There is just something about Lisbon. The sun-kissed city set against the Atlantic Ocean, recently named one of the best European destinations to visit in 2013, just draws you in. While visiting Lisbon recently I tried to pinpoint the city’s allure.
Elegant without being pretentious, Europe’s 2nd oldest capital, which is spread over several hillsides and overlooks the Tagus River, is an intoxicating mix of old and new that allows you to feel and see the history of Lisbon.
I spent most of my time walking, wandering and navigating my way up the hills and through the maze of narrow streets, which, despite the various forms of public transportation – including the bee-yellow trams that take you on thrilling roller coaster-like ride through Lisbon’s old neighborhoods – was the best way to discover the city’s charms.
I stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon, which, sits on top of one of the city’s seven hills and provided spectacular views over the Eduardo VII Park and Castelo of São Jorge. It’s also within walking distance of the historic old town, Alfama. This working-class neighborhood survived the 1755 earthquake that decimated other parts of the city and because of its medieval alleys and panoramic views from the balconies on Miradoura das Portas do Sol and Miradouro de Santa Luzia it is one of the most popular areas for visitors.
Also in Alfama is the imposing Castelo of São Jorge, with its millennium-old walls, Lisbon’s oldest building the Cathedral, and the magnificent 16th century monastery, São Vincente de Fora Church.
Belem, another of Lisbon’s must-see neighborhoods, was the starting point for some of the world’s most notable overseas expeditions and where you’ll find Portugal’s national landmark and symbol of the Age of Discovery, the Belém Tower.
This Four-storys tall and made up of numerous towers and turrets, the tower was built in 1515 and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage monument. It’s possible to climb the steep and narrow stairs to the top of the tower, but even if you choose not too, the tower is definitely worth seeing.
Not far from the Belém Tower is the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument of the Discoveries), another monument inspired by 15th and 16th century explorations.
The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos is another must-see sight in Belém. The awesome monastery complex was built in 1502 on the site where Vasco da Gama and his crew spent their last in prayer before leaving for India and to commemorate the voyage, it is also where the explorer is entombed.
The architectural style of the monastery became known as Manueline, a style of art that used elaborate sculptural details and maritime motifs to glorify the great discoveries of the age.
While I was in Belém I “discovered” Lisbon’s famous pastry, pastel de nata. You can get this custard tart anywhere in Lisbon, but I was told that the best ones are at Antiga Confeitaria de Belem, a.k.a. the Pastéis de Belém, where legend has it they were baked for the first time more than 200 years ago by the nuns at Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, which is next to the pastry shop.
After enjoying several of these tasty treats while I was in Lisbon, I was glad I’d run a half-marathon and walked some of city’s famous hills.
Have you ever been to Lisbon? What was your impression of the city?