Come with me this Valentine’s day to Lisbon, the largest city and capital of Portugal. Lisbon is also one of the oldest cities in the world. Due to Lisbon’s ideal location in the estuary of the River Tagus (Portuguese: Rio Tejo), Lisbon was an important trading post since the ancient days of the pre-Roman era. One of the famous Lisbon’s true stories was the tales of the great navigator Vasco da Gama.
Since John II of Portugal was crowned as the King of Portugal in 1481, John II had set his heart on breaking into the lucrative spice trade between Europe and Asia, hugely dominated by Republic of Venice’s trading of spice by overland routes. John II had initially posted two spies, Pero da Covilha and Afonso de Paiva, to follow in the Venetian spice traders’s footsteps via the overland routes to Asia. The breakthrough finally came when captain Bartolomeu Dias successfully completed his seafaring exploration as far as the Cape of Good Hope in the modern day South Africa. Lisbon made a mark in the Portuguese history as the city that the great Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama had set sail from on 8 July 1497. Vasco da Gama had led an expedition of four ships (Sao Gabriel,Sao Rafael, Berrio and an unnamed storage ship) to sail around Africa, India and back, covering open oceans with a distance larger than that of sailing around the equator. Vasco Da Gama braved the many hostile crowds of Mozambique and Mombasa and escaped with a Calicut loot 60 times the cost of his exploration after failing to impress King of Calicut (present day Kerala) by presenting the king with only four cloaks of scarlet cloth, six hats, four branches of corals, twelve almasares, a box with seven brass vessels, a chest of sugar, two barrels of oil and a cask of honey. The King of Calicut was highly annoyed with Vasco da Gama for forgetting to bear gifts of gold and silver. Luckily, Vasco da Gama had a lucky escape and lived to tell his tales of the sea. For his efforts, King Manuel I of Portugal was so pleased with Vasco da Gama that the town of Sines was bestowed on Vasco do Gama as his hereditary fief on December 1499. Such a great adventurer and a role model to us globetrotters!
There are multiple rewards of visiting the various bairros of historic Lisbon, returning gloriously from being shaken by the devastating earthquake of 1755. I remembered vividly pounding the steep cobbled medieval street of Rua Augusto Rosa with my really sore knees from exploring Baixa and Av. De Liberdade for a spot of window shopping spree few hours before. Just to catch my breath, I had to distract myself by briefly visiting the souvenir shops. Finally, I reached the observation deck of Miradouro das Portas do Sol and was granted with the views of the sprawling rooftops of the mainly white washed and the occasional pink and pastel blue walled buildings vying for my attention in the Moorish quarters of Alfama, the oldest district in Lisbon. The calming blue Rio Tajo estuary as far as my eyes could reach and street performers with their guitars serenading the canopy of the sunset skies dotted with fluffy clouds had truly captured my heart.
Don’t forget to visit other nearby observation deck, Miradouro de Santa Luzia and the top terrace of Suite Bartolomeu de Gusmao at Palacio Belmonte. It’s a sight for sore eyes and knees! Another of my favourite viewpoint is the Miradouro Chão do Loureiro (Calçada do Marquês de Tancos) in Baixa with the added advantage of the Zambese restaurant should you wish to catch an aperitif of sunset skies and a drink. Can you spot the Ponte de 25 Abril Suspension Bridge in the distance? As a city of 7 hills, visitors to Lisbon are spoiled by the many vantage points of Lisbon. What is your favourite hidden gem Lisbon vantage point?
I thoroughly recommend exploring Alfama on foot. For the non-walkers, you can cheat by taking the famous tram 28 to Alfama. This touristic tram 28 will also drop by Lisbon downtown, Chiado and Bairro Alto. Bairro Alto is the place where Lisbon’s nightlife come to life. I also remembered my visit to the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga and admiring the views of the ports of Rio Tajo and the Ponte de Abril bridge under the delightful canopy of giant white patio umbrellas whilst lunching on delicious seafood at the terrace of the Le Chat restaurant.
Other notable must take home from Lisbon is to discover the majestic Castle of Sao Jorge, Se cathedral of Lisbon and the Augusta street with Comercio Square and Rossio Square in its extremities. I love to admire Lisbon where azulejos architecture, wine taverns and windy hidden gem back alleys abound. Lastly, you must attend a fado performance in Fado in Chiado to get a feel for the contagious rhythm of Lisbon’s beating heart. I can’t exactly place lisbon in a box as Lisbon ticks all the boxes for a foodie who is also looking to be steeped in a bit of maritime history, architecture and culture. How long must you stay in Lisbon? I would recommend spending at least 3 days to fully appreciate the depths of Lisbon. You can also easily take a day trip to historic Belem and Sintra, the seasides of Estoril or the Alentejo city of Evora. The picture below symbolises one of my fond memories of Palacio Nacional da Pena and the Sintra town.
Pop to Belem to visit Vasco da Gama’s tomb in the Jeronimos Monastery, an amazing symbol of the Portuguese power in the Age of Discovery. The Jeronimos Monastery is also a UNESCO World Heritage Monument. There is also a new kid on the block in Belem, the modern architecture of the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology. Do visit my related adventures in Belem and Evora. Have you been to Estoril? I would love to visit Estoril someday.
One of the must eats in Lisbon is the creatively prepared bacalhau (dried and salted cod fish). You should not miss savouring the pastries in the grand cafe of Confeitaria Nacional and being spoiled for gelato choices at Gelados Santini. For wine lovers, you can also pay a visit to ViniPortugal for a spot of Portuguese wine tasting. If you like to visit markets, you can also visit the food courts of the Mercado da Ribeira or hunt for antiques, old trinkets and second-hand gems in the oldest flea market of Feira da Ladra. On Saturdays, do pop by the Biological Market of Principe Real if organic produce is your kinda thing. For Sundays, LX Factory Sunday Market is a flea market and a refuge for hipsters, artist, designer and young Lisboetas for a catchup over a cup of coffee under the sunny Portuguese blue skies.
I bet you are truly excited to visit Lisbon. My thousand words had barely scratch the surface of Lisbon’s charms. Come and discover Lisbon for yourself and tell me all about it. Lisbon is truly a delightful city for one visits or for many many return visits. All you need is Love Lisbon. Greetings from Lisbon with Love. Tchau!
- Le Chat
Memorable dish: Grilled Octopus with potatoes and an accompaniment of Tagus riverviews (A feast for all senses)
Address: Jardim 9 de Abril nº18/20, 1200-736 Lisboa, Portugal
- Gelados Santini
Signature dish: gelatos
Address:Rua do Carmo 9, Lisbon 1200-093, Portugal
- Currency: Euro (EUR)
- Best Time to Visit: Anytime of the year
- Getting around: Walkable if you don’t mind the steep cobbled stones streets of Lisbon or by tram.
- Getting here:
Fly to Lisbon Portela airport. Take the metro to downtown Lisbon in 25 minutes.