Parque Das Nações
Perfect for: biking, walking
Eastern Lisbon used to be an ugly industrial area until it was chosen as the site to host the last world fair of the 20th century, Expo 98. It has since been reborn into a futuristic glass-and-steel district, home to some wonderful examples of modern architecture. One of them is Oriente Station, a landmark designed by Santiago Calatrava. Another is Pritzker-award winning architect Alvaro Siza Vieira's fantastic Pavilhão de Portugal, known for its remarkable undulating roof.
Many of the other constructions are ocean-themed (the twin towers São Gabriel and São Rafael resemble ships and are named after two of Vasco da Gama's vessels). Parque das Nações is also home to one of the world's most spectacular aquariums. Everywhere you turn is a glimpse of Europe's longest suspension bridge, which spans 10.7 miles of the vast Tagus River. Parque das Nações boasts active volcanos, exotic greenery, public art by Portuguese and international artists, and cable cars overlooking it all. In contrast to Lisbon’s old historic center, Parque das Nações is unashamedly avant-garde.
Perfect for: charming views, romantic strolls
Belém is known as the historic district of the Age of Discovery. It was from this waterfront that Vasco da Gama and other explorers departed. Explorers’ historic voyages are celebrated and chronicled today in grand museums and monuments throughout the neighborhood.The discovery of the sea route to India, the opening of trade with Japan, and the colonization of Brazil and parts of Africa and China resulted in sensational architectural feats like the Tower of Belém and Jeronimos Monastery, which are both considered World Heritage Sites. These monuments are adorned and embellished with motifs of exoticized lands elaborately carved in stone, while colossal Discoveries Monument is adorned with carvings of the heroes of the age.
Belém is also Lisbon's museum district, with the one-of-a-kind Coaches Museum filled with royal fairytale carriages, and the Berardo Museum, which showcases a world-class collection of international contemporary and modern art.
Despite all these attractions, it's a pastry shop that receives the most visitors. Antiga Confeitaria de Belém (known colloquially as "Pasteis de Belém" or "Belém Pastries") is the birthplace of Lisbon's famous custard tarts, which are made from a secret recipe and unrivaled throughout Portugal.
Going up the hill through Calçada da Ajuda, you reach the neighborhood of Ajuda, home to the royal palace and a beautiful botanical garden.
Perfect for: shopping
Everyone meets for coffee and shopping in Chiado, Lisbon's trendiest and most elegant neighborhood. It’s the perfect place to spend the afternoon before dinner and a night out in neighboring Bairro Alto. Most of the buildings date back to the 1700's, although many were restored in the 1990's by architect Álvaro Siza Vieira after their destruction by a devastating fire in 1988. Chiado feels like a time warp from the 19th and early 20th centuries, when "Belle Époque" writers such as Fernando Pessoa and Eça de Queiroz used to write at its now historic cafés. Theaters, charming old bookshops, and major international brands give Chiado a lively, cosmopolitan ambience.
Perfect for: scoping out Lisbon’s hottest new real estate
This attractive neighborhood (named "Royal Prince" in honor of Queen Maria II's first born) extends north of Bairro Alto. Once known exclusively for its antique shops and gay bars, it is now a fully diversified shopping area. Primarily residential, Príncipe Real is filled with gardens, tranquil squares, and colorful mansions. All this abundant charm has turned it into one of the most sought-after areas to live in the city, and real estate companies have taken notice. Old buildings are being renovated, a young population is moving in, and the company that turned Georgetown into the Washington DC’s hippest region is acquiring buildings.
Down the hill is the small neighborhood of São Bento, known for the neoclassical Parliament building, and for antique shops on Rua de São Bento.
Photos: Flicker/ Robert S. Donovan, Martin de Lusenet, Gilbert Sopakuwa, Heather Cowper, Ubi Rhodes-Malin