For those of you who don’t know, it is still Summer in Lisbon! Well, not exactly 35ºC but, a fair 25ºC in mid november thursday afternoon can be called Summer. Especially to the Northern Europeans who at this time are facing almost freezing temperatures in the night and haven’t seen the sun since the Autumn Equinox.

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So What to do in Lisbon?  I suggest a trip to  where the weather is warmer and sunny,  people are friendly and the food tastes good.  And while you are stockpiling your Vitamin D, while sipping some red wine, you can may also want to discover a little more of the city, and this is where I come in. This is my third instalment of my Unforgettable Weekend in Lisbon Series after the Where to Eat and the Where to Shop where published in the latter weeks.

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What to Do? – Within all the layers of history that this city has, a vibrant cultural, music and arts scene takes place through the hands of “out of the box” young artists or Contemporary Portuguese exhibitions which are not to be missed.

 

Sunrise over Alfama

There are very few sunrises, like the one over Alfama seen from the top terrace of Suite Bartolomeu de Gusmão at Palacio Belmonte. Once a mosque and the location of where morning prayers were announced during the Moorish occupation of Lisbon, this tower suite has its main façade turned towards Meca.

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From here you can see that big orange&red fireball rising over the water, right next to the Alfama skyline silhouette made up the churches, bell towers and the maroon clay rooftops, while dispersing its amber light on the tiles that line the buildings. Some call it a photographers dream place, I call it an everlasting memory of that Lisbon trip, it is well worth the early rise, specially combined with your breakfast being served as the sun makes it journey up on a hot summer morning.

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Get lost in the narrow hilly back streets of Lisbon’s hills

Lisbon is best seen walking its cobble streets, so always have in mind that for your better sake you need sensible comfortable shoes. I am quite adamant when I told my guests at Palacio Belmonte to forget the tourist map and just navigate themselves the back streets of old town Lisbon with only a few waypoints that I show them from the Palacio’s terraces.

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It’s very easy to get lost in them, but I believe that it adds to the mystique of the maze that the old town is. I always tell them to navigate their way with the aid of what is available to them. As an example to direct them to the Flea Market on a Saturday Morning, I tell them to head east towards the rising sun, go down one hill, across the tram line and up another hill to reach it. Easy, right? When its midday and the sun is high, start walking parallel to it and to the river, while continuing downhill to reach Alfama.

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When they hear Fado music and the sound of kids playing in the street they know that they are in the heart of the oldest district of the city. From here to come back to Saint George Castle you just need to climb the hill. As it is at the very top, no matter what direction you take, you will always eventually reach the summit . It is much more adventurous and personal to know that you are discovering your way through Lisbon much like the Portuguese Discoverers did in the XV century.

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Casa dos bicos – José Saramago Foundation

Home to the José Saramago Foundation, the Casa dos Bicos, whose name literally translates to the House of the Beaks, is one of Lisbon’s most recent attractions and a cultural landmark to the Portuguese Literature.

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It is a rather unusual 16th century building, with its unsymmetrical but carefully embroidered large window frames and the distinct diamond shape stones which cover its façade. Initially built to be Lisbon Palace of Bráz de Albuquerque, the second governor of the Portuguese India, it saw its top two floors destroyed with the 1755 earthquake. It found later usage as a warehouse for storing products of the Portuguese New World Colonies and a salt cod trading post.

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It was carefully reconstructed according to the original plans during the early 80’s to become a prominent Lisbon exhibition centre, having been completed and given a proper eternal life in 2012, as the house of the 1998 Nobel Literature Laureate and international writing reference, José Saramago.Inside you can experience all the history and heritage of the “House”, travel through the life and work of José Saramago and dip your curiosity in understating “The Stone Raft”, “Blindness” or the upsetting “Book of Disquiet”.

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Igreja São Roque – Lisbon’s Golden Wonder

Remember to keep your sunglasses on when you enter the Church of São Roque! Its inside is completely lined with gold leaf paint, from shrines, saints, walls and ceiling. One of the earliest Jesuit churches in the world, this wonder of baroque architecture is home to 12 chapels, a museum and an outdoor café, where brunch can be taken on Sundays. The best time to visit is around three in the afternoon when it is flooded by the golden reflection of the southern sun.

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Fall Sunbathing

This one is a personal favourite of mine, and if you have followed my blog for some time you might understand my connection to the water. When you are born with a country blessed with so many natural endless white sandy beaches and when you are used to go to those beaches for 9 months of the year, it is only natural that I recommend some Lisbon fall sunbathing.

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Lisbon is the only European capital with its own beach, and with 300 full days of sunshine per year, be sure to pack your swimsuit on your next trip to the Sunshine Capital of Southern Europe.  For the average Portuguese the summer season only ends after the Indian Summer casts is last heat spell, which should be around the middle of November. So why not take part of the local culture and grab some much needed warm and relaxing sunlight in the afternoon after a busy morning trotting the Lisbon Hills.

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Tram 28

You cannot recommend Lisbon without speaking about one of its most iconic landmarks. Happens to be that this one is on the move and is my recommend choice of transportation for getting around the old town.  With a loop route from the multicultural neighbourhood of Martin Moniz, to the top the Graça Hill and through the Castle Hill, Alfama, Baixa and Chiado districts it takes you all the way to the Estrela Garden and the young and upcoming neighbourhood of Santos.

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Tickets are just under 4,00€ per person and include a one way ticket in any of the directions. My recommendation is that you take it the early morning as you are sure to find the Lisboners, mostly elderly citizens, who still use the tram as their main mode of transport, as in the afternoon tourists overwhelm all the available trams, leaving you with little space to breathe, not to mention ruining your ride…

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Tagus River Walk

Stretching for more than 10 kilometres and majestically south facing, the Lisbon Tagus Riverside walk is one of the most impressive natural beauties that the city has to offer. In the last couple of years there has been an impressive development and refurbishment of the Lisbon Waterfront, making it one of the best water walks in Europe, full of trees, parks, plenty of open space, cafés, bars and restaurants for you to enjoy the fall sun.

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You can walk from the northern tip of the Parque das Nações to the western end of Algés, and this is just the end of the Lisbon municipality jurisdiction. You can continue another 30 km until you reach the Atlantic Ocean Front in Cascais at the Praia do Guincho.

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Portuguese street tile hunting

I have to confess that I am addicted to Portuguese tiles. Some people are addicted to chocolate or singing in the shower, while others like me are constantly taken by the intrinsic detail and colourful patterns of one of the most beautiful forms of street art in the world.

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Serving a dual purpose of decoration and temperature control,  the glass glazed hand painted 15X15 squares were introduced to Portuguese façades in the early 15th century to reflect the torrid summer heat away from the interior of the building.

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Although the most elaborate examples were kept for the interior of the houses, these are in its great majority painted with a Lapis lazuli blue on a white background and are best reviewed as paintings.   Lisbon has an Azulejo Museum of its own, that I strongly urge you to visit, as a complementary educational visit to the ones you find in the narrow back streets of the Alfama, Castelo, Baixa, Bairro alto, Chiado and Principe Real districts.

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Sunset over the Tagus

At the end of Praça do Comercio, on its border with the Tagus you can see the location where the old Discovery Caravels landed with the goods that the Portuguese brought back from the new found territories overseas.

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When The Portuguese Empire was at its peak, there was a cue of ships waiting to unload the precious Gold, Silver, Spice, Silk, Wood, Cacao, Coffee and Tea. Here the ships would harness their ropes on the very same pillars where those two seagulls are standing and all the population of Lisbon would gather around to witness what exoticness was brought back this time. Up the road from this location, the streets of Baixa (downtown area) are named after the specific item that was traded there.

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