Many visitors use Lisbon as a base for exploring nearby sites, but they often neglect the cultural gems tucked away in the Portuguese capital. One reason Lisbon gets overlooked is that visitors don't budget enough time for it. You need at least 5 days to do justice to the city and its environs. In addition, even Lisbon's principal attractions remain relatively unknown, a blessing for travelers tired of fighting their way to overrun sights elsewhere in Europe.
This section guides you to the unknown treasures of the capital. If your time is limited, explore the National Coach Museum, the Jerónimos Monastery, and the Alfama and the Castle of St. George. At least two art museums, although not of the caliber of Madrid's Prado, merit attention: the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga and the Museu da Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian.
If you have time, visit the Fundação Ricardo Espírito Santo and watch reproductions of antiques being made or books being gold-leafed. You could also spend time seeing the gilded royal galleys at the Naval Museum, wandering through the fish market, visiting Lisbon's new aquarium, or exploring the arts and crafts of Belém's Folk Art Museum.
Up, Up & Away
For a splendid rooftop view of Lisbon, take the Santa Justa elevator on Rua de Santa Justa. The ornate concoction was built by a Portuguese engineer, Raoul Mesnier de Ponsard, born to French immigrants in Porto in 1849. The elevator goes from Rua Aurea, in the center of the shopping district near Rossio Square, to the panoramic viewing platform. It operates daily from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m. A ticket costs1€ ($1.25), and children under 4 ride free (tel. 21/361-30-00; www.carris.pt). Metro: Rossio.
Like the Alfama, the Bairro Alto (Upper City) preserves the characteristics of the Lisbon of yore. In location and population, it once was the heart of the city. Many of its buildings survived the 1755 earthquake. Today it's home to some of the finest fado cafes in Lisbon, making it a center of nightlife. It's also a fascinating place to visit during the day, when its charming, narrow cobblestone streets and alleys lined with ancient buildings can be appreciated in the warm light coming off the sea.
Originally called Vila Nova de Andrade, the area was started in 1513 when the Andrade family bought part of the huge Santa Catarina and then sold the land as construction plots. Early buyers were carpenters, merchants, and ship caulkers. Some of them immediately resold their land to aristocrats, and little by little noble families moved to the quarter. The Jesuits followed, moving from their modest College of Mouraria to new headquarters at the Monastery of São Roque, where the Misericórdia (social assistance to the poor) of Lisbon proceeds today. The Bairro Alto gradually became a working-class section. Today the quarter is also the domain of journalists -- most of the big newspapers' plants are here. Writers and artists have been drawn here to live and work, attracted by the ambience and the good local cuisine.
The area is resoundingly colorful. From the windows and balconies, streamers of laundry hang out to dry, and canaries, parrots, parakeets, and other birds sing in their cages. In the morning, housewives hit the food markets, following the cries of the varinas (fishmongers) and other vendors. Women lounge in doorways or lean on windowsills to watch the world go by.
This area comes alive at night, luring visitors and natives with fado, food, dance clubs, and small bars. Lisbon's taverns, the tascas, abound, together with more deluxe eateries. Victorian lanterns light the streets, and people stroll leisurely.
For a complete listing of what to see and do in Lisbon, visit the online attractions index at Frommers.com.
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