The city of Lisbon is the westernmost capital in continental Europe and stretches over seven hills on the north bank of the Tagus River, which begins in Spain and flows into the Atlantic Ocean. An ancient city that the Romans named Olissipo – alluding to the city of Ulysses – Lisbon’s contemporary look is the result of the encounter of different civilizations. Although it was retaken from the Moors by the Crusaders as far back as 1147, the city’s Moorish influences are still very evident and distinguish it from other European capitals. Today, Lisbon is a vibrant and modern European capital and the most important economic, cultural and political center of Portugal.
Lisbon for tourists
Lisbon’s year-round sunny weather means that it is always popular with tourists, who flock to the city to relish in its architecture, small alleys, museums, exciting nightlife and excellent restaurants, many of which serve dishes in the company of local Fado singers and musicians. The old neighborhoods are of particular interest to tourists. They are labyrinths of narrow, steep streets paved in cobblestone, which is commonly known as calçada portuguesa. With tiled building facades on the verge of tearing off and graphite painted walls, they are a stark contrast to the more modern parts of the city and its well developed transport infrastructure.
The best point from which one can begin exploring Lisbon is undoubtedly the downtown or Baixa. Baixa begins on the banks of the Tagus River and stretches until Rossio Square. This part of the city was completely destroyed by the earthquake of 1775, which brought unprecedented destruction to one of Europe’s most thriving cities. The entire city was virtually destroyed and the amount of devastation and suffering inspired many European works of art and literature, one of which was Voltaire’s Candide. Rising from the ashes like Phoenix, Lisbon was completely rebuilt by the Marquis of Pombal and Baixa thus became known as Baixa Pombalina. Opting not to rebuild the city as it once was, the Marquis ordered the building of Baixa in the form of regular streets cutting at the right angle, pursuant to the latest architectural trends in Europe at the time.
São Jorge Castle
Overlooking Baixa, on Lisbon’s highest hill, is the São Jorge Castle, which is one of the few structures that remained standing after the earthquake. It is situated in Lisbon’s oldest neighborhood, Alfama, and represents one of the most important tourist attractions. Alfama itself is an unspoiled gem for spectators with its narrow streets, clotheslines and elderly ladies observing passers-by from their windows. Walking around Alfama requires a lot of energy due to its steep inclines, but the sights are well worth the effort. In fact, the best way to experience Lisbon is precisely to get lost in one of the side streets and see where the road takes you from there. You will find small typical bars and restaurants called tascas serving cheap local dishes, including fresh fish, beer and wine.
Lisbon also hosts a number of excellent museums, such as the Museum of Ancient Art, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, National Museum of Contemporary Art, and Carmo Archaeological Museum. The Museum of Ancient Art is particularly interesting because it displays some magnificent and very rare pieces that were either brought by Portuguese explorers or inspired by their voyages. It offers an amazing insight into Portuguese sea-faring history, which played an important role in shaping the mentality and character of the Portuguese nation.
Lisbon Shopping and Entertainment
When you get tired of taking in so much history and culture, Lisbon offers you a wide array of entertainment and shopping possibilities. Centro Comercial Colombo is the largest shopping mall on the Iberian Peninsula and is famous for “having everything and more”. Underwater lovers will also enjoy the Lisbon Aquarium, one of the largest of its kind in the world. It is located in the modern part of the city that was built from scratch to host Expo ’98. This part of the city also boasts funiculars and the Lisbon Casino, which puts on great shows and concerts in addition to being a gambler’s paradise. Last but not least, Lisbon is a city that lives at night. Bairro Alto is the city’s bohemian quarter and is very popular with younger tourists and foreign exchange students. It is teeming with small bars and restaurants that serve cheap alcoholic drinks. The most chic and happening club in Lisbon is undoubtedly Lux Frágil. In addition to electronic music parties, it also serves as a venue for rock and jazz concerts.
Regardless of your reasons for visiting Lisbon, you will not be able to avoid falling in love with this amazing city and will keep coming back, each time discovering new and exciting things.