Torre de Belém

The D&O Diary’s European assignment continued last week with a stopover in Lisbon, Portugal’s hilly capital city, known to the locals as Lisboa. It is located on the north side of the Rio Tejo (known as the Tagus River in English). The city itself has about 550,000 residents, but the city’s sprawling metropolitan area has about 2.7 million residents. Lisbon may not have the allure of some other European capitals, but it has an abundance of history and charm; a diversity of interesting neighborhoods to explore; and an abundance of great food, as reflected in the pictures below.


The city has two iconic landmarks for which it is well-known. The first it the Torre de Belém (pictured at the top of the post), located at the mouth of the Rio Tejo, where the river meets the Atlantic. The Torre was the embarkation point for the voyages of discovery in the country’s great era of maritime exploration. The other well-known landmark in the city is the Castelo de São Jorge, a Moorish castle occupying the most prominent hilltop in the center city. The Castelo is visible from many locations around the city, and from the Castelo itself there are sweeping views of the river and of the city’s historic districts.


The Castelo viewed from the Bairro Alto


The city was badly damaged by a terrible earthquake in 1755. Following the earthquake, the lower Baixa district was completely rebuilt on a grid plan. Today the area is largely pedestrianized. Then central north-south artery in the district, the Rua Augusta, leads through the Rua Augusta Archway into the Praça do Comércio, built on the location of the former royal palace, destroyed by the earthquake. The plaza leads down to the riverside and is a transportation hub and central gathering place in the city’s center.


Rua Augusta in the Baixa district, looking toward the Rua Augusta archway and toward the river


The Praça do Comércio



Inside the colonnades at the Praça do Comércio



The Praça do Comércio viewed from the Castelo


Just below the Castelo is the city’s oldest district, the Alfama, which spreads between the Castelo and the river. The Alfama is full of narrow, winding streets as well as a host of cafes, restaurants, and fado clubs (music halls featuring the traditional Portuguese music called “fado”). Within the district is the Miradouro de Santa Luzia, which affords great views over the district’s rooftops toward the river. Just next to the Alfama is the neighboring district of Graça. The Miradouro de Santa Graça affords great views of the Castelo and of the River.


Inside the Alfama District


The Alfama district and the Rio Tejo viewed from the Miradouro de Santa Luzia



View from the Miradouro de Santa Graça toward the Castelo



View back toward Santa Graça from the Castelo


On the other side of and above the Baixa district is the Bairo Alto district, whose hilltops afford beautiful views of the river and of the castle. Among the best overlooks in the city is the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, which provides one of the best views of the Castelo. There was a street festival at the overlook on the evening we visited, with street food, beer, and sangria. A great way to spend an evening. There are also many restaurants and fado clubs in the Bairro Alto’s narrow streets. We went to a fado show in the Bairro Alto at the famous O Faia club, where the music and the food were absolutely terrific.


An evening street festival in Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, with views of the Castelo in the background


There are a number of interesting destinations just outside Lisbon. On Sunday, we took a driving tour of the city, with stops in the upscale seaside community of Cascais; at the Cabo de Roca, the westernmost point in Continental Europe, and at the mountainous community of Sintra, the location of several royal palaces, as well as extensive wooded parklands. From the terraces of the Pena Palace, we could see the ocean and we could also see all the way back to Lisbon (about 20 miles).




Cabo de Roca, the westernmost point in continental Europe


Pena Palace, in Sintra


The Castelo dos Mouros in Sintra, viewed from the Pena Palace


There are clearly many great reasons to visit Lisbon but arguably above all the best reason to visit Lisbon is the food. We had some terrific meals there. One of the traditional dishes served in most restaurants is bacalhau, which is salted cod. It is said that there are 365 different ways to prepare bacalhau; we enjoyed several of them, as shown below. The high point of gastronomy while in Lisbon was the meal at O Faia, where I had a dinner of octopus.


Grilled bacalhau


Bacalhau à Brás (salted cod, shredded potatoes, eggs, and black olives)



Grilled octopus, at the O Faia fado club (yes, I ate the whole thing)


Other European cities may be more glamorous, but I am here to tell you, Lisbon is a great place. I have been there twice now, and both times as I was leaving, I was already plotting my return.


Lisbon, viewed from the far side of the Rio Tejo