We start the “10 places to visit in Portugal” series with its iconic capital city, Lisbon.
Yes, we have Madonna living here. For now, at least, she is roaming the streets of Lisbon, perhaps oblivious to the fact that those streets are ours since 1147 AD, when we finally retook the city from the Moors, in a bloody battle, as all battles usually are.
Madonna is not alone. For the past few years, Lisboners have witnessed the arrival of many foreigners that are here for more than a few days of well deserved rest. The city’s once cheap real estate was a big factor when choosing it to spend a few years, or maybe the rest of their lives, but that’s becoming something of the past. Nowadays, living in Lisbon is not so cheap, whether you are buying or renting. But, we have to concede, it’s probably still cheaper than real estate in the countries of these newcomers.
Some may argue that all this foreigner flow (flood?), may be affecting the city’s authenticity, but I think we’re still far from loosing all the little things that make Lisbon, Lisbon. The Portuguese government is actively trying to protect some of the housing in the city and is trying to attract young Portuguese that want to try the big city life.
So, for now, rest easy, you will still be able to visit small, quirky stores where you can buy the best souvenirs and huge city markets, with all the fresh produce you may need, while surrounded of genuine and loving Lisboners. And the light… When we say the light here is different… You have to see it to believe it.
So, let’s get to it. Here are some places you must visit while in Lisbon:
- Parque das Nações: Parque das Nações is the result of a renewal due to the World Exhibition of Lisbon, in 1998. The architecture is out of this world, with Gare do Oriente (the railway station) as its most iconic piece. Across from it, beyond the shopping center (shopping spree, anyone?), you find the park, with the memorable water volcanoes and the Oceanarium, the second largest in the world. You can also enjoy a nice meal with overview of the marina or visit Altice Arena, the biggest venue in the city.
- Alfama: If you want authenticity, Alfama is your neighborhood. Remember the little shops? They’re here. From hat and soap makers to metal workers, you will find something of note with the turn of every corner. If you want to get to know Fado, the melancholic theme music of the city, this is the place to go. The narrow and good-to-lose-yourself-in streets will remind you of long gone eras, and eventually take you to nearby Castelo parish, to visit Castelo de São Jorge, the ancient fortified castle, that is heavily linked to the defense of the city.
- Bairro Alto: If you want to have a few beers in a relaxed and informal setting, in Bairro Alto you will find your tribe. Expect a multicultural crowd drinking in the streets and enjoying the music coming from the dozens of bars around. Ah, yes, the bars. They are so different from each other, it’s almost as if they are trying to represent every music genre on earth. The crowd in front of each of the bars will probably indicate what to expect inside. And yes, they’re mostly kids, so this might not be the place for you if you’re over 35. Or maybe you are a young soul, trapped in a mature body, and you’ll love it. Either way, consider yourself warned.
- Belém: If you are interested in taking the scenic tour, the Belém area will not disappoint. From its glorious monuments, to the beautiful sidewalk by the river, it’s almost to much for our hearts to bear. Torre de Belém was built as a lighthouse to guard the entrance to the port. You’ll fall in love with the manuelin style construction, believe me. But it does not end there. The barroque Palácio de Belém, which is the official residence of the President, is near manuelin Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, a stunning former monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Overwhelmed? Did I mention the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, the monument celebrating the Portuguese age of exploration? Yeah, it’s something you have to see for yourselves.
- Baixa: The city’s downtown. Are you a little homesick? While in Portugal? You should probably get that checked. But in the meantime, go to Baixa. You’ll find there the cafés and restaurants you know and love, like Hard Rock or Starbucks. But you’ll find much more. Praça do Comércio is a square in the center of the world. Cultural events, restaurants, cafés, hotels and Fernando Pessoa (the statue, I mean). It is also the place that witnessed a double royal assassination, and the subsequent proclamation of the Republic. Yep, all that in one place.
- Avenida da Liberdade: Ah, the Liberty Avenue, with its opulent buildings, its overpriced stores and its busy streets. There is something about the smell of car exhaust in the morning! No, really, Avenida da Liberdade has come a long way in the last few years. The tunnel really helped move traffic, so you can only expect it to be really busy during rush hours. The avenue is now home to some of the most expensive stores in the world, so if the cash is weighing on you pocket, you can seek relief here. Cartier, Montblanc, Prada, Dior, Chanel, Versace and many more, are parallel to narrow streets and tiny Portuguese restaurants for the low budget traveler. It’s a place of contrast. Avenida is lined with food kiosks, if you’re eating on the go and several monuments to writers and musicians if you’re up to some culture.
So, yes, most definitely, while in Portugal, you should visit Lisbon. There are so much more examples of places to see in this stunning city. But I’ll let you discover for yourself. The little list I’ve compiled for you should be a good start.
Featured image by Deensel: https://www.flickr.com/people/158619309@N03