In the highest of the seven hills lies the historic district of Graça, which belongs to the São Vicente parish. The whole of São Vicente comprises both iconic and historic venues such as monuments, parks and viewpoints, neighbourhoods and restaurants.
Here, you can feel a genuine Lisbon atmosphere and witness a truly cosmopolitan environment. Indeed, many young newcomers that come to work in Lisbon, choose to live in Graça due to its centrality, lively neighbourhood activity and a large offer of public transportation. Due to this multicultural environment, one can find an extremely rich and varied offer of restaurants and cultural activities.
The Graça district is one of the most beautiful and oldest neighbourhoods of the Portuguese capital, located next to the iconic São Jorge Castle, known for its superb views over the city and the Tagus River. Two of this neighbourhood’s highlights are well-known viewpoints: the Miradouro da Graça and the Miradouro da Senhora do Monte. But they are on top of one of the steepest Lisbon hills, so prepare for a good climb if you choose to walk.
The São Jorge Castle is one of the greatest landmarks of Lisbon. The Castle's first walls date back to the 1st century B.C., being modified several times throughout history. Its name derives from the devotion to São Jorge, patron saint of knights and crusaders, by order of King João I in the 14th century. In the first half of the twentieth century, the castle was heavily degraded and the Portuguese government ordered restoration interventions in the 1940s and late 1990s, which had the merit of rehabilitating the medieval monument to its present looks. Sitting at the top of the highest hill of old Lisbon, the Castle is currently one of the city’s most visited places by tourists.
Archaeological researches proved that the area was not randomly chosen by the Moors, the Arab peoples from North Africa that conquered a great part of Southern Europe during the Middle Ages. It turns out that this area of Lisbon was once inhabited by Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians from the seventh century before Christ. Romans also built a defensive structure uphill.
Soon after the Christian recapture of Lisbon from the Muslim Moors, King Afonso Henriques in 1150 built this cathedral on the site of a mosque for the city's first bishop, the English crusader Gilbert of Hastings.
With two massive bell towers and a gorgeous rose window dominating the front façade, the cathedral from outside looks more like a Romanesque medieval fortress though when inside Gothic art dominates the chapels and cloisters. Its official name is Santa Maria Maior.
Surprisingly, it has survived several natural disasters, like the great earthquake of 1755, which left part of the religious edifice in ruins. Throughout the centuries, the Cathedral has been renovated and rebuilt on various occasions. Now it is Lisbon's oldest building.
The Cathedral’s Gothic cloister is similar in style to the Jerónimos Monastery, although a little smaller. Inside the cloister, you’ll see several Roman, Arabic and Medieval remains, which have been excavated a few years ago.
Founded in 1291 by the religious Order of Saint Augustine and used as the order’s Portuguese headquarters, this church went through several changes as time passed by. Church of Graça was built on the site where the forces of King Afonso Henriques camped when they laid siege of Lisbon to recapture the city from the Moors. In the 15th century went through some refurbishments and, almost 3 centuries later, needed to undergo restoration works after the 1755 massive earthquake that decimated Lisbon.
In this last reconstruction, a sober interior was chosen. However, the interiors maintain several architectural and art styles that reflect this building’s history. Pay attention to decorative elements, such as the tile works from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, the sculptures in the smaller chapels, the gold-carved altars, the Baroque-style decoration of the sacristy, the paintings in the ceiling, or the great panel of the “Relics”.
The National Pantheon, housing the tombs of Portugal’s major historic celebrities, is located on the original site of the church of Santa Engrácia. Founded in the second half of the 16th century, the building was totally rebuilt at the end of the 17th century by the architect João Antunes. Even though it was never used as a place of worship, it still preserves, under its modern dome, a majestic nave with a polychrome marble decoration typical of the Portuguese Baroque architecture. Being an icon of Lisbon’s cityscape and having a privileged location, as it overlooks the city’s historic center and the river Tagus, it is listed as a National Monument.
Santa Engracia Church, or the National Pantheon, stands on the site of an earlier church that was torn down after being desecrated by a robbery in 1630. A Jew was blamed for this and executed, but was later exonerated. Legend has it that before dying, he cursed the rebuilding of the church because of the conviction of an innocent man. The plan to reconstruct (bearing many similarities to Peruzzi's plans for St. Peter's in Rome) did take several centuries to be completed, only finishing in 1966.
The irony of the São Roque Church is that the exterior is so unbelievably plain that many people, locals, and tourists, pass right by never peeping inside for a closer look. Once inside, you bask in one of the richest church interiors in all of Lisbon, perhaps even Portugal. Each of the chapels is a masterpiece of Baroque art, but the showpiece is the fourth one on the left, the "world's most expensive chapel."
Designed in Rome using the most costly materials available, including ivory, agate, porphyry, lapis lazulli, gold, and silver, it was blessed by the Pope and shipped to Lisbon in 1747. Of note is also the chapel's "paintings," which are not paintings but extraordinarily detailed mosaics, and the ceiling painted with scenes of the Apocalypse. Today this chapel is considered a masterpiece of European art.
Adjoining the church is a museum of sacred art, containing 16th-century Portuguese paintings, a display of vestments, and an impressive collection of baroque silver. A highlight is a pair of bronze-and-silver torch holders, weighing about 381 kilograms, among the most elaborate in Europe.
The Viewpoint of Graça is formally designated “Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen”, which is one of the most important contemporary Portuguese poets. Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen (1919-2004) was the first Portuguese woman to receive the Camões Award, which is given yearly to the best authors in the Portuguese language. Next to the Graça church, which stands right before the viewpoint, you can find a bronze bust as a tribute to the poetess.
The panoramic view from this viewpoint allows you to see from the São Jorge Castle to the Tagus river, from Mouraria to the Baixa neighborhoods, Lisbon’s colorful houses, streets, and gardens. Miradouro da Graça has been the esplanade with the best views of Lisbon for 25 years and counting, though it is currently reduced to a churchyard - “a temporary set-up”, according to the kiosk’s owner, João Garção. The kiosk was relegated to the churchyard area because of renovation works and the construction of a funicular passing through Graça on its way to Mouraria. Further up is another incredible viewpoint, Miradouro da Senhora do Monte.
Lisbon is known as the city of seven hills, and that´s because is full of viewpoints with fantastic views. The Senhora do Monte Viewpoint, located in the Graça neighborhood, it offers a unique panoramic, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful views of Lisbon, especially for being one of the highest points of the city. This viewpoint was once one of the best-kept secrets of Lisbon. The panoramic view covers the Tagus estuary and the São Jorge Castle to the south, the Bairro Alto neighborhood and the Monsanto park to the west, and the Almirante Reis Avenue valley to the north.
As is normal in this district, you’ll have to walk up a little bit. The best way to get to this viewpoint is to follow Rua da Graça, leaving Largo da Graça and then turn to Rua da Senhora do Monte, all this effort is rewarded with a view of the highest points of Lisbon. This viewpoint is located in front of the chapel with the same name, founded in 1147. It was on this hill that King Afonso Henriques I stationed its army before conquering Lisbon.
During the Industrialization, a moment of economic growth back at the end of the 19th century gave birth to a big problem: housing. The population was growing with all the newcomers looking for a job in town, and no place to stay.
The tenements we know by the name of “villas” were a new solution: a small quarter inside a quarter, sometimes just a “patio” with a gate – a unique “island” inside the city for the workers to live in, in most cases without paying rent, along with the necessary infrastructure.
This little neighborhood is organized around a small street sided by very traditional and picturesque 3-floor buildings on one side and 2-floor buildings on the other, with some decorative Art Nouveau elements. One cannot enter these apartments because they are private property, but just by looking from the outside you can see that both sides of the street are distinct in concept. One side has taller buildings with large terraces and richer metal decoration details and the other side has smaller buildings with small or no verandas.
Chapitô is a non-governmental organization where activities are developed in three distinct areas in permanent articulation: social support, training and culture. It also houses a luxury restaurant with the same name. "Chapitô À Mesa" is considered to be the 7th best restaurant in the world and is located right below the walls of São Jorge Castle. In addition to high-quality traditional and contemporary Portuguese cuisine by the hands of Chef Bertilio, this restaurant also offers its visitors a delightful sight over the city and the Tagus river.
The "Via Graça" restaurant is located in Rua Damasceno Monteiro since 1988. It is a perfect place to taste local contemporary Portuguese cuisine, with an innovative twist. It's one of Graça ?s most traditional experiences, with a privileged view of Sao Jorge Castle, Tagus River and Cristo Rei. As for the menu highlights, you can find specialities such as cod with bread, hunting pie and rich creme brulée.
From the airport, the faster and easier way to get to Graça is taking the Metro's Red Line in the São Sebastião direction, changing to the Green Line at Alameda station.
All the Metro Stations from Alameda to Martim Moniz give you access to the Graça district. But if want to go directly to the top of the Graça hill without climbing by foot, you can catch the number 28 tram at the Intendente Metro station. One of the 28 Tram stops is the heart of Graça, but bear in mind that this is the classic Lisbon tram journey as it passes through the popular neighbourhoods of Graca, Alfama, Baixa and Estrela, so it is often full of passengers.
A ride along the 28 tram route provides one of the best tours of the capital and is often a highlight of any travel to Lisbon.
Graça has a mild climate throughout the year. You can expect average temperatures, with highs above 30° Celsius, with a light breeze, during the summer months. During winter, the temperatures drop to around 10°C. In general, Graça has tempered weather that makes it easier to walk around and visit the amazing viewpoints and monuments.
In terms of shopping, what stands out in the Graça district are the local trade establishments. You can find mini-markets, small stores, local cuisine, pubs and bars, and souvenir stores down at Martim Moniz square. As this area of the city has a more residential character, you won't find major shopping centres here. However, there are several shopping centres to choose from not far away by Metro, such as the El Corte Inglés, the Campo Pequeno and the Armazéns do Chiado.
Graça is about 30 minutes away from the airport on public transportation and a bit less if you travel by car (depending on traffic). The Metro and Bus networks connect Graça directly to the Lisbon Airport. Both the Metro station and Bus stop are right outside of the Arrivals exit.
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People that live in the Graça area and wish to go to the beach have two main alternatives: the Cascais coast on the west side of Lisbon, which starts where the river Tagus meets the Atlantic ocean and extends all the way until Cascais; and the Costa de Caparica beaches on the south side of the Tagus river extend all the way until Sesimbra.
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