It was chilly one early December morning when my 13 year old daughter and I arrived in the old but central neighborhood of Baixa, Lisbon. We headed straight to our hotel so they could store our luggage until check-in. The hotel, Pensao Residencial Portuense, was just what I had hoped – a small privately owned hotel, humble but charming, and located right in the center of everything.
The sun had not yet risen, and after the polite doorman had taken care of our bags, we went for a stroll. After only a short walk we reached the ocean as Lisbon lays sprawled by the water . A beautiful sunrise bathed the old architecture of this ancient city with golden rays, slowly sweeping its brilliant touch over the cold stone facades.
Alfama and Castle of São Jorge
With such a beautiful city before us, we kept walking and taking in the scenery. We slowly made it up through the steep, winding streets of the old Moorish neighborhood, Alfama. This part of Lisbon is run-down, yet charming, with antique relief sculpture and moldings adorning each building. Each façade is completely tiled, and each balcony is framed by an intricate iron rail. The ancient ruin of Castle of São Jorge is located at the top of the large hill of Alfama, overlooking the city below. The first fortification on this location was built ca. 200 BC, and the latest structure was rebuilt by the Moors during the 10th century. The Castle of São Jorge is a must-see while staying in Lisbon.
I have never visited such a large castle ruin before. The grounds are expansive, and you have access to anything you can reach and see. Be prepared to walk up and down steep stairs in this myriad of rooms, courtyards, towers, and walls. If you have weak knees, I suggest that you take a cab or a tram to the castle instead of walking. The castle also includes a museum, a souvenir shop and a café.
The grounds are surrounded by beautiful gardens, and you will run into a large population of co-existing cats and peacocks, rather indifferent to the traffic of tourists. The entire area is a picture-perfect photo-op.
While visiting the neighborhood of Alfama, we made a stop at the Lisbon Cathedral, another must-see if you are an art and history lover like me. This medieval cathedral has survived many earthquakes since its first construction in 1147. While inside, it is worthwhile to invest in the few extra euros needed to enter the cloister, still undergoing excavations. The Cathedral has a unique blend of Roman, Arab, mediaeval and Gothic elements as a result of being renovated over time.
Later additions in architecture and art is represented in Baroque, neoclassical and rococo styles. Lisbon itself is one of the oldest cities in the world, dating back to c. 1200 BC, with settlements dating back to the Neolithic Era, (New Stone Age). Lisbon derives its name from Ulysses (Olissipona in Vulgar Latin).
Next we’ll explore Lisbon cuisine, Lisbon trams, and cool stuff you can buy.
Other articles about the trip to Lisbon/Madrid:
TAP Portugal – a TPI Preferred Partner
Visit to Lisbon, Portugal, part 2
Get lost in India and visit the Chinese Pavilion while visiting Lisbon, Portugal