LISBON GUIDE

Baixa- Downtown Lisbon

Europe’s first urban planning; Broad squares and pedestrian streets

Baixa, or downtown Lisbon, is the heart of the city. It is the main shopping and banking district that stretches from the riverfront to the main avenue (Avenida da Liberdade), with streets named according to the shopkeepers and craftsmen who traded in the area.

It remains an imposing district, with elegant squares, pedestrianized streets, cafes, and shops. Old tramcars, street performers, tiled Art Deco shopfronts, elaborately decorated pastry shops, and street vendors selling everything from flowers to souvenirs, all lend a special charm to the area. Baixa is a great place to stay, because it is central to all major sights and attractions, with excellent transport facilities and close to shops, restaurants, cafes and some museums. Comercio Square, Rua Augusta and Santa Justa Elevator are some of the attractions in Baxia.

Comercio Square

Lisbon’s monumental riverside square

This vast waterfront square also known as Terreiro do Paço or “the palace’s square,” is where the royal palace stood for over two centuries until 1755, when its was destroyed by the Great Earthquake. The royal family moved to another residence in the district of Belem, and the new arcaded buildings acted as the port of entry to the city. On the north side is a triumphal arch and one of the city’s legendary cafes, Café Martinho da Arcada. It dates from 1782 and was a favorite of poets Fernando Pessoa and Almeida Garrett and of novelist Eça de Queiroz. In the center of the square is a statue of King Jose I showing him on horseback, wearing his emperor’s mantle, and measuring 14 meters in height counting from the pedestal.

Rua Augusta

Lisbon’s main pedestrian street

Comercio Square opens onto Rua Augusta through the triumphal arch (which on the Rua Augusta side has a clock with filigreed stone reliefs). This is a lively pedestrian street with mosaic pavements, outdoor cafes, international shops, and the occasional street artist and peddler. The terrace at the top of the arch can be accessed through an elevator, offering 360º views over downtown.

Santa Justa Elevator

An Eiffel Tower-like landmark overlooking the city

One of the city’s best-loved landmarks and also known as the “Elevator of Carmo,” this extraordinary structure 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), to connect downtown to Bairro Alto (the lowest and highest points of the city). Originally powered by steam, it is 45 meters (147ft) high, and remains an interesting example of post-Eiffel iron architecture. The top of the Neo-Gothic tower, reached via a spiral staircase, has a cafe with splendid views of the city, including over Rossio Square, the castle and the river.

Avenida da Liberdade

Lisbon’s main boulevard

This boulevard, built in the 19th century in the style of the Champs-Elysees in Paris, is the main avenue of the city. The avenue is the site of the city’s grander hotels, banks, airline offices, and designer shops, including names like Louis Vuitton, D&G, Tods, Burberry, among others. It runs north for a mile (1.6km) from Restauradores to Marquês de Pombal Square, and is more than 300 feet (90m) wide. Today the avenue still has a certain elegance with fountains and cafe tables shaded by trees, as well as a pavement decorated with abstract patterns. Some of the original mansions have been preserved, and many are outstanding from an architectural standpoint. In the avenue is also the Monument to the Heroes of the Great War, a tribute to the 50,000 Portuguese soldiers who fought in World War I.

Alfama

Breathtaking views and a medieval maze; the village within a city; the historical soul of Lisbon

Alfama is Lisbon’s most emblematic quarter and one of the most rewarding for walkers and photographers thanks to its medieval alleys and outstanding views. Alfama has influenced poets and novelists, and although Bairro Alto is the city’s traditional Fado quarter, it is Alfama that has always been the inspiration for Fado songs, and is becoming just as popular with Fado Houses. It is a village within a city still made up of narrow streets, tiny squares, churches, and whitewashed houses with tile panels and wrought-iron balconies adorned with pots of flowers, drying laundry, and caged birds. Wander around admiring the
views, visiting the churches, and walking up to the castle for the most breathtaking panorama of the city and the greatest sunsets.

Lizbon Cathedral

Lisbon’s oldest building

Lisbon’s ancient cathedral was built by Portugal’s first king on the site of an old mosque in 1150 for the city’s first bishop, the English crusader Gilbert of Hastings. From outside (with two bell towers and a splendid rose window) it resembles a medieval fortress, while inside it appears predominantly Romanesque, with a Gothic choir and ambulatory. At the entrance, to the left, is a baptismal font used in 1195 to baptize Saint Anthony who was born nearby, and in the first chapel on the left is a beautifully detailed nativity scene.

In the sacristy is the cathedral treasury with numerous sacred objects, the most important being the casket containing the remains of St. Vincent, the official patron saint of Lisbon.

25 de April Bridge

Golden Gate’s twin sister

Completed in 1966 and originally named after dictator Salazar, this suspension bridge across the Tagus River changed its name after the revolution of April 25, 1974.
It is a spectacular sight from any direction, with an overall length of 2278m (approx. 1.5 miles), and the longest central span in Europe (1013m/3323ft), longer than San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, which it resembles.

Its foundations also hold the world record by going 80m (262ft) below the riverbed to stand on basalt rock.

Underneath it is an attractive dock and marina filled overlooked by restaurants and bars.

Belem Tower

Lisbon’s icon; a symbol of the Age of Discover

Built in 1515 as a fortress to guard the entrance to Lisbon’s harbor, the Belem Tower was the starting point for many of the voyages of discovery, and for the sailors it was the last sight of their homeland. It is a monument to Portugal’s Age of Discovery, often serving as a symbol of the country, and UNESCO has listed it as a World Heritage monument.

Carmo Convent

Romantic Gothic Ruins

The ruins of this Gothic church are evocative reminders of the devastation left by the 1755 earthquake. At the time of the earthquake it was the largest church in Lisbon, but today the roofless nave open to the sky is all that remains of the arches and rubble that caved in on the congregation as they were attending mass.

At the entrance of the museum is a stone engraved with Gothic lettering, informing visitors that Pope Clement VII granted 40 days of indulgence to “any faithful Christian” who visits this church.

Castle of St. George

Overlooking the city from millennium-old walls

Saint George’s Castle can be seen from almost everywhere in the city. Its oldest parts date from the 6th century, when it was fortified by the Romans, Visigoths, and eventually the Moors. It served as a Moorish royal residence until Portugal’s first king Afonso Henriques captured it in 1147 with the help of northern European crusaders on their way to the Holy Land. It was then dedicated to St. George, the patron saint of England, commemorating the Anglo-Portuguese pact dating from 1371, and became the royal palace until another one (that was destroyed in the Great Earthquake) was built in today’s Comercio Square.

This stone building now housing a restaurant, and round the back, a small archaeological museum in three underground chambers (including the one where Vasco da Gama was once received by King Manuel). Visitors can climb the towers and walk along the ramparts for the most breathtaking views of Lisbon, or relax in the gardens where peacocks, geese and ducks strut around. One of the castle’s inner towers, the Tower of Ulysses, holds the Câmara Escura, a periscope that projects sights from around the city.

Eduardo VII Park

Lisbon’s largest central park

Named after Britain’s Edward VII who visited the city in 1903 to reaffirm the Anglo-Portuguese alliance, this is the largest park in central Lisbon. With neatly clipped box hedging flanked by mosaic patterned walkways, it stretches uphill from Marquês de Pombal Square to a belvedere at the top with fine views.

Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

Outstanding collection from the East and the West

Northeast of Eduardo VII Park is the Gulbenkian Museum, one of the world’s great museums and one of Europe’s unsung treasures. Part of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, it houses a magnificent collection of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Islamic, Asian, and European art. It was substantially renovated and modernized in 2001 (many of its masterpieces were on display in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art during renovation), and can’t be missed during a visit to Lisbon. This is one of the world’s finest private art collections, amassed over a period of 40 years by oil magnate Calouste Gulbenkian, who was one of the 20th century’s wealthiest men. In his later years he adopted Portugal as his home, and donated all of his stupendous art treasures to the country when he died in 1955 at the age of 86.

Sharing the lovely serene gardens of the Gulbenkian Museum is the Modern Art Center, containing modern and contemporary Portuguese and foreign art displayed on two floors. There are more than 10,000 items, including works by Paula Rego, Almada Negreiros, Souza Cardoso, and Vieira da Silva.

Jeronimos Monastery

A World Heritage monument; Vasco da Gama’s resting place

The Jeronimos Monastery 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.

Santa Engracia Church

Portugal’s National Pantheon

Santa Engracia Church, or the National Pantheon, stands on the site of an earlier church that was torn down after being desecrated by a robbery in 1630. A Jew was blamed for this and executed, but was later exonerated. Legend has it that before dying he cursed the rebuilding of the church because of the conviction of an innocent man. The plan to reconstruct (by master stonemason João Antunes, bearing many similarities to Peruzzi’s plans for St. Peter’s in Rome) did take several centuries to be completed, only finished in 1966.

Today it has been designated the National Pantheon and contains the tombs of several Portuguese presidents, writer Almeida Garrett (one of the country’s leading 19th century literary figures), and in recognition of her iconic status, Amalia Rodrigues, the most famous Fado diva.

Sintra

Portugal’s fairytale town on the edge of Europe

Sintra and its mystical hills dotted with fairytale palaces and extravagant villashave bewitched visitors for centuries.

It is indeed an extraordinary place with a surreal mixture of history and fantasy, protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Its fairytale palaces, incredible vistas, and notable museum collections make it a destination you should make the effort to see.

Old Trams

Lisbon’s variety of transportation contributes to its unique charm. Old trams and turn-of-the-century elevators explore the oldest quarters.

Padrao Descombrimentos

The world’s explorers in stone

Across from Jeronimos Monastery, reached via an underpass by its gardens, is the Discoveries Monument, built on the north bank of the Tagus River in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator. Inside is an exhibition space with temporary exhibits, an interesting film about the city of Lisbon, and an elevator that takes visitors to the top for some bird’s-eye views of Belem and its monuments.

Cascais

A postcard-perfect cosmopolitan little beach town

A short train ride along the shore from Lisbon’s Cais do Sodré stationleads to Cascais, a formerly quaint fishing village that became (along with neighboring Estoril) a popular resort favored by European nobility and kings in the early 20th century. Today it is a colorful cosmopolitan town with elegant pedestrian streets, luxuriant villas, fashionable shops, restaurants and bars.

Elements of its fishing village roots can still be felt at the lively fish auction that takes place every afternoon by the main beach and its brightly painted fishing boats, and the story of old Cascais is told by old photographs, paintings, and other items at the small “Museu do Mar” (Museum of the Sea).