Archive for January, 2012

10 Great Lisbon Attractions Forgotten by Guidebooks

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

No matter if you choose Lonely Planet, DK Eyewitness Guide or Fodor’s, you won’t be told about these great attractions. But we say you should consider them for your Lisbon itinerary.

Museu Medeiros e Almeida

It’s been open for ten years but apparently no travel writer has found out about it. It’s one of Lisbon’s most important art collections which includes a Rembrandt portrait, a Tiepolo painting, magnificent decorative art and sculpting such as a fountain that once stood in the gardens of Versailles.

Tapada das Necessidades

The former royal palace of Necessidades is now the ministry of foreign affairs and therefore closed to the public, but apparently very few people know that its garden/park is open to everyone. It’s actually undergoing some renovation to turn it into a more popular attraction, and right now you’ll likely have it all for yourself, with a view of 25 de Abril Bridge and rare plants from all over the world.

Jardim do Torel

Another green space unknown to many is the small garden-viewpoint of Torel. It stands on a hilltop, reached by the landmark Lavra funicular, and offers views of downtown and a terrace café.

Pena Church

Just a short walk down the street from Torel is this apparently ordinary church that hides a surprisingly opulent interior. Its altar and side chapels covered with gold were models for countless other churches in Lisbon and throughout Portugal.

Way off the beaten path, this park is found northwest of Ajuda Palace on Rua Tristão Vaz in a residential neighborhood. Still, it’s a place worth finding, as it offers plenty of green space to rest and have a picnic, do some exercise, or simply to take a look at the centuries-old windmills recalling a time when this was not part of a capital city but a rural land.

Igreja de Santa Catarina

It’s a mystery why one of the city’s most beautiful and artistic interiors is overlooked by guidebooks, especially when it’s located just steps from Chiado and Bairro Alto. With its monumental gilding, rococo ceiling and organ, it’s actually a Lisbon must-see.

Convento dos Cardaes

With such a nondescript exterior, it’s understandable how it goes unnoticed. It’s a convent still inhabited by Dominican nuns, but a guided tour tells you about its fascinating history dating back to the 17th century and shows you its rich decorative features which includes rare Dutch tiles and a masterpiece baroque altar.

Many cities have a museum dedicated to cinema and this is Lisbon’s. But “Cinemateca” is much more than an institution that preserves the art of filmmaking, it’s also a movie theater with daily showing of classic features. They’re presented in their original language, most often with Portuguese subtitles (sometimes in English), and is a great attraction on a rainy day or for a special movie night.

Passeio das Tagides

One of the best places for a stroll is the Parque das Nações waterfront. This boardwalk over the river that goes from the Oceanarium to close to the Atlantic Pavilion offers the most picture-perfect views of Lisbon’s most modern landmarks and is one of the city’s most pleasant walks.

With so many museums in the city, very few people would dedicate much time to one about electricity. However, this museum is actually one of Lisbon’s most visited attractions due to its high-profile temporary exhibitions usually related to contemporary art and photography. So although you won’t see it listed on your guidebook, pass by to check out what is happening when you’re in town. It’s located just down the road from the Discoveries Monument.

The 12 Biggest Events in 2012 in Lisbon

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Oceans Festival, Lisbon

Bringing some color to the first days of spring will be Lisbon’s annual animated film festival. March 19 to 25 with productions from around the world.

The city’s main gastronomic festival, naturally dedicated to seafood, takes place from April 12 to the 22nd.

For almost a decade the best independent films have been shown in Lisbon in what is now the city’s biggest film festival. This year it’s happening from April 26 to May 6.

The large temporary exhibition space of the Electricity Museum will once again reunite the best of the world’s photography and photographers. It takes place in April and May.

The self-dubbed “biggest musical festival in the world” returns to Lisbon in late May and early June with dozens of musical acts. Bruce Springsteen, Lenny Kravitz and Metallica have been confirmed. Ticket information here.

If you’re a fan or motorcycles, and particularly of Harley-Davidson, head to Lisbon’s coast in June for Europe’s biggest concentration of Harleys. You’ll see them from June 14 to the 17th by the sea in Cascais.

The beginning of summer will call you closer towards the beach with this sailing event on the coast of Lisbon.

It’s one of the city’s biggest musical events every year, this time in mid-July. Confirmed so far are Radiohead and Mazzy Star. Ticket information here.

The world’s greatest ships will sail the waters of Lisbon July 19th to the 22nd.

Lisbon’s award-winning citywide summer festival returns with sea-themed activities throughout the month of August.

The Portuguese architect recently selected to become the contemporary architecture curator of New York’s MoMA will also be responsible for a major exhibition in Lisbon this year. It will happen in September in the Design Museum and will focus on 100 years of interior design/architecture in the country.

Said to be Europe’s biggest gay and lesbian film festival, it’s showing gay-themed productions from September 21st to the 29th.

10 Reasons to Visit Portugal Instead of Spain

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Portugal beach

There’s a reason why Spain is one of the world’s five most-popular destinations. Not only is it one of Europe’s biggest countries, it’s also one of the world’s most breathtaking in terms of natural beauty and cultural attractions. For that reason, after a tour of Portugal’s neighbor, most travelers conclude that they have seen enough of Iberia and overlook Portugal, figuring it’s just another version of Spain. Those who know Portugal know that despite the many similarities, the smaller Iberian nation has quite a different essence and temperament, not to mention its own individual character and culture. Portugal usually ranks between the world’s top 15 or 20 most-visited countries, but living in the tourism shadow of Spain means that it could actually be higher on that list. So if you’re not sure if you should visit Portugal or Spain (or both) on your next trip, here are ten reasons why you should choose Portugal now:

If you’re in the United States or anywhere in North America or South America, Portugal is the closest European country to you. If you’re in the British Isles, Portugal is the only country in mainland Europe that shares your time zone, and you’ll reach Lisbon or Porto before you reach Madrid or Barcelona. Portugal is therefore perfect if you prefer shorter flights.
Also, Portugal’s location on the Atlantic means that its coastline is quite different from Spain’s which is for the most part on the Mediterranean. Portugal’s coast is therefore a different experience, with mystical capes that includes the westernmost point in Europe, making it a unique, unforgettable experience.

Prices in Portugal are the lowest of all Western European countries, and that of course includes Spain. Even 5-star hotels in major tourism areas can be anywhere from 25% to 50% lower than in the neighbor country, and even more affordable are the restaurants which even in Lisbon can be quite inexpensive.

Spanish tapas are now a worldwide trend and Spanish paella is more famous than any Portuguese dish, but even many Spaniards will agree that Portuguese food is simply better. And we emphasize the word “simply,” as Portuguese food stands out for its freshness and simplicity. It’s also more varied and quite frankly better prepared than the typical meat-heavy Spanish cuisine (we’re not talking about the new wave of innovative Catalan cuisine here, but the traditional Spanish food).

If you feel more comfortable going to a country where you can communicate in English, choose Portugal. You’ll find more (young) people speaking at least some basic English than in Spain, and with quite a better accent to be understood. English in Portugal is learned not just in school but also through TV and movies, as they are not dubbed but subtitled. In Spain and throughout much of Europe everything is dubbed so it’s difficult to develop a good accent and learn English. It’s for that reason that Portugal has more English speakers than any other southern European country, which is always good news for travelers.

Good things do come in small packages. Being a varied, compact country like Portugal has its advantages, proving that size does matter.
Spain is probably Europe’s most diverse country, being for example quite different in the south (Andalusia) and in the north (Galicia or Basque Country). Considering it’s four times larger than Portugal, you won’t be able to experience all of its regions unless you spend a few weeks in the country. But you can in Portugal. You’ll also find a variety of landscapes and cultural attractions, and there’s also a great north-south contrast, but here you’ll easily travel between the different regions and are able to leave with a greater sense of the country. You can wake up in the peaceful Douro Valley wine country, and fall asleep by the relaxing beaches of Algarve.

The advantages of the country’s small size mentioned above also mean that you can dedicate more time to each destination. You don’t have to rush from place to place if you have several attractions on your list. You have time for more museums, more meals, more time at the beach. You’ll get more from your trip.

Many of the major Spanish cities located away from the coast such as Madrid suffer from extreme temperatures: They may be scorching hot in the summer, and freezing in winter. In Portugal, weather is never so extreme, even in the colder, rainier north. The country is cooled off by the Atlantic and warmed by the winds of the south, making it a year-round destination, especially Lisbon and the southern coast, the sunniest regions in Europe.

Portugal’s capital stands out for being a big city that charms rather than overwhelm. Its old historic center where the tourism attractions are found is quite compact and has a greater sense of history than Madrid or Barcelona which are essentially late-19th and early-20th-century cities. Lisbon is Europe’s oldest capital after Athens and if Iberia became unified as one country it would probably become the capital, as a Spanish king once envisioned. This is one of the world’s greatest natural harbors and as one of the world’s great historic cities, it should not be missed, especially by history buffs. And when we say Lisbon we also say Sintra with its fantastic palaces.

Those looking for Southern European sunshine and warmth in resort accommodation that maintains some local charm should choose Portugal’s Algarve over Spain’s Costa del Sol. While parts of Algarve have also been stripped of any character by mass tourism’s overdevelopment (ugly concrete hotels and apartment buildings), it fortunately did not reach the proportions of many areas of southern Spain. Also, Algarve is Atlantic and not Mediterranean, yet its culture mixes that of the two. It’s in many ways similar to Costa del Sol but with its own flavor, and you’ll want to stand by the cape of St. Vincent, known as the end of the world to ancient Europeans before the Age of Discovery.

Spain’s Canary and Balearic islands are great and beautiful, but for something completely different, look for Portugal’s Azores. This archipelago halfway between Europe and the United States is more New Zealand or Ireland than Mediterranean island resorts. There is no mass tourism or beach resorts — instead you’ll find an incredibly magic atmosphere of volcanos, breathtaking landscapes and whales swimming in the Atlantic. Pictures are not capable of illustrating or capturing the natural grandeur of the place, making it a truly unique destination that needs to be lived to be believed.