The Portuguese capital is known as the City of Light. Bernard O’Shea takes a shine to it.
Lisbon is probably my favourite city. There are many reasons why this is so, why I feel so much at home there. Perhaps it’s because I speak Portuguese so don’t experience the stress of dealing with an unknown language; I’ve had Portuguese friends for most of my life, both in Africa and Australia, and Portugal has played a significant part in African history. For much of my high school and university days I had a postcard of Lisbon on my wall, acquired on a short, unexpected diversion to the city on a London-Harare flight due to aircraft engine trouble, and I swore to myself that one day I would go back there get to know the city properly. I live close to the Sydney suburb nicknamed “little Portugal” and am familiar with the cuisine, the wines, the music, the culture.
So maybe it was the thrill and excitement and satisfaction of finally making good that promise, of putting myself in the Lisbon scene that adorned my wall (the view of the harbour from Parque Eduardo VII, pictured below), of going from little Portugal to big Portugal, that helped Lisbon win me over like no other.
But most probably it’s simply because Lisbon is a lovely city, as anyone who has been there will tell you.
As you would expect from any capital city, Lisbon has its fair share of historical attractions, good museums, wonderful squares, great cafes and restaurants. The city has been in the limelight for the past two decades, hosting Expo ’98 in 1998, the European soccer championships in 2004, and the final of the Eurovision 2018 Song Contest. So it has benefited from plenty of investment, restoration and renovation.
The massive shoreline along the Tagus River adds much to its character and the sense of light and openness. It is also quite compact and easy to explore on foot (or by using your feet to hop onto one of its picturesque trams). But be warned, it’s very hilly: the funiculars and trams are your friend and you should get to know them, because if you don’t, what looks like a short walk from one block to the next on the map will turn into a good 20-minute slog up a steep slope in harsh reality.
The city has many lookout points (it’s said to be on seven hills) but the best views of Lisbon are to be found at the Castelo de São Jorge, or St George’s Castle and its surrounding parkland – the spot where the sun is peeping out from in the photograph at the top of this article. Other prime attractions are the compact, historic Alfama district, the great Praças or squares down by the waterfront and at Rossio station, its various churches, and its cafe society (the best coffee I’ve had has been in Portugal). Visits further afield to Belem and Sintra are a must.
Lisbon’s long waterfront has undergone much renovation over the past two decades: run-down warehouses have given way to modern complexes, restaurants, and other attractions, bringing it all to life and giving the city an exciting new vibe.
But, thankfully, the city has not lost the quaint and very relaxed old-world charm that gives it and the rest of the country much of its character. It’s a wonderful place. TTW
Bernard O’Shea travelled to Lisbon at his own expense. More at Visit Portugal. Photographs: Pixabay.