Lisbon, Portugal

by | Oct 1, 2018

DANI CIUCA
Lisbon is the stunning capital city of Portugal, one of the most charismatic and vibrant cities of Western Europe and one of my favorite cities in Europe.
As a holiday destination, Lisbon is a historical city full of stories to tell, has a lively nightlife, it is a city where old customs and ancient history intermix with cultural entertainment and hi-tech innovation. The best part – the sun shines 290 days a year and the temperature rarely drops below 15°C.

Lisbon is one of the oldest city in Western Europe, even predating capitals such as Rome, Paris and London. Like Rome, Lisbon was built on seven hills, and is known as “cidade das sete colinas” – the city of seven hills.

I hope that by reading this post I will inspire you to visit this amazing city.

Praça do Rossio is the liveliest area in the capital of Portugal and where many locals and tourists meet up. The square and its surrounding streets are packed with some of the city’s most famous restaurants, bars and shops. On either side of the square are two baroque fountains, and in the center is a monument measuring 27 meters in height. It consists of a pedestal with marble allegories of Justice, Wisdom, Strength, and Moderation, qualities attributed to Dom Pedro IV, whose statue stands on top of the monument. In the 19th century the square was paved with cobblestones in wave patterns, a design seen today in many other pavements all over Portugal, and that has spread to Portugal’s former colonies from Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) to Macao (China).
While visiting Lisbon, you can’t miss the the famous Tram 28. Rightly one of Lisbon’s leading visitor attractions, it is the perfect way to introduce you to the charms of the city and its intriguing maze of steep cobbled streets, hills, vast churches and mirador viewpoints. The delightful Remodelado trams date from the 1930s and in any other city they would be housed in a museum, but in Lisbon they are an integral part of the public transport network. These historic trams are still in use, as the 28 route is completely unsuitable for modern trams due to its numerous tight turns and steep gradients.
With heavy walls and two battlemented belltowers, Lisbon Cathedral has a stern appearance from outside (with two bell towers and a splendid rose window) – more like a medieval fortress than a place of worship, while inside it appears predominantly Romanesque, with a Gothic choir and ambulatory.According to legend, this site was home to a mosque that was converted to a cathedral after the city was conquered by Crusaders in 1147 (led by Portugal’s first king, Alfonso Henríques). The cathedral was founded around 1150. Major earthquakes in 1344 and 1755 damaged the structure.The Lisbon Cathedral is located in the Alfama district. Arrive by tram or on foot from other attractions in the historic center.
One of Lisbon’s best-loved landmarks is the Santa Justa Elevator. A beautifully crafted elevator that transports passengers from the Baixa district up to the ruins of the Igreja do Carmo church. The lift is an industrial-age marvel, with the outer ironwork structure forming glorious neo-gothic arches, while inside two sumptuous polished wood carriages whisk passengers up in style. The Elevator was built at the turn of the century by the Portugal-born French architect Raoul de Mesnier du Ponsard (an apprentice of Gustave Eiffel – explaining the structure’s similarities to Paris’ Eiffel Tower).

The view from the platform on the top is one of the best views over Lisbon. If you are in a hurry, and don’t want to stay in line for the elevator for many minutes (the elevator ride is less than a minute), you should walk on the streets to Largo do Carmo square and go directly on the platform.

The statue of Cristo-Rei is one of Lisbon’s most iconic and prominent landmarks that stands on the southern bank of the River Tagus. From the high pedestal the statue of Christ has his arms out-stretched as if in a motion of blessing Lisbon. The viewing platform at the base of the statue provides amazing views over Lisbon and the visit can be combined with a ferry ride across the river. It was built in 1959 in thanks to God for having spared Portugal during WWII. This enormous monument to Christ was inspired by the famous statue in Rio de Janeiro. The 28m figure of Christ opens its arms to Lisbon, and there is a sweeping view of the city and 25 de Abril Bridge from the top of the 82m high pedestal (reached by an elevator). Like the Brazilian original which is prominent in Rio de Janeiro, Cristo Rei statue can be seen from almost everywhere in Lisbon.
If you want a unique experience in Lisbon, don’t miss the Elevador da Bica. The most photographed funicular in Lisbon, due to the dramatic contrast between the steep route and the river Tagus in the background, this is one of the city’s greatest attractions. One of the most memorable images you’ll take with you.
The Jerónimos Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in portuguese) located in the Belem district of western Lisbon, is a highly ornated monastery and is one of the most visited sites in Lisbon.It is the most impressive symbol of Portugal’s power and wealth during the Age of Discovery. King Manuel I built it in 1502 on the site of a hermitage founded by Prince Henry the Navigator, where Vasco da Gama and his crew spent their last night in Portugal in prayer before leaving for India. It was built to commemorate Vasco Da Gama’s voyage and to give thanks to the Virgin Mary for its success.

The monastery was populated by monks of the Order of Saint Jerome (Hieronymites), whose spiritual job was to give guidance to sailors and pray for the king’s soul. It is one of the great triumphs of European Gothic (UNESCO has classified it a World Heritage monument), with much of the design characterized by elaborate sculptural details and maritime motifs. This style of architecture became known as Manueline, a style of art that served to glorify the great discoveries of the age. The cloisters are magnificent, each column differently carved with coils of rope, sea monsters, coral, and other sea motifs evocative of that time of world exploration at sea.

After the Jerónimos Monastery, another great landmark of Lisbon is the nearby Tower of Belém – also part of the World Heritage Site. Like the monastery, it was built to commemorate Vasco da Gama’s expedition and remains a reminder of the maritime discoveries that laid the foundations of the modern world.

Sintra

Sintra

When you visit Lisbon, a must see destination for at least 1 day trip is Sintra, a picturesque fairytale town that is set amidst the pine-covered hills of the Serra de Sintra. For such a relatively small town, Sintra contains an abundance of historic monuments and enthralling tourist attractions. Within the town, there are more than ten national monuments, and these varied buildings range from extravagant palaces and decadent mansions through to ancient ruinous castles. Sintra lies 25 km to the west of Lisbon and the railway is the recommended means of transport. The train journey takes 30 min and the historic centre of Sintra is the final station on the railway.
Quinta da Regaleira is an estate located near the historic center of Sintra, Portugal. It is classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO within the “Cultural Landscape of Sintra”. The property consists of a romantic palace and chapel, and a luxurious park that features lakes, grottoes, wells, benches, fountains, and a vast array of exquisite constructions.
The Quinta da Regaleira is a decorative 20th century residence split over five floors and has an ornate gothic façade.
Quinta da Regaleira grounds feature an extensive and enigmatic system of tunnels that connect to two spiraling wells. The two inverted towers are known as initiation wells, which were used for ceremonial purposes, as well as mysterious initiation rites for practitioners of the tarot. Other sources also mention a masonic connection. The initiation wells are at once eerie and compelling. The largest of the two reaches 27 metres below ground and is accessed by a spiral staircase. Penetrating deep into the bedrock, the stone steps serve several small landings, spaced apart at a distance understood to correspond to tarot mysticism. In the smaller, ‘Unfinished Well’, a straight stone staircase provides access to the landings, while subterranean passageways connect the two structures.
A beautiful castle on the top of the hill in the Sintra Mountains, called The Pena Palace, still inspires artists and attracts tourists. The Palacio Nacional da Pena is one of the finest tourist attractions of Portugal and exemplifies the 19th century Romanticism style of architecture. The palace is a hedonistic mix of vividly painted terraces, decorative battlements and mythological statues, all of which stand at stark contrast to the lush greens of the forests that encircle Pena.
Another beautiful place to visit in Sintra is The Palacio de Monserrate (Monserrate Palace). It is one of the most beautiful and visually striking mansions of Sintra, but as it 3.5km from the historic centre many visitors simply overlook this stunning palace. Monserrate Palace seamlessly blends Arabic, gothic and Indian architectural styles to create a wonderful summer house that is surrounded by beautiful gardens. When you visit Sintra do not miss-out on this hidden gem. The lawn in front of the palace offers you the chance to enjoy a well-earned rest as you set about discovering one of the richest botanical gardens and one of the most beautiful Romantic landscapes ever created in Portugal.
Last but not least, you have to visit Sintra’s Castelo dos Mouros (The Moors Castle) – a ruinous castle that is set amidst the lush forests of the Serra De Sintra. Castelo dos Mouros was established during the 9th century by the North African Moors to guard the town of Sintra but it fell into disrepair after the Christian conquest of Portugal. The castle was restored in the 19th century by King Ferdinand II, who transformed it into a romantic ruin and a major feature of the gardens of the Pena Palace. The castle retains the charm of an ancient ruin, with dense forest surrounding the crumbling battlements that offer spectacular views over the Sintra region.

Not to miss.

1. Alfama District;

Alfama is the prettiest, the oldest and the most charming neighbourhood in Lisbon. You could easily spend your whole day walking around the little cobblestone streets. It is also the place where you can have a dinner with traditional food and where you can listen the Portugal’s soulful national music: Fado music – its historical roots are from the district of Alfama.

2. Castle of São Jorge;

Located on the summit of São Jorge hill, the highest in Lisbon. The emblematic castle was originally built in the 5th century as a fortress by the Visigoths, it later became the fortification of the Moors. The battlements of the Castle provide fantastic views over Lisbon and Rio Tejo (River Tagus)

3. Jeronimos Monastery & Belem Tower;

A highly ornate monastery located in the Belem district of western Lisbon and Belem Tower are definitely 2 of the most visited sites, for good reasons. Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The sites are pretty close one from another (10 minutes walk). You can buy a combo ticket to visit both.

4. Cristo Rei Statue;

Another iconic monument of Lisbon, the 110m statue of Christ stands high above the southern banks of the Tejo Estuary, and depicts Christ with arms raised, blessing the city. Inspired by Rio de Janeiro’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue, the statue dates from 1959 and its construction was in reverence for Portugal avoiding the horrors of WW2.

5. Riding tram 28;

Tram 28 is the most famous tram in Lisbon. It is a vintage yellow tram, passing by many of Lisbon’s main attractions, taking you up and down Lisbon hills to the historic parts of the city.You should be aware that during full season the trams are always full so if you want to enjoy the ride, you should start it earlier in the day or go in the evening.

6. In a list of things to do in Lisbon, a day trip to Sintra is a must;

To reach Sintra take the train from Lisbon Rossio station, that runs every 15 minutes. It will take you to Sintra in less than 45 minutes. My recommendation is to go also as early in the day there, because in one day you will have a lot to see. 9 a.m is a good hour to be there. Not to miss in Sintra: Pena Palace, Moors Castle, Quinta da Regaleira and Monseratte Palace. You should know that the distance between this sites is not small, and the transportation in Sintra is made by local buses. When you make your plan for the time to spend on every site, you should take into consideration the time for waiting the bus and the time between the sites.

How to get there.

By plane:

Lisbon is serviced by the largest and most crowded airport in the whole of Portugal. The airport is located only 7 kilometers from the center of the city. Served by the main international airlines and just 3 hours away from the main European capitals, it is very easy to reach.

By train:

In terms of railway transport, Lisbon is serviced by four main train stations: Santa Apolonia, Rossio, Barreiro and Cais do Sodre. The Santa Apolonia Train Station is the largest of all, being located in the vicinity of the Alfama district. It is the main terminal for trains which ensure the connection between Lisbon and north and east Portugal, as well as between Lisbon and international destinations like Madrid and Paris.

By car:

If you are exploring the Iberian Peninsula by car, I recommend you to use Google Maps or ViaMichelin. Both Portugal and Spain have good highways, making it easy to get around. The best ways to enter Lisbon are via the A1 and A2, which both have national and international connections along their course.

So, that was my short experience with Lisbon. Have you ever been there? Would you like to go? What other beautiful city have you visited and recommend?

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