Jerónimos Monastery/Belém Tower and surrounds: This is quite a difficult one to narrow down as there are just so many things to see down by the North shore of the Tagus River. This is somewhere that merits a good chunk of time. After gazing at the shore from the Miradouro de Graça, we decided to head down the following day and check it out. We started out by visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Jerónimos Monastery, which is a stunning building set back off the main road and was a welcome sight after the epic tram ride it took to get us there.
Inside the Monastery
Monastery entry is free with a Lisboa card and the Church on the site has no admission charge. It is currently listed as #2 of more than 420 Lisbon sights on TripAdvisor, so it is to to be missed, even if just for the architecture. As we had no information about the site before visiting, I was somewhat surprised and delighted to enter the adjacent Church and find the stone tomb of Vasco da Gama.
Heading back out into the early sunshine, we wandered through the gardens towards Padrāo do Descobrimento, which translates as 'monument of discoveries' (kinda), and sits on the shore, proudly representing Portugal's awesome history of Discovering Amazing Stuff. In front of this is the wonderful Compass Rose and Mappa Mundi, a limestone and marble Medieval map of Europe. Here, in the shadow of great feats of exploration, much fun was had by LT as he discovered where Wirral was on said map and spent some time pointing at it for the camera. Yes, I know it looks like he's pointing at Newcastle, but it's just the camera angle. He wouldn't be smiling that cheerfully for anywhere else.
Look! It's Wirral!
Torre de Belem
Torre de Belém (another UNESCO World Heritage Site) is just a short walk from the map and can be accessed by a bridge leading to the tower entrance. It is here, on this very site, that I spotted a Chihuahua, in a jacket, collecting money for his Dad's busking efforts. Not even kidding. It may have been the finest thing I've seen. But, back to the Tower….
Torre de Belém is a fortified tower on the banks of the Tagus and was built, primarily, to act as a defence system. If you venture upstairs, after paying your fee, you are afforded a panoramic view of the city. If you choose not to enter it's still well worth the visit as the tower exterior and positioning is really spectacular.
Ponte 25 de Abril Bridge
Although the main places of interest that we visited in Belém were the monastery and the waterfront sights, the North bank of the river also provides excellent views of nearby Ponte 25 de Abril. It's the 27th longest suspension bridge on the planet, with the Forth Road Bridge between Fife and Edinburgh in Scotland coming in just behind it at 28. Just in case you were wondering. You'll thank me one day when the question: 'Can you name the world's 27th longest suspension bridge?', comes up on an episode of Pointless. You're welcome.
Wandering just West of the Torre de Belém will find you at the Monumento Combatentes Ultramar; a beautiful tribute to the lives of more than 9,000 soldiers who died trying to hold on to Portugal's African territories during The Overseas War. An eternal flame burns at the centre of the monument and, if you're lucky, you can also view the changing of the guard.
The Belém area is very impressive and is also home to a host of lovely eateries and a waterfront restaurant, where we rested our weary feet and marvelled at just how much there was to see in such close proximity. As well as the fabulous sights, where else could you go to see a money-guarding, parka clad, Chihuahua? Exactly.
Best. Dog. Ever.
Castelo de São Jorge: St George's Castle sits on top of a hill, as many castles do, and looks out across the city centre and beyond. It's a bit of a steep climb to the entrance (what, with it being on a hill and all), but it's worth the sweaty feet and very flushed face. Besides, on the road to the Castle, you can take a breather within one of the many beautiful little tourist shops selling a range of leather, cork and tile goods.
I picked up some pretty tile topped wine corks and made a quick mental note to test them out when I got back to the apartment later that afternoon. For no other reason than in case they were faulty and I needed to return them, you understand.
Anyway, the entrance fee for the Castle is around €7.50 and includes the park garden inside the Castle walls, as well as the Castle itself. The battlements, although to be treaded along carefully, give a sense of the sheer size of the Castle and how important its position was to Lisbon.
As well as getting lost in and around the Castle and lovely gardens, balancing yourself on the battlements and desperately trying to take photos of the city below, you can also enjoy the peacocks who occupy the area around the Café, looking for offerings from delighted tourists and generally strutting around. They were glorious and, I'm pleased to report, also very friendly.
While sitting enjoying a beer in the Café and for reasons best left unexplored, I Googled 'angry peacock' and was stunned to find quite so many results. Despite not one of the articles mentioning Castelo Sāo Jorge, I kept a far closer eye on my brightly coloured amigos as I passed them by on the way home. I really couldn't risk anything getting in the way of me testing out those wine corks, could I?
Castelo Sao Jorge
Regardless of where I go, or which part of a city or town I`m based in, I find that random wandering (which I do very well) is the best way to find interesting little places. In the case of Lisbon, this included incredibly steep stairs and some fabulous graffiti. Obrigada, Lisboa!