Exploring Lisbon’s Ribeira District

July 17, 2012 by

Sightseeing, Suggested Itineraries, Things To Do

Lisbon from the Tagus River

Lisbon from the Tagus River

Ribeira, meaning river, is the area alongside the Tagus (Tejo) River in Lisbon.

Being an important port city for centuries, the riverside is where so much of Lisbon life developed and still thrives.

The city’s biggest market is riverside, the Mercado de Ribeira. Established in 1882, the lovely building is topped by a Moorish dome and the market is worth a visit. Not surprisingly the seafood and fish are fresh and plentiful. There’s inky squid and bacalhau (cod) which is so important to the Lisboan diet that they have enough recipes to eat a different bacalhau dish every day of the year. There are also fresh fruits and vegetables and upstairs on the second floor a more tourist-oriented market space selling port, honey and handicrafts. Note the pictures on the walls showing market traders over the years which were put up in 2007 to mark 125 years of the market. Open Monday through Saturday.

On Sundays the market becomes a busy collectors’ market mainly focusing on coins and stamps. The stalls for handicrafts and local honey and ports are open too.

Nearby is the street Rua Nova do Carvalho, once Lisbon’s red-light district serving the busy port and now a trendy bar and restaurant street.

Along the riverside to the west is the Belem district and here’s where you’ll find much of Lisbon’s significant history and architecture. The wonderful Belem Tower, once a defensive fortress on a mid-river island, now sits riverside and glows gloriously white in the sunshine. Built in 1520 it’s a great example of the Manueline architecture particular to Portugal. Nearby is the majestic Discoveries Monument dedicated to Portugal’s intrepid explorers and seafarers of the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal’s Age of Discoveries.

Across the road in Belem is one of Lisbon’s jewels, Jeronimo’s Monastery. This was the peak of King Manuel I’s version of highly decorative Gothic architecture and is a must see on any visit to Lisbon. Don’t miss the awe-inspiring chapel. Also don’t miss the Portuguese tarts at the nearby Confeitaria de Belem, a small bakery begun in 1837 by nuns who invented these wonderful custard pastries.

East of central Lisbon is the city’s newest riverside district, Parque das Nacoes, the very opposite to Belem, showing the modern heart of Lisbon. Built in 1998 for the 100th World Expo the contemporary architecture of Santiago Calatrava will leave you in as much awe as the historic structures of Belem.

Walking west to east along the river in Lisbon will take you from the 16th century of Belem, through the 19th century of Ribeira market, to the late 20th century of visionary architect Calatrava and show you Lisbon in all her many moods and eras.

- Philippa B.

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