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Lisbon Travel Guide

Getting Oriented

Lisbon was built across seven hills on the north bank of the Tagus estuary, whose vast expanse ebbs and flows with the tides from the Atlantic Ocean. Nowadays, Lisbon sprawls over considerably more than seven hills: the city proper is 85 square km (33 square miles) though the metropolitan area is many times larger. The historic downtown is dominated by a castle perched on the highest of the seven hills. The part of town where business was historically transacted is low-lying area that separates the hillier neighborhoods of Alfama and Chiado. The broad avenues of this modern grid start at the river and run northward.

Alfama. East of the Baixa lies Alfama, the old Moorish quarter whose sinuous street plan survived the 1755 earthquake. In this part of town are the Sé (the city's cathedral) and, on the hill above, the Castelo de São Jorge (St. George's Castle).

Baixa. The center of Lisbon stretches north from the spacious Praça do Comércio—one of Europe's largest riverside squares—to Praça Dom Pedro IV, universally known by its ancient name of Rossio, a smaller square lined with shops and cafés. The district in between is known as the Baixa (Lower Town), an attractive grid of parallel streets built after the 1755 earthquake and tidal wave.

Chiado and Bairro Alto. To the west of the Baixa is Chiado, the city's classy shopping district, and Bairro Alto (Upper Neighborhood), an area of intricate 18th-century streets, peeling houses, and Gothic churches that’s nowadays best known for its bars, restaurants, and hip stores.

The Modern City. The modern city begins at Praça dos Restauradores, adjacent to the Rossio. From here the main Avenida da Liberdade stretches northwest to the landmark Praça Marquês de Pombal, dominated by a column and a towering statue of the man himself. This busy traffic roundabout is bordered by the green expanse of the Parque Eduardo VII, named in honor of King Edward VII of Great Britain, who visited Lisbon in 1902.

São Bento. Downhill from the Bairro Alto, this maze of streets harbors cozy restaurants and, on the Rua de São Bento itself, some pricey antique shops.

Lapa. On another hill to the west of São Bento, foreign embassies cluster in the Lapa neighborhood, no doubt providing some of the customers in the posh restaurants and fine hotels found here.

Cais do Sodré and Santos. The riverside district of Cais do Sodré was long a seedy backwater mainly patronized by crews from passing ships, but is now increasingly a place for locals to eat out and go barhopping. Neighboring Santos is a favorite with young partiers, too.

Alcântara and Belém. Two km (1 mile) west of the Baixa, former docks in the Alcântara area have been overhauled and turned into fancy places to drink and dine. More recently, an old warehouse has become one of Lisbon’s prime museums. Another 3 km (2 miles) west along the Rio Tejo is Belém, home to the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, the famous monastery, as well as a royal palace and several of the city's best museums.

Parque das Nações. Located about 5 km (3 miles) northeast of Lisbon's center is Parque das Nações, site of the World Exposition in 1998. This revitalized district on the banks of the Rio Tejo includes the spectacular Oceanário de Lisboa, an aquarium built for the Expo.

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