Lisbon: Main Sights
Beautiful views, majestic monasteries, quaint cafe's and more
They say that the best sight in Lisbon is the city itself, with its abundance of attractive architecture, sce-nic plazas and winding streets, stunning views and charming cafés. One of the best sight seeing activities is simply walking around the old city and taking it all in. The main sights and sight seeing areas in Lisbon include the Bairro Alto, Baixa-Chiado, Belem and Alfama districts, the Praça do Comércio, Castelo de São Jorge, the Gulbenkian Museum, Cristo Rei, and the Lisbon Botanical Gardens. For trips within Greater Lis-bon, visits to Sintra, Cascais and Cabo da Rocha are a must.
The Bairro Alto or “upper quarter” is home to Lisbon’s most famous youth-oriented bar and club scene. Traditionally a working class area, these steep narrow streets have become revitalized and filled with trendy boutiques, bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Fado, Lisbon’s lamenting vocal music, was born in Bairro Alto and can still be heard in special fado clubs. The area offers fantastic day and night time views of the city and Castelo de São Jorge. Bairro Alto is connected to the Baixa via the Santa Justa Elevator, which operates as part of the Lisbon transportation network.
The Baixa is Lisbon’s downtown, which was largely destroyed in the earthquake of 1755 and rebuilt by the Marquis de Pombal in the planned, open style of the enlightenment. Chiado lies between the Baixa and Bairro Alto and is a chic shopping and café district featuring several museums and theatres. Of particular note is the statue of Fernando Pessoa, Portugal’s most famous poet, in front of the café A Brasileira, just across from the Chiado exit of the Metro station.
Praça do Comércio
The Praça do Comércio or Commerical Square is the former site of the Portuguese Royal Palace, before it was destroyed by the earthquake of 1755. It is a vast expanse with waterfront views and an ornate statue of King Jose I on horseback at its center. The Praça is also home to Lisbon’s main tourist office, the Lisbon Welcome Center, located in a large classical building at the top of the square.
Besides the Gulbenkian, museums of note in Lisbon include the Berardo Museum, Chiado Museum and Modern Art Center for contemporary art, the Ancient Art Museum (Portugal’s national gallery), The Tile Museum, Coaches Museum and Maritime Museum for national history and culture. New impressive collec-tions are housed at the Orient Museum (highlighting Portugal’s common history with Asia) and the forth-coming Design Museum in Alcântara.
Castelo de São Jorge
Dating from the 6th century, St. George’s Castle or the Castelo de São Jorge can be viewed from almost anywhere in Lisbon proper and offers stunning views of the city. Before being occupied by Portugal’s first king, Afonso, the castle was occupied and fortified in succession by the Romans, Visigoths and Moors. The Castelo de São Jorge was dedicated to St. George, the patron saint of England, in 1371. It is located in the ancient quarter of Alfama.
Alfama is the historical center of Lisbon, which fortunately survived the Great Earthquake of 1755. A me-dieval village within the city, Alfama’s narrow streets and densely packed, traditional whitewashed hous-es, tiny squares, churches and traditional soul make the district a must-see for visitors to Lisbon. Alfama is home to St. George’s Castle and the Tile Museum, and is a great place to hear fado.
Near the Metro Stations of São Sabasitião and Praça de Espanha in central Lisbon, the Gulbenkian houses the personal collection of Calouste Gulbenkian, an Armenian businessman and philanthropist who wished to share all his treasures with the public. The museum features an impressive assembly Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Islamic and Asian artifacts, as well paintings by Rembrandt, Manet, Monet, Renoir, and Cassat. The stunning gardens at the Gulbenkian are also very much worth seeing. Free entry for students with ID.
Overlooking Lisbon from the opposing bank of the Tagus River stands this massive 100 meter statue of Chr-ist, which is a smaller replica of the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Built in 1959, the views from the top are worth the 4€ entry fee.
Ajuda National Palace and Botanical Gardens
The grand National Palace is a neo classical 19th century monument and former residence of the Portu-guese royal family. After the earthquake that occurred in 1755, the Portuguese royals decided to build a new palace at Ajuda with surrounding botanical gardens. The botanical gardens of Ajuda are some of the oldest gardens in Europe and probably the first in Portugal.
Belém is where Portugal’s “Age of Discovery” comes alive. Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan and Prince Henry the Navigator all launched ships from Santa Maria de Belém. Portugal’s riches gained from explora-tion and colonization built Belém’s fantastic architecture and monuments, such as Belém Tower, Ajuda Palace, Jeronimos Monastery, and Belém Palace. A full day can be spent seeing Belém’s sights, wandering through its beautiful park, eating traditional Belém custard tarts (pastela de nata) and gazing across the water at the impressive 25 de Abril Bridge.
Parque das Nações
The Parque das Nações, commonly referred to as “Expo”, is an ultra modern leisure and residential area built in 1998 for the Expo ’98 World Exhibition, on the site of an old industrial district in the east of Lis-bon. The park is a stunning architectural achievement, including wide open spaces incorporating modern sculpture and design, a water-side promenade, and a massive shopping complex. Of particular interest are the Oceanarium, one of the world’s largest aquariums, the Pavilhão Atlântico concert hall and Vasco de Gama Tower.
Walking around Sintra is like entering another world. Misty mountains, lush forests and eclectic moss-covered architecture give Sintra an aura of both the ancient and timeless. A Unesco World Heritage site, the town of Sintra is a unique mystical hamlet within Greater Lisbon and only 30 minutes from central Lis-bon by car or train. Sintra is topped by a Moorish castle and two stunning palaces. Once a favorite haunt of Lord Byron, it is an absolute must-see for anyone visiting the Lisbon area.
A picturesque and touristic sea-side town, Cascais is a popular residence and getaway for young wealthy Lisbon workers, students and ex-pats. A short journey from Lisbon and Sintra, Cascais features nice beaches, lovely scenery, and a fine array of shops and restaurants. Nearby spots of interest include Estoril Casino, the “largest casino in Europe”, the breathtaking sea cliffs of Guincho, and the marvelous
Cabo da Rocha, literally “Hell’s Mouth”, a chasm where the ocean currents rush in, creating spectacular waves and rock features.