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Lisbon’s in the limelight

by Bernard O'Shea

The Portuguese capital is known as the City of Light. Bernard O’Shea takes a shine to it.


Lisbon is probably my favourite city, and it seems to be everyone else’s too. Madonna has lived there for the past two years (don’t let that put you off!), actor John Malkovich has a highly regarded restaurant, Bica do Sapato, where he apparently entertains his house guests (an Uber driver told me John’s pad is nearby), and Lisbon was named World’s Leading City Destination at the 2018 World Travel Awards, where Portugal won the prized World’s Leading Destination title too, among many other honours.

My fascination with Lisbon began a long time ago, in the early 1980s, when an Air Zimbabwe flight from London to Harare had to make an unexpected diversion to the city due to aircraft engine trouble, and we were treated to a night in Lisbon. Of course, you don’t see much on a one-night stopover, but a brief visit to the lovely Praça do Comércio (below) was enough to win me over.

The Praca do Comercio is the grand entry into Lisbon from the Tagus River.

Next day, on leaving, at an airport shop I bought a postcard of the view of the Tagus from Parque Eduardo VII (pictured below) as a little memento, and for much of my twenties it adorned my bedroom wall. I swore to myself that one day I would return, to get to know the city properly. So maybe it was the thrill and excitement of finally making good that promise, of putting myself in the postcard scene, that helped Lisbon win me over like no other. Subsequent visits always bring the same sense of excitement.

Parque Eduardo VII.

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 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 its picturesque trams), but it’s very hilly in parts: its three funiculars 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.

Lisbon’s lovely trams.

The city has many lookout points (it’s said to be on seven hills) but the best views are from 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 modern waterfront.

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.

Old world charm in the modern era.

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: © Bernard O’Shea. Featured image Cristina Macia/Pixabay.

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