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Our top ten things to see and do in Lisbon

Portugal has been in continuous occupation since pre-history and Lisbon has strong traditions which can still be seen through its architecture, city layout and vibrant diversity that is inherent from Portugal's golden age of the 15th and 16th century colonialism though there is a risk that with so very much to do and discover in Lisbon one isn't sure where to start - so allow us to suggest a few diverse favourites

Lisbon Rooftops

Lisbon's or perhaps Portugal's history seems ever present as the streets are often named after past conflicts or the countries hero's of times gone past. Other civilisations or people from Portugal's colonial past are commonly featured on buildings plus the numerous statues and monuments in most squares and on street corners add a distinct character to this special city.

N.B. Oh! before we progress, the city of Lisbon department of tourism offers a “Lisboa Card” which will give you access to all buses, trams etc and free entrance (or a healthy discount) on most attractions for a small fee. National museums and monuments are (at the date of publication) free on Sunday mornings.

1. The number 28 tram!

Number 28 Tram

Catch the number 28 at the bottom of the main shopping street of Rua Augusta at the Praca Do Comercio and a 45 minute journey will circumnavigate the city and take you via all the main sites around Lisbon on what is effectively an economical city tour for about 1.30euro and the ride alone on a rickety old tram, is a great experience in its self.

2. Lisbon's Bairro Alto district

Spread across one of Lisbon's 7 hilltops is the district of Bairro Alto. Literally translated as “Upper City”; it retains much of its ancient layout with winding cobbled streets. The Bairro Alto was a historic enclave from around 1513 and mainly untouched by the terrible earthquake that laid to ruin much of the rest of Lisbon in 1755. Today the ancient buildings and sites are home to many bars, restaurants and nightclubs making it one of the most vibrant places for nightlife but also a fashionable place to find exclusive Luxury hotels. As with any other city, just be sensible and take care with your personal belongings, but Lisbon's old town is quite safe and we recently spent a night sampling the bars with live Brazilian music returning back to our hotel at 3a.m.

3. The district of Chiado

Having survived the earthquake of 1755, much of Chiado was destroyed by the fire of 1988 but has since been restored. The bohemian Chiado is now regarded as the home of Lisbons artists and intellectuals as well as some of the more elegant shops and boutiques the city has to offer making Chiado the perfect neighbour to Bairro Alto. Chiado also has plenty of traditional shops, old style cafes and theatres.

4. The district of Alfama

Settled beneath the walls of the castle of St George, with its wonderful and complex array of narrow streets, white washed houses and stoned walkways and tiny squares, Lisbon's Alfama district is a delight and a must for photographers for not only its character, but views.

Surviving the 1755 earthquake Alfama seems to have gently refused to move on and most of its residents have lived there all their lives in rent controlled homes. This “village within a City” was settled by Romans and was a Jewish quarter in the 15th century although it was the Moors that gave it its name for the hot springs that were found there as “Al-hamman” means springs or thermal bath in Arabic. The Moors also were responsible for the web of little streets which were difficult to attack, but are now such a delight.

5. The district of Belem

To some extent I wonder if we should offer an apology for writing about yet another district of Lisbon? Then again Belem is perhaps the most beautiful quarter. Nestling on the banks of the Tagus river, West of the centre and home to the Lisbon monument to the discoveries, the monastery of Jeronimos, the Maritime museum, the Lisbon Planetarium and the Lisbon's coach museum to mention a few more of this bustling cities attractions, Belem is a popular Sunday morning destination even if it's just for a stroll in the sunshine.

6. Museum's

N.B. Most museums in Lisbon are closed on Mondays.

Your city break to Lisbon wouldn't be complete without a visit to one of its museums and whilst there is perhaps as many as 28, the maritime museum in the Belem district is one of the most visited with its 2 original 18th century ceremonial barges that were in constant use for almost two hundred years.

Set in the West wing of Jeronimos Monastery in the Belem district, the museum is managed by the Portuguese navy and the museums own history dates back to King Luis of Portugal (1838 – 1889), who being a navigator himself, started a collection of artefacts preserving Portugal's maritime history.

Consolidated and opened (or is it inaugurated) in its current location in 1963 the maritime museum has a total of some seventeen thousand displays and includes scale models and historical paintings as well as the famous “Santa Cruz” sea plane – the first plane to cross the Atlantic in 1922 and much, much more.

7. St Georges Castle

St Georges Castle

Towering over Lisbon, St Georges can be seen from most parts of the city and its origins date back to the 6th century. Captured from the Moors in 1147 by King Afonso 1st (commonly known as Afonson Henriques) it was dedicated to St George when European crusaders helped King Afonso capture the castle on their way to the Holy Land and passed the legend of the English knight who slay a dragon to save a young virgin.

Remaining intact in the castle are some beautiful gardens, a small church, houses and many view points over the city including 18 towers where one can walk over the ramparts or wander past the statue of Afonso the 1st and see the peacocks by the centuries old cannon.

View from St Georges Castle

The visitors centre inside the castle called the interpretation centre of Olisiponia houses a multimedia presentation of Lisbon's history. Olisipo means City of Ulysses because there is a legend whereby a Greek navigator named the city.

In the Tower of Ulysses there is a periscope or the “Camara Escura” that was invented by Leonardo da Vinci, which offers the most wonderful views over the Lisbon.



8. Palaces

We make no apology for our recommendation of a visit to the Fronteira Palace. True there are other palaces in Lisbon such as the Belem (smaller and 100 years older), Sao Bento – (the current seat of the Portuguese parliament) and the Ajuda (a spectacular homage to Portugal's past wealth), but Fronteira, built in 17th century has to be one of the most beautiful properties in Portugal, let alone Lisbon.

Still privately owned its wonderful rooms have the most beautiful tile work in the famous “Portuguese” blue on white and the “Hall of Battles” which has been referred to as the Sistine Chapel of tile work, is just breathtaking. Even then though, the gardens will make you draw breath - formal with fountains, statues and more tile work showing hunting, battle and religious scenes: If you only have time to see one historic building, this is it.

9. Lisbon's Parks and gardens

Ok, there are lots of them, from the largest Edward VII, (named after the visit from Britain's King Edward who reaffirmed Britain's treaty of enduring peace and friendship with Portugal in 1903) to the “Miradouro de Sao Pedro De Alantara” – a tilled (almost) terrace like oasis at the top of the Bairro Alto with spectacular views over Lisbon to St Georges castle. The park has a map made of tiles showing buildings of note in Lisbon and the lower part, busts of mythological heroes and gods from Roman times. But for the boy in all the men, walk down the hill from the Miradouro de Sao Pedro De Alantara to find;

10. Lisbon's Funicular Railway

Aside and slightly down the hill from the Miradouro de Sao Pedro De Alantara is the top of the Gloria Elevator; a funicular railway that has been rattling up and down between the Bairro Alto and the city centre since 1885, which will put a smile on most boy's faces – and that is our top ten things to do in Lisbon.

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