Porto, the city which gave Portugal its name was named European Best Destination in 2014. This year, the Portuguese might
have expected to keep hold of the award, seeing that Lisbon won the first title
back in 2010. As it happens, Lisbon was this year’s runner up, losing to Bordeaux. In spite of this, international
media speaks of Lisbon very positively: CNN offers “7 reasons Lisbon could be Europe's coolest city ”, New York Times celebrates its
iconic tiles as one of the “12 Treasures of Europe ”
and Condé Nast Traveler gives us 40 photos of Lisbon to
brighten anyone’s mood. In this guide to Lisbon, our author Fábio signposts
some of the city’s most iconic touristic attractions, all of which make it a
truly unmissable destination for any globetrotter.
Lisbon is a vibrant city and despite being Portugal’s capital city it is not overwhelming; instead, it is a serene and relaxing city, blessed with sunny weather more often than not, and with plenty of things to see and to do. Its rich heritage as the capital of a former great empire quickly becomes apparent in the multitude of monuments celebrating famous navigators and their significant discoveries. Expressions of art can be seen everywhere, including the typically Portuguese pavement in pedestrian areas - a definite must-see. Moreover, the Portuguese are renowned for their hospitality and Spanish speakers will find many locals understand Spanish easily; English is also becoming more widely spoken as a foreign language.
Perhaps the best place to start your visit to Lisbon is in Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square, above), the city’s main square. Also known as Terreiro do Paço, it is a unique square majestically facing the Tagus River (Rio Tejo). This special positioning in relation to the shore highlights the ever so close connection between the Portuguese and the neighbouring water; indeed, several vessels started their journey to the New World from Cais das Colunas, where the square meets the river. The beautiful Rua Augusta Arch is the gateway to the grid-like pattern of streets and the city centre, which had to be rebuilt in its entirety following a devastating earthquake and tsunami in 1755. The Arch was also built in such a way as to withstand future earthquakes.
After crossing Baixa Pombalina’s grid-like streets, one comes across several splendid squares: Praça da Figueira, Praça Dom Pedro IV (or Rossio), Praça dos Restauradores and Praça Martim Moniz. Rossio features the D. Maria II National Theatre and the Rossio railway station, with its impressive Neo-Manueline façades. Restauradores celebrates the restoration of Portuguese independence from Spain in 1640 and gives way to Avenida da Liberdade, one of Europe’s most expensive shopping avenues. At the other end of this Avenida is Marquês de Pombal square, named after the Prime Minister responsible for the the city centre’s reconstruction in the aftermath of the earthquake. On the way to the square two of Lisbon's funiculars can be seen, which make it easier to conquer the surrounding seven hills.
Martim Moniz square hosts a multicultural market and is close to the neighbourhood of Mouraria. Following the Moor conquest of Lisbon, Mouraria was where the Moors lived and nowadays it is the most multicultural part of Lisbon. The iconic number 28 yellow tram starts its journey at Martim Moniz and goes all the way up to São Jorge Castle. Lisbon’s hills provide amazing viewpoints across this neighbourhood, two of which are Miradouro Senhora do Monte and Miradouro de Santa Luzia. On the way back down to the hub of the city, one will cross the Alfama neighbourhood, the oldest part of the Portuguese capital and home of Fado - traditional Portuguese music. In Alfama there is a museum dedicated to Fado and houses of Fado (casas de Fado) where visitors can experience the emotions of Fado while enjoying typical snacks. Not far from Alfama is the National Pantheon and on Tuesdays and Saturdays there is a Flea Market (Feira da Ladra). Alfama also boasts Lisbon’s Cathedral, the Church of Saint Antonio (who is celebrated every 12th June across the narrow streets of Lisbon) and also the José Saramago Foundation, named after the Portuguese Nobel laureate in Literature of 1998.
Lisbon has many vantage points to admire the sunset but there is also the option to travel to Belém, the departure point for most Portuguese explorers setting off on their voyages, now recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Belém’s must-see monuments celebrate the Age of Discovery and include Torre de Belém (Tower of Belém), Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Hieronymites Monastery) and Padrão dos Descobrimentos (lit. Monument to the Discoveries). Amongst its many other touristic attractions are Palácio de Belém (Presidential Palace), the Cultural Centre of Belém, Portugal’s most famous museum - the National Coach Museum, the Electricity Museum, the yet-unfinished Palácio da Ajuda and a little bit further the Monsanto Forest Park - the largest green patch in the city. Belém also offers magnificent views of the 25 de Abril bridge spreading across the Tagus River. But perhaps the most iconic of all are Pastéis de Belém - traditional Portuguese egg tart pastries produced by the local Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém since 1837.
Lisbon’s nightlife offers endless options and aficionados will find parties that go into the hours of the morning and indeed, until noon. The usual ‘meeting point’ is Largo Camões in Chiado at around midnight, popular because of its proximity to Bairro Alto – Lisbon’s famous bar district. With its numerous bars and music venues, Bairro Alto has something for everyone. Other bar districts in Lisbon include Santos and Cais do Sodré (also known as the Pink Street).
Those with more time on their hands should not miss the chance to visit Lisbon's other spectacular attractions: Parque das Nações (Expo 98), Sintra/Cabo da Roca, Carcavelos/Estoril/Cascais, Cristo Rei/Cacilhas, Costa da Caparica, Setúbal/Troia/Arrábida. Finally, for an authentic taste of Lisbon one must try Bacalhau (cod fish), snacks such as Chouriça, Alheira, Queijo da Serra and drinks such as Ginginha, Vinho do Porto, Vinho Verde (green wine).