Portugal is a country I wanted to visit for a long time and Lisbon, its capital, from other people’s stories seemed incredibly attractive. This city, so many centuries old, the capital of a former colonial power which expanded from Africa to Brasil and further to India, was built in order to show power and wealth of its former kings.
Lisbon enchants with an incredible mixture of old and new, its former wealth and poverty from the 20th century, still present on every step you make.
Researchers agreed that first people in this area lived in the 6th century BC, but the city reached the top of its power in the 15th and 16th century when new roads towards India are discovered thanks to Vasco da Gama and Magellan and Portuguese sailors brought enormous quantities of spices, gold and diamonds.
Unfortunately, in 1755 a devastating earthquake stroke (historians consider it was an earthquake of 8 on the Richter scale) on the day of All Saints and, in only few minutes, earthquake, fire and a tsunami that followed killed more than 30,000 people, making that day the worst in the history of Lisbon.
The city is dominated by the castle of Sao Jorge, constructed by the Moors who held this part of Europe for 400 years. In the 13th century, Portuguese king Alonso Enrique beat the Moors and the castle became royal palace. It had so many roles in the life of the city and it started to decline over time until the earthquake, when it was abandoned. If you enter the castle and its park, you’ll be able to enjoy one of the most beautiful panoramic views of the city. After you visit the castle, you have to visit Alfama, the oldest city district, situated between the castle and the Tagus river. Alfama is incredibly picturesque part of the city, with its narrow streets, tight buildings and houses where everyone knows their neighbor and they all live like a big family.
Alfama has a lot of restaurants with typical Portuguese cuisine and lots of galleries with souvenirs and tile paintings which decorate the majority of buildings in Lisbon since the earthquake. If you want to feel the real spirit of Portugal, visit some of the restaurants where you can enjoy listening to fado, Portuguese traditional music which you certainly won’t forget. I personally don’t like fado because I think it is too sad and it can bring all of the saddest thoughts out of you. But that’s the charm of this music.
After the visit to Alfama, go to Baixa, the center of the city, which is in reality the new Lisbon, i.e. the part constructed after the earthquake. There are so many restaurants and shops here, streets are wide and buildings decorated with tiles which makes this part of the city very lively and picturesque.
When you walk through Lisbon and look at the buildings, you realize how everything was rich and beautiful long time ago. But, the poverty made a lot of people leave the country, so there are more than 4000 abandoned buildings now, in a really bad shape, which look like they are going to fall down any moment.
Walking down the main street, via Agusta, you’ll see a huge elevator called Santa Justa, constructed in 1901 in order to connect the low and the high part of the city, i.e. Baixa district with Carmo square. The elevator still works today, but it is used only by the tourists who enjoy an incredible view of the city from the top. Before you head to Bairro alto, go to the end of rua Agusta through the Triumphal arch (Arco da Victoria) and visit Praça do Comércio square. You will be amazed by this beautiful square with a view of the Tagus and the bridge April 25th made in 1966 by the some company which made the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco.
The tram number 28 will take you from Praça do Comércio to Chiado, a place where city elite used to gather in bars in the 1920s, when bars like A Brasilieira was frequented by famous artists and writers like Fernando Pessoa. There are many theaters, bookshops and antiquary shops.
Sidewalks in Lisbon are so narrow and you’ll find yourself walking most of the time between cars and trams which all makes Lisbon even more picturesque.
If you want to visit a museum during your stay in Lisbon, don’t miss Gulbenian museum, which is one of the best museums in Lisbon. This museum is not so crowded and takes you on a journey through centuries, from the civilizations of Egypt and ancient Sumer, through Ancient Greece, Moors who dominated this region, Chinese ceramics which were brought from China by sailors, to the paintings of Rembrandt, Monet, Renoir and furniture of Luois XIV and XVI.
After the visit to Gulbenian museum, visit Belem district. You can get there by tram number 15 from Praça do Comércio. Belem wasn’t destroyed in the earthquake so the kings decided to move there. It is still witnessing the glorious days of Portuguese power.
Here, you can visit the convent Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, constructed under the king Emmanuel who reigned in 1500 as a sign of gratitude for the discoveries.
The monastery represents the wealth of that period and it is full of sea motifs and cultural influences of that time. Vasco da Gama was buried in this monastery.
Another important monument here is the tower of Belem, which protected the harbor of Lisbon and was the last spot sailors would see when leaving Lisbon and the first one that greeted them when coming back with spices and gold. Close to this tower, in the 1960 was constructed a monument Padrão dos Descobrimentos which celebrates the Portuguese age of discovery and was made on 500th birthday of prince Henry the Navigator. The monument symbolically represents how discoveries were a team work between big explorers like Vasco da Gama, kings, writers, painters and the church.
It took me three days to visit all the monuments in Lisbon, and then I decided to visit Sintra, Cabo da Roca and Cascais, all in one day. Sintra is a small town connected to Lisbon by a half an hour train ride from Rossio train station, and the price of the ticket is only 2,45€. This town is rich in history and there are lots of palaces to see here. The royal family used to spend their summers here in the 18th and 19th century in a royal palace, and by the beginning of the 20th century it was a place frequented by aristocracy and millionaires, artists, painters and musicians. You can visit the National palace of Sintra, Moorish castle from the 10th century, and the Pena Palace protected by UNESCO which was one of the summer residences of the royal family and is considered one of the 7 miracles of Portugal. The entrance ticket to this castle costs 14€. There is also a Seteais Palace, Montserrate and Convent of the Capuchos. I wanted to visit both Moorish and the Pena Palace but the day I visited Sintra was so foggy that it was impossible to see anything, so I visited only the Moorish castle.
If you decide to visit Cabo da Roca, the most west point of Europe, it is very easy to get there from Sintra. Just take the bus number 434, and it’s on the halfway to Cascais.
Cabo da Roca will take your breath away. You will watch the waves of the Atlantic crashing into the cliffs under your feet, while the wind blows the clouds away leaving crystal clear sky blending with the ocean far on the horizon.
The last stop was Cascais, a small fishermen village which became popular in the end of the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century, when the royal family started to use this town as their summer residence. Visit the center of Cascais, town beaches, the lighthouse of Santa Maria and enjoy the sunset in one of the bars at the beach. If the water isn’t too cold for you, you might even think of swimming in the ocean or, if you are like me, just wash your feet. Next to Cascais is another small town called Estirol which is also very cute. Now it’s time to get back to Lisbon. Take a train which will take you to Cais do Sodré where you can take the metro to wherever you want to go. My visit to Lisbon finished here, and I hope your visit will be even more memorable and enjoyable.