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  • Writer's pictureTheresa Brandt

Highlight on Lisbon: What to See and Do in the City of Seven Hills

Belém Tower on the bank of the Tagus River

Full of stories, sunshine and, well, salted cod, Lisbon is one of Europe’s most beloved cities. It’s also an excellent place to extend your stay before or after your river cruise along the delightful Douro. In Lisbon, visitors are warmly welcomed in a family-like manner and immediately immersed in the cultural customs, culinary traditions and historic background of this ageless city. Here’s where I recommend starting if you have a couple of extra days to spend in Lisbon.

Be Awed by Architecture

Don’t miss two of the “Seven Wonders of Portugal”: the Belém Tower and the Jerónimos Monastery. Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and are incredible representations of the city’s cultural heritage. The Belém Tower, also known as the Tower of St. Vincent (who you can see depicted in a sculpture stone motif on the tower’s exterior), was the imposing final (or first) sight sailors had of the city before they sailed to (or from) the New World. (Be sure to sample a Pastéis de Belém, a sweet concoction of eggs, milk and sugar in a puff pastry - ask about its ties to the monastery).

Built the same year as the Tower - 1515 - the Jerónimos Monastery represents Late Gothic Maueline architectural style. Admire the arched ceiling, stained-glass windows and golden limestone cloister, with its carvings of animals, nautical and religious themes, and mythical sea monsters.

Tack on a visit to the Castle of São Jorge, a Moorish palace that overlooks the city’s historical center. The Romans, Visigoths and Moors all made their mark on the fortress before it was deemed the Royal Palace in the 14th century.

Learn About History Through Ancient Art

Art lovers won’t want to miss the National Ancient Art Museum for its artifacts and paintings from the 12th to 19th centuries. You’ll find an incredible array of riches, including Portuguese, European, African and Far Eastern sculpture, silver, gold, jewelry, decorative objects and artwork. Among the national treasures housed here are The Panels of Saint Vincent, by Nuno Gonçalves, the Belém Monstrance, and notable paintings by Bosch, Memling, Dürer, Raphael and Piero della Francesca. Don’t miss the museum’s beautiful garden, and restaurant, that presides over the River Tagus.

Get a Bird’s-Eye View

Climb to the pinnacle of the Arco (arch) da Rua Augusta for a view of Lisbon’s busiest pedestrianized street, and beyond to Baixa and the river. The arch was built to symbolize the city’s rebirth after an earthquake, fire and tsunami in 1755 destroyed what was previously here and today represents “The Virtues of the Greatest”: strength, resilience and achievement.

Once you’re at the top, you’ll see sculptures by Célestin Anatole Calmels of Glory crowning Genius and Valour, as well as statues by Victor Bastos representing important Portuguese historical figures, including the Marquis of Pombal, Vasco da Gama, Viriato and Nuno Álvares Pereira.

Visit an Interesting Museum

Gain insight into how the royalty lived in Lisbon from the 17th to 19th centuries, in particular, how they got around. Created by Queen D. Amelia of Orleães and Bragança (the wife of king D. Carlos), the unique National Coach Museum occupied the former riding ring of the Palace of Belém until it was moved to a new location upon its 110th anniversary. Meant to preserve the vehicles belonging to the Royal House, the museum - designed by Brazilian architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha - contains an impressive collection of ornately decorated coaches, berlins, sedan chairs and carriages.

If you’d like to spend some extra time in this beguiling European destination, I can help arrange for accommodations, private tours, traditional meals and more. Reach out by booking a consultation through my Services page. I'd love to chat!


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