Lisbon is the capital city of Portugal. It is located where the Tagus River meets the Atlantic Ocean and lies on the Western Iberian Peninsula. The city of Lisbon is older than Rome, Paris and London by many centuries as it was settled almost 3000 years ago.
From its early days as a Phoenician outpost to its expansion into a 16th-century trading giant, from the Great Earthquake of 1755 to its glorious reconstruction, Lisbon has long been a city of shifting fortunes.
For much of the 20th century the city floundered, but the winds of fate have again shifted in Lisbon’s favor. Today, in the 21st century, Lisbon is a place of many possibilities and no longer a place of faded glory.
Many of the important landmarks can be found along the waterfront as Lisbon is a city that has forever been tied to the sea.
The 16th century Belem Tower which was the official Tower of Saint Vincent that rises from the banks of the Tagus River stands as a reminder of the Portuguese prestige and power in days of old.
Just upriver, rises the Monument of The Discoveries, which celebrates the nation’s most revered seafarers, such as Prince Henry The Navigator, Vasco da Gama, and Ferdinand Magellan. To take a look at the routes and discoveries of Portugal’s intrepid mariners, you can easily climb to the rooftop and check out the medieval European map.
Visit the Jeronimos Monastery to take a look at Lisbon’s seafaring past. In 1497, Vasco da Gama spent his last night here before departing on his epic voyage to the Orient. The monastery was funded by the incredible wealth Vasco da Gama’s spice routes brought to the city. This vast monastery complex is also home to the city’s maritime museum, which preserves relics from Portugal’s Golden Age of Sail.
The Portuguese egg tarts a.k.a. Pastel de nata is a speciality here. It’s recipe is a well guarded secret since the 18th century.
After enjoying the delicious Portugese egg tarts, visit The Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology.
Hundreds of species glide by in a celebration of the global ocean at the city’s acclaimed Oceanario which shows the Portuguese love of the sea. From here, climb aboard the cable car and glide upriver again, for birds-eye views of the city and the eleven-mile long Ponte Vasco da Gama, the longest bridge in Europe.
The city’s grand gateway, Praca do Comercio is located here at the waterfront. This great square in the center of the Baixa District was once the home of the Royal Palace, until a fateful All-Saints Day in November 1755 when a natural disaster changed Lisbon and Europe, forever.
At the Lisbon Story Centre, feel the devastating tremors of that six-minute earthquake, and the terror of the tsunami and five-day firestorm that followed. The earthquake obliterated 85% of the city, but with calamity, came opportunity and Lisbon started rebuilding itself. An earthquake-resistant architecture called Pombaline style named after Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo was used throughout Lisbon.
Due to the earthquake, the fresh new shoots of The Enlightenment came through and freed the city from the religious dogma of old.
You can pay a tribute to the city’s swift reconstruction crowned with the figures of Glory, Valor and Genius under the triumphal arch.
Afterwards, you can visit another of Lisbon’s great squares, the Rossio. Rossio is its heart and Praca do Comercio is the city’s gateway.
Lisbon’s citizens have gathered here for bullfights and celebrations ever since the middle ages. You can relax on its fountains and on the waves of its patterned pavement.
Wherever you roam in Lisbon, you’ll find yourself going up to take in the views.
Take a ride from the lower town on the Elevador de Santa Justa to the Barrio Alto district. This is the place where in 1755 the unrestored arches of the Convento do Carmo were devastated.
From here you can take the Tram 28 and view some of the cities most iconic sights. Then, visit Castelo de Sao Jorge from Portas do Sol. From high on the battlements of this 11th-century Moorish citadel the red-tiled roofs Lisbon spread out before you, stepping down to the lower town and the blue Tagus beyond.
You will soon notice that Trams are everywhere in Lisbon and most popular tram is called Gloria as it runs between the Lower Town to Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara which is the perfect place to watch the city light up at dusk with someone special.
Much of Lisbon was reduced to rubble and cinders after the great earthquake but the ancient suburb of Alfama was spared.Take a walk on the ancient cobblestones and steps. There are many cafes, bars, and artisan shops that have taken residence in the dockworkers’ homes of old. During the midsummer festivals there are over 50 street parties that pop up all over the city.
The city is home to the Romanesque Towers of Lisbon’s Cathedral. The Cathedral walls date back to the second crusade when the city was liberated from the Moors. If the stones of Alfama could sing, then surely it would be the bittersweet lament of the Fado. Discover the traditional song of Portugal that originated in the bars and laneways of the Alfama at the Fado Museum.
You can spend your evening at the local Fado bars listening to the songs and stories with the locals.
Lisbon’s walls may not sing, but the tiles which adorn them possess music of their own. Over the centuries the Portuguese have made the art of Azulejo all their own but these were first introduced by the Arabs. The National Azulejo Museum that is Housed in a former convent, celebrates the evolution of Portugal’s tile-craft across the centuries, from the biblical tales of old to the new frontiers of tile design.
Azulejo can be seen at every turn in Lisbon, from the practical to the purely decorative. Head to the city’s north to Fronteira Palace if you want to see the Sistine Chapel of tiles.
You’ll find another of the world’s great collections at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum. There are about 6000 art treasures and antiquities that represent a lifetime of acquisition by the oil magnate Gulbenkian.
Lisbon has always been a city of discovery. So when you’re ready to explore a little further afield you’ll find no end of the adventure.
Less than 20 miles west of the city is Cascais, an ancient fishing village that was woken from its slumber when Lisbon’s nobility discovered it’s golden bays in the late 1800s.
Sintra was another playground for Portugal’s Monarchs and the home of the Summer Palace. Sintra is a half-hour drive to the northwest of Lisbon and is more than a weekend destination. It’s a journey into a fairy tale. Hans Christian Andersen fell under Sintra’s spell, returning time and time again, calling it the most beautiful place in Portugal.
From Sintra, it’s just a short drive to the incredible coastline of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. We recommend you to spend a few days exploring some of Europe’s most beautiful beaches, such as Praia das Macas. It is named after the apples which floated downriver from nearby orchards and washed up upon its sands.
You can also explore the remote beaches of Adraga and Ursa, where Atlantic waves have carved a dramatic coastline straight from Homer’s Odyssey.
Until the 14th century, Cape Roca was considered the end of the world and you can stand upon the clifftop here. Here, on the western-most point in mainland Europe, 400 feet above the pounding Atlantic, it’s easy to understand how Lisbon’s seafarers were drawn to see what lay over those far horizons.
They have seen many wonders, found many riches but they always returned to Lisbon, the Queen of the Sea.
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