Located on the banks of the Tagus River, with cobbled streets, castles, impressive cathedrals, colorful buildings, a rich history and the trams, Lisbon is a great city. It is the capital of Portugal and one of Europe’s oldest cities. This was our third visit to Lisbon and we have thoroughly enjoyed each visit. At the conclusion of each trip, we make a mental to do list of what we want to do the next time.
The history of Portugal and Lisbon was similar to most of the Southern Europe in that it was continuously settled and fought over by the Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians before 700 years of Roman rule. After the collapse of the Roman Empire the Moors from North Africa took charge and ruled from 711AD to 1147AD when it was recaptured by the Crusaders (led by Alfonso I who became Portugal’s first King.) The 15th and 16th centuries were Lisbon’s and Portugal’s golden age as it became the point of departure for global exploration. As a result Lisbon enjoyed wealth and prosperity because of the newly discovered colonies in the Atlantic, the Americas, Africa and Asia.
Some of the highlights of the city I would recommend are;
The Alfama and Castelo S. Jorge
Built by the Moors in the mid-11th century on a high hill, Castelo S. Jorge overlooks Lisbon and its ancient Moorish quarter (the Alfama). While originally built as a fortress by the Moors, after the conquest by the crusaders it became the home for the first and future kings until the 16th century. I recommend taking a taxi or tuk-tuk to the castle early (opens at 9:00 AM) so as to arrive before the crowds.
Spend some time visiting the castle and enjoying the view of the city before taking your time to walk down the hill through the Alfama with its narrow cobblestone streets, colorful houses and orange tiled roofs. Be sure to stop at some of the many shops, bars and restaurants. Two thirds of the Lisbon was destroyed in 1755 during an 8.5-9.0 earthquake but the Alfama was largely untouched. More time in this area is on my to-do list for next time.
This is area a little outside the central city area but it is a short taxi ride as well as a stop on the hop-on hop-off bus. I think this area is a must see.
The Tower of Belem, a four-story fortress on the banks of the Tagus River, built in the 1515 to guard the entrance to Lisbon Harbor. The fort’s architecture includes North African styled watchtowers, stonework motifs of the Discoveries and sculptures depicting historical figures. The tower was often the last symbol for the Discoverer’s as they sailed for parts unknown. There is an admission fee to go inside (5or6 Euros) but I think it is well worth it.
A short walk from the Tower is the Monument to the Discoveries. This is a modern monument built in 1960 to celebrate Portugal’s golden age of great discoveries when it ruled the seas. There are 34 statues with key figures including Vasco De Gama and Magellan and the front of the monument contains the statue of Henry the Navigator. Henry the Navigator (Prince Henry) was the son of King John 1 of Portugal. Born in 1394, he is widely credited with financing many of the expeditions to the new world. Portugal’s history during this period is rich with celebrated explorers with Magellan, the first to circumnavigate the globe, Vasco de Gama, who discovered an ocean route from Portugal around the tip of Africa to India and the east, Pedro Alvares Cabral,the first European to set foot in Brazil and many others. There is no admission fee here and the monument is quite impressive. The cobblestones around the monument are an interesting pattern. The ground here is flat, but the pattern of the stones appears to be a wave and, if stared at can leave you slightly disoriented.
Across the street from both of the above is Jeronimos Monastery. This church stretches 300 yards along the Lisbon waterfront and was built in 1502 by King Manual I, to celebrate Vasco De Gama’s epic voyage. In July of 1497, De Gama sailed from Belem with four ships and returned in September of 1499 after sailing around Africa to India. The spices he returned with were worth a fortune and this launched Portugal’s Golden Age. The Church features two story cloisters and ornate arches and is quite impressive. There is a small entrance fee.
When in Belem, make sure you visit Casa Pasteis de Belem café (about a block from the Monastery) and have one of the delicious custard tarts.
Between the Alfama and Belem is Lisbon’s downtown with pedestrian streets, restaurants and shops. At Praca de Comercio, a large riverfront square, is an entry point to the Baixa and as well as the departure point for river, bus and tram tours. To get to the Baixa from this square, you go through the Rue Augusta Arch onto the pedestrian street Rue Augusta. There are numerous cafes here as well as shopping opportunities. There are a couple of good stores offering Portuguese items but for the most part, the shops are high end that you can find anywhere. There is a much better assortment of Portuguese items at more reasonable prices in the Alfama. It is a good place however to get a bite to eat and a drink.
Lisbon is a great city with plenty to see and do and I look forward to visiting again
Thanks for visiting