Lisbon’s importance, the variety of its cultural influences and its beauty did not happen by chance. The city benefits from its location at the place where the navigable river Tagus – the longest in the country – flows into the Atlantic Ocean. The port city formerly developed to become the centre of the sea-faring powerhouse nation of Portugal. The port is still extremely important for the country today and acts as a hub for transporting goods by sea between Europe, Africa, America and the Far East. Having its own airport and good road links to important economic regions also makes Lisbon an attractive site for logistics activities.
The area known as Praça do Comércio is a good starting point to discover more of Portugal’s capital. The palace site (Terreiro do Paco) was once located here, right next to the harbour. It was the residence of Portuguese kings for 200 years and thus also the focal point for trade relations with the Portuguese colonies.
A major earthquake, followed by massive fires and tidal waves, destroyed large parts of the centre of the city in the middle of the 18th century, including the castle grounds. The square-shaped area was rebuilt according to the plans of the Marquis of Pombal. It is now known as the “Praça do Comércio” (“Commerce Square”) and is surrounded by elegant arcades on three sides. A bronze statue of D. José I, former King of Portugal, now graces the Praça.
Tip: You can enjoy a multi-media show illustrating the history of the city first hand at the Lisboa Story Center, which is just off the Praça do Comercio. The journey through time starts with the conquest by the Romans and later by the Moors, independence from Spain and the proclamation of the republic up to the present time.
If you leave the Praça do Comércio through the magnificent triumphal arch, you can walk along Rua Augusta, Lisbon’s longest pedestrian zone, and discover the Baixa district of the city. It leads to the cast-iron lift known as Elevador de Santa Justa, which was built by a pupil of Gustave Eiffel. The neo-Gothic, 45-metre-high tower is truly an eye-catcher, not only from the outside. There is also a terrace with a viewing platform and a café at the top.
The upper city, Chiado and Bairro Alto, are located to the west of the lower town, Baixa. The hilly labyrinth of alleyways in Bairro Alto with its numerous bars is a great excuse to go out, though it is also a residential area. Don’t worry about those hills! The funicular railways and the steel lift make it easy to move between the upper and lower parts of the city.
Seven hills extend across the city area. Those who prefer not to walk up the hills can choose one of the three funicular railways or the lift. The funicular railways, which are also called ascensores or elevadores, were originally operated with water, but later with steam engines and finally electricity. The little street, where the da Bica funicular railway near the port takes people up to Bairro Alto is a popular photo backdrop. If you prefer graffiti, use the Elevador da Glória
A medieval castle with a fantastic view
The fortified tower is regarded as the city’s landmark
The National Gallery with its antique art treasures
A magnificent monastery in Manueline style
The church is also an archaeological excavation site
A labyrinth of streets and a popular nightlife district
The Park of the Nations is located at the Expo 98 site
Taking the lift from Baixa to the ruins of Carmo Convent
Golden Gate Bridge vibes over the river Tagus
A Rococo palace a short distance away from Lisbon
A surfer hotspot in front of a majestic mountain backdrop
Those who make their way through Lisbon using public transport will at times encounter the glistening, yellow-white nostalgic tram no. 28, which runs from Praça Martim Moniz through the historical residential neighbourhoods of Graça and Alfama as far as Bairro Alto. Not only is this a cheap way to travel using the local transport ticket, the route also takes you to numerous sights in the city – such as the parliament, the old town and the castle – and passes by many attractive historical districts and residential areas – including Alfama.
Alfama was Lisbon’s city centre during the Moorish period. Castelo de São Jorge towers over the heart of it and provides a spectacular view. The site where the medieval castle stands is viewed as the area where Lisbon was originally founded. The oldest relics date back to the Moorish period. Alcáçovas Palace, which was added later, served as the royal place of residence until the 16th century. The building and its ten towers were extensively restored in 1938. The picturesque Santa Cruz do Castelo district within the old fortifications is also great for a walk.
Sé Cathedral is also located in the Alfama district. A mosque once stood here. The current Romanesque structure, which incorporates several architectural styles, is a reconstruction. Many archaeological excavations are taking place, both in the Castelo and in the cathedral. And the projects are proving successful: excavations under the cloisters have already brought to light remains of the Moors, Goths, Romans and Phoenicians.
The Torre de Belém is certainly another architectural highlight. This fortified tower is an outstanding example of a Manueline building, a building style that only came to the fore in the kingdom of Portugal in the 16th century and is a mixture of Gothic and Renaissance styles, inspired by the travels of seafarers.
The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos monastery is located close to the Tower of Belém. The richly decorated structure is a monument to Portuguese territorial expansion and is the site of the graves of Vasco da Gama, King Sebastião and the renowed poet Luís de Camões. Magnificent vaults, sculptures, towering pillars and elaborate stucco and stonemasonry make the monastery one of the most frequently visited sights in the city.
Lovers of art and ceramics will delight in Lisbon, too – particularly in May during the museum days, which include a museum night, during which many exhibitions and concerts are held. The art highlights include Portugal’s National Museum for Ancient Art, the Museu National de Arte Antiga, which is home to numerous European art treasures dating back to the 14–19th centuries and the world’s largest collection of Portuguese artefacts.
The Museu Nacional do Azulejo is located within a convent and highlights the variety of ceramic tiles, which also decorate many buildings in Lisbon. The Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, with its collection stemming from more than 4,000 years of art history, is also one of the internationally reowned art centres.
Tip: The Galeria Carpe Diem Arte e Pesquisa (CDAP) centre for contemporary art, which was founded in 2009, is located in the Pombal Palace dating back to the 17th century. The CDAP supports not only exhibitions with national and international artists, but also hosts conferences, discussions with artists, guided tours and a great deal more.
The Experiência Pilar 7 exhibition is also an interactive experience and allows visitors to discover more about the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge. The crossing, which is 3.2 kilometres long, traverses the river Tagus and connects the Lisbon district of Alcântara with the suburbs in Amada. The exhibition enables visitors to walk around the outside areas around supporting pillar no. 7, detailing the exciting history of the construction of the bridge – along with a virtual reality experience. A viewing platform also provides an alternative view of the city and the river.
Tip: A popular abandoned site is located a short distance from the city centre; it is also one of the most attractive viewing points, the Panorâmico de Monsanto. The building is now covered in a great deal of graffiti and was completed in the 1960s based on a design drawn up in the 1930s. It was once home to a gourmet restaurant, a café terrace, a banqueting hall and a pavilion.
I recommend those who have more time to spare during their visit to Lisbon to explore the Sintra UNESCO World Heritage site and the coastal towns of Guincho and Cascais,” Frederico de Beck advices.
It takes about one hour to travel to Sintra from Lisbon by train. The small town in the mountains was the summer residence of the country’s kings for many centuries. Thanks to its location, the climate here is somewhat cooler than in the capital and the countryside is green. Magnificent palaces, chateaus and a restored castle as well as the picturesque old town all encourage people to spend time there.
The Praia do Guincho beach is popular with surfers and is perfect if you like a fresh sea breeze. There are some excellent restaurants on the road leading to the beach. Cascais also has an attractive beach, small shops, restaurants and a yacht harbour with several hundred berths.
Lisbon is a major attraction not only because of its charm and the many sights there. The city is also worth recommending for its exquisite culinary delights. Visitors may initially be surprised by the local’s love of the bacalhau dried and salted cod, which is imported, but the hundreds or even thousands of recipes, prepared with passion and full of flavour, will make any fish lover’s mouth water. The only real rival to people’s love for bacalhau is their affection for sardines.
Tip: Try some grilled fish in one of the restaurants next to the sea and take a walk along the riverbank from Alcântara to Belém.
A fluffy, sweet mousse made of egg white, sugar, cream and flour, wrapped in crispy puff pastry and garnished with a pinch of cinnamon or icing sugar. Do you like desserts? Then this sweet delicacy is just the right thing for you.
A galão for breakfast is a true delight for coffee drinkers. It consists of about one quarter coffee and three quarters frothy milk – and you have the Portuguese version of an espresso. Galão is traditionally served in a glass.
Go to any restaurant and you are sure to find bacalhau dried and salted cod. People say that there are 1,001 bacalhau recipes – for example, as a croquette (bolinhos de bacalhau) or the bacalhau à bras version with onions, chunks of potato and eggs.
This green cabbage soup may not come from Lisbon, but it is a very popular national dish everywhere in Portugal. It is thickened with cabbage and stock as well as potatoes and garlic, and is served garnished with slices of chouriço – a Portuguese paprika sausage.
You will find this sweet morello cherry liqueur at almost every bar or pub. No wonder, because it originally came from the “A Ginjinha” stand-up bar located in Lisbon. But be careful! This Portuguese liqueur, which is known as ginja or ginjinha, may contain as much as 20 percent alcohol. It is served in a shot glass with or without a cherry.
This salty speciality is a typical delicacy in Lisbon in summer and is served with bread, grilled peppers or boiled potatoes. You can buy the flavour-packed sardines on any street corner, especially during the city festival in honour of Saint Anthony, when everybody seems to be out and about in the city.
The mouth of those who love fish and seafood will start to water when they hear about this soup, which literally means “rich in a wide variety of different fish”. Monkfish, perch, squid, clams and a great deal more give this soup its full-bodied flavour.
The poet and restaurateur Raymundo António de Bulhão Pato, has given the name to this delicious clam dish with olive oil and garlic. His admirer, who was then chef at the Hotel Central in Lisbon, prepared it for the first time in honour of Bulhão Pato and named it after him. It is simple and quick to prepare. The recipe is still found on many menus and is popular as a starter.
Sardines are not only barbecued on the streets of Lisbon in the middle of June, when the celebrations related to Saint Anthony reach their climax, but all around the country. After all, when Anthony made his way to Lisbon in the 13th century, the residents did not want to hear his sermons. As a result, he spontaneously decided to preach to the fish. The street festival harkens back to this, but more than that: Lisbon also holds a sardine competition every year, in where the most creative sardine designs receive an award. There are no limits to the imagination here!
According to popular belief, Saint Anthony not only helps people find items they have lost, he is also the patron saint of lovers. Basil represents love in Portugal and is presented to people as a gift in June, the month which is devoted to the national saint, together with a romantic poem and a paper carnation.
Lisbon’s most famous music style is undoubtedly fado. An unhappy love affair, unfortunate social circumstances and the longing for better times are expressed in many works. The melancholic sound is also reflected in its name, as fado is probably derived from the Latin word fatum, which means fate. Despite the melancholic overtones, those who visit Lisbon should definitely not miss the opportunity to listening to the sounds of the fado singers and their mandolin-shaped guitars. Here are some recommendations for where you can best enjoy fado music:
Sadness, nostalgia, missing people, longing, homesickness, melancholy, loneliness – saudade is one of those terms for which there is no literal translation. It is one word that expresses an emotion and an attitude to life that is full of pain – a feeling that absence is overriding. Saudade can be felt particularly in fado music.
The day may be drawing to a close, but you are still full of energy? Then immerse yourself in Lisbon’s nightlife. The Rua Nova do Carvalho, also known as “Pink Street”, was once a disreputable neighborhood, but is now one of the city’s trendiest streets. It is located in the Cais do Sodré district, very close to the historical market known as Mercado da Ribeira. You will find many long-established clubs and trendy bars here near the river. We recommend the following:
Our author, Astrid, visited Lisbon about five years ago. She recalls not only the delicious fish dishes, fado music and funicular railways, but also the colourful graffiti. The recommendations provided by her conversation partners at Grupo Totalmédia have rekindled a desire in her to return to the city.
Do you know Lisbon well and have some different tips for us? Share them in the comments!
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