At the request of a friend, and because we are considering a visit, I have been researching Portugal online, and also asking around among my friends. Shout out of special thanks to Mary Beth and Vito Morabito for their detailed and extremely helpful email. It turns out lots of folks have visited within the past couple of years, and even more are planning to visit soon. Here you can find out the “Must See” places in and near Lisbon (Featured photo courtesy of Mary Ellen Walker)
A few things to understand about Lisbon before you go: 1. There was a major earthquake on All Saints Day, 1755. This led to a fire (because of all the candles used for lighting and celebration of the holy day), and then there was a tsunami. Much of the old city was destroyed. So most of the buildings date from that time forward. 2. Portugal was a major world power in the age of exploration (17th and 18th centuries). This was their golden era. 3. Everyone who has spoken to me about Portugal talks about the amazing cobblestone streets and also the tiles, which are truly art here. 4. Portugal had the longest running dictatorship in Western European history (1932-1974).
There are three main parts to downtown in Lisbon: Alfama, Baixa and Barrio Alto. Alfama is the near the Castelo de Sao Jorge, high on a hill,which you should see. Baixa, the lower town, is where the main square is (top photo), and the Bairro Alto is reached by funicular up a hill. You might want to consider the hop on hop off bus to get around and visit as many sights as possible.
Here is my Lisbon List:
1.Castelo de Sao Jorge – This is up near the Alfama district. You can tour the castle, and the views from up there are supposed to be spectacular . Tickets and schedule are available at Castelo de Sao Jorge website.
2.Avenida da Liberdade and the Rossio is in the Biaxa district – This is supposed to be a great place to just stroll around. It is the lower part of the town and has many beautiful squares.
3.Gulbenkian Museum is said to be Lisbon’s best museum . Its collection spans from ancient Egypt through modern, and is considered by many to be one of the world’s finest private art collections. Admission is free on Sunday afternoons, and it is closed on Tuesdays. Tickets and other info are located on the museum website.
4.Museu Nacional do Azulejo , the National Tile Museum is something a few of my friends really loved. Tile art is very big here in Lisbon, and most of Portugal, I think. This is where you can spend an hour or two discovering it. Info available at Tile museum website. It is closed on Mondays.
Just at the edge of town, near the water, you will find an area called Belem. You can get here by taxi, or the hop on , hop off bus, or the trolley. Here you will find several sights which should be on your must-see list. Just beware, that they are closed on Mondays. There is a link on each of the attractions websites to buy tickets, but that link was not working as I write this. Worth a try to save some time in lines.
5.The Jeronimo Monastery– This place looks absolutely gorgeous, and it is on everyone’s “must see” list. It was King Manuel’s church, monastery, cloister and Vasco da Gama’s tomb. Tickets are bought on site , but you can find hours and ticket information as well as info about themed tours at the Jeronimos website.
6.Belem Tower -You can climb the tower and get a fantastic view. Building is very interesting Manueline architecture. Times and ticket information available at Belem website
7. Monument to the Discoveries – This is a very large monument honoring all the discoverers from Portugal’s glory days. This will give you a good insight into why it was such a big world power at one time. Information available at monument website.
8.Maritime Museum – Here you can see an enjoyable collection of all sorts of ships, uniforms and seafaring miscellany. You can buy tickets in advance here
9. National Coach Museum – It is chock full of carriages ranging from humble to very grand. Ticket info and hours available at museum website
10. While you are down in Belem, I hear you really need to try their famous custard pastry. Pastel de Nata can be bought all over the place…. BUT… the BEST is supposed to be sold at a place by the Monastery of Jeronimo , Confeitariade de Belem.
Just 15 miles northwest of Lisbon is a town called SINTRA. You can take a tour or the train or stop on your way up to Porto, if you are driving. I heard that it is a little tricky to drive there, so train or tour might be easier. From what I hear, this place is not to be missed. It is also a great option for Mondays, because its sights are open , but many Lisbon attractions are closed then. You can buy tickets to all Sintra attractions online for a slight discount at the Sintra website. Sintra is a small and interesting old town with three main sights to see:
11. Museum of Pena , or Palacio de Pena – This place looks like it belongs in Disney World! It sits high on a hill and looks really interesting.
12.Moorish Castle, or Castelo dos Mouros – You can walk along the castle walls and is a great place for views. Our friend Vito says that this place is exactly like you pictured a castle would look when you were a kid.
13. National Palace , or Palacio Nacional – This is the oldest surviving royal palace in Portugal and is still used for official receptions. This looks like a shorter , on your own kind of a walk-through tour.
Lisbon is a bit off the beaten path for many Europe-goers , but it is well worth a visit. Just be sure to bring your walking shoes, the cobbled and hilly streets can be rough on the feet!