Lisbon: all in one city
Conquests by Phoenicians, Romans, Moors and Christians have left Lisbon with a fusion of cuisines and cultures merging together in one city. The diverse destination is home to castles, luxury hotels, museums, fine dining restaurants and plenty of great attractions scattered around its neighborhoods. Whether it’s your first time or tenth, here is a list of must-do activities while visiting Portugal’s capital city.
Lisboa Story Centre
No better place for insights into the city’s evolution than the innovative Lisboa Story Centre on Terreiro do Paco Square, featuring elaborate, computer-operated sets with light-hearted audio guides. Upon entering a simulated 16th century warehouse filled with barrels, visitors are immediately met with the sweet smells of coffee, cardamom and saffron. These products were transported via Caravela ships centuries ago and offer an aromatic look at the city’s past. On the tour, you’ll learn why Lisbon became the capital in 1253, how the crow was selected as its symbol, when it became the center of world exploration producing adventurers such as Vasco de Gama and Columbus, and how a devastating earthquake in 1755 changed the city forever. For a post-museum treat, head over to Mini Bar restaurant where nothing is as it seems. Having trained at El Bulli, Chef Jose Avillez opened Mini Bar (his first venture) inside the Teatro Nacional de São Carlos where a lively, casual atmosphere prevails. Cocktails include Caipirinhas presented as bon bons and Ferrero Rocher foie gras and hazelnut chocolate tastings. Adopting a theatrical theme, the minimalist menu features six acts, tapas ranging from avocado tempura and veal croquettes to tiny slices of mackerel smoked tableside under a glass jar.
Sao Jorge Castle
Since Lisbon’s downtown area is compact, it’s best to travel by tram rather than car. The number 12 travels up steep streets granting not only panoramic views over the Tagus River and the red rooftops of Alfama, it also drops you off near the most famous castle, the 18-tower São Jorge Castle. Dating back to the 6th century and having formerly been occupied by Romans and Visigoths, it was then used as Moorish royal residence. Captured by in 1147, it then became the property of Portugal’s first king Afonso Henriques. The castle is home to the city’s oldest map and a beautiful 15th century mosaic while the Tower of Ulysses contains the Câmara Escura, a periscope that projects sights from around Lisbon. Wander around the archaeological digs where Phoenician and Moorish artifacts were unearthed, the oldest from the 7th century B.C. A special Lisboa Card offers free entry to the castle as well as other museums.
Museum of Design & Fashion
Among Lisbon’s museums, the Museum of Design & Fashion (MuDE) is among the best in the area. Its collection spread across several floors includes works by over 230 designers including Philippe Starck, Masanori Umeda and Tom Dixon, while also embracing furnishings, glass and jewelry from the ‘30s to the present day. Among its vast fashion displays are those by Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood and Yves Saint Laurent. We were impressed to find a Jean Dessès gown worn by Renee Zellweger to the 2001 Oscars, Christian Dior’s landmark 1947 New Look and António Lagarto’s costume designs from the Matrix and Sleeping Beauty.
At the Fado Museum visitors are offered a comprehensive insight into Fado, the 19th century music characterized by mournful melodies and lyrics. The melodic genre is inextricably linked to Portuguese culture. Though originally associated with leisure parties (cegadas), then with theatrical performances, Fado has taken on modern dimensions, an evolution the museum illustrates through photographs, video material and musical recordings.
Coastal Road Trips
After exploring Lisbon, take a short, 30-minute drive along the scenic coastal road to Cascais and Sintra. The former was once a quaint fishing village, it still boasts a lively fish market and brightly colored boats, before becoming a popular resort for nobility. Now it is a cosmopolitan town with pretty pedestrian streets, luxuriant villas, fashionable shops and restaurants. A visit to the Castro Guimarães Museu grants glimpses into the lives of 18th and 19th century aristocracy. The nearest beach is Guincho, a surfing mecca backed by high dunes. Nestled amid rolling hills and a 20-minute drive from Cascais, is Sintra, a beguiling town of narrow streets filled with palaces, castles, monasteries and monuments that have earned it several Unesco World Heritage designations. Among them are Sintra National Palace, a mix of Gothic, Manueline and Moorish architecture; the Moorish Castle, notable for its unique setting, perched high on an outpost of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park; and the Queluz National Palace, one of Europe’s last major examples of Rococo architecture. Nearby, the Museum of Modern Art features a collection of 20th century European and American works housed in a restored 1920s building.
When to Go
The best time to visit Portugal is from either March to May or September to October. During these months, the weather is warm and there are fewer crowds vying to get into attractions. From archaeology to fashion and Fado, as well as innovative cuisine and historic castles, Lisbon is one of the most exciting destinations to visit.
Where to Stay
With a stay at My Story Hotel Rossio, you’ll be centrally located in Lisbon, steps from Rossio Square and Santa Justa Elevator. This hotel is within close proximity of Figueira Square and Restauradores Square. The My Story Hotel Rossio sign sets the tone, written like a child starting a tale in class: ‘My Story’. This is a playful, contemporary place that flies in the face of the grand architecture outside. Make yourself at home in one of the 46 air-conditioned rooms featuring minibars and LED televisions. Complimentary wireless Internet access keeps you connected, and cable programming is available for your entertainment. Get a room facing Rossio, Lisbon’s main square since the Middle Ages, and look over Baroque fountains, wavy mosaic paving and a column topped with Dom Pedro IV. Rossio was once stage to bullfights and executions, but today the only drama is inside the neoclassical national theatre.