Lisbon

lisbon

Lisbon is a captivating place. It’s one of Europe’s smallest capitals and easy to navigate on foot. It’s a city that dips and rises over seven hills with the dusty cobbled streets of Alfama resembling the set of a medieval blockbuster in dramatic contrast to Chiados upmarket cafés and boutiques. This collision of the centuries is in evidence throughout the capital: Out of 17th-century buildings skip designer-clad youths; the fish market at Cais do Sodré resonates with traditional sights and smells; and a short walk from the 18th-century aqueduct sits the modernistic Amoreiras center. Lisbon has an enviable roll call of sights within strolling distance of each other. Alternatively, hop on the funicular, tram, or metro.

Lisbon Sights

The center city is small enough to cover on foot, but because of Lisbon’s hills, it’s easy to underestimate the distances or the time it takes to cover it. Places may appear close to one another on a map when they’re actually on different levels, and the walk can be fearsomely steep. Public transportation is excellent, entertaining, and a bargain, to boot. Marvelous old trams, buses, the metro, and turn-of-the-20th-century funicular railways and elevators can transport you up the hills. If time is short or energy lags, taxis are a genuine bargain and can be summoned with a phone call. And, wherever you are, the Rio Tejo is never far away.

The center of Lisbon stretches north from the spacious Praça do Comércio—one of Europe’s largest riverside squares—to the Rossío, a smaller square lined with shops and cafés. The district in between is known as the Baixa (Lower Town), an attractive grid of parallel streets built after the 1755 earthquake and tidal wave. The Alfama, the old Moorish quarter that survived the earthquake, lies east of the Baixa. In this part of town are the Sé (the city’s cathedral) and, on the hill above, the Castelo de São Jorge (St. George’s Castle).

West of the Baixa, sprawled across another of Lisbon’s hills, is the Bairro Alto (Upper Town), an area of intricate 17th-century streets, peeling houses, and churches. Five kilometers (3 mi) farther west is Belém, site of the famous Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, as well as a royal palace and several museums. A similar distance to the northeast, Lisbon’s Parque das Nações pivots around the spectacular Oceanário de Lisboa.

The modern city begins at Praça dos Restauradores, adjacent to the Rossío. From here the main Avenida da Liberdade stretches northwest to the landmark Praça Marquês de Pombal, dominated by a column and a towering statue of the man himself. The praça is bordered by the green expanse of the Parque Eduardo VII, named in honor of King Edward VII of Great Britain, who visited Lisbon in 1902.

Lisbon Reviews

Meals generally include three courses, a drink, and coffee. Many restaurants have an ementa turistica (tourist menu), a set-price meal, most often served at lunchtime. Note that you’ll be charged a couple of euros if you eat any of the couvert (or coberto) items—typically appetizers such as bread and butter, olives, and the like—that are brought to your table without being ordered.

Lisbon’s restaurants usually serve lunch from noon or 12:30 until 3 and dinner from 7:30 until 11; many establishments are closed Sunday or Monday. Inexpensive restaurants typically don’t accept reservations. In the traditional cervejarias (beer hall-restaurants), which frequently have huge dining rooms, you’ll probably have to wait for a table, but usually not more than 10 minutes. In the Bairro Alto, many of the reasonably priced tascas (taverns) are on the small side: if you can’t grab a table, you’re probably better off moving on to the next place. Throughout Lisbon, dress for meals is usually casual, but exceptions are noted below.

Lisbon Reviews

If you’ve arrived without accommodations, stop by the airport tourist information desk or the downtown tourist office. The staff at either location can provide you with a list of hotels and pensões. Though it’s not a complete list, it will get you started in your search.

Even in the city’s hotels, consider inspecting a room before taking it: street noise can be a problem, and, conversely, quieter rooms at the back don’t always have great views (or, indeed, any views). Also, some hotels charge the same rate for each of their rooms, so by checking out a couple you might be able to get a better room for the same price. This is especially true of the older hotels and inns, where no two rooms are exactly alike. And, if rooms for nonsmokers are unavailable, stale smoke can permeate one room, yet be totally absent in its clone down the hall.

Lisbon hosts trade fairs and conventions and is busy year-round, so it’s best to secure a room in advance of your trip. Peak periods are Easter-June and September-November; budget pensões are particularly busy in summer. Despite the high year-round occupancy, substantial discounts—sometimes 30%-40%—abound from November through February.

Lisbon

The Bairro Alto, long the center of Lisbon’s nightlife, is the best place for barhopping and is the center of the city’s well-established gay and lesbian scene. Most bars here are fairly small, and stay open until 3 AM or so. Larger, designer bars started opening a few years ago along and around Avenida 24 de Julho in the Santos neighborhood, where—because this isn’t a residential area as the Bairro Alto is—bars can stay open until 5 or 6 AM. The latest hot neighborhood is farther along the riverbank, next to the bridge in Alcântara, where the Doca do Santo Amaro and the Doca de Alcântara have fashionable terrace-bars and restaurants, some converted from old warehouses. Whichever district you choose, note that not all bars have signs outside; to find the latest places you may have to follow the crowds or try a half-open door. Don’t expect to have a quiet drink: the company is generally young and excitable.

Lisbon’s Alfama district is recognized as the birthplace of the haunting music known as fado, though today most performances occur in the Bairro Alto. In the adegas típicas food and wine are served, and fado plays late into the night: the singing starts at 10 or 11, and the adegas often stay open until 3 AM. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find an authentic adega; ask around for a recommendation. Note that some establishments charge (according to the night and who is playing) a minimum food and drink consumption fee, usually around EUR 10-EUR 15.

Lisbon has some glorious old cafés with rich interiors of carved wood, mirrors, and tiles. Many also have outdoor seating, so you can order a coffee, beer, or snack and watch the city pass by. Those that specialize in pastries and cakes are known as pastelarias (pastry shops), and their offerings are among the city’s greatest contributions to the gastronomic arts: be sure to sample some. Most cafés remain open for at least the early part of the evenings on weekdays; a few have become late-night drinking haunts. Some cafés close early on Saturday and altogether on Sunday, however.

Lisbon Shopping

Small, independently owned stores are still quite common in Lisbon, and salespeople are courteous almost everywhere. Handmade goods, such as leather handbags, shoes, gloves, embroidery, ceramics, and basketwork, are sold throughout the city. Apart from top designer fashions and high-end antiques, prices are moderate. Most shops are open weekdays 9-1 and 3-7 and Saturday 9-1; malls and supermarkets often remain open until at least 10. Some are also open on Sunday. Credit cards—Visa in particular—are widely accepted.

Although fire destroyed much of Chiado, Lisbon’s smartest shopping district, in 1988, a good portion of the area has been restored. The neighborhood has a large new shopping complex as well as many small stores with considerable cachet, particularly on and around Rua Garrett. The Baixa’s grid of streets from the Rossío to the Rio Tejo have many small shops selling jewelry, shoes, clothing, and foodstuffs. The Bairro Alto is full of little crafts shops with stylish, contemporary ceramics, wooden sculpture, linen, and clothing. Excellent stores continue to open in the residential districts north of the city, at Praça de Londres and Avenida de Roma.

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