When I visit a city for the first time, I love to understand where it’s coming from. I usually visit a history museum to get the background. One of the best ones I’ve ever seen is the Lisbon Story Center, setting the stage to visit Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. And to top it of, it’s right in the heart of the city, so you can experience what the city has become and how it feels today!
Why you should go: The Lisbon Story Center says it perfectly: “Discovering the city begins with an understanding of its history”. Unfortunately, most history museums are a boring collection of artifacts that don’t even begin to tell the story of a city. Not so at the Lisbon Story Center – it’s one of the best history museums I have visited in that it tells an engaging story, doesn’t take more than 1 hour to finish and is equally accessible for children and adults!
It starts with the story of Odysseus and takes you on a journey through the ages, with rooms focusing on the Phoenicians, Romans and Moors. It tells the story of the conquest in 1147 by King Alfonso who became the first Portuguese King. You get insights into the Golden Age of Lisbon, following the Portuguese Exploration, discovering Africa, Brazil and the way to Asia around the Cape of Good Hope. And, despite my interest in history, I had no idea that Lisbon was destroyed in 1755 by a massive earthquake that caused damage in cities hundreds of kilometers away in Spain! The Story Center tells the story of the earthquake and the drastic city redesign and reconstruction led by Marques PompaI in the decades after, giving you much of the layout you see in the city center today! I don’t think you could get a better overview of Lisbon’s history, providing the perfect introduction to the city you can explore right outside!
The Lisbon Story Center is on the Royal Square (or Commercial Square on Google Maps), a beautiful plaza designed after the earthquake. You get a great view over it from the top of the Arco de Rua Augusta. Through the Arch, you can stroll along the Rua Augusta, a pedestrian street lined with stores and cafes, with shopping bag carrying locals and camera toting tourists making it a very lively place.
From here, it’s just a short walk up the hill to the popular Chiado neighborhood, the place to see and be seen. With lots of cafes and restaurants, it quickly became my favorite for a coffee or a meal, with lots of people watching on offer. It seemed like everybody in Lisbon will pass by eventually. Add some street performers to the mix, and its easy to slip into the relaxed pace and enjoy the modern city Lisbon is today! Walking through the city with the Lisbon story fresh on your mind is a wonderful way to experience the city, leaving you with much deeper and lasting impressions!
Travel Tips: The Lisbon Story Center is located on Praca do Comercio, on the left side when facing the sea. The entrance fee is EUR7 for adults ( or free with the Lisbon Card) and it’s open every day from 10:00-20:00h. You get a great audio guide that activates the right story segment as soon as you enter a room, making it easy to get the full story – or move on when you have heard enough. It’s one of the best technical executions of a standardized audio guide tailored to the interests and patience of each visitor!
The Arco de Rua Augusta is great to take a photo off – and even better to take photos from. When passing through to Rua Augusta, you’ll see an entrance on the left side that gives you access to the top of the arch for some great views (fee EUR2.50, free with Lisbon Card). There is an elevator and a narrow stair case to the top. Few people seem to take it, so it’s actually a very peaceful spot to enjoy the square, after making your way through the crowds!
And from here, you can keep exploring Lisbon, down the Rua Augusta with its stores and onto the Chiado neighborhood with its many restaurants and cafes to let the modern day story of Lisbon soak in!