Sustainable, attainable - and with culinary delights to banish diets forever - Lisbon’s cultural concoction lures visitors from far and wide, including Leave Work to Travel.
Charming and disarming, it is also an important pilgrimage destination whose jaw-dropping Cristo Rei statue, inspired by the world-renowned Christ the Redeemer icon in Rio, stops visitors in their tracks.
Commanding and Outstanding
Having travelled from our campsite by foot, ferry, and bus, we were bowled over by the presence of the Cristo Rei statue at Almada which dominates the Tejo Estuary.
Towering at over 110 metres tall, the figure of Christ bestrides a 270ft plinth and its arms are outstretched to embrace its scared city.
The monument was built in 1952 to convey the Portuguese people’s gratitude for escaping the horrors of World War II (Portugal remained neutral).
Symbolising peace and hope, it attracts pilgrims from far and wide. Pope Benedict XVI who marked the statue’s 50th anniversary in person.
Lisbon’s Version of Golden Gate Bridge
From the viewing platform of Cristo Rei, we marvelled at the spectacular sweep of Lisbon and the landmark 25 de Abril Bridge which connects Almada to the city.
Delivering the ‘wow’ factor in spades, it spans almost 3,000 metres and is longer than San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge which it resembles.
The bridge was initially named after the Portuguese dictator Salazar who ruled the country for over four decades.
After a revolution on April 25, 1974, ended almost 50 years of dictatorship - the longest reign of its kind in Europe – it was named 25 de Abril Bridge to commemorate the country’s liberation.
Among the 50 top longest suspension bridges in the world, it is crossed daily by around 150,000 cars on six lanes and by more than 150 trains on two rail tracks. We’d recommend skipping the mayhem and opting for the relaxing ferry trip.
The city’s stunning sights – which are plentiful – include a 48-strong fleet of colourful trams which primarily ply their routes on six lines around the southern and western areas.
An important part of the public transport network since 1873, they became fully electric in 1902. Their signature colour is yellow (there are also red trams) and the number 28, the most renowned, weaves around the medieval city’s enchanting streets and squares.
Integral to Lisbon’s many charms, we couldn’t help but smile every time we spotted one.
Straddling a hill above the historic centre, Lisbon’s São Jorge Castle has its roots in the 5th century. Its glory days spanned from the 13th to the 16th centuries when its opulence was enjoyed by Portuguese Kings and Bishops who lived there.
The archaeological site, which underwent major renovations in the 1920s, also delivers amazing views. Boasting eleven towers, the fortress, especially when illuminated by night, is resplendent with its majesty shining bright.
Stunning architecture pervades the city and includes Praça do Comércio, the city’s main square by the Tejo estuary.
Surrounded on three sides by distinctive yellow buildings and 18th-century porticos, the plaza is synonymous with Portugal’s high status of that period. Three centuries later it buzzes with the modernity and energy of locals and visitors.
As a bonus, the square was dressed up for Christmas during our stay in late November when the winter sunshine enhanced our explorations.
In the Pink
Exploring Lisbon’s architecture is a delight with eclectic styles spanning Morish, Gothic and Baroque, not forgetting the pretty pastel-coloured houses.
The sun makes an entrance 300 days of the year and the city bathes in a hue of orange at dusk with particularly beautiful sunsets between October and January.
Lisbon is perfect for a weekend break - or a longer stay for day trips to nearby jewels including Sintra, one of Portugal’s most beautiful cities which stands proud on the Serra Sintra mountains. It also earned a reputation as the best-preserved palace in this charismatic country.
A must, if you’re staying longer, are the dramatic waves at Nazare where a Portuguese surfer became the first person to ride a 100-foot wave, the subject of a now famous documentary.
Lisbon’s gastronomy is also exquisite. What the Portuguese can’t do with bacalhau (cod), my favourite dish, isn’t worth knowing. Some campsites we stayed at had their own restaurants with reasonably priced food and a feast of fish to tuck into after a day’s exploring.
The eclectic mix of sites along the coastline spanned all-singing, all-dancing Eurocamping destinations to car parks on main roads – a potent variety which we love and enjoy.
Mouth Watering Pastels
Indulging in the scrumptious pastel de nata (custard tart) pastries fuelled our 2,000-mile road trip around Portugal.
Lisbon’s very own version, the Pastel de Belem, rightly described by legendary chef Alain Ducasse as “celestial”, demands all the superlatives in the world.
They are said to be the creation of 18th century monks from the Jerónimos Monastery in Santa Maria de Belem. Apparently egg whites were used to starch nuns' habits and the monks used the leftover yolk to make the pastries – a great story irrespective of whether it’s true!
We were so busy devouring these moorish pastries at every opportunity, they unfortunately never stayed long enough on the plate for us to photograph! … a perfect reason to not take our word for it and savour the delights of Lisbon at first hand.