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Tour description

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon bears the mark of an incredible heritage with laid-back pride. Spread over a string of seven hills north of the Rio Tejo (Tagus River) estuary, the city also presents an intriguing variety of faces to those who negotiate its switchback streets. In the oldest neighborhoods stepped alleys are lined with pastel-color houses and crossed by laundry hung out to dry; here and there miradouros (vantage points) afford spectacular river or city views. In the grand 18th-century center, black-and-white mosaic cobblestone sidewalks border wide boulevards. Elétricos (trams) clank through the streets, and blue-and-white azulejos (painted and glazed ceramic tiles) adorn churches, restaurants, and fountains. Some modernization has improved the city. To prepare for its role as host of the World Exposition in 1998, Lisbon spruced up its public buildings, overhauled its metro system, and completed an impressive bridge across the Rio Tejo, but Lisbon's intrinsic, slightly disorganized, one-of-a-kind charm hasn't vanished in the contemporary mix.


The center of Lisbon stretches north from the spacious Praça do Comércio-one of Europe's largest riverside squares-to the Rossío, a smaller square lined with shops and cafés. The district in between is known as the Baixa (lower town), an attractive grid of parallel streets built after the 1755 earthquake and tidal wave. The Alfama, the old Moorish quarter that survived the earthquake, lies east of the Baixa. In this part of town are the Sé (the city's cathedral) and, on the hill above, the Castelo de São Jorge (St. George's Castle).

West of the Baixa, sprawled across another Lisbon hill, is the Bairro Alto (Upper Town), an area of intricate 17th-century streets, peeling houses, and churches. Five kilometers (3 miles) farther west is Belém. A similar distance to the northeast is Lisbon's postmodernist Parque das Nações.

The modern city begins at Praça dos Restauradores, adjacent to the Rossío. From here the main Avenida da Liberdade stretches northwest to the landmark Praça Marquês de Pombal, dominated by a column and a towering statue of the man himself. The praça is bordered by the green expanse of the Parque Eduardo VII, named in honor of King Edward VII of Great Britain, who visited Lisbon in 1902.

Igreja e Museu de São Roque. Filippo Terzi, the architect who designed São Vicente, was also responsible for this Renaissance church. He was commissioned by Jesuits and completed the church in 1574. Its eight-sides chapels have statuary and art dating from the early 17th century. The last chapel on the left before the altar is the extraordinary 18th-century Capela de São João Baptista (Chapel of St. John the Baptist): designed and built in Rome, with rare stones and mosaics that resemble oil paintings, the chapel was taken apart, shipped to Lisbon, and reassembled here in 1747. Adjoining the church, the Museu de São Roque displays a surprisingly engaging collection of clerical vestments and liturgical objects. Largo Trindade Coelho, Bairro Alto. Admission charged.

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. Conceived and commissioned by Dom Manuel I, who petitioned the Holy See for permission to build it in 1496, Belém's famous Jerónimos Monastery was financed largely by treasures brought back from Africa, Asia, and South America. Construction began in 1502 under the supervision of Diogo de Boitaca. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a supreme example of the Manueline style of building (named after King Dom Manuel I), which represented a marked departure from the prevailing Gothic. Inside, the spacious interior contrasts with the riot of decoration on the six nave columns and complex latticework ceiling. This is the resting place of both explorer Vasco de Gama and national poet Luís de Camões. Praça do Império, Belém. Admission charged.

Museu Calouste Gulbenkian. On its own lush grounds, the museum of the celebrated Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, a cultural trust, houses treasures collected by Armenian oil magnate Calouste Gulbenkian (1869-1955) and donated to Portugal in return for tax concessions. The collection is split in two: one part is devoted to Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Islamic, and Asian art and the other to European acquisitions. Both holdings are relatively small, but the quality of the pieces is magnificent, and you should aim to spend at least two hours here. In the gardens outside the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian at Centro de Arte Moderna, sculptures hide in every recess. You may want to spend a little time here before following signs to the Modern Art Center-the 20th-century art collection of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, which has at its disposal the finest collection of contemporary and modern Portuguese art, as well as many British works from the same period-a legacy of the foothold the foundation retains in London. Av. de Berna 45, Praça de Espanha. Admission charged.

Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga. On the route from the center of Lisbon to Belém is the Ancient Art Museum, the only institution in the city to approach the status of the Gulbenkian. Housed in a 17th-century palace once owned by the Counts of Alvor and vastly enlarged in 1940 when it took over the Convent of St. Albert, the museum has a beautifully displayed collection of Portuguese art-mainly from the 15th through 19th century. The religious works of the Flemish-influenced Portuguese school stand out, especially Nuno Gonçalves' masterpiece, the St. Vincent Panels. Painted between 1467 and 1470, the altarpiece has six panels believed to show the patron saint of Lisbon receiving the homage of king, court, and citizens (although there are other theories). Trams 15 and 18 from Praça do Comércio drop you at the foot of a steep flight of steps below the museum. Otherwise, Buses 727 from Praça Marquês de Pombal, 60 from Praça Martim Moniz, and 713 from Praça do Comércio run straight to Rua das Janelas Verdes; coming from Belém, you can pick the 727 up across from the Jerónimos monastery. Rua das Janelas Verdes, Lapa. Admission charged.

Oceanário de Lisboa. Europe's largest indoor aquarium wows children and adults alike with a vast saltwater tank featuring an array of fish, including several types of shark. Along the way you pass through habitats representing the North Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans, where puffins and penguins dive into the water, sea otters roll and play, and tropical birds flit past you. You then descend to the bottom of the tank to watch rays float past gracefully and schools of silvery fish darting this way and that. Esplanada D. Carlos I (Doca dos Olivais), Parque das Nações. Admission charged.

Padrão dos Descobrimentos. The white, monolithic Monument of the Discoveries was erected in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator. It was built on what was the departure point for many voyages of discovery, including those of Vasco da Gama for India and-during Spain's occupation of Portugal-of the Spanish Armada for England in 1588. Henry is at the prow of the monument, facing the water; lined up behind him are the Portuguese explorers of Brazil and Asia, as well as other national heroes, including Luís de Camões the poet, who can be recognized by the book in his hand. On the ground adjacent to the monument, an inlaid map shows the extent of the explorations undertaken by the 15th- and 16th-century Portuguese sailors. Walk inside and take the elevator to the top for river views. There are also 15- and 30-minute films about Lisbon's history. Av. de Brasília, Belém. Admission charged.

Pavilhão do Conhecimento. The white, angular, structure designed by architect Carrilho de Graça for the Expo seems the perfect place to house the Knowledge Pavilion, or Living Science Centre, as it's also known. All of the permanent and temporary exhibits here are related to math, science, and technology; most are also labeled in English (a manual is available for the few that aren't), and all are interactive. Alamada dos Oceanos, Lote 2.10.01, Parque das Nações. Admission charged.

Praça Marquês de Pombal. Dominating the center of Marquês de Pombal Square is a statue of the marquis himself, the man who designed the "new" Lisbon that emerged after the 1755 earthquake. On the statue's base are representations of both the earthquake and the tidal wave that engulfed the city; a female figure with outstretched arms signifies the joy at the emergence of the refashioned city.

Praça dos Restauradores. This square, adjacent to Rossio train station, marks the beginning of modern Lisbon. Here the broad, tree-lined Avenida da Liberdade starts its northwesterly ascent. Restauradores means "restoration," and the square commemorates the 1640 uprising against Spanish rule that restored Portuguese independence. An obelisk (raised in 1886) commemorates the event. Note the elegant 18th-century Palácio Foz on the square's west side. Before World War I, it contained a casino; today it houses a national tourist office, the tourist police, and a shop selling reproductions from the country's state museums.

Torre de Belém. The openwork balconies and domed turrets of the fanciful Belém Tower make it perhaps the country's purest Manueline structure. It was built between 1514 and 1520 on what was an island in the middle of the Rio Tejo, to defend the port entrance, and dedicated to St. Vincent, the patron saint of Lisbon. Today the chalk-white tower stands near the north bank-evidence of the river's changing course. Cross the wood gangway and walk inside, not so much to see the plain interior but rather to climb the steps to the very top for a bird's-eye view of river and city. Av. de Brasília, Belém. Admission charged.


Although fire destroyed much of Chiado, Lisbon's smartest shopping district, in 1988, a good portion of the area has been restored. The neighborhood has a large new shopping complex as well as many small stores with considerable cachet, particularly on and around Rua Garrett. The Baixa's grid of streets from the Rossío to the Rio Tejo have many small shops selling jewelry, shoes, clothing, and foodstuffs. The Bairro Alto is full of little crafts shops with stylish, contemporary goods. Excellent stores continue to open in the residential districts north of the city, at Praça de Londres and Avenida de Roma. Most of Lisbon's antiques shops are in the Rato and Bairro Alto districts along one long street, which changes its name four times as it runs southward from Largo do Rato: Rua Escola Politécnica, Rua Dom Pedro V, Rua da Misericórdia, and Rua do Alecrim.

Handmade goods, such as leather handbags, shoes, gloves, embroidery, ceramics, linens, and basketwork, are sold throughout the city. Apart from top designer fashions and high-end antiques, prices are moderate.

Antiquália. This shop is packed with furniture, chandeliers, and porcelain. Praça Luís de Camões 37, Chiado.

Vista Alegre. Portugal's most famous porcelain producer, Vista Alegre, established its factory in 1824. A visit to the flagship store is a must even though you can buy perfect reproductions of their original table services and ornaments at dozens of shops. There are also seven other Vista Alegre-owned stores in the city, including those at the Colombo, Amoreiras, and Vasco da Gama malls. Largo do Chiado 20-23, Chiado.

Lisbon Matching Cruises : 7 voyages  
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