There are few more immediately likeable European capitals than LISBON (Lisboa). A lively place, it remains in some ways curiously provincial, rooted as much in the 1920s as the 2000s. Wooden trams clank up outrageous gradients, past mosaic pavements, Art Nouveau cafés and the medieval quarter of Alfama, which hangs below the city's São Jorge castle. The city invested heavily for Expo 98 and the 2004 European Football Championships, reclaiming rundown docks and improving communication links, and today it combines an easy-going, human pace and scale, with a vibrant, cosmopolitan identity.
The city has a huge amount of historic interest. The Great Earthquake of 1755 (followed by a tidal wave and fire) destroyed most of the grandest buildings, but frantic reconstruction led to many impressive new palaces and churches, as well as the street grid pattern spanning the seven hills of Lisbon. Several buildings from Portugal's golden age survived the quake – notably the Castelo de São Jorge and the Monastery of Jerónimos at Belém. Contemporary sights include the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, with its superb collections of ancient and modern art.
The city on Seven Hills, the birthplace of Fado, a maze of dark and narrow streets that dates back for centuries, and now one of the most cosmopolitan cities on the European continent, Lisbon is like no other place on earth. Europe's westernmost capital city is prized for its seamless mixture of tradition and modernity, where the past and the future all come together in brilliant unity. From Alfama, to the Parque das Nações , to the historical district and the new and thriving business district, Lisbon, while a city of contrasts, is more importantly a city of balance. With a history as rich as its traditional cuisine, it's no surprise that Lisbon keeps travelers coming back for more.
The oldest part of the city is Alfama, which contains many tourist attractions. Steeped with old world charm, a leisurely tour on the old trams in this part of the city is an experience of a lifetime. The Castelo de S.Jorge , which was won back from the Moors in 1143, is a must in the itinerary for history buffs. This area of the city, with typical narrow streets and traditional architecture, has a unique and friendly atmosphere. Those who visit Portugal will certainly notice and enjoy the hospitality of the Portuguese people, which in itself is an attraction of the city.
Bairro Alto is one of the areas of the city with a great nightlife. Here you will find a large number of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. The downtown area of Baixa is traditionally a commercial area, where a number of shops can be found, including popular souvenir shops. The extension of the Baixa, the famous Avenida da Liberdade , mirrors that commercial tradition with a haute couture flair, with many of the best international brands such as Armani, Louis Vuitton, and Trussardi represented on this charismatic avenue.
In Belem, near the Tagus River, you'll find a variety of monuments and leisure areas. In the 14th and 15th Centuries, the Torre de Belem was the departure point for many historical expeditions that set off in search of new worlds. Other beautiful monuments dedicated to Portuguese explorers can also be found in this vicinity. The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and the Padrão dos Descobrimentos are two such monuments that are definitely worth a visit. Another area attraction is the Centro Cultural de Belem, otherwise known as the CCB, which accommodates many international art exhibits and events. Also located at the CCB is the Museu Berardo, which has some of the world's most renowned pieces of modern art. Just some of the artists who have their works on display are Dali, Picasso, Warhol, Pollock, and countless others, making this museum a must-see attraction. Close by, you will also find the Docas area, which is great for a scenic stroll through the neighborhood.
The center of the city, apart from being Lisbon's business and commercial core, also contains many landmarks and shopping locations. The very convenient subway network can take you anywhere in a matter of minutes. Take some time to appreciate the local artists' art and sculptures in the underground stations.
The residential districts of the city sometimes provide the most interesting sightseeing, and even some exciting surprises. If you haven't already done enough shopping, the Benfica area contains the Centro Comercial Colombo . Filled with endless entertaining options and a vast array of shops, this mall is one of the biggest on the Iberian Peninsula.
Outside the City
The towns near Lisbon are just as interesting to visit, and offer sights that cannot be found in the city. West of the city is beautiful Cascais, a coastal town with a large number of beaches. Cascais's rich history is evidenced by the wealth of historical landmarks and attractions in the area. To the south, Costa da Caparica, a fishing village, also has wonderful beaches and allows you to see what a traditional Portuguese fishing village is like.
Even though Portugal is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, the atmosphere is still typically Mediterranean and the boisterous nightlife is not necessarily surprising, given the Portuguese penchant for chatting and drinking in bars at any given opportunity. The real culture of Lisboa is in the streets; the people are used to going to bars, drinking and talking until late at night. But be warned: although clubs don't normally open until 11pm, it's best to arrive before midnight as entrance fees increase with the size of the crowd.
In Bairro Alto, there is a wide choice of bars and restaurants. Here, the restaurants are small and welcoming. You can dine in some good restaurants such as Bota Alta. If you want to visit a nightclub with a wide variety of music genres that you can dance the night away to, Incognito lives up to its name with its sign-less entrance. There are also more modern clubs such as Frágil which is a fun venue for both gay and straight revelers.
In Alfama/Mouraria, the oldest area in Lisbon, you can have dinner and appreciate Fado in restaurants such as Parreirinha de Alfama . Later at night, you can go to some taverns or to the rather expensive, very popular, but extremely selective club, Lux-Frágil , which is rumored to be one of the best clubs in Lisbon. Parque das Nações also remains a favorite haunt.
In Rato, you will find many good restaurants, including the excellent Conventual , built in an ancient convent, and the Cafe São Bento . After dinner, if you want to have a drink, it is better to move on somewhere else.
Parque das Nações
In the eastern part of Lisbon is the Parque das Nações , the site upon which the last world exposition of the century was held. This spacious place is now full of bars and restaurants and is another district to visit when you want to paint the town red but on a more casual note than Docas. For dining, if you're ready to spend more than just a pretty penny on a meal, Capricciosa is a great choice to try some fine seafood and Italian fare. But if drinking is the main attraction when you dine, then Clube Cais has a plethora of beers and has a great dancing atmosphere. And after dinner, the fun can continue because bars and clubs are aplenty.
In Campo Pequeno, the restaurants are more modest but still offer quality food. Our choice would be O Funil .
Alcântara/Avenida 24 de Julho
In Alcântara/Avenida 24 de Julho, the atmosphere is quite lively. This area also has many bars and nightclubs. Try Blues Cafe , or the Speakeasy . If you are a bit peckish after leaving the nightclubs, buy a hot dog in the caravans that stand along the avenue or enjoy a hot cinnamon bun.
Estoril/Costa do Sol
Fifteen miles from Lisbon is the Costa do Sol. Cascais, a fishing village which has many good restaurants, like Restaurante Visconde da Luz and the Cervejaria Luz Mar . In Estoril, you can dine at the Sentinela da Noite . Then, after dinner, try your luck at the Casino Estoril . In the summer, you can have a drink in the bars close to the beach. There is also Nuts Club , the most frequented nightclub in Cascais. In Guincho, three miles from Cascais, you can dine in some luxury restaurants like Portal da Guia or the Fortaleza do Guincho . Most bars are located near the beach and have terraces, like the Bar do Guincho .
Lisbon is located in the estuary of the River Tagus, and is linked to the other bank by two bridges. The Ponte 25 de Abril is one of the biggest bridges in Europe and appears similar to the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. As for the inhabitants, Lisbon is known for the characteristically warm and friendly locals.
Alfama is the oldest and most historic district in Lisbon, and throughout the little becos or alleyways you will find historic homes and ancient dwellings that make this evident. Here is where you will find the Castelo de São Jorge which rests upon one of the more daunting hills in the city. Also in the area you will also find the historic churches of Santo Estêvão and São Vicente alongside the Se Cathedral which all offer a glimpse into the religious pomp and circumstance. This district also contains many places to see a Fado show, although many locals say that they are too tourist oriented; try to find a place that is run by the Fado artists themselves for more authenticity. Furthermore, if you happen to be lucky enough to be in the city during the festival of Santo António, usually held in mid-June, this district comes alive as street vendors, impromptu musical acts and culinary delights will all please. The entire district sometimes resembles what an old Alcaçaria (marketplace) would look like, where you can almost hear ancient traders in the bazaar.
Located nearby the neighborhoods of Encarnação and Santa Catarina lies the Bairro Alto or “High Neighborhood” due to its picturesque setting on top of one of Lisbon's many hills. This neighborhood is an eclectic bag of locales, where you can find antique shops alongside others with a decidedly more modern flair, and although the area has seen some degradation over the years, it is still a popular place to come and see authentic Fado and has an upbeat nightlife for other events. For excellent views of the city, take the Elevador da Glória to the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara and enjoy a quasi bird's-eye view of Lisbon and its environs. Also of particular interest is the Museu e Igreja de São Roque , a treasure trove of religious art and fervor during the age of discovery. In the past, this neighborhood was filled with houses of prostitution, gambling dens and other sordid places, but today just as with most parts of Lisbon, the archaic mingles with the contemporary.
If you take the subway and get out at the Baixa-Chiado stop, you will then enter one of the most beautiful and historic neighborhoods in the city. Filled with historic restaurants and museums, there is no doubt that the visitor will want to stay in this area and explore. To start, enjoy some bica (espresso) at the Cafe a Brasileira . Then for some high class entertainment, you could catch a show at the Teatro Nacional de São Carlos (the only opera house in the city) or the Companhia Teatral do Chiado where you can appreciate the color and flair from this contemporary dance company. For those travelers with a more educational proclivity, you can head to the Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea (National Museum of Modern Art) and the Museu do Chiado , as both contain magnificent works. For a leisurely stroll, in this neighborhood you will also find the Largo do Carmo which is a beautiful square filled with Jacaranda trees and their resplendent purple leaves, also nearby is the Convento do Carmo, destroyed by the earthquake of 1755 and now hosts the city's archeological museum, the Museu Arqueológico do Carmo. In the area of Baixa, you will find many historical monuments and buildings alongside many elegant shops and boutiques. This is the only place in Lisbon that has a linear layout of streets, designed and planned by the Marquês de Pombal after the earthquake in 1755 destroyed every other previous edifice. Stroll down the Rua Augusta from the Rossio metro stop until the Praça do Comercio , an area that witnessed the grandeur and decadence during the reign of Portuguese kings for two centuries. The Baixa Pombalina as this district is also known was declared a World Heritage site in 2004, and considering the variety of modernity and tradition, this is a definite must-see while in the capital. After all this, head down to the Restaurante Chapitô , a place with international as well as traditional dishes and also functions as a circus school.
Praça da Espanha to Rossio
At the Praça de Espanha metro station you can visit the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian and the adjacent wide green areas of the eponymously named park. And since you are already there, why not go to Centro de Arte Moderna Jose de Azeredo Perdigão as well?
Further south, in the Parque Eduardo VII you will have the opportunity to see beautiful displays that feature the ubiquitous azulejos (decorative tiles) which represent the major Portuguese discoveries. At the north end of the park, it provides spectacular views of the Avenida da Liberdade and the magnificent structures all around. At the bottom of the park, you will see the monument to Lisboa's benevolent patriarch, Marquês de Pombal; it was he who almost single-handedly reconstructed the city after the quake. You can then walk down the Avenida da República through the center all the way down to Rossio, a square that is truly the heart of the city. Stop by the Cafe Nicola for some coffee and a pastel de natas a delectable little pastry before making the trip across town to the historic district of Belem.
Grab the tram at the Cais do Sodre to the wondrous district of Belem, this neighborhood is where the religious, economic and political power of Portugal was during the Descobrimentos. Spend a day along the Tagus River and you will be surprised at the many things it has to offer. With a view of the south bank areas of Santos and Almada, as well as the magnificent Ponte 25 de Abril . Belem is one of the most visted places in Lisbon, and if you find cars interesting, visit the Museu Nacional dos Coches . If more museums is what you desire, before coming to Belem, visit the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga , situated in Janelas Verdes . In this museum you find a vast collection of paintings from the 16th century, ceramics and goldsmith pieces, among others. The museum also has a variety of international and national art between 12th and 19th Centuries. When you arrive to the Mercado Municipal 24 de Julho (at night it is an area extremely full of people frequenting the numerous bars and discos in the area), use the public transportation mentioned above in order to get to Belem. Once you arrive in Belem, the first thing you will see is the massive Mosteiro dos Jerónimos , a limestone edifice that houses the tombs of the famed explorer Vasco da Gama and the literary heavyweight, Luis de Camões. Right next door is the Fundação Centro Cultural de Belem , a cultural factory which presents all kinds of entertainment, from musicals to art expos. From here, cross the street on one of the overpasses to the Padrão dos Descobrimentos , a huge sculpture representing a ship with all the Portuguese greats, Vasco da Gama, João Gonçalves Zarco and many others. The statue itself is quite massive and inside you can visit the top of the monument which has marvelous views of the entire city, even though it is a little further west from the center. Further west, take a stroll down to the Torre de Belem , which marks the point from which Portuguese sailors departed on their way to discover Brazil and the sea route to India. This veritable monument built in 1551 to protect the city and to hold prisoners. Visit the terrace and you will have an impressive view above Lisbon and the Tagus River.
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