Boasting springtime temperatures during the winter and cool summers freshened by a breeze blowing in from the Atlantic, Costa de Lisboa, on the southwestern coast, offers a rich and impressively integrated diversity. The capital of Portugal since its conquest from the Moors in 1147, Lisbon is a legendary city with over 20 centuries of History.
The Alfama is one of the oldest quarters in Lisboa. Since it largely survived the earthquake of 1755, the area still retains much of its original layout. Adjacent to the Alfama are the likewise old quarters of Castelo and Mouraria, on the western and northern slopes of the hill that is crowned by St. George's Castle.
Every year in June, the streets of all three quarters come alive with the feasts in honour of the popular saints. The Graça quarter and the churches of São Vicente de Fora and Santa Engrácia are within walking distance of this area. Radiant skies brighten the monumental city, with its typical tile covered building facades and narrow Medieval streets, where one can hear the fado being played and sung at night. But Lisbon is also the stage for popular festivities, the place for exquisite shopping, exciting nightlife, and interesting museums, a place from where motorways branch off in different directions.
The historic centre of Lisbon is built on seven hills, making some of the city's streets too steep for motor vehicles; the city is served by three funicular services and one elevator. The western side of the city is mainly occupied by the Monsanto Natural Park, one of the largest urban parks in the world.
The walls of Saint George's Castle, sitting atop a hill guarding the Tagus, date from the Moorish occupation in the 10th century, but the site has been a fortress for centuries, possibly from 500 AD. The castle is regarded as the cradle of Lisbon, and today it provides a panoramic view of the River Tagus and the Alfama medieval district, which is spread out below it. Visitors can walk the esplanades and climb the ramparts. A multimedia show is available during the day which brings alive the history of Lisbon. The castle grounds are planted with olive, pine and cork trees and provide a pleasant spot to relax.
The oldest part of Lisbon, the Alfama quarter sprawls down the hillside from below the Castelo de Sao Jorge, retaining much of the traditional colour and atmosphere from the days when it was the ancient seat of the Saracens. Along the narrow cobblestone alleyways are taverns and street markets, interspersed with close-packed houses still occupied by stevedores, fishmongers and sailors. At the edge of the Alfama, Lisbon's renowned flea market, the Feira da Ladra, is held in the Campo de Santa Clara every Tuesday and Saturday. The Alfama is also full of historic buildings and churches, which are well worth exploring. Some of the buildings display fading coats of arms, which bear testimony to the fact that the Alfama was once home to aristocrats. At night the Alfama takes on a more mysterious aspect with street lanterns throwing shadows on the medieval walls, and it is advisable to avoid the area after dark in favour of the Bairro Alto café and nightclub district.
Although this cathedral in Largo da Se in the Alfama district is not outwardly appealing, it was the first church in Lisbon, built on the site of a Saracen mosque after the city was captured by the Crusaders in the 12th century. Inside, this ancient church features some treasures, like the font where St Anthony of Padua was baptised in 1195, and numerous notable relics, images and icons.
Calouste Gulbenkian Museum
Gulbenkian was an Armenian oil magnate who died in 1955 having put together one of the world's finest private art collections. The collection is now housed in a modern centre where the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation sponsors a host of cultural and performing arts projects, and has a rotating exhibition of works by Portuguese and foreign artists. The Gulbenkian collection itself covers Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities, Islamic ceramics and textiles, Syrian treasures, Chinese ceramics, Japanese prints and lacquerware and European medieval illuminated manuscripts. The collection is so vast and varied as to be breathtaking. Among the paintings are two Rembrandts, a Rubens and a Renoir.
The Bairro Alto
The Bairro Alto district (literally the Upper City) is, like the Alfama, an historic enclave dating from 1513, which is reached in a novel way via the Santa Justa Elevator (a structure reminiscent of the Eiffel tower in Paris) from the lower city. The colourful district resounds to the calls of vendors and fishmongers, and the windows and balconies are festooned with laundry and bird cages. At night the area comes alive with some of the finest fado cafes in the city, along streets lit by Victorian lanterns. Fado is the famous brand of music and dance brought to Portugal by African slaves in the 19th century, characterised by songs of sadness and despair, and there is no better place in Portugal to experience this musical genre than in the Bairro Alto of Lisbon.
Monument to the Discoveries
One of the most famous sights in Lisbon is the imposing monument, situated on the riverbank in the Avenida de Brasilia in the district of Belem, designed to commemorate the Portuguese Age of Discovery. Belem, where the Tagus meets the sea, is the point from which the maritime explorers of yore set forth in their sailing ships to discover the world. The monument was unveiled in 1960 on the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator in 1460, the monarch who was largely responsible for Portugal's role in world exploration during the 15th and 16th centuries. The massive monument takes the form of a caravel with Prince Henry at the prow, backed by images of renowned mariners, royal patrons and others who participated in the golden age of discovery.
Tower of Belem
The famous Tower of Belem is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is one of Lisbon's most photographed landmarks because of the decoration on its exterior. The outer walls are adorned with a stone-carved rope and beautiful openwork balconies, along with Moorish watchtowers and battlements shaped like shields. The tower was built in the 16th century to serve as a fortress in the middle of the River Tagus.
Parque das Nacoes
Lisbon's exhibition park was upgraded and renamed for the Expo '98 world exposition, which revitalised the city and brought international tourists and interest flooding in. The site is now worthy of a full day's sightseeing, featuring several attractions, not least of which is the Lisbon Oceanarium with its 15,000 living examples of marine life. The main tank holds enough water to fill four Olympic-sized swimming pools, and is viewed from two floors through curved glass panels that provide a 180-degree view. Another popular diversion is the Virtual Reality Pavilion, which showcases the Portuguese age of discovery. Other attractions include a science centre, cable car, the Vasco da Gama Tower and numerous bars and restaurants offering Portuguese cuisine.
Oceanario de Lisboa (Lisbon Oceanarium)
Marketed as the second best aquarium in the world, the world-class Lisbon Oceanarium is the most impressive achievement of EXPO '98, which used to be an abandoned waterfront. The centrepiece of the stone and glass building is the 1.3-million gallon (5-million litre) holding tank and the Oceanarium consists of four distinct ecosystems that replicate the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Antarctic oceans, each featuring the aboveground birds, amphibians, and reptiles associated with those waters. Otters splash and dive in the warmer Pacific waters, while penguins shuffle around in their tuxedos in the Antarctic section. This attraction is one that the Portuguese nation is proud of and is an absolute must-see for the whole family.
Museu de Marinha (Maritime Museum)
With such maritime icons as Vasco de Gama and Bartolomeu Dias, its no wonder that Portugal's Maritime Museum is one of the best in Europe, evoking a sense of what it was like when the victorious Portuguese dominated the high seas. Visitors can marvel at the hundreds of models of 15th- to 19th-century sailing ships, merchant marine vessels, fishing boats and pleasure boats as well as a full range of Portuguese naval uniforms, including one worn at a Mozambique military outpost in 1896.
In 1917 the Virgin Mary allegedly appeared above an oak tree and spoke to three peasant children in the valley of Cova da Iria, 88 miles (142km) north of Lisbon. The children claimed to have seen the apparition on five different occasions, and the spot has now become one of the great pilgrimage shrines of the world, known as Fatima. Between May and October the 13th day of every month is pilgrimage day, when hundreds of the faithful gather in a square twice the size of St Peter’s in Rome before the Chapel of the Apparitions. The original oak tree is gone, but has been replaced by a simple white column inside a basilica, which is flanked by statues of the saints.
A popular touring destination 25 miles (40km) south of Lisbon is Setubal, one of Portugal’s oldest cities, renowned for producing the most delicious muscadel wine in the world. The city is also the centre of Portugal’s sardine industry, and has been a fish-salting centre since the 1st century. White mounds of sea salt drying in the sun are a familiar part of the local landscape. There are some outstanding beaches near the city and some pretty countryside dotted with orange groves, orchards and vineyards.
Lisbon has a very active nightlife, offering everything from clubs and bars to traditional Fado music, international concerts and fantastic theatre. The Bairro Alto area is the epicentre of the city's nightlife but there are various other party and entertainment destinations. The guide Follow Me Lisboa lists all the major events and venues in the city. Start the evening with cocktails in a café in the Chiado square, before going to Bairro Alto's Bedroom, Pavilhão Chinês or Clube da Esquina. These venues can be followed by pre-dawn partying and relaxing at the docks of Alcântara and in the Santos district; Op Art is one of the favoured bars. Lux, another popular club in the area, is part-owned by actor John Malkovich. Classical music can be enjoyed at venues including the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and Culturgest, while theatres such as Dona Maria II National Theatre offer contemporary works and classical plays; there is good opera at São Carlos Theatre. Fado is popular in Alfama and Lapa, the best venue being Senhor Vinho. Concerts are held at Atlantic Pavillion and Coliseu dos Recreios, featuring international bands and artists.
The Rio Carnival may be the most famous in the world but it all started here in Portugal's capital. Even though today the Brazilian infused mega-carnival on the other side receives most of the international attention, the Lisbon Carnival, a celebration of the end of winter, is still a major event on the city's calendar. The entrudo is the highlight of the festival, closing on the last day, and processions of floats make their way down the colourful streets while jugglers and masked celebrators join in the cacophony of music and cheering. The focal point of the festival is in Parque Nações but parties are celebrated all along the coast.
Monsanto Forest Park
Monsanto Forest Park is a protected forest in Lisbon, Portugal, the largest green patch in the city, with almost 1000 ha. It offers a well diversified tree-covered area to the Portuguese capital.
A large number of species were introduced in Serra de Monsanto (Monsanto Hills) during the reforesting period. Owing to climate and geological characteristics these originated very interesting ecosystems implanted in the urban patch of Lisbon (and surrounding municipalities). The Ecological Park of Lisbon, located at Monsanto Forest Park, is a meeting point for a new contact with the environment, right in the heart of the Portuguese capital. Its main purpose is to make visitors sensitive to the many variables of the environment, for instance, geology, climate, flora, and fauna.
The Ecological Park, residing inside the Forest Park, has a perimeter of four kilometres, a total area of fifty hectares, being almost sixteen a fenced area and thirty four hectares non-fenced. It spreads over Serra de Monsanto, from Alto da Serafina to the Woods of S. Domingos de Benfica, passes the farm of Marquis de Fronteira and the Lead Shooting Club of Portugal. The Ecological Park runs an Interpretation Centre, with an Auditorium, a Space for permanent and occasional Exhibitions, and a Centre of Multimedia Resources. Quercus, the largest Portuguese non-profit national environment organization for the conservation of the natural environment, is based in Monsanto Park.
MAJOR TRANSPORTATION HUBS
Cais do Sodré - Major bus, metro, train, and ferry terminal. This is where trains depart to Cascais and Estoril, and trams pass by on their way to Belem. The ferries link to Cacilhas across the river (a 10-minute journey worth taking for views of the city's skyline from the Tagus), where buses depart to towns south of the capital such as Setubal and Sesimbra, and bus 101 takes visitors to the Monument to Christ.
Oriente Station- This is the city's main station. Located in the heart of Parque das Nações, it is a metro and bus terminal, and an obligatory stop for just about every train that passes by Lisbon.
Rossio Station - The city's most central station (located downtown right between Rossio and Restauradores squares), is now closed for major renovation and is scheduled to reopen in 2007. When it reopens, it will once again serve the city's suburbs, and be your starting point for a daytrip to Sintra. In the meantime, trains to Sintra pass by the Entrecampos train station, easily reached by metro.
Santa Apolonia Station - Located at the foot of the Alfama district, this is the starting point for most international trains, and where they end their journeys in the Portuguese capital. Other trains depart to the largest Portuguese cities, although most passengers now hop on board at Oriente Station, the train's second stop.
The station is a short walk from downtown, but is also well served by buses and taxis that line up outside.
Figueira Square - This busy square is the starting point for many bus and tram routes. To guarantee a seat in popular tram 15 that reaches Belem, this is where you should get on board.
Marquês de Pombal Square - This traffic circle is also a point of departure and arrival for several bus routes.