Compact and cosmopolitan, Lisbon is a walker’s dream come true with much to see in just a couple of hours and plenty of refined refreshment breaks along the way.
A logical place to start is where the city was first inhabited, at the imposing Castle of São Jorge. It was the scene of many a tussle over the centuries, most notably between the Moors and Christian crusaders in 1147 when Portugal’s first king, Afonso I, took possession of the building and by doing so recaptured Lisbon in the process. Star attractions include a museum, panoramic periscope and an excavation site with exhibits dating back to the pre-Roman era.
On a clear day, the views from the castle can be breathtaking, stretching as far as Palmela and the Arrábida mountains in the distance.
Due south of the castle lies another of Lisbon’s landmarks, the 12th-century Sé Cathedral. With its twin castellated bell-towers dominating the capital’s skyline, this magnificent fortress-like structure is illuminated by a splendid rose window located above the main door. A Gothic ambulatory with nine chapels and an adjacent cloister are the key features of the building’s interior, including an original 13th-century wrought-iron gate. An excavation area at the back of the cathedral features a rich assortment of Roman remains.
The route down to Rossio square should include a stroll across Praça do Comércio, Lisbon’s riverside hub, before heading along the pedestrianised Rua Augusta, a bustling shopping precinct lined with outdoor eateries and top-branded boutiques. En route, take the elevator to the top of the Triumphal Arch for splendid views of Praça do Comércio and the Tagus river basin.
Rossio itself is a busy thoroughfare bordered by shops, cafés and the magnificent Dona Maria II National Theatre building on the north flank, home of the Inquisition from 1534-1820.
Adjacent to Rossio is Praça dos Restauradores with its striking obelisk in the centre of the square, a monument to the men of 1640 who restored Portugal’s independence from Spain. Passing Lisbon’s main tourist information centre at Palácio Foz brings you to the Glória funicular railway which has been hauling passengers up the steep hill to the Bairro Alto district since 1885.
At the top, a glass or two of Port wine awaits at the Solar do Vinho do Porto, a discreet, old-style wine bar that specialises in all types of port, ranging from chilled whites as an aperitif to regular rubies and veritable vintages dating back several decades.
Meandering through two of Lisbon’s most charismatic quarters, the Bairro Alto and Chiado, it’s interesting to note how they both survived the devastating earthquake of 1755. With its narrow, cobbled streets, Bairro Alto (which means High District) is a labyrinth of bars, restaurants and night-clubs, while Chiado is more chic with its fashionable boutiques and historic coffee shops.
A trip on the Santa Justa Elevator (indicated on the map below) is a fitting way to conclude a leisurely walk across downtown Lisbon, transporting you between the Chiado to Baixa districts in just thirty seconds. Built by Mesnier du Ponsard, a student of Gustave Eiffel, it first started operating in 1902. The viewing platform at the top of the elevator provides head-spinning views of the Castle of São Jorge opposite.