10 Best Attractions in Lisbon Portugal That You MUST SEE
Lisbon, without an iota of doubt, is among the most fun places to be in all of Europe. Tourist attractions range from the historic to the contemporary. While gigantic structures from historic times still stand in full glory, the small by lanes of the city, with trams running, offer holidaymakers a perfect mix of interest inducing curios.
Ample cafeterias, lining the streets of Lisbon, would satiate any gourmet’s appetite. These cafeterias are reminiscent of their age old looks, dating back to 1930s. You will also get an ambience of the bygone times when walking along its sea front, getting mentally transported back to the times when Vasco-da-Gama had landed at this port city.
Of course, though there are many sights that make a spectator marvel, some specific places of interest in and around Lisbon can be termed must visit or hot spots for a traveller.
Best Lisbon Attractions
1. Jerónimos Monastery
You will walk into a world of fantasy on entering this monastery. The structure marks the discovery of sea route to India by Vasco-da-Gama in the year 1498. Intricate art adorns the inner walls of the monastery which at one point had been occupied by monks, praying for sailors and the king from within its walls. The main architect was Diogo de Boitaca whose fame is well established in this field, to this day. Vasco-da-Gama lies interred in the church and so is Luís Vaz de Camões, who was a 16 century poet.
The intricate details of art that can be experienced on the walls of the church, which is also referred to as Hieronymites Monastery, will take you back to the historic age when they had actually been carved. The wood carvings are from the renaissance period of Portugal. Symbols depicting awards for bravery given at those times can also be seen. Replicas of the turrets used during wars of that historic period also make their presence in the premise.
2. The Palace of the Marquises of Fronteira
Dom Joao de Mascarenhas was bestowed the title of Marquis of Fronteira by King Pedro II of Portugal in 1640. The Palace of the Marquises of Fronteira was built in that year and used to serve as a pavilion for hunting game. Today you will be amazed with the beautiful garden that spreads around the entire palace walls.
There is a chapel inside the palace that houses the battle room of those times. Visitors get to experience the War of Restoration that took place between 1640 to 1668 through the murals and paintings on the walls of this room. There is also the dining room with its paintings from Domingos Antonio de Sequeira that will have anyone gawking.
The statuary, which houses the busts of the Kings of Portugal, will provide an insight into the times and its rulers of Portugal. The major part of the palace is still privately owned and houses rooms that retain the fresco walls, oil paintings of the renaissance period and the tiles with its intricate decorations. The 12th Marquis of Fronteria owns and resides at the palace as of now.
3. São Jorge Castle
The castle is located on a hill top of Lisbon and can be seen from any part of the city. This fortification has stood the times and arrival of the Visigoths during the 5th century, the Moors in the 9th century as well as the arrival of Christians sometime in the 12th century. The Castle holds the relics of cells that held convicts in all these ages. Visitors will be transported back in time once inside the castle walls.
It was in 1147 that the first Portuguese royal King, Afonso Henriques, was able to oust the Moors and occupy this castle. He had taken help of some English crusaders for this battle and the reason behind the name of the castle is in reverence to Saint George. Another interesting bit of history is associated with the main entrance of the castle. Martim Moniz was a nobleman who had placed himself at the entrance to the castle thus ensuring it could not be closed completely. This had helped the attacking Portuguese soldiers to enter the castle and defeat the Moors.
The castle was also a place where King Manuel received Vasco-da-Gama, and the chamber where the meet took place is still present. In 1755, during the Great Earthquake, many parts of the castle had been destroyed, but it still makes a spectacular sight. There are 18 towers that still stand, which visitors can go through to reach the castle ramparts. The breathtaking view of Lisbon that is possible from here would be an experience unforgotten.
4. Estrela Basilica
The Estrela Basilica dates back to the 18th century and was built after Queen Maria I gave birth to an heir to the throne of Portugal. She had taken a vow in lieu of the birth of a son and the basilica marks the fulfilment of that vow.
Statues of saints and other figures related to heavenly deities can be seen all over the place. The tomb of Queen Maria I is also located within the basilica and a Christmas manger with 500 plus figures adorn the surrounding of the tomb. The tomb of Dona Maria I in whose time the basilica was completed also lies in the structure.
One very interesting piece of art is the Nativity Scene by sculptor Joaquim Machado de Castro, from the 18th century. Made up of terra cotta and cork, this amazing piece of work will hold you in awe. Another interesting thing is the kaleidoscopic effect that visitors experience when walking into the chambers, due to the pink and black marble that has been used. Climbing up to the dome in the basilica also gives one a complete 360 degree view of Lisbon.
5. Belem Tower
Also called the Torré de Belém, the Belem Tower stands at the very edge of the Tagus riverbank, marking one of the most famous landmarks in all of Lisbon. The history of this tower can be traced back to the times of King John II. He had placed a ship by the name of Grande Nau at this spot to protect Belem from attacks. King Manuel I who was his successor constructed a fortified structure at the same site, which also had a light house in its ramparts. It therefore provided fortification of a permanent nature at the mouth of the Tagus River. With time the river altered its course and the fortification now stands on the mainland itself.
The architect, Francisco de Arruda, was of modern thinking and his style is evident from the symbols seen in the structure, being that of Vasco-da-Gama and his voyages. The head of a rhinoceros can be seen at the lower part of the complex. It signifies the first rhino to ever to come to Portugal and was gifted by India.
6. Lisbon Oceanarium
A mesmerising sight for visitors waits at the Lisbon Oceanarium which holds the rank of the largest aquarium in all of Europe. The same architect who has built the largest aquarium of the world, Peter Chermayeff, is the author of the Lisbon Oceanarium too. The aquarium holds 4 million litres of water and the species which abound it comprise of more than 25,000 varieties of fish and aqua marine life.
Visitors also get to know about the development process of these species via the interactive displays that is housed in the Lisbon Oceanarium. Even the layout of the aquarium is unique. It has a central tank which represents a major ocean and the four corners make up the North Atlantic, Antarctic, Pacific and Indian oceans. One will not be able to distinguish the physical partition of the aquarium, and within each, the environment – including temperature, flora and fauna etc – is maintained as per the natural settings. Viewing is possible from different levels which add to the excitement of this visit.
7. Rua Augusta Arch
The arch along with the various historic buildings around this area was built after the Great Earthquake of 1755. The Rua Augusta Arch itself was built as a bell tower, to start with, by the architect Marquês do Pombal and then was later converted into the present form of an arch. The road that passes from under the arch ends up to an open square at the other end.
It is a walk down old times on the still cobbled path, with age old cafes lining both the sides. Tourists can also go up the tower of the Rua Augusta Arch with the help of elevators and enjoy a magnificent view of Lisbon, in its entirety, from atop. The street is closed to traffic and shops selling all variety of knickknacks are found here. Another interesting aspect is that all streets that are parallel to the Rua Augusta have their names associated with the type of work that goes on. Like there is the street named, Rua dos Sapateiros where shoemakers can be found.
8. Igreja de São Roque
Construction of this famous church was finished in the year 1574 by Filippo Terzi, a Jesuit. History has it that Lisbon had been ravaged by plague in 1505, which had its origin in a ship that had come in from Italy. Even the King and royal household had to flee Lisbon to escape the wrath of this epidemic. Bodies of people who died from the plague were taken outside the town of Lisbon, which was São Roque, to be cremated.
The King Dom Manuel I also sent for a messenger to Venice to come back with a relic of St Roch which was supposed to be a cure for the plague. The relic, on reaching Lisbon, was taken atop the hill where the cemetery of the plague victims lay. The church that was built at this place bears testimony to this devastating incident from history. Along with interesting history the sculpture and architecture of the shrine is also of great interest.
9. Ajuda National Palace
This palace is a classic example of a neoclassical monument. Its construction started after the 1755 earthquake, which had brought the fear of living in masonry buildings in King John V, who was the ruler at that time. His architect therefore suggested and started this building using wood. The structure was completed in 1761 but had to undergo some changes under a different architect. There was a defect in the main chamber which gave it the possibility of collapsing. The palace had taken very long to complete due to various reasons like lack of finance, political changeover and the likes.
King Lui I was the first from the royal family to reside permanently in the palace. The Ajuda National Palace is a standing link to this great turmoil that Portugal has gone through during the passage of time. The rooms and the layout internally is worth spending time on. The view from the exterior is once again magnificent as it is located on the banks of the river Tagus. The mix of architecture of three different people would be very evident for visitors to the palace.
10. Castle of Almoural
This castle is located in the midst of the river Tagus. Its origin dates back to the 12th century, when the Knights Templar had built this castle during their fight of the Portuguese Conquest. It had been the fortification point against the Romans during that period. There is however certain signs that Romans had at some time occupied this castle – though there is nothing of the sort mentioned in the historical writing of the period. The Castle of Almoura is located on an island and the only way to reach it is by boat. It is an interesting place to visit due its locale, and the very old times that the structure represents.