If you’re planning a visit to Lisbon, congratulations! It’s one of the world’s most unique cities. Devastated by an earthquake in 1755, the city was rebuilt over the following decades. As a result, there’s less medieval architecture than in most European capitals. Instead, you’ll find a lot more buildings from the late 18th century.
Here are a few Lisbon attractions you won’t want to miss.
Praca do Comercio
The Praca do Comercio is a wide plaza located in the heart of Lisbon’s waterfront district. This area wasn’t always wide open. Until the 1755 earthquake, it was the site of the palace of Portuguese King Dom Jose I.
When the rubble was cleared, it was turned into an open plaza, with newer, 18th-century buildings surrounding the area on three sides. On the last side, the Praca do Comercio is open to the harbor, where you can get a wide view of the ships coming and going. The main attraction is directly opposite the harbor. There, the Rua Augusta Arch rises 100 feet above the plaza below, where you can get an even more impressive view from the lookout terrace.
Padrao dos Descobrimentos
The Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) is a huge white stone monolith on the shore of the Tagus River. It’s carved to look like a ship, with its sails open to the wind, slipping into the river. This marks the location where Prince Henry the Navigator began most of his famous voyagers. If you look closely at the sculpture, you’ll notice him on the deck of his ship, along with a number of other famous Portuguese explorers.
Despite its appearance, the Padrão dos Descobrimentos is not entirely solid. Inside, you can access an elevator, which takes you up to the top. Here, you can overlook the river, as well as the surrounding neighborhood.
Torre de Belem
Many of Lisbon’s most famous monuments are on the newer side, but the Belem Tower dates back all the way to the early 1500s. Located at the mouth of the Tagus River, it was originally built in 1515-1521 to defend Lisbon’s main waterway. In fact, when it was first built, it was built on a small island in the middle of the river. Over time, the course of the river has gradually shifted, connecting the fortress to the rest of the city.
From a distance, the tower doesn’t look all that impressive. But the closer you get, the more you realize how massive – and how ornate – it is. The building’s entire façade is covered with ropes, anchors, spears, and other nautical elements. In fact, the Belem Tower is so impressive that it has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Inside, you can tour the defenses, and even enter the King’s Chamber, a room that’s fit for royalty, just as its name implies. If you’ve still got the energy, you can continue up a spiral staircase to the upper terrace, which offers a gorgeous view of the waterfront district.
Igreja & Museu Sao Roque
Another one of Lisbon’s greatest pre-earthquake destinations is the Igreja & Museu São Roque. In Portuguese, Igreja & Museo simply means “church and museum.” This building was constructed by the Jesuits in the late 1500s, as part of the Counter-Reformation. Don’t be fooled by the spartan Renaissance exterior; the inside is one of the most decorated buildings in the world.
The whole interior is marble and wood, with intricate carvings, mosaics, and stained glass windows. Of particular note are the azulejos. These are decorative tiles that represent a unique fusion of Islamic and western art. The sides of the building are lined with rows of chapels, some of which, like the Capela de São João Baptista and the Capela de São Roque, are almost as famous as the main church.
The museum building is right next to the church, and includes a collection of artwork and religious treasures that the church has collected over the years. These include a reliquary casket of Saint Francis Xavier, among numerous other rarities.
Leave Your Luggage Behind
Whether you’re touring Lisbon or any other city, the last thing you want is to haul your luggage around everywhere you go. But what if you’re only in town for the day, and you don’t have a hotel room? In that case, there are many luggage storage Lisbon services that will hold onto all your stuff. That way, you can enjoy the city without the baggage!