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Lisbon: A Hotbed of History

Lisbon: A Hotbed of History

by Joaquim DeCarvalho

Rossio fountain in Lisbon Portugal

Rossio fountain in Lisbon Portugal

During WWII, intrigue and espionage filled Portugal’s capital city. Both Allied and Axis agents roamed freely through the city’s atmospheric cobblestone streets. Because Portugal stayed neutral during the war, the port city was packed not only with spies, but also exiled European royalty, wealthy Jews, escaped POWs, black marketers, and refugees. Everyone was watching and being watched.

You can still imagine the wartime intrigue as you wander the streets of this classic, old-fashioned city. Gorgeous, coastal Lisbon keeps its old-world charm in a time when other cities seem to focus on modernization.

As one of the oldest cities in Europe, Lisbon is packed with rich history and culture. It also offers a picturesque ambiance that easily draws in visitors. Lisbon’s amazing classic architecture mixes with modern elements to create a lively city where you will enjoy every second of your time.

Some of Lisbon’s Landmarks

Castelo de Sao Jorge

The Castelo de Sao Jorge towers above Lisbon. The impressive castle dates back to medieval times, and is probably the most visited and photographed attraction in Lisbon. It has seen a lot of history, including the Visigoths of the 5th century, the 9th century Moors, the 12th century Christians, and royalty from the 14th to the 16th centuries. The courtyards and artifact-filled galleries are beautiful, and the towers offer a complete view of the marvelous city of Lisbon.

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos

One of the top sites to visit is the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos. This 16th-century monastery was commissioned to honor Vasco da Gama’s discovery of a sea route to India in 1498. At first, it was home to monks in the Order of St. Jerome. These monks were responsible for comforting sailors and praying for the king’s soul. However, in 1833, the order dissolved. The monastery building then transitioned to a school and orphanage, which closed in the 1940s. 

When you enter the monastery, you’ll see the tree trunk–like columns that appear to grow right into the ceiling. The windows let in the right amount of yellow ambient glow to perfectly capture the beauty and history of this monastery. Vasco da Gama himself is interred in the lower chancel on the left side of the entrance. The revered Portuguese poet Luís Vaz de Camões is on the right. Furthermore, the rows of seats are part of the first Renaissance woodcarvings in Portugal. Standing at the upper choir, you will be able to see the complete view that this landmark offers. 

Torre de Belem - Lisbon Portugal

Torre de Belem – Lisbon Portugal

Torre de Belém

The Torre de Belém was originally built as a lighthouse to mark the entrance to the port and defend Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. It sits on a small island to the right of Tagus. If you inspect the intricate stonework around the western tower, you might even be able to locate the stone rhino carved there.

Getting Around

The most common forms of travel through the city are by tram or bus. The city boasts both classic pre-war Remodelado trams and a more modern subway system. A popular feature is the Lisbon 24-, 48-, or 72-hour transportation cards. These cards allow you to hop on and off public transport throughout the city for one low price. You can purchase them at your hotel, tourism office, or a transportation hub. Taxis are also a relatively inexpensive mode of travel in Lisbon.

Food and Drink

Cafés and nightlife hot spots line the streets of Lisbon. You do not have to go far to find authentic Portuguese fare and other delicious offerings. Among the more popular choices for dining are Nova Pombalina, Fabulas, Café no Chiado, and Santo António de Alfama. While many of these locations offer delicious Portuguese cuisine, Fabulas also has other international favorites such as pasta, burritos, salads, and hamburgers.

Guitarra Portuguesa - Portuguese Guitar

Guitarra Portuguesa – Portuguese Guitar


Fado is the soulful music of Portugal, a unique genre appreciated by music fans all over Europe. The music streams through every corner of Alfama, one of the oldest quarters in Lisbon. Alfama is famous for its Fado restaurants, and you can expect to hear lots of amazing music, including songs by the Queen of Fado, Amalia Rodrigues. Casa de Linhares is one of our favorites and a popular stop during the Small Group Tour. Other Fado houses and restaurants include Parreirinha de Alfama and Sr. Fado.

Add Lisbon to Your Bucket List!

These are only a few of the highlights that this charming city has to offer. Lisbon should absolutely be on your bucket list, and the incredible history, gorgeous architecture, and amazing food are only a few of the reasons. The WWII spy city offers friendly locals that are laidback and charming, along with everything one would want in a traditional European city vacation.

  • Day Tours: Half-day and full-day tours are available. Please consult Portugal Online day tour pages.

  • Overnight Package Tours: Overnight packages in Lisbon are available. Visit Portugal Online overnight packages pages.

  • Hotels:  Lisbon is known for a variety of accommodations, from five-star to one-star hotels. There are also “pensões” (“pensiones” in the rest of Europe), which are essentially no-frills bed-and-breakfasts. To book your hotel, visit Portugal Online Lisbon hotel pages.

  • Rental Car: The most popular pick up is at the airport and Lisbon has a great selection of car hire companies. To book a car,  please visit Portugal Online rental car page.

Read More

Visit our Lisbon page to get more information on this wonderful destination.


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