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Lisbon – A Hotbed of History

Lisbon – A Hotbed of History

by Tony Coelho

Rossio fountain in Lisbon Portugal

Rossio fountain in Lisbon Portugal

During WWII, Portugal’s capital city became known as a capital of intrigue and espionage, filled with both Allied and Axis agents roaming freely through the city’s atmospheric cobblestone streets. Because Portugal stayed neutral during the war, the port city was filled with not only spies but exiled European royalty, wealthy Jews, escaped POWs, black marketers and refugees—all watching and being watched.

You can still imagine that wartime intrigue as you wander the streets of this classic, old-fashioned city. Somehow gorgeous, coastal Lisbon keeps its old-world charm in a time when other cities seem to focus blindly on modernization.

As one of the oldest cities in Europe, Lisbon celebrates its rich history and culture. It also offers a picturesque ambiance that visitors will easily get drawn into, with amazing classic architecture (a few sites listed below) and a mixture of modern elements. Lisbon is a lively city where you will enjoy every second.

Castelo de Sao Jorge

The Castelo de Sao Jorge towers above Lisbon. The impressive castle dates back to medieval times. Sao Jorge is probably the most visited and photographed attraction in Lisbon and it has seen a lot of history: the Visigoths of the 5th century, the 9th-century Moors, the 12th-century Christians, and royalty from the 14th century to the 16th century. The courtyards and artifact-filled galleries are beautiful, and the towers offer a complete view of the marvelous city of Lisbon.

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos

One of the top sites to visit is the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos. It is a 16th-century monastery that was commissioned to honor Vasco da Gama’s discovery of a sea route to India in 1498. It was the home to monks in the Order of St. Jerome, who were responsible for comforting sailors and praying for the king’s soul. In 1833, this order was dissolved and the monastery began being used for a school and orphanage, which was finally closed in the 1940s. 

When you enter the monastery, you’ll see the tree trunk–like columns that appear to grow right into the ceiling. The windows let in the right amount of yellow ambient glow that perfectly captures the beauty of this monastery. If you stand at the upper choir, you will be able to get the complete view that this landmark has to offer. Vasco da Gama himself is interred in the lower chancel on the left side of the entrance; the revered Portuguese poet Luís Vaz de Camões is on the right. The rows of seats are part of the first Renaissance woodcarvings in Portugal.

Torre de Belem - Lisbon Portugal

Torre de Belem – Lisbon Portugal

Torre de Belém

The Torre de Belém was originally built to be a lighthouse to mark the entrance to the port as well as defend Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. It can be found on a small island to the right of Tagus. Upon closer inspection, you will be able to locate a stone rhino under the western tower among the intricate stonework.

Getting Around

The most common form of travel through the city is by tram (both the classic pre-war Remodelado trams and the modern subway) and bus. A popular feature is the Lisbon 24-, 48-, or 72-hour cards. You may purchase the cards at your hotel, tourism office or transportation hubs. They will allow you to hop on and off public transportation throughout the city for one low price. Taxis are also a relatively inexpensive mode of travel in Lisbon.

Food and Drink

The streets are lined with cafés and other nightlife hot spots. You do not have to go far to find numerous places to find authentic Portuguese fare and other delicious offerings. Among the more popular choices are Nova Pombalina, Fabulas, Café no Chiado, and Santo António de Alfama. Fabulas has pasta, burritos, salads, and hamburgers, while the other locations offer delicious Portuguese cuisine.

Guitarra Portuguesa - Portuguese Guitar

Guitarra Portuguesa – Portuguese Guitar

Fado

Fado is the soulful music of Portugal, an unique genre appreciated by music fans all over Europe. Popularized by the Queen of Fado, Amalia Rodrigues, Fado streams through every corner of Alfama, one of the oldest quarters in Lisbon, which is also famous for its Fado restaurants. Casa de Linhares is one of our favorites and a popular stop during the Small Group Tour. Other Fado houses and restaurants include Parreirinha de Alfama and Sr. Fado.

Add Lisbon to Your Bucket List!

These are only a few of the highlights that this charming city has to offer. Lisbon should absolutely be on your bucket list, and the incredible history, gorgeous architecture, and amazing food are only a few of the reasons. The WWII spy city offers friendly locals that are laidback and charming, along with everything one would want in a traditional European city vacation.

Day Tours   Half-day and full-day tours are available. Please consult Portugal.com Tour pages.

Overnight Package   Overnight packages in Lisbon are available. The Week in Lisbon is a popular choice. For more information, click here.

Hotels  Lisbon is known for a variety of accommodations, from five-star to one-star hotels, along with “pensões” (known as “pensiones” in the rest of Europe), which are essentially no-frills bed-and-breakfasts. To book your hotel, please visit our Lisbon hotel page

Rental Car / Car Hire  The most popular pick up is at the airport and Lisbon does have a great selection of car hire companies. To book a car,  please visit our rental car page.

Read More

Visit our Lisbon page to get more information on this wonderful destination.

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