platform, and a small cafe restaurant with marvellous views over the city and the river. The lift links the low lying Baixa with the Carmo district. The Baixa is largely a financial and commercial district and it has remained dedicated to meeting the needs of merchants and traders. I find it a fascinating area and it is always pleasing to see that nothing much has changed architecturally since the early 19th century.
The southern end of Rua Agusta finishes with a triumphal arch that opens on to Praca do Comercio. This square is surrounded by arcades on three sides. In the days before the earthquake Manuel I's royal palace was located here and this square is still sometimes referred to as the Palace Square (Terreiro do Paco). In the middle stands a Baroque equestrian statue of the reform minded King Jose 1, who gave Pombal a free hand to rebuild the city after the earthquake. For a long time the square was used as a car park but now once again it is a delightful open space, as well as the starting point for many tram routes.
Lisbon's Famous Avenue
In most cities there is always a famous avenue or boulevard and Lisbon's famous one is Avenida da Liberdade. It is known as Lisbon's Champs Elysees and is 1.5km long and 100 metres wide. An interesting avenue that has changed drastically over the years. It starts at the northwest corner of the Rossio by the Rossio station with its Moorish/Manueline facade. Trains from here serve Sintra and intermediate suburbs. At the end of the boulevard lies a square of restaurants and Lisbon's main tourist office which is situated in the pink washed Palacio Foz. You can't miss this building - it stands out like a stick of candy floss. Bookings from everything from bullfights to cinema tickets are sold at a small kiosk nearby. Some of the cinema halls are very attractive and appealing as some of them date back from the 1930's and have been protected. The three main ones are Eden on the west side of the square, the Odeon and the 1913 Politeama, on the east side.
The start of the work on Avenida da Liberdade in 1879 was the first stage of a large scale extension of the city, but unfortunately building development in recent years has resulted in the demolition of rows of fine houses built at the turn of the 20th century and the construction of faceless squares that could be anywhere in the world. Banks, offices and fashion houses now occupy these prime sites rather than fine blocks of flats and houses. When I worked in Lisbon this was the main street I walked up every day. I used to stroll up the Avenida as far as Praca Marques de Pombal which is a junction and often referred to as a Rotunda. This is the Portuguese word for roundabout and it is famous because of the huge statue of Pombal on horseback. Many important thoroughfares meet here. I used to work on the hill to the north of the rotunda close to the Parque Eduardo VII. Some of Lisbon's top hotels are to be found on the western edge while the terrace at the upper end serves as a lookout point with a unique view over the Avenida da Liberdade and the river. Just below lies Estufa Fria, a 'cold greenhouse' in an old quarry where tropical plants thrive amid ponds and running water.
Food, Fado and Literary Areas
Two other areas of the city which I find very interesting are the Chiado and the Bairro Alto.The Chiado is the literary quarter and it can be reached by the decent from the Largo do Carmo. Just be careful you don't get showered with water from the baroque fountains and attacked by the flocks of pigeons as you walk from Carmo to the Chiado. Monuments and streets here are dedicated to Portuguese poets and writers. Old fashioned cafes such as A Brasileria and Pastelaria Bernard in Rua Garrett, antique shops and antiquarian booksellers such as Livraria Bernard (opened in 1732), Sao Carlos Opera House and other theatres help to create an artistic atmosphere. The district has been given a cultural boost by the opening of a museum dedicated to the area. The museum situated on Rua Serpa Pinto is architecturally interesting and houses Portuguese art from the late 19th century to the present day. Chiado is also a busy shopping area and a stroll past the shop windows will reveal exquisitely elegant interiors with ornamental plasterwork, paintings and mirrored glass cabinets.
A number of bars and cafes in the vicinity will provide not only welcome refreshment but another glimpse into Lisbon's past. Cervajaria da Trindade is a traditional beer hall housed in an old monastery with some fine 19th century hand painted wall tiles.
The Alfama is the oldest area of Lisbon and one of my favourites for atmosphere and character but there is another area that is nearly as atmospheric and that is the Bairro Alto. This area was planned as a residential area in the 16th century and is the second oldest part of the city. It's Rua da Rosa is the main thoroughfare and the quarter to the east is lively with small shops and simple bars known as tascas. Above, the crumbling plaster is masked by washing blowing in the breeze, while flowerpots and bird cages adorn the balconies.
The Bairro Alto is an important centre for Lisbon's nightlife. Restaurants, bars, lively discos and fado bars keep both locals and tourists entertained. A variety of snackbars here are kept particularly busy at lunchtime serving the pratos de dia, a low price dish of the day, usually something with fava beans. Pap'Acorda is very popular and you can find this restaurant on Rua da Atalaia, No 57-9. This is a large family restaurant and has an imaginative chef. My advice is to reserve a table - well, it is essential as otherwise there will be no room at the inn.
Before I say farewell I would just like to mention another quarter called Lapa. You can take the No 28 tram in the direction of Estrela and Prazeres. The tram can be caught in the Baixa or in the Largo Chiado from where it curves past the Bento Palace which is the seat of the National Assembly. Lapa is the residential district beneath the Basilica da Estrela. It was originally inhabited by African slaves but wealthy English families appreciated the fine view over the river and built grand villas here. The Portuguese aristocracy followed, but the district is now favoured by foreign embassies and the wealthy. This is a quarter to admire the fine houses, some of which are from the 18th century and if you look behind the high walls you will see an assortment of beautiful gardens hidden away.
Opposite a baroque fountain on Rua das Janelas Verdes (the street with green windows) is situated The Museum of National Antique Art and the most important museum in Lisbon after the Gulbenkian Museum. Many of the finest exhibits here are Portuguese paintings of the 15th and 16th centuries that were influenced by the great Flemish artists, but the highlight is undoubtedly the polptych from St Vincent's altar. Painted in about 1480 by Nuno Goncalves, it shows Henry the Navigator and his contemporaries. Hieronymos Bosch's triptych of The Temptation of St Anthony is another of the museums masterpieces and one I truly love having studied Bosch at Art college.
The street with the green windows was for many centuries the main road to Belem (see my review), as the River Tagus came right to the foot of the hill. The whole area by the riverbank was cleared in the 19th century to make way for road, railway and port installations.The 15 and 17 trams still follow the old route to Belem and is an interesting trip. You can catch the tram from Praca do Comercio.
I can't really finish without mentioning one of the most famous and popular art museums in Lisbon. In case I never get round to writing a full review on the museum here is a brief summary. The Museum Calouste Gulbenkian is located on Avenida da Berna 45. When the Armenian oil magnate died in 1955, he bequeathed the estate to the Portuguese people, partly out of gratitude to the government, which granted him asylum during World War II. Apart from the top class works of European art ranging from Gothic to Impressionist, the museum also displays French furniture, wall hangings, tableware and Art Nouveau jewellery by Rene lalique and has a section devoted to far Eastern and Islamic pottery and textiles.
On the other side of the gardens there is a Museum of Modern Art which displays the work of 20th century Portuguese artists and contemporary English art. Both museums are worth visiting and they are open every day except Monday. Check times as they can be changeable but you can always assume that they won't open until after 10am and sometimes after 2pm.
Apologies for the length of this article. I always think of Lisbon as being a small city but seeing that I have written three reviews covering it, it obviously isn't. What can I say - I love the place. Sometimes it can be frustrating especially in September and October when it is conference season and the Avenida da Liberdade is buzzing and you take your life in your hands when crossing the road. When Portugal are playing in an International football contest the atmosphere around the rotunda here is like nowhere else I have ever seen especially if they are winning. Flags are flying high, horns blowing, people in the nearby park, dancing in the fountains. An amazing atmosphere. Four words to sum up Lisbon town - Historic, Modern, Vibrant and Magical. One of Europe's finest cities.
A Day trip to Lisbon
We spent a week in the Algarve in June 2009 and during this week we chose to book a trip with 'Follow Me' tours to Lisbon for the day. The trip was 34 Euros per person which we thought was good value as the toll on the A2 is 18 Euros each way for a car and then we would have had to pay to park the car and of course petrol as well as the fact that we were not sure where all the sites were.
We had to meet by the Dolphin roundabout in Albufiera for 6.55 and the coach was only 5 minutes late but we were virtually the last people to be picked up before heading for Lisbon. We made a stop about an hour away for coffee and the toilet. This was at a motorway service station so functional rather than interesting. We stopped at the same place on the return journey too. Initially our guide introduced herself and explained what we would see on the way going across the Serra do Caldeirao and which regions we would pass through and then as it was early she said she would be quiet until nearer Lisbon.
As we approached Lisbon she told us about the toll on the A22 and the various industries approaching Lisbon and the fact that we would go into Lisbon over the April 25th Bridge and see the huge statue of Christo Rei which is a bit like the Corcovado in Rio and overlooks the city of Lisbon from a great height. This bridge was the first to cross the Tejo and was originally called Saladar Bridge until the coup overthrew the Fascist dictator Saladar in 1974 and Portugal became a democratic Republic. The Portuguese are justifiably proud of this bridge and liken it to the Golden Gate bridge of San Francisco which is does resemble to be fair.
We drove over the bridge and then under it to the area of Belem which is along the river bank and harbour area of Lisbon. We made our way along to our first stop which was the Belem Tower. The is a very ornate tower built in the Manueline style of Architecture - so called after Manuel II as this was the style of design during his reign. The tower is not large and sits in the water and served to guard the entrance to the port of Lisbon. It is marble coloured and ornately carved rather similar to the carved architecture seen in India so may have been inspired by Indian influences . The tower and dates back to the early 16th Century.
Just close to the tower is a replica of a seaplane flown by Portuguese aviators Sacadura Cabral, as pilot, and Gago Coutinho, as navigator, across the Atlantic from Lisbon, Portugal to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1922. This is a tiny aircraft and I know I wouldn't want to fly across the Atlantic in it today with all our satellite navigation and rescue facilities, never mind in 1922 when they did it.
After the Belem tower we visited the Monastery of Jeronimos which is built in the same style as the Belem Tower and is very picturesque. We went into the church of Jeronimos or Our Lady or Belem which was quite plain inside compared to a lot of the South American and Spanish catholic churches but architecturally very beautiful. The ceilings were very high with tall carved pillars for support. The ceilings were decorated with carvings but not coloured at all. The altar area was not original as the original was destroyed in the earthquake 1755 and it was more decorated than the rest of the church.
There were five main stained glass windows which had all been restored after either the earth quake or other damage. One was of Our Lady of Belem (The Virgin Mary) is also the guardian of sailors. The window shows her with two caravels guiding them on their way. The other windows all depict St Jeronimo who is apparently the Patron Saint of navigation. Another item of interest in the church was Vasco da Gama's tomb (the famous Portuguese explorer who discovered the route round the Cape of Good Hope to the East), although as he died overseas no-one is quite sure how much of his remains are buried within.
Just on the River front in this same area as Jeronimo's Monastery there is the Monument of the Discoveries built to honour Portuguese heroes of discovery in the past; These include, Henry the Navigator, Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus. It is a very impressive monument built in the shape of a stylised caravel with the heroes in relief on either side. In front of the monument is a huge marble wind rose donated to Portugal by the South African Republic and the map of the world depicted is of the era of Portuguese navigational prime showing their colonies such as Goa, Malacca, the Moluccas ( Indonesia) and others in Africa and South America. Australia was only mapped roughly in shape with the bottom very indistinct.
We moved into the city after this and we dropped off outside the Swiss cafe on Rossio Square. We had three hours of free time to wander around as we wished. We were starving having left Albufiera at 7am and it was now 12.45 so we went straight to a cafe in the pedestrianised road to eat.
We ordered Bacalhau ( My husband) and hake ( for me) with iced tea. I am sorry to say that service was extremely slow but the food was okay. Not sure that salt fish is really that great, we have both had it before (salt fish and ackee is the Jamaican National dish) but my husband always likes to try whatever is the dish of the area and he hadn't tried salt fish in Portugal. It is quite strong and very bony so I didn't bother. My hake was very nice and the atmosphere in the area was lovely unfortunately our waiter was rather slack and we had to ask for everything twice and then wait some considerable time - he didn't get a tip!
Feeling much better now our blood sugar levels were up we decided to go and investigate to Lisbon Elevator. This antiquated lift takes you from the level of the river up to the old quarter of Alfama. It costs 2.80 Euros a person for the ride up and the return down and the ticket is purchased in the lift on the way up. The lift takes 20 people going up but only 15 coming down. It is an unusual looking piece of architecture, quite ornate and the lift itself is polished wood with two bench seats.
Once you get to the top you have an excellent view up to the Castel de Sao Jorge and fortified walls, down to the river Tegus and also over Rossio square. You then walk out over a metal walkway under a church buttress into the area of Alfama with its old fashioned narrow tram lines, hilly cobbled narrow streets and balconied houses. In the square there was a wonderful display of blooming Jacarandas set against a pink building in the sunshine - a real photo opportunity.
We were then driven through to the area of a former Expo now called the Park of Nations and we left Lisbon by the other famous bridge across the Tagus, the Vasco de Gama Bridge which was completed in 1998 and is the second longest bridge in Europe at 17,185 metres long.
We spent only one day in Lisbon but I felt we got a good idea of the city and we were able to explore a little by ourselves . Obviously if you spend more time you will have the opportunity to see more but this trip was excellent. The guide was very knowledgable, her English was perfect and the trip covered most of the sights of Lisbon and gave a good idea of what Lisbon offers the tourist.
On the way back our guide put a DVD of 'Fado' music which is quintessentially Lisbon's own music. It is extremely meloncholy urban folk a sort of singing poetry accompanied by a classic guitar and a 12 srting Portuguese guitar. It was very strange and definitely an acquired taste and I have not acquired it!
I would thoroughly recommend this day trip if you are staying in the Algarve. You get to visit the capital city and learn a little about the histoy and culture of the country.
I hope this may tempt you into a visit and thank you for reading.
We visited Lisbon this September having decided to go there instead of Rome. It has to be said that we were initially motivated by the fact that an equivalent holiday- same number of days, same rating of accommodation- was about HALF the price of Rome.
Lisbon is a fascinating place, the overall impression being of a city of great style and architecture, the ancient (colossal old buildings, grubby but striking statues and monuments) rubbing shoulders with the modern (great trains and tube, some flashy restaurants). It may be because of this that it took a little getting used to.
We arrived on the Saturday evening- admittedly a little late following various delays with the flight and then the bus, which became stuck in rush hour traffic- at our hotel, the Travel Pak in the Anjos area of the city. We ventured out to see if we could find a small supermarket to stock up on a few drinks and snacks, but we were a little too late for the (only) supermarket in the area so wandered about for a while and then back.
It has to be said that my initial impression of the city was coloured by walking through Anjos. If you've ever had to negotiate Croydon on a weekend evening you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. Every dozen yards or so it seemed some drunken tramp would stumble into us, and there were groups of people on the streets for whom the word "dodgy" would fit exactly.
Luckily the hotel had a minibar, which we made some use of upon our return!
The following day we visited Belem, which is effectively a little suburb of Lisbon but which has some fantastic architecture- the famous Monument of the Explorers, and not only that but possibly one of the grandest monasteriesI've ever seen. The interior of the place took my breath away- I've seen some pretty good cathedrals in England, but this (and don't forget this is a monastery, not a cathedral) was something else. The stained glass was the best I'd ever seen, the pillars vast and high and the ceiling was one of those you can stare at for hours wondering just how people could possibly have crafted such a work of art. The ability to create beautiful buildngs like this is something that seems sadly to have been lost throughout the world now. This is a grand statement of a time when people could and did come together to make such wonderful architecture.
On the Monday we visited the castle in the centre of Lisbon- be warned, unless you're particularly fit, don't attempt to walk up the steep hill all the way to the castle- get the tram instead.
[TOP TIP No.1 - you can buy 3-day "Lisbon cards" from tourist information centres which give you free transport on the tube and trains and trams, plus discounted or sometimes even free access into many of the musuems and attractions around the city and surrounding area.]
Some great views of the city- all gleaming white walls and terracotta tiles- can be had from the turrets and walkways of the castle. Definitely worth a visit, and with our Lisbon cards it was about 5, which is pretty damn good if you compare it with the ridiculous prices you pay to enter castles in England.
Also worth a visit are the Oceanarium, which includes a number of unfeasibly large fish- manta rays and sharks amongst them- and the zoo, although in fact the zoo was a slight disappointment in one way, as it was a little small and the walkways hadn't been planned especially well. Nevertheless we got some good shots of tigers, lions and a couple of hippos amongst many other creatures.
[TOP TIP No.2 - if you go to the zoo, I advise you not to go on the overhead cable car ride- not because you won't get a decent view- I'm sure the views are great- but because the route actually takes you OVER such areas as the lion enclosure, the rhino enclosure... okay, the line probably won't snap, but if it did...!!! I was a bit surprised to say the last that they allowed people to effectively dangle precariously over such areas...]
On the Tuesday, our last day before going back, we visisted Sintra, which is a small town outside Lisbon and which is well worth a visit. It features two palaces, and a castle on top of a very steep wooded hill, from which you can get some fantastic views. Be careful as there's often a very stiff breeze up there- and take plenty of pictures!
The restaurants in general seem to be pretty good, we only had four days there so we didn't sample that many, but each time we ate out it was good. Steak with mushroom sauce was possibly the highlight- rich and wonderfully tender- but the Portuguese style sardines (proper sardines, not the nasty tinned muck you see lining the shelves in England) came a close second, as well as a marinaded pork meal which was excellent.
Prices are average- we could have ate at cheaper restaurants but chose not to, so can't really quibble about the cost.
The people are mostly fine- much the same as in most other places on the Continent. If you treat them with respect they'll generally do the same in return.
One thing I would say is that unlike in this country they don't seem to have so much of a problem with evil teenage scumbags wandering about doing all sorts of things "for a laugh". It's a pretty loud, boisterous city but aside from a few pockets it doesn't have the same level of seething malevolence so prevalent in English towns and cities after nightfall. Like most continental Europeans it seems the Portuguese know how to relax and have a good time without getting hammered and causing trouble- something a lot of British people could learn from.
The trams are slow and creaky but have a certain charm to them, and if you want to visit the castle on the top of the hill then I'd advise yuo to make use of them. The tubes and trains are excellent- clean, efficient, well-run and frequent. I don't know if it's just me but it seems every country in Europe turns out to have a far better public transport system than the UK.
The tube lines do tend to branch out from the city centre rather than interconnect much with each other, but then this is a much more recently-built system than, say, the London Underground- and with the tubes being so frequent and efficient, it really doesn't matter if your journey is often a bit "in-out".
The temperature actually reached 29 degrees whilst we we were there and we had sunny days throughout- at the same time as Britian shivered at 14 degrees with rain and wind. I wouldn't like to visit at the height of summer as it might be uncomfortably hot, but it was pleasantly warm all the time in September.
For an extended long weekend or week-long break, Lisbon can be very reasonably-priced. Buy a multi-day Lisbon card and plan your trips out to various places and you can not only pack a lot into a relatively short time but save a fair bit of money as well.
Flights from the UK take about 2 and a half hours. We flew from Heathrow and back to Gatwick, which meant extra train fare costs, but you can go to and from the same airport most times. From Lisbon airport you can get the Aerobus into the city centre, every 20 minutes, which in theory takes half an hour (although it took us longer as we were caught up in the rush hour).
Lisbon is definitely worth a visit. If you go there, make sure you pay Sintra a visit, as well as the monastery at Belem- particularly if you like your architecture. The city is fairly easy to get to, reasonably priced in most respects, as safe as most other western Eurpean cities, and there's plenty to see and do.
Thanks for reading!
Ive been to Portugal before, both the more popular Algarve in the south and some quieter regions in the far north on the border with Galicia in Spain. Ive even been to Oporto, its other major city, but somehow, the capital, Lisbon, had always eluded me.
Up until the weekend of the Glasgow Airport Security Alert that is boy, can I pick a great time to be dependent on planes or what? If theres one thing more uncertain than how something like this will affect getting there, its finding out about it whilst youre away, and wondering how it will affect getting home!
Lisbon is a coastal city, about halfway up Portugal on the western coast. It sits by the estuary of the Tagus River, or Rio Tejo. Despite Portugal being an Latin country, it is NOT a Mediterranean country since all of its coast borders the Atlantic Ocean its very easy to forget this simple fact as some aspects of Portuguese life are so similar in feel and infrastructure to those of neighbouring Spain just dont tell anyone Portuguese that I said so!
GETTING TO THE CITY
Flying time was about 2¼ hours from London. Lisbons Airport lies about 20-30 minutes by taxi or Aerobus shuttle from downtown Lisbon.
Incidentally, using the Lisboncard and its discount vouchers, which Ill deal with later, the cost of the Aerobus is brought down to the flat fare of a normal bus, i.e around 1.30
WHERE WE STAYED
Our accommodation for the three nights was the Hotel Marquês de Pombal, which is a smart modern affair on the corner of the main Avenida de Liberdade and Rua Alexandre Herculario. This is not a totally central location, being some 15 minutes walk to the waterfront, but has the advantage of having a metro station, (Marquês de Pombal) nearby. From our 6th floor window, we could see a reasonable panorama of the city and the River Tagus a somewhat better view than Basil Fawltys You CAN see the sea, its the gap over there between the land and the sky! at least.
The rooms were air-conditioned and comfortable. There was triple glazing which effectively ruled out street noise. The mini-bar was affordable too, which comes as a pleasant change. The cable TV only really had one English-language channel. Yes, why does it always have to be bloody CNN? If I see that flaming Jeep Cherokee just once more .
Breakfasts were the usual multi-national affairs with cheese, cooked meats, and juices, combined with a modicum of cooked items, e.g. bacon, scrumbled (sic) eggs and sausages.
Rooms had free wired internet access for those with a LAN-enabled laptop, i.e. most, and in the foyer you could rent a web-enabled PC and printer for 3/15 minutes.
Overall, it was about 100 /night for two, which for a smart hotel in a good location in a European capital city is pretty good.
GETTING AROUND LISBON
As well as the predictable buses and taxis, Lisbon has a metro of four separate lines (Linha Azul, Amarela, Verde and Vermelha Blue, Yellow, Green and Red lines). Other lines and extensions are planned, and I rather got the impression that this first tranche had been put in, in advance of Expo98 which was held in redeveloped dockland to the north east of the city. That is to say, nothing looked brand new, but it wasnt worn out either. Trains have air-con and can be walked through like a bendy-bus. Platforms are wide and airy, to the point of being almost agoraphobia-inducing in some cases!
Fares are around 1.30 for any single journey, but we had pre-booked the Lisboncard for three days at around 30 each. Not only did this give unlimited travel on public transport, but free or reduced admission to many tourist sights. Youd have to be keen on the latter to get your moneys worth though since local fares are so reasonable and short taxi rides only rack up about 4.00, thats when your driver remembers to turn the meter on that is! One of ours didnt but we gave him 5 for his honesty. However, the Lisboncard (Lisboacarte) does also give access to longer national rail journeys too. For instance we also took the train to Estoril and Cascais, two well-known resorts to the west of Lisbon. This is like buying a London Travelcard and finding that it includes Southend or even Brighton. The Lisboacarte is a touch-card like Londons Oyster, and to initiate it, you just use it, writing the time and date on it, in case it comes in for any non-automatic inspection.
To navigate the metro, you just have to know the colour of line and the end stop of your direction of travel, like in Paris. Probably the most useful metro station is Baixa-Chiado (pronounced B-eye-shah Shah-doo) which is not only firmly downtown, but the intersection of the Blue and Green lines.
Of course, the major attraction of Lisbons public transport is its vintage tramway. This used to be a very comprehensive network, if the number of partly asphalted-over tracks is anything to go by. Its now reduced to two or three key routes, one of which is strictly for the tourists, being a sightseeing tram on the Hills Circuit Tour of some two hours length, the other two being a mixture of ancient and modern rolling stock. All along the seafront to Belem in the west, the trams alternate between modern articulated jobs redolent of Croydon or Sheffield and old four-wheelers lovingly preserved.
Then youve got Route 28 which for a tourist has to be the best value for money of the lot its public so the 1.30 flat fare applies. It can be caught all over the place centrally and then whisks you off up into the hillsides that form the outer edges of central Lisbon.
Some of the slopes attacked are the kind of thing that the Swiss build rack-and-pinion lines for, and yet these worthy little pit ponies of the tram world tackle them just with the aid of an occasional bit of sand fed onto the rails. They also tackle narrow one way streets with the accuracy that only a short wheelbase tram could manage. Even a mini-bus would get in trouble here, especially as people wouldnt feel so obliged to park thoughtfully! Parking outside of designated bays along a tram route carries some rather hefty body-damage penalties!
The north western end of route 28 takes you to a loop around a roundabout at Prazeres -Pleasures. According to my wife, it wasnt so much a pleasure as a blessed relied, as a super-loo hove into sight at lines-end!
The beauty of this line, quite apart from the intricacies of the ride itself, is that it will also get you to the Castelo de São Jorge, the splendid redoubt that dominates the skyline of the eastern hillsides of the downtown area. Sunday morning is a great time to sample the trams.
Let me explain this up and down business. In Lisbon, the so-called downtown area really IS down, being known as Baixa (Pronounced b-eye-shah meaning low). To its west you have the Bairro Alto (High District) and to the east you have that Castelo itself and the Mouraria area.
If you stand in the northern end of central Lisbon, in the Parque Edouardo VII, everywhere around you is at alto level. Then you notice that there seems to be a central strip with a clear view all the way to the waterfront. Its as if someone has dug a long sloping ramp through the hills on either side. In this slot sits the Avenida de Liberdade and accompanying side-streets and squares. By the time you near the water at the Praça Do Comércio, the contrast between baixa and higher districts is much more marked, and this is where Lisbons famous array of hill-climbing machinery comes into the picture.
Not only do you have a cable-hauled funicular (like a San Francisco street-car) called the Elevador da Glória, but theres also the Elevador Santa Justa which is something else altogether. If this looks like the top 150 of the Eiffel Tower theres a good reason it was designed by one of Eiffels students. This is a straightforward lift with a gantry across to dry-land at the top, and a sundeck for those that just want the view. The intricate nature of the lattice work further cements the illusion that someone just buried the first 750 of the Eiffel Tower.
Both of these serve the Bairro Alto area to the west. Anyone wanting to tackle the eastern slopes had better either
a) Be a mountain goat or b) Get on a No.28 tram.
Lisbon has three major main line stations, Rossio, which seems to be its main express train terminus, Cais do Sodré, mainly outer suburban trains going as far as Estoril and Cascais, and Santa Apolonia, which tracks the waterfront of the Tejo inland to the north-east, the line passing the Expo site at Oriente.
Another 'fun' way to see Lisbon is to book a ride on a motorbike-and-sidecar tour (helmets provided). For obvious reasons, these can only take two passengers, one in the sidecar itself and one riding pillion.
PLACES TO SEE
Quite apart from just soaking up the atmosphere of central Lisbon from the open window of a tram, or watching the world go by from a pavement café, Lisbon has many sights.
A lot of the architecture owes its style to the fact that the city suffered a catastrophic earthquake in 1755, and therefore many of the buildings date to around 1800, which gives a pleasingly consistent classical appearance, there being many broad squares and colonnades. I always try to look up when strolling through a city, above the modern day shop windows to see the REAL buildings.
Central Lisbon also has an endearingly large number of unspoiled shop fronts, one of which sticks particularly in my mind. The local speciality drink is a cherry-based spirit known as Ginjinha, and it was on the main pedestrian Rua dos Sapateiros (Shoemakers Street) that I espied this beautiful little single door bar, complete with old men propping it up (the bar not the door). No doubt they were settled in for the afternoon with their one single drink. Over the door was one of those splendid brown glass and gold-leaf relief signs proclaiming the bars presence. I havent seen anything like it lately except perhaps the umbrella shop in Holborn.
Lisbons western suburb of Belem is famous for the Belem Tower, a gun emplacement protecting the port and built in a rather Indian style harking back to Portugals days in Goa, no doubt. This ornate building has free entry and offers grand views of the Tagus estuary and of The 23rd April Bridge, the huge suspension bridge that crosses the Tagus in a manner that reminds of the Golden Gate Bridge its even painted the same colour.
Also at Belem is the Monumento das Descobertas (Monument of the Discoveries) to commemorate Portugals navigators and empire builders. Constructed in the 60s, this is an impressive 3D frieze of statues looking out to sea, the outermost statues being over water. Despite being almost white, its refreshing to see that the spray-can brigade hasnt got at it (yet).
The Lisboncard gets you into the Monastery of St Jerome at Belem for free, and allows a certain amount of queue-dodging. This has an extremely ornate cloister of honey-coloured stone, which when we were there, looked beautiful basking in the clear sunshine.
Before deserting Belem, you could also visit the Maritime, Archeological and Natural History Museums personally, at this stage in the late morning there was a beer with my name on it nearby .
In central Lisbon, youre spoiled for choice for a start youve got those various elevators and trams which, to my mind are a tourist attraction in their own right, the latter of which can hoist you up to the Castelo for truly magnificent views across the city.
You could take the metro out to Oriente to the old Expo site, now the Parque des Nações - Park Of Nations. Here you can sample mall-shopping (I walked straight through it and out the other side!) and a ski-lift type cable car ride along the waterfront. We went there to soak up the architecture and the Oceanarium, the second largest in the world, after one in Osaka, I think it was. Forget Free Willy or the Shamu Show; this is an oceanarium, not somewhere where they demean killer whales.
Pride of place goes to a three-storey high Atlantic Ocean tank, with all manner of huge fish gliding past your eyes. Around the periphery are habitats from the rest of the world. Ive never got that close to a penguin with no barriers in between before, nor an Alaskan Sea Otter, who opened his eyes long enough from his doze tangled in kelp to give me that playful I get all the seafood I can eat and free accommodation whats your excuse? look that these endearing animals have.
Of course, Ive just scratched the surface, but what else could I expect in just 3½ days?
Bear in mind that, just for something to do, we also took the train out to Estoril and Cascais (which turn out to be so close as to be the same town). It seems that all of Lisbon and his wife go here on a summer Sunday, so we took one look at the packed beaches and stayed on the train in the cool! Well, it was included on the Lisboncard so why not get your moneys worth?
One thing I did manage to avoid is fado, the traditional Portuguese music and song. If you think Leonard Cohens miserable, listen to this lot. To be honest, the street busking wasnt very uplifting either, and one Bob Dylanesque folk singer seemed to have it in for the Welsh, with his rendition of Knock, Knock, Knockin On Evans Door. All it needed was Frank Evans For Little Girls to complete the persecution. The moral being: Never sing in a foreign language having only learned the lyrics phonetically.
He also tried to solicit money from a group of diners whom he hadnt noticed were using sign language between themselves. The humour wasnt lost on them!
Lisbon is neither the best nor the worst city for walkers, despite the hills which no-one is forcing you to climb. For the most part, pavements undulate a bit since they are made of rather attractive random limestone mosaics, but these get quite shiny so I shudder to think how slippery they might be in rain. Compared to Madrid, where every driver seemingly fancies himself as Fernando Alonso, Lisbons motorists seems quite restrained, although its still best to stick to pedestrian crossings. Being by water, theres always the possibility of a breeze, which helps improve air quality compared to somewhere land-locked.
Some metro stations are more wheelchair friendly than others, in so much that they have lifts as well as escalators. Most buses are of the low-floor kneeling variety. However, forget the vintage trams; you still have to climb into these from kerb level. I have to say that I dont remember even seeing a ramp at the central Tourist Information Office but I could be wrong.
EATING (AND DRINKING) OUT IN LISBON
Let me firstly say that in general, Ive always liked the food in all the parts of Portugal Ive visited, even if in the north is does lean a bit heavily on salted cod! Its wholesome stuff made with healthy ingredients. The fish and seafood is fresh and just as importantly, BIG. It hasnt been stunted by being caught in an oversized lake. This is the Atlantic were talking about, not the Med.
Portuguese beer can be quite simply classified as Sagres or not Sagres, the latter usually being the curiously German-sounding Super Bock which is still Portuguese. At least its not all lager though. Super Bock do actually brew a stout, believe it or not.
Portuguese wine on the other hand is quite a find. All we ever see in Britain, apart from Port that is, plus Mateus Rosé, Vinho Verde, the young fresh white (green) wine and perhaps the red Dão. Ive heard it said that since Portugal isnt a major player, they keep all the best stuff for the home market, and to my mind this holds true. We had some excellent reds from the Alentejo region inland north of the Algarve, especially the Marquês de Borba and even Chardonnays from the Porto region.
Many countries have speciality restaurants based on their old colonial activity. Amsterdam has its Indonesian, Paris its Vietnamese and Lisbon has Brazilian (Brasileiro). These offer an interesting alternative to southern European fare and we dined one evening at Comida do Santo Saints Food (Well if youve got it, flaunt it, as they say). As you can imagine, this is a more fiery and tropical affair than Portuguese cuisine, but anyone used to a late-night Ruby Murray after eight pints wont be daunted.
They do a mean pre-dinner cocktail using cane brandy, lime and sugar, which if it wasnt for the lack of orange liqueur youd swear was a Margarita. My Brazilian steak was excellent as was my wifes Prawns with Chilli in Coconut Milk with Rice. Even the Brazilian red wine was perfectly OK.
On our first night there, we dined at Ribadouro on the Avenida de Liberdade, just a few minutes from our hotel. This is a bar-restaurant with quite a high reputation for fish and seafood. Being greeted by a tank of live lobster is always a good sign even if I cant afford one. To be fair, the bill was pretty high, but this was partly down to my wifes choice of prawns for a starter. They showed her how large two fresh ones were before preparation to which she nodded, forgetting to ask how heavy they were (Theyre charge at a /kilo rate). When our bill arrived, my starter of Cream of Seafood Soup had cost 5.65 whilst hers had cost 27.50 about £19! Oh well, at least she says theyre the best prawns shes had in a long time!
Pick of the bunch has to be Restaurant Olivier in the Bairro Alto. Firstly get a taxi there, if only for the experience of seeing other pavement diners having to scatter as your driver charges towards them in the tiny streets then ask for a table inside!
Olivier doesnt have a menu as such, it being a kind of running buffet or meze affair. We were treated to ten small starter dishes each, 5 hot and 5 cold, reflecting Portuguese specialities, one of which sticks in my mind for visual impact if nothing else. This was a stuffed vine leaf, the stuffing being pork mince with spices. Nothing too odd about youd think, except that it was topped with the daintiest fried egg Ive ever seen, presumably quails. Then came a final larger main course. Mine was the Italian-style Osso Bucco and it was delicious if a trial since I was full already, and Id been assured that it was only little. Yeah, right.
I can only speak as I find, but given that Britain was (and probably still is) going through an appalling June and July, the weather was a positive tonic. Everyday gave us clear blue skies and temperatures around 25-28C. Being a waterside city, there was always the pleasant possibility of a breeze too. That breeze can lull you into not using enough SPF cream so beware, particularly since the pavements are off-white. This also causes a degree of glare from an angle you dont expect. If staying there for any length of time, it would be wise not to assume that Lisbon has a typical Mediterranean climate as it hasnt its on the Atlantic for a start. Therefore rainfall is forecast to be higher than the rest of shall we say southern Europe. Clearly, its slated to be warmer than Britain, but as I found once in northern Portugal, not MUCH warmer.
CONCLUSION THE GOING BACK? RATING
Lisbon is a great place, and initial favourable impressions were maintained throughout our stay. The people are polite and friendly, and prices are moderate. This is all remarkable for a capital city in Europe.
Theres plenty to see and the trams alone are a delight.
The early-summer weather is conducive to walking around a city, being neither too hot nor windy.
If I was in or responsible for pushing a wheel chair, I might think twice.
Going back there? Try and stop me.
Why Lisbon at all? Why a second time after twenty-odd years? The first time it was curiosity that made us choose this destination: what is that capital like at the edge of Europe? Not many details stayed in mind after such a long time but the ones that did were positive ones and we remembered a general sense of well-being, so when my husband and I discussed where to spend a week around Easter this year, Lisbon came to mind.
Easter was very early this year, at the end of March, this means that we saw the first signs of spring, most trees had already green leaves, the grass was green with daisies, dandelions and clover, the temperature was between 18° and 26° C (one rainy day only), so we could sit outside in cafés and enjoy the sun, what more can a Central European want at that time of year?
Situated where it is all the peoples that were on the move in historic times were interested in the site, it may be a myth that Ulysses discovered it, but there is proof that the Phoenicians did at around 5000 BC, they called their colony ´Alis Ubbo´- ´lovely little port´. Later the Romans, the Visigoths and Moorish conquerors from North Africa came, the latter stayed for 300 years (some Portuguese have Arabic features), in 1147 King Alfonso succeeded in driving them back with the help of Crusaders (occasionally one sees tall and blond Portuguese) to say nothing of the Spanish and French occupation.
The 16th century saw the real beginning of Lisbon as it is today, Portuguese navigators sailed round the world bringing back gold and diamonds from South America (today Brazil), slaves and ivory from Africa (Angola and Mozambique), silk and spices from India (Goa) to mention the most important places making the city and the country unbelievably rich.
One would assume that architectural gems mirror the former wealth, that the city is full of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque buildings as is the case with so many other rich cities in Europe, alas, that is not the case. Tourists interested in ticking off sights in the afore mentioned styles are disappointed, they realise that they´ve come too late, in fact they should have come before 1st November, 1755 when an earthquake lasting nine minutes and a following tsunami destroyed most of the city; from what I´ve read I get the impression that this date is one of the - if not the - most important dates in the history of modern Lisbon.
We began our first day walking from our hotel, Sana Executive, Rua Conde Valbom, (when we knew the layout of the city we always took the underground, clean, on time, cheap [for us]) to the big round Praça (place) Marquês de Pombal with an enormous monument in the middle showing a male figure with a lion at his side; Pombal, foreign minister to King José I, was responsible for the reconstruction of the city after the earthquake. Uphill is the 500m long geometrically laid out park Edoardo VII, downhill (Lisbon is a hilly city) the wide and elegant Avenida da Liberdade leading to the part of the city that shows Pombal´s planning hand, the Cidade Baixa (low city), a grid of rectangular streets, a modern concept for the 18th century.
The Rua Augusta is a pedestrian precinct with mostly expensive shops on either side and open-air cafés in the middle, from there we got through a triumphal arc to the Praça do Comércio. A big equestrian statue of King José looks out at the river Tejo passing Lisbon for 30 km before it flows into the Atlantic, its mouth is between 3 to 17 km wide so that one has a feeling of the sea in the city; unfortunately a direct access to the bank is not possible due to a busy motorway.
Standing on the Praça do Comércio and looking back at the city one can see the Castle Saõ Jorge on a hill to the right, the quarter beneath is the Alfama, the oldest part of the city, not destroyed by the earthquake and full of narrow and crooked alleyways with washinglines spanning between the houses. A tram goes up to the castle which many tourists take just for the fun of it, walking up is not so hard as the guide-books describe, though.
We passed the cathedral which surprised me a lot. Begun in 1147 on the remains of a mosque in Romanesque style it hasn´t changed much through the centuries, no Renaissance frescoes or Baroque religious knick-knack adorn the bare grey sandstone walls to show off the incredible wealth Portugal had accumulated, after all it´s the most important religious building in the capital of a former empire. Very modest, the Portuguese!
From the back end of the right nave one can visit the cloister where Roman remains are being excavated, one has to buy a ticket to see them which I didn´t. I passed a desk on which I noticed souvenirs and thought, ´Jesus would have driven such vendors straight out of the temple!´, only on my way back I saw that the tickets were also sold there, heehee, no idea how much they cost. My guidebook told me that the reconstruction work after the earthquake (in 1755!) is nearly finished. Not the fastest, the Portuguese! :-)
The outer walls of the castle (entrance fee 3 Euro) have been reconstructed, the inside is empty, i.e., there are no buildings, one of the inner yards has a stage for concerts and a self-service open-air restaurant (we saw two other restaurants on the premises). I noticed a steep flight of stairs leading to the top of the wall and suggested to my husband we climb up there to have an even better view of the city, the river Tejo, the 2287m long suspension bridge and the Rio de Janeiro-like statue of Christ on the opposite bank of the river. The moment I had reached the top I knew I had to get back down at once, I hadn´t looked properly from below, the inner wall was only knee high, the outer one was high enough but consisted of a row of pinnacles with wide openings and no railings anywhere. As if I didn´t know myself by now, sometimes I´m dumber than the police permits (as we say in German).
Tourist interested in shopping go to the Bairro Alto (high quarter) opposite the castle hill, an area which is a bit elegant but not too much. Lisbon is rather shabby, many façades want painting, the pavements all over the city are covered with small square cobble stones and you won´t find 100m without a hole so that you always have to look down in order not to stumble and fall. It´s not dirty, though, on the contrary, hardly any dogs around, in one week I didn´t see more than 15 (and not a single cat!), so hardly any dog poop, hardly any graffiti on the walls, the underground spick and span although with the exception of junctions all stations are without staff (there are automatic ticket machines). Lisbon is obviously poor but well kept, it exudes the charme of having seen better days.
What else is there to do? Portugal has about 10 million inhabitants, one fifth of whom live in Greater Lisbon, yet the city centre is not big, one day is enough to see it including a museum. We abstained from visiting one on our first day (we went to an art museum later, I´m going to write an extra op on it), we preferred sitting at the tables infront of the Pastelaria Suiça (pastry shop, Lisbon is full of pastelarias, the pastry is excellent!) on the central place Rossio in the Baixa watching the Portuguese world pass by. We saw only few tourists, conventionally and still winterly dressed Portuguese, noticed many black Africans from the former colonies, street musicians played for us, beggars wanted money.
On the following day we went to Belém, approximately 10 km from the centre, the quarter of the city on the bank of the river Tejo from where the ships of the Portuguese seadogs started. The tram leaves from Praça do Comércio, but when we saw the queue we opted for a taxi which was only 5, 80 Euro. (We got the money back so-to-speak because we took the tram back but didn´t buy a ticket, nobody noticed.)
The three sights of Belém are the tower built in 1516 to protect the harbour and (from the guidebook) ´the strikingly modern monument praising the discoveries rising dramatically above the river, the streamlined prow of an explorer´s caravel with Prince Henry the Navigator symbolically heading a crowd of famous figures from that rich and golden era of Portuguese history´ and the Jerónimo Monastery built by King Manuel I in the 16th century in honour of Vasco da Gama who had discovered the seaway to India, it´s late Gothic with lavish decoration in the so-called Manueline style.
We visited the adjacent Museu de Marinha (Maritime Museum, entrance fee 3 Euro/concession 1,50, closed on Monday), very educative and enjoyable with models of the sailing ships of the explorers, one had a door in the side of the ship out of which a plank came, across which a sailor was leading a horse, the explorer Albuquerche had transported horses from Persia to India. We saw also nautical instruments, weapons from cannons to torpedos and captains´uniforms through the ages, very sexy the ones from the olden times what with white tights and no flies! The last hall houses real life size boats, the most luxurious is the Royal Barge built in 1780 which was rowed by 78 oarsmen, her last task was to transport Queen Elizabeth II on her state visit to Portugal in 1956.
With Belém ´done´ one has seen what is Lisbon famous for, if one stays longer than two or three days it is to see the towns along the coast or in the hinterland, if the weather is favourable, the tourist can easily and pleasurably fill a week.
What about the night life in Lisbon? The thing to do is to go to the Casas de Fado, restaurants with Fado singing and guitar playing. ´Fado´comes from the Latin word fatum = fate, generally sad and melancholy songs sung with heartbreaking fervour. I would have loved to hear them, but the performances begin at midnight and after a day out walking we just couldn´t add a night out. West of the train station Cais de Sodré is a row of old warehouses transformed into top restaurants, shops and discos, one shouldn´t go there before 2 am!
Adeus! (A da oosh, stress on the second syllable), Bye-bye!
I go to portugal quite often, and Lisbon is always on the intinery. It' s a place in Europe where it has its own unique vibe. Like London it is a cultural melting pot but hotter in both temperature and spirit. Like England, Portugal once had a vast maritime empire which is evident in the people, the food and the architecture. If you want a quiet place to escape, Lisbon has it. If you want museums, good food and a very good night life then Lisbon has it too. And if you also want to combine city life with beach then this is the place. Points of interest that all visitors should take time to see are the castle for it views, the 16th century Jeronimos Monastery with its beautiful cloisters, around baixa and avenida da liberdade for its shops and 18th century architecture and Parque das Nacoes (Park of Nations, former Expo 98 site) for its modern architecture and Europes largest Oceanarium. Lisbon is a city that is best discovered on foot so believe me, be prepared for some steep inclines as the city is built over several hills. You'll have Arnie sized calf muscles by the time you're finished! But dont let this put you off as there is a good city transport system: funiculars for those steep inclines, metro, bus and old trams that zap around the city.Taxis are cheap and plenty. Make sure that the meter is reset as they can sometimes take advantage of tourists. Actually the city reminds me of San Fransisco in the U.S, with its trams and a version of golden gate bridge (Ponte 25 de Abril). If you have a chance take the ferry accross the estuary to (Christo Rei), a statue of Christ: a bit like Rio's. Fab Views! As for restuarants and bars....well there are plenty. Restaurants are best visited early, say 7 to 7.30 to avoid the busy spell when Portuguese families tend to eat out later and in large family numbers. After, try some nice cafe and people watch. The art nouveau 'A Brasileira' in Bairro Alto is my favourit
e, but there are many to choose from. Then hit the bars. Refer to your guide book as again, there are many. I tend to use the Rough Guide as this is quite informative and updated often. Bairro Alto and the Docks around Alcantara are the busy hot spots for night-time fun. The docks have bars and bar/clubs side by side playing samba, salsa and african sounds except 'Alcantara Mar Bar & Cafe' which is about ten minutes walk away, which I recommend. It's a club(house,techno), bar and restuarant in futuristic design complimented with velvet swags and chandeliers. Warning however that this is Lisbon and clubs really don't get going until 1 or 2am til very late, so pace yourself! Bairro Alto is more alternative and has smaller venues of bars/clubs that also caters for a mixed/gay crowd. Fab and Busy and again goes on 'til late. If in doubt just follow the crowds. If yoiu like your night times to be full on then the best time to visit Lisbon is around June, July and August when the lisboetians take their hol's and join in the fun full time! If not, then all other times will suit. Next time I'm there I'm going to a club called Lux. Apparently its the next best thing. I'll report back on that one. If any one is planning a trip, then I'm sure you'll have a good time. The only bad thing is that begging is sometimes a nuisance like any other big city, but they tend to be more pushy. And tourists tend to be pestered by gypsies trying to sell Hasheesh on the streets! Just keep walking and ignore. Believe me, it's not Hasheesh! Apart from that....it's a good destination and makes for an ideal weekend city break. Hope this is of some help. Enjoy!
I went to Lisbon last year but I only spent a day there. From what I saw it was very busy and it is hectic not only at rush hour but at any time. Some parts are quite beautiful. It was interesting but I don't think I would go there again. I don't think that there is enough there to do. Although it was beautiful, I wouldn't recommend it. Mind you I only spent a day there and didn't have much of a chance to see everything so I'm sure other people would have different views but I don't think that it is for me and I wouldn't recommend it.
Lisbon is one of the friendliest cities I have visited. Sitting on the north bank of the Tagus estuary, 10 miles from the Atlantic, there are many sights to take in. we stayed in the area of Baixa. This is the busiest part of the city especially the central square of Rossio where you can enjoy a relaxing lunch whilst people watching from one of the many pavement cafes.
The cafe and nightlife are particularly exciting due to a vibrant African and Latin American influence. Restaurant windows display live lobsters and clams and as well as Portuguese cuisine you can choose dishes from Brazil and Africa.
A must to see is "The Elevador de Santa Justa", a wrought iron lift within a tower built by Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard, an apprentice of Alexandre Gustave Eiffel. The very top of the tower is reached by a spiral stairway (not for the faint hearted or those suffering from vertigo). Once at the top, there is a small cafe for those who can face a snack after what I thought was quite an ordeal. However the views from here are splendid and made the ordeal worthwhile.
A two to three night stay here is enough to sample this intriguing city especially if you visit in the hot summer months, but visit you must!
I lived in Portugal, in the Lisbon area for twelve years, it is an amazing ,enchanting and magical place, it has a brilliant history, and throughout Lisbon you can seeall the different roots, Roman, African etc. there are many must see places ther, the castle, the aquarium, and the tower. In nearby Belem, you must visit the Torre de Lisboa , and the explorers tower. Find ou whats going on in the exhibition centre, and go to the beautiful cathedral, all these are in walking distance as is a little bakery, or so it seems, that serves very unique cakes, the cakes are called pasteis de nata and you will see them everywhere in Portugal, but these are the original and by far the best, I advise you stop here and have one. Cascais is also another magical place, it is brilliant for shopping and is typical of Portugal. All along the coast near Lisbon there are many great places to visit, Estoril, Cascais , Carcavelos , Cascais and Belem, so I would use the trains (which I used to travel to school on), well they are not nearly as pleasant as English trains, dont be surprised, but theyb take you from a to b. Well whnever travelling in Portugal make sure you look after your bags, there are alot of pick-pockets so keep your valuables close to you, I do not advise women moving about on their own at night and before you go make sure you have very good insurance. Oh and if you want to visit the beach I do not advise the beaches in Estoril etc. go to Guincho, it is a lot cleaner, if it is packed drive along the coast you can find secluded private beaches. Also if you are keen for shopping make sure you visit Cascais shopping centre and Columbus. also make sure you visit Sintra as it is beautiful, the views are amazing, visit, Pena palace it is unforgettable, as well as the monastries and parks.
My Daughter and I went for a cheap three-day break to Lisbon in Portugal; we flew with Go, the cheap airline that flies from Stanstead Airport. The cheap cost of air tickets has to be weighed against the cost and time taken to get to Stansead unless you live nearby. We found the underground system appalling at the time we went and spent 45 minutes waiting for a connection. Portugal is a vast country, and there is a big contrast between places like Lisbon, a city and the Algarve, a coastal region. If you have problems with steep hills you would be advised to avoid Lisbon, but if can manage them, with the help of some trams, then it is worth a visit. The Architecture has a great deal of history, and nearby, you will find delightful villa and castles to visit. The weather is very hot though so take your sunscreen or check for cooler times of the year. You can travel to coastal areas, but without a car, you will spend quite a lot of time during your short break travelling. We stayed at a small boarding house, and ate out. The food was reasonably cheap and delicious.
Many people rave about how great Lisbon is, but I have a feeling that this is based on visits in the summer. My visit in spring found the city fairly dead, with the legendary nightlife of the Barrio Alto decidedly muted, and the docks area empty and on the whole tacky. This is not to say I didn't have a good time, but you had to look harder to find it. If possible, find out from the locals what is happening in the way of nightlife, because they seemed a much better judge than any guidebook. They may seem fairly unfriendly, but with a bit of persuasion, you can get them to open up a bit.
Lisbon offers something for everybody. Fun clubs on the harbour. Excellent seafood in the restaurants, interesting buildings, parks and attractions and a 20 minute train ride gets you to a pretty good surfing beach. Beware of the Fado restaurants, which offer food and singing. Fado is Folk singing expected to be listened to in silence, and they are sad so expect Portuguese speakers to be sobbing a little. Not really suitable for a wild night out with friends, but maybe suitable for a date where you don’t want to speak too much to your partner. Quite expensive. Clubs are good fun with something to suit everyone. Clubbing in Lisbon is not by any means restricted to teens and twenty something’s and there are a wide range of clubs on offer that cater for all ages and tastes. The harbour district is club central. The range covered goes from Lap dancing to Salsa to House to Jazz and Blues clubs. I have got no idea when these clubs shut; I left at 6am with everything going strong. Apparently some clubs close at 3-4am, but I cant clearly remember. The castle is well worth a visit. It's free and the area around the castle is pretty cool with lots of cafes and shops. Watch out for the tourist shops selling little souvenirs, paintings and lace things that in general are made in China. Great view over the city can be had from the plaza area around the Castle. Get the number 28 tram from the castle area to Barrio Alto for dinner. A short taxi ride away (or train) is the Oceanarium, which is at the Expo (98?) site. I think it is the biggest in Europe and is designed to demonstrate the eco systems of 4 oceans. Alantic, Pacific, Antarctic and the Indian. Pretty cool. There is a tendency for the taxis to indulge in random pricing. Taxi from airport to city centre no more than 2000$ (about £6.00). Also Check that meter has been reset from previous trip! And that the tariff number is 1 for weekday and 2 at n
ight, and never 4. Most taxis trips in town will cost 1000$ or £3-4. There are loads of other things to see, so to get the most of your trip should buy a book. Lonely planet was OK for budget travellers, but no good if you want do something a little more glam. Loads of websites are on offer. On another point take the time to learn a few Portuguese platitudes it will be useful, and is really appreciated by the residents, on the whole English is pretty widely spoken even by the taxi drivers...
Lisbon is the capital and largest city of Portugal. It is also the seat of the district of Lisbon and capital of the Lisbon region. Its municipality, which is the city proper excluding the large contiguous urban agglomeration, has a population of 564,477, and the Lisbon Metropolitan Area in total has around 2,800,000 inhabitants - the largest urban agglomeration of Portugal. Due to its economic output, standard of living, and market size, Greater Lisbon subregion is among the major financial and economic centers of the Iberian Peninsula. It is also the political center of the country, as seat of government and residence of the Head of State. Lisbon hosts two important European Union agencies namely, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA). The Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP), is also headquartered in Lisbon.