When I think back on Lisbon, I’ll think of it mostly as a city of neighborhoods, a collection of distinct areas, each with their own manifold charms. I didn’t set foot inside a single museum while in Lisbon, but I happily passed my time wandering through different sections of the city, concentrating mostly on Bairro Alto, the Alfama, and Baixa. And while each neighborhood certainly had its own merits (and I will be writing about each in turn), I found myself most drawn to the Bairro Alto, the elegant, old neighborhood perched atop the city.
To get to the Bairro Alto, you can hop a funicular (the Elevador da Gloria) to the top, or you can walk up one of the several sets of staircases that lead to the neighborhood. The first time I went, I opted for the funicular, mostly so I could say I rode a trolley while in Lisbon. The old-fashioned vehicles are a fun experience, so why not hop aboard at least once while there?
The funicular drops you off near the Garden of San Pedro de Alcantara, a lovely park overlooking downtown Lisbon. While the gardens themselves are nice, for my money, their real value lies in the vantage point they provide. For me, standing in the park and looking out onto the beautiful city below was definitely a “pinch me, I’m in Lisbon” moment.
On my first visit to Bairro Alto, I grabbed lunch at Cervejaria Trindade, a 13th-century monastery turned restaurant and beer hall whose dining room features beautiful tile work. The restaurant is pretty popular among tourists, so while I went to see the history and beauty of the building, I was skeptical that I’d also find a good meal there. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed my food. My steak was downright delicious (can you see it covered under the layer of fries?) and my dessert (a custard-y and sugary creation whose name escapes me) was almost as yummy.
For me, the Bairro Alto’s primary appeal was found in the beautiful buildings lining its streets, but I did take a few minutes to pop into some more conventional landmarks, too. The Church of Sao Roque featured some seriously decked out chapels and was worth a look:
Likewise, the Carmo Convent Ruins were also fun to explore. The Convent was mostly destroyed during Lisbon’s major 1755 earthquake; only its skeletal ruins stand today. There’s also a small museum at the site, but for me, wandering among the ruins was the most interesting – and beautiful – part.
Cathedrals and convents aside, like I mentioned, my favorite part of the Bairro Alto was its streets. I could have wandered around the neighborhood forever, and perhaps I would have, if not for the intermittent rain showers that plagued my weekend in Lisbon. Even in the rain, though, looking up at Bairro Alto’s many architectural gems was a pleasure.
I mean, come on – can you deny that Bairro Alto is a beauty? With buildings and balconies and colors like these, I couldn’t help but fall in love with this little slice of elegant Lisbon.