This was our second major "destination target" for our 2018 trip to Europe; neither of us had ever been here before, we have Portuguese immediate family members & relatives, and we wanted to explore everything we could! Lisbon is the capital and the largest city of Portugal, with an estimated population of 508,368 within its administrative limits in an area of 100.05 square kilometers. Lisbon's urban area extends beyond the city's administrative limits with a population of around 2.0 million people, being the 10th-most populous urban area in the European Union. About 2.8 million people live in the Lisbon metropolitan area, which represents approximately 27% of the country's population. It is mainland Europe's westernmost capital city and the only one along the Atlantic coast. Lisbon lies in the western Iberian Peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean and the River Tagus. The westernmost portions of its metro area, the Portuguese Riviera, form the westernmost point of Continental Europe, culminating at Cabo da Roca.
Besides our Portugal visit motivations due to family heritage, here are some other incredible reasons why we wanted to visit Lisbon;
- The climate is perfect; Perched on the western edge of Europe, Lisbon is the continent’s sunniest capital city, boasting an average of 2,799 hours of sunshine a year, beating out Athens, which has 2,771 hours of sun a year.
- It’s a foodie’s paradise; Nobody anywhere does custard tarts (or pastel de natas, as they’re called here) quite like Portugal. And perhaps nowhere in Portugal does them as well as Pasteis de Belém in Lisbon, which is why queues for the sweet, rich and perfectly crisp tarts often stretch out the door and down the street.
- It offers stunning views.
- It’s an architectural melting pot.
- It opens into the broad River Tagus; the longest river on the Iberian Peninsula.
- Beaches are just half an hour away.
Ponte 25 de Abril Suspension Bridge
Image # 1 was the view of the famous suspension bridge from our apartment window in Belém, Portugal. Image # 2 (right) was taken from just west of the Belem Tower as we walked along the Tagus River walkway.
The suspension bridge closely resembles the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The comparison is correct as the consortium that constructed the American bridge also constructed Ponte 25 de Abril. The Tagus River flows down from Lisbon all the way into Spain in the area of Toledo. Click here to view the Wiki Page for the Tagus River.
Once we unloaded our rental car and got settled into the apartment, we began our explorations of Lisbon!
The 25th of April Bridge ("Ponte 25 de Abril") Quick History Lesson:
This suspension bridge connects the city of Lisbon to the municipality of Almada on the left (south) bank of the Tagus river. It was inaugurated on August 6, 1966, and a train platform was added in 1999. It is often compared to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco because they are both suspension bridges of similar color. It was built by the American Bridge Company which constructed the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge, but not the Golden Gate. With a total length of 2,277 metres (7,470 ft), it is the 32nd largest suspension bridge in the world. The upper deck carries six car lanes, while the lower deck carries a double track railway electrified at 25 kV AC. Until 1974, the bridge was named Salazar Bridge. The name "25 de Abril" commemorates the Carnation Revolution.Click here to view the full Wikipedia Article where the above information came from.
Pastéis de Belém
Our rental condo was approximately one kilometer from this incredible pastry shop. It
has been named the most reviewed eatery in the world by TripAdvisor — and it will only cost you
less than £1 to find out why so many travellers flock to it. We ate breakfast here every morning we
were in Lisbon, and everything we had was very tasty! Their espresso was also quite good, and it was
the best possible drink to have with your pastry. Click the link below to go to their website.
NOTE: Both of these images are the property of Pastéis de Belém
Click here to view a Google Images set for Pastéis de Belém shop.
This entire area of Belém is very walkable & pretty. The Monastery
is immediately across the street from the Jardim da Praça do Império, and the Belém Tower
is approximately one kilometer west of the park. Our VRBO apartment rental was 1.1
kilometers behind the Monastery near the Palácio da Calheta museum.
The Tagus River is approximately 1/2 kilometer south of the Monastery, with the Jardim da Praca in between the two.
NOTE: Click here to go to the Jerónimos Monastery website.
NOTE: Click here to go to the Jardim da Praça do Império Wikipedia page.
The Monastery also just happens to be practically "next door" to the Pastéis de Belém bakery, which makes the most incredible Pastéis de nata!
Lisbon Transportation Systems
There are a variety of public transportation methods in Lisbon, here is one of their tram cars, which are very popular with everyone. The red Tram Cars will take you on a "Lisbon hills tour", but it was crowded and this particular day was warm. So we decided on other transportation methods.
Speaking of the Alfama District, after our Tuk-Tuk tour had completed, we came to the Alfama and strolled through the narrow streets and eventually ate lunch there (image # 2 on the right). The district has many small shops & interesting locations for one to explore.
Click here to read a good article about the Alfama District.
Note: there are red trams and there are yellow trams. The Remodelado trams are the quaint yellow trams that rattle and screech through the narrow streets of Lisbon, and the most scenic route is the E28, which crosses the Alfama district.
An individual day pass currently costs €6.40 and allows unlimited travel over a 24-hour period on the entire bus, tram and metro network (€10.55 if you want to include Comboios de Portugal as well). If you're going to take more than five trips on the bus or metro on any given day, this is the best and easiest choice.
For a thorough description of the Lisbon public transportation systems and how to utilize them, click here for a good article at Trip Savvy.
Arco da Rua Augusta
The Arco da Rua Augusta: is located in front of the Praça do Comércio, a very large plaza. It also serves as an entrance to the downtown commercial shopping area which is pedestrian-only, and contains a number of stores.
Baixa, or downtown Lisbon, is the heart of the city. It's the main shopping and banking district that stretches from the riverfront to the main avenue (Avenida da Liberdade), with streets named according to the shopkeepers and craftsmen who traded in the area. It was completely rebuilt after the Great Earthquake of 1755, with streets flanked by uniform, neoclassical buildings. This was Europe's first great example of neoclassical design and urban planning, and one of the finest European architectural achievements of the age (it's currently being considered to be listed as a World Heritage Site).
Comercio Square: It opens onto Rua Augusta through the Arco da Rua Augusta arch (which on the Rua Augusta side has a clock with filigreed stone reliefs). This is a lively pedestrian street with mosaic pavements, outdoor cafés, international shops, and the occasional street artist and peddler.
Image #1 is the "city side" of the Rua Augusta Arch and if you click on that image, you will see that it is in the center of that picture. We had stopped during our walk to look back at the arch as we were window shopping.
The Cathedral's full name is "Cathedral of Saint Mary Major" (AKA "Sé de Lisboa"). As we walked up the Largo da Sé on our way up to Castle Saint George. We were finding out that the hills were relentlessly increasing in steepness and we were still quite a ways from the Castle.
As we arrived here at the Cathedral, we noticed that it seemed to be a place
where all the tuk-tuk drivers would park and wait for customers. A beautiful location with the Church of St. Anthony of Lisbon on one side of the street and the Cathedral on the corner.
So we made the decision that it was a good location for us to switch from being "hikers" to "tuk-tuk passengers".
Click here to view the Cathedral's Wikipedia Page.
Image # 2 is the property of the Lisbon Website.
Riding the Tuk-Tuks
So we spoke to one of the Tuk-Tuk drivers to see if he spoke English, found that he was fluent and we decided to hire this guy to take us to the places we wanted to see, with Castle St. George being the first desired stop (it is a very long walk up a very tall hill, see image # 2). The driver was fluent in 4 languages and knew Lisbon very well, so we found that we had made a good choice.
These tuk-tuk vehicles (think golf cart with a big back seat) have a decided advantage getting around on narrow streets that turn into long steep uphills - they turn easily & quickly, you can park them in very narrow spots and they can go anywhere!
As the tuk-tuk proceeded up the hill, we realized immediately that we had made a good choice as the hills were very steep and there was little or no parking anywhere near the Castle. The tuk-tuks were small enough to be able to park just about anywhere (including sidewalks) !
Views from Saint George Castle
Looking towards the Saint George Castle, which sits on one of the highest hills in Lisbon and provides a view of the Harbor and the city below.
From this distance, you might think that the hills surrounding the castle were not steep, but
I can guarantee you that they are in fact quite steep!
Click here for Map of the Castle
Lisbon is spread out in all directions from the Castle, so the views were excellent. Image # 2 is the view looking south from the Castle ramparts, and even though it was a bit hazy, you can see the bridge spanning the Tagus River.
The National Pantheon of Portugal, where many famous Portuguese people are immortalized, including Vasco de Gama. This was our next "Tuk-Tuk" tour stop, and again, the driver gave us non-stop & interesting descriptions of everything we drove by.
The building has a centralised floor plan, in a Greek cross shape. On each corner there is a square tower (the pinnacles were never completed), and the façades are undulated like in the baroque designs of Borromini. The main façade has an entrance hall (galilee) and three niches with statues. The entrance to the church is done through a beautiful baroque portal with the coat-of-arms of Portugal held by two angels.
Below the National Pantheon
This is a view of the area below the National Pantheon as seen from it's roof. Gives you a very good idea of the height (80 meters).
Pantheon Burial Vaults
This image displays some of the burial vaults in the Pantheon. The personalities entombed here include the Presidents of the Republic Manuel de Arriaga, Teófilo Braga, Sidónio Pais and Óscar Carmona, Presidential candidate Humberto Delgado, writers João de Deus, Almeida Garrett, Guerra Junqueiro, Aquilino Ribeiro and Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, fado singer Amália Rodrigues, and footballer Eusébio. There are cenotaphs to Luís de Camões, Pedro Álvares Cabral, Afonso de Albuquerque, Nuno Álvares Pereira, Vasco da Gama and Henry the Navigator.
Lisbon Cruise Port
Lisbon Cruise Port from the top of the National Pantheon. You may recall that I mentioned earlier that Lisbon is a stop for many cruise lines, well here is visual proof! There are currently over 26 Cruise Lines that have ships that visit Lisbon, click
here to see a list of Cruise Lines.
The cruise port of Lisbon is long and is stretched out along the Rio Tejo. Cruise ships can dock at 5 different places. The most important docking area's are Santa Apolonia at about 1,5 kilometer from the city center and da Rocha/Alcantara, close to Ponte 25 de Abril. The cruise terminals are modern and offer all necessary facilities for cruise passengers.
To reach the city center of Lisbon from the cruise port is easy but the mode of transport depends on where your ship docked. From most ship terminals, you can easily go on foot. Good alternatives are the metro or train.
Castle Saint George
You can see that a moat was present at some time in the past (left image). It is also interesting to note that this castle was originally built by the Moors when they controlled the Iberian Peninsula.
In the context of the Christian Reconquista, the castle and the city of Lisbon were freed from Moorish rule in 1147 by Afonso Henriques and northern European knights in the Siege of Lisbon during the Second Crusade.
The fort area of Castle Saint George was all about defense, heavy stone walls and gates everywhere. If you visit here, you will be walking on cobblestone inside the fort, so you should wear comfortable shoes. In addition, there are a lot of staircases to the higher elevations of the fort, be prepared.
It is amazing that this castle is still standing, as it has endured several major earthquakes; a strong earthquake in 1531 did considerable damage and the great earthquake of 1755 also did extensive damage. For example, the 1755 quake has been estimated to have been in the 8.5 to 9.0 on the Moment Magnitude Scale and Lisbon was virtually completely destroyed. The death toll estimates have been described as being as high as 100,000. When you realize that the population of Lisbon at that time was perhaps 200,000 it serves to demonstrate how devastating that disaster was.
Lisbon below Castle Saint George
A view of Lisbon through one of the Saint George Castle apertures where cannon once sat. The views of the city and harbor were excellent from this height, plus the breezes were much better at this altitude! Since the Castle is so high above the city, there isn't a bad view anywhere!
The Castle is located right on top of the tallest of Lisbon´s Seven Hills of the historic centre of the capital city, above the old Moorish quarter.
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