Germany Day 4 Sample Itinerary

Bavaria Germany Day 4 Sample Itinerary

I use the following rating scale when ranking the sights:

▲▲▲ Don’t Miss!

▲▲ Try Hard to See

▲ Worthwhile if you can make it


A)▲▲Linderhof Castle

This homiest of “Mad” King Ludwig’s castles is a small, comfortably exquisite mini Versailles—good enough for a minor god, and worth ▲▲. Set in the woods 15 minutes from Oberammergau and surrounded by fountains and sculpted, Italian-style gardens, it’s the only palace I’ve toured that actually had me feeling envious.


The main attraction here is the palace itself. While Neuschwanstein is Neo-Gothic—romanticizing the medieval glory days of Bavaria—Linderhof is Baroque and Rococo, the frilly, overly ornamented styles more associated with Louis XIV, the “Sun King” of France. And, while Neuschwanstein is full of swans, here you’ll see fleur-de-lis (the symbol of French royalty) and multiple portraits of Louis XIV, Louis XV, Madame Pompadour, and other pre-Revolutionary French elites. Though they lived a century apart, Ludwig and Louis were spiritual contemporaries: Both clung to the notion of absolute monarchy, despite the realities of the changing world around them. Capping the palace roofline is one of Ludwig’s favorite symbols: Atlas, with the weight of the world literally on his shoulders. Oh, those poor, overburdened, misunderstood absolute monarchs!

Ludwig was king for 22 of his 40 years. He lived much of his last eight years here—the only one of his castles that was finished in his lifetime. Frustrated by the limits of being a “constitutional monarch,” he retreated to Linderhof, inhabiting a private fantasy world where extravagant castles glorified his otherwise weakened kingship. You’ll notice that the castle is small—designed for a single occupant. Ludwig, who never married or had children, lived here as a royal hermit.

The castle tour includes 10 rooms on the upper floor. (The downstairs, where the servants lived and worked, now houses the gift shop.) You’ll see room after room exquisitely carved with Rococo curlicues, wrapped in gold leaf. Up above, the ceiling paintings have 3-D legs sticking out of the frame. Clearly inspired by Versailles, Linderhof even has its own (much smaller) hall of mirrors—decorated with over a hundred Nymphenburg porcelain vases and a priceless ivory chandelier. The bedroom features an oversized crystal chandelier, delicate Meissen porcelain flowers framing the mirrors, and a literally king-size bed—a two-story canopy affair draped in blue velvet. Perhaps the most poignant sight, a sad commentary on Ludwig’s tragically solitary lifestyle, is his dinner table—preset with dishes and food—which could rise from the kitchen below into his dining room so he could eat alone. (Examine the incredibly delicate flowers in the Meissen porcelain centerpiece.)


2)West Tapestry Room 

3)Yellow Cabinet 

4)Audience Room 

5)Lilac Cabinet 


7)Pink Cabinet 

8)Dining Room 

9)Blue Cabinet 

10)East Tapestry Room 

11)Hall of Mirrors 

The palace is flanked on both sides with grand, terraced fountains (peopled by gleaming golden gods) that erupt at the top and bottom of each hour. If you’re waiting for your palace tour to begin, hike up to the top of either of these terraces for a fine photo-op. (The green gazebo, on the hillside between the grotto and the palace, provides Linderhof’s best view.)


The other must-see sight at Linderhof is Ludwig’s grotto. Exiting the gift shop behind the palace, turn right, then cut left through the garden to climb up the hill. Wait out front for the next tour (the time is posted on the board), then head inside.

Venusgrotte Linderhof.jpg

Inspired by Wagner’s Tannhäuser opera, this artificial cave (300 feet long and 70 feet tall) is actually a performance space. Its rocky walls are made of cement poured over an iron frame. (While Ludwig exalted the distant past, he took full advantage of then-cutting edge technology to bring his fantasies to life.)

Schloss Linderhof (Venusgrotte 2).jpg

The grotto provided a private theater for the reclusive king to enjoy his beloved Wagnerian operas—he was usually the sole member of the audience. The grotto features a waterfall, fake stalactites, and a swan boat floating on an artificial lake (which could be heated for swimming).


Brick ovens hidden in the walls could be used to heat the huge space. The first electricity in Bavaria was generated here, to change the colors of the stage lights and to power Ludwig’s fountain and wave machine.

Other Sights at Linderhof: Several other smaller buildings are scattered around the grounds; look for posted maps and directional signs to track them down. Most interesting are the Moroccan House and Moorish Kiosk.

13)Moroccan House 

Castillo Linderhof, Baviera, Alemania, 2014-03-22, DD 36.JPG

III Moroccan House, Linderhof Palace, Germany (2).jpg

14)Moorish Kiosk 

With over-the-top decor seemingly designed by a sultan’s decorator on acid, these allowed Ludwig to “travel” to exotic lands without leaving the comfort of Bavaria. (The Moorish Kiosk is more interesting; look for its gilded dome in the woods beyond the grotto.)

15)Hunding’s Hut 

Located at the far edge of the property, this hut was inspired by Wagner’s The Valkyrie—a rustic-cottage stage-set with a giant fake “tree” growing inside of it.

16)King’s Cottage

Closer to the entrance—along the path between the ticket booth and the palace—is the King’s Cottage, used for special exhibitions (often with an extra charge).



Portugal Day 5 Sample Itinerary

Lisbon Portugal Day 5 Sample Itinerary 

I use the following rating scale when ranking the sights:

▲▲▲ Don’t Miss!

▲▲ Try Hard to See

▲ Worthwhile if you can make it


Sintra Day Trip 

A)▲▲Pena Palace (Palácio de Pena)

This magical hilltop palace sits high above Sintra, above the Moorish Castle ruins. In the 19th century, Portugal had a very romantic prince, the German-born Prince Ferdinand. A contemporary and cousin of Bavaria’s “Mad” King Ludwig (of Disneyesque Neuschwanstein Castle fame), Ferdinand was also a cousin of England’s Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s husband). Flamboyant Ferdinand hired a German architect to build a fantasy castle, mixing elements of German and Portuguese style. He ended up with a crazy Neo-fortified casserole of Gothic towers, Renaissance domes, Moorish minarets, Manueline carvings, Disneyland playfulness and an azulejo (tile) toilet for his wife.

Pena National Palace - Sintra - Palácio Nacional da Pena (15842491914) (cropped).jpg

Self-Guided Tour: The palace, built in the mid- to late-1800s, is so well-preserved that it feels as if it’s the day after the royal family fled Portugal in 1910 (during a popular revolt that eventually made way for today’s modern republic). This gives the place an intimacy rarely seen in palaces.

  • After you hop off the green shuttle bus, hike up the ramp and go through the Moorish archway with alligator decor. Cross the drawbridge that doesn’t draw, and join a slack-jawed world of tourists frozen in deep knee-bends with their cameras cocked.


Palace Interior: Show your ticket again to enter the palace itself. Inside, at the base of the stairs, you’ll see a bust of King Ferdinand II, who built this castle from 1840 until his death in 1885. Though German, he was a romantic proponent of his adopted culture and did much to preserve Portugal’s architectural and artistic heritage.

  • Next you’ll pop out into the…


Courtyard: The palace was built on the site of a 16th-century monastery; the courtyard was the former location of the cloister. In spite of its plushness, the palace retains the monkish coziness of several small rooms gathered in two levels around the cloister.

Like its big brother in Belém, the monastery housed followers of St. Jerome, the hermit monk. Like their namesake, the monks wanted to be isolated and this was about as isolated as you could be around here 500 years ago. The spot was also a popular pilgrimage destination for its statue of “Our Lady of the Feathers” (pena means feather—hence the palace’s name). In 1498 King Manuel was up here enjoying the view when he spied Vasco da Gama sailing up the river, returning safely from his great voyage. To celebrate and give thanks, the king turned what was a humble wooden monastery into a fine stone palace.

  • From here, follow the one-way route counterclockwise around the courtyard, dipping into a variety of rooms. These are especially worthy of attention.


Dining Room and Pantry: Stuck into a cozy corner, the monastery’s original refectory was decked out with the royal family’s finest tableware and ceiling tiles.

Atelier (Workshop) of King Carlos I: King Carlos was a talented artist and a great patron of the arts. He often found refuge in painting—specifically in the latest style, Art Nouveau. Unfinished paintings and sketches eerily predict the king’s unfinished rule.

King’s Bedroom and Bathroom: The king enjoyed cutting-edge comforts, including a shower/tub imported from England, and even a telephone to listen to the opera when he couldn’t face the Lisbon commute. The bedroom is decorated in classic Romantic style—dark, heavy, and crowded with knickknacks.

  • Now head upstairs (gripping the funky dragon-like handrail). Circling around the courtyard, you’ll enter the wing called the Piano Nobile (“noble floor”). Go through a few daintily decorated rooms that belonged to ladies-in-waiting, and then enter the…


Queen’s Bedroom and Dressing Room: Study the melancholy photos of Queen Amelia (Amélie of Orléans), King Carlos, and their family in this room. The early 1900s were a rocky time for Portugal’s royal family. The king and his eldest son were assassinated in 1908. His youngest son, Manuel II, became king until he, his mother the queen, and other members of the royal family fled Portugal during the 1910 revolution.

As you shuffle through the palace, you’ll see state-of-the-art conveniences—such as the first flush toilets and hot shower in Portugal, and even a telephone room. The whole place is lovingly cluttered, typical of the Victorian horror of empty spaces.

  • At the end of this floor, step out onto the…


Queen’s Terrace: Enjoy a sweeping view from Lisbon to the mouth of the Rio Tejo. Find the Cristo Rei statue and the 25th of April Bridge. The statue on the distant ridge honors the palace’s architect.

  • Heading back inside, you’ll pass through some smaller rooms, then enter…


The New Wing: This spacious addition to the original series of rooms around the cloister includes the apartments of the last king, the smoking room (with a tiled ceiling), and the fantastically furnished Great Hall.

On your way down the spiral staircase, take a detour to see the Stag Room—with well-antlered walls and a dramatic dome supported by a stout, palm-tree-like column. From here, you’ll head down to see the abundant kitchen.

Just after, a view café conveniently welcomes us peasants. While many people take this as a sign to leave, we haven’t yet seen some of the most scenic parts of the castle.

  • From the café, turn left and walk alongside the palace, then duck through one of the two huge, ornamental gateways on your left (the second one has a scowling Triton overhead). You’ll emerge into the…


Inner Patio: Take the stairs up to the pointed dome covered in green and white tiles (in front of the tallest red tower). This was the royal family’s sumptuous private chapel, decorated in a variety of styles. The structure is Manueline, reminiscent of the Monastery of Jerónimos in Belém.

  • Heading back down into the patio, don’t miss the little door under the chapel marked…

The Wall Walk: If you aren’t afraid of heights, follow this for a rampart ramble with great views—of the onion-domed balustrade, of the palace itself, and of the surrounding countryside—including the Moorish Castle on an adjacent hilltop. When the entire circuit is open, you’ll circle all the way around the outside of the palace, and wind up back at the entrance. Otherwise, walk back the way you came.

  • From here, you can return directly to the main entrance (walk 10 minutes or catch the green shuttle bus), or detour for a self-guided tour of the park.

Pena Palace Park: The lush, captivating, and sprawling palace grounds are dotted with romantic surprises and provide a refreshing break from Sintra’s crowds. Several landmarks within the park are signposted near the shuttle bus stop. Highlights include the High Cross (highest point around, with commanding views), chapels, a temple, giant sequoia trees, and exotic plants. To walk through the park after you tour the palace, take a 40-minute stroll downhill (following the map that came with your palace entry)—past greenhouses, pavilions, and a series of five manmade lakes—to the lower park gate, at the Lakes/Lagos entry, where you’ll find a bus stop and the Estrada de Pena loop road. From here, it’s a ten-minute hike uphill to the Moorish Castle, or a 20-minute hike back to the Pena Palace’s main entrance.


▲Moorish Castle

Sintra’s thousand-year-old ruins of a Moorish castle are lost in an enchanted forest and alive with winds of the past. They’re a castle lover’s dream come true, and a great place for a picnic with a panoramic Atlantic view. Though built by the Moors, the castle was taken by Christian forces in 1147. It’s one of the most classically perfect castles you’ll find anywhere, with two hills capped by hardy forts, connected by a crenellated wall walkway. (It’s so idealized because it was significantly restored in the 19th century.)

Visiting the Castle: You’ll enter the castle in a terraced area with a cafeteria, shop, and WCs, all sitting on top of a cistern. The castle walls and towers climb hills on either side of you. Do a hardy counterclockwise hike, conquering the lower one first, then heading up to the higher one. (Or, if you’re tired, just walk up the central staircase to enjoy a breathtaking view.)

For the full experience, from where you entered, go right and take the stony stairs up to the keep. From the top tower, you can see how the wall twists and turns—following the contours of the land—as it connects over to the taller hilltop tower. Follow the crenellated path with delirious views over Sintra down below and as far as the Atlantic. You’ll go down, then back up the other side, ascending higher and higher to the top of the Royal Tower. From the summit, you enjoy great views across to Pena Palace, perched on its adjacent hilltop. From this pinnacle, you can gingerly descend to the cafeteria and entrance—having conquered the castle.

Portugal Day 4 Sample Itinerary

Lisbon Portugal Day 4 Sample Itinerary 

I use the following rating scale when ranking the sights:

▲▲▲ Don’t Miss!

▲▲ Try Hard to See

▲ Worthwhile if you can make it


A)▲▲Museum of Ancient Art

Not “ancient” as in Roman and Greek—but “antique” as in Age of Discovery—this is Portugal’s finest museum for artwork from the time when the Portuguese ruled the seas: the 15th and 16th centuries. (Most of these works were gathered from Lisbon’s abbeys and convents after their dissolution in 1834.) You’ll also find a rich collection of furniture, as well as paintings by renowned European masters such as Hieronymus Bosch, Jan van Eyck, and Raphael—all in a grand palace that’s sleekly renovated and well-presented.

Visiting the Museum: Here are some of the museum’s highlights, starting on the top floor. From the ticket desk, turn right to find the elevator and press button 3.

Top Floor, Portuguese Painting and Sculpture: From the elevator, veer right through the atrium and find the big, red room at the far end. The Panels of St. Vincent are a multipart altarpiece by the late-15th-century master Nuno Gonçalves. A gang of 60 real people—everyone from royalty to sailors and beggars—surrounds Lisbon’s patron saint. Of note is the only recognized portrait of Prince Henry the Navigator, responsible for setting Portugal on the path to exploration. Find him on the third panel—an elder gentleman dressed in black with a wide-brimmed hat, hands together almost in prayer. Other masterworks by Gonçalves, painted just before the Age of Discovery, hang behind the panels. Also of note is a small but lifelike portrait of King João I, with hands clasped in prayer, by an unknown artist. This is the very first painting ever of a Portuguese monarch, winner of the Batalha battle and founder of a new dynasty.

Explore the rest of the floor clockwise from the panels: Opposite the panels find an exceptional portrait of the baby-faced King Sebastian—who died young when he led an incursion into Africa. The armor is typical of Iberia for the era, as is the royal jaw and pursed lips caused by inbreeding with many generations of Habsburgs from Spain. If you’ve visited the sights in Belém, you’ll recognize the Monastery of Jerónimos before it was fully decorated (1657 painting by Felipe Lobo).

Before you head down the stairs (in the middle of the atrium) to the next floor, notice the statue of a pregnant Mary (The Virgin of Expectation, c. 1340-1350). This unusual theme was common in rural parts of Portugal (such as the Alentejo, the close-to-the-ground region in the southeast), where the Virgin’s fertility was her most persuasive quality in recruiting local followers.

Middle Floor, Art from the Portuguese Discoveries: This floor collects items that Portuguese explorers brought home from their far-flung travels. Coming down the stairs, bear left, then right, to find the room with four large, enchanting Namban screen paintings (Namban, meaning “southern barbarians,” the catch-all term the Japanese applied to all foreigners). These show the Portuguese from a 16th-century Japanese perspective—with long noses, dark complexions, and great skill at climbing rigging, like acrobats. The Portuguese, the first Europeans to make contact with Japan, gave the Japanese guns, Catholicism (Nagasaki was founded by Portuguese Jesuits), and a new deep-frying technique we now know as tempura.

Now exit right and do a counterclockwise circle around this floor, stocked with furniture, large vases, ivory carvings, fine china and ceramics. Imagine how astonishing these treasures must have seemed when the early explorers returned with them. Facing the atrium are some beautiful tiles from Damascus—a gift from Calouste Gulbenkian (founder of the Gulbenkian Museum). After a lot of ceramics, eventually you reach a treasury of gold and silver items. Look for the freestanding glass case with a gorgeous golden monstrance, with its carrying case displayed just behind it—the bejeweled Rococo Communion-host holder was made for Lisbon’s Bemposta Palace. Farther along is the smaller yet even more exquisite Monstrance of Belém, commissioned by Manuel I and made from East African tribute gold brought back by Vasco da Gama. Squint at the fine enamel creatures filling a tide pool on the base, the 12 apostles gathered around the glass case for the Communion wafer (the fancy top pops off), and the white dove hanging like a mobile under the all-powerful God bidding us peace on earth.

Heading back to the atrium, don’t miss the small dimly lit room (on the left) displaying an impressive jewelry collection, including pieces decorated with the red cross of the affluent Order of Christ, whose members helped plan and fund Portuguese explorations.

Back in the atrium, before continuing downstairs, stop to admire a 17th-century painting of Lisbon before the 1755 earthquake. Notice the royal palace on Praça do Comércio, the shipyards next to the royal palace (now a public park), and the ship-clogged Rio Tejo.

Ground Floor, European Paintings: Pass through the gift shop, veer left, and follow the one-way route through paintings from all over Europe. A few rooms in, note the larger-than-life paintings of the 12 apostles by the Spanish master Zurburán. Continue to the end of the hall, then loop back around to find the room with Bosch’s Temptations of St. Anthony (a three-paneled altarpiece fantasy, c. 1500).

Also in this room is Albrecht Dürer’s St. Jerome. St. Jerome—you’ll see other portraits of him in this collection, always with a skull—is all-important to Lisbon as the primary figure behind the Monastery of Jerónimos in Belém.

Finally, wander through the few remnants of the palace. Note the Pombal coat-of-arms that decorates the elaborate, Baroque doorway at the top of the staircase (find the star); the palace was originally purchased by the brother of the powerful Marquês de Pombal. Take a well-earned break at the museum cafeteria. Sit outside in the gardens, with wonderful river views, and watch all the boats go by.

Portugal Day 3 Sample Itinerary

Lisbon Portugal Day 3 Sample Itinerary 

I use the following rating scale when ranking the sights:

▲▲▲ Don’t Miss!

▲▲ Try Hard to See

▲ Worthwhile if you can make it


A)▲▲▲Monastery of Jerónimos

This giant, white limestone church and monastery stretches for 300 impressive yards along the Belém waterfront. It was built over a hundred years and is basically a Gothic structure with Manueline ornamentation. King Manuel (who ruled from 1495) erected it as a “thank you” for the discoveries made by early Portuguese explorers (Vasco da Gama’s tomb is inside). This is a “Pepper Monument,” financed in part with “pepper money,” a 5 percent tax on spices brought back from India. Manuel built the church near the site of a humble chapel where sailors spent their last night ashore in prayer before embarking on frightening voyages.

Background: As you circle around the complex, ponder the great history of this serene place. Monks often accompanied the sailor-pirates on their trading/pillaging trips, hoping to convert the heathens to Christianity. Many expeditions were financed by the Order of Christ, a brotherhood of soldier-monks. The monks who inhabited this cloister were Hieronymites—followers of St. Jerome, hence the monastery name of Jerónimos. (You’ll see several paintings of St. Jerome, living in a Holy Land desert in the fourth century, doing what he was best known for: translating the Bible into the Church’s official Latin version.)

King Manuel, who did so much to promote exploration, was also the man who forcibly expelled all Jews from the country. (In 1497, the Spanish Reyes Católicos—Ferdinand and Isabel—agreed to allow him to marry one of their daughters on the condition that he deport the Jews.) Francis Xavier, a founder of the Spanish Jesuit order, did much of his missionary work traveling in Asia in the service of Portugal.

It was a time of extreme Christian faith. The sheer size of this religious complex is a testament to the religious motivation that—along with money—propelled the Age of Discovery.

Self-Guided Tour: Start outside the monastery:

1)South Portal: The fancy portal, facing the street, is textbook Manueline. Henry the Navigator stands between the doors with the king’s patron saint, St. Jerome (above on the left, with the lion). Henry (Manuel’s uncle) built the original sailors’ chapel on this site. This door is only used when Mass lets out or for Saturday weddings. (The electronic snapping sound you hear is designed to keep the pigeons away.)

  • To the left of the portal is the…

2)Church Entrance: As you approach the main entrance, the church is on your right and the cloister is straight ahead. Flanking the church door are kneeling statues of King Manuel I, the Fortunate (left of door, with St. Jerome), and his second Spanish wife, María (right, with John the Baptist).

3)Church Interior: The Manueline style is on the cusp of the Renaissance. The space is more open than earlier medieval churches. Slender palm-tree-like columns don’t break the interior space (as Gothic columns would), and the ceiling is all one height. Motifs from the sea hide in the decor. The sea brought Portugal 16th-century wealth and power, making this art possible. You’ll see rope-like arches, ships, and monsters that evoke the mystery of undiscovered lands. Artichokes, eaten for their vitamin C to fend off scurvy, remind us of the hardships sailors faced at sea. Thankfully, except for the stained glass (which is 20th century), the church survived the 1755 quake.

  • On your right as you face the altar is the…


4)Memorial to Luís de Camões: Camões (kah-MOISH, 1524-1580) is Portugal’s Shakespeare and Casanova rolled into one, an adventurer and writer whose heroic poems, glorifying the nation’s sailing exploits, capture the spirit of the Portuguese people. It was Camões who described Portugal as the place “where land ends and the sea begins.”

After college at Coimbra, Camões was banished from the court (1546) for flirting with the noble lady Dona Caterina. He lost an eye soldiering in Morocco (he’s always portrayed squinting), served jail time for brawling with a bureaucrat, and then caught a ship to India and China, surviving a shipwreck on the way. While serving as a colonial administrator in India, he plugged away at the epic poem that would become his masterpiece. Returning to Portugal, he published The Lusiads (Os Lusíadas, 1572), winning minor recognition and a small pension.

The long poem describes Vasco da Gama’s first voyage to India in heroic terms on the scale of Homer’s Odyssey. 

The Lusiads begins:

Arms and the heroes, from Lisbon’s shore,

sailed through seas never dared before,

with awesome courage, forging their way

to the glorious kingdoms of the rising day.

The poem goes on to recite many events in Portuguese history, from the time of the Lusiads (the original pre-Roman natives) onward. Even today, Camões’ words are quoted by modern Portuguese politicians in search of a heroic sound bite. And Portugal’s national holiday, June 10, is known as Camões Day, remembering the day in 1580 when the great poet died. The stone monument here—with literary rather than maritime motifs—is an empty tomb (his actual burial spot is unknown).

  • Now head up to the front of the church, and the…


5)Renaissance Altar: This is a rare, pre-1755 interior in Lisbon (except for the stained glass, which is from 1940). Here, under the 90-foot wide towering main vault, are buried the royals of 16th-century Portugal. In the niches surrounding the main altar, elephants—a Far Eastern symbol of power, more powerful and kingly than the lion—support two kings and two queens (King Manuel I is front-left). Like many Portuguese churches (such as the cathedrals in downtown Lisbon and Évora), this was renovated in Renaissance and Baroque times, resulting in an odd mix of dark, older naves and pretty pastel altars.

Skip the sacristy (entrance in the corner), a single-columned room wrapped in paintings on wood featuring scenes from the life of St. Jerome (not worth the admission fee). Instead, do an about-face and head up the aisle on the right, back toward the entrance (noticing more elephants in the transept). You’ll pass seven wooden confessional doors (on your right). Notice the ornamental carving around the second one: a festival of faces from newly discovered corners of the world. Head back toward the entry.

  • Under a ceiling that’s a veritable Boy Scout’s Handbook of rope and knots is the…


6)Tomb of Vasco da Gama: On the night of July 7, 1497, in the small chapel that once stood here, da Gama (1460-1524) prayed for a safe voyage. The next day, he set sail from Belém with four ships (see the caravel carved in the middle of the tomb’s side) and 150 men. He was armed with state-of-the-art maps and sailing technology, such as the carved armillary sphere (to the right of the caravel)—a globe surrounded by movable rings designed to determine the positions of the sun or other stars to help sailors track their location on earth. (Some say its diagonal slash is symbolic of the unwritten pact and ambition of Spain and Portugal to split the world evenly, but it actually represents the zodiac—the path of the planets as they move across the heavens.)

Da Gama’s mission? To confirm what earlier navigators had hypothesized—that the ocean recently discovered when Bartolomeu Dias rounded Africa’s Cape of Good Hope was the same one seen by overland travelers to India. Hopefully, da Gama would find a direct sea route to the vast, untapped wealth of Asia. The symbols on the tomb show the icons of the period—the cross (symbolizing the religious military order of the soldier-monks who funded these voyages), the caravel (representing the method of travel), and Portugal’s trading power around the globe (the result).

By Christmas, da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope. After battling hostile Arabs in Mozambique, he hired an Arab guide to pilot the ships to India, arriving on the southwest coast in Calicut (from which we get the word “calico”) in May 1498. He traded for spices, networked with the locals for future outposts, battled belligerent chiefs, and then headed back home. Da Gama and his crew arrived home to Lisbon in September 1499 (after two years and two months on the seas) and were greeted with all-out Vasco-mania. The few spices he’d returned with (many were lost in transit) were worth a staggering fortune. Portugal’s Golden Age was launched.

King Manuel dubbed da Gama “Admiral of the Sea of India” and sent him out again, this time to subdue the Indian people, establish more trade outposts, and again return home to wealth and honor. Da Gama died on Christmas Eve 1524, in India. His memory lives on due to the tribute of two men: Manuel, who built this large church, and Luís de Camões (honored opposite Vasco), who turned da Gama’s history-making voyage into an epic poem.

Before leaving, enjoy the big picture from a 500-years-ago perspective. It’s the full package for Portugal: the country’s finest church containing the great poet, the great explorer, and the royal family.

  • Leave the church, turn right, purchase your ticket, pick up the included audioguide, and enter the…


7)Cloister: This restored cloister is the architectural highlight of Belém. The lacy arcade is Manueline; the simpler diamond and decorative rose frieze above the top floor is Renaissance. Study the carvings, especially the gargoyles above the lower set of arches. Among these functioning rainspouts, find a monkey, a kitten, and a cricket.

Heads of state are often received in the cloister with a warm welcome. This is also the site of many important treaty signings, such as Portugal’s admittance to the European Union in 1986. Turn left and do a clockwise spin around this fine space.

In the first corner, a small lion-topped basin (where the monks washed up before meals) marks the entrance to the refectory, or dining hall—today an occasional concert venue—lined with fine 18th-century tiles. The tiles are considered textbook Rococo, which ignores the parameters set by the architecture (unlike Baroque, which works within the structure).

Down the next stretch of cloister, on the left, is the burial spot of Portugal’s most revered modern poet, Fernando Pessoa.

Continuing around, the former chapter house contains an exhibit of the lengthy restoration process, as well as the tomb of Alexandre Herculano, a Romantic 19th-century historian and poet. Quotes from Herculano adorn his tomb: “Sleep? Only the cold cadaver that doesn’t feel sleeps. The soul flies and wraps itself around the feet of the All-Powerful.”

  • Continuing around the cloister, find the stairs and head up.


8)Upstairs: At the top of the stairs, on the left, step into the Upper Choir (above the main door)—peering down into the vast sanctuary, at the feet of a powerful crucifix.

Back out in the upper cloister, circle around to find a bookshop (and the exit). All the way around are great cloister views. At the far end of the cloister is an exhibition that juxtaposes the historical timeline of this monastery and Portugal with contemporaneous world events (but no real artifacts).


B)▲Belém Tower

Perhaps the purest Manueline building in Portugal (built 1515-1520), this white tower protected Lisbon’s harbor. Today it celebrates the voyages that made Lisbon powerful, with carved stone representing ropes, Manuel’s coat of arms, armillary spheres, and shields with the cross of the Order of Christ, charged with spreading the faith in new territories. There’s often a very long line to get into this tower, but there’s nothing inside worth waiting very long to see.

Visiting the Tower: This was the last sight sailors saw as they left their homeland, and the first as they returned, loaded with gold, spices, and social diseases. When the tower was built, the river went nearly to the walls of the monastery, and the tower was midriver. Its interior is pretty bare, but the views of the bridge, river, and Cristo Rei statue are nice (though I prefer the lookout from the Monument to the Discoveries, which has a better view of the monastery).

The floatplane on the grassy lawn is a monument to the first flight across the South Atlantic (Portugal to Brazil) in 1922. The original plane (which beat Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of Saint Louis across the North Atlantic by five years) is in Belém’s Maritime Museum.


C)▲▲National Coach Museum

In 1905, the last queen of Portugal saw that cars would soon obliterate horse-drawn carriages as a form of transportation. She decided to preserve her fine collection of royal coaches, which became today’s National Coach Museum. The impressive collection is split between two buildings, each with its own ticket. The main branch—in a huge, blocky, concrete building closer to the river—has the bulk of the collection, with 70 dazzling coaches, all described in English. The Royal Riding School, closer to the trolley tracks, is a historical space with a gorgeous interior but only about 10 coaches on display. If you want to really appreciate the coaches themselves, focus on the main branch. But to see regal spaces (which are rare in Lisbon), add on the Royal Riding School.

Visiting the Main Branch: The museum is right across the street from the Belém tram stop (on one side) and the Belém train station (on the other). Find the ticket office under the building (opposite the museum entrance), then ride an elevator or take steps up to the collection, where you’ll loop through two long rooms.

The first coach dates from around 1600. This crude and simple vehicle was once used by Philip II, king of Spain and Portugal, to shuttle between Madrid and Lisbon. Notice that the coach has no driver’s seat—its drivers would actually ride the horses. You’ll have to trust me on this, but if you lift up the cushion from the passengers’ seat, you’ll find a potty hole—also handy for road sickness. Imagine how slow and rough the ride would be with bad roads and a crude leather-strap suspension.

From here, walk through the historical collection, displayed chronologically. Study the evolution of suspension technology, made in the 15th century in the Hungarian town of Kocs (pronounced “coach”—hence the name). By the 17th century when this collection begins—coaches had caught on in a big way in Portugal, which was an early adopter. Trace the improvements made through the next century, noticing that as the decoration increases, so does the comfort. A Portuguese coat of arms indicates that a carriage was part of the royal fleet. Ornamentation often includes a folk festival of exotic faces from Portugal’s distant colonies.

In the middle of the hall shines the lumbering Oceans Coach, as ornate as it is long. At the stern, gold figures symbolize the Atlantic and Indian Oceans holding hands, a reminder of Portugal’s mastery of the sea. The Oceans Coach is flanked by two equally stunning coaches with similar symbols of ocean exploration. These were part of a thematic convoy sent by King João V to Pope Clement XI in 1716.

Next you’ll see a pair of carriages from the royal couple ruling Portugal when the 1755 earthquake struck. King José I rode in a sumptuously carved Baroque masterpiece while Queen Mariana Victoria opted for a more subdued ride. At the far end of the hall, peek inside the Table coach, which must have been a cozy place to hang out and wait for the exchange.

In the next room, you’ll mainly see “Berlins”—a new coach type (pioneered in that city, in the late 17th century) that suspended the main compartment on thick leather straps to improve the ride. You’ll see ecclesiastical coaches (suggesting the high status of clergy); single-horse chaise and cabriolet coaches (including some sleek, black leather, 19th-century, Sherlock Holmes-style ones); hunting vehicles; sedan chairs; scaled-down play carriages for kids who had everything; and mail coaches. You may see the “Landau of the Regicide”—the coach in which King Carlos I and his heir were shot and killed on February 1, 1908. You can still see the bullet holes. (This carriage is often out on loan.)

Portugal Day 2 Sample Itinerary

Lisbon Portugal Day 2 Sample Itinerary 

I use the following rating scale when ranking the sights:

▲▲▲ Don’t Miss!

▲▲ Try Hard to See

▲ Worthwhile if you can make it


A)▲▲Gulbenkian Museum

This is the best of Lisbon’s 40 museums, and it’s worth the trip for art lovers. This wide-ranging collection, with nothing Portuguese, spans 5,000 years of European, Egyptian, Islamic, and Asian art. It offers the most purely enjoyable museum-going experience in Iberia—it’s both educational and just plain beautiful. The museum is cool, uncrowded, gorgeously lit, and easy to grasp, displaying only a few select and exquisite works from each epoch. Art Nouveau fans love the museum’s stunning Lalique jewelry collection. Walk through five millennia of human history, appreciating our ancestors by seeing objects they treasured.

The museum is actually two museums—the main collection and the Gulbenkian Garden and Modern Collection (Coleção Moderna), a five-minute walk away through a delightful 18-acre lushly landscaped park. If walking from the main museum back to the Metro, the garden and Modern Collection are on the way (the museum’s info desk has a handy map of the entire site).

Background: Calouste Gulbenkian (1869-1955), an Armenian oil tycoon, gave Portugal his art collection (or “harem,” as he called it) in gratitude for the hospitable asylum granted him in Lisbon during World War II (where he lived from 1942 until his death). The Portuguese consider Gulbenkian an inspirational model of how to be thoughtfully wealthy: He made a habit of “tithing for art,” spending 10 percent of his income on things of beauty, and his billion-dollar estate is still a vital arts foundation promoting culture in Portugal.

In short, Gulbenkian had all the money in the world, dedicated much of his life to collecting what he thought was the most beautiful art anywhere, built this fine building to show it off, and left it as a gift to posterity.

Visiting the Museum: From the entrance lobby, there are two wings on one floor: roughly pre-1500 and post-1500. Following the museum’s mostly chronological layout, you’ll pass through the following sections:

1)Egypt (2500-500 BC): If this room feels like a tomb, that’s intentional. Everything here was once the personal property of Egyptian kings and queens, including some pieces from King Tut—who died thinking you can take it with you. Ancient Egyptians, believing that life really began after death, carved statues to preserve the memory of the deceased, whether it be the head of a pharaoh carved out of “harder-than-stone” obsidian or a family pet. The cat statue nurses her kittens atop a coffin that once held the cat’s mummy, preserved for the afterlife. Egyptians honored cats—even giving them gold earrings (notice this statue’s ears are pierced). They believed cats helped the goddess Bastet keep watch over the household. Now, thousands of years later, we remember the Egyptians for these sturdy, dignified statues, built for eternity.

2)Greece and Rome (500 BC-AD 500): The black-and-red Greek vase (calyx-crater), decorated with scenes of half-human satyrs chasing human women, reminds us of the rational Greeks’ struggle to overcome their barbarian, animal-like urges as they invented Western civilization. Alexander the Great (r. 336-323 BC, seen on a series of gold medallions filling a glass case) used war to spread Greek culture throughout the Mediterranean, creating a cultural empire that would soon be taken over by Roman emperors. Gulbenkian loved collecting coins: The first treasure he acquired was a coin, purchased at age 11.

A carved stone on the wall near the exit brings you even further back in time to Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) and the very roots of civilization. The Assyrian relief of Ashurnasirpal II (884-859 BC) evokes this distant culture, which invented writing. Note the inscription chiseled over the portrait.

3)Islamic World (700-1500): The Muslims who lived in Portugal—as far west of Mecca as you could get back then—might have decorated their homes with furnishings from all over the Islamic world. Imagine a Moorish sultan, dressed in a shirt from Syria, sitting on a carpet from Persia in a courtyard with Moroccan tiles. By a bubbling fountain, he puffs on a hookah.

Glazed and painted ceramics are from 13th-century Syria—specifically from the region in and around Raqqa (in the news recently as the capital of ISIS).

The intricate patterns on the Eygptian gilded and enameled glass lamps from a 14th-century mosque (behind the partition on the left) are not only beautiful…they’re actually Arabic quotes from the Quran, such as “Allah is the light of the world, shining like a flame in a glass lamp, as bright as a star.” Explore this large and rich collection, and then head a few thousand miles east.

The carpets you’ll see were a passion for Gulbenkian (his family was long in the carpet trading business). He considered a carpet a garden you can bring inside your home.

4)Far East (1368-1644): For almost 300 years, the Ming dynasty ruled China, having reclaimed the country from Genghis Khan and his sons. When Portuguese traders reached the Orient they brought back blue-and-white ceramics such as these. They became all the rage, inspiring the creation of both Portuguese tiles and Dutch Delftware. Writing utensils fill elaborately decorated boxes from Japan. Another type of box—a Japanese bento—was the ultimate picnic basket, perfect for an excursion to the Japanese countryside.

Crossing into the next wing, you enter the section on European art.

5)Medieval Europe (500-1500): While China was thriving and inventing, Europe was stuck in a thousand-year medieval funk (with the exception of Muslim Arab-ruled Iberia). Most Europeans from the “Age of Faith” channeled their spirituality into objects of Christian devotion. A priest on a business trip could pack a portable, collapsible altarpiece in his backpack, travel to a remote village that had no church, and deliver a sermon illustrated by scenes carved in ivory. In monasteries, the monks with the best penmanship laboriously copied books (illuminated manuscripts) and decorated them with scenes from the text—and left wacky doodles in the margins. These books are virtual time capsules, preserving the knowledge of Greece and Rome until it could emerge again, a thousand years later, in the Renaissance.

6)Renaissance and Baroque Painting (1500-1700): Around 1500, a cultural revolution was taking place—the birth of humanism. Painters saw God in the faces of ordinary people, whether in Domenico Ghirlandaio’s fresh-faced maiden, Frans Hals’ wrinkled old woman, or Rembrandt’s portrait of an old man, whose crease-lined hands tell the story of his life. Also in this section are exquisite works by Van der Weyden, Van Dyck, and Rubens.

Propelled by the Italian-born Renaissance, Europe’s focus shifted northward to the luxurious court of France, where a new secular culture was blossoming—as illustrated in sumptuous tapestries. The three-part series Playing Children (c. 1540) features Fishing, the Dance, and the Ball Game.

7)Louis XIV, XV, XVI (1700-1800): This furniture, once owned by French kings (and Marie-Antoinette and Madame de Pompadour), is a royal home show. Anything heavy, ornate, and gilded (or that includes curved legs and animal-clawed feet) is from the time of Louis XIV. The Louis XV style is lighter and daintier, with Asian motifs, while furniture from the Louis XVI era is stripped-down, straight-legged, tapered, and more modern.

8)Romantic to Impressionist Paintings (1700-2000): Europe ruled the world, and art became increasingly refined. Young British aristocrats (Thomas Gainsborough portrait) traveled Europe on the Grand Tour to see great sights like Venice. They would take home small, photo-realistic Venicescapes—such as an entire room of Guardi landscapes (c. 1780)—as souvenirs.

Follow the progression in styles from stormy Romanticism (J. M. W. Turner’s tumultuous shipwreck) to Realism’s breath-of-fresh-air simplicity (Manet’s bubble blower, Degas’ portraits) to the glinting, shimmering Impressionism of Monet and Renoir. Statues by Rodin are Impressionism in stone.

9)René Lalique Jewelry: Finish your visit with the stunning, sumptuous Art Nouveau glasswork and jewelry of French designer René Lalique (1860-1945). Fragile beauty like this, from the elegant turn-of-the-century belle époque, was about to be shattered by the turbulent 20th century. Art Nouveau borrowed forms from nature, and valued the organic and artisanal over the mass-produced. Ordinary dragonflies, orchids, and beetles become breathtaking when transformed into jewelry. Sarah Bernhardt wore Lalique—art you hang not on a wall, but on your body. The work of Lalique—just another of Gulbenkian’s circle of friends—is a fitting finale to this museum of history and beauty.

Modern Collection and Garden: Stimulating if you like contemporary and abstract art, the Modern Collection’s temporary exhibits offer a fun bit of whimsy if you have the energy and inclination. The classy modern building is set in a delightful garden—a favorite for locals enjoying a quiet or romantic moment—and often hosts classical music concerts in its auditoriums. 


B)▲▲Fado Show

Fado is the folk music of Lisbon’s back streets. Since the mid-1800s, it’s been the Lisbon blues—mournfully beautiful and haunting ballads about lost sailors, broken hearts, and bittersweet romance. While generally sad, fado can also be jaunty—in a nostalgic way—and captivating. An aging widow in a mourning shawl singing passionate fado can be as sexy as any performer.

While authentically traditional, most Lisbon fado bars cater to tourists these days. Don’t expect to find a truly “local” scene. Even the seemingly homemade “fado tonight” (fado esta noite) signs are mostly for tourist shows. Still, if you choose well—and can find a convivial restaurant with relatively reasonable prices and fewer tour groups—it’s a very memorable evening. (And be wary of your hotel’s recommendations, which are often skewed by hefty kickbacks.)

The two main areas for fado in Lisbon are on either side of the Baixa: the Bairro Alto and the Alfama. To avoid disappointment, it’s smart to reserve ahead.

Ways to See Fado: Your basic choices are a polished restaurant with a professional-quality staged show; or—my preference—a more rustic place with fado vadio, a kind of open-mic fado evening when suspiciously talented “amateurs” line up at the door of neighborhood dives for their chance to warble. Waiters—hired more for their vocal skills than hospitality—sometimes take a turn entertaining the crowd.

Most people combine fado with a late dinner. The music typically begins between 20:00 and 21:00; arrive a bit earlier to be seated and order. Night owls can have a cheaper dinner elsewhere, then show up for fado when the first round of diners is paying their bills (around 22:30 or 23:00). Both elegant, high-end places and holes-in-the-wall generally let nondiners in late for the cost of an overpriced drink and/or a €10-15 cover charge.

Portugal Day 1 Sample Itinerary

Lisbon Portugal Day 1 Sample Itinerary 

I use the following rating scale when ranking the sights:

▲▲▲ Don’t Miss!

▲▲ Try Hard to See

▲ Worthwhile if you can make it


A)▲▲▲Alfama Stroll and Castle

On this ▲▲▲ walk, you’ll explore the Alfama, the colorful sailors’ quarter that dates back to the age of Visigoth occupation, from the sixth to eighth centuries AD. This was a bustling district during the Moorish period, and eventually became the home of Lisbon’s fishermen and mariners (and of the poet Luís de Camões, who wrote, “Our lips meet easily, high across the narrow street”). The Alfama’s tangled street plan, one of the few features of Lisbon to survive the 1755 earthquake, helps make the neighborhood a cobbled playground of Old World color. While much of the Alfama’s grittiness has been cleaned up in recent years, it remains one of Europe’s more photogenic neighborhoods.


1)São Jorge Castle Gate and Fortified Castle Town

The formidable gate to the castle is part of a fortification that, these days, surrounds three things: the view terrace, the small town that stood within the walls, and the castle itself. The ticket office and the turnstile are situated so that those without a ticket are kept away from the view terrace and castle proper.

If money is tight, the castle and view are skippable—the castle is just stark, rebuilt ruins from the Salazar era, and while the hill-capping park has a commanding view, there are other fine views coming up…just jump ahead to stop #4 on this walk.

  • If you decide to go in, follow the cobbles uphill past the first lanes of old Lisbon to the yellow ticket office, and then into the…


2)Miradouro de São Jorge (Viewpoint)

Enjoy the grand view. The Rio Tejo is one of five main rivers in Portugal, four of which come from Spain. (Only the Mondego River, which passes through Coimbra, originates inside Portuguese territory, in the Serra de Estrela.) While Portugal and Spain generally have very good relations, a major sore point is the control of all this water. From here you have a good view of the Golden Gate-like 25th of April Bridge, which leads south to the Cristo Rei statue. Past the bridge, on a clear day, you can barely see the Monument to the Discoveries and the Belém Tower (under and past the bridge on north side).

Look up at the statue marking the center of this terrace. Afonso Henriques, a warlord with a strong personal army, was the founder of Portugal. In 1147, he besieged this former Moorish castle until the hungry, thirsty residents gave in. Every Portuguese schoolkid knows the story of this man—a Reconquista hero and their country’s first king.

Stroll inland along the ramparts for a more extensive view of Pombal’s Lisbon, described in a circa 1963, tiled panorama-chart (which lacks the big 25th of April Bridge—it was built in 1969). From Praça do Comércio on the water, the grid streets of the Baixa lead up to the tree-lined Avenida da Liberdade and the big Edward VII Park, on the far right. Locate city landmarks, such as the Elevador de Santa Justa (the Eiffel-style elevator in front of the ruined Convento do Carmo) and the sloping white roof of Rossio station.

  • Continue walking along the viewpoint, passing several old cannons. Just after going under the second arch (just before the café terrace), take a right into the mostly ruined courtyard of…


3)São Jorge Castle

While the first settlements here go back to the 7th century BC, this castle dates to the 11th century when Moors built it to house their army and provide a safe haven for their elites in times of siege. After Afonso Henriques took the castle in 1147, Portugal’s royalty lived here for several centuries. The sloping walls—typical of castles from this period—were designed to withstand 14th-century cannonballs. In the 16th century, the kings moved to their palace on Praça do Comércio, and the castle became a military garrison. Despite suffering major damage in the 1755 earthquake, the castle later served another stint as a military garrison. In the 20th century, it became a national monument.

The strolling peacocks remind visitors that exotic birds like these came to Lisbon originally as trophies of the great 16th-century voyages and discoveries. (Today the jaded birds ignore the tourists and cry as if to remember some long-forgotten castle captives.)

Bear left to find the inner castle—the boxy, crenelated fort in the middle. There’s little to see inside the empty shell, but it’s fun to climb up the steep stone steps to scramble around the top of the ramparts and towers, with ever-changing views of Lisbon, the Alfama, and the castle itself. (Up top, you’ll also find a thrillingly low-tech camera obscura, which is demonstrated twice hourly, times and languages posted.)

As you explore the castle’s inner sanctum, imagine it lined with simple wooden huts. The imposing part of the castle is the exterior. The builders’ strategy was to focus on making the castle appear so formidable that its very existence was enough to discourage any attack. If you know where to look, you can still see stones laid by ancient Romans, Visigoths, and Moors. The Portuguese made the most substantial contribution, with a wall reaching all the way to the river to withstand anticipated Spanish attacks.

When finished, head back out the inner castle gate, and continue straight ahead toward the castle’s entrance. On your right, you’ll pass the café, then the humble museum. This houses archaeological finds from the 7th century BC to the 18th century, with emphasis on the Moorish period in the 11th and 12th centuries. You’ll also see 18th-century tiles from an age when Portugal was flush with money from the gold, diamonds, and sugarcane of its colony Brazil. While simple, the museum has nice displays and descriptions.

  • Leave the castle. Across the ramp from the castle entrance is a tidy little castle district, worth a wander for its peaceful lanes and a chance to enjoy the Manueline architecture.


4)Castle Town

Just outside the castle turnstile is the tiny neighborhood within the castle walls built to give Moorish elites refuge from sieges and, later, for Portuguese nobles to live close to their king. While it’s partly taken over by cute shops and cafés, if you wander up Rua de Santa Cruz do Castelo (to the left as you exit the castle) and stroll into its back lanes, you can enjoy a peaceful bit of Portugal’s past. (Make a big clockwise loop back to where you entered—you can’t get lost, as it’s within the walls and there’s only one way in or out.) Most of the houses date from the Middle Ages. Poking around, go on a cultural scavenger hunt. Look for: 1) clever, space-efficient, triangular contraptions for drying clothes (hint: see the glass bottle bottoms in the wall used to prop the sticks out when in use); 2) Benfica soccer team flag (that’s the team favored by Lisbon’s working class—an indication that the upper class no longer chooses to live here); 3) short doors that were tall enough for people back when these houses were built; and 4) noble family crests over doors—dating to when important families wanted to be close to the king.

When you’re ready to leave, make your way back to where you started, and head down the ramp to return to the real world. On your way out, just before exiting the lower gate, notice the little statue in the niche on your right. This is the castle’s namesake: St. George (São Jorge; pronounced “sow ZHOR-zh”) hailed from Turkey and was known for fighting valiantly (he’s often portrayed slaying a dragon). When the Christian noble Afonso Henriques called for help to eliminate the Moors from his newly founded country of Portugal, the Crusaders who helped him prayed to St. George…and won.

  • Exit the castle complex grounds through the large archway, follow the castle wall, then turn right down the second street, Travessa do Chão da Feira. Follow this striped lane downhill through Largo do Contador Mor. This small, car-clogged square has a Parisian ambience, some touristy outdoor restaurants serving grilled sardines. 

  • Check out the inviting little Miss Can shop and eatery—where traditional Portuguese canned fish gets a modern twist.

  • Exit the square at the bottom, continue downhill 50 yards farther, pass the trolley tracks, and jog right around the little church to reach a superb Alfama viewpoint at…


5)Largo Santa Luzia

From this square (with a stop for trolleys #12E and #28E), admire the panoramic view from the small terrace, Miradouro de Santa Luzia, where old-timers play cards and Romeos strum their guitars amid lots of tiles.

In the distance to the left, the Vasco da Gama Bridge (opened in 1998) connects Lisbon with new, modern bedroom communities south of the river.

At your feet sprawls the Alfama neighborhood. We’ll head that way soon, to explore its twisty lanes. Where the Alfama hits the river, notice the recently built embankment. It reclaimed 100 yards of land from the river to make a modern port, used these days to accommodate Lisbon’s growing cruise ship industry.

On the wall of the church behind you, notice two 18th-century tile panels. The one on the left shows the pre-earthquake Praça do Comércio, with the royal palace (on the left)—it was completely destroyed in the 1755 quake.

The other tile (10 steps away, to the right) depicts the reconquest of Lisbon from the Moors by Afonso Henriques. You can see the Portuguese hero, Martim Moniz, who let himself be crushed in the castle door to hold it open for his comrades. Notice the panicky Moors inside realizing that their castle is about to be breeched by invading Crusaders. It was a bad day for the Moors. (A stairway here leads up to a tiny view terrace with a café.)

For an even better city view, hike back around the church and walk out to the seaside end of the Miradouro das Portas do Sol catwalk. The huge, frilly building dominating the ridge on the far left is the Monastery of São Vicente, constructed around 1600 by the Spanish king Philip II, who left his mark here with this tribute to St. Vincent. A few steps away, next to a statue of St. Vincent, is a kiosk café where you can enjoy perhaps the most scenic cup of coffee in town.

  • Across the street from the café, you’ll find the…


6)Museum and School of Portuguese Decorative Arts

The Museum and School of Portuguese Decorative Arts offers a stroll through a richly decorated, aristocratic household.

The palace, filled with 15th- to 18th-century fine art, offers the best chance for visitors to experience what a noble home looked like during Lisbon’s glory days. Inside, a coach on the ground level is “Berlin style,” with a state-of-the-art suspension system, on leather straps. The grand stairway leads upstairs past 18th-century glazed tiles (Chinese-style blue-and-white was in vogue) into a world of colonial riches. Portuguese aristocrats had a special taste for “Indo-Portuguese” decorative arts:objects of exotic woods such as teak or rosewood, and inlaid with shell or ivory, made along the sea routes of the age.

From here, it’s downhill all the way. From Largo das Portas do Sol (the plaza with the statue of local patron St. Vincent, near the kiosk café on the terrace), go down the loooong stairs (Rua Norberto de Araújo, between the church and the catwalk).

A few steps down on the left, under the big arch, notice the public WCs and the fun, vivid cartoon mural illustrating Lisbon’s history (if you know the key dates, you can enjoy it even without understanding Portuguese).

The massive eighth-century fortified wall (on the right of the staircase) once marked the boundary of Moorish Lisbon. Consider that the great stones on your right were stacked here over a thousand years ago. At the bottom of the wall, continue downhill, then turn left at the railing…and go down more stairs.

  • Explore downhill from here. The main thoroughfare, a concrete stepped lane called Escadinhas de São Miguel, funnels you to the Alfama’s main square.


7)Heart of the Alfama

This square, Largo de São Miguel, is the best place to observe a slice of Alfama life. When city leaders rebuilt the rest of Lisbon after the 1755 quake, this neighborhood was left out and consequently retains its tangled medieval streets.

If you’ve got the time, explore the Alfama from this central square. Its urban-jungle roads are squeezed into confusing alleys—the labyrinthine street plan was designed to frustrate invaders. What was defensive then is atmospheric now. Bent houses comfort each other in their romantic shabbiness, and the air drips with laundry and the smell of clams. Get lost. Poke aimlessly, peek through windows, buy a fish. Locals hang plastic water bags from windows in the summer to keep away the flies. Favorite saints decorate doors to protect families. St. Peter, protector of fishermen, is big in the Alfama. Churches are generally closed, since they share a priest. As children have very little usable land for a good soccer game, this square doubles as the neighborhood playground.

The tiny balconies were limited to “one-and-a-half hands” in width. A strictly enforced health initiative was designed to keep the town open and well-ventilated. If you see carpets hanging out to dry, it means a laundry is nearby. Because few homes have their own, every neighborhood has a public laundry and bathroom. Until recently, in the early morning hours, the streets were busy with residents in pajamas, heading for these public baths. Today, many younger people are choosing to live elsewhere, lured by modern conveniences unavailable here, and old flats with older residents are under the watchful eye of real estate developers. Many long-term residents have been evicted due to landlords claiming “necessary reforms,” only to sell the entire building for development as tourist housing. In just one generation, the Alfama is feeling the pressure of gentrification.

Traditionally the neighborhood here was tightly knit, with families routinely sitting down to communal dinners in the streets. Feuds, friendships, and gossip were all intense. Historically, when a woman’s husband died, she wore black for the rest of her life—a tradition that’s just about gone.

The Alfama hosts Lisbon’s most popular outdoor party dedicated to St. Anthony (whose feast day is June 13, but the party goes on all month). Imagine tables set up everywhere, bands playing, bright plastic flowers strung across the squares, and all the grilled sardines (sardinhas grelhadas) you can eat. The rustic paintings of festive characters (with hints of Moorish style) remind locals of past parties, and strings and wires overhead await future festival dates when the neighborhood will again be festooned with colorful streamers.

While there are plenty of traditional festivals here, the most action on the Alfama calendar is the insane, annual mountain-bike street race from the castle to the sea (which you can see hurtle by in two minutes on YouTube; search “Lisboa downtown race”).

Continue exploring downhill from here. Just below the square you’ll see A Baiuca, a recommended amateur fado restaurant. Then, a few steps farther downhill, you’ll hit the cobbled pedestrian lane, Rua São Pedro. This darkest of the Alfama’s streets, in nearly perpetual shade, was the logical choice for the neighborhood’s fish market. Modern hygiene requirements (which forbid outdoor stalls) killed the market, but it’s still a characteristic lane to explore.

  • Turn left and follow Rua São Pedro out of the Alfama to the square called Largo do Chafariz de Dentro and, across the street, the…


8)▲Fado Museum 

This museum tells the story of fado in English—with a great chance to hear these wailing fisherwomen’s blues. Three levels of wall murals show three generations of local fado stars, and the audioguide lets you listen to the Billie Holidays of Portugal.


B)▲▲▲Baixa Stroll

This ▲▲▲ walk covers the highlights of Lisbon’s historic downtown, the Baixa, which fills a flat valley between two hills. The district slopes gently from the waterfront up to Rossio, Praça dos Restauradores, Avenida da Liberdade, and the newer town. The walk starts at Praça do Comércio and ends at Praça dos Restauradores.

  • Start your walk at the statue of King José I in the center of Praça do Comércio. Find a spot of shade in José’s shadow (or take cover under the arcades) and read a bit about the Baixa’s history.

Background: After the disastrous 1755 earthquake, the Baixa district was rebuilt on a grid street plan. The uniform and utilitarian Pombaline architecture (named after the Marquês de Pombal, the chief minister who rebuilt the city) feels almost military. That’s because it is. The Baixa was constructed by military engineers who had experience building garrison towns overseas. The new Lisbon featured the architecture of conquest—simple to assemble, economical, with all the pieces easy to ship. The 18th-century buildings you’d see in Mozambique and Brazil are interchangeable with those in Lisbon.

The buildings are all uniform, with the same number of floors and standard facades. They were designed to survive the next earthquake, with stone firewalls and wooden frameworks that had flexible crisscross beams. The priorities were to rebuild fast, cheap, and shake-proof.

If it had been left up to the people, who believed the earthquake was a punishment from God, they would have rebuilt their churches bigger and more impressive than ever. But Pombal was a practical military man with a budget, a timeline, and an awareness of his society’s limits. Large churches didn’t fit into the new, orderly grid. In those austere postearthquake days, Pombal got his way.

The Baixa has three squares—two preearthquake (Comércio and Rossio) and one added later (Figueira)—and three main streets: Prata (silver), Aurea (gold), and Augusta (relating the Portuguese king to a Roman emperor). The former maze of the Jewish quarter was eliminated, but the area has many streets named for the crafts and shops once found there.

The Baixa’s pedestrian streets, inviting cafés, bustling shops, and elegant old storefronts give the district a certain charm. City-government subsidies make sure the old businesses stay around, but modern ones find a way to creep in. I find myself doing laps up and down Rua Augusta in a people watching stupor. Its delightful ambience is perfect for strolling.

  • Now turn your attention to the square itself.


1)Praça do Comércio

At this riverfront square bordering the Baixa—along the gateway to Lisbon—ships used to dock and sell their goods. This was the site of Portugal’s royal palace for 200 preearthquake years, but after the 1755 earthquake/tsunami/fire, the jittery king fled to more stable Belém, never to return. These days, government ministries ring Praça do Comércio. It’s also the departure point for city bus and tram tours, and boats that cruise along the Rio Tejo. The area opposite the harbor was conceived as a residential neighborhood for the upper class, but they chose the suburbs. Today the square has two names (“Palace Square” and “Commerce Square”) and little real life. Locals consider it just a big place to pass through.

The statue is José I, the king who gave control of the government to his chief minister, the Marquês de Pombal.

Built 20 years after the quake, it shows the king on his horse, with Pombal (on the medallion), looking at their port. The king on horseback strikes a heroic pose, bravely riding through the ground covered in snakes (a contrast to his actual behavior after the earthquake, refusing to sleep in a stone building ever again). The snakes actually hide support mechanisms for the heavy statue. Triumph and Fame toot the king’s arrival, while a horse represents Portugal’s European power and an elephant asserts the country’s dominance in Asia. In its glory days, this city was where east met west. The statue proved such a success that it jump-started sculptor Joaquim Machado de Castro’s career (see more at his museum in Coimbra).

The big arch marking the inland side of the square is Lisbon’s Arch of Triumph (with Vasco da Gama on the left and Pombal on the right). Disregarding his usual austerity, Pombal restored some of the city’s Parisian-style grandeur at this central approach into downtown.

Facing the Arch of Triumph, get oriented to a few landmarks on the square (moving from left to right):

At 9 o’clock is the cozy Wines of Portugal Tasting Room, a nonprofit wine-appreciation venue. About two dozen local wines are offered; English descriptions are above each tap, and a helpful attendant is happy to explain things. To taste, you buy a chip card (€3 minimum and €1 deposit for the card), take a glass, and serve yourself samples of Portuguese wines of every variety: white, red, green (vinho verde), and a few ports.

At 10 o’clock is the TI.

At 2 o’clock, under the arcade just right of the arch, is Martinho da Arcada, a fine option for a coffee, pastry, or snack. It was founded in 1782—when the wealthy would come here to savor early ice cream made with mountain snow, lemon, and spices. While it has a fancy restaurant, I’d enjoy just a coffee and pastry in its café bar. This place was one of poet Fernando Pessoa’s old haunts (they display a few Pessoa artifacts, lots of old photos, and a shrine-like table that was his favorite). In the early 20th century, painters, writers, and dreamers shared revolutionary ideas here over coffee (Praça do Comércio 8, at the corner of Rua da Prata).

At 3 o’clock is the much-promoted “Lisbon Story Center,” a childish exhibit with no artifacts—you pay €8 to stand for an hour looking at animated history on computer screens.

Nearby is another branch of the TI (in case the first one is too crowded). And at 5 o’clock is the Terreiro do Paço Metro stop (see the red M on a post). Finally, take a look up to see the tree-covered home to São Jorge Castle from the previous walk.

  • Before moving on, use the crosswalk at the bottom of the big square for a quick look at…


2)Lisbon’s Riverfront

An inviting balustrade and a pair of Pombaline pillars—Lisbon’s gateway to the sea, an arrival and departure point for everyone from Philip II of Spain to dictator António de Oliveira Salazar—mark a little pier (called the Cais das Colunas) that offers a fine, water-level view of the Tejo riverscape. To your left is the busy Terreiro do Paço ferry terminal—one of many that connect commuters to the far side of the river. To your right are the 25th of April Bridge and Cristo Rei statue. Down here at water level, you can really see that the Tejo is a tidal river—the Atlantic is just around the bend (past the bridge). At low tide, the humble little rocky beach reveals worlds of sea life in rocky pools. Any tide poolers out today?

  • Now, head back up through the square, cross the busy street, pass under the big arch, and walk down Rua Augusta into the Baixa district. (Skip the chance to pay to go to the top of the arch—it affords only a mediocre view from its empty rooftop.) The first cross-street you meet is…


3)Rua do Comércio

Look right to see the old ▲cathedral with its Romanesque fortress-like crenellations. Notice that many of the surrounding buildings are in the austere architectural style adopted immediately after the earthquake. Exterior decoration was adopted here in Lisbon only in the 19th century, after the Portuguese in colonial Brazil found that the tiles protected against humidity.

The characteristic black-and-white cobbled sidewalk is uniquely Portuguese. These mosaic limestone and basalt cobbles were first cut and laid by 19th-century prison laborers, but maintaining them has since developed into a skilled craft. To this day patterns are chosen from acceptable designs made from large, wooden stencils. One benefit of these sidewalks is that they move and flow with the earth; even as tree roots spread or the ground shifts, the asphalt does not crack. But as the stones can be slippery and require skilled labor, the city government is talking about replacing them with modern pavement. Locals are crying out to keep the tradition.

Across the street, on the right, you’ll pass the MUDE, Lisbon’s museum of design, occupying a former bank building. The building may be closed for renovation during your visit; when open it offers a quick, well-described in English stroll through 20th-century fashion.

  • The next cross-street is…


4)Rua de São Julião

Churches blend into the post-earthquake Baixa. There’s one about 30 yards to the left down Rua de São Julião (hiding on right side of street; look for the triangular pediment over door). Churches were rebuilt to be better incorporated into the no-nonsense grid plan of the Baixa. Look up for evidence of how downtown Lisbon’s population is shrinking as more people move to the suburbs: The upper floors of many buildings are now mostly empty.

At the next block, Rua da Conceição, there’s a stop for the handy trolley #28E. Ahead on the right (in the windows of the Millennium Bank) are Roman artifacts—a reminder that Lisbon’s history goes way back.

  • Go two more blocks to the intersection with Rua da Vitoria. Turn right and walk two blocks to Rua da Prata, where you’ll see the camouflaged…


5)Church of St. Nicholas

A typical church facade faces the square.

But on the streetfront side, the entire exterior is covered with green tiles, as just another stretch of post-earthquake Baixa architecture. The church made extra income by leasing what is technically their property to the businesses on busy Rua da Prata. Several of the fine, tiled buildings near this square have been refurbished. In fact, the one at the very top of the square hides a free elevator that takes you partway up to the castle atop the Alfama.

  • Head north down Rua da Prata toward the statue marking Praça da Figueira. At Rua de Santa Justa, look left for a good view of Elevador de Santa Justa before continuing straight to the square.


6)Praça da Figueira 

This was the site of a huge hospital destroyed in the earthquake. With no money to replace the hospital, the space was left open until the late 1880s, when it was filled with a big iron-framed market (similar to Barcelona’s La Boqueria). That structure was torn down decades ago, leaving the square you see today.

The big building on the left, with its upper floors long neglected, has been purchased in part by Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal for a total of €62 million. It’s an example of the neighborhood being reinvigorated though likely at the expense of long-time tenants.

The nearby Confeitaria Nacional shop (on the corner of the square, 20 yards to your left) is a venerable palace of sweets little changed since the 19th century. In the window is a display of “conventuel sweets”—special nun-made treats often consisting of sugar and egg yolks (historically, the nuns, who used the egg whites to starch their laundry, had an abundance of yolks). Consider a light lunch in the recommended upstairs dining room.

The square is a transportation hub, with stops for minibus #737 to the castle; the old trolley #12E to the Alfama viewpoint; the modern trolley #15E and bus #714 heading out to Belém; and the touristic hop-on, hop-off buses.

Walk to the far-left corner of the square, past skateboarders oblivious to its historical statue—Portugal’s King João I on a horse. Continue straight out of the square on Rua Dom Antão de Almada. This lane has several characteristic shops. Pop into the classic cod shop (on the left at #1C—you’ll smell it). Cod (bacalhau) is part of Portugal’s heritage as a nation of seafaring explorers: Salted cod could keep for a year on a ship. Just soak in water to rinse out the salt and enjoy. The adjacent ham counter serves pata negra (presunto ibérico) from acorn-fed pigs—the very best. Many say the alheira sausage, made with bread, game, and garlic instead of pork, was a favorite among Lisbon’s Jews back when they needed to fake being Christians (during the forced conversions of the Inquisition era). In reality, the sausage was a way to preserve other types of meat for long winter months.

  • At the end of the lane stands a big church facing another square.


7)Church of São Domingos

A center of the Inquisition in the 1600s, this is now one of Lisbon’s most active churches.

The evocative interior—rebuilt from the ruins left by the 1755 earthquake—would continue to play an important role in local history due to its location so near Rossio. Two famous royal weddings were held here in the 1800s. But the current state of the church—with black soot on the walls and charred stonework at the altar—is due to a raging fire in 1959. Closed for decades, São Domingos finally reopened to the public in the 1990s, with all its scars still visible.

Tabloid photos of fire damage can be seen at the exit. Our Lady of Fátima is Portugal’s most popular saint, and her chapel (in the left rear of the church) always has the most candles. Her statue is accompanied by two of the three children to whom she miraculously appeared (the third was still alive when this chapel was made and so is not shown in heaven with the saint).

  • Step into the square just beyond the church.


8)Largo de São Domingos

This area was just outside of the old town walls—long a place where people gathered to keep watering holes busy and enjoy bohemian entertainment. Today the square is home to classic old bars (like the ginjinha bar described next) and a busy “eating lane,” Rua das Portas de Santo Antão (kitty-corner from where you entered the square, to the right of the National Theater on the far side of the square).

A stone monument on the square remembers the Jewish massacre of 1506. Many Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 took refuge in Portugal. But when a drought ravaged the country, Lisbonites killed several thousand of them on this square.

The city’s 16th-century slave market also took place here, but the square is now a meeting point for the city’s African community—immigrants from former Portuguese colonies such as Angola, Mozambique, and Portuguese Guinea. They hang out, trade news from home, and watch the tourists go by.

With that unfortunate heritage, the city today calls itself the “City of Tolerance” and you’ll see that phrase—in the language of all the communities that now live peacefully together here—on a wall behind the benches. Just beyond this square is a square called Praça Martim Moniz, the springboard for the tangled and characteristic Mouraria district, the immigrant neighborhood between here and the castle.

  • Look toward the big adjoining square to find the colorful little tavern serving a traditional berry brandy.


9)Liquid Sightseeing (Ginjinha Bars)

Ginjinha (zheen-ZHEEN-yah) is a favorite Lisbon drink. While nuns baked sweets, the monks took care of quenching thirsts with this sweet liquor, made from the ginja berry (like a sour cherry), sugar, and brandy. It’s now sold for €1.40 a shot in funky old shops throughout downtown. Buy it with or without berries (com elas or sem elas—that’s “with them” or “without them”) and gelada (if you want it poured from a chilled bottle). In Portugal, when people are impressed by the taste of something, they say, “Sabe que nem ginjas”—literally “It tastes like ginja,” but meaning “finger-lickin good.” The oldest ginjinha joint in town is a hole-in-the-wall at Largo de São Domingos 8. If you hang around the bar long enough, you’ll see them refill the bottle from an enormous vat. (Another ginjinha bar, Ginjinha Sem Rival, serves the prized Eduardinho liqueur, considered the most authentic; it’s just across the square, at the start of the restaurant row—Rua das Portas de Santo Antão—at #7.)

  • A big square is around the corner (fronting the National Theater). This is…


10)Rossio Square

Lisbon’s historic center, Rossio, is still the city’s bustling cultural heart. Given its elongated shape, historians know it was a Roman racetrack 2,000 years ago; these days, cars circle the loop instead of chariots. It’s home to the colonnaded National Theater, American fast-food chains, and street vendors who can shine your shoes, laminate your documents, and sell you cheap watches, autumn chestnuts, and lottery tickets. The column in the square’s center honors Pedro IV—king of Portugal and emperor of Brazil. (Many maps refer to the square as Praça Dom Pedro IV, but residents always just call it Rossio, for the train station at one corner.)

The square once held a palace that functioned as the headquarters of the Inquisition. Damaged by the 1755 earthquake, it was demolished, and in an attempt to erase its memory, the National Theater was built in its place.

From here you can see the Elevador de Santa Justa and the ruined convent breaking the city skyline. Notice the fine stone patterns in the pavement—evoking waves encountered by the great explorers. (If you’re prone to seasickness, don’t look down as you cross the square.)

  • Crossing the square in front of the National Theater, you see…


11)Rossio Station

The circa-1900 facade of Rossio station is Neo-Manueline. You can read the words “Estação Central” (central station) carved on its striking horseshoe arches. Find the empty niche where a statue of King Sebastian once stood in the center of two arches. Unfortunately, the statue fell and broke into many pieces in 2016 when a tourist climbed the facade to take a selfie (I’m not kidding). It has since been repaired but has yet to return…much like his legend. This romantic, dashing, and young soldier-king was lost in 1580 in an ill-fated crusade to Africa. As Sebastian left no direct heir, the crown ended up with Philip II of Spain, who became Philip I of Portugal. The Spanish king promised to give back the throne if Sebastian ever turned up—and ever since, the Portuguese have dreamed that Sebastian will return, restoring their national greatness. Even today, in a crisis, the Portuguese like to think that their Sebastian will save the day—he’s the symbol of being ridiculously hopeful.

  • Just uphill from Rossio station is Praça dos Restauradores, at the bottom of Lisbon’s long and grand Avenida da Liberdade. Between Rossio station and the square is Lisbon’s oldest hotel, the Avenida Palace. Built as a terminus hotel at the same time as Rossio station, it has a fun interior, with an elegant yet inviting oasis of a bar/lounge—popular with WWII spies in the 20th century, and tourists needing a little break in the 21st century (nice after this walk).

12)Praça dos Restauradores

This monumental square connects Rossio with Avenida da Liberdade. The obelisk at its centerpiece celebrates the restoration of Portuguese independence from Spain in 1640 (without any help from the still-missing Sebastian mentioned earlier).

Looking uphill at the lower left corner of the square, find a statue remembering the generations of laborers who made the city’s characteristic black-and-white calçada sidewalks. Lisboners love the patterns decorating their pavements throughout the town. Here these bronze workers have made the symbol of the city: a ship, carrying the remains of St. Vincent, guarded by two ravens.

Overlooking the square is the 1930s Art Deco facade of the Eden Theater. About 100 yards farther up the boulevard (past a Metro station and TI, on the left) is the Elevador da Glória funicular that climbs to the Bairro Alto.

  • Stroll up Avenida da Liberdade for a good look at another facet of this fine city. 


13)Avenida da Liberdade

This tree-lined grand boulevard, running north from Rossio, connects the old town (where most of the sightseeing action is) with the newer upper town. Before the great earthquake this was the city’s royal promenade. After 1755, it was the grand boulevard of Pombal’s new Lisbon—originally limited to the aristocracy. The present street, built in the 1880s and inspired by Paris’ Champs-Elysées, is lined with hotels, high-fashion shopping, expensive office buildings…and eight lanes of traffic.

The grand “rotunda”—as the roundabout formally known as Marquês de Pombal is called—tops off Avenida da Liberdade with a commanding statue of Pombal. Allegorical symbols of his impressive accomplishments decorate the statue. (An absent king and an iron-willed minister left in charge can do a lot in 27 years.) Beyond that lies the fine Edward VII Park. From the Rotunda (M: Marquês de Pombal), it’s an enjoyable 20-minute downhill walk along the mile-long avenue back to the Baixa.

Whether strolling uphill or down, one of the joys of modern Lisbon is to simply walk this grand boulevard, dotted with monuments, statues, and food kiosks with inviting seating—perfect for enjoying a drink or snack.


C)▲▲▲ Bairro Alto & Chiado Stroll

The Old World-feeling Bairro Alto (High Town) and trendy Chiado perch just above the busy Baixa. This walk (rated ▲▲▲) connects dramatic viewpoints, leafy parks with inviting kiosk cafés, skinny streets lined with fado clubs, a dramatic church, an earthquake-toppled convent, Chiado’s trendy dining and shopping scene, and a classic coffee house.

  • Leaving the funicular on top, turn right (go 100 yards, up into a park) to enjoy the city view from the…


1)Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara (Viewpoint)

A tile map guides you through the view, which stretches from the twin towers of the cathedral (on far right, near the river), to the ramparts of the castle birthplace of Lisbon (capping the hill, on right), to another quaint, tree-topped viewpoint in Graça (directly across, end of trolley #28E), to the skyscraper towers of the new city in the distance (far left). Whenever you see a big old building in Lisbon, it’s often a former convent or monastery. With the dissolution of monastic religious orders in 1834, these buildings were nationalized and are now occupied by hospitals, museums, schools, or the military.

In the park, a bust honors a 19th-century local journalist (founder of Lisbon’s first daily newspaper) and a barefooted delivery boy. This district is famous for its writers, poets, publishers, and bohemians.

  • Directly across the street from where you got off the Elevador da Glória is Solar do Vinho do Porto, run by the Port Wine Institute—a good place to sample the famous fortified wine from northern Portugal. Step inside or consider returning later for a do-it-yourself tasting. Next, side-trip directly across from the top of the funicular into the old grid-plan streets of the Bairro Alto.


2)Bairro Alto Detour

The Bairro Alto is one of the most characteristic and appealing districts in Lisbon. Designed in the 16th century with a very modern (at the time) grid-plan layout, the district housed ship workers back when Portugal was a world power and its ships planted the Portuguese flag all around the globe. Today, the Bairro Alto is quiet in the morning, but buzzes with a thriving restaurant scene in the evening and a rowdy bar scene later—much to the chagrin of elder residents.

While it’s fun to wander, follow this route for a good sampling: Go two blocks gently uphill on Travessa da Boa Hora, turn left on Rua da Atalaia, continue three blocks, and then head left down Travessa da Queimada until you cross the big street (leaving the Bairro Alto) and reach the small square, Largo Trindade Coelho.

  • On Largo Trindade Coelho is the…


3)▲ Sao Roque Church 

Step inside and sit in a pew in the middle to take it all in. Built in the 16th century, the ▲ church of St. Roque—dedicated to the saint who protects the faithful from disease and plagues—is one of Portugal’s first Jesuit churches. The painted-wood, false-domed ceiling is perfectly flat. The acoustics here are top-notch, important in a Jesuit church, where the emphasis is on the sermon. The numbered panels on the floor were tombs, nameless because they were for lots of people. They’re empty now—the practice was stopped in the 19th century when parishioners didn’t want plague victims rotting under their feet.

Survey the rich side chapels. The highlight is the Chapel of St. John the Baptist (left side of church, gold and blue lapis lazuli columns). It looks like it came right out of the Vatican…because it did. Made in Rome from precious materials, the chapel was the site of one papal Mass before it was disassembled and shipped to Lisbon. Per square inch, it was the most costly chapel ever constructed in Portugal. Notice the mosaic floor (with the spherical symbol of Portugal) and, on the walls, three intricate, beautiful mosaics—a Vatican specialty, designed to take the place of real paintings, which were vulnerable to damage from candle smoke and incense. Notice also the delicate “sliced marble” symmetry and imagine the labor involved in so artfully cutting that stone five centuries ago.

The chapel to the left of St. John the Baptist features a riot of babies. Individual chapels—each for a different noble family—seem to be in competition. Keep in mind that the tiles are considered as extravagant as the gold leaf and silver. To the left of the main altar, a glass case is filled with relics trying to grab your attention.

Between the Chapel of St. John the Baptist and the relics, find the sacristy where, along with huge chests of drawers for vestments, you can see a series of 17th-century paintings illustrating scenes from the life of St. Francis Xavier—one of the founders of the Jesuit order along with St. Ignatius of Loyola and Peter Faber (irregular hours, only open when staffed). On your way out, you might pop a coin into a rack of fake candles and power a prayer.

The São Roque Museum (to the left as you leave the church) is more interesting than your typical small church museum. It’s filled with perhaps the best-presented collection of 16th- and 17th-century church art in town, and is well-described in English. The church and this art, rare survivors of the 1755 earthquake, illustrate the religious passion that accompanied Portugal’s Age of Discovery, with themes including the mission of the Jesuits and their response to the Reformation; devotion to relics; and devotion to the Virgin (€2.50, same hours as the church).

  • Back outside in the church square (WC underground), visit the statue of a friendly lottery-ticket salesman. Two lottery kiosks are nearby. Locals who buy into the Totoloto (which, like lotteries everywhere, is a form of taxation on gamblers that helps fund social outreach programs) rub the statue’s well-polished ticket for good luck. Continue (kitty-corner left across the square) downhill along Rua Nova da Trindade, following the tram tracks. At #20 (on the left), pop into…


4)Cervejaria da Trindade

The famous “oldest beer hall in Lisbon” is worth a visit for a look at its 19th-century tiles. The beautifully tiled main room, once a dining hall for monks, still holds the pulpit from which the Bible was read as the monks ate. After monastic orders were abolished in 1834, the monastery became a brewery—you’ll notice that while the oldest tiles have Christian themes, the later ones (from around 1860) are all about the beer. Among the Portuguese beers on tap are Sagres, the standard lager; Sagres Preta, a good dark beer (like a porter); and Bohemia, which is sweet, with more alcohol. At the bar in front you can get a snack and beer, while more expensive dining is in the back.

  • Continue down the hill. You’ll pass the recommended Bairro do Avillez—one of more than a dozen Lisbon eateries owned by celebrity chef José Avillez, who is helping to bring traditional recipes (like the ones at the cervejaria we just left) into the 21st century. Continue until the next intersection, where signs point left to the ruined Convento do Carmo. Follow the inside trolley tracks downhill and to the left. Just before you reach the square, notice (on the left) the well-stocked music shop—selling (among other instruments) the unique Portuguese guitars used to perform fado music. You’ll wind up in the leafy, inviting square called…

5)Largo do Carmo

On this square decorated with an old fountain, lots of pigeons, and jacaranda trees from South America (with purple blossoms in June), police officers guard the headquarters of the National Guard. Famous among residents, this was the last refuge of the dictatorial Salazar regime. The Portuguese people won their freedom in 1974, in a peaceful uprising called the Carnation Revolution. The name came when revolutionaries placed flowers in the guns of the soldiers, making it clear it was time for democracy here.

  • On Largo do Carmo, check out the ruins of…


6)Convento do Carmo

After the convent was destroyed by the 1755 earthquake, the Marquês de Pombal directed that the delicate Gothic arches of its church be left standing—supporting nothing but open sky—as a permanent reminder of that disastrous event. If you pay to enter, you’ll see a fine memorial park in what was the nave, and (filling the former apse at the far end) a simple museum with Bronze Age and Roman artifacts, medieval royal sarcophagi and a couple of Peruvian mummies—all explained in English (€4—cheapskates can do a deep knee-bend at the ticket desk, sneak a peek, and then crawl away.

  • Facing the convent, take the little lane that cuts around its right side. Head up the stairs next to the Bella Lisa Elevador restaurant to reach the gray, iron…


7)Elevador de Santa Justa

In 1902, an architect who had studied under Gustav Eiffel completed this 150-foot-tall iron elevator, connecting the lower and upper parts of town. The elevator’s Neo-Gothic motifs are an attempt to match the ruined church near its top. It’s free to peer through the railings from the entry-level ramp, but I’d spring for a ticket to climb the spiral stairs up to the top-floor lookout—with unobstructed views over the city.

Stroll around this celebration of the Industrial Age, enjoy the view, then retrace your steps to the square in front of the convent. (The nearby Leitaria Académica, a venerable little working-class eatery with tables spilling onto the delightful square, can be handy for a pricey snack or drink.)

  • Continue straight up through Largo do Carmo, walking a block slightly uphill on Travessa do Carmo. At the next square, take a left on Rua Serpa Pinto, walking downhill to Rua Garrett, where—in the little pedestrian zone 50 yards uphill on the right—you’ll find a famous old café across from the Baixa-Chiado Metro stop.


8)Café A Brasileira

Slinky with Art Nouveau decor, this café is a 100-year-old institution for coffeehouse junkies. A Brasileira was originally a shop selling Brazilian products, a reminder that this has long been the city’s shopping zone.

Drop in for a bica (Lisbon slang for espresso) or a pingado (with a dollop of steamed milk; either costs €0.70 at the bar). A pastel de nata custard tart costs just €1.30—but the best place in downtown for one is just a short walk away.

The statue out front is of the poet Fernando Pessoa, making him a perpetual regular at this café. He was the literary and creative soul of Lisbon in the 1920s and 1930s, when the country’s avant-garde poets, writers, and painters would hang out here.

At the neighboring Baixa-Chiado Metro stop, a slick series of escalators whisks people effortlessly between Chiado Square and the Baixa. It’s a free and fun way to survey a long, long line of Portuguese—but for now, we’ll stay in the Chiado neighborhood. (If you’ll be coming for fado in the evening—recommended places are nearby—consider getting here by zipping up the escalator.)

  • The Chiado district is popular for its shopping and theaters. Browse downhill on…


9)Rua Garrett

As you stroll, notice the mosaic sidewalks, ironwork balconies, and fine shops. The street lamps you see are decorated with the symbol of Lisbon: a ship, carrying the remains of St. Vincent, guarded by two ravens.

As you walk, peek into classy stores, such as the fabric lover’s paradise Paris em Lisboa—imagine how this would have been the ultimate in oh là là fashion in the 19th century (at #77 on the right).

The next cross street, Rua Serpa Pinto, leads (in one block) to the São Carlos Theater—Lisbon’s opera house.

Celebrity chef José Avillez, whose eatery we passed earlier, and his culinary rivals have revitalized this sleepy quarter with several restaurants. (Avillez’s Belcanto has often appeared high on the list of the “50 Best Restaurants in the World.”) Between here and the theater is the recommended Burel Mountain Originals, selling traditional and modern Portuguese wool and flannel products.

Image result for burel mountain originals lisbon

Continuing along Rua Garrett, at the next corner (after the church, at #73) is the venerable Bertrand bookstore—according to Guinness, the oldest bookstore in continuous operation (since 1732) with English books and a good guidebook selection.

A Vida Portuguesa—my favorite shop for Portuguese gifts (quality textiles, soaps, home decor, sardines, wine, and so on) is at the end of the street behind the bookstore (Rua Anchieta 11).

Along the main drag, you’ll start to see more and more international chains before Rua Garrett ends abruptly at the entrance of the big Armazéns do Chiado mall. This grand, six-floor shopping center connects Lisbon’s lower and upper towns with a world of ways to spend money (including a handy food court on the sixth floor).

For Italian-style gelato, locals like Santini em Casa, a few steps downhill to the left as you face the mall (at #9).

  • This walk is over.

Poland Day 13 Sample Itinerary

Krakow Poland Day 13 Sample Itinerary 

I use the following rating scale when ranking the sights:

▲▲▲ Don’t Miss!

▲▲ Try Hard to See

▲ Worthwhile if you can make it


A)▲▲Gallery of 19th-Century Polish Art

This small and surprisingly enjoyable collection of works by obscure Polish artists fills the upper level of the Cloth Hall. While you probably won’t recognize any of the Polish names in here—and this collection isn’t quite as impressive as Warsaw’s National Gallery—many of these paintings are just plain delightful. It’s worth a visit to see some Polish canvases in their native land, and to enjoy views over the Square from the hall’s upper terraces.

Background: Keep in mind that during the 19th century—when every piece of art in this museum was created—there was no “Poland.” The country had been split up among its powerful neighbors in a series of three Partitions and would not appear again on the map of Europe until after World War I. Meanwhile, the 19th century was a period of national revival throughout Europe, when various previously marginalized ethnic groups began to take pride in what made them different from their neighbors. So the artists you see represented here were grappling with trying to forge a national identity at a time when they didn’t even have a nation. You’ll sense a pessimism that comes from a country that feels abused by foreign powers, mingled with a resolute spirit of national pride.

Self-Guided Tour: The collection fills just four rooms: Two small rooms in the center and two big halls on either side. On a quick visit, focus on the highlights in the big halls I mention here.

Entering the Cloth Hall, buy your ticket and head up the stairs—pausing on the first floor to peek out onto the inviting café terrace for a fine view of the Square and St. Mary’s. Then continue up to the main exhibit, on the second floor.

The first two small rooms don’t feature much of interest. You enter Room I (Bacciarelli Room), with works from the Enlightenment; straight ahead is Room II (Michałowski Room), featuring Romantic works from 1822 to 1863. The larger, twin halls on either side merit a linger.

Siemiradzki Room (Room III, on the right): This features art of the Academy—that is, “conformist” art embraced by the art critics of the day. Entering the room, turn right and survey the canvases counterclockwise. The space is dominated by the works of Jan Matejko, a remarkably productive painter who specialized in epic historical scenes that also commented on his own era.

  • Circling the room, look for these paintings.

1)Jan Matejko—Wenyhora: The first big canvas is Matejko’s depiction of Wenyhora, a late-18th-century Ukrainian soothsayer who, according to legend, foretold Poland’s hardships—the three Partitions, Poland’s pact with Napoleon, and its difficulties regaining nationhood. Like many Poles of the era, Matejko was preoccupied with Poland’s tragic fate, imbuing this scene with an air of inevitable tragedy.

2)Jacek Malcezewski—Death of Ellenai: A similar gloominess is reflected in this canvas. The main characters in a Polish Romantic poem, Ellenai and Anhelli, have been exiled to a remote cabin in Siberia (in Russia, one of the great powers occupying Poland). Just when they think things can’t get worse…Ellenai dies. Anhelli sits immobilized by grief.

  • A few canvases down, dominating the right side of the hall, is…

3)Jan Matejko—Tadeusz Kościuszko at Racławice: One of the heroes of the American Revolution, now back in his native Poland fighting the Russians, doffs his hat after his unlikely victory at the Battle at Racławice. In this battle (which ultimately had little bearing on Russia’s drive to overtake Poland), a ragtag army of Polish peasants defeated the Russian forces. Kościuszko is clad in an American uniform, symbolizing Matejko’s respect for the American ideals of democracy and self-determination.

  • Dominating the far wall is…

4)Henryk Siemiradzki—Nero’s Torches: On the left, Roman citizens eagerly gather to watch Christians being burned at the stake (on the right). The symbolism is clear: The meek and downtrodden (whether Christians in the time of Rome, or Poles in the heyday of Russia and Austria) may be persecuted now, but we have faith that their noble ideals will ultimately prevail.

Siemiradski Fackeln.jpg

  • On the next wall, find…

5)Pantaleon Szyndler—Bathing Girl: This piece evokes the orientalism popular in 19th-century Europe, when romanticized European notions of the Orient (such as harem slave girls) were popular artistic themes. Already voyeuristic, the painting was originally downright lewd until Szyndler painted over a man leering at the woman from the left side of the canvas.

  • The huge canvas on this wall is…

6)Jan Matejko—The Prussian Homage: The last Grand Master of the fearsome Teutonic Knights swears allegiance to the Polish king in 1525. This historic ceremony took place in the Main Market Square in Kraków, the capital at the time. Notice the Cloth Hall balustrade and the spires of St. Mary’s Church in the background. Matejko has painted his own face on one of his favorite historical figures, the jester Stańczyk at the foot of the throne.

  • Continue the rest of the way around the room. Keep an eye out for Tadeusz Ajdukiewicz’s portrait of Helena Modrzejewska, a popular actress of the time, attending a party in this very building. Finally, backtrack through Room I and continue into the…

Chełmoński Room (Room IV): Featuring works of the late 19th century, this section includes Realism and the first inklings of Symbolism and Impressionism. Just as elsewhere in Europe (including Paris, where many of these artists trained), artists were beginning to throw off the conventions of the Academy and embrace their own muse.

  • As you turn right and proceed counterclockwise through the room, the first stretch of canvases features landscapes and genre paintings. Among these, a particularly fine canvas is…

1)Wladyslaw Malecki—A Gathering of Storks: The majestic birds stand under big willows in front of the setting sun. Even seemingly innocent wildlife paintings have a political message: Storks are particularly numerous in Poland, making them a subtle patriotic symbol.

  • A few canvases down, find…

2)Józef Brandt—A Meeting on a Bridge: This dramatic painting shows soldiers and aristocrats pushing a farmer into a ditch—a comment on the state of the Polish people at that time.

Just to the right, see Brandt’s Fight for a Turkish Standard. This artist specialized in battle scenes, frequently involving a foe from the East—as was often the reality here along Europe’s buffer zone with Asia.

  • Just to the left of Brandt’s works is…

3)Samuel Hirszenberg—School of Talmudists: Young Jewish students pore over the Talmud. One of them, deeply lost in thought, may be pondering more than ancient Jewish law. This canvas suggests the inclusion of Jews in Poland’s cultural tapestry during this age. While still subject to pervasive bigotry here, many Jewish refugees found Poland to be a relatively welcoming, tolerant place to settle on a typically hostile continent.

  • Dominating the end of the room is…

4)Józef Chełmoński—Four-in-Hand: In this intersection of worlds, a Ukrainian horseman gives a lift to a pipe-smoking nobleman. Feel the thrilling energy as the horses charge directly at you through splashing puddles.

  • Heading back toward the entrance, on the right wall, watch for…

5)Witold Pruszkowski—Water Nymphs: Based on Slavic legends (and wearing traditional Ukrainian costumes), these mischievous, siren-like beings have just taken one victim (see his hand in the foreground) and are about to descend on another (seen faintly in the upper-right corner). Beyond this painting are some travel pictures from Italy and France (including some that are very Impressionistic, suggesting a Parisian influence).

  • Flanking the entrance/exit door are two of this room’s best works. First, on the right, is…

6)Władysław Podkowiński—Frenzy: This gripping painting’s title (Szał), tellingly, has been translated as either Ecstasy or Insanity. A pale, sensuous woman—possibly based on a socialite for whom the artist fostered a desperate but unrequited love—clutches an all-fired-up black stallion, who’s frothing at the mouth. This sexually charged painting caused a frenzy indeed at its 1894 unveiling, leading the unbalanced artist to attack his own creation with a knife (you can still see the slash marks in the canvas).

  • And finally, on the other side of the door is…

7)Jacek Malczewski—Introduction: A young painter’s apprentice on a bench contemplates his future. Surrounded by nature and with his painter’s tools beside him, it’s easy to imagine this as a self-portrait of the artist as a young man…wondering if he’s choosing the correct path. Malczewski was an extremely talented Młoda Polska artist who tends to be overshadowed by his contemporary, Wyspiański. Viewing this canvas—and others by him—makes me feel grateful that he decided to stick with painting.


B)▲Czartoryski Museum

This eclectic collection, displaying armor, handicrafts, decorative arts, and paintings, is one of Kraków’s best-known (and most overrated) museums. It’s wrapping up a multiyear renovation; during your visit, some or all of its collection may already be open again. But the painting gallery—with its top pieces (a Leonardo and a Rembrandt)—may take longer to reopen. Likely through at least 2017, its undisputed highlight, Leonardo’s Lady with an Ermine, will be displayed instead at Wawel Castle. Before visiting this museum, get the latest from a TI about how much is open.

Background: The museum’s collection came about, in part, thanks to Poland’s 1791 constitution (Europe’s first), which inspired Princess Izabela Czartoryska to begin gathering bits of Polish history and culture. She fled with the collection to Paris after the 1830 insurrection, and 45 years later, her grandson returned it to its present Kraków location. When he ran out of space, he bought part of the monastery across the street, joining the buildings with a fancy passageway. The Nazis took the collection to Germany, and although most of it has been returned, some pieces are still missing.

The museum owns two undisputed masterpieces, which are in varying states of accessibility. Art lovers will want to ask around for the scoop on their latest locations. While the museum is closed, its top painting—Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine—can likely be found at Kraków’s Wawel Castle. Rembrandt van Rijn’s Landscape with the Good Samaritan (1638) may be on display in another city (or possibly in Kraków).

The museum technically owns a third masterpiece, Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man, but its whereabouts are unknown. Arguably one of the most famous and most valuable stolen paintings of all time, it’s quite likely a self-portrait (but possibly a portrait of Raphael by another artist), depicting a Renaissance dandy, clad in a fur coat, with a self-satisfied smirk. Painted (perhaps) by the Renaissance master in 1513 or 1514, and purchased by a Czartoryski prince around the turn of the 19th century, the work was seized by the occupying Nazis during World War II. Along with the paintings by Leonardo and Rembrandt, this Raphael decorated the Wawel Castle residence of Nazi governor Hans Frank. But when Frank and the Nazis fled the invading Red Army at the end of the war, many of their pilfered artworks were lost—including the Raphael. For decades, this canvas was synonymous with art theft—the (literal) poster boy for Nazi crimes against culture. Then, dramatically, a Polish news site announced in 2012 that the priceless painting had been found, safe and sound (in a bank vault in an undisclosed location). Unfortunately, this was a misinterpretation of remarks made by government officials. But authorities are still hopeful the painting “will surface sooner or later” and that the “Czartoryski Raphael,” as it’s called, will be returned to this museum.

Visiting the Museum: If the museum is open, you’ll wander through rooms of ornate armor (including a ceremonial Turkish tent from the 1683 siege of Vienna, plus feathered Hussar armor), tapestries, treasury items, majolica pottery, and Meissen porcelain figures. Rounding out the exhibits are painting galleries (including Italian, French, and Dutch High Renaissance and Baroque, as well as Czartoryski family portraits) and ancient art (mostly sculptures and vases).

Poland Day 12 Sample Itinerary

Krakow Poland Day 12 Sample Itinerary 

I use the following rating scale when ranking the sights:

▲▲▲ Don’t Miss!

▲▲ Try Hard to See

▲ Worthwhile if you can make it


A)▲▲Rynek Underground Museum

Recent work to renovate the Square’s pavement unearthed a wealth of remains from previous structures. Now you can do some urban spelunking with a visit to this high-tech medieval-history museum, which is literally underground—beneath all the photo-snapping tourists on the Square above.

Visiting the Museum: You’ll enter through a door near the north end of the Cloth Hall (close to the fountain, facing St. Mary’s). Climb down a flight of stairs, buy your ticket, then follow the numbered panels—1 to 70—through the exhibit (all in English). Cutting-edge museum technology illuminates life and times in medieval Kraków: Touchscreens let you delve into topics that intrigue you, 3-D virtual holograms resurrect old buildings, and video clips illustrate everyday life on unexpected surfaces (such as a curtain of fog).

All of this is wrapped around large chunks of early structures that still survive beneath the Square; several “witness columns” of rock and dirt are accompanied by diagrams helping you trace the layers of history. Interactive maps emphasize Kraków’s Europe-wide importance as an intersection of major trade routes, and several models, maps, and digital reconstructions give you a good look at Kraków during the Middle Ages—when the Old Town looked barely different from today. You’ll see a replica of a blacksmith’s shop and learn how “vampire prevention burials” were used to ensure that the suspected undead wouldn’t return from the grave. In the middle of the complex, look up through the glass of the Square’s fountain to see the towers of St. Mary’s above. Under the skylight is a model of medieval Kraków. While it looks much the same as today, notice a few key changes: the moat ringing the Old Town, where the Planty is today; and the several smaller market halls out on the Square.

Deeper in the exhibit, explore the long corridors of ruined buildings that once ran alongside the length of the Cloth Hall. There are many intriguing cases showing artifacts that shops would have sold (jewelry, tools, amber figurines, and so on). Also in this area, you’ll find a corridor with images of the Square all torn up for the recent renovation, plus a series of five modern brick rooms, each showing a brief, excellent film outlining a different period of Kraków’s history. These “Kraków Chronicles” provide a big-picture context to what otherwise seems like a loose collection of cool museum gizmos, and also help you better appreciate what you’ll see outside the museum’s doors.


B)▲Jagiellonian University Museum: Collegium Maius

Kraków’s historic university building can be toured with a student guide. While the courtyard itself is the best part, the musty interior is mildly interesting. You’ll choose between two different guided tours: 30 minutes (very popular) or one hour. It’s smart to call ahead to find out when the shorter tour is scheduled in English.

The 30-minute tour covers the “main exhibition” route: the library, refectory (with a gorgeously carved Baroque staircase), treasury (including Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda’s honorary Oscar), assembly hall, and some old scientific instruments.

 The one-hour tour adds some more interiors, room after room of more old scientific instruments, medieval art (mostly church sculptures), a Rubens, a small landscape from the shop of Rembrandt, and Chopin’s piano (16 zł, usually in English.)