Lisbon is known for its iconic narrow cobblestone streets, the charming Alfama Fado clubs, and its various landmarks like the Monument to the Explorers and the Castelo of São Jorge; postcard-picturesque attractions like these draw incredible numbers of tourists annually. But what about Lisbon’s more modern side? Is it worth a visit, or should you set your sights squarely on the ancient parts of the city?
Whether you are staying in Lisbon’s old town or you are heading to the airport after staying in a fabulous villa elsewhere in the country, you might want to carve out a few hours to see a different side of town…
The Parque das Nações (Park of Nations) neighbourhood, also referred to as Expo, is a former industrial area that was created specifically for the World Fair of 1998, which is why it looks so modern, in sharp contrast to the old city center of Lisbon. The best parts of the neighbourhood are the water-themed buildings and mosaics that you can scope out along a 3-mile riverside promenade, leading you past some of the most notable examples of contemporary architecture in Portugal, like Santiago Calatrava’s Oriente Station and Álvaro Siza Vieira’s Portugal Pavilion. Even the least artistically-informed eye can find incredible beauty in the design and execution of these buildings, and if not, have no fear, as there are plenty of sculptures and interactive landscape designs that can keep you (and your kids, if you have them!) entertained for hours.
You’ll pass by dangling cable cars at the Telecabine Lisboa that will offer stunning aerial views of the neighbourhood during the 10-minute ride, and you’ll have the opportunity to catch one of the best attractions in the city: one of the world’s biggest aquariums— aptly named, the Oceanarium. This incredible homage to the sea features over 25,000 sea creatures, otters, birds, penguins, and more, elegantly displayed around a central tank with rotating temporary exhibitions on the top floor so there’s always something new to see. The gift shop is, consequently, a fantastic place to grab last-minute souvenirs, as it boasts plenty of knickknacks that celebrate the sea, as it should be from a nation built on exploration.
Further down, you’ll pass the Vasco da Gama Observation tower, the tallest building in Lisbon, at 466 feet tall, where there is a bird’s-eye view of the river on the top observation deck and is now the home to a Michelin-star restaurant, should you be feeling a bit peckish.
The end of the walk will leave you off in a giant waterfront park called the Parque do Tejo (Tagus Park) complete with skateboard ramps, picnic areas, and even spots to sneak a peek at wild flamingoes at low tide. The park is passed over by the 10.7-mile-long Vasco da Gama Bridge — the largest bridge in all of Europe and one of the ten longest in the world. The bridge and observation tower are named after the Portuguese explorer who was the first European to reach India by sea. His name is also lent to the impressive shopping mall center in the Expo area, which is connected to the Oriente station and is certainly worth a visit to see its enchanting glass ceiling and of course, the shops inside.
All in all, there is plenty to discover in this incredibly interesting neighbourhood, so do yourself a favour and be inspired by the Portuguese explorers of old. Get out there and discover Lisbon’s modern side! You won’t be sorry you did.