10 Reasons to Visit Lisbon
In addition to the historic port of Belém and the old Moorish quarter of Alfama, what other attractions should you visit in Lisbon? Writer Claire Wrathall shares her suggestions for a visit to Portugal’s capital city.
Gulbenkian Museum: One Man’s Marvellous Legacy
At the heart of the Parque Eduoardo VII, the Gulbenkian Museum houses the collection of Armenian oil magnate and philanthropist Calouste Gulbenkian, whose tastes ranged from 15th-century Flemish masters (notably Rogier van der Weyden) to 169 pieces of Lalique Art Deco crystal, by way of Egyptian, Assyrian, Mesopotamian, Greek and Roman antiquities, not to mention galleries of Islamic, oriental and, of course, Armenian decorative arts.
Medeiros e Almeida Museum: An Essay in Connoisseurship
Medeiros e Almeida Museum, a fine 19th-century mansion that stands at 41 Rua Rosa Araújo, was home to Antonio de Medeiros e Almeida, a connoisseur of all things exquisite. His passion may have been Louis XIV and XV furniture, but his cosmopolitan collection also runs to porcelain (Chinese as well as Sèvres), French and Flemish tapestries, German and Russian (Fabergé) cigarette cases, Dutch paintings and English portraiture, which hang in a sequence of ever-more opulent panelled rooms.
Belém: Gateway to a New World
If one building can be said to symbolise Lisbon, it’s Tower of Belém, which guards the entrance to the port from which the explorer Vasco de Gama set sail in 1497 on the epic voyage that took him to Africa and India. This historic suburb is also home to the monastery of Jerónimos, which exemplifies Manueline architecture—a sort of highly ornate Portuguese Gothic filled with nautical references. Located nearby, Belém Fábrica dos Pastéis de Belém has served its delicious pastries since 1837.
Tile Museum: A Day on the Tiles
Perhaps the defining characteristic of Portuguese architecture is its use of tiles or azulejos. The Tile Museum in the cloisters of the 18th-century Madre de Deus convent traces their history from ancient Moorish styles to contemporary ones, though the tour-de-force exhibit is the 40-metre panorama of Lisbon’s cityscape as it looked in the 1730s. The place to buy tiles, incidentally, is Sant’Anna (Rua do Alecrim 95) in the Chiado district, which has been producing them since 1741.
Santa Justa Elevator: The High Line
Built in 1902 by Raoul de Mesnier du Ponsard, a pupil of Gustave Eiffel, Santa Justa Elevator connects one street, Rua Aurea in Baixa, with another, Largo do Carmo, which runs 45 metres above it. The ironwork elevator is worth the ride, not just for the engineering but the views, including the panorama from the upper-level café.
A Brasileira: Café Society
Founded in 1905 and frequented by the writers and poets Fernando Pessoa, Mário de Sá Carneiro and Almada Negreiros, A Brasileira is a landmark café at 120 Rua Garrett, close to Santa Justa Elevator, that not only serves great coffee but also has a superb Art Nouveau interior.
Alfama: A Walk Back in Time
The old Moorish quarter of Alfama is a maze of twisting lanes and alleys—much like a Kasbah—that descends from the Castle of Saint George. It’s also the centre of fado, the mournful music of the city; a spin around the Fado and Guitar Museum will give you a taste of it.
The Number 28 Tram: The Perfect City Tour
Lisbon is built on seven hills, and though antiquated, its tram system is not just a miracle of engineering but the most efficient way to tour the city. Route 28 runs from the Estrela Basilica up to the Bairro Alto (higher district), down to the Baixa, and up again past the Cathedral and the castle, taking you by all the key areas and sights in a short time.
Queluz National Palace: Rococo Architecture and Gardens
Queluz National Palace is an exquisite pink-painted 18th-century rococo royal palace amid equally ornamental formal gardens in the northwestern suburb of the city. The formal salons are stupendous, but perhaps the loveliest is the dressing room with its “spider’s web” ceiling.
Guincho Beach: Surf’s Up
Lisbon is on the Atlantic Coast, so of course there are beaches, though most of those closest to the city are overdeveloped. Guincho, close to Europe’s westernmost point and a popular surfing and windsurfing destination, is the one to head for. It has a vast stretch of sand pounded by mighty Atlantic breakers and a string of terrace restaurants serving seafood.
Long considered the finest hotel in the city and housed in an original César Ritz Hotel, Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon overlooks Eduardo VII Park.