We arrived in Lisbon early in the morning and as our hotel room wasn’t ready we decided to while away a few hours on an open-top bus tour. As with the open-top bus tour we took in Porto, we wanted to get a feel for the layout of the city, while seeing places that looked interesting enough to come back to. As with Porto, two tours were included in the price of the ticket, the ‘Tagus’ and the ‘Olisipo’ routes, which we spread over two days. The buses are hop-on and hop-off at any of the 20 or so designated stops per route and while we were on the bus we were able to listen to a really informative commentary about the area through the earphones which were provided.
Day one: Tagus
On the first day we decided to do the Tagus tour, joining the bus in the Praça da Figueira, which was built as a marketplace in the eighteenth century. It is now a busy square, with a statue of Dom João I by the sculptor Leopoldo de Almeida (1971) in the centre and cafés and shops around the square, including the Confeitaria Nacional, which is one of the oldest pastelarias in Lisbon, and the curious Hospital de Bonecas (Doll Hospital).
The bus then went down Rua dos Fanqueiros into the heart of the Baixa, where the streets are named after the type of trades that were practised there, for example Rua do Ouro (Gold Street), Rua da Prata (Silver Street) and Rua dos Sapateiros (Shoemakers Street) and drove by the large Praça do Comércio marked by the Arco da Rua Augusta, depicting allegorical figures and Portuguese heroes such as Vasco da Gama and the Marquês de Pombal, at the entrance and the statue of Dom José I in the centre. The bus headed north up Rua dos Correiros where it crosses Rua de Santa Justa, giving us a perfect view of the iconic latticework tower of the Elevador de Santa Justa, a lift which connects the Baixa with the Chiado district.
We then drove into Rossio square (also formally known as Praça Dom Pedro IV), which is as famous for the distinctive wavy pattern in the cobbles as it is for the statue in the centre being of Maximilian of Mexico rather than the eponymous Dom Pedro IV. The statue of Maximilian was being transported through Lisbon when he was assassinated and so the statue stayed in Lisbon and was renamed Dom Pedro IV. Figures representing justice, wisdom, strength and moderation were later added to the structure. The square is mainly made up of hotels and cafés, including Café Nicola, which in the past was a meeting place for Lisbon’s literati, including the poet Manuel du Bocage (1765-1805). The Sala Bocage fado house in the basement of the café is named after him.
At the north end is the National Theatre of Dona Maria II, built in the 1840s by the Italian architect Fortunato Lodi. Looming above Rossio square are the Gothic ruins of the Convento do Carmo and the top of the Elevador de Santa Justa. Looking back at where we had just come from we got a lovely view down the Rua Augusta with the Arco da Rua Augusta at the end.
At the end of Rossio square, as it enters Praça dos Restauradores, we passed the nineteenth-century Neo-Manueline building of Rossio station on the left, with its attractive horseshoe-shaped arches, designed by Luís Monteiro.
Praça dos Restauradores has an obelisk in the centre to commemorate those who fought in the War of Restoration in 1640. On one side of the square is the striking Art Deco Eden Theatre dating from the 1930s, designed by architects Cassiano Branco and Carlo Florencio Dias, which was originally a cinema and theatre and is now an aparthotel. It has an eye-catching garden taking up the majority of the front of the building above the ground floor and along the top of the facade are depictions of cinematic scenes in bas-relief. Nearby is the Palácio Foz, a pretty pink eighteenth-century former palace designed by the Italian architect Francesco Fabri, which now houses a tourist information office. The bus also passes the entrance to the Ascensor da Glória, a funicular which links Praça dos Restauradores with the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara in the Bairro Alto.
The bus then goes up the charming Avenida da Liberdade, a long tree-lined boulevard with pavement cafés and ponds built in the late-nineteenth century and based on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. It is also lined with five-star hotels and designer shops. At the lower end of the Avenue is a monument to servicemen and women from Lisbon who died in the First World War and at the upper end we passed the offices of the Diário de Notícias, one of Portugal’s oldest daily newspapers, of which the Nobel Prize-winning author José Saramago was editor for a short time in the mid-1970s. We arrived at the large roundabout, Praça Marquês de Pombal, with a statue of the Marquês de Pombal, a despot who rebuilt Lisbon after the 1755 earthquake. Designed by several architects and sculptors (Arnaldo Redondo Adães Bermudes, António Couto, Simões de Almeida, Leopoldo de Almeida and Francisco Santos) and completed in 1934, the statue is ornately decorated with figures representing the Marquês’ agricultural and educational reforms as well as representations of the earthquake.
The bus slowly started to climb uphill by the east side of the Parque Eduardo VII, a 25-hectare park named after the British King Edward VII to honour his reaffirming of the Anglo-Portuguese alliance in 1902. From here the bus headed north-west along the Avenida José Malhoa in the Sete Rios district, where the zoological gardens are located. The bus then headed back towards the centre of Lisbon via the Praça de Espanha, passing the pretty terracotta Palácio de Palhavã (the residence of the Spanish Ambassador) and the Arco de São Bento, an eighteenth-century arch from the Aqueduto das Águas Livres, in the centre of the Praça de Espanha.
It continued down Avenida António Augusto Aguiar going by the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, which comprises the Armenian oil magnet’s collection of classic art from around the world in the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian and exhibitions of modern art in the separate building of the Centro de Arte Moderno, both set in a beautiful park. A large statue of Gulbenkian sat in front of a giant bird of prey by Leopoldo de Almeida (1974) can be seen in the grounds. Nearby is the large department store, El Corte Ingles.
We returned to the north end of the Parque Eduardo VII, where the bus turned right, giving us fantastic views of lower Lisbon and the River Tejo. It then passed the nineteenth-century prison with its mock fortress-like entrance prison and continued by the western side of the park.
We then arrived in the Amoreiras district, which is famous for the large 1980s Amoreiras shopping centre.
Then continued down Rua das Amoreiras, past the end section of the Aqueduto das Águas Livres and the castle-like building of the Mãe d’Água das Amoreiras, a former reservoir completed in 1834, to Largo do Rato , which translates as ‘Mouse Square’, ‘Rato’ being the nickname of one of the seventeenth-century patron’s of the Convento das Trinas in the square, which is now the pretty Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Conceição.
The bus continued along to the lovely Jardim da Estrela and by the domed late-eighteenth century Neo-classical and Baroque style Basilica da Estrela. Nearby is the Casa Museu Fernando Pessoa, Portugal’s foremost early-twentieth-century poet and writer.
We then proceeded downhill, through the pleasant residential Lapa district, where most of the embassies are located, to the riverfront, coming out by the Doca de Alcântara, with the view of the iconic Ponte 25 de Abril (25th April Bridge) and the statue of Cristo Rei on the opposite bank of the river. The riverfront area of the Doca de Santo Amaro (under the Ponte 25 de Abril) and the Doca de Alcântara, as well as the Doca de Santa Apolónia, to the east of the Praça do Comércio, were originally the dock areas and they have been regenerated into popular nightspots, with the former warehouses converted into restaurants and nightclubs, and are collectively known as the Docas. The Docas looked very quiet in daylight, but they come to life after dark.
We continued along the riverfront road heading west, past the Museu do Oriente, a white and glass building which houses a collection of Asian art; the Museum do Carris, a public transport museum; and the Museu da Electricidade, a former power station which has been converted into a museum dedicated to the history of electricity. We then arrived in Belém, turning right and passing the Museu dos Coches, which has a wonderful collection of royal coaches dating back as far as the seventeenth century, and then turning left into the Rua de Belém, where we could see the queue outside the famous Pastéis de Belém, the shop and café selling the definitive version of the ubiquitous Portuguese custard tart.
The bus drove past the extravagantly Manueline Mosteiro do Jerónimos, a huge building dating from the sixteenth-century, which comprises the Church of Santa Maria and the cloisters of the former monastery, plus the adjoining buildings of the Museu Nacional de Arqueologia (Portugal’s main archaeological museum) and the Museu da Marinha (a maritime museum containing exhibits from the age of the Discoveries) in the west wing. In front of the monastery are manicured gardens. The bus headed back to the riverfront road, a very busy road, which passes the equally extravagantly Manueline Torre de Belém, a fortress dating from the early-sixteenth century, which was originally in the middle of the River Tejo, but now is on the edge of the river. We then turned round and headed back towards the centre of Lisbon, passing by the Torre de Belém again and giving us a chance to see it from a different angle, and then passing by the marina with more views of the Ponte 25 de Abril and Cristo Rei and the wonderful Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries), built in the 1960s to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Infante Henrique (Henry the Navigator). It is built in the shape of a caravel with Henry at the prow.
As we approached the centre of Lisbon the bus made a stop just past the Doca de Alcântara for the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga (National Museum of Ancient Art), which is located behind the riverfront on the wonderfully named Rua das Janelas Verdes (Green Windows Street). From here we continued along the riverfront past the Time Out Market, a bustling place which contains a large variety of eateries. The original Mercado da Ribeira building dates from 1882 and the pretty cupola on the roof, which has given it its nickname of the ‘Turnip Mosque’, dates from 1930. Opposite the market is the Cais do Sodré station, an Art Deco building dating from 1928 designed by Porfírio Pardal Monteiro. The bus made its final journey back through the Praça do Comércio and the Baixa to the starting point in the Praça da Figueira.
Day two: Olisipo
Once again, we made our way to the Praça da Figueira to join the bus at the start of its tour. It went through the centre of the Baixa and headed east into the atmospheric Alfama district. The Alfama district was called Olisipo in Roman times, hence the name of this tour. We drove past the striking Casa dos Bicos, a building with diamond-shaped stones (bicos). The facade of the building dates from the early-sixteenth century and it now houses the José Saramago Foundation, which has a permanent exhibition about the writer and hosts cultural events.
We headed to the Museu do Fado, a museum dedicated to the history of Lisbon’s most famous music genre, fado.
From here we joined the riverfront road going by the cruise terminal at the Cais do Jardim do Tabaco, the Museum Militar (Military Museum), which is housed in a striking Corinthium building, and Santa Apolónia station and, crossing over the railway lines, turned off the riverfront, headed to the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum). The museum is housed in the former Convento da Madre de Deus, a Manueline-style building dating from the early-sixteenth century and its most famous exhibit is the large azulejo panel depicting Lisbon before the earthquake of 1755 which destroyed the city.
From here we continued north for 5km along the riverfront, past nothing of note until we reached the newest part of the city, the Parque das Nações (Nations’ Park). It was originally built for Expo ’98, with the aim of regenerating a former industrial area, represented by the Torre da Galp, an oil tower which was part of a former oil refinery which has been preserved to symbolize the area’s industrial past. The first stop was at the huge Oceanarium and the Pavilhão do Conhecimento, an interactive science museum. A little further down the road is Lisbon’s main casino and the Pavilhão de Portugal, a building used for temporary exhibitions, with a distinctive inverted canopy roof over the outdoor space, designed by Álvaro Siza Vieira. From here we passed the busy Vasco da Gama shopping centre and then drove to the Torre Vasco da Gama, a tower built in the shape of a caravel sail, with views of the cable cars that cross the Park from the Torre Vasco da Gama, and the Vasco da Gama Bridge (the longest bridge in Europe). The bus doubled back and headed south down Avenida de Dom João II past Oriente Station, with its modern steel and glass lattice-work exterior designed by Santiago Calatrava. As we left the Parque das Nações we saw one of many modern sculptures that decorate the area, a bronze representation of Dom João II as a three-legged figure by Manuel Rosa.
The bus left the Parque das Nacões and headed west towards the airport, where it turned south and west towards the Entrecampos district, passing by the 1950s-built angular Igreja de São João de Brito, designed by Vasco de Morais Palmeiro, in Largo Frei Heitor Pinto in the Alvalade district. In front of the church is a modern sculpture by Laranjeira Santos (1972) depicting the first crossing of the South Atlantic from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro by air in 1922. We passed a bronze statue of Saint Anthony, the patron saint of Lisbon, in the Praça de Alvalade, created by the sculptor António Duarte (1972) and a large monument to the heroes of the Peninsular War, by the Oliveira Ferreira brothers (1933) in the Praça de Entrecampos.
From here we drove to the Campo Pequeno, which is a distinctive Moorish-looking bullring, with a large shopping centre underneath.
We continued south down Avenida da República and from Avenida Fontes Pereira de Melo we got a good view of the Picoas Metro station, which looks like a Paris Metro station from the street, with its cast iron railings and Art Nouveau signage. Inside the underground station is a lovely display of tiles and sculptures depicting the people and city of Lisbon by the artist Martins Correia. Next to the Metro station is a lovely Neo-Manueline building and, in total contrast, opposite the Metro station is some of the best street art in Lisbon, comprising large-scale images, often with a social message, covering the facades of three derelict buildings.
We continued by the southern edge of Parque Eduardo VII to the Praça Marquês de Pombal (which we had visited on the Tagus tour on the previous day). From here we drove into the Bairro Alto, where we passed the Classical building housing the National Natural History and Science Museum and then went by the Botanical Gardens to the Praça Principe Real, which is a lovely tree-line park surrounded by former mansion houses. The pond in the centre of the park has a reservoir underneath, which can be visited.
The bus continued past the Miradoura São Pedro de Alcântara, a viewing point which has stunning views across the city to the Castle of São Jorge, the churches of Graça, São Vicente de Fora and Penha da França.
We headed into the Chiado district, past the Praça Luís Camões.
Then we went down the Rua do Alecrim to the Cais do Sodré. The bus then continued through the Baixa to its final stop in the Praça da Figueira, where we got off the bus more than a little in love with Lisbon.
Although we saw an awful lot of Lisbon in these two days, there are a few major exceptions as neither route goes past some of the most iconic sights in Lisbon, such as the Cathedral, the Castle of São Jorge, São Vicente de Fora Church, Graça Church, Chiado square and the Palácio de São Bento. To see these we took the iconic Number 28 tram, but that is for another day!
We went on two tours with the Yellow Bus company, but the City Sightseeing and the Grayline companies also do similar tours.
A two-day ‘hop-on and hop-off’ ticket cost €19 (as of September 2016) and gives access to two routes: Tagus and Olisipo (each tour takes 1 hour 40 minutes). There are approximately 20 stops on each route. The ticket includes discounts on entrance to certain attractions.
Tagus tour: runs October to May 9am-5.30pm and June to September 9am-8pm daily; buses run every 20 minutes.
Olisipo tour: runs October to May 9.15am-5.45pm and June to September 9.15am-7.15pm daily; buses run every 30 minutes.