Exploring the capital of the nation of explorers

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August 26th 2011
Published: April 15th 2018
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August Bank Holiday city breaks are now part of an annual ritual, and this Western European capital city seemed so worthy of city break material that it seemed to have 'feel free to visit and enjoy me' painted all over it. Upon arrival in Lisbon, initial impressions were coloured by the tidy Mercure hotel I stayed at in the northern area of the city, and by the grandness of the huge Colombo shopping centre, with its tremendous food court, and myriad of 420 + stores. The first full day proper was destined to take in the sights and sounds of the city courtesy of a pair of willing legs and a 1-day travelcard, coupled with the usual sense of raging enthusiasm for getting around the city's fabric and discovering what constituted the Portuguese capital's history and present. A common thread runs throughout, which is to say that you can find tiled building walls, statues, cafes, squares and historical reference points wherever you tread, but since the city is built around a bay, a sizeable part of local culture bases itself around the water theme, particularly in the Oriente area, where the aquarium and Vasco De Gama shopping mall (with water flowing constantly over the roof) compliment the waterside locations they occupy. Public transport is represented by the ubiquitous nature of the stylish iconic old trams, the more modern buses, and the equally sleek underground network, which seems to unite all the places of interest in one manageable network format. The unofficial centre of Lisbon appears to be Rossio Square, with its ornate-looking monuments, and architecture which typifies the city, and from there, it is a short-ish walk to other noteworthy landmarks such as the Se Cathedral and the San Jorge Castle. A short-ish tram ride along the riverside will bring you to the district of Belem, where a couple of key Lisbon landmarks are located, namely Belem Tower, the National Stagecoach museum, and the Jeronimos Monastery, all of which are well worth a look-in. Getting lost around the backstreets of Lisbon may well provide you with a few details which no guide book would touch upon, and you can almost assume that you're never too far from either a subway station or indeed a tram stop, where catching a ride may bring you back to more familiar territory. Proving that Lisbon is also a city of experiences, it seemed too hard to resist a segway tour which the tourists seem to have taken to enough the keep their operators in perennial business. For the uninitiated, a segway is a motorized two-wheeled vehicle which will stand upright when activated, and allow you to move in any of 4 directions, providing your body's positioning is sufficiently accurate. For my money, the segway tour to the tower of Belem and back (courtesy of Red Tour GPS), is unmissable, and provides a visitor with a unique and endlessly fun way of seeing a cross-section of what is best described as a cruelly-overlooked city. All in all, Lisbon packs a fair old punch, and its status as being western Europe's most affordable capital city is enough to qualify the place as prime city break material from pretty much any angle you care to view it.

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