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Few places will make such a deep impression on you and leave such warm memories as will Lisbon. This destination will very likely make your heart beat faster. The explanation is quite simple: Lisbon is truly captivating. Lisbon has quite a monumental character, but there are hints of simplicity, authenticity and atmosphere, too. The age of this capital city cannot be considered a great advantage, not even for history buffs, given the devastating effects of the Great Fire of 1755 which virtually raised the city to the ground, leaving behind but one single remarkable landmark, the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos.
Today's "Lisabona" excites through an attractive mix of old and new, a traditional style combined with Modernism, all rolled out on a captivating landscape, where tourists discover its secrets at their own leisure without feeling overwhelmed by famous museums or glorious mega-structures that one finds in other European capitals. True, Lisbon is a bit chaotic, not as turbulent perhaps and disquieting as Istanbul or London, for example, but with a similar street layout, cozy and narrow, with shabby houses interspersed by large, elegant boulevards and parks as well as cute and quaint corners. Lisbon exhales a friendly and familiar air starting at the Portela airport, passing through the maze of streets, to its very heart, Praça Rossio. To see all that in a short summer vacation might be a rush, unless that is, if you hired a car. With or without a vehicle, if you are not planning to go for a pure sunbathing holiday, it is better to see Lisbon during spring or autumn, when temperatures are cooler and traffic is less congested.
Once you arrive by plane, as most of the travellers do, Autoclick's staff will greet you at the airport, providing you with transfer to our car hire office located close to the airport. Our cars are comfortable, equipped with everything you need for a satisfactory journey, starting with the GPS system and including free Wi-Fi, all of that at prices that are simply unbeatable. Only 20 minutes drive separate Portela airport from Praça de D. Pedro IV, Lisbon’s main plaza, also known as Rossio Square. There you will be welcomed by one of Lisbon's main emblems, a statue of Dom Pedro IV (1798-1834), both, Emperor of Brazil and King of Portugal and the Algarves. Perched 23 m high on a pedestal, it is rumoured that the monument does not actually depict the likeness of the king's face, but that of Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico. From here, it is best to explore Lisbon on foot, along the pedestrian alleyways. Take a quick look at Gara Rossio (avoiding its rather hard to comprehend full name, Estação de Caminhos de Ferro do Rossio) and head to the next important landmark - Praça de Figueira - where you will find some well-deserved shade and a fresh cup of coffee.
Lisbon features some of the most beautiful "miradouros" or panoramic observation points. One of them sits just by Largo de São Miguel, Lisbon's highest landmark at Alfama Hill, a place where you can have spectacular views of River Tagus (Rio Tajo), the longest watercourse of the whole Iberian Peninsula (over 1,000 km in length). It is really the simplicity of Alfama, said to be Lisbon’s oldest district, that makes it so amazing - a working class neighbourhood, housing modest buildings and a mix of paved streets going downhill. Two highlights stand out - the Romanesque reconditioned Sé de Lisboa, the Cathedral, and Castelo de São Jorge, built on what the locals say is the oldest structure of the Portuguese capital. With visible ruins dating from the 6th Century AD, the area was renovated in the mid-20th Century, interesting not only for its countless historic vestiges, but also for, you have guessed, the wonderful view it provides.
Driving your rented car around Lisbon, starting from the western side, you will pass the famous Torre de Belém, a true work of art combining Moorish, Gothic and Renaissance elements. The tower was built in the first half of the 16th Century and at that time it was located on an island. Subsequently, the waters around the edifice were drained. After the 1755 fire the tower was reconstructed. The Belém district is today relatively far away from city centre, but quite easy to reach by car, going up the streets from Praça de Figueira, one of the most exquisite areas in Lisbon, and sheltering several important attractions. First of these, the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, one of the few large buildings in Lisbon, is the burial place of Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer with the status of a national hero.
Close to here is the Museu de Marinha, where Vasco da Gama used to study his world maps at a time when Portugal was a veritable maritime superpower. One can find out about some great geographic discoveries and Portugal's contributions to expanding the world's perspective inside the Padráo dos Decobrimentos, a monument constructed in 1960 on the riverbank. Another museum worth visiting is the Museu Nacional dos Coches, not very far from here, where you can admire carriages of all ages and origins, starting with the one Felipe II de España, who reigned in Portugal at the end of the 16th Century, used to travel in from his homeland Spain to Lisbon. By the way, during his marriage to Queen Mary I (1554–58), Felipe II was also King of England and Ireland.
Across the river via Ponte de 25 de Abril, built as Ponte Salazar in 1966, admiring the Santuário Nacional de Cristo Rei, you’ll find a replica of the more famous Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. After Belém, going eastwards, the urban scape changes showing humbler houses, some of them uninhabited, until you reach the Estação Ferroviária do Cais do Sodré, an important transportation hub for locals and tourists willing to reach Cascais, but also for cruise ships for Caparica on the Setúbal Peninsula and its gorgeous golden beaches. From here you will be able to see the Mercado da Ribeira, the main food market in Lisbon. From the docking area you can see another important bridge, the Ponte Vasco da Gama, Europe's longest bridge with a length of 17.2 km, an exceptional engineering achievement that you can spot again and again when driving around Lisbon.
Just behind the Figuera and Rossio markets are the districts of Baixa and Restauradores. To get acquainted with both of these areas, park your car and get into the elevator built by one of Eiffel's disciples, to ascend up to Convento de Carmo, the remains of a former 14th Century church. Odd means of transportation do not stop here: Elevador de Glória, an electrically driven funicular - yes, the type of tramcar you will probably have seen on TV, emblematic for this Iberian capital city - connects Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara and Praça dos Restauradores.
Let’s draw your attention to a few more museums. In the northern part of the city, nearby Praça de Espanha, you’ll find the heritage-house donated to Lisbon's authorities by Calouste Gulbenkian, an Armenian-born multimillionaire, which now hosts a rich collection of furniture and paintings, and also Islamic artworks, most remarkable being the set of Art Nouveau jewellery made by René Lalique. If you wish to relax a bit, head for Parque das Nacoes, located in an area that lacks any major attractions and is even sparse in restaurants or cafés. But, whilst you are here, you must take a look at Museu Nacional do Azulejo, a former monastery transformed into a museum, where you can see a quaint but nevertheless lovely and colourful church, elaborately embellished with painted ceramic tiles.
If you ever get bored touring the city, historical monuments and museums, just venture beyond the city limits. You have to, because Lisbon is not just the city itself, but also the Greater Lisbon area offering a magnificent shoreline, with beaches and cute little villages. And you can do that at ease, once you have a rented car. Here is a short list of attractions you can visit just beyond the Portuguese capital.
- Cascais is a small fishing village and one obvious trademark regardless of where you might be based in Lisbon. Most of the restaurants and terraces serve fresh seafood delicacies - we recommend "bacalhau à brás" or Cod à Brás. Once here, follow the route towards Boca do Inferno, a natural attraction that you cannot miss. The way up is peaceful and quiet, bordered by mastic palm trees and oleanders.
- Cabo da Roca, known to the Romans as Promontorium Magnum, is the actual place where "the land ends and the sea begins", as the great Luís de Camões used to say. The land’s end monument is 140 m above sea level and if you make it here, you would probably wish to purchase the 10 € certificate verifying that you have visited Continental Europe's westernmost point.
- Sintra is the crown jewel, with so many things to do that you would not know where to start. See at least the Castelo de Sintra (Castle of the Moors) and the Palácio Nacional da Pena if you think you can make the climb up to it. Up there, bring out your camera and start shooting - the views are breathtaking, reaching all the way to Cabo da Roca, even though that is some 25 km in the distance.
- Estoril is part of what some call the "Portuguese Riviera", 15 km away from Lisbon but easily reachable by car. It is a reputable classic seaside resort, with everything you need if you wish to spend a few days or even your entire vacation sunbathing and unwinding. The whole area is renowned for its perfect golf courses and has a stylish air to it.
Chances are that you will leave Lisbon with a smile on your face. For all the culinary delights, its humble yet friendly people, its colourful buildings, the tempting Porto wines, the relaxing overall atmosphere, its museums and monuments, Lisbon is a destination that simply has to be seen at least once in a lifetime. This is a place that you will happily return to as soon as you can. Get in touch with Autoclick now to rent a car in Lisbon and see at least a few of the locations mentioned above.