Webster’s Dictionary defines Discovery as-“Disclosing or bringing to light; revealing or making known; a finding out or bringing to sight or knowledge”. Since I had not been to Lisbon for 10 years, I needed a little “knowledge” and found it at the Portuguese National Tourist Office- 590 Fifth Ave- 4 Floor- NYC 10036- 1-800-Portugal- The “ bringing to light “ was supplied by my TAP-Air Portugal flight from JFK. Just as the sunlight engulfed the plane’s cabin, we landed, a mere 6-½ hour flight. A short 20-minute taxi ride and I was at the centrally located Hotel Lisboa Plaza, just off Avenida da Liberdade, the major shopping and promenading street in town, and only a few blocks from the metro and railroad station. The sights of Lisbon waited.
The first stop in the search for discovery should be the Lisboa Welcome Center at Praca do Comercio, near the port and Tagus River. This very large space contains tourism information for the city, accommodations, show tickets, guide books to museums, shopping and restaurants. You can purchase the three special Lisboa cards there. 1- Lisboa Card for free access to public transportation and free or discounted admission to over 50 museums and sites. The cost is about $11.25 per adult for 24 hours and $4.50 per child. 2- Lisboa restaurant Card gives you discounts at more than 40 restaurants for a 72-hour period. The cost is $6 per person, or $10.50 for a family with 2 children. 3- Lisboa Shopping Card gives you up to a 20% discount at over 200 shops. The cost is $3 for 24 hours. The Welcome Center also has an exhibition of traditional Portuguese handicraft and art, plus an auditorium, café, grocery store and a fashion and design shop with clothes and decorative objects for sale. One of Lisbon’s top restaurants Terreiro do Paco is located here.
The Lisboa Card allowed me to see the entire city in less than a day. Lisbon is built on 7 hills, so up I rode to St. George’s Church for a panoramic view of the city. Alfama is the oldest part of the city with small houses, tiled panels and fountains and is perfect for walking. The center of the city is Rossio Square where the train station is located. Marques de Pombal Square is another large meeting place with cafes and small shops.
It was back into the Metro system to the Belem area and the Belem Cultural Center whose conference center is also used for exhibits and performing arts. Everything in this area is reachable by walking starting with the Tower of Belem, a 16th Century guardian of the river and a UNESCO World Heritage Building. The Belem Palace is the official residence of the President of the Republic. The nearby Jeronimos Monastery was built in the beginning of the 16th century and is the burial site for Vasco da Gama; the monastery is another UNESCO World Heritage Building. Across the road and right beside the Tagus River is the Monument to the Discoveries built in 1960 to commemorate the 500th Anniversary of Henry The Navigator’s explorations. During the 15th & 16th Centuries Portugal had a huge overseas empire. Next to the monument is a map of the world with all their former colonies noted. In the same Belem area is the Coach Museum with uniforms and coaches of the royal family in an 18th Century riding ring.
Having spent much of the early afternoon in the Belem area, I did not get to the following three museums, but my guide highly recommended them. The National Art Museum has the finest collection of Portuguese art from the Middle Ages to the 19th Century. The National Tile Museum shows the art of the tile over the past five centuries and is housed in the cloisters of a 16th Century convent. The Fado House & Portuguese Guitar Museum is self- explanatory and during my last night in Lisbon, I had an opportunity to listen to Fado at a local club.
It was late in the day when I arrived at the other side of town at National Park, the site of the 1998 Expo and World’s Fair. The area is being converted to housing, but most of the buildings have been retained and upgraded. Vasco da Gama Tower is the observation platform overlooking the whole park. There is a chair lift that transcends the entire park. The Oceanarium is Europe’s largest aquarium. The Atlantic Pavilion can hold up to 16,000 people for sporting events or concerts. There is a live interactive Science Center and the country’s biggest bowling center. I decided to take the Lisbon by Water route on the River Tagus that runs between the National Park and the Belem area. Again, my Lisboa Card was used, as well as the Metro return to my hotel. I had spent 12 hours touring and rested for my trip the next day.
As I mentioned, my hotel was within walking distance of the railroad station. In less than an hour I was in Sintra, again using my Lisboa Card. The whole area is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. My first stop was the Pena National Palace on top of a mountain. The brave ones walked up; I choose the bus. This 19th Century romantic palace was built in the revivalist style with artwork and souvenirs of royalty abounding. The Sintra National Palace is the former royal palace with Moorish, Gothic and Manueline architecture style. The conical chimneys visible on the outside of the building are the most photographed sights of Sintra. They are still part of the kitchen, which is used, even today, for banquets. The Queluz National Palace is an 18th Century palace with spacious gardens filled with Baroque statues and is very much like a small version of Versailles. Quinta da Regaleira was built in the early 20th Century and houses the works of sculptress Dorita Castelo Branco. There is a luxuriant park with lakes, a palace, chapels and caves. While I visited they were setting up for an outdoor opera performance that evening. The Capuchos Convent was built in 1560 and is famous for its austerity and reflects the actual living conditions of the Capuchos order. I had lunch at Tacho Real, probably the best restaurant in town. Many of the visitors do what I did, return to Lisbon at nightfall.
I accomplished all the above in 2 ½ days. I do not recommend my frenetic pace. You need at least an extra day to see all that Lisbon & Sintra have to offer. And remember, I did not get to Estoril. But that is for my next trip.