Guest Post: Ronnie Gatbonton
Travelling around Lisbon with limited time is not a good idea – the city provides plenty of view decks like hilly locations to enjoy vistas of the river and the sea, rich architectural heritage that will leave you gasping in awe for its highly crafted details, labyrinthine cobblestone alleys with houses decorated in tiles to get lost wandering in, and sumptuous pastries and sweets to indulge on.
However, you can easily assemble a pocket itinerary to take in the important sights of the city without breaking your budget and signing up to those tourist herds. Transport around Lisbon is not as expensive as its Western European neighbours, and its city centre is fairly compact. Little warning, Lisbon works its way from the mouth of the Rio Tejo and slopes up to the seven hills that surround it. Wear comfortable shoes – but you, dear intrepid traveller, already knew that.
￼Central Lisbon is fairly easy to navigate; using Praca do Comercio as your starting point, you can walk down the main shopping street before heading up to Castelo do Sao Jorge. If climbing up the hills is too much of a hassle, you can try using the funiculars on the side streets of the main avenue. I recommend the walk as the ascent is not too steep, and very scenic. Take in the views of the city once at the castle, and wind your way down back to city centre after passing Lisbon Cathedral.
￼ Head a little west of city centre to Bairro Alto and Chiado to experience sumptuous dining accompanied the by the famous fado in a Portuguese restaurant. I don’t speak Portuguese, but fado singers have a way of conveying passion and grief through their melancholic singing. Not on a holiday to listen to weepy music? Bairro Alto and Chiado is the party district as well, with modern clubs and international restaurants coexisting harmoniously side by side.
Need a suggestion for something to eat and drink? Bacalhao and caipirinhas, of course.
Lisbon has two UNESCO world heritage listed sites , and both of them are ten minutes walking distance away from each other in Belem. Both buildings celebrate the Manueline architecture unique to Portugal. Entrance fees are waived on Sundays and holidays (hooray!), but up to 2pm only, so come early.
The monastery of Jeronimos and church of Santa Maria are fine examples of the structures built during the Age of Discoveries, when the show of world power wrested on the fleet that you command, and staggering beauty of the structures that you build. Its beautifully decorated cloisters, hallways and arches surround the monastery grounds and wonderful to marvel at while walking around. Unlike many churches whose beauty comes from the paintings that adorn its walls, the adjoining church of Santa Maria makes a statement for its gracefully ornamented canopy columns.
Further down the road, in what was then on the water, Torre de Belem served as the watchout point for ships entering the Rio Tejo. Meant to protect Lisbon, the tower offers a commanding view of the river and the rest of the city.
An added bonus to this area is the Padrão dos Descobrimentos created to commemorate the great discoverers of centuries past, including “our very own” explorer Fernão de Magalhães. (A padrão is a large stone cross with the coat of arms of Portugal that the explorers used to ‘claim’ discovered land)
On the east end of Lisbon you can find notable sites related to the rebirth of the city in the late 90s.
Upon hosting the 1998 World Expo, Lisbon put together the (then) largest aquarium in Europe, a world-class exhibition area, and the accompanying infrastructure to support the Expo located at the Parque do Nacoes. This includes the very modern train station Gare do Oriente, Vasco do Gama mall, Casino Lisboa. Don’t forget to say hi to the mascot Gil.
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The Parque do Nacoes also provides a good view of the continent’s longest bridge, Ponte de Vasco da Gama (they just love that guy), built just in time for the Expo, but also to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the India route.
Day One – Central Lisbon, including Castelo do Sao Jorge, Lisbon Cathedral during the day, and the Bairro Alto at night.
Day Two – Belem Tower and Monastery in the morning, and Parque do Nacoes in the afternoon.
Got a little bit more time than this? Take time out to visit Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of continental Europe and have a look at the Atlantic Ocean.
Ronnie is a fellow wanderlust and good friend. He’d be your typical cube dude whose vacations are dictated by work schedule. However, he makes the most of his annual 15-days which he strings together and translates to 2 full-on holidays. He also specializes in “pocket itineraries” — used to pack a weekend holiday, or take an extra day at the end of your business trip. Follow his travels and more of his pocket itineraries at Two Vacations a Year. Find him also on facebook.