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Low town, new town
Despite the overwhelming appearance of being a city entirely built on hills, there are some flat areas in Lisbon and the area known as the Baixa (pronounced Bye-sha) is certainly one of these. An area of gracious buildings and pedestrianised streets laid out in an elegant grid, its harmonious style is quite at odds with the tumble of narrow streets and packed-in living that is so evident in other parts of the city.
It should come as no real surprise then to learn that this was the area hardest hit by the earthquake that hit the city in 1755. The whole city was extensively damaged in the huge quake, but it was this low-lying area near the river that felt the greatest effects and was, to all intents and purposes, completely demolished. The subsequent rebuilding created not only the stylish elegance we see today, but also the first example of quake-proof building in Europe.
An area of streets of smart shops and cafes, the Baixa's main feature is the grand Praça do Comércio, a lovely riverfront square dominated by the huge equestrian statue of King José I and bounded on three sides by symmetrical arcaded buildings The triumphal arch in the centre of the of these buildings with its clock and statues symbolising Glory, Ingenuity and Valour was part of the original plans but was only added in 1875. It opens the square up to Augusta Street which in turn leads into Baixa's other main square, Rossio.
River Tejo - small boats, big boats
As a country of sailors, discoverers, and fisherman, of course Lisbon has a big school of sailing, paddling, canoeing, and all sorts of aquatic sports - the Naval Club of Lisbon. That’s the reason why most Saturdays and Sundays morning you can see the river crowded of all sorts of floating devices, especially between the 25 Abril bridge and the Bugio fortress.
From time to time we also have all sorts of regatta -from the small typical boats of Tejo (faluas and fragatas) with its triangular shaped sail, to the Classic Tall Ships Parade (like the Cutty Sark regatta), or the F1 powerboat race. We can take a tour on the typical boats of Tejo from the marina of Parque das Nações (running during summer time on weekends).
But on a daily basis, thousands of Lisbonners and commuters from “the other side” also cross the river using the passenger boats and ferries. Nowadays, there are quick boats ensuring the “fast lane” life we have to deal with, but you still can take the slow charming orange/white Cacilheiros, after the name of the closest point on the other shore -Cacilhas. Cacilheiros are part of the river, part of the history of the town, and gave origin to all sorts of stories, and fado songs, etc. I personally recommend a trip to the other side (from Cais do Sodré to Cacilhas) just to enjoy seeing Lisbon from afar in a sunny afternoon. And why not to extend a bit more and take some fresh fish in the restaurants in Cacilhas?... and there are dozens of good ones.
Speaking about fish, we still maintain some small communities of fishermen in some spots south of Lisbon -Paço de Arcos (Oeiras county), Trafaria and Porto Brandão (Almada county)- and north of the town - Alverca and Vila Franca de Xira (Vila Franca de Xira county). These fishermen only work in the river, nevertheless, the last kms of water in this estuary are quite salty and we have a big percentage of sea fish there. Actually, because the estuary is so wide, the tide effect is felt up the river for more than 50km, making the soil on the banks of Tejo northern of Lisbon very rich -the Lezírias.
Of course being such an important vehicle for people and cargo traffic, the river become full of big and small boats and cargo ships transporting all sorts of containers and goods coming and going to anywhere in the globe. That is the reason why so much of the water front of Lisbon (Alcântara area but mostly east of Alfama) is full with containers, big cranes, and related stuff.
Besides that and also because Lisbon is becoming more tourist appealing these last years, the movement of big cruise boats become a big business and we do have now approx. 400 cruises stopping in Lisbon every year. That’s why along with the original Rocha de Conde d’Óbidos quays (close to Docas area) we now have 2 more places for cruises close to Santa Apolónia area.
Moreover there are several places with marina facilities for small / medium size boats. So you are most welcome to bring your own boat. The only drawback... you are not allowed anymore to be a “VIP” and dock at the Cais das Colunas in Praça do Comércio as in the old days.
The high Town
You wouldn't think it to look at it necessarily, but the Bairro Alto has always had the cachet of being both both fashionable and the haunt of bohemians here in Lisbon. By day the steep narrow streets are quietly busy with the residents getting on with their daily life, at night things get decidedly livelier as the restaurants, bars and clubs open their doors for business. Our Lisbon visit coincided with Carnivale and wandering the streets of the Bairro Alto on a Monday morning, although there were certainly plenty of signs of some serious partying - confetti on pavements and streamers drifting into corners - there were not many people around. Maybe they were sleeping off the night before.
We virtually had the place to ourselves as we admired the beautiful tiled facade of a house on Largo Raphael Bordallo Pinheiro (he was an artist and humourist most noted for his political caricatures and comment), tried to buy a lotto ticket from the little fellow in Largo Trindade Coelho (Coelho was a writer, though not the author of The Alchemist - the cult book of the 90s ) outside the exceedingly plain facaded and exceeding elaborately interiored Igreja de São Roque, decided against having a tattoo and generally just found our way up and up through a maze of narrow streets to the Miradouro São Pedro de Alcântara then down a steep set of stairs and paths to Rossio far below.
Then we turned around and took the Elevador da Glória up to the top and wandered around some more.
Streets of Lisbon
We had not been in Lisbon for more than an hour before we were out on the street to begin our explorations on this beautiful sunny day! We did not even really consult our maps properly, just set off downhill toward the Tejo River. The sight of Castelo de Sao Jorge on the skyline and the slant of the streets pulled at us like a magnet as we strolled on the cobbled sidewalks by these amazing houses with their wrought iron balconies and painted ceramic tile decorations! Portugal was looking good!
I think that we ended up going in the wrong direction, because we went by a large park that had a lot of Africans in it enjoying themselves (that brought back great memories of our years living in Central Africa!). At a hotel near there, we asked for some directions and they pointed us to the west, where we soon came upon Rossio Square!
- Family Travel
River Tejo - a pleasant river
“I do love Tejo because there is a big city on its banks...” said Fernando Pessoa, the most famous of Lisbon’s poets, bard of his river.
From the beginning, a profound bond has tied the river to Lisbon, which rose just in front of the 15km wide estuary which the Lisbonners with affection call Mar da Palha (sea of straw). The city runs along the river for 17 km in a succession of piers, docs, quays, and ports, with some space to people stretch their legs or run a bike on the banks of the river in some kms of riverside walks or “promenades”, which we call Passeio Ribeirinho (parts of it are now under reconstruction). Next to those riverside walks lots of activities developed -cafeteria, esplanades, restaurants, gardens, playgrounds, and other leisure areas. And without any doubt these are among the most beautiful 17km of the 1007 km of the river that rises in the mountains of Albaracin (close to Madrid). Lisbonners love their river and come to its banks when they can -just to take some sun, students bring their books to read, friends come to chat and see the ships and boats passing by, families bring their kids to play and feed the fish, and those in love come here to see the sunsets :-) And with its seven hills, Lisbon has a number of places which we call Miradouros (view points) where the views of the river are splendid (see link). Maybe one of the best to get pleasure from the river views is Miradouro de Santa Luzia, close to the castle. If the weather is not haze you can spot for more than 50km.
The limits of the municipality coincide with the Vasco da Gama bridge (on the east) and Belém (actually Algés, on the west), nevertheless, the river stretches for more 10km west and officially ends at Bugio fortress, a landmark of the area which you can spot from the air if you land from that side of the town (ask for a window seat), and definitely you will see it if you travel by car or train between Lisbon and Oeiras or Cascais.
Before the 25 Abril bridge which connects the 2 shores of Lisbon was constructed (1966), the passage across the river was entrusted to passenger boats and ferries, still now used mostly by the working class with residence on the southern part of the metropolitan area.
I personally recommend a trip to the “other side” (from Cais do Sodré to Cacilhas). Nowadays the crossing is functioning with modern quick boats but you still see some of the old charming Cacilheiros and ferries operating. Alternatively you can take the cruise tour (see link).
The waters of the river, while not as clear as they were 20-30 years ago, are still full of fish, with sea bream, mullet, sole, and sea pike. And Lisbonners enjoy a weekend afternoon in the banks of the river fishing; nowadays because of the laws prohibiting the fisheries in most of the places, we have to go in front of Algés (west of Belém area) or some hidden areas in Alcântara to see the resistant ones -mostly men above they 50’s.
But the lords of the roost on Mar da Palha are above all the aquatic birds, such as stilts, sea partridges, avocets, etc, which come to winter here from September to March and the entire estuarine area becomes a reserve. You can spot big areas with them if you cross the Vasco da Gama bridge to Alcochete.
Along with other activities like salt extraction (for chemical industry) still active 10 km north of Lisbon, the gastronomy of the entire region also developed on the sea and river goods and there are several gastronomic festivals all year round with specialties from fried or stuffed eel to hard roe blend with açorda, a bread soup like (but thick). It’s a fantastic experience to take a bit of all sorts of fish raised in Tejo river.
- Water Sports
This is where Lisbon's beautiful people hang out - Chiado's the smart end of town (though down the hill, Chiado shows another face with the bustle of the city's main market). Up on Rua Garrett though, it's all trendy cafes and shops, including the best-known of all Lisbon's old coffee houses, A Brasileira.
If you join the cafe's permanent customer, poet Fernando Pessoa (he hasn't actually bought a coffee here since 1935 but his loyal patronage is remembered with a life-size sculpture of him sitting at an al fresco table) out on the pavement, you'll pay extra for the privilege but venture inside to the wood- and mirror-panelled interior and you'll not only spare the budget but you're more likely to be surrounded by a lively local crowd. It's even cheaper if you stand at the bar.
Another poet, Luis de Camões, is honoured here in Chiado - his statue stands more conventionally on a plinth in the middle of the square that bares his name - Praça de Camões.
Fashionistas will enjoy this part of town too - Rua do Carmo is where to look for Lisbon's take on the latest looks.
The oldest quarter
The closest we got to the Alfama, Lisbon's oldest quarter most redolent of the city's Moorish past, was to look over it from the high point of the Santa Luzia and the Castelo San Jorge belvederes, and to skirt around the edge on the 28 tram - the thought of steep streets and lots of steps (as marked on our map) sent my newly post-operative knee into a state of near-collapse!
It's a good reason to go back - camels have an affinity with kasbah-like surroundings and the promise of "the most atmospheric part of Lisbon" has a real allure.
The seafood restaurant, Jardim do Mariscos, down at the refurbished tobacco depot had been highly recommended to us by Lisboaphile friends. We didn't get there either - maybe you will.
If you find yourself pressed with time.
Too bad you're afforded in this trip only a measly four hours in and for Lisbon. It's criminal I'd say on the part of the cruise ship. But, hey, one's got to make do of a given situation if only to stay ahead of the game. I'd suggests you decide on just a single itenerary to obtain the most out of your four hours. Your ship will very likely dock at the usual cruise line terminal at the Alcantara district in Lisbon which is halfway between the city center and the historic Belem district. All your nervous concern about distances, getting stuck in traffic, not to mention jostling with crowds at sights are rightly understandable. I agree keep it simple and let the thought of having missed the main attractions this time allow you to ponder a reasonable return trip to Lisbon. That said, pick either staying just right in Alcantara or the Belem district where you have the magnificent Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (Monastery of the Hieronymites), the Maritime Museum, a somewhat limited Archeological Museum next to the monastery and half a kilometer from here, the awesome Torre de Belem (Belem Tower). You can reach Belem on a quick and easy bus ride or the veritable tram (take #15)and you're there in less than ten minutes. At Belem, you'll be assured of giving your four hours more than its worth, tho I must warn you the throng of tourists will be there as well for sure to test your mettle. The other option already mentioned is to stick around in the Alcantara district. The neighborhood is right up the hill above the docks, you merely cross the train track and highway, climb the steps and you're in Alcantara. It's a quiet and very pleasant neighborhood, perfect for a slow unhampered stroll to peek around. You mention your own penchance for museums, one of Lisbon's (and quite possibly, the world's I must say)is the Museo de Arte Antiga (Museum of Antiquated Art, they really need to find a suitable name for this great place) which literally is just a few step climb from the docks. You won't miss it - it's a huge Victorian looking structure in royal yellow right next to the charming Jardim 9 de Avril (Garden of the 9th of April). The museum is filled with eclectic collection of Portuguese tapestries and 18th century Portuguese paintings, Oriental vases and furniture, faiences, sculptures, religious art and a marvelous collection of European paintings. Don't miss the museum's greatest acquisition - Bosch's triptych 'The Temptation of Saint Anthony'. The museum also has a wonderful cafe - Cafe D'Art - on its grounds set among giant jacarandas and literally jutting out the hillside overlooking the Tejo river where you can see and keep an eye on your ship. After your neighborhood ambling and museum tour, go have a meal or coffee/tea here where the kitchen serves outstanding Portuguese dishes. If you find yourself having extra time, a few doors away from the museum is The York House Hotel, one of Lisbon's grand old institutions with a memorable cafe to boot.
For a lot of people there is one of the most important and special place there, I mean Fatima.
It is not very near Lisbon, about 160 km far from it. We went there by the rented car.
I suppose you have heard about it...The miracle has happened there on May, 13th 1917. Three children from the village Fatima have seen the Virgin Mary there and one of them has heard the three prophecy from the Virgin Mary. The pilgrims arrive there to pray for their lifes, families...Their requests are fulfiled there very often...It is very moving place...I had tears in my eyes, really...it is full of peace, calmness.
We have seen the pilgrims which were arriving to the Chapel of the Virgin Mary (in the place where the miracle was) on their knees! It was moving view...
- Religious Travel
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- Road Trip
Parque das Nacoes
The Parque das Nacoes (Park of Nations) was built for the World Fair EXPO 1998. The huge area with its wide walkways lined with fountains, palm trees, cafes and futuristic buildings is a complete contrast to Lisbon's Old Town.
The main attractions include the Oceanium, the Vasco da Gama viewing tower and a cable car which runs along the whole site parallel to the waterfront.
Numerous cafes, pubs and restaurants offer scenic views of the sie inlcuding the Vasco da Gama bridge. With 17,2 km in length it is the longest bridge in Europe.
The Parque das Nacoes is situated about 5 km east of Lisbon's city centre. The nearest metro stop is the futuristic "Oriente Station" (red line). From there you can walk through the Vasco da Gama Shopping centre in the direction of the waterfront.
- Budget Travel
Lose Yourself in Lisbon's Labyrinthian Streeets
Lisbon, being a capital is wide-expanse and heavily populated tho not as densely as the other European capitals. The core of the city is old Lisbon, mostly an 18th century layout after having been severely devastated by a horrific earthquake in 1755. What has remained are just a few neighborhoods mostly upon her seven hills well spread-out in the old city from where on each lookout commands a most magnificent and breathtaking views of the city and her famous river, the Tejo. It is on these stark, ancient, very historic and full of medieval ambiance neighborhoods that the visitor will, on one's random and casual exploration on foot -losing one's full senses from their endless winding about and unwinding into grand, romantic and human alleyways, corners, narrow passages, steep ascent and descent....that the visitor can truly feel the incredible mystique and an unsurpassed allure of this city.
The Bairro Alto
Few visitors leave Lisbon without sampling the delights of the Bairro Alto by night. Its bars, restaurants and fado venues are described in all the tourist literature. But I want to introduce you to the day-time sights of this atmospheric quarter. As well as containing two of my favourite Lisbon sights, the Convento do Carmo and the fabulously ornate church of Sao Roque, its streets are lined with at times crumbling but frequently attractive houses, many of them decorated wholly or in part with the characteristic tiles or azulejos. And while graffiti can be rightly said to be a scourge of the city, here there are many examples when the line between vandalism and art is very ill-defined (see my general tip for some examples of this).
You can reach the Bairro Alto by a steep climb from the many streets and staircases that lead up from the Baixa area, or by taking one of several funiculars or the Santa Justa lift. If you choose the Elavador da Gloria you will arrive just by the side of another of the Bairro’s attractions, the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcantara, with a restful fountain, plenty of benches and stunning views of the city. From here, make your way into the back streets to experience the quarter’s street life and search for the details that will enable you to capture its magic through the lens of your camera.
Please see my Local Customs tip on Azulejos and my General tip on Graffitti for more images of the characteristic details that you can spot on a walk through the Bairro Alto.
Between the hilly districts of the Bairro Alto and the Alfama lies the Baixa, from the Portuguese for “low”. The name is well-chosen, and a stroll in its elegant streets makes a pleasant change for legs weary of Lisbon’s steep hills.
This part of town was the worst hit by the 1755 earthquake, hence its more “modern” appearance. The neoclassical design is considered one of the finest examples of European urban planning of its day, and consequently the district is currently being considered for UNESCO listing as a World Heritage Sight. Laid out in a grid pattern, and interspersed with lovely squares, its streets have a very different atmosphere to the narrow winding lanes of the Alfama or the somewhat raffish, even subversive, tone of the Bairro Alto. There is an altogether more cosmopolitan air here, but the distinctive black and white pavement tiles and blue and white azulejos on its buildings give it a character uniquely Portuguese in flavour.
The main thoroughfare in the Baixa is the pedestrianised Rua Augusta, lined with Art Deco shop fronts with some eye-catching displays (lovely jewellery in one, tempting pastries in another). This links the grand squares of Rossio (Praça Dom Pedro IV) and Praça do Comércio (see separate tips). Another attractive square is the Praça da Figueira, a great place to pause for a coffee or cold beer and watch the world go by.
While the Bairro Alto perches on one of Lisbon’s seven hills, the Alfama sits on another, facing it across the lower area of Baxia. From each you have wonderful views of the other, but the views are not the only attraction of the Alfama, great though they are. This is the place in which to experience the city as it was in medieval times, a village of winding alleyways and fishermen’s houses.
The Alfama was first settled by the Romans and Visigoths, and was an important Jewish quarter in the 15th century, but it was the Moors who gave the district its atmosphere and its name: alhama means springs or bath, a reference to the hot springs found in the area. The Moors too developed its maze of streets which acted as a system of defence, while also helping their homes to remain cool in the summer heat. Because its foundation is dense bedrock, the Alfama survived the 1755 earthquake much better than other parts of the city, and its little squares and narrow streets form a striking contrast with the grand designs of the Baixa in particular.
It is easy though to over-romanticise this district. Many of the long-term residents are poor and their houses, while picturesque, are in a bad state of repair. Meanwhile more affluent people are moving in and renovating properties, putting them out of reach of the locals. Nevertheless, this mix of the run-down and the desirable is undeniably attractive to the visitor and to the visitor’s camera lens.
The best way to explore the Alfama is simply to wander its streets. You will inevitably get lost – don’t try to fight this, it is part of the Alfama experience, and glimpses of the castle above you or the streets of the Baixa below will be enough to orientate you from time to time. But if you’re looking for specific sights, that same castle, the castle of St George, is well worth checking out for its peaceful grounds and great views (see photo 3). Also worth a visit is the Church of São Vicente de Fora, or so I believe – it is still on my must-see list even after three visits to Lisbon.
But the truly distinctive sights here are the details – a caged bird, a line of laundry, a brightly painted balcony, a pot of flowers. Don’t then lose sight of these in your hurry to reach the top, or the castle, or whatever other “destination” you have as your goal.
barrio alto is the old part of lisbon and the most charming part of town.
it's in a very hilly part of town and the stareets are small and winding and mostly packed with people.
barrio alto has a very bohemian atmosphere and is one of my favorite quaters of any city in europe.
there is a very nice bar scene there at night and there are also many good restaurants in barrio alto.
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