Last updated on 03/06/2014
A weekend in Lisbon
Bem Vindo à Lisboa ! So, you've just landed in Lisbon for a weekend, great ! You know it'll be impossible to do everything, but here are some ideas on what to try!
To get to the centre of Lisbon and your hotel, the easiest way is by taxi. It won't cost a fortune (but make sure that the driver turns on the meter). This is something to bear in mind for the rest of your stay also. When you feel tried or the weather isn't so good, just hop into a taxi. Then again, we must tell you that taxi drivers in Lisbon are former formula one drivers and some of them aren't too good at speaking foreign languages.
Some suggestions that combine culture, nature and relaxation
You cannot leave Lisbon without having taken the number 28 tram at least once! Of course, it's a touristy thing to do, but hopping aboard one of these strange yellow contraptions to go through the old Lisbon -by day or by night- is just amazing... Take the tram from the starting point, on Martim Moniz square, then climb up the popular Avenida Almirante Reis, climb more steeply up the hill to Graça, then pass through Mrs Costa's kitchen in the narrow streets of the Alfama. Every time the road suddenly climbs or falls, do like everyone else and wonder if the flimsy handle that the driver hangs on to is strong enough to stop tons of steel from ending up in the Tagus. Also admire the patience (that they sometimes lose, but it's hardly surprising) of the tram drivers as they compete with their arch enemies -the cars- in order to make their way along the narrow rails.
When you finally have crossed Baixa, and arrive at the Camões square, wound your way through another maze of narrow streets and passed by the Parliament, get off in front of the Estrela basilica and take a stroll through the beautiful park opposite. Lisbon is also known for its special lift carts, called elevadors. There are four in total: the Elevador da Lavra (1882) the oldest, the Elevador da Gloria (1885), which in a few turns of the handle links Avenue de la Liberdade to the Bairro Alto, and the Bica Elevador. The fourth one, the Elevador da Santa Justa (1901) is slightly different, in an Art Nouveau style rather than the usual yellow. Sit on the wooden benches and this incredible lift designed by a student of the infamous Gustave Eiffel will take you up tens of metres. You exit and look out over the rooftops of Baixa, the castle is just opposite, between the Tagus on the right and the Rossio square on the left.
Lisbon: a city of viewpoints...
If you like blue and green, then Lisbon is the place for you. Stroll around the city along the water's edge, in the parks and intimate or larger gardens and take-in the splendidly colourful, lush vegetation: bougainvilleas, lemon and orange trees, and many varieties of hibiscus. One of the most secret places in Lisbon, the botanical gardens with their majestic entrance edged with giant palm trees and collection of exotic trees is a cool, peaceful haven. As for the Miradouros, where you can endlessly take-in the city from all angles, there are many of them. At the end of the day when the sun goes down, the experience is pure magic. And also for a good view, go and visit the castle. It's true the entry fee is quite expensive, but there is no better place to taken-in the whole of Lisbon in one go, from one bridge to another (the 25 April bridge to the Vasco de Gama bridge) and from hill to hill. You won?t be disappointed! Walk around the castle?s walls to take in and enjoy this 360º view over Lisbon.
Art and culture
If you love art, then the href="http://www.livinginlisbon.com/dossiers/content.php?id=74">museums and theatre will give you enough to do all weekend! This is particularly true if you like to stroll with your gaze upwards to take in all of the architectural details, strangely-shaped windows and typical Portuguese blue tiles that you will see dotted around the buildings and underground stations. Lisbon is also a city filled with churches, which is hardly surprising in a Catholic country. We won't list them all here, but there are at least three sacred places you cannot miss ? The Sé (the Portuguese name for cathedral) built in 1147, on the ruins of a mosque. The 28 tram will drop you off at the entrance. The inside is a strange mix of styles where romance and gothic co-exist...
In a totally different style is the Igreja de São Domingos with its impressive white façade, you enter something that now looks like a film set. The alcoves are empty, the walls seem about to crumble? in fact they are the survivors of a major fire in 1958 that burned-down parts of the building. The third, as you will have already guessed, is the Mosteiro (monastery) of the Jerónimos, at Belém. You must have heard of Vasco de Gama and the Portuguese explorers. Well, Belém is the place they left from to discover the world, and they are still there... A monument on the banks of the Tagus is devoted to their memory. Climb to the top and you might see a caravel in the distance... The monastery is worth visiting for its cloister and gargoyles with their painful expressions, some of which are troubling. Unfortunately, if you came here to spend a quiet, personal moment on Vasco de Gama's tomb, it'll be difficult because although you will find it, you won't be alone?
Food and drink
To eat and drink in Lisbon is easy. There are many typical little Portuguese ?tasca" where you can enjoy fish cooked with rice or grilled fish, up to gourmet Portuguese restaurants, via some Italian, French, Thai and Japanese eateries. There is no problem finding somewhere to eat a snack or a meal at any time of the day or night... well almost!
The variety of nightlife in Lisbon is on the increase. The Bairro Alto is, of course, still the place to go out in Lisbon, but you will see that there are many more. The Bairro Alto is the place where you will find the trendy bars and restaurants, but other things besides. There are in fact two sides to this quasi-pedestrian neighbourhood (only one road accepts cars, Rua da Rosa). At two in the afternoon, the streets are quiet, washing hangs on lines in front of the windows, small shops trade and the locals go about their business. You will definitely see old ladies in heated debates on their doorsteps, or leaning against the window ledges... but from 5 pm on, the change starts to happen, the trendy shops open, and soon (well, you need to wait a few hours) the streets are packed with people, the bistros and bars, or rather the streets... fill-up!
In both summer and winter, all night revellers are outdoors, on the pavement, walking around with a beer or cocktail in hand, on some kind of bar crawl. At two a.m., in the same Bairro Alto, the atmosphere changes slightly and a crowd of young (and not so young) partygoers laugh and chat, glass in hand, filling the narrow streets with the sounds of their revelry. The other trendy neighbourhood and meeting place for all night owls and lovers of fashionable hotspots is the Docas, or the Santo Amaro docks. A succession of restaurants all trendier than each other are waiting for you so that you can continue to party all night long: this is where you will find some of the trendiest nightclubs in town.
Two fun outings
If you have time, hoist the sails and enjoy a cruise on the Tagus. Of course your average tourist guide will offer expensive trips where you can sit in a sailing boat with a crowd of other tourists. Our more modest suggestion involves enjoying a relaxing journey, riding the glistening waves of the Tagus, with of course a unique view over Lisbon. Start by taking the tram to Belém (15 E that you can take from Praça de Figueira or the Praça do Comercio) or by bus if you prefer, and get off at the starting point for the cruise, the ferry station at Belém. Then buy a ticket for Trafaria, where we recommend you indulge in some gourmet cooking. Settle down in your seat on the boat and admire the electricity museum with its red bricks, the Belém Tower, as well as the 25th April bridge, if you look upwards, as well as boats, cars and possibly a train, you?ll probably also see a plane on its approach route to the capital.
Another option is to take a trip to the beach or at least along the water's edge. Jump on a train at Cais do Sodré (there is one about every fifteen minutes), called the linha due to the line it follows along the river Tagus. Continue along the waterfront until you reach Estoril where the train will leave you with your feet in the sand, and where you can go for a paddle! This option is particularly appealing to cool off at the end of a hot day. Finish the trip with a grilled fish in Cascais that you can reach on foot, after a 20-minute stroll. This small tourist town has a pretty seafront, elegant beach houses with unusual architecture, and the place is crammed with snack bars, some geared towards the tourist trade. It?s then easy to go back to the station and catch a train back to Lisbon. Sanda Samitca
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