So, what to see in Lisbon? I hope this post, and the ones that will follow, will answer this question for you. I’ve spend many days intensively exploring the city to create those daily itineraries in order to make your planning easier. Here is the first one
Praça de Comércio may not be the main tourist attraction in Lisbon (in my opinion), but it’s a really good orientation point (visible from most of the miradouros – viewing points) and therefore a great place to start your exploration of the city. One sure thing, the square is huge! And majestic. The fact that it’s rather empty makes it seem even larger. Even with a significant number of tourist strolling through it, you’ll still enjoy enough space around you. Around Praça de Comércio there is a line of beautiful buildings with yellow facades and arcades, where you can hide from the sun. By the way, the weather is awesome! It’s early March when I’m there and while the rest of Europe is still stuck in winter depression and covered by an omnipresent greyness, things look a bit different in Lisbon. So next time when you ask yourself ‘where did all the sun go?’, it’s probably in Lisbon! After all, it’s not called Europe’s sunniest city for no reason.
One more thing about the square. There is a big bronze statue in the middle of it. So, usually if there’s a big statue in the middle of the square, it is a way to honor the person it presents, right? Well, here it’s not quite the case since Dom Jose kind of let the people down by escaping the city after the earthquake in 1755. If you come closer to the statue you’ll notice that there are snakes crawling around the hoofs of the king’s horse. And if you look down on the statue’s pedestal, you’ll see a bas-relief depicting Marques de Pombal, the city’s real hero, who rebuild it after the earthquake and made the Baixa district look as impressive as we know it today.
From Praça de Comércio you will most likely continue through the arch into Rua Augusta, Lisbon’s main pedestrianized artery. Lined with shops of international retail chains, touristy restos and cafes, but also some appealing pastelerias with treats on display, tempting you to have a glance on the inside. It’s nice, it’s part (although a touristy part) of the city, it’s the center of things, but to be honest – seeing it once will probably be enough for you. You’ll do better walking zig-zag-wise and exploring the other streets of the Baixa grid – a result of Pombal’s design.
Speaking of design, how about a visit to Museu Design Moda? I promise, even if you’re not a fashionista (and for sure I am not), you will still enjoy it. It is located at the very beginning if Rua Augusta, just when you enter from Praça de Commércio. The intentionally unfinished interior, particularly the ceiling, creates a perfect backdrop for the design items which include furniture pieces along with unique outfits, all presented in an order that takes you on a journey through the 20th and 21st century design development.
It’s Charles Eames outstanding children furniture next to Yves Sait Laurents iconic dress next to the Scooter Vespa S50. A sofa of stainless steel? Why not. Ron Arad’s ‘Big Easy’ creation is also an eye catcher at the exhibition. And that’s just the ground floor. The second includes interior pieces brought to life by Portuguese designers while the third boasts marvelous outfits worn by ballet dancers and theatre performers. A carnival of tulle and colourful fabrics. But the real gem lies in the underground level. As the museum building hosted a bank back in the days, a treasury was part of it. Today, part of the deposit boxes have been replaced by sunglasses displays, presenting eyewear from different eras. Some of them are really freaky.
Back to the ‘seemingly-not-to-miss’ tourist attractions – Elevador de Santa Justa is something you can skip without regrets, unless you have too much time and money to spend (5 EUR just to go up + a pricey rooftop cafe, and since you’re there…). Ok, the view is nice, but you’ll have many nicer views from other vantage points in the city. Plus… here comes a secret tip from Sofia, a really cool guide I’ve met in Lisbon (I will include more info about the amazing free walking tours she leads in the next posts). Right opposite Elevador de Santa Justa, on the East end of Rua de Santa Justa, stands a department store named Pollux. Simply take the elevator to the 8th floor, continue with the stairs to the 9th and – voila! Great view of the Baixa grid for free! You can also grab a drink from the small cafe at the back and take it outside on the terrace. A coffee is 60 cents (!), but I went crazy and allowed myself a generous glass of white wine for 2 EUR.
But if you still want to go up Elevedor de Santa Justa, go ahead. After all, there is not just one right way to see a city (the same applies to the Castle, which I’ll tell you about in Part 2 of the Lisbon sightseeing series soon). Whatever makes you a happy traveller is the right thing to do.
Once you’re done absorbing the views and stand outside of the Pollux building head right (North) Rua dos Fanqueiros or better, take the second right turn into Rua da Prata. This way you will enter Praça da Figueira by seeing the square’s central statue. How is that possible? Well, the statue is not central anymore. It has been moved from the center to the side of the square in the year 2000 in order to make it visible from Praça de Comércio and from the sea. You’ll also notice that several buildings surrounding the square are not in the best shape. The city decided to leave them this way for now due to lack of funds for renovation, even though Praca da Figueira is considered to be Lisbon’s main square. Tram #15 departing from Praca da Figueira will take you directly to Belém.
While Praça da Figueira may be the city’s main square, Rossio (Praca Dom Pedro IV) holds the title of the most beautiful one. With mosaic pavements, Dom Pedro’s statue in the middle and stunning fountains on either side, it’s a popular meeting point. The Rossio Station, decorated with beautiful sea-related bas-reliefs, is good to know if you’re planning a trip to Sintra during your stay.
The North-East end of Rossio is where it meets Largo de São Domingos with two great places to visit. I’ll get to the second in a moment, but first – Igreja de São Domingos. Just another church you might think, but the interior can surprise you, because all the walls are painted in red! A quite interesting visual effect. The church was also one of the few buildings which have not been destroyed during the 1755 earthquake. Take a moment to contemplate (the entrance is free) and light a candle for someone if you like.
Need a break from history? Here’s the fun part. What is red, sweet, sticky and highly alcoholic? I know, many intoxicating options come to your mind, but in Portugal – it’s ginginha! And where is the best place to try it in Lisbon? Everyone will tell you the same. It’s at ‘A Ginginha’, located at Largo de Sao Domingos. This small place (oldest one in Lisbon, established in 1840) sells this typically Portuguese cherry liqour for just 1,35 EUR per glass (plastic cup during intense sales periods). You can order it with or without the fruits. It is said, that the cherries come from India and are a special sort, which gives the liquor its distinctive flovour. I have to admit, I’ve visited A Ginginha more than once…
If you still have the power, go back to Rossio and continue North to Praca dos Restauradores and start a stroll along Avenida da Liberdade. Want to balance out the ginginha with a nice strong espresso? Simply take a seat in one of the outdoor cafe’s scattered along the avenue. Admire the wonderful architecture and stylish surroundings.
Once you loaded your batteries with caffeine, go ahead and continue your stroll. It’s not far now to the last place on today’s itinerary. When you’ll reach Praça Marques de Pombal and manage to cross the roundabout without getting yourself killed (somehow almost no one ever takes the time to take the proper way around), you’ll find yourself at the footsteps of Parque Eduardo VII. Go up as high as you can, lay down on the grass and enjoy the last rays of the warm Lisbon sun.
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