When we speak of travelling, we usually think of people going on a journey to other places or countries. But its definition is not limited to that.
Traveling is tantamount to not just seeing, but also appreciating beauty of other countries; not just experiencing, but learning its culture; not just meeting, but finding new friends. One might say that, there is more than just the beauty of a country. But admit it—attractiveness itself is a huge factor.
Travelling is also a fantastic way to spend different occasions, like Christmas, anniversaries, birthdays, or even Valentine’s Day, since it’s already the month of February. Whatever the reasons you have for celebrating, one thing is for sure: There will always be that one place that will enthrall you right from the first sight and step.
The one to fall in love with
Of the many cities in the world, let us introduce you to the one that you will definitely fall in love with: Lisbon. It is the capital and the largest city of Portugal, the closest European capital to the United States. What makes it even better is that it is usually just a two hour’ flight away from other major European cities.
Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world, preceding other European capitals such as London, Paris and Rome by hundreds of years. As the oldest city in Western Europe, it is undeniably very rich in culture.
Today, Lisbon stands as a successful city and is globally recognized for its importance in the field of finance, commerce, media, arts, education and tourism. It is one of the major economic centers on the continent with a growing financial sector. No wonder why it is the wealthiest region in Portugal.
Lisbon is also once the home of the world’s greatest explorers such as Vasco da Gama, Magellan and Prince Henry. In terms of tourist spots, Lisbon can surely satisfy your cravings. It is an innovative city that also remains true to its culture and history.
World heritage sites for a reason
A great way to start your adventure in Lisbon is to visit two of the world heritage sites found here—the Belém Tower and Jerónimos Monastery. They were built in the early 16th century in the intricate Portuguese Manueline style, a lavish design inspired by marine creatures and seafaring. The important role the two structures played in the Portuguese maritime discoveries earned them a spot in UNESCO’s famous list. Both Belém and Jerónimos are symbols of the Portuguese Age of Discovery.
The monastery and the church were built on orders of King Manuel I. The church initially became famous as a house of prayer for seamen leaving or entering port. But as time passed by, it was turned into burial place for Portuguese royalty. On the other hand, the Belem Tower was constructed as part of Lisbon’s defense system and a ceremonial gateway into the city’s harbor.
The Belém Tower stands prominently amidst the sprawling lawns on the banks of the Tagus River. Aside from the historical place itself, you will also see statues and monuments such as the famous Gothic statue of Nossa Senhora do Bom Successo (Our Lady of Good Fortune) and Nossa Senhora das Uvas (Our Lady of the Grapes). A magnificent image of Virgin and Child is also found here, placed on the southern portion of the cloister terrace.
The tower is rich in both history and design. It was built from lioz limestone, a light-colored rare stone that can only be found in Lisbon. There are two parts of the building that you can explore—the Bastion and the four-story tower. Both its exteriors and interiors tell an interesting story. There are heads of lions, dolphins and rams that can be seen below the Bastion’s small watch towers. Perhaps the most iconic piece is the rhinoceros head that represents the first rhinoceros in Europe. King Manuel I received the animal as a present from India and had that moment immortalized in woodcut by artist Albrecht Durer.
After a trip to Belém Tower, you can also explore the nearby Jerónimos Monastery. Founded by Prince Henry the Navigator, this landmark is considered the most remarkable symbol of Portugal’s power during the Age of Discovery. It was built to commemorate Vasco Da Gama’s voyage as well as to thank the Virgin Mary for its success. In fact, the explorer’s tomb is placed in the entrance of the monastery. The tomb of Luis de Camões, author of the epic “The Lusiads” can also be found here. Just like in Belem Tower, the monastery also boasts of statues of iconic royals such as King Manuel and King Sebastião as well as famous poets Fernando Pessoa and Alexandre Herculano.
Sacred and eye-catchy
A tour to Lisbon will not be complete without visiting one of its exquisite landmarks, the Estrela Basilica. Built in 1779 by the order of Queen Maria I of Portugal, the Estrela Basilica is the first church to be dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The monarch promised to have a church built if she bore a son, so when she gave birth to Jose, Prince of Brazil, she immediately had the basilica constructed.
It took 11 years to finish the church, but the time spent is indeed worth it. You will say it once you see its gleaming, white dome and imposing architecture. However, the most exciting part of the trip is going up the dome and seeing the lovely cityscape before you.
Taking a break
After an informational tour in those historical landmarks, why not take a break by taking a ride at the Elevador da Bica? It is a cable railway that runs between Calçada do Combro or Rua do Loreto and Rua de S. Paulo. It has been running since 1892 and was named as a national monument in 2002.
Known for its white-and-yellow color palette, Elevador da Bica is a popular and quirky way to tour the city and visit its many attractions. Through this funicular, you will have the chance to get a glimpse of the narrow alleys of Lisbon. It also passes through the streets near Bairro Alto, the oldest district in the city. Here you can see locals doing their daily routines as well as some walls covered with graffiti.
One shouldn’t also miss the vibrant night life of the district. You will find an array of restaurants and bars in the narrow streets. They offer a wide selection of music including reggae, ballad and many more.
Roaming the streets, crossing the bridge
A simple walk around Lisbon is enough to melt your worries away. And one of the best places to see while strolling around the city is the Augusta Street Arch. Located at the Comercio Square, known as Praça do Comércio, it was built to remember the city’s reconstruction after the 1755 earthquake. The historical structure was originally designed to be a bell tower, but was later transformed into elaborate arch. It is decorated with statues of Portugal’s historical figures like Viriato, Don Nuno Alvares Pereira, Vasco Da Gama and Marquês de Pombal. The arch recently underwent renovation to include an elevator that can reach the top of the structure. Now people can head up to its rooftop to enjoy a breathtaking view of downtown Lisbon, its monuments, and the surrounding Tagus River.
Augusta Street has a lively ambience and quaint mosaic pavements that will make your stroll more enjoyable. Once tired, you can grab a bite in one of the outdoor cafés, shop from the international shops, or check out the works of the occasional street artists and peddlers.
In the next attraction, walking is not a good idea since this bridge is 17 kilometers long and spans across the Tagus River. I’m talking about the Vasco Da Gama Bridge, the longest bridge in Europe. The stunning sights of the river and the city will surely make the long ride worth it. Watch the city lights glisten from this iconic six-lane structure designed by Armando Rito.
Magical with a touch of nature
There’s no better way to end your journey than spending it magically.
If you want activities that bring you close to nature, then Park of the Nations is the best place to go to. It is a park with shopping malls, restaurants, cultural sites and modern architecture.
Make sure to drop by the Oceanarium, which is home to over 1,500 flora and fauna, and is considered the largest aquarium in the continent.
You can also roam around the park riding a bicycle rented from the shops that can be found in this leisure destination. There’s also a mini train which you can ride to take you to the park’s main attractions. If you’re more of the adventurous type, why not hop on the cable car that will make you see amazing panoramic views of the area?
Cap off your Lisbon tour with a visit to one of the last existing medieval castles in Portugal. Located at the foot of Sintra Mountain, the Sintra Palace will make you feel that magic is real. This enchanting palace, built by King John in 14th century, is notable for its 19th-century Romantic architecture and landscapes. It still retains an air of glamour and majesty even years after it was built.
Every part of the palace just seems magical. Its colossal chimneys, built in the 14th century to keep the kitchens free of smoke, are said to be the most eye-catching part of the citadel. Vuewing these vents from afar, you can only imagine the kind of banquets held at the courts that required such enormous chimneys—even more when you wander through its kitchen and chapel. Roaming around the palace will take you back in time, making it easy for you to picture knights and princesses mingling in the halls. Sintra Palace is a unique historical treasure that would make you love Lisbon even more.
These and so much more are the reasons for you to visit Lisbon. You probably want to pack your things and book a flight to the city right now. But you better watch out. You might leave your heart in this lovely city.