Lisbon Cathedral - La Se

Lisbon Cathedral – La Se

Beautiful, red-roofed Lisbon may be one of WesternEurope’s oldest cities, first settled around 1200 BC as a Phoenician trading post. Its subsequent history parallels that of many other Iberian cities: Roman occupation, followed by barbarian invasions, integration into the Visigothic Kingdom of Toledo (which controlled the entire Iberian peninsula), and conquest by the Moors. The city was captured in 1147 by Alfonso I of Portugal during the Reconquista, and soon became the kingdom’s capital city.

The only European capital situated on the Atlantic, Lisbon became an important center of trade during the Middle Ages, and the homeport for explorers like Vasco da Gama and Pedro Cabral. As the Portuguese Empire expanded, Lisbon became even richer, with wealth pouring in from possessions in Africa, India and Brazil. By the mid 18th-century, Lisbon was one of the largest cities in Western Europe.

Then came the devastating All Saints Day earthquake of 1755.  Estimated to have measured 8.7 on the Richter scale, the quake was felt as far away as Finland, and was followed by a giant tsunami. What wasn’t destroyed by collapse and flooding fell victim to fire, which consumed what was left. By the end of the event, an estimated 40,000-50,000 people were dead in the areas hardest hit by the quake and tsunami (Portugal, Spain and Morocco), and 85% of Lisbon was in ruins.

Into the breach stepped Dom Jose I’s Prime Minister, the Marquis de Pombal. After dealing with the catastrophe’s aftermath, organizing teams of workers to extinguish the fires and remove the thousands of corpses for burial at sea, the Marquis set about rebuilding the devastated city. Within a year, the rubble was cleared and rebuilding commenced; it would continue into the 19th century.

Getting In

Depending on the size of your ship, you will dock either at Santa Apolonia or the Alcantara Cruise Terminal (5 km from town – about an hour’s walk). Of the two, Santa Apolonia is closer to the city center, while Alcantara is closer to the Jeronimos Monastery and the Belem Tower. Your cruise line may offer shuttle bus service to the downtown Praça do Comerçio. If not, there are plenty of other transportation options available, including bus, tram and subway. (A 24-hour transit pass can be had for €6, and is available at kiosks and metro stations.) Taxis are inexpensive in Lisbon, and are probably the quickest way to get to either destination.

Lisbon Tram

Lisbon Tram

Lisbon is an easy city to navigate, thanks to mass transit, but some people prefer the hop-on-hop-off bus tours. There are several of these operators in Lisbon, though information is murky on which stop at the ports, where to validate pre-paid vouchers, and the inflated cost of buying tickets at kiosks vs on the bus. Links below take you to the main operators.




Walking tours of Lisbon are also available for those who prefer to see the sights on foot. Lisbon Walker offers two- to three-hour walks that take in the city’s main sights. Tour itineraries, schedules and costs are available on their website: http://www.lisbonwalker.com/walks.html

The main Tourist Information Offices in Lisbon are in the Praça do Comercio area (Rua do Arsenal 15, Open Daily 9am-8pm), Restauradores (Palacio Foz, Praça dos Restauradores, Open Daily 9am-8pm) and the Santa Apolonia Station (in the International Hall, Wed-Sat, 8am-1pm). In addition, there are Tourist Information Kiosks in Lisbon at the Jeronimos Monastery in Belem (Tues-Sat, 10am-1pm, 2pm-6pm) and in Baixa on the Rua Augusta (Open Daily, 10am-1pm, 2pm-6pm)

Points of Interest

Lisbon ranks among my favourite cities in Europe, friendly, easily navigable (thanks to excellent mass transit) and packed with interesting things to see and do: it’s easy for cruise passengers to take in the main sights in a day, while there’s more than enough to keep visitors amused on longer stays.


Today’s downtown “Baixa” district owes its look to the efforts of the Marquis de Pombal. The Ribiera Palace, destroyed by the quake, was razed and a new square lined with government buildings, the Praça do Comércio, erected in its place. Between this riverfront square and the Rossio Square, a new city was laid out on a grid plan. Broad streets allowed for light and ventilation and building heights were regulated and external ornamentation kept to a minimum. All structures followed a basic design of an arcaded ground floor with two to three balconied stories above. New anti-seismic features gave these buildings greater stability and flexibility in the event of another quake, and each was isolated from its neighbours by walls to prevent the spread of fire. This classic “Pombaline” style is still much in evidence in Lisbon’s city center.

Arco da Rua Augusta

Arco da Rua Augusta

The most impressive way to enter this district is through the Arco da Rua Augusta on the Praça do Comércio. This main street is lined with shops, restaurants and cafes, and is the epitome of Pombaline architecture. Rua Augusta extends to the north, toward Praça do Rossio, which is flanked by the Rossio Station and the Dona Maria II National Theatre. Heading north out of Rossio brings you to Praça dos Restauradores and Avenida da Liberdade beyond it. This tree-lined avenue, with its gardens, fountains, monuments and ornamental pavements, is lined with cafes and high-end shops. Liberdade’s 1,100-meter length (about 7/10th of a mile) links Restauradores with the Praça do Marques de Pombal, where a statue of the Marquis honours the man who rebuilt the city.

Santa Justa Elevator

Santa Justa Elevator

Just to the west of Baixa is the Chiado district, with its theatres, boutiques and shops. Two of the most fanciful ways to ascend to this district are via elevator or funicular. The 1902 Elevador de Santa Justa (Rua Santa Justa, near Rossio) ascends to the Rua do Carmo, and is the only vertical lift left in public service in Lisbon. The ornate cast iron structure rises 45 meters (7 stories) and has a lookout at the top that provides panaromanic views of the city, including St. George’s Castle on the Alfama. Despite the name, the Elevador da Gloria is not an elevator but a funicular linking Restauradores with the Jardim de São Pedro in Bairo Alto.

Elevador de Santa Justa: Operates Oct-May, 7am-9:45pm; June-Sept, 7am-10:45pm – Fare: €5, includes admission to the viewing platform

Elevador da Gloria: Operates Mon-Thurs 7am-11:55pm, Fri 7am-12:25pm, Sat 8:30am-12:25pm, Sun & Holidays 9am-11:55pm)

Near the upper terminal of the Elevador de Santa Justa are the ruins of the Gothic Igreja (Church) do Carmo, destroyed by the 1755 earthquake. The ruins have been preserved as a symbol of loss and hope, and have been repurposed as the Carmo Archaeological Museum. Tombs, fountains and architectural elements are displayed in the roof-less nave, while the chapels of the apse hold exhibition rooms. (Largo do Carmo – Open Mon-Sat, 10am-5pm – Admission: €3.50, Seniors €2.50)

The Alfama

The Moors left their mark on the Alfama, with its narrow, winding streets and whitewashed houses. The quarter survived the 1755 earthquake almost unscathed thanks to its foundation on bedrock, and looks much as it did in medieval times. The most scenic way to view this quarter is via the vintage #28E tram (fare may be purchased on-board, €2.85).

St. George Castle

The hillside on which St. George Castle sits has long been used in the defense of settlements at Lisbon. The Celts, Phoenicians and Carthaginians all used the hillside for defensive purposes, and the Romans built fortifications there in the 2nd century BC. The current fortifications are comprised of the 11th century Moorish Cerca Moura and the 14th century Cerca Fernandina, which replaced parts of the earlier walls. The Alfama’s 16th century royal palace was soon eclipsed by the Ribeira Palace, and the citadel was relegated to a defensive role only.

Heavily damaged by the 1755 earthquake, the St. George Castle was restored to its medieval appearance in the 1930s. The main entrance is through a 19th century gate that lets onto the Praça d’Armas, which holds cannon and a statue of Alfonso Henriques, who took the citadel from the Moors. The complex consists of the medieval castle, from which several staircases provide access to the ramparts; the remnants of the old royal palace; gardens; and a south-facing terrace with a panoramic view of the city. (Rua de Santa Cruz do Castelo – Miradouro Sta. Luzia stop on the #28 and #12 trams – Open Daily 9am-9pm, Nov-Feb until 6pm – Admission: €8.50, Seniors €5)

The Cathedral of Santa Maria MaiorLa Sé de Lisboa – is the oldest church in Lisbon and occupies the site where the main mosque once stood. The original Romanesque structure was built in the 12th and 13th centuries. A Gothic cloister was added in the late 13th century (excavations in the cloister garden have brought Roman, Visigothic and Moorish remains to light), and the original Romanesque apse replaced with a Gothic chapel and ambulatory in the 14th century. The 17th century brought another addition in the form of a Baroque sacristy, which now holds the cathedral’s Treasury. Following the 1755 earthquake, the main chapel was rebuilt in the neoclassical and Rococo styles, though the Gothic ambulatory still remains. The neoclassical decoration was stripped away during an early 20th century restoration and the magnificent rose window of the western façade rebuilt from fragments of the original. (Largo da Se – Se stop on the #28 tram – Cathedral open daily, 9am-7pm, Cloister and Sacristy open daily, 10am-1pm, 2pm-6pm – Admission: Cathedral, Free – Cloister and Treasury, €2.50)

Also of interest is the nearby Church of Santo Antonio de Lisboa (just in front of La Se) – also known as St. Anthony of Padua – dedicated to the saint, who was born in a house on the site in 1195. Three earlier churches dedicated to the saint were destroyed in earthquakes; the present Baroque/Rococo style church was built in the late 18th century, after the 1755 earthquake.

Braganza Tombs - Sao Vicente da Fora

Braganza Tombs – Sao Vicente de Fora

For those who can’t get enough of royalty, living or dead, there is the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora. Located next to the 16th-17th century Church of São Vicente, the Monastery houses exceptional blue and white azulejos (tiles) depicting the 1147 Siege of Lisbon and, surprisingly, illustrations of some of the fables of 17th century French author Jean de la Fontaine. In the 19th century, King Ferdinand II had the monks’ refectory made over into the Pantheon of the House of Braganza, and had the tombs of his noble ancestors relocated there. There are breathtaking views of the city from the Monastery’s rooftop, and, if you visit on a Tuesday or Saturday, a chance to meander through the Feira da Ladra fleamarket, which takes place behind the church. (Largo da São Vicente – Feira da Ladra stop on the #28 tram – Open Tues-Sun, 10am-6pm – Admission: €5)

The Museum of Portuguese Decorative Arts owes its existence to banker Ricardo do Espirito Santo Silva, who set up a Foundation to preserve his outstanding collection of decorative objects and to establish schools and workshops to keep traditional arts such as woodcarving and bookbinding alive. Housed in the 17th century Palacio Azurara, more than 1,300 items are on display, including textiles, furniture, porcelain, tiles and jewelry from the 15th through 18th centuries. (#2, Largo Portas do Sol – Largo Portas do Sol stop, #28 tram – Open Wed-Mon, 10am-5pm – Guided tours of the Museum and Workshops are available Monday & Wednesday at 11am and 3pm; Thursday at 3pm. Tours may also be arranged in advance for visits Monday-Friday from 10am-1pm and 2:30pm to 4:30pm. Admission: Museum & Workshop, €15, Workshop alone, €10)

For more information: http://www.fress.pt/


Belem, the southwestern-most parish in Lisbon, played an important role in the expansion of the Portuguese Empire, because it was from Belem that explorers like da Gama and Cabral sailed on their voyages of discovery. Today, Belem is the home of several of Lisbon’s most iconic buildings, including two UNESCO World Heritage sites – the Belem Tower and the Jeronimos Monastery. A leisurely ride on the #15 tram takes you through the working-class Restelo neighbourhood to Belem (Mosteiro dos Jeronimos stop. There you may stroll through the many gardens on the Rua de Belem and the Praça do Imperio en route to the Monastery and museums, or you may cross the highway to visit monuments on the waterfront.

Both the Jeronimos Monastery and the Belem Tower date from the early 16th century, and were designed in the exuberant Manueline style. Manueline buildings are virtually encrusted with ornamentation reflecting Portugal’s naval might and the rise of its vast empire – anchors, shells, strings of seaweed, botanical elements and, above all, the cross.

Jeronimos Monastery

In 1501, construction began on a grand monastery intended to give thanks to the Virgin for Vasco da Gama’s successful voyage to India. Built on the site of a small chapel dedicated to St. Mary, Manuel I invited the Order of St. Jerome to occupy the new monastery and provide spiritual counsel to seamen and navigators sailing from Belem. Completed in 1600, the finished Jeronimos Monastery incorporated Plateresque, Renaissance and Baroque elements into its primarily Manueline style. Both the Church of St. Mary, where Manuel I and Vasco da Gama are entombed, and the adjacent Cloister are rich in the Manueline and Plateresque details that make this Monastery a World Heritage Site. (Open Tues-Sun, 10am-5:30pm, Oct-Apr; until 6:30pm, May-Sept – Admission: €10; Combination ticket with Belem Tower €12)

Also housed in the western wing of the Monastery are the National Archaeological Museum, with its collections of Egyptians artifacts, Bronze and Iron Age metalwork and Roman mosaics, and the Naval Museum. The latter, which also occupies an Annex just north of the Monastery, showcases ship models, paintings, and the Royal Barge. (Archaeological Museum Open Tues-Sun, 10am-6pm – Admission: €5, Free on Sundays – Naval Museum Open Tues-Sun, 10am-5pm, Oct-Apr; until 6pm, May-Sept – Admission: €6)

Belem Tower

Belem Tower

The Belem Tower was conceived as part of a defensive system that included forts at Cascais and Caparica at the mouth of the Tagus River. The original early 16th century Tower was more or less a fortified lighthouse built on a basalt outcrop in the river. A bastion with cannon was added later in the century, giving the Tower its present look. Over time, the Tower came to be used as a barracks and a prison, and fell into a state of disrepair. Renovations were undertaken in the mid 19th century, but it was only in the late 1990s that the Tower was fully restored. (Open Tues-Sun, 10am-5:30pm, Oct-Apr; until 6:30pm, May-Sept – Admission: €6; Combination ticket with Monastery €12)

One of the more notable modern monuments in Belem is the Monument to the Discoveries, which commemorates the Age of Discovery and the role of Henry the Navigator. The original Monument was a temporary structure built for the 1940 World’s Fair. In 1960, a larger recreation was completed to mark the 500th anniversary of Henry’s death. Built in the shape of a ship’s prow, the Monument is adorned with sculptures of Henry and 33 other figures from the history of the discoveries, including da Gama, Cabral, Magellan, and St. Francis Xavier. Inside the Monument are temporary exhibitions and a multi-media presentation on the history of Lisbon; an elevator offers access to the top and bird’s-eye views of the Tagus, Belem and its monuments. (Open Daily, 10am-7pm, Mar-Sept; Tues-Sun, 10am-6pm, Oct-Feb – Admission: €4, Seniors €2)

Another popular attraction is the National Coach Museum, which is housed in the former Riding Arena of the Belem Palace (now the Presidential Palace). Created in 1905 by Queen Amelia, the Museum showcases carriages of the 16th-19th centuries, including those used by the Portuguese royal family. (Praça Afonso de Albuquerque – Open Tues-Sun, 10am-6pm – Admission €6, Seniors €3)

For more information: http://en.museudoscoches.pt/

Belem also boasts a world-class museum of modern and contemporary art, the Berardo Collection Museum. The collection, valued at more than €316 million, covers important 20th century movements from surrealism to pop art, with a focus on Portuguese contemporary art in particular. Among the artists represented are Picasso, Pollock, de Kooning, Stella, Dali, Warhol, Hockney, Lichtenstein, Mondrian and Man Ray. (Located at the Belem Cultural Center, Praça do Imperio – Open Tues-Sun, 10am-7pm – Admission: Free – Fees apply to temporary exhibitions)

Other Museums

The Gulbenkian Collection, patiently assembled over a half century by Armenian-born oil magnate Calouste Gulbenkian, is one of Lisbon’s finest – and most frequently overlooked – museums. Housed in a modern concrete and glass structure set inside a 20-acre wooded and landscaped park, the collection has a dual focus on the arts of Western Europe and those of the Near East. In addition to an incredible collection of ceramics and textiles from Turkey and Persia, the museum holds masterpieces by artists like Rubens, Rembrandt, Monet and Gainsborough as well as medieval illustrated manuscripts, 18th century decorative arts, and a collection of jewelry by Rene Lalique. (Avenida de Berna, 45A – Open Tues-Sun, 10am-6pm – Admission: €5)

For more information: http://museu.gulbenkian.pt/museu/en/Homepage

Located in 16th century former Convent of the Madre de Deus, the National Tile Museum (Museo Nacional do Azulejo) showcases one of the most distinctive art forms of the Iberian peninsula – decorative ceramic tiles. This collection, the only one of its kind in the world, traces the history of the art form from the 15th century through the present. The highlight of the museum is a 75-foot long landscape of Lisbon made of 1,300 tiles in 1738 – almost two decades before the devastating earthquake. (Rua da Madre de Deus, 4 – Open Tues-Sun, 10am-6pm – Admission: €5, Seniors €2.50)

For more information: http://www.museudoazulejo.pt/en-GB/Default.aspx

Portugal’s National Gallery, the National Museum of Ancient Art (Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga), is housed in the 17th century Palacio de Alvor-Pombal. The collection owes its genesis to the Liberal Wars (1828-34), after which the private collections of ruined noble families were expropriated or sold. The museum holds works spanning the 14th through 19th centuries, including paintings by Raphael, Bosch (“The Temptation of St. Anthony”), and Nuno Gonçalves (“The Veneration of St. Vincent”). The museum also contains a fine collection of decorative and applied arts, including the Belem Monstrance, made of gold brought back from India by Vasco da Gama. Other objects – Japanese screens depicting first contact with the Portuguese; Afro-Portuguese carved tusks; Indo-Portuguese chests; samples of Chinese export porcelain – highlight the links between Portugal and these diverse nations during the Age of Discovery. (#95, Rua das Janeles Verdes – Cais da Rocha stop, #15 and #18 trams, Rua das Janeles Verdes stop, buses #713, 714, 727 – Open Tues, 2pm-6pm, Wed-Sun, 10am-6ppm – Admission: €6, Seniors €3)

A Quick Note on DIY Daytrips from Lisbon

National Palace - Sintra

National Palace – Sintra

Two of the most popular destinations for day-trippers are Sintra and Cascais.

Sintra, the summer escape of the royal family for centuries, is on the UNESCO World Heritage list, and a visit there is a leisurely trip back to a more romantic time. The easiest way to get to Sintra is by train: the journey from the Rossio Station takes 39 minutes and costs €4.30 round-trip; trains leave every 15 minutes during the week and every half-hour on the weekends.

For more information on Sintra: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/723

A favourite beach escape of natives and tourists alike, Cascais is easily reached by train from the Cais do Sodre station. The trip takes between 30-40 minutes, with frequent daytime service; round-trip fare is €4.30 round-trip.

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