Three Days in Lisbon
They call Lisbon the City of Seven Hills – but when you start walking, it seems like a hundred. But what a great city to explore on foot.
I always feel some sort of draw to the oldest parts of cities and Lisbon was no exception. We began exploring getting into the Alfama district with its medieval narrow streets now lined with enticing-looking restaurants, people of all sorts wandering around, and the occasional car trying to make its way through.
The famous Sé De Lisboa is the area’s cathedral. Taken from the Moors in 1147, it’s built on ruins left behind by the Moors, Visigoths, Romans, and Phoenicians. There are currently archeological excavations underway by the cloister. The Romanesque Nave features a beautiful rose stained glass window. The window was restored using pieces from the original, after the earthquake of 1755 destroyed much of Lisbon. There are also some nearby ruins from a Roman colosseum, but we did not manage to find them in time to see the site.
The city is filled with beautiful plazas (praças) and tree-lined avenues. The big central plaza, Rossaio, is officially the Praça Dom Pedro IV. Funny though, I read the statue is not Dom Pedro at all, but a leftover likeness of Maximillian of Mexico, who died inconveniently just before the statue was delivered. It’s an early example of repurposing fixtures. At his point, you are exploring the Baixa district.
The nearby Praça da Figuera is where you will find the Confeitaria Nacional, a pastry and coffee shop worth a visit. If you love chocolate, had the best hot chocolate ever. You can see the beautiful, tall Elevador De Santa Justa, the remaining one of 3 Neo-Gothic, iron lifts in the city. It was designed by Raoul Mesnier de Ponsard, a Portuguese student of Gustave Eiffel (of Paris fame).
There are several pedestrianized streets in this area, each filled with shops and cafes and very busy. Be sure to walk down the Rua Augusta and Portas de Santo Antão. You can’t really get lost here, even if you wander aimlessly. When you get tired, just head downhill and you will get to the Tejo (Tagus) River. In the Baixa district, you will end up at the large Praça do Comércio on the water.
BTW, during all this walking, be sure to look down. The Portuguese have done a masterful job with surfaces. Plazas and sidewalks feature beautiful stonework with interesting patterns.
From our hotel in central Lisbon, we walked by the Parque Eduardo VII with a statue of Marque De Pombal and down the park-like Avenida da Liberdade along which are luxury shops and plenty of ATMs, if needed.
Another district we enjoyed is Chiado. Great shops and all sorts of restaurants and cafes line the streets. The district of Barrio Alto meets Chiado at the Praça Luis de Camões – named for the Portuguese Poet Laureate. Along here you will find many famous coffee shops (they LOVE coffee shops here) such as the famous A Brasileria and Bénard.
The Barrio Alto is the Bohemian district and was known to be a rowdy area with legalized prostitution in the 19th century. Today it is the center for nightlife. We strolled uphill in this area as well, visiting a couple of the local bodegas along the way and eventually buying our canned sardines in one of these shops (as opposed to the big tourist stores).
Connecting the Restauradores and Bairro Alto districts is the funky Elevador da Gloria, a funicular operating since 1885. The best known of Lisbon funiculars it used to be an open-top double-decker. For some reason, we chose to walk down the steep incline . . . We had lunch outdoors in a cute café in the area, near the theater district and another pretty plaza with an obelisk.
It super-fun to visit the Mercado de Riberia, located by the water in the Barrio Alto. This is the location of the TimeOut food market. Yes, the same TimeOut that publishes the tourist guides found in many hotel rooms; their food halls are in other cities such as New York, Boston, Chicago, Montreal, and Miami. There are about 50 booths and a mash of tourists and locals queuing up for their favorites. It’s a great way to sample some local specialties. Since we had eaten a fabulous 14-course gourmet dinner at BECO the night before, we kept it simple with a visit to Manteigaria Silva, famous as the city’s best charcuterie since 1890. I did also have the local favorite pasteis de nata from Manteigaria Lisbon since they are famous for having the best of these custard tarts.
And finally, we said our farewell to Lisbon from the Barrio do Castelo. The Castelo São Jorge sits on a site thought to be the first settlement in this region. Archeological evidence from 7th century BC proves activity long before the Moorish fortifications. The first Portuguese king, Afonso Henriques captured the fortress from the Moors in 1147. The Alcáçovas royal palace was added and in use until 1511. The Castle as we see it today with its 10 towers and battlements, was restored in 1938, there is an entrance fee to enter the grounds. There are fantastic views of the city from the Esplanade on top of the outer fortifications. Visitors enter the Grand Gate coming through the picturesque Sana Cruz neighborhood where there are loads of shops and restaurants. There is also a major restaurant (Casa do Leão) within the former royal palace on the castle grounds.
Three days was not enough. Até qualquer dia.