Welcome back! If you haven’t had a chance to read the first two parts of my series on visiting the city of Lisbon, you can find Part 1 and Part 2 here and here!
Continuing on with my Travel Portugal: Lisbon series, we’re going to travel approximately 10km west from the centre of Lisbon today, to the area of Belém.
If you decide to take transit to tour the city of Lisbon, like we did, the popular double-decker hop-on hop-off tourist buses have a few stops in Belém on their routes. We purchased a two-day pass on Yellow Bus Tours which included the Belém tour, and we took advantage of the marvellous stops on this route to take in all that Belém has to offer.
We first hopped off at the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monastery). This 16th century architectural wonder is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Monument in Portugal and is on my “must-see” list.
The main public entrance is here, in between the Cloister (on the left) and the Church of St. Mary of Belém (on the right). If you are just wanting to visit the Church, the visit is free admission. However, with a reasonably priced paid admission, you can visit the cloisters, the High Choir, the Refectory and more!
In fact, we discovered that while buying your admission at the Jerónimos Monastery, you can buy a cheaper 2 for 1 admission ticket for €12 that also gives you admission to the Torre de Belém (Belém Tower), and therefore you can avoid any possible long line-ups at the Tower (which is very common to see during the high tourist months).
Lisbon is known for it’s many days of sunshine and beautiful blue skies… and seeing it from this view inside the Monastery is spectacular!
All of a sudden a lovely choir started singing in a corner of the cloisters, adding to the peacefulness and meditation-like atmosphere.
Visit the High Choir above the Church of St. Mary of Belém to see different viewpoints of the church and it’s architecture.
The view of the High Choir as seen from the main floor of the Church….
The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos is also where the tombs of two of the most important figures in Portuguese history are located. The first tomb belongs to Vasco Da Gama, who was the first explorer to navigate a maritime route from Europe to India.
The other tomb in the Church of St. Mary of Belém belongs to Luís de Camões, who was a great Portuguese poet and author of Os Lusíadas, an epic poem describing Vasco Da Gama’s maritime journey from Portugal to India.
As described on the website for the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos:
“In 1880 the remains of Vasco da Gama and the poet, Luís de Camões, were transferred to the Jerónimos Monastery. Their tombs, made by the sculptor Costa Mota, are now in the lower choir of the Monastery’s church. Vasco da Gama (on the left-hand side) and Luís de Camões (on the right-hand side) were the two most important representatives of this epic period in Portuguese history. They were given the honour of a final resting place amongst kings.”
After finishing your visit to the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, take a short walk down the street, about a block and a half, to the famous Pastéis de Belém bakery and café. Even though it will look busy outside the doors, you can walk inside and past the front counters to the sitting areas in the back, where there is a large café with many tables to accommodate the large numbers of people who visit every day.
You will definitely want to enjoy a nice warm just-out-of-the-oven custard tart sprinkled with a touch of cinnamon, or as it’s called here, a pastel de Belém. Although these look like the traditional Portuguese pastel de nata (or just “nata”), these unique Pastéis de Belém are made with a secret recipe that actually began in 1837 in the Jerónimos Monastery. To find out more about their history, click on their website here.
Take a walk through the café and you will come across large viewing windows into the back where you can sit and drool while watching large trays of pastéis coming out of the ovens.
You can eat as many Pastéis de Belém as you can while visiting, or you can take some to-go for a snack for later. Or you could do both!! Either way, it’s definitely a necessity to stop in here while in Belém.
After you’ve filled your tummy with a nice espresso and a pastel (or two), you can continue walking down the main road to the next block, and past the Palácio Nacional de Belém (Belém Palace), which is also the official residence of the President of the Portuguese Republic.
You can then wait at the nearest stop for Yellow Bus Tours so that you can get on the next bus that goes by and takes you further along the Belém route. The next stop to hop-off at is at the Torre de Belém (Belém Tower), yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This stunning monument was completed in the 16th century as it was commissioned to be built in order to protect the city of Lisbon, which had become one of the world’s main trade hubs.
With the 2 for 1 ticket you bought at the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, you will be able to go right to the entry, as usually the long lineups found here are actually lines for buying entry tickets.
You can go on your own self-guided tour, and take your time exploring all of the levels in this historic fortified tower.
The next stop on the Belém route where you should definitely hop-off is at the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries); just down the Tejo river from the Torre de Belém, this newer monument in the city was actually built in 1940 for the Portuguese World Expo.
“To Prince Henry and the Portuguese that Discovered the Sea Routes”
The total height of this monument is 56 metres, or almost 184 feet. Here is my son standing in front of it, just so you can see the scale…. It really is enormous and stunning.
The website for the Monument to the Discoveries describes it best:
“A stylised caravel seems to be setting out to sea, with Henry the Navigator in its prow. On the two lateral ramps ascending to the symbolic figure of the Infante are some of the major figures of the Portuguese overseas expansion and cultural figures from the age of the Discoveries, 32 in total, all portrayed with symbols that allude to their identity: navigators, cartographers, warriors, colonisers, missionaries, chroniclers and artists.
Composed of a vertical element consisting of a stylised mast oriented North–South, with two Portuguese coats of arms on each side with its five small shields, surrounded by a band with 12 castles and stylised fleurs-de-lis in the centre.
On each side are three triangular structures, each with one curved side, giving the illusion of sails blown out by the wind.”
Belém has so much more to see, especially if you love to visit museums. All of the following museums are located just in the Belém area:
Whew! Sorry for the long post, but the beauty and history of Lisbon and the vast amounts of things to see and do should be shared with anyone looking for an amazing place to visit and that’s what I hope to do!
Stay tuned for part 4…Yes, there is still more to see and experience in Lisboa!
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.
It’s Winter here in Canada and bloody cold and snowy, so it’s time to start thinking of warmer climates and things to look forward to this summer. Hence, it’s time to start planning travel for 2017!
It’s no secret that I love to travel to and through the country of my ancestors, Portugal. I recommend it to anyone who is looking for a beautiful, historic place to visit, with lots to see and do, great food to eat and excellent wine to drink. It is basically the cheapest country in Europe to travel to while still getting all of the things Europe has to offer: Castles, history, charm, cobblestone streets, friendly and warm people, and fantastic beaches and weather.
So let’s start with Portugal’s largest and capital city: Lisbon (Lisboa in Portuguese) and the basics of how to get there and where to stay. Lisbon has the best of both worlds: it’s a large bustling city in the middle of centuries of history, with castles, monuments, basilicas and architectural wonders all around. And of course the Rio Tejo (Tagus river) is at the southern point of the city, leading out to the Atlantic. Lisbon enjoys copious amounts of wonderful sunshine and warm temperatures, making it always a great place to visit and tour.
Lisbon is an ideal first stop in Portugal, as you can fly directly into the city and tour it before you make your way south, north or east. Or if you fly into the other major airports of Faro or Porto, you can always take the train or drive to Lisbon. With the high cost of fuel and parking and the congestion of the big city, we always prefer to take the train into the city. It makes for a very relaxing trip in instead of a stressful one!
Map of Portugal
The train system in Portugal is vast, with numerous trains leaving quite often to various locations, 3 different price points, and it’s very simple to figure out. You can plan out your trip on their website Comboios de Portugal. Our home base when in Portugal is the city of Aveiro, so we usually take the Alfa Pendular train from Aveiro to Lisboa’s Santa Apolonia station, which takes about 2 hours and 9 minutes and costs anywhere from €35 to €50 roundtrip. Half-price discounts are offered for children and for seniors. Also, the Alfa Pendular train is the fastest with the least number of stops, so it is the most expensive. There are other cheaper options such as the Intercidades, Regional and Urbanos, but keep in mind that the cheapest will also take the longest to get you there.
While enjoying the Comboios de Portugal and travelling in comfort, you also get to enjoy the historic train stations throughout the country. This is the beautiful historic side of the train station in my city of Aveiro:
And here is the Santa Apolónia train station in central Lisbon:
From the north, one stop before Santa Apolónia is the Estação do Oriente or the Gare do Oriente (the Oriente train station). I love the views of this gorgeous, architectural beauty and futuristic-looking station that we get before we make it to our stop.
I apologize, these pictures do not do it justice…It is so spectacular to see in person. The renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava designed this station and it was completed in 1998 for the World Fair Expo ’98. To see much more detailed and stunning photos, click here.
Once at the train station, you can easily hail a taxi to take you to where you will be staying (usually less than €10 if you are staying in the Baixa area). If you wish to continue using the transit system instead, you can take the metro right from the Santa Apolónia station. You can review the Metro maps on the Metro Lisboa website.
As for where to stay in Lisbon, there are so many different options for places to stay. You could stay in a hotel, in a hostel, a pousada (a room in an historic building) or a pensão (guesthouse), or even a private apartment. You can review all sorts of options on TripAdvisor or on this site.
The first time that we were booking a few days in Lisbon, my papá mentioned that back in 1962 he had stayed in a nice pensão that was very central and right off a large public square and he suggested that I look it up to see if it still existed. Laughing to myself but thinking that I would just do it to amuse him, I looked up the name he gave me and surprisingly found a current website for the exact place. The Pensão Praça da Figueira was still around, and fully functioning as a type of guest house that offered rooms and breakfast for a very affordable price. Luckily, it didn’t look like it was still stuck in the 60’s! He was right though… It was located in the best location. Right in the centre of the Baixa, with great views and so much to do and see all around it.
So we booked it and didn’t regret it. In fact, the next time we were planning to go back, it was harder to find dates that they had rooms available! I would definitely recommend this place to anyone looking for a reasonably priced place to stay, with the location being a plus. It is not a big fancy hotel, however. But we weren’t there to spend a lot of time in our room; we just wanted somewhere clean and central. Another big plus is that there is air conditioning in the rooms (so important if you are visiting in the summer months). The breakfast is lovely, the rooms are all updated, and the front desk service is also top-notch. One warning though…as it is in an historical restored building, there is no elevator; so if you are travelling with someone who has limited mobility, it may not be the best option for you. We had booked the suite which was on the 4th floor, but due to this view, we didn’t mind at all!
Overlooking the Praca da Figueira
From the suite you get a beautiful view of the Castelo de São Jorge (St. George’s Castle) on the top of the hill.
Staying in the suite meant that there was enough room for all 5 of us to stay in one “room” (it was really two rooms in the suite, but one price).
The square that the Pensão is located in (Praça da Figueira) is right next to Rossio square, where there is much shopping, a regional train station with trains that go to Sintra, and many places to eat and drink.
Also conveniently located right in the Praça da Figueira is the bus stop for the tourist Yellow Bus Tours, which we’ve used the last two times we’ve visited the city. It makes for a great mode of transportation since they go to many different bairros/areas of Lisbon.
Now that we’ve made it to Lisbon, and secured a place to stay, the next thing to do is talk about ALLLLL the things to do and see! Stay tuned for Part 2!