Ready for Discovery
IN LISBON, UNLIKE IN OTHER European capitals, first-time visitors arrive without a lot of expectations. There’s no Eiffel Tower, Buckingham Palace or Sistine Chapel. That’s not to say Lisbon has no outstanding historical monuments. Of course it does. They’re just not as well-known as those iconic examples of European travel tours.
And that just might be what gives this darling of the must-visit-now lists its special allure. An unexpected treat awaits around every corner.
Start with the sidewalks. Who would think the material below your feet could be interesting? But Lisbon’s stone-cobbled walkways with gray and white patterns are photo-worthy … and worth keeping your eye on, as they’re not always smooth. And then there are the tiles, the vibrant painted ceramics known as azulejos adorning walls everywhere across the city. Any storefront, office building or even a modest home becomes a colorful work of art.
With a city center filled with every high-end store imaginable, the Avenida Liberdade still feels like a place apart, a grand boulevard with tree-lined promenades, sidewalk cafés dotting the park-like space and tiny streets heading out and upwards at every imaginable angle.
Lisbon has become a traveler magnet, bringing it a lot of energy. But it also means tourists need to pack their patience and plan ahead to avoid crowds and grab the restaurant reservations of the coveted fine-dining establishments in town. In fact, the burgeoning foodie scene means you might need to book months in advance for tables at some of the hottest places like Alma and Belcanto, among the city’s top dining spots, both of which display two Michelin stars.
Why doesn’t Lisbon rank alongside London, Paris or Madrid in the world’s imagination? Perhaps because Portugal’s golden age lies half a millennium in the past. In the 1500s, Portugal wrestled with Spain for control of the Americas, and Portuguese explorers such as Ferdinand Magellan and Vasco de Gama sailed to Africa and Asia, establishing trading outposts at Goa in what is now India, at Macau in China, and elsewhere.
But an invasion by Spain in 1580 sent Portugal into decline, and in 1755 a devastating earthquake leveled Lisbon. As many as 50,000 people perished in the quake and subsequent fires and tsunami. However, the disaster also laid the foundation of the Lisbon visitors see