We had already visited quite a few of Lisbon’s museums on previous visits to the city so this time around, with the Lisbon Card courtesy of the Portuguese Tourist Board, we swept up some of the sights we had missed in the past as well as covering some familiar ground. We certainly packed a lot into our visit so what are our top ten recommendations? Here they are in no particular order.
1. The Lisbon Story
I was feeling pretty ignorant of Lisbon’s history and contemplating taking a guided walk through the city. However, did I want to spend the required three hours doing this, given the heat and the hilly terrain? The Lisbon Story Centre in Terreira de Praca came to my rescue. Having spent an hour going round this entertaining but informative interactive interpretive exhibition with the audio guide I came away an hour later feeling a lot more informed. The highlight was probably the immersive earthquake experience taking the visitor back to 1 Nov 1755 when disaster struck Lisbon. This attraction was free with the Lisbon Card.
2. The Rua Augusta Arch
This triumphal arch had not initially been on our list of must-sees but since it was just yards from the Lisbon Story Centre we decided to give it a whirl and were glad we did. There were great views from the top and luckily there was a lift to take you part way! A traffic light system is in operation to make sure you don’t meet people coming down as you are going up the narrow spiral staircase taking you to the viewing platform.
The arch was free with our Lisbon Card.
3. Queluz Palace
Queluz is a 20 minute train trip from the centre of Lisbon and it then takes 10 to 15 minutes to walk to the actual palace. Although this might sound a bit of an effort compared to the attractions bang in the city centre it was somewhere we’d wanted to visit before. This Rococo summer palace was built in the 18th century and the highlight for us was the Throne Room with its gilded statues of Atlas. The formal gardens are also worth exploring. If, like us, you want to hire the audio guide you’ll be out of luck unless you have photo ID. The Lisbon Card gives a 15% discount on entry.
4. Gloria Funicular
It can be tiring on the legs climbing the steep hills of Lisbon so we decided to take the Gloria, one of three funicular tram routes in the city, to get us from the Restauradores area up to the Bairro Alto. Over a hundred years old, it is still a godsend to tourists and locals alike. Once up in the high quarter the views, particularly from the Miradouro are far-reaching and it’s also a pleasant area to stroll around with its old cobbled streets and many buildings of historical interest. The funicular is free with the Lisbon Card.
5. The Santa Justa Elevador
This iconic landmark of Lisbon provided us with a convenient way down from the Bairro Alta to the Baixa. Built at the turn of the 20th century by one of Gustavo Eiffel’s apprentices it is a tourist must-do and yet mid-afternoon we had the elegant wood-panelled compartment to ourselves. If you haven’t taken enough photos of the city panorama you can brave the tight spiral staircase up to the viewing platform. The lift is free with the Lisbon Card.
6. The Jeronimos Monastery
We had visited this UNESCO World Heritage site a few years ago but, having braved the crowds on the tram to get to Belem to visit the Tower and the Monument to the Discoveries, we thought we would take another look. By now it was late morning and the world and his wife had the same idea. Entry to the actual church is free and when we got to the parts which are ticketed (free with the Lisbon Card) the crowds thinned out considerably. Despite the scrum, particularly by the tomb of Vasco de Gama, the Monastery is still a magnificent monument of Manueline architecture.
7. Torre de Belem
Another gem of Manueline architecture, the tower was built as a fortress in the 16th century and became symbolic of Portugal’s expansion, with the explorers setting off from there to discover new trade routes. Entry is free with the Lisbon Card but if you don’t have one and don’t want to pay the entrance fee it is still worth looking at from the outside.
8. Free use of public transport
One of the best aspects of our Lisbon Card was the free use of public transport: metro, buses, regular trams, funicular trams, the Santa Justa lift and the mainline trains on two lines. City breaks inevitably result in walking miles so it was great to hop on the metro from time to time and even better to be able to avoid the huge queues for tickets at the airport and at Rossio station.
If you fancy a break from soaking up all the cultural sights of Lisbon then a trip to the seaside town of Cascais (45 mins from Cais do Sodre) is just the thing. We’ve spent several holidays here and love it! There are several beaches in town so you won’t have far to wander from the station. If, however, you fancy a walk why not go down to the marina or further on to Boca de Inferno? Our favourite restaurant for lunch or dinner is Luzmar, a great place for the Alentejo speciality pork and clams or some fresh fish. The Lisbon Card gives free rail transport on the Cascais line which hugs the coast and is a pleasant trip in itself.
There is so much to see in Sintra that we happily spent five days there a few years ago. However, if your time is limited a day trip from Lisbon will give you a taste of what it has to offer. It is only 40 minutes from Rossio station and an easy walk at the other end. It is a beautiful town of palaces and magical gardens, some of which you will have to take a bus to reach, although others are either in the centre or a pleasant walk out the other side of town. The Lisbon Card gives free transport on the Sintra line.
With thanks to turismo de portugal for their assistance with our trip.
Categories: Travel Tips