I must be completely honest with you: I didn’t expect much from my trip to Lisbon (and maybe this is the reason I visited this country only now). I knew that the city was devastated by the earthquake and tsunami in 1755, many important buildings were destroyed, and the city never returned to its original glory after that. How little did I know! I fell in love with Lisbon almost immediately, and now it’s one of my favourite European capitals. I’ve prepared a guide for you that would allow you to see Lisbon through my eyes (however I must note that my guide doesn’t include the museums of Lisbon and almost none of Portuguese dishes – and this is an important part of its cultural life and heritage).
This article is part two of my guide to Lisbon, check the first part too!
16. Explore the Church of São Vicente de Fora
The Church and Monastery of St. Vincent on the Outside, or Igreja e Mosteiro de São Vicente de Fora, the construction of which started in 1582 is clearly seen from the Portas Do Sol viewpoint, but it is also worth a closer visit. It’s been a very important religious building for the Portuguese nation for centuries, and it contains the royal pantheon of the Bragança (last Portuguese dynasty) royal family where almost all the monarchs are buried. In addition, the Church of São Vicente de Fora also attracts tourists by its terrace and beautiful azulejo tiles covering the walls – there are 100 thousands of tiles in total – including Galeria das Fábulas (Gallery of Fables) of La Fontaine.
17. Find something special at Feira da Ladra
Feira da Ladra is a famous flea market in Lisbon whose name is translated as The Market of thieves. It has been moving around the city since the 13th century and finally had a seat at Campo de Santa Clara where it is now only a bit more than a century ago. Stroll around – and who knows what you’ll find there! Feira da Ladra is open on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
18. Read Fernando Pessoa’s poetry at Cafe a Brasileira
Fernando Pessoa (1888 – 1935), my favourite Portuguese poet, was born in Lisbon and after spending some time abroad with his mother and her second husband, has returned to Lisbon. He’s been known for spending a lot of time at Cafe a Brasileira, a gorgeous historical place with a great selection of pastries and known for its – obviously – coffee. His bronze statue is now located in front of the cafe. Don’t miss your chance to pay it a visit – but be aware that it might get really busy!
19. Have a look at Chafariz d’el-Rei
Chafariz d’el-Rei, or the King’s fountain, near Campo das Cebolas might not look its best now but it has been a really important place for Lisbon for centuries. It’s the oldest fountain with drinking water in the city that was built in the 13th century around a natural spring. The current outlook dates back to the mid-19th century. On the top of it you can notice a splendid Palacete Chafariz D’el Rei, a bright building created in Brazilian Art Nouveau style which hosts a hotel.
Have a look at how it looked in the 16th century on the painting of an unknown Flemish painter!
20. Visit museum of The Ajuda national palace
After the notorious earthquake the royal family needed a new residence, and it’s been decided to build a palace on the Ajuda hill. Initially it was a wooden construction that unfortunately burnt down in 1794, and only after that a current building in the mixture of baroque and neoclassical styles was erected. Since the royal family left for Brazil to escape Napoleon’s invasion, the Palácio Nacional da Ajuda has never reached its full splendour up until 1861 only to be closed again in 1910 following the revolution’s events. It reopened in 1968 as a museum, and you can visit some parts of it now as a tourist.
21. Take a peek at Ajuda Botanical garden
Just near the Palace lies a splendid Ajuda Botanical Garden split into two levels, the oldest one in Portugal dating back to 1768. It was vandalised by the French in the 19th century but still has a large collection of plants brought from Portuguese naval expeditions from all over the globe.
Although a rare guide to Lisbon includes this botanical garden, I highly recommend you to pop in because it’s a very tranquil and beautiful location to stroll around which is clearly well looked after, and it has an absolutely fantastic fountain representing different fauna such as sea horses, snakes, frogs and other animals.
22. Get blinded by the interiors of Church of Saint Roch
Igreja de São Roque, or the Church of Saint Roch, is one of the earliest Jesuit churches dating back to the early 16th century and is definitely worth a visit. It was erected on a place where the plague cemetery was, and the city needed a place to keep the relics of St Roch, the patron saint of plague victims, which were sent from Venice. First it was a small shrine that later transformed into this huge church.
Although it looks very modest from the outside, its interiors are very lavish (it reminded me of the gold interiors of the churches in Quito, Ecuador!) with the most notable part being the Chapel of St. John the Baptist. I was also impressed by the creepy cherubs of the Chapel of the Most Holy Sacrament, and the paintings of this church are worth a museum exhibition. Now the Church of Saint Roch is a part of the Holy House of Mercy located nearby.
23. Eat some Pastel de nata
Although, as I mentioned, this blog is not about food, the Pastéis de Belém at Antiga Confeitaria de Belém dating back to 1837 is not just food, it’s a historical heritage. Those delicious custard tarts were invented by monks from Jerónimos Monastery (actually, lot’s of monks’ and nuns’ pastries contain eggs in Portugal), and the recipe is still kept secret! You might be frightened by the crowds gathering outside the place but they serve the freshly made tarts to go really quickly providing you with the powdered sugar and cinnamon to go too. Read more about Portuguese cuisine here!
24. Shop at the Avenida da Liberdade
Avenida da Liberdade, or the Avenue of Liberty, is probably the most chic boulevard of Lisbon. Once a passage through a park, now it’s a wide avenue with lanes for transport and pedestrian areas. If you’re looking for the high-end shopping in the Portugal capital, don’t hesitate to head there as Gucci, Prada, Cartier, Bulgari and all other luxury brands are waiting for you there. If you’re not in the mood, explore the monument to the Marquis of Pombal, famous governor of Lisbon in the 18th century, Monument to World War I, and Eduardo VII Park.
25. Cross the Rossio
Praça Dom Pedro IV, or the Rossio Square, is the second most important square of Lisbon located in Baixa district not too far away from the Commerce Square and is a must in every guide to Lisbon. It’s very lively with the Column of king Pedro IV staying high in the middle of it, fountains and shops and restaurants including famous Café Nicola) framing it from three sides.
The Neoclassical building on the fourth – northern – side of it is the National Theatre of Dona Maria II which takes us back in time to another page of Lisbon history because it’s been erected on a place where the Estaus Palace, used as the main building of the Portuguese Inquisition. Thus, Rossio square from time to time witnessed public executions and auto-da-fé including burning heretics alive (it wasn’t used as frequently as in Spain but it existed in Portugal too). Quite a different picture from what we see now isn’t it?
26. Explore the National Pantheon
The 17th-century National Pantheon (Panteão Nacional), former Church of Santa Engrácia, located a short walk from the Church of São Vicente de Fora. The construction took so long that the phrase obras de Santa Engrácia (works of Santa Engrácia) became used to describe something that takes ages to build. According to the legend, the church that stood on this place previously was desecrated by the robbery, and an innocent Jew (as it frequently happened during human history) was found guilty. It is said, before being prosecuted for a deed he never did, he cursed that place telling that a new church erected there would never be finished.
Apart from being a really gorgeous architectural landmark, National Pantheon plays a role of final burial for many notable Portugueses such as writers, artists, politicians. The cenotaphs of many historical figures are there as well, for instance to the poet Luís de Camões and the great characters of the Age of Discoveries Pedro Álvares Cabral, Vasco da Gama and Henry the Navigator I’ve mentioned before.
27. Depart from Rossio Railway Station
The Rossio Railway Station is a working train station near the Rossio square but this really is a piece of art. Its impressive facade is made in Neo-Manueline style and the platforms are covered by a cast-iron roof. If you go to Sintra by train, this would be the place from where you depart.
28. Spot some street art made from trash
Walking around Lisbon, you might notice that on some houses there are some usual pieces of art representing animals made from trash. The artist behind this project is Arturo Bordalo, or as he calls himself, Bordalo II. In his art he combines nature and the materials that destroy it: human waste that was left unrecycled.
29. Say hi to the 25 de Abril Bridge
Finally, one of the ultimate points of my guide is the 25th of April Bridge (Ponte 25 de Abril) which you probably see at least twice from a plane: when you arrive and when you leave the city. It’s a suspension bridge 2,277 metres long opened in 1966 that connects two banks of the Tagus river. Initially it was named after Portuguese Prime Minister António de Oliveira Salazar as the Salazar Bridge but then, in 1974, was renamed to commemorate the Carnation Revolution.
Finishing my guide to Lisbon on…
30. Spot the Christ the King statue
When you look at the 25 de Abril Bridge, it’s very hard to miss the giant statue of The Christ the King overlooking the Tagus river and Lisbon from across the stream. The overall height of the statue with the platform is about 110 metres. The monument was inspired by the Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and was erected as a gratitude that Portugal had not been involved in WWII directly.
Hope you liked my guide to Lisbon!