Good day indeed, Portugal! The final leg of our family holiday took us to Lisbon, a city I really wanted to visit. To my surprise my parents let me take the next few days off from being their tour guide. The four seniors decided that they wanted to go about exploring the city on their own so we went our separate ways and met up with them at the end of the day for dinner. After a big breakfast (complete with Portuguese pastries, local cheeses and marmalade, eggs, ham, fruits, and Nespresso coffee) we set out from our base, Heritage Avenida Liberdade Hotel and headed towards the river.
This was the first time I’d traveled to a city or to a country without weeks of pre-planning and research (well, I guess for Nice I just went along too). For Lisbon I did very little; I arranged for the hotel, went on chowhound for some restaurant recommendations, and read a few New York Times travel articles on Lisbon, but that really was the extent of my planning. I had no idea what I was doing so I just went out and started moving. Within a few steps, we came into a large plaza bustling with people and saw two big emerald colored fountains. Rossio Square (or called Praça de Dom Pedro IV) would be come a familiar place for us as we passed through it multiple times a day for the next four days.
Walking down towards the waterfront, I couldn’t help but marvel at the beautiful black and white tiled streets. We followed Rua Augusta, which was lined with shops and restaurants all the way to Praça do Comércio.
Below is a photo of Praça do Comércio, facing the Tagus river. It’s commonly called the Palace Square (or Terreiro do Paço) because the royal palace was here until an earthquake destroyed it. Of course I’m talking about THE earthquake, the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 (Saturday, November 1, 1755) that brought on days of fires, tsunami, and utter destruction to almost everything in the city.
I stopped at the tourist information center for a map and then paused at the corner café (Café Martinho da Arcada), whose name sounded familiar. I read somewhere that this café was one of the oldest in the city… But I was still too full from breakfast to eat anything. After circling the expansive square we traced our steps back up. About half way up the long avenue we stumbled upon this crazy building (photo below), which turned out to be an elevator (Elevador de Santa Justa). This Gothic structure was fascinating; we later learned that it was built in 1902, and the seniors went up on it and got a great view of the city from the top. I meant to take a ride myself during our stay in Lisbon but never made it back. The photo of the view is from Dad.
Every now and then I’d turned my head to the right and in between buildings I’d get a glimpse of St. George’s Castle (Castelo de São Jorge). I also had a nice view of it from my hotel room window but from almost anywhere in the city you could spot the castle.
Can’t get enough of these mosaic tiles!
Somewhere around the Rossio train station (Estação do Rossio) we took a left turn and started a gradual climb up a hill to see a ton of stores, including another Nespresso store- it was set up just like the one in Barcelona where as soon as you walk in, you’re given a ticket with a number so you can meet with a coffee consultant. We were in a neighborhood called Chiado that suffered a big fire in 1988, but has since been completely rebuilt and recovered. From there, we meandered up some more the hills and went around random little streets just wandering and people watching.
And when I looked up from it all, I saw the St. George’s Castle straight ahead.
We figured we may as well get up close and personal with the castle, so we walked all the way back down and over to the other side. No maps, no GPS. We thought it would be fun to just let our legs do what they wanted.
Trams, tiles, lamp posts, and colorful buildings (blue and white tiles this time) on the way up to Alfama.
We eventually made it all the way to the top, to a lookout points called “miraduoro de Santa Luzia” and “miraduoro das portas sol.”
We debated whether to visit the castle itself. Should we? Shouldn’t we? We knew it wasn’t going to be much, but since we were already up there we decided we should go in. As expected, there wasn’t much to see but the views were nice.
K noticed seashells embedded in the walls…
We climbed up every fort, wall, tower, and rooftop we were allowed.
We could have taken the tram up and down Alfama but I’m really glad that we did everything on foot. How else would I have seen and felt what this hilly neighborhood is like on a Friday afternoon?
It wouldn’t be Portugal without bacalhau, right?
We did stop at the main cathedral of Lisbon, but after having seen Sagrada Familia and the Sevilla Cathedral earlier on the same trip, Sé de Lisboa seemed like just a small church. But it IS the oldest building in Lisbon, I am told.
By now I was HUNGRY. Did you notice how there wasn’t a lunch break? Gah! I knew dinner was near but I had to have something. It wouldn’t be Portugal without pasteis de nata and port, right?
I left it up to the concierge at our hotel to suggest a restaurant for us for dinner. She picked a place called Lisboa à Noite (Lisbon by Night), saying that she herself goes there with her family. We climbed up this steep, I mean really steep, 45 degrees steep, Rua Gloria along side the Gloria Tram to arrive in Bairro Alto. This hill (Calçada da Glória) was just on the other side of Avenida Liberdade from our hotel and the actual distance we had to travel to the restaurant was 750 meters (less than 1/2 mile). But because of this climb, I think it took us close to 20 minutes to get there. It was fun for me (with my dress shoes, no less) but I’m not so sure how the seniors felt. Sorry!
Dinner! What’s fresh?
If you don’t want the little nibbles that automatically show up at your table (cheese, ham, fried bacalao balls, etc) just don’t touch them. But if you do, you’ll get charged. This little wheel of cheese was 12 EUR and we were given two of them for our table. We, of course, ate them both.
The restaurant was busy and buzzing the whole time we were there, with a stream of well dressed locals and tourists coming in throughout. Another place that caught my eye on the same street at the corner was Sinal Vermelho; it looked more casual and cozy. Maybe next time…
What a full day! We didn’t have a set plan but ended up covering a lot of the city. Some say you can “see” Lisbon in a day or two but I was glad we had four days to spend there. After a fun first day, I was looking forward uncovering more of what Lisbon had to show me.
Heritage Avenida Liberdade Hotel: Avenida da Liberdade 28, Lisbon, Portugal
Café Martinho da Arcada: Praça do Comércio 3, Lisbon, Portugal
Elevador de Santa Justa: Rua Áurea and Rua de Santa Justa, Lisbon, Portugal
Sé de Lisboa: Largo da Sé, Lisbon, Portugal
Miradouro de Santa Luzia: Rua do Limoeiro, Lisbon, Portugal
Castelo de São Jorge: Rua das Flores de Santa Cruz, Lisbon, Portugal
Lisboa à Noite: Rua das Gáveas 69, 1200 Lisbon, Portugal
We never made it back to Bairro Alto again but if I did, I would have tried: Solar do Vinho do Porto for port tasting, gone up to miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara for a panoramic view of Lisbon, maybe Pap’ Açorda for a traditional Portuguese meal or Sinal Vermelho…