PortugaL; a short stay in... Lisbon

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The Independent Travel
With Lisbon's ocean-themed Expo 98 well and truly launched, now is the time to visit the Portuguese capital. When you've had your fill of aquatic virtual reality at the exposition, the city's rich cultural, architectural and gastronomical reality awaits you. By Gareth Lloyd

WHY GO THERE?

This year, more than eight million visitors are expected to descend upon the city for the last great exposition of the 20th century. After taking in Expo 98's many fantastic multimedia pavilions, exotic gardens and giant oceanarium, visitors will be able to head into town for the other attractions. These include the graceful Mosteiro dos Jernimos, the cultural Museu Gulbenkian, the medieval warren of the Amalfa district, and some seriously good nightlife.

GETTING THERE

AIR: Both TAP Air Portugal (0171 630 0900) and British Airways (0345 222 111) have daily flights to Lisbon from the UK starting from around pounds 160 return.

BUS: Eurolines (01582 404511) has several coaches a week travelling between London and Lisbon for a bargain pounds 139 return. The only problem is it takes three days.

TRAIN: Rail Europe (0990 300 003) is currently quoting around pounds 276 return and the journey takes 25 hours one-way.

GETTING AROUND

Aero-buses connect the airport to various points in the city centre (including Praca Marques de Pombal, Praca dos Restauradores, Rossio and Praca Comercio) about every 20 minutes from 7am to 9pm. The journey takes from 20 to 45 minutes and the ticket, which costs Esc480 or Esc1000, is valid for travel on all of the city's public transport for one or three days respectively. The local tourist offices can supply maps of bus and metro routes (see Information). Another enticing option is the Lisboa Card (Esc1700 for 24 hours, Esc2800 for 48 hours and Esc3600 for 72 hours, 5-11-year-olds pay less than half price), which is available from Rua Jardim do Regedor 50, the Mosteiro dos Jernimos and the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga. The card entitles you to unlimited bus, funicular, tram and metro rides and free or discounted entry to all the main sights. The easiest way to get around is by taxi (Radio Taxis, 815 50 61; Teletaxi, 815 20 76). The trip from the airport should cost about Esc1600-Esc2200, with the average trip around town working out at about Esc700 (a little more between 10pm-6am, at weekends, and with luggage).

WHAT TO SEE & DO

Most of the city's attractions offer free entry to children.

n Baixa district was laid out by the autocratic Marques de Pombal around the time of the catastrophic earthquakes of 1755. Many of the streets, such as Rua da Prata (Silversmiths' Street) and Rua dos Sapateiros (Cobblers' Street) maintain their crafts and business as Pombal devised. A stroll around the area is a great introduction to Lisbon.

n Museu Nacional do Azulejo (Wed-Sun 10am-6pm, Tues 2-6pm, closed Mon; adults Esc400), located in the church and cloisters of Madre de Deus, is the city's most attractive museum. It carries a splendid array of decorative tiles dating back to the 15th century, the highlight of which is the panorama of pre-earthquake Lisbon. (Bus 105 from Praca de Figueira).

n Castelo de Sao Jorge (daily 9am-sunset; free), dates from the Visigoths of the 5th century. It was fortified by the Moors in the 9th century, sacked by the Christians in the 12th, and used as the Portuguese royal residence from the 14th to the 16th century. These days, it provides tourists with a great vista of the city and the river.

n Alfama is Lisbon's oldest and most historically interesting district, thanks to its warren of medieval streets. In Moorish times, it was an upper-class residential area, but after a string of earthquakes it reverted to a working-class district of fisherfolk. Today, it is a place of dark taverns, jovial people, tiny grocery stores, and, of course, fishy smells.

n Mosteiro dos Jernimos (Tues-Sun 10am-6.30pm, closed Mon; adults Esc400), dating from 1502, was paid for by a special 5 per cent tax on all spices from Portugal's expanding African and Far Eastern colonies. The fantastic rounded forms and naturalistic motifs of the interior and cloisters are widely recognised as the finest example of the Gothic-Renaissance style, Manueline architecture. (Tram 15 from Praca de Figueira).

n Torre de Belem (Tues-Sun 10am-5pm, closed Mon; adults Esc400), is a multi- turreted tower built between 1515 and 1520, the last five years of Dom Manuel's reign. Originally intended as a fortress, this Manueline masterpiece has come to symbolise Lisbon and the Age of Discoveries. Before the shoreline shifted southwards, the tower sat right out in the middle of the River Tejo. One of the many sights you can appreciate from the top is the magnificent Discoveries Monument, erected in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator (Tram 15 from Praca de Figueira).

n Museu Calouste Gulbenkian (Tues, Thur, Fri & Sun 10am-5pm, Wed & Sat, 10am-7pm, closed Mon; adults Esc500). Calouste Gulbenkian (1869-1955) was an Armenian oil magnate who auctioned himself and his art collection to the European nations. Portugal bid security, a palace and tax exemptions, and in return received Egyptian ivory spoons, intricate golden Roman jewellery, the finest Chinese porcelain, Louis XVI furniture, paintings by Rembrandt, Manet, Monet and Renoir, and the incredible Art Nouveau jewellery of Rene Lalique.

n Centro de Arte Moderna (same opening hours and admission as above) displays works by the biggest names of the 20th-century art scene, including Amadeo de Souza Cardoso, Almada Negeiros and Paula Rego. The centre is separated from the Museu Gulbenkian by a picturesque garden, perfect for relaxing and picnicking.

EXPO 98

The last great exposition of the 20th century opened in Lisbon on 22 May and runs until 30 September. Expo 98 coincides with the 500th anniversary of Vasco da Gama's arrival in India, and also marks the UN "Year of the Oceans", hence Lisbon's theme of "The Oceans: a Heritage for the Future". An estimated 8 million-plus people are expected to visit the many superb pavilions, musical events, avant-garde theatre, beautiful gardens, and international restaurants and bars which have been set up on a vast derelict dockland site to the northeast of the city.

The Top Ten Highlights:

1. The Oceanarium is an enormous aquarium in the form of an imaginary boat in which a bewildering array of flora and fauna is assembled in 32 tanks illustrating some of the many different oceanic environments. Watch out for the sharks!

2. The Utopia Building brilliantly recreates some of the myths and legends related to the sea, and is partly inspired by Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea - which gives some indication of what you can expect to encounter there.

3. Germany's Pavilion takes you for a virtual-reality dive - on a vibrating seat - to a futuristic submarine station 100 metres below sea-level.

4. The Outdoor Video Stadium is set to attract the many millions of people who might have otherwise stayed away. Live World Cup action will be relayed on a massive 100-square-metre screen.

5. Britain's Pavilion includes a spiral moving walkway on which you rise through an amazing underwater seascape, while holograms and music highlight our marine history.

6. Finland's Pavilion is becoming one of the most popular spots in sun- soaked Lisbon as it recreates all the conditions of a very chilly Arctic winter.

7. The Garci do Orta Gardens recreate the exotic landscapes that 15th- and 16th- century Portuguese navigators discovered. Look out for the Macao forest, a desert valley in Angola and the luxurious vegetation of Sao Tome.

8. Saudi Arabia's Pavilion is designed to make you reflect on life in a place where water is scarce. This involves sitting on a patch of sand underneath a palm tree in an "oasis".

9. The Knowledge of the Seas Pavilion's multimedia exhibition charts how we learned to navigate, how we discovered the seas and explored the submarine world.

10. The Pavilion of the Future takes you on an epic audio-visual journey from the outer reaches of the universe to the bottom of the ocean, while stressing the role of Portugal as a pioneer in ocean discovery.

Pavilions are open daily from 10am-8pm, although there's plenty of nightlife until 3am. Tickets cost Esc5000 for one day, Esc12,500 for three days, or Esc2000 for one night. Entrance is half-price for children between five and 15 and for people over 65, and free for children under five. The easiest way to get to the Expo 98 site is to take the Olivais metro line to Estacao do Oriente. For further information, consult the official home page of Expo 98 at: http://www.expo98; phone direct on 00351 1 831 98 98; or contact one of the Portuguese tourist offices (See Information).

NIGHTLIFE

Given the multitude of options, it's impossible to be bored in Lisbon in the evening. Popular choices include tottering between trendy bars, jiving in jazz clubs, feasting to melancholy fado, touring the traditional beer halls and dancing the night away in discotheques of every description.

n Arroz Doce (Rua da Atalaia 117-119) is a refreshingly normal bar amidst the nightly Barrio Alto mayhem.

n Chapito (Costa do Castelo 1-7; closed Sun) is a multimedia centre incorporating a trendy open-air bar with a river view.

n Costa do Castelo (Calcada do Marques de Tancos 1b) is a sunny terrace cafe specialising in exotic cocktails, sunny South American rhythms and jazz.

n Adega Mesquita (Rua do Dirio de Notcias 107) is a great place to catch some traditional fado music and dancing. As with all the fado joints, there will be a minimum charge and you'll be expected to eat.

n Hot Clube de Portugal (Praca de Alegria; closed Sun) is a small basement club that plays host to talented local and visiting jazz artists. Great atmosphere.

n Kapital (Avenida 24 de Julho 68) is one of the city's best discos. The cool crowd seems attracted by the selective admission, high prices and booming rock and techno music.

WHERE TO STAY

Advance booking is essential to get your first-choice accommodation. Most of the following places offer discounts for children and are willing to add beds to rooms for an extra charge.

n Pousada de Juventude Lisboa, Rua Andrade Corvo 46 (00351 1 443 06 38). The main city hostel. It has been newly renovated and has no curfew. Dorm beds cost from Esc2,000 and double rooms cost from Esc4,900, all with breakfast.

n Pensao Arco da Bandeira, Rua dos Sapateiros 226 (00351 1 342 34 78). Up four flights of well-worn stairs in an ancient and atmospheric residential flat in Baixa. Plain single and double rooms with shared facilities start at Esc4000 and Esc6000 respectively per night. Only Spanish and Portuguese spoken.

n Pensao Imperial, Praca dos Restauradores 78 (00351 1 342 01 66). A welcoming family-run pension on the fourth floor of an old tiled apartment block. Simple but sunny singles and doubles cost from Esc10,000 to Esc15,000. Rooms without en suites cost less but are not as good.

n Hotel Internacional, Rua da Betesga 3 (00352 346 64 01). A big old place, in the heart of Lisbon. Singles, doubles and triples with balcony, en suite and breakfast cost Esc16,000, Esc18,000 and Esc22,000 respectively.

n Hotel Mundial, Rua Dom Duarte 4 (00351 886 31 01). A plush, modern four-star hotel, popular with Germans, so it must be good. Rooms start at Esc23,200 with buffet breakfast. Recommended.

n As Janelas Verdes, Rua das Janeles Verdes 47 (00351 1 396 81 43). A wonderful 18th-century town house with plenty of marble and period furnishings. Decidedly superior doubles cost Esc45,600 with breakfast in the garden. Highly recommended.

FOOD & DRINK

In Lisbon you can dine out on good food and excellent wines without worrying too much about the bill. The city's best restaurants tend to serve a hybrid French-Portuguese cuisine and great seafood. Port wine is of course ubiquitous and for the adventurous there's the local maciera brandy, or the head- banging ginginha firewater. Prices below are for a three-course meal with drinks.

n Cafe A Brasileira, Rua Garrett 120; open daily. Elegant turn-of-the- century decor and strong literary associations. Go for the ambience and the coffee.

n Os Tibetanos, Rua do Salitre 117; closed Sun (314 20 38). In the Buddhist Centre, has plenty of weird and wonderful veggie options, such as vegetarian paella. Less than Esc2000.

n Restaurante York House, Rua das Janelas; daily (396 81 43). Serves dishes such as pig's trotters with coriander sauce and duck with grapes, all on a romantic patio. Around Esc4000.

n Gambrinus, Rua das Portas de Santo Antao; daily (342 14 66). One of Lisbon's best seafood restaurants with an excellent wine- list, too. Expect to pay from Esc6000.

n Case do Leao, Castelo de Sao Jorge; daily (887 59 62). Located in a magnificent vaulted room in the castelo grounds, with a commanding view of the city. Absolutely superb French-Portuguese food, available from Esc7000.

DEALS/PACKAGES

Gareth Lloyd travelled to Lisbon courtesy of Travelscene which offers a wide range of short breaks to Lisbon, including the Hotel Mundial, starting from pounds 289. This price is for a two-night package with return flight from Heathrow, taxes and three-star accommodation with breakfast. Those with deeper wallets may also wish to book the two-night Expo package at the modern five-star Hotel Meridien Portugal from pounds 230 per person, (excl flights) online at: www.portugalvirtual.t/lodging/costadelisboa/lisbon/meridien.lisboa/expo98.html

CURRENCY

There are approximately Esc280 to pounds 1.

INFORMATION

The Portuguese National Tourist Office is at 22-25a Sackville Street, London W1 (0171 494 1441). There is a tourist office at Lisbon airport, but the main office is based in the Palcio da Foz on Restauradores, daily 9am-8pm (346 33 14). The staff at the Lisboa Card office on Rua Jardim do Regedor 50, daily 9am-6pm (343 3672) are also extremely helpful.

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