Lisbon Travel Guide


Mosteiro dos Jeronimos
Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, LisbonRegarded as Lisbon’s most important landmark, the construction of this stunning monastery began in 1502 and was completed before the end of the century. The Mosteiro dos Jeronimos thankfully managed to survive the great earthquake in 1755, unlike most of the city. It was constructed by Manuel I during the affluent years following the discovery of the seaway to India and it is the finest example of Manuel-architecture in Lisbon. The magnificent two-story monastery is garland ornamented with stone shelves, sea monsters and other maritime symbols. It was traditional for Portuguese seafarers to pray in the chapel before their departure to the unknown.

The National Tile Musueum (Museu Nacional do Azulejo)
The National Tile Museum houses an amazing collection of decorative tiles both foreign and Portuguese dating from the 15th century to present.

Castelo de Sao Jorge (Sao Jorge Castle)
Inhabited since Phoenician times, the site of this castle has witnessed countless visitors from the Romans to the Moors. This ruined 13th-century palace also served as the principal palace of Portuguese kings for more than 300 years. The 360 degree view of Lisbon and its environs from the castle ramparts is simply stunning.

Museu da Marinha (Maritime Museum)
King Luis founded the Maritime Museum on July 22nd 1863. It is now regarded as one of the most important maritime museums in Europe. It features over 17,000 items including a massive photographic archive and 1,500 archives of ships’ plans and drawings. You cannot miss three anchors from Columbus’s Nina at the entrance to the museum and there are some fascinating displays and models based on the Portuguese discoveries.

The Alfama district is located in the old town of Lisbon and is still wonderfully picturesque with narrow winding streets and colorful overhanging buildings. Unfortunately, none of the Moorish buildings remain due to the earthquake of 1755 but the layout of the streets gives you a good idea of what it might have been like. Take a stroll around the area and soak up the atmosphere.

With narrow lanes of residential houses and grocery stores, it has a distinct village atmosphere; you can quickly feel like an intruder if you take a wrong turn into someone's backyard. Early morning is the best time to catch a more traditional scene, when women sell fresh fish from their doorways. For a real rough-and-tumble atmosphere, visit during the Festas dos Santos Populares in June.

Bairro Alto
The Bairro Alto is famous for its nightlife, although the Parque das Nações and riverside areas are now giving it a run for its money. There is no shortage of bars and clubs, in fact, your greatest problem could be keeping up with the resident party crowd, who start late and often continue till dawn. The Bairro Alto, meaning the Upper City, is the trendiest area of Lisbon. Fortunately many of its buildings survived the 1755 earthquake, and today the narrow cobblestone streets and alleys are lined with ancient buildings making it a fascinating place to stroll during the day. The area is intensely colorful and full of life. The Bairro Alto is probably best experienced at night, being home to some of the best fado (traditional Portuguese music) cafes in Lisbon, as well as a host of diverse bars discos and restaurants.

Rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake, the Baixa's wide avenues and pedestrianised Rua Augusta are a great place to shop and have coffee. The area's highlight is the Elevador de Santa Justa. This imposing wrought-iron lift offers an easy ride up to the Bairro Alto, plus a rooftop cafe with views to kill for.

Built in 1902 by Gustave Eiffel follower Raul Mésnier du Ponsard, the lift has more than a passing resemblance to the Eiffel Tower.

Avoid the touristy umbrella-topped cafes below and save your coffee break for this still touristy but far more elegant architectural gem. Time your visit to enjoy a drink at sunset.

The Belem Tower is located on the banks of the Tagus River. Built in 1521 as a monument to the Portuguese discoveries and as a lookout tower, it resembles a miniature castle. Originally, the tower stood farther out in the river but after centuries of silting the riverbanks have merged with the tower. It incorporates many motifs of maritime life.

Cristo Rei
We would be remiss if we didn't tell you to visit the Cristo Rei, over the river in Cacilhas. A smaller version of Brazil's giant Jesus, this religious icon with arms outstretched has major kitsch value.

There is a gift-shop that is an Ali Baba cave of over-the-top gilt and bejewelled Cristo Rei everything. Do yourself a favour and don't miss this hotbed of religious craftsmanship. The views from the top of the monument aren't half bad either.

The Se Cathedral
Lisbon's cathedral, (the Se) was built by Portugal’s first king, Dom Afonso Henriques (1109-1185). It was damaged extensively during the great earthquake of 1755 and rebuilt in an earlier style, and is a mixture of Gothic and Romanesque styles. Parts of the twin towers, the rose window, the naves, and the vestry are part of the original 13th-century building. The gothic cloister was a 14th century addition and is decorated in tiles depicting the Song of Solomon. The chapel of St. Vincent was built in the 16th century while the main chapel was built in the 17th century.

The Vasco da Gama Aquarium
Portugal’s largest aquarium was opened in 1898 during the Expo events in Lisbon. It houses more than 200 species. There are exhibitions of aquatic life from all over the world as well as a special exhibition on invertebrates from the Portuguese coastline. There are also many educational exhibits detailing current environmental issues and explaining the workings of the world’s oceans.

Situated on the northern slopes of the craggy Serra de Sintra, Sintra's lush vegetation and spectacular mountaintop views have lured admirers since the times of the early Iberians, who found the ridge so mystical they called it the Mountain of the Moon and made it a centre of cult worship (some of its strange effects are actually caused by massive deposits of iron ore).

Sintra put itself on the international art map when this museum opened in 1997 in Sintra's neoclassical former casino in Estefânia. It's got some of the world's best postwar art (including a particularly strong selection of pop art). Among the 350 or so pieces displayed are works by Warhol, Lichtenstein, Pollock and Kossoff. Check out the top-floor cafe, too, with its open-air terrace and good views.

The Sintra region is increasingly popular for mountain biking and hiking. A favourite walking trail is from Sintra-Vila to Castelo dos Mouros, a relatively easy 50-minute hike. The energetic can continue to Palácio Nacional da Pena (another 20 minutes) and up to the Serra de Sintra's highest point, the 529m-high (1735ft) Cruz Alta, which offers spectacular views.

North of Sintra, Mafra too has its very own folly - its famously extravagant Palácio Nacional de Mafra. This palace-cum-monastery-cum-basilica was created by Dom João V in the 18th century. Outlandishly baroque and neoclassical, it was the ultimate exercise in indentured labour. An incredible 20,000 artisans worked on the project (ballooning out to 45,000 in the final two years) and were kept in line by 7000 soldiers. In true karmic fashion, the enormous cost of the project destroyed the economy, and the palace was used only briefly before the royal family fled the French invasion of Portugal in 1799. Amid the 230m/754ft-long corridors look out for the 18th-century pinball machines in the games room, and the library. The latter is a magnificent 88m/288ft-long barrel-vaulted baroque 'room', with 40,000 books dating from the 15th century.For something a little more unusual, hunt out the Centro de Recuperação de Lobo Ibérico (Iberian Wolf Recovery Centre), 10km (6mi) northeast of Mafra. Portugal has only 200 or so Iberian wolves left in the wild. Those that have been trapped, snared or kept in dire conditions find a home in the centre's 17 hectares (42 acres) of secluded woodland. It's not a zoo, so sightings of the wolves aren't guaranteed. Your best chance of getting up close and personal with a lobo is when they emerge in the cool of dusk. Getting there involves a bus from Mafra to Malveira, a change to Vale da Guarda on the Torres Vedras route, and a short walk. If this seems too hard you can always support the centre by 'adopting' a wolf.

The Botanical Gardens Jardim Botanico (Estufa Fria)
The Botanical Gardens are located in Parque Eduardo VII and are a real delight. The unusual ‘cold greenhouse’ or Estufa Fria houses an amazing collection of tropical plants set in the midst of mock waterfalls and grottoes. There is also a ‘hothouse’ or Estufa Quente in the garden which contains an enormous collection of arid desert flora.

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