Sunday 1st of April by CarpediemEire
Our continued exploration of the city of Lisbon. For day 3 we took a train out to Estoril before coming back to Belém, and day 4 we set our sights on the Castelo and the Oceanarium.
Day 3 – Heavy on the sightseeing
After breakfast we set out on foot to Campo Martires da Patria, but this time with the intent of catching the Larva Funicular. This tram has been running uphill since 1884, and has a wonderful antique interior. It’s covered in graffiti on the outside. The ride doesn’t take long, but it’s worth it just to feel the tradition of the tram.
Arriving at the Praca de Restauradores, this Square has a few interesting buildings, in particular the facade of Rossio Station. The station was built in the 1880’s and serves the line to Sintra. It was built in the Neo-Manueline style, synonymous with the buildings of Sintra, and very popular in the early 16th century. It has two handsome horseshoe shaped entrances and significant decoration of the buildings face.
From here we headed up through Rua Augusta, a beautiful street with decorative paving, lined by restaurants. It leads directly to the Arco de Rua Augusta, a triumphant arch built to commemorate the rebuilding of the city after the earthquake of 1755. It is a wonderful sight, crowned by the statues of Glory rewarding Valour and Genius. Entry is possible but somehow I missed this. It opens out onto the Praca de Comércio. This was the former site of the Royal Palace until it was devastated by a tsunami. I love this square, it’s a vast open space surrounded by regal government buildings on 3 sides and the Tagus river on the other. It’s the perfect selfie spot in Lisbon.
Pushing on after some snaps we got to Cais De Sodre Train Station to catch a train out to the coast at Estoril. The station has a reputation for having bad queues, and it lived up to its rep. We nearly missed our train so give yourself plenty of time if you plan to take this trip. The train itself was only €2.70, Lisbon as a capital city is extraordinary good value.
Arriving in Estoril the main attraction being the sea, we headed in that direction. Inland is the famous Estoril Casino, it is Europe’s largest casino and the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale, featuring one James Bond. Just off the beach sits the Forte da Cruz, a 17th century fortification now used as an exclusive venue for hire.
This area and Cascais have been the playground of Lisbon’s rich and famous for centuries, and numerous mansions line the headlands above the sea. We gave Nina some time to enjoy the beach, I usually prefer to view not interact with beaches. However soon the familiar black clouds of this holiday started to amass. March is too early to visit Lisbon, it’s still at the mercy of the Atlantic’s tantrums. We ducked into Opiparo Restaurant, to get out of the impending torrent. Sharing a few Pizza Parma’s with some wine, we chilled out here for an hour. Pizzas were delicious, surprisingly good food for a seaside location.
The clouds receded so we retreated alighting at Belém train station. Belém is the jewel in Lisbon’s crown, a glittering array of monuments and majestic buildings. Given the opportunity to come back to Lisbon (I hope I will) my preference would be to stay here.
It was already well into the afternoon so I had to be selective in what we would go to see. So I dragged the girls through the Jardim de Belém to the Jerónimos Monastery. Probably the most visually stunning building in Lisbon, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in the Manueline style, it took 100 years to complete in the 16th Century. It far exceeded budget, but at that time such riches were flowing from the colonies it wasn’t heeded. A local limestone was used and the detail is astounding. The South Portal, is not the main entrance but it is the most significant, a 32 meter high shrine shrouded in detail.
The ladies opted to relax outside, the sun was now shining, so I did some power sightseeing alone (its like power walking). Entry is €10 to just visit the monastery. If you want to visit the museums there is a higher charge. The interior of the church of Saint Maria, is cruciform, and has elegant vaulted ceilings. The tomb of Vasco De Gama the great explorer can be found within. I toured the church and then headed out to see the cloister. Its a rare cloister, double leveled with a lovely garden area within. There are strong Moorish influences in the ceiling of the cloister. Not wanting to leave the girls waiting and with plenty more to see in Belem I cut my visit short.
Padrao dos Descobrimentos
Next stop on our whirlwind walking tour of Belem was Padrao dos Descobrimentos. It is a 20th century monument to the explorers who traversed the earth, and ws built on the 500th annioversary of Henry the explorers death. It is a bit strange looking and you can climb to the top. We didn’t. The statues facing out to the Tagus are excellently sculpted and a testament to the men they honour.
Torre de Belém
Our last stop was to the Belem Tower, built in the early 16th century, as a defensive fortification but also as a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon, for returning explorers. It is built in the Manueline style and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sadly I spent too long getting here, when I got to the walkway, I was informed they had just closed. A lot of walking for nothing. Except a chance to take a few photos of the outside. Which is beautiful.
We made our way to find some buses to get us home, all of us a little jaded. I have an insatiable thirst to keep looking for one more attraction to see. It doesn’t always make me popular. That evening we went to Portugalia Cervejaria Almirante Reis a famous local restaurant. Its known for its beer and meats. Our burgers and cod were nice, but the biggest shock came when we got the bill. The bread and butter are all priced individually, Nina had 4 slices and her food cost more than ours. Beware the hidden extras on Portugese menus.
Day 4 – Castelo de Sao Jorge
We took a bus into the city in the morning and started up the flights of steps to reach the Castelo. The walls up the steps are decorated with cartoonish graffiti, it’s not for everyone but some of it was very artistic. Our legs were still sore from the day before, and the steps were laborious. Eventually we reached the top and it seemed half of Lisbon had the same plan as us.
The Castle has sat in this position since Moorish rule, when the original citadel was built. It fell in 1147, from when it became the home of the Portuguese Royalty. It was expanded significantly in the 14th Century, with the building of the Royal Palace and its 5km perimeter of walls. It later assumed a more military role under Spanish rule. Sadly it was also the victim of the 1755 earthquake and tsunami. Only ruins of the Palace are to be found. What remains are the Castelos indomitable exterior walls, and the interior castle.
After surmounting the queue, entry is €8.50. Upon entering the first sight you come across is the Miradouro do Castelo. These are the best views I came across in Lisbon, stretching across the city and the Tagus, to Belém and to the Cristo Rei Statue. Great panoramic opportunities.
It’s pleasant to stroll through the grounds and gardens of the castle, peacocks lounge around and perch in the trees and significant ruins exist from the different residents of the fortification. There is a camera obscura with views of various Lisbon monuments and an archaeological museum with artefacts uncovered on the site. But we come to a castle to see a castle. It’s in ruins besides the substantial walls and towers. These can be climbed and there are eleven towers still standing. Amazing views exist around each turn, and the castle windows frame Lisbon below. It saddened me to think what might have been without the onset of Mother Nature and decay. But I wholly enjoyed the visit.
Descending from the Castle we came across the Miradoura de Santa Luzia. It’s a nice little green area with a long pergola and some smashing views down over the Alfama District. We kept going downwards passing the Sé, the main church of Lisbon. It has a simplicity to it, it’s large and stark, with the only notable exterior decoration being the rose window. The cathedral has been rebuilt a few times, the victim of earthquakes over the years since 1147. We didn’t go inside as we were intending to catch a bus to the Oceanarium.
We caught bus number 728 which ran out along the river to the Oceanarium. The Oceanarium is the centrepiece of the Parque das Nacoes, an urban renewal scheme which has transformed this part of the city. The area is dominated by the Torre Vasco de Gama, Lisbon’s tallest building and looks out onto the Vasco de Gama Bridge which runs for 17Km, the longest in Europe. You can take a cable car to the top of the tower.
The Oceanarium is the largest in Europe (bit of a trend going on here) and looks like an aircraft carrier. We had gotten our tickets online, an adult ticket costs €16.20. The aquarium is divided into subsections according the different oceans. There is a huge collection of exotic fish as one would expect.
I would advise to seek out the following:
- The invertebrates. From Anemones to Starfish and Sea Urchins they are weird and wonderful. The White Spotted Jellyfish have a certain passiveness to them as they float around;
- The penguins and puffins were perfect in their particlar habitat;
- The Sea Otters. They don’t do much except swim around but they do it in such style. And all the time with what looks like a smile on their face. We all want to be around positive people and the same applies to positive animals. The crowds swarmed to their display;
- The enormous central tank where hundreds of fish swim peacefully with sharks and rays. It’s a huge tank and there are innumerable angles to catch glimpses of the fishes circumnavigate the waters.
Nina needless the say enjoyed every second of the visit and its the ideal way to entertain little people on an afternoon in Lisbon. We left to discover the spring showers had returned. We took the VM subway line back to our hotel and had another night of fine family dining in Pizza Hut.