Lisbon – Part 1: The Neighbourhoods

In November, we finished our Portugal trip with ten great days in Lisbon. We travelled by train from Coimbra – and although the departure was 3 hours late, the rest of the journey to the Oriente train station went smoothly. From there, it was a quick metro ride and a short walk to the Lumen Hotel. This new hotel was great and our executive suite was wonderful.

The hotel was located in the upper modern city north of the historic core, a few blocks from the grand Marquès de Pombal roundabout. The statue honours Pombal, who rebuilt downtown Lisbon after the devastating earthquake and resulting fires and tsunami in 1755.

Stretching uphill from Pombal is the well-designed and manicured Eduardo VII park.

In the other direction, the Avenida da Liberdade, a broad boulevard lined by high-end shops, leads down toward the river. The sidewalk in the centre shows off one of the characteristic black and white cobbled patterns that are uniquely Portuguese. It is a great way to stroll down to the historic areas and to stop for a coffee from one of Lisbon’s quiosques.

Greater Lisbon has close to three million people and many great neighbourhoods. The historic core includes three major areas: Baixa, Bairro Alto / Chiado and Alfama.

The Baixa, Lisbon’s historic downtown, is in a flat valley between two hills, sloping down from the Avenida da Liberdade to the waterfront. We enjoyed exploring the streets, many squares and great architecture.

Praça dos Restauradores
Rossio Square
Rossio Station
Rua Nova do Carvalho (a.k.a Pink Street) – apparently the most Instagrammed street in Lisbon. We just stopped by for the requisite photo.
Praça do Comércio – riverfront square, with statue of King José I
Arco da Rua Augusta – leads from the Praça do Comécio to the busy commercial Rua Augusta (crowded during the day with cruise ship tourists)

The Ingeja de São Domingos was dedicated in 1242, and then rebuilt from ruins after the 1755 earthquake. In 1959, the interior was ravaged with fire. It was closed until 1994 when it reopened but with visible signs of the fire remaining, giving it a very somber atmosphere. It is now one of Lisbon’s most active churches.

The Elevador de Santa Justa is a 150 foot tall iron elevator built in 1902 to link the Baixa with the upper town area of Bairro Alto and Chiado.

We didn’t stand in the line to ride the elevator, instead choosing to walk up the past the defunct funicular and some great street art.

The Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara viewpoint sits at the edge of the hill and offers a vista view of Lisbon.

The Bairro Alto (high town) is crisscrossed by a grid of narrow, old-world streets where people go about their day by day lives.

The charm of the Bairro Alto fades into the trendy Chiado district. In this busy area, you find Rua Garrett with it’s mosaic sidewalks and iron work balconies, an iconic café, a venerable bookstore and the National Theatre.

Café A Brasileiro – opened in 1905

The Alfama neighbourhood sits on the hill opposite the Bairro Alto. This was the sailor’s quarter and is topped by São Jorge Castle, the highest point in Lisbon. The castle dates back to the 11th century and apparently, the interior is a stark empty shell. We chose to pass through the castle gate and wander through the Castle town, but not to visit the interior.

The Miradouro das Portas do Sol terrace offers amazing views and another Quiosque for coffee. Note that this is to the back and left of the church and is much less crowded and more scenic than the terrace that sits next to the front of the church.

We strolled down from castle through the winding streets of the Alfama, enjoying a look at the colourful neighbourhood.

One afternoon, we hopped on a ferry to cross the Rio Tejo to the small town of Cacilhas. The guide books stated this was a fun fishing village but we found it somewhat of a disappointment as there was no real evidence of a fishing industry and it wasn’t particularly picturesque. It did, however, offer great views of Lisbon across the river and glimpses of the Cristo Reí statue.

An easy metro ride takes you to the Gare do Oriente and the Parque das Naçöes. This was the home to Expo ‘98 and you can still see signs of the event – flags of the nations, mascot statues, promenade, etc. It is a lovely space to wander about. There are multiple bars and restaurants and I imagine it’s very busy on hot summer days! The area also includes a large concert hall, an oceanarium and Lisbon’s top shopping mall, the Vasca da Gama Mall.

The Ponte Vasca da Gama stretches 17.2 kilometres across the Rio Tejo and is Europe’s longest bridge.

Ponte Vasca da Gama

The Belém district is about 5 miles west of downtown Lisbon. This was where explorers set off in the Age of Discovery. We travelled there on trolley #15E – a fun way to see the sights as you go.

Stretching for 300 yards along the Belém waterfront is the Monastery of Jerónimos. The construction of the white limestone church and monastery began in 1501 and was completed one hundred years later. It is near the launch point of Vasco da Gama’s first journey – his tomb lies in the church.

The Torre de Belém was constructed in 1515 to protect Lisbon’s harbour. It was the last sight explorers saw when they left and a sign of celebration if they successfully returned.

The Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) was originally built for the 1940 World’s Fair, but was rebuilt in 1960 to honour the 500th anniversary of Prince Henry the Navigator’s death. The 170 foot concrete structure is in the shape of a sailing ship with Prince Henry at the helm, and navigators and explorers behind him. It sits at the edge of the Rio Tejo and is surrounded by a huge plaza. The plaza features a marble map of the world.

We thoroughly enjoyed visiting many of Lisbon’s neighbourhoods and know that we could delve deeper in these and other areas if we are fortunate enough to revisit Lisbon.

I will end our Portugal memories with a look at some fun things to do and great things to eat in Lisbon in a soon-to-come blog.

Thanks for reading!


Bev & Harvey

8 thoughts on “Lisbon – Part 1: The Neighbourhoods

  1. Thank you for the wonderful travelogue Bev and crew. Dan and I honeymooned in Portugal in Oct 1978. Only one day in Lisbon, obviously not near enough time. The rest was spent near Faro in the Algarve, and was a lovely (and cheap!) time. Safe travels

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bev

    Thank you for allowing me to travel with you vicariously as you provided in depth details and supporting photos. I enjoy reading and viewing your posts. Thanks for sharing!


    Liked by 1 person

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