Lisbon city, the capital of Portugal is fast becoming the most popular city destination in Europe and some would claim the world. And this city is booming!
Getting the real statistic of the amount of visitors to Lisbon every year proved difficult but with a rough estimated expectancy of 3 to 5 million of the 12 million visitors in 2013 to Portugal, you could conclude that currently, it is the most popular tourist city in Europe surpassing Barcelona, Berlin and Paris and it’s growth seems to have been accelerated during the current crisis.
Lisbon is a busy, lively and energetic city especially in the summer months.
It is a fascinating city with a rich history and cultural remains that go back to the Romans. Throughout the city you will find amazing monuments that mark their own place in history and you’ll be confronted with the romantic stories that accompany them.
The city is located close to the many famous beaches, is one of the cheapest cities in Europe to visit, it has many unique old traditions mixed with a trendy, international, modern ambience. Gastronomy is booming, night-live is booming, fashion and shopping are booming. All in all everyone should visit Lisbon at least once in their life, but you could find yourself coming back and back!
Lisbon has many interesting districts each with it’s own particular atmosphere and the city caters just as well to the budget traveller as the jet set and offers much to visitors of all ages.
In our first article about Lisbon as a city we’re going to decribe to you the main tourists district in the centre around 2 popular hills, those of Bairro Alto and Alfama. There charm, characteristics and styles vary largely even though just a few kilometres apart. It seems logical to start with the oldest district, the district of Alfama!
Alfama like all Portuguese words and names that start with “al” derives from the Arabic and could have come from the word Al-hamma (fountain or spring) or from the word “Alfamm” meaning mouth.
It is set on the highest of Lisbon’s hills and it is an amazing district full of historical points important to Lisbon’s past, original fado, tiny climbing medieval streets and the most wonderful views you will find in the city.
What is most popular with tourists is to take the little old trams that rush their way up the mountain to Alfama and down the other side resembling a real life roller coaster experience. The tourist hangs out of the window and photographs or films the entire event and this has become tourist tradition in Lisbon.
It’s certainly a energetic and fast way to view Alfama if your there on a short break and not one one I would advice against.
I mostly like to take my time and walk up the mountain through the many routes there are from the lower centre, my favourite route starts at the Fado museum and passes through narrow streets past many small fado restaurants, local bars and small shops on the way up. it’s a pretty strong climb paused here and there by stairs but there are plenty of places to stop, look around or take a break. The streets are shady and interesting. You’ll meet many friendly locals and some will instinctively be singing fado in shady doorways, without even realizing that they are.
Alfama has historically been the poorest area of Lisbon centre mainly occupied by fisherman but it has recently become a trendy area for artists who have their studios open to the streets and sell their arts and crafts to the willing passer-by, you’ll find many traditional restaurants and local bars.
Down town or the Baixa is the central, lower area of Lisbon it starts at the streets north of the Praça do Comércio, roughly between the Cais do Sodré and the Alfama district beneath the Lisbon Castle, and extends northwards towards the Rossio and Figueira squares and the Avenida da Liberdade. It’s a very mixed area from the Cais to Sodre which is home to much city activity that reminds of Amsterdam’s red light district all though slightly more innocent and subdued.
Cais do Sodre is home to the train station that hosts the train that takes you to the Portuguese ‘Riviera’ and it’s short two way railway has it’s final destination roughly 30 km from Lisbon in the small and very popular town of Cascais.
Baixa reaches it’s way to the Avenida de Liberdade. The Avenida da Lberdade is the longest of Lisbon’s avenues and it is framed by the glamour of days gone by and filled with the glamour of our modern society pronounced in it’s many first class hotels, designer shops and the visitors enjoying the more luxurious and pricey Lisbon ambiance.
What has defined the architecture of the Baixa is the earthquake of 1755 which destroyed all of it. It was the marques of Pombal who was brought in to redesign the city plan. He was ordered to restore the city back to it’s original plan but Pombal after much analyses decided to take a new route.
His analysis concluded that the original city plan consisting of the typical winding medieval streets and piled buildings, that you will find in some areas of Lisbon and still see throughout all of Porto’s old centre, would not survive the next earthquake.
But also he used the opportunity to create a Lisbon centre that would better Lisbon’s and Portugal economic growth and would become a practical commercial center for the bourgeois.
*The new centre was in no way related to the old and is still an important plan that inspires modern day architecture. It is based on utility, simplicity and repetition, both on an urban and architectural scale. For Pombal, the new plan would provide better circulation for the city as it made use of a rectilinear street grid system. The principle streets run from a main court, the Praça do Commercio, which sit adjacent to the Rio Tejo, and terminate at two parallel squares, Praça da Figueira & the Rossio. Pombal’s new plan puts the Praça do Commercio on the same location where the Royal Palace once stood, therefore signifying a change in focus in this prominent location to one of commerce not monarchical rule.*
From the Baixo lets move to the Chiado! The Chiado is located between the neighbourhoods of Bairro Alto and Baixa Pombalina.
In 1988 most of the Chiado burned down more than 70 people died and the cause of the fire was never determined. In our times Chiado has been completely rebuilt and is one of the most beautiful, luxurious and modern areas in Lisbon. Most of it is about shopping, drinking and eating.
But shopping here is number one and you can do a lot of it here though be sure to take your credit card. In Chiado you’ll meet street musicians, up town art exhibitions and lots of shoppers! it’s a lovely, happy place to be.
From Chiado you can start climbing to the higher part of our second Lisbon hill, the Bairro Alto!
The Bairro Alto is the place to be if you want to go out, it is filled with restaurants, bars, places to dance, young mix with old but it only comes to life after 7 at night and after midnight when most of the older people have retreated to the quieter areas of Lisbon it becomes explosive. There are people everywhere drinking, having fun, enjoying the night live. In our times it has always been the ‘going out’ district of Lisbon but now it’s the most popular and on a warm summer night it is literally packed with people looking for a good time.
During the day the streets are empty and recovering but closer to the top of the hill you’ll find many relaxing in the park.
All of these places are n the heart of Lisbon and can be reached on foot for those that enjoy and are capable of a good walk our next article carries on with our discovery of our lovely city Lisbon but reaches a bit further to the later centuries, the best pastry ever invented and the world exhibition of 1998….stay tuned!
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