I have been to Portugal several times for beach holidays at Vale Do Lobo and Praia da Luz and golf breaks at Vilamoura and Albufeira on the Algarve coast yet I had never visited the Capital city of Lisbon on the West coast. I decided to hire a villa at Caldas Da Raina to the North of the city and drove for about an hour and twenty minutes the 93km (58miles) South by car along the A8.
The best place I feel to start any tour of a city is to get up as high as you can so that you can get a good view of the surrounding city to get your bearings. With this thought in mind I headed for São Jorge Castelo (Saint George’s Castle) which can be seen from almost anywhere in the city.
The climb up to the castle along the medieval streets of the Alfama can be very tiring so I decided to take the scenic route hopping on to the Number 28 wooden tram which rattled along some of Lisbon`s most ancient and captivating cobbled streets including several churches and most importantly the castle.
Much of the castle was destroyed during the Great Earthquake of 1755 but I could still climb the towers and walk along the ramparts to get some breath taking views of Lisbon. There is also plenty of space to sit and relax so I took the opportunity to sit back and enjoy the views with a small snack and drink.
Lisbon is a compact city for visiting many of the sights and if you use the trams you can get about very easily particularly if you purchase a Lisboa Card in advance. You can purchase tickets on board but most people have prepaid cards so that you avoid having to get a ticket each time you board the tram and it saves you money.
I was told that Lisbon is the safest and cheapest capital city in Europe. Although you would still need to be aware of pickpockets in busy tourist areas as you would in any other city major violent crime is almost unheard of in this city. Having eaten out at restaurants and bars I can vouch that Lisbon is a lot cheaper than many cities I have visited across Europe.
The walk from the River Tagus alongside the huge square of Praca Da Comercio is a good starting point for a walk through a section of the city. Start right at the water`s edge and look around at this monumental square which feels like the Gateway to Lisbon. Stroll across to the gigantic equestrian statue ( Dom Jose I) and walk through the Arco da Rua Augusta (Arch) northwards along the Rua Augusta until you see the Santa Justa Lift on your left. When I arrived the queues were long but you can use the Cast-iron elevator built in 1902 to go from the lower streets up to Carmo Square with some excellent views if you get there early.
Just off what the locals call the Rossio (Praca Dom Pedro IV) head for the church of Igreja de Sao Domingos. The church survived the 1755 earthquake and shows off its scars in an eerie atmosphere. Pillars and walls which look as though they are about to fall down are illuminated by small tea lamps creating a ghostly impression. Darkened sculptures peer out from dark corners adding to its atmospheric mood. Not to be missed in my opinion.
Finally I went in search of a pastelarias (pastry shop) and ordered a pasteis de nata which was basically a caramelised custard tart. The warm pastry tartlet filled with silky warm custard lightly dusted with cinnamon was a real delight. So crumbly and sweet I ordered another!