Last week I started my travel series on the Western European country of Portugal, and I decided to start first with the capital city, aka the City of Seven Hills, aka the home of Fado music: Lisboa/Lisbon.
I could fill this post with tons of stunning pictures and imagery of Lisbon that I have experienced over the years, but so many of these images have fascinating stories behind them, and it would be a shame not to share them.
So in the last post I talked about getting yourself to Lisbon and about finding a place to stay. Once you’re in the city, there is much to see and do! Whether you’re into seeing historic monuments and buildings, visiting museums, taking in the traditional food and wine or shopping for souvenirs or fine goods, you can find it all in Lisbon. Let’s start with a map of Lisbon:
Much like most major cities in the world, Lisbon is divided into different areas that each offer unique characteristics and special places to add to your must-see list. The area called “Baixa Pombalina”, or just “Baixa” for short, is central in the heart of the city and runs along the Rio Tejo (Tagus River), and goes North to the famous Rossio train station. In the Baixa you can find a large shopping district, many pedestrian shopping streets, museums and large squares.
Starting along the Rio Tejo, you will find the enormous square called Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square) or Terreiro do Paço. This square hosts many events, and at the time we were there in the summer of 2016, the square was set up for showing the live feeds of the soccer (futebol) games of Euro 2016 (which Portugal won and became the reigning champions!).
Surrounding the square are three rectangular buildings set up in a “U” shape, open towards the Rio Tejo. This square was part of the rebuilding effort of Lisbon, after a large earthquake, tsunami and fire destroyed most of the city in 1755. During this time the King of Portugal was Dom José I, and in 1775 a bronze statue of D. Jose I was inaugurated in the Praça do Comércio.
Leading out of the Praça do Comércio is the majestic Arco Triunfal (also called Arco da Rua Augusta), which is at the entrance to Augusta Street, a stunning pedestrian street of shops, cafés and restaurants.
At the top of the Arch are statues representing Glory crowning Genius and Valour. Other Portuguese historical figures represented along the Arch are of Viriato, Vasco da Gama, the Marquês of Pombal and Nuno Álvares Pereira.
There is public access to go inside the arch for a cost of approximately 2.5 Euros, from where you will have amazing views of the Praça, the Rio Tejo and the parallel streets of the Baixa. We didn’t get to take advantage of this as we didn’t know it was a possibility! I recently read that this was possible and it’s now on my list of things to do.
The older areas of Lisbon are well known for their spectacular collection of streetlamps. Driving through the different bairros, I was always looking carefully at the buildings I passed to see what the streetlamps looked like.
During a day of touring and wandering, you must stop at one of the many Ginjinha kiosks you will find. Ginjinha is a traditional cherry liqueur made from sour cherries and is the typical drink of Lisbon. You can pick up a shot of it in a cup or in a chocolate cup for approximately 1 to 2 Euros at various kiosks or shops in the Baixa area. A quick shot and you can get moving onto your next destination (as long as you’re not driving)!
Once you pass under the Arch, you enter onto Rua Augusta, which is a pedestrian-only street.
Here you will find many boutiques, shops, hotels, cafés and restaurants. There is something for everyone. If you like to visit museums, there is even the Museum of Fashion and Design (called MUDE) located here, on Rua Augusta.
Walking up Rua Augusta, you will pass many other charming streets that can take you over to Rua da Prata or to Rua dos Sapateiros which also have many lovely shops to entice you. Once you reach Rua de Santa Justa and look to your left, you will see ahead of you an enormous vertical steel structure that will leave you wondering what is taking up that prime real estate.
What this structure is is the Elevador de Santa Justa (the Santa Justa lift or elevator). It was built in 1902 to link the lower city area of the Baixa (which literally means “lower”) to the upper area of Carmo up on the hill. In 2002 the Elevador de Santa Justa received it’s classification as a National Monument.
During the day when we would pass it and inquire as to going up to the viewpoint, we would find that there were enormous line-ups to wait to go up. When we found out that the hours of operation in the summer meant that it was open until 11:00pm, we decided to come back after dinner and see the city by night. It was a great decision!
There was still a line-up after dinner, but it was much smaller. This gorgeous historical cast iron structure brought us up to the viewpoint where we able to take in Lisbon by night in all her glory.
The streets of the Chiado district are stunning at night (and busy!).
The view at night of Praça Dom Pedro IV (Square of King Peter IV; most commonly referred to as the Rossio square) with the Teatro Nacional D. Maria II (National Performing Arts Theatre) behind it.
Looking towards Castelo de São Jorge…
Finishing off the Baixa district…once you take the elevator down and continue up Rua Augusta again, you will end up at the end of the street with a few options ahead of you. On the left is Rossio square (Praça Dom Pedro IV) with it’s amazing calçada or paving design. The unique paving designs you can find throughout Portugal are made of limestone cubes and are done by hand. Imagine working on this huge Praça with this design???!!!
This statue is of course of Dom Pedro IV, after whom the square is named.
Across the street from the Praça Dom Pedro IV is the Rossio train station (Estação do Rossio). Yes, this palatial-looking building is actually a train station! And you can take a train from here to Sintra to go see more palaces!
The style this building was built in is Neo-Manueline and it was completed in 1890.
Don’t get fooled by the Starbucks coffee shop tucked in the side of this stunning building. There are plenty of other good coffee and espresso drinks to be had much cheaper at any other café. I do love Starbucks when I am home in Canada, and I admit I did go in to this Starbucks location only to buy a souvenir mug for a friend and for my own mug collection…
Even if you are not taking the train anywhere, it is worth it just to enter through these magnificent doors and discover the interior of this building.
Nearby the Rossio train station, I encountered this stunning sculpture dedicated to the music of Fado, which has been declared by UNESCO as being on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Going back to the top of Rua Augusta, you could stop to eat a pastel de nata (or a few!) at the Confeitaria Nacional, which has been in business since 1829! (and then you can compare them to another little bakery that I’ll write about in Part 3…)
The next large square to the east is the Praça da Figueira, where you can find the statue of Dom João I (King John I), with the Castelo de São Jorge in the background. (Again, Lisbon by night is a must!)
And here is the bustling square during the day…. In this square is a stop for Yellow Bus tours, which makes it super convenient if you are also staying nearby.
One route on the Yellow Bus tours includes a Hills Tramcar Tour, which is a must-see! Included in your ticket is access to Tramcar 28, which is what you would take if you don’t want to walk all the way up to the Castelo de São Jorge (Castle of St Jorge). The other bonus of having a ticket with Yellow Bus tours is that it includes free access to the Santa Justa lift!
Like I said before, there is so much to see and experience in this city…I can’t keep it all to just one blog post!
Part 3 is coming up soon, where we’ll go see the beauty that is Belėm.