Lisbon is a colourful and vibrant destination. Renowned for its warm and sunny disposition, the city is blessed with a wealth of historic monuments, world-class museums, and a host of other fabulous visitor attractions. You can explore the narrow streets of the old quarter, stroll the riverbank promenade, or wander through verdant parks and gardens. In fact, enjoy Lisbon like the locals do, at an easy and unhurried pace, and you’ll quickly fall for its welcoming character.
Set over a series of hills near the mouth of the River Tagus, it’s a place inextricably linked with the sea. Intrepid navigators embarked from here in the 15th and 16th centuries to sail unknown waters and chart new lands, and the legacy of this golden Age of Discovery underpins much of the city’s culture and heritage.
The most recognized of Lisbon’s major attractions, St. George’s Castle commands a glorious position near Alfama on the crown of a hill overlooking the Portuguese capital. This is one of Lisbon’s most popular tourist destinations. Its impressive battlements, engaging museum, and fascinating archaeological site combine to make the castle a rewarding experience for the whole family, and kids especially will love clambering over the sturdy walls and towers that encircle the grounds.
There’s been a stronghold on this site since the Iron Age, but it was a castle that the Moors defended against invading Christian forces before finally being overrun in 1147 by Afonso Henriques. The victorious king built the Aláçova Palace, home to subsequent monarchs until a new royal residence was constructed near the river. (The palace foundations form part of the excavations seen today.) For the most part, visitors are happy enough to admire the fabulous views from the observation terrace that affords an uninterrupted panorama of the city, the River Tagus, and the distant Atlantic Ocean. For a different perspective, there’s a Camera Obscura periscope housed in one of the towers that provides viewers with an unusual 360° projected view of the city below.
A highlight of any Lisbon sightseeing tour, the 16th-century Jerónimos monastery is one of the great landmarks of Portugal, a stunning monument of immense historic and cultural significance deserving of its UNESCO World Heritage Site accolade. Near the riverfront in Lisbon’s attractive Belém neighbourhood, the monastery, also known as the Hieronymite convent, was commissioned by King Manuel I in 1501. Built to honour Vasco da Gama’s epic 1498 voyage to India, Jerónimos is as much a symbol of the wealth of the Age of Discovery as it is a house of worship (construction was mostly funded by trade in the spices brought back by da Gama). Star features include the fantastically elaborate south portal and the beautiful and serene Manueline cloister. Vasco da Gama’s tomb lies just inside the entrance to Santa Maria church.
Arguably the most emblematic of all Lisbon’s historical monuments, the Belém Tower squats in the shallows near the mouth of the River Tagus as a symbol of Portugal’s extraordinary Age of Discovery during the 16th century. Built in 1515-21 as a fortress and originally sited in the middle of the river (the watercourse has shifted over the years), the tower represents the highpoint of decorative Manueline architecture. Its ornate façade is adorned with fanciful maritime motifs – all twisted rope and armillary spheres carved out of stone. Indeed, so valuable and iconic is this monument that it’s protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Set over various levels, the most interesting interior feature is the second-floor King’s Chamber where the room opens onto a Renaissance loggia. The royal coat of arms of Manuel I is placed above the elegant arcades. Climb the impossibly steep spiral staircase to the top-floor tower terrace, and you’re rewarded with a fine panorama of the waterfront esplanade and the river.
Lisbon’s Museum of Fashion and Design is often referred to as MUDE because in Portuguese, mude means “change” and this is exactly what the curators of this contemporary arts facility do with the vast assortment of vintage apparel and design classics. The collection, amassed by the Portuguese financier and media mogul Francisco Capelo, comprises furniture and industrial pieces from the 1930s to the present day as well as clothing, footwear, and accessories from the same period. Individual exhibits number in the thousands and are displayed on a rotating basis. At any one time, works by pioneering designers like Harry Bertoia and Charles and Ray Eames stand alongside iconic garments created by Pierre Cardin, Alexander McQueen, and Vivienne Westwood – a clever dilution of ready-to-wear, street fashion, and haute couture.
The museum is housed in the former premises of the BNU bank, and as a bonus, you can nip down to the basement and admire the strong room where an impressive vault and a wall of gleaming safe deposit boxes have been preserved for posterity.
We also managed to find some old fashioned haberdashery shops to stock up for the voyage.