Lisbon - Portugal's Small Yet Large Capital City
Visitors to Lisbon will be greeted by warm sunshine and warmer people. No travel guide is required to learn that fact. The reputation of the city's residents is too well known. But what tourists may not know is that this city on Europe's west coast is also home to more things to see and do than could possibly be seen and done in one short vacation.
By Donovan Baldwin
The city, not that large, with a population of only a little over half a million within its administrative boundry. sits on a land area of 84.8 square kilometers (33 sq mi). It is divided into several districts each with its own set of highlights. Though small when compared to national heavy-hitters such as New York, it is still an interesting city with attractions galore no matter where you go within it or in the surrounding area.
The Gulbenkian Museum, located at Av. de Berna 45A 1067-001 Lisboa Codex, is one of the most popular attractions in Lisbon, and it isn't incredibly hard to figure out why this is. It's filled with some of the finest art anywhere in the world. It may be less well known than the Musée D'Orsay in Paris, but it's just as deserving of praise. Whether your taste runs to Egyptian masks or Japanese screens, or the best Rembrandt portraits, there's something at the Gulbenkian Museum to please a visitor to the city or even a jaded citizen...if there is such a person in Lisbon!
The Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon's Museum of Ancient Art at Rua das Janelas Verdes 1249 - 017 Lisboa, is equally worth a visit. Popularly known as the MNAA. The MNAA offers a wide selection of sculpture, drawings and much much more ranging in eras from the Middle Ages to the early 19th century.
When you get tired of the peaceful ambiance of a museum you will have no problem finding something a little more lively in Lisbon. Just head out to one of the many delightful fado clubs. Once you find one you like, you can be serenaded with a soulful tune as you enjoy a fine meal. You may happen to be in the old Moorish Alfama neighborhood. On the other hand, you might find yourself in the 16th century Bairro Alto, Lisbon's central area. In the Bairro Alto, not only will you see beautiful architecture there, you will also discover a segment of the city which is full of local artists. No matter where you are in this pocket-sized major city, you'll find a club that offers the sights, the food, and the music that has come to symbolize Lisbon.
If, after all that, you manage to get out of bed early on a Saturday morning, turn your feet to the Fiera da Ladra. The Portugese name actually means "Thieves Market", but, don't worry, you won't get ripped off there. In fact, you'll find so many interesting items your only real concern will be how to haul all the stuff back home.
Once you've made it back to the hotel and stashed your booty, head back out to one of Lisbon's many monuments to its glorious seafaring past. This nation has a history of ocean traveling traders and boasts proudly of heroes like Vasco da Gama, Magellan, Henry the Navigator and many other well and lesser known seafarers. Their exploits are well honored at the Discoveries Monument, which is easily discovered in the Belem section of the city.
While visiting Santa Maria de Belém, its full name, you need to check out the Monastery of the Hieronymites, the home for the Hieronymite religious order, which was built in 1459. You will find that even the religious buildings in this city echo Lisbon's maritime culture, as the cloister is festooned with beautifully carved sea monsters, coiled ropes and more. Many visitors to the cloister find themselves in a place of peace and tranquility. Somehow, in that place, the troubles of the world take second...or even third...place.
No visit to this area is complete without a visit to the nearby Belém Tower. Completed in 1515 as a fortress to guard Lisbon's harbor, it is the site from where many of those aforementioned Portugese explorers departed.
As with many other cities of the world, Lisbon has a fine zoo. It is not far from the Jardim Botanico which is the setting for many prehistoric plants. In the adjoining facility is a natural history museum which is well worth a look, too.
You cannot leave the city without spending some time at the famous Coach Museum. Even those who believe themselves uninterested in the horse drawn forms of royal transportation from the 17th century will find these beliefs being tested. The coach museum offers a look into Portugal's royal past that will impress even lovers of modern Ferraris and Beamers.
Saint George's Castle (Castelo de São Jorge), a Moorish castle overlooking the city and the Rio Tejo, and one of the oldest structures in this centuries-old city, lies just up the hill. Visitors will come away with a new appreciation for Portugal's architectural achievements.
That same architectural heritage can also be seen in the Lisbon Cathedral, one of the earliest buildings erected after King Alfonso Henriques expelled the Moors in 1147.
Speaking of that historical era, you can get a view of what the Moors left behind by visiting Sintra, which lies only a half-hour outside the city. An easy trip by bus, train or rented car, this Moorish Castle, as well as the Palácio Nacional de Pena will make the trip well worthwhile. While there, soak up some of the local nightlife at one of the internationally popular clubs.
I can honestly say that if you visit Lisbon, you will probably leave disappointed...not for what you found, but for what you leave behind.