Tuk tuks and trams, cobbled steep streets flanked by decoratively tiled buildings; grand old churches, stunning city-scapes, an exclusive clothes shop and a fantastic food market that everyone is talking about.
That is my best attempt at a summary of all the great discoveries I made during my one day in Lisbon, so please sit back and follow me as I re-trace my steps through the oldest part of town.
I think perhaps I had luck on my side the day I was set loose in Lisbon without a solid plan or a map to guide me. My Sis, Little Miss and Mum were off to the Aquarium and as we said goodbye my sis pointed to the right and said, "if you go that way you'll find the great big yellow square that Lisbon is famous for".
We had travelled in from Cascais, a pretty seaside town thirty minutes from Lisbon where we were staying for a long weekend. As the train had drawn into our destination streams of runners in bright orange tops had run passed on the road outside.
Praca do Comercio - Commercial Square
My family disappeared from view and I followed the road by the riverside towards the yellow square as runners continued to follow their route in the opposite direction. In no time at all the square emerged and for that morning had been transformed into the start and finish line of Lisbon's montepio race.
Behind the drooping bodies of the runners who had already finished rose the yellow and white 18th century arcade that encased three sides of the Praca do Comercio, looking splendidly colourful on quite a dull day. Facing onto the river Tagus, this was formerly where important visitors would have disembarked.
Intrinsically linked to the history of Portugal it has served as both the site of a former royal palace as well as bearing witness to the assassination of Dom Carlos I and his son in 1908.
Pondering things such as where I should go next as I looked up at the spectacular Arco da Rua Augusta I noticed the top of two ancient towers in the distance that looked like a fortress and I decided to head in that direction.
I turned a corner and in front of me rose layer upon layer of colourful old buildings. The building with the towers I had seen before came back into view and I started to wind through and upwards towards it.
Se de Lisboa - Lisbon Cathedral
Within no time I had turned a final bend and above me towered the building I had seen from the Praca do Comercio. It looked incredibly impressive and although a Cathedral it had been built in the twelfth century to look like a fortress and is one of Lisbon's oldest buildings.
Inside it was magnificent and busy, a choir were singing and visitors sat listening in appreciation to the beautiful sound.
My sense of wonder had woken up and I was eager to see more. Outside I climbed the cobbled street to the left of the Cathedral and stopped to watch as the No. 28 tram jiggled past. To the right I found a beautiful garden of bougainvillea belonging to the church of Saint Lucia that had been decorated with ancient scenes of Lisbon, painted in blue on uniform white tiles.
Chi Coracao clothes shop, Rua Augusto Rosa 22
As I walked higher still I noticed through an open shop door rows of neatly folded woollen wraps and blankets in oat colours neatly displayed on dark wooden shelves. In a moment I was in the shop where I found racks of woollen jackets and coats in a muted range of colours and I was drawn to the teal colour in the corner.
The lady in the shop told me it was her family's business and that her father had been weaving for thirty years. Her mother had started designing ten years ago and the shop had opened a few years later. The woollen cloth they use is made in a factory outside of Lisbon using 100% Portuguese wool and the items are finished in the shop by another lady who was kindly helping me put on a short cocoon coat with dropped shoulders in teal while we were talking.
I was a little bit in love with the coat and I wasn't sure if I should be making such a quick acquisition for 200 euros on my day trip to Lisbon, so I asked whether they had any more stores. Oh, yes said the pretty young lady, "our store on Rua da Prata is much bigger and in a really lovely building, you must go and have a look." I scratched my head and thought for a moment. No outlets outside of Lisbon made my decision and I left the shop with a brand new winter coat from Chi Coracao that I absolutely love and expect to be wearing for many years to come.
Outside again, this time with a great big heavy coat to carry and an umbrella (in case of rain) I carried on walking upwards, discovering beautiful tiled buildings wherever I looked.
Miradouro das Portas do Sol - Gateway of the Sun
The streets carried on rising upwards and soon I found as the road climbed up and bent round to the right a spectacular panoramic view of the city emerge.
It stopped me in my tracks as I stood taking it all in. Above me an enormous statue held a boat with two ravens in his hand. It was a statue of St Vincent the patron saint of Lisbon and in his hand he held symbols that represent the city.
I carried on walking up another hill on the other side and found at the very top of a street an entrance to a park. The way had been cordoned off and the path was overgrown. Walking around it instead I found myself outside another great old church. It was Sunday and people had started to pour out of the main entrance, they stood around smiling and chatting to each other.
Castelo de Sao Jorge - The Castle of Saint George
Behind me was a cafe and beyond that views across Lisbon with the Castle of Saint George sitting proudly on the top of a hill to my left.
Dating back to the 6th century it served as a royal residence for the Moors until it was captured by Portugal's first King Afonso Henriques in the twelfth century.
Leaving the view and Graca church behind I headed this time in the direction of the Tagus river and found myself outside the building I had been admiring from the Miradouro das Portas do Sol.
Mosteiro de São Vicente de Fora - Monastery of St Vincent outside the walls
I crossed the road and looked up at the great closed doors of this grand edifice. To the side was a walled garden with an open door. Stepping into the garden I found an entrance to the building and for 5 Euros I soon gained access to a secret new world.
Inside took my breath away courtyards, stairways, corridors and rooms filled with the most beautiful decorative tiles. Inspired by a Moorish tradition, centuries ago the Portuguese had taken a liking to decorative tiles too and adopted them as their own. Known as azulejo tiles, the tiles were used as a means of keeping buildings cool during the hot summer months. The tiles had also become a way of retelling popular stories like the fables of La Fontaine or of recording Portuguese history such as the siege of Lisbon in 1147.
Further on I found the remarkably atmospheric tombs of the Braganza royal family. Housing the bodies of Portuguese Kings from 1640 to 1910 it was quite a remarkable sight (and reminded me of the scene from The Slipper and the Rose, just in case you were wondering). The most notable from the point of view of British history must go to Catherine of Braganza the wife of Charles II who introduced the tradition of tea drinking to England.
The building itself dated back to the 17th century and is considered to be one of Portugal's most important monasteries and mannerist style buildings in existence and was begun in the reign of King Philip II of Spain who married another English monarch, Bloody Mary.
I checked the time, it was 1 o'clock and I had agreed to meet my family at 1:30 pm back at the spot where I had left them and I had no idea how long it would take me to get back. I was running out of time but I didn't want to leave without seeing all of the building. I sped up flights of stairs to see where they would lead. At last I found myself on the roof and looked out between two bell towers across Lisbon and in the other direction over the river.
It was time to start heading back and my plan was to head down to the river and follow the riverside back to where I had started.
Panteao Nacional - The National Pantheon
Luckily as I walked out and down the hill, along more bending cobbled streets I passed the front of the Pantheon.
I didn't make it inside but it was worth seeing its exterior alone and is definitely on the list for my next trip to the Portuguese capital. Originally built as a church in the late 17th century, construction was halted before its completion and it did not end up being fully completed until the 1960s. This beautiful building was then allocated a new purpose, one of national significance, becoming the National Pantheon.
Inside amongst the grand multi-coloured marble columns are buried famous Portuguese presidents, writers, singers and other figures of note plus a cenotaph dedicated to the memory of the explorer Vasco da Gama.
Clip clopping down another steep street I scurried past building work, signs of dilapidation and found myself back at where I had begun, the train station of Cais do Sodre.
Opposite this station in a very beautiful building that I had admired while we were still on the train is my last great discovery of Lisbon that I want to share with you.
Mercado da Ribeira - Time Out Food Market
Inside was all the bustle of lunchtime eating. Around the sides were businesses specialising in different gastronomies and in the middle were rows of tables for communal eating. I was harried and late.
The place was packed and its popularity was unmistakable. From first opening its doors in 1892 to its more recent manifestation under the management of Time Out Lisboa Magazine it has become a mecca for food lovers. Since its Time Out take over the food court now offers a high-end selection from top chefs and well known brands. Around us I could see sushi, seafood, steaks served in Madeira bread, traditional Portuguese cuisine and ice cream. The choice was overwhelming.
My family had already found seats and my sis arrived back at the table at the same time as me and with her a tray of lunch for Little Miss. Perhaps I had worked up an appetite with all my steep street walking and perhaps it really was the best tasting chicken burger I had ever tried. Bedazzled by the choice I decided to have the same as Little Miss and went to order.
After queuing for a while my face showed the devastation I felt when the very beautiful lady with the big hooped earrings told me there were no more chicken burgers to be had. I honestly wanted nothing else. Nothing else would do for me after trying a bite of Little Miss' burger, but with queues multiplying everywhere my second quick decision of the day had to be made. I went for the Mexican chicken wrap and left feeling very disappointed.
I rejoined our party at the long communal table where they were seated and waited for my buzzer to operate. Mum was tucking into pizza and my sis had gone for tuna tartare and I had to wait. Fifteen minutes later and my buzzer sprang into life. With Little Miss for company we navigated our way back to the stand and picked up my tray of food.
As sometimes happens in my blogging adventures the best discoveries sometimes seem to be the very thing that doesn't get papped and I'm sorry to say that neither my Mexican wrap or that glorious chicken burger did on this occasion. The Mexican wrap was truly delicious by the way. And all I can add is Glory be for Miguel Laffan's chicken.
We finished our food discoveries with a celebrated ice cream from the Santini stand and of all the flavours we tried the best was the most traditional of all, vanilla.
Check back for discoveries on the coast in Cascais, Portugal. Please share your own favourite discoveries in Lisbon, I'd love to know all about them.
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