I know it’s a little presumptuous to propose a walking tour of Lisbon after being in the city for only a couple of days but I knew I had to figure the place out quickly or else leave frustrated with a “never again” attitude. After two days riding hop-on, hop-off buses, walking the shoreline and through several of its parks, learning the stops on the metro, studying the rather useless guidebook I’d brought from home and maps from the tourist bureau, I put together this (mostly) walking tour of Lisbon highlights that I tried out on day three. I think it works.
There are several hop-on bus companies in the city and the audio on the one I signed up for was mainly music so it was difficult to know what sites we were passing. Some sites have more than one name, some names presented in English, others in Portuguese so it can get confusing. The metro system is efficient but doesn’t reach two of the most popular sites. You can also take the tram but lineups can be daunting. If you are able to do some walking, however, then you can visit many of the highlights on foot.
To use city transportation, buy a rechargeable green-coloured card at a metro station and with that card you can purchase single trip tickets or a day pass.
I have separated the walking tour into three routes, the first from Parques Marques de Pombal down to the waterfront, then from the waterfront to the Castelo in the east, and finally from the waterfront to the Jeronimos Monastery in the west.
Lisbon was built on a series of hills overlooking the River Tejo. It was one of the most important ports in Europe until an earthquake in 1755 almost destroyed it, bringing an end to Portugal’s golden era.
Route 1: Parques Marques de Pombal to the waterfront
#1: Parques Marques de Pombal (Metro stop Marques de Pombal, blue line)
From the top deck of a hop-on bus, you can see the river from here and that’s where we are heading. It’s all down hill and as you walk along Avenue de Liberdade—a ceremonial route with statutes and historic buildings—you’ll be in the shade of beautiful old trees.
# 2: Plaça dos Restauradores
This is the Square of the Restorers, celebrating the country’s renewed independence from Spain in 1640. On your right as you enter the square is the Elevator da Gloria, the most popular funicular in the city and a National Monument built in 1885. The ticket you purchase is good for a return trip and the ride up the sheer cliff to the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara lookout in the Bairro Alto neighbourhood only takes a couple of minutes. The views from here are spectacular.
The pink Palácio Foz dominates the western side of the square and is now home to the Portuguese Tourist Office. Opposite it, beside Starbucks, is the Rossio train station; I caught the train to Sintra from this station, a highly recommended excursion.
#3: Plaça Dom Pedro IV (Rossio)
This square, known simply as Rossio, has been the main meeting place in the city since medieval times. It has fountains and mosaic-cobbled pavement and impressive structures boardering it, particularly the Tetro Nacional de Dona Maria II and Igreja de São Domingos.
#4: Rua Augusta
This is the Lower Town’s mosaic-paved pedestrian walk, filled with shops and cafes. At its end you can see the historic arch that leads to the river. The streets around it are part of the Baixa grid and named according to the type of business that was carried out there.
Walk along Rua do Carmo and Rua Garrett in Lisbon’s elegant shopping district. Find a seat in the Praça do Municipo and admire the statue of Portugal’s great modernist poet, Lisbon’s main opera house and the Igreja des Martires.
#6: Praça do Comércio
Make your way back to Rua Augusta and go through the huge arch that was built to celebrate Lisbon’s reconstruction after the earthquake. Before you is a magnificent square facing the river. The square is also called Terreiro do Paço meaning Grounds of the Palace for the royal palace was here before it was destroyed in the earthquake. There is a bronze equestrian statue of the king who started the rebuilding.
The Lisbon information centre is in this square and it’s the starting point for bus tours and trams. To the west is the Point 25 de Abril, a massive bridge, 2.3 km in length, which crosses the river.
Route 2: From the waterfront to the Castelo
The end goal on this route is St. George’s Castle (Castelo de São Jorge) high in the hills. Tram #28 that runs along Lisbon’s steepest streets will almost get you to the castle but these trams are very popular and often packed. The walk up the hill on Rua de Conceição is actually pleasant and if you follow the tracks where the #28 tram runs you won’t get lost.
This is Lisbon’s main cathedral, founded in 1150 on a site where the city’s main mosque once stood. It looks a lot like a fortress and can be seen from far away.
#8: Miradouro da Santa Luzia
This is where you turn up off the #28 tram route towards the castle. The route is steep and twisting but well marked and not long. Before you start to climb, take a few moments to enjoy the Santa Luzia viewpoint above terracotta rooftops and over the eastern riverfront.
#9: Castelo de São Jorge (St. George’s Castle)
This ruined Moorish castle, right in the heart of historic Lisbon, is the city’s most visited tourist site. As soon as you enter the castle you will be struck by the coolness of the air; if you brought a sweater you will probably put it on. There’s a stillness to the place and as you walk around the views of the city are amazing. There is a modest museum and rather pleasant cafeteria.
There are three ancient districts around the castle: Mouraria, Santa Cruz and the Alfama. The Alfama is the best known, a maze of alleys and shops. If you return to the Santa Luzia lookout and continue following the #28 tram line a ways, you’ll find great places to eat, more churches, and paths to wander rather aimlessly. I actually got a seat on the #28 tram from here, this time going down the hill back to Rua Augusta for the start of Route 3.
Route 3: From the city centre to Belem
It is a long walk from the huge arch on Rua Augusta to Belem. I know because the hop-on bus I was on broke down half way and I made my way by foot along the river walkway that is mostly open and unshaded. On one side is the railway that can only be crossed in a couple of places. Take tram #25 instead.
#11: Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jeronimos Monastery)
This European Gothic, 16th-c monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, built to commemorate the discovery of the sea route to India (Goa was a Portuguese colony). It is an attractive area, with a park across from the monastery and quaint places to eat and shop.
#12: Belem monuments
The museum of modern art, the Bernado Collection, is across from the cathedral. It front of that, on the waterfront, is the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) to honour Portuguese explorers. Just beyond is the Torre de Belém (Belem Tower), built to defend the mouth of the Tejo River and today a symbol of the city.
Lisbon has several museums, the most lauded probably being the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, which surprisingly does not have any art from Portugal. Remember that museums are closed on Mondays. There are other funiculars to ride and green spaces to visit. And there is Lisbon’s historic aqueduct, a remarkable engineering feat.
This walking tour is simply my attempt to logically find my way around the city.
By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy
Riding the buses™ 2015