Existing Member?

Irene's Adventures

Portugal - Lisbon

PORTUGAL | Wednesday, 6 September 2017 | Views [300]

Portugal flag



I arrived in Lisbon the day before Ed because my flight would have arrived after his, and considering he was flying directly after coming off a night shift I didn't want him waiting for me. Also, I wanted to find the Mignac Hostel so we were not entirely lost. This turned out to be a very smart decision because it was not very easy to find. The directions the hostess gave me were perfect, except for the fact that there was no sign on the outside of the building and none of her neighbours knew anything at all about a guest house in the apartment building. A friendly, English speaking woman finally called on her own cell phone and only then did the hostess wave from the third floor window. Once it was all sorted, it was a nice place to stay.

I took the metro to the airport the next day and met Ed. We rented the car he had reserved and tried to navigate with the GPS provided in the car. It took us on a tour of the city before bringing us to the guesthouse. (We soon found out it was better to rely on Google Maps on my phone. My UK SIM card was not working so I had to buy a new one.) However, there was no place to park by our guesthouse. After dropping Ed's luggage we drove around and around to find a parking lot. We found one 3 blocks away for  30 a day. GASP!! Just the drive to the guesthouse convinced us to NOT drive. Lisbon is very hilly and has lots of one-way streets. It is horrible to navigate. So basically, we paid a fortune just to park a rental car. 

Ed was absolutely knackered and wanted to take a nap. I decided to take the hop on hop off bus and scout out what we could see and do for the next few days. I saw some really nice things and decided where we would go the next day.

The next day we jumped on the bus and headed straight for the Belem district. It was the furthest away and (to me) the most spectacular. We first went to Jerónimos Monastery. It is a spectacular Gothic building that seems to go on forever. We didn't exactly plan properly and didn't realize there are amazing cloisters to be seen at the Monastery. Alas, we missed it.

Jerónimos Monastery

 Jeronimos Monastery

The Monastery was built in 1501. It was built thanks to a 5% tax on commerce from Africa and the Orient, which worked out to about 70 kilos (150 lbs) of gold per year. It probably didn't hurt that Portugal was also pillaging the Americas by this time, as well. With the influx of such riches, architects were not restricted to small-scale plans.


The Church of Santa Maria de Belem

 Church of Santa Maria de Belem

The Church of Santa Maria de Belem is at one end of the monastery. The ornate entrance is 32 metres (105 ft) high and 12 metres (39 ft) wide. It features gables and pinnacles, with many carved figures standing under a canopy in carved niches. The thing that wowed us was the six 25-metre-high octagonal columns decorated with ornate carvings. It is rather dim in the church but the light from the high stained glass windows cast a beautiful glow on the tops of the columns and lattice looking ceiling.

 Church of Santa Maria de Belem  detail of column  stained glass window

There is, of course, the huge gold altar. There is also the tomb of Vasco da Gama, the navigator who found the sea link between Portugal & India. It almost seemed in homage to a man who helped funnel riches into the country.

 tomb of Vasco da Gama

Pasteis de Belem

 Pasteis de Belem

After the church, we walked the short distance to the Pasteis de Belem, a pastry shop that makes the best custard pastries in Portugal, if not all of the Iberian Peninsula. We queued for several minutes to order one each from the tiny takeaway counter. We sprinkled a bit of icing sugar and cinnamon on it and ate it on the sidewalk. They were very, very good, but we didn't realize just how good. Every time we saw what we thought were the same pastries after that, we were sorely disappointed. On our return trip to Lisbon, two weeks later, we made a special trip back to the shop and actually went into their restaurant. When we were there the first time, there was a long queue waiting to get into the restaurant. We just assumed that it was a small coffee shop type affair, hence the long wait. Boy, were we wrong! The small humble appearance is just a facade. The restaurant seats 400 people – and there is a continuous line of people waiting for a seat! It appeared as though they kept buying out the neighbouring shops, kicking out the walls, and expanding their enterprise. When we exited, after our delicious lunch of quiche and two pastries each for dessert, we came out half a block down from where we entered.

 Pasteis de Belem

Now back to the order of things. Belem Tower is just across the park and down the road from Jeronimos Monastery. The park is impressive in its own right. It has a huge fountain that has to be about 20 meters across. There are smaller fountains, as well as statues of old kings. The shrubs are cut and shaped into fancy designs. Huge trees shade benches and paths.

 Praça do Império  Praça do Império

Belem Tower

 Belem Tower

Belem Tower was constructed from 1514-1520 under the regime of King D Manuel I in tribute to the patron saint of the city, St. Vincent. It was built as both a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon and as part of a defense system to the entrance of the Tagus river. It eventually lost strategic importance and over time served as a prison, a customs post, a telegraph station and a lighthouse. The first architect of the nearby Jeronimos Monastery participated in decorating the Belem Tower. It is 30 meters high and 12 meters wide. It was classified a UNESCO world cultural side in 1983.


We queued for about an hour in the hot sun because they only allow a certain number of people within the Tower at a time. This may seem unfair to those waiting, but once inside it is quite nice not to have hoards of people to contend with. Thankfully, we had our hats and a water bottle. The Tower is quite domineering and impressive standing solitary on the edge of the river and across a large empty park. While waiting, we could see people entering and exiting a balcony.

Belem Tower

The massive structure absolutely dwarfed the people while the beautiful balcony seemed more akin to having a princess waiting for her knight in shining armour. It was built from limestone and almost white in colour, making any shadows accentuate the medievalness of its appearance. Its bartizan turrets cling gracefully to the corners adding to the effect.


Once inside, we were directed to head straight up the steep spiral staircase. There are 4 levels. Each level is basically one room. The rooms were smaller than I thought they would be but at the same time very elegant with a fireplace and stone benches allowing one to look out of the larger-than-I-thought windows toward the land side of the tower. The stonework and flooring were marvelous. On the second level was not only the small balcony we saw earlier but a huge balcony on the river side of the tower. It extended the entire breadth of the Tower. The sunlight shining in made the whitewashed columns dazzling. From this balcony, we could look down onto the horseshoe-shaped bastion.

Belem Tower   Belem Tower

The center of the bastion is open, allowing light and air into the lower level cloister. Surrounding the opening is a statue of the Virgin holding child and tall ornamental pillars that reminded me of chess pieces.

 Belem Tower  Belem Tower

The lower level had displays and also had the old prison – with its super low ceiling so that we could not stand upright. Were people really that short in olden times?


The first three floors have ceilings made of hollow concrete slaps, to hold the heat. The fourth floor is a chapel and had rib-vaulted ceiling.

Belem Tower - chapel

On the outside of the Tower is a deteriorating carving of a rhinoceros head. The story goes that in 1513 King Manual I gave it to Pope Leo X as a gift. However, the ship that was carrying it from India sank, but the rhinoceros was recovered and stuffed with straw. It made its way to infamy being being sculpted onto the base of a turret.


Monument to the Discoveries

   Monument to the Discoveries  

It was a short walk to the Monument of the Discoveries. It stands on the northern bank of the Tagus River where ships once departed to explore and trade with India and the Orient. It celebrates the age of discovery or exploration of the 15th and 16th centuries. It was conceived in 1939 for the Portuguese World Exhibition. It was constructed as a temporary structure. However, in 1958 the government promoted a larger permanent structure made of steel, cement, rose-tinted stone, and limestone. It stands 52 meters high and takes the form of a bow of an early Portuguese exploration ship. 16 statues grace each side with a figure of Henry the Navigator on its front edge. The statues include monarchs, explorers, cartographers, artists, scientists, and missionaries. Each figure seems to be moving toward the front, depicting their participation in the events after Henry. It is a moving piece of history in art form. It invoked emotion, and we aren't even Portuguese!

 Monument to the Discoveries

Behind the Monument is a huge beige, black and red limestone compass rose and a medieval map of the world. It was a gift from the Republic of South Africa. It caught my eye but is so big that I could not make out what it was. It was only after I googled it and saw an aerial picture did I truly appreciate it.

 compass rose - Wikipedia  compass rose

It had been a long, hot day. We were tired, hungry, and thirsty. We found a beautiful hotel restaurant, the AdLib, not too far from our guesthouse. It was a bit pricey, but the food and service were excellent. The ladies bathroom was amazing! It even had private lighted makeup mirrors.  We ate there a few times over the next few days.


The next day Ed was still feeling the effects of night shift and jet lag. He wanted a less hectic day. I suggested we go to Eduard VII Park. It is a huge park (26 hectares) in the center of the city, to the north of Avenida da Liberdade. It is high on a hill and we could see over the geometrically trimmed shrubs, past Marquess of Pombal Square all the way to the Tagus River. It is simply just pretty.

Eduard VII Park 

Marquess of Pombal Square is an important roundabout, with 5 major streets feeding into it. It has a metro station and many buses stop there. At its center is a monument to a powerful prime minister who ruled in the 1700's.

Marquess of Pombal Square

The Avenida da Liberdade is an important avenue in central Lisbon. It links Marquess of Pombal Square and Restauradores Square. It is 90 meters wide, has 10 lanes of traffic, and is over a kilometre long. It has beautiful cobblestone pedestrian lanes and gardens. It has so many huge trees it looks like a forest in the middle of the city. It is the shopping and office district of Lisbon and is also the most expensive real estate in the city.  On our return trip, we happened upon a car show being held on the Avenida.  Hundreds of antique cars were on display.  Ed loved it!

   Avenida da Liberdade  Lisbon Car Show

Estufa Fria Botanical Gardens

 shaded roof & bridges

As we were walking along from Eduard VII Park, Ed spotted something behind a hedge. He commented that it looked like some structure was down below and covered. We walked along and around the corner, and walked along even more before we came to the source of our interest. It was Estufa Fria Botanical Gardens. The reason that we couldn't see it properly is that it is down a very steep hill (a former quarry) and mostly covered with bamboo slats which protect the plants from the winter cold and the summer heat. Once inside the gardens, it was wonderfully cool despite the heat of the afternoon.


What a gem! What a fantastic way to spend a leisurely afternoon. It is 1.5 hectares of botanical lover's delight. It is multi-leveled with hidden paths winding through vines, trees, shrubs, flowers, and waterfalls. It has small bridges and stepping stones over ponds with statues and fountains gracing them. There are small caves with benches to sit, rest, and enjoy.


Outside of the enclosed gardens is a small lake with two tiny islands. One island has a small bridge leading over to it. The other island stands alone. Both islands each have a lovely statue. Ducks and geese float on the lake. We came back to here upon our return to Lisbon two weeks later, as well.

 Estufa Fria Botanical Gardens

Nearby, is a children's playground with a few kiosks for food and drink. We stopped for a refreshing lemonade on our downhill trek back to Marquess of Pombal Square where we caught the metro back to Restauradores Square near to our guesthouse.  It was here that we saw a very elegantly dressed lady half dancing along.  But she had no earbuds or evidence of music playing.  Maybe she was drunk?  We don't know.  Either way, she walked over to the playground, talked to some kids, then danced away.  It was really weird.  Everyone at the kiosk was looking at each other with a "What the hell was that" look on their faces.  Maybe she was just happy...???


The Metro is quite an efficient way to get from one end of the city to the other. Some of the stations are decorated with goofy cartoon pictures.

metro station

There was an electric tram not too far from our guesthouse that could transport one up and down the steep hill rather than climb the hundreds of steps. In the 19th century, the Santa Justa lift transported people from the Baixa district to the Largo do Carmo. It is a beautiful wrought-iron structure adorned with neo-gothic arches and geometric patterns. It is now an overpriced tourist attraction leading to a viewing platform. We did not go up.

 Santa Justa lift

Lisbon is a very old city and has old and new architecture. A massive earthquake in 1755, coupled with the subsequent fires and tsunami, nearly leveled the entire city. Nearly, but not totally. Some buildings did survive. Within one month it was decided, by the king and his ministers, that the worst-hit areas were to be completely razed and rebuilt – bigger, better, and more beautiful. Roads, squares, and parks were expanded and beautified. There are statues and monuments to former rulers all over the city and all elaborately decorated. Nearly every square and park have a statue or fountain or both. Today, Lisbon hosts an architectural competition for the most beautiful building. It is common to see old and new side by side, and bright colours beside drab grey. There are huge geometric designs and patterns made of cobblestone that go on for kilometers, especially on Avenida da Liberdade. There is no uniformity when it comes to Lisbon architecture, and that is what makes it so interesting. A bus ride is never boring here.

 cobblestones  architecture  architecture  

Terreiro do Paco

 Terreiro do Paco

The next day, Saturday, we walked down to Praca do Comercio (commonly known as Terreiro do Paco). It is was the location of the Royal Ribeira Palace, the main residence of the King of Portugal until the 1755 earthquake destroyed it. It is located on the banks of the Tagus River. The symmetrical building of the square is filled with government offices regulating customs and port activities, with some lovely shops and restaurants thrown in. At the centre of the square is a bronze statue of King Jose I mounted on a horse.

Terreiro do Paco - King Jose I

Opening towards Augusta Street is the Arco du Rua, a triumphal arch that has a clock and statues of Glory, Ingenuity, and Valor on top and local heroes of antiquity on the sides. The square is also the site of the 1908 assassination of the last king of Portugal and his heir.

 Arco du Rua

From there we took a tuktuk to where we thought was the Castelo de Sao Jorge. The driver dropped us off at a viewing platform then took us back down the ridiculously steep hill, where we took the Hop On bus back up. In the end, it worked out well because on our walk back down the hill we stopped at a few things the tuktuk driver passed by that struck our interest.


Castelo de Sao Jorge

 Castelo de Sao Jorge

Little remains from the original 7th century hilltop walled city fortress that surrounded a castle. The current Castelo de Sao Jorge was founded by the Arabs in the 11th century in what was then known as Al-Uxbuna. Its purpose was to house military troops, However, in case of a siege, there were also provisions for the elite.


The nearby port made international trading possible and viable. Although there were different currencies bartering in the Medina, it was all based on silver and copper. To balance the bartering field, it was the weight of the metal that determined the value, giving rise to splitting coins into halves, quarters, eighths and even sixteenths. Trade brings people and people brings greed. It was a period rife with turmoil as local and newly arrived foreign principalities jostled for position and power - at home and abroad. The Arabs were ousted in the 13th century.

 coin fragment

During the 14th century, the city outside of the walls was growing fast, but residents within the walls were restricted by the walls themselves. They made modifications, expansions, and additions such as administration buildings, stables, a hospital, a church, and hostels. They even revived the forgotten sewer system left by the Romans and Arabs. During the affluent world colonization of the 16th century, still restricted by the outer walls, they turned to beatification. They jazzed up the walls by applying imported tiles with intricate designs which were made by pressing a mould into the wet clay then painting the grooves. An oily mixture was applied to prevent the colours from running together.

 detail of tile

There is a magnificent viewing platform outside the castle walls where we could see all the way to the 25 de Abril Bridge. There are two olive trees that still survive from the middle ages.

centuries old olive tree

There are alcoves with stone benches and a fountain interspersed throughout the grounds.


There are statues of various kings. There is a museum showing artifacts – such as the coin fragments and tiles.  One area of the fortress is an ongoing archaeological dig, where they have found evidence of settlements dating back to the 7th century BC. The rest of the site was basically spent walking along the castle walls, going up into some of the eleven towers and through the courtyards. There really wasn't much to see, but with a little imagination, one could envision guards running along the walls, bakers pulling bread from the ovens, and ladies drawing water from the well. Thresholds were polished shiny from centuries of feet shuffling over them. One threshold even had a channel carved into it to fit a door. Amazing! We ate at the cafe on site and were harassed by a peacock begging for food.

 peacock begging for food

Lisbon Cathedral


We walked down the hill, along a staired pathway decorated with goofy street art on one hand and amazing wall tiles on the other hand.

street art    tiles building

We stopped at the Lisbon Cathedral – or simply the Se. It is the oldest church in Lisbon, dating to the year 1147. Its many renovations included Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque architecture. The stained glass windows are in stark contrast to the bare stone walls. It is as though the glory of God is seeking entrance into this beautiful sanctuary whose only decoration is carved into the stone itself.

Lisbon Cathedral    Lisbon Cathedral


The high arched ceilings are held up by columns that have carvings of men spiraling up on a pathway of roses.

Lisbon Cathedral

Even the locks and hinges were fancy. Inside one of the chapels is the tomb of knight Lop Fernandes Pacheco. He is grasping his sword as if still in service to King Afonso IV. His faithful dog guards him.   His wife, Maria de Vilalobos, rests nearby reading a Book of Hours. It has to be the best tomb I have ever seen. She looks so relaxed.

Lisbon Cathedral


There is another similar tomb of a 16th century princess, but she does not look nearly as relaxed. A small chapel houses the vestments and mitres (hats) of various bishops.

Lisbon Cathedral 

There is excavation going on in the central portion of the cloisters. The cloisters are also bare stone but do not have stained glass windows so it gives the place the most wonderfully medieval look and feel. There are a few chapels within the cloisters that are completely barren except for, possibly, one statue.

 Lisbon Cathedral    Lisbon Cathedral      

Directly outside the church doors and across the street was a beer sales kiosk.


Tabuas Porto Wine Tavern

 Porto Wine Tavern  

We continued walking until we came across Tabuas Porto Wine Tavern that we had seen while on the tuktuk ride. Ed is the scotch drinker and Irene thinks Port is the best drink ever invented. We had to go in! One entire wall was various bottles of port. There were plain bottles and fancy bottles. There were bottles of port suspended from the ceiling on rope hangers. There was a huge sack of port corks hung on the wall. We each had a healthy shot of port and a side of parma ham – cut right off the pork leg. Oh, life doesn't get much better than this!

 Porto Wine Tavern  Parma ham

That evening we enjoyed a nice dinner at an outdoor cafe that boasted Stone Soup on its menu. We didn't have the stone soup, but I had to take a picture of the sign to show my kids. Whenever I made a “clean-out-the-fridge soup”, when they were small, we called it Stone Soup.

 Stone Soup

Across the street from the restaurant is a sardine shop. There are thousands and thousands of cans of sardines. The claim to fame is that you could buy a can of sardines with your birth year on it. There is a Ferris Wheel looking thing that had sardine cans going around and around. There is a sardine can throne. A very unique shop.

 sardine shop  sardine shop

Portugal is famous for its tiles (as you may have noticed me mentioning repeatedly), sardines (I bought a black t-shirt with silver sardines on it), and cork. They make absolutely anything and everything out of cork. Cork coasters, jewelry, hats, purses, ties, and even umbrellas.

 everything cork

Cristo Rei

 Cristo Rei

On the Almada side of the river stands Cristo Rei (Christ the King) monument. It was built as a plea to God to release Portugal from entering WWII. The land was acquired in 1941 with construction beginning in 1952. The inauguration was held in 1959. It was inspired by an earlier visit to Rio de Janeiro by a Cardinal.


25 de Abril Bridge

 25 de Abril Bridge

25 de Abril Bridge runs from Cristo Rei to the Lisbon side of the river. The bridge was originally called Salazar Bridge, after Prime Minister Salazar, the nation's dictator. It was inaugurated in 1966. It is 2278 meters long. Its upper deck carries 6 car lanes while the lower deck carries two train tracks. It looks like the Golden Gate bridge but was actually built by the same company that constructed the San Francisco Bay Bridge. It was renamed the 25 de Abril Bridge commemorating the day the Carnation Revolution occurred in 1974.



Add your comments

(If you have a travel question, get your Answers here)

In order to avoid spam on these blogs, please enter the code you see in the image. Comments identified as spam will be deleted.

About irenecabay

Irene Cabay

Follow Me

Where I've been

Photo Galleries


My trip journals



Travel Answers about Portugal

Do you have a travel question? Ask other World Nomads.