Old Town, Miradouros, and Trams
Old Town is the main landmark of Lisbon. It’s a vast area that consists of several districts. It’s a very authentic, colourful, and historic place. Winding paved narrow streets, bright facades, most of which are decorated with a mosaic of ceramic tiles (azulejo), myriads of flower pots looking like gardens near the house doors and on the balconies.
Alfama is one of the districts constituting Old Town. It’s a historic place that breathes the spirit of old Lisbon. After the earthquake that destroyed the city, only these quarters managed to preserve the old atmosphere which the great Portuguese, who made their country known all around the world, once lived in – Vasco da Gama, Magellan, Great General Albuquerque.
A distinctive feature of Alfama – as well as of other old central Lisbon districts – is its varied terrain. It’s incredibly interesting to walk here, but it’s also very tiring. Frequent steep rises and falls literally wear you out. That’s why many travellers recommend exploring the area from trams, which are a sort of Lisbon landmarks on their own. These vintage trams slowly move along the old streets somehow managing to fit in frequent and very narrow turns.
We were able to enjoy a tram tour only once. Unfortunately, old trams are not equipped with platform lifts and have a very narrow entrance. So we had a hard time putting our pram (even when it’s folded, it still takes up a lot of space) into the tram and didn’t want to repeat the experiment.
One of Lisbon’s unique features is viewpoints called miradouros. Since the city is located on hills, lots of viewpoints can be found here – not only on hills but also on roofs of buildings, for example, on the Triumphal Arch or on top of one of the largest cathedrals. And each of them has a breathtaking view. The city itself, a huge mouth of the Tagus, bridges, castles, squares, fortresses, and basilicas look stunning day and night. Standing on viewpoints, one realizes that everything which tourists visit Lisbon for lies right before them.
Bairro Alto and Nightlife
We particularly liked walking around the city in the evening. We are generally “evening” people, and we find evenings in many countries rather boring, because everything is closed, it’s quiet, and there’s no activity around. Lisbon is different. It’s noisy and cheerful here in the evening. Various shops and eateries are open till late. Tourists are walking everywhere. For instance, a central district called Bairro Alto is considered to be a real epicentre of Lisbon’s nightlife. Most shops, bars, and restaurants are open till night here, and there are always lots of people.
It’s not rich in ancient landmarks, as the district started to be built only in the 16th century. Intellectual and creative people from all over the country strived to get here then. The atmosphere of culture and a sort of bohemianism can still be felt here. Entertainment and trade facilities as well as a huge amount of graffiti on the walls of houses neighbour art and antique shops, galleries, and museums.
The Commerce Square is one of the major squares in the city. Its history dates back to the 16th century, when the royal palace located in the western part of the square was built. It has another, newer and, by the way, now official name – Palace Yard. However, most local citizens still prefer to call it the Commerce Square.