The original, independent guide to Lisbon
The Parque das Nações (Park of Nations) is the striking modern side to historic and traditional Lisbon, which extends along the north-eastern side of the Tejo Estuary. The district was rejuvenated from a desolate industrial wasteland for Expo ‘98, and has since been transformed into the centre for corporate Portugal.
Instead of becoming a sterile office and residential area, the original Expo attractions have been enhanced, and today the district is popular with Portuguese and tourists alike. This guide will provide an introduction to the Parque das Nações and includes tourist information, details of the major sights and things to see and do.
Here is our suggested route to get the most from the Parque das Nações:
• Catch the red metro line to Orient station
• Admire the ultra-modern Orient train station - 5 minutes
• Wander through the Vasco da Gama Shopping Centre - 10-45minutes
• Visit the Pavilhão do Conhecimento (families only) - 1 hour
• Pass beneath the waterfall urban art exhibit in the Jardim da Agua
• Visit the Oceanarium - 1 to 2 hours
• Ride the cable car to northern end of the park -10 minutes
• Admire the Vasco da Gama tower (Lisbon’s tallest building) and the Vasco da Gama bridge (once Europe’s longest bridge)
• Stroll along the Estuary footpath into the Parque do Tejo with its views over the Ponte de Vasco da Gama Bridge (optional) - 30 minutes
• Have a light lunch in one of the numerous restaurants that overlook the estuary - 40 minutes
• Stroll through the exhibits of Expo 98 including the Jardins Garcia d’Orta Gardens - 30 minutes
Money Saving Tip: The food court in the Vasco da Gama shopping centre is home to many excellent yet inexpensive eating establishments. The setting may not be wonderful, but it is difficult to complain when you’re paying less than 7€ for a full meal including a drink….
Of all the districts in Lisbon, the Parque das Nações is possibly the most suited for families. Children will adore the Oceanarium, while the Pavilhão do Conhecimento is a modern and engaging science museum with lots of hands-on activities. Within the original Expo Park are numerous interactive water exhibits and children’s play areas, and the whole area is open, calm and traffic free. Inside the Vasco da Gama shopping centre is a large cinema complex and numerous great value restaurants.
Pavilhão do Conhecimento will entertain children of all ages - I had hours of fun pushing the globe around....
The nightlife of the Parque das Nações has matured over the last few years; gone are the karaoke bars and late-night clubs, replaced by fine restaurants and stylish bars. Expo Park is a great place for an evening meal and a more relaxed night, but for the vibrant nightlife that Lisbon is famed for, our suggestion is to head to Bairro Alto or Cais do Sorde. The one exception to this is the Casino de Lisboa, which is Portugal’s best casino with its four floors of gambling and over 1,000 slot machines.
The Casino Lisboa
While wandering around the Parque das Nações, it will quickly become apparent that water has some connection to many of the exhibits, gardens and original Expo buildings. This is because the theme for Expo ‘98 was the world’s oceans; some of the ocean themed connections are very apparent while some are much more subtle, and include:
• The Lisbon Oceanarium (note not an aquarium), which appears to float on the water
• The Torre de Vasco da Gama (before the construction of the hotel) styled as a ship's mast and crow’s nest
• The two apartment blocks representing Portuguese caravel ships
• The exploding water volcano towers (no idea of the connection to the oceans, but entertaining)
• The shopping centre which was meant to represent a cruise liner…
The water volcanos, great for a hot summers day!
The Parque das Nações is a good choice of district for visitors who wish a calmer and more relaxed area of the city for their holiday or city break to Lisbon. On a map Expo Park may appear a long distance from the historic centre of Lisbon, but it is served by some excellent public transport. The Oriente station is connected to the red metro line (and is close to the airport), while the number 728 bus goes directly to Belem by passing through Baixa and Alfama. Contained within the Parque das Nacoes there is a wide selection of restaurants, and all the hotels are modern, having been built in the last 10 years.
The Lisbon Oceanarium is one of the greatest tourist attractions of the capital. The complex comprises of a massive central tank and four outer tanks that represent the four oceanic ecosystems. The range of fish is outstanding and highlights include the playful sea otters, menacing sharks, clumsy penguins and deep-sea crabs.
The Oceanarium is mesmerising
Considering there are only five tanks the viewing route is cleverly designed so that they are viewed from above and below, which give completely different aspects of the environments. The ticket price may seem quite steep at €16.20 for an adult ticket but it is worthy of the cost.
Insider tip: It’s best to avoid the Oceanarium at the weekends when it can get very crowded. During the peak season, there are extended opening times, staying open late into the evening, which is the best time to visit.
Insider tip: Most visitors stop at the first viewing window of the main tank but it can be viewed on four sides, with the later ones always much quieter.
The ultra modern Lisbon Oceanarium
The Pavilhão do Conhecimento is a science museum, which focus more on interactive displays than wordy descriptions. The museum is solely designed for children, but parents will not be bored as the exhibits are creative and intelligent. The entrance fee is €9.00/€6.00 (adult/child) and is again worth the admission fee.
The cable car extends the length of the park, from the Oceanarium in the south to the Torre de Vasco da Gama in the north. The cars fly silently over the estuary in the 8-minute ride and, the vantage point provides wonderful panoramic views over the park. The tickets can be purchased as a single in any direction for €3.95, or as return for €5.90.
The Vasco da Gama Tower is Lisbon’s tallest building but being located on the banks of the estuary it does not appear so. There was once an exclusive rotating restaurant and viewing platform at the top but this closed; hopefully with the construction of the new 5-star hotel this great viewpoint may one day re-open. The tower continued the Expo 98 theme of the oceans, and was constructed to represent a ship's mast with a crow's nest and a flag pole.
The Torre da Vasco da Gama, Lisbon's tallest building
The Vasco da Gama Bridge was constructed to relieve the traffic from the Ponte de 24 Abril suspension bridge, and opened to coincide with Expo 98. The bridge has a total length of 17km and at it’s opening it was Europe’s longest bridge. The bridge follows a simplistic design and is only constructed from concrete, but the sheer size is inspiring, especially when viewed from beneath in the Parque do Tejo.
The small gardens of Garcia d’Orta represent five different countries discovered by Portuguese explorers: Brazil, Goa, Mozambique, Indonesia and Azores. All of the plants and styling of each of the gardens reflect their country of origin, and many species are non-native to Portugal.
The Vasco da Gama shopping centre is one of the largest in Lisbon, with a range of multi-national, designer or branded stores that are based in a well-designed shopping complex. Notable things in the centre include the extensive food hall on the second floor, the cinema on the top floor and the Continental supermarket on the lower floor- ideal for good value foods, toiletries etc.
Standing above the shopping centre are two apartment blocks, which represent two of Vasco da Gama’s ships used of his epic voyage to India, the Sao Gabriel and the Sao Rafael.
The Vasco da Gama shopping centre
Many of the significant buildings in the Parque das Nações are named after Vasco da Gama, who was Portugal’s greatest explorer and discovered the sea route to India. He was commemorated within Expo 98, as it coincided with 500 years since the start of the Portuguese discoveries, which lead to the glory years of Portugal.
The Parque das Nações Lisbon is easy to travel to, as it is served by the Gare do Oriente station. The Gare do Oriente contains a metro (red line), bus and major train station, spread over three levels of the ultra-modern steel and glass structure. The metro is the easiest method of travel from the historic and tourist districts of Lisbon. For late night revellers, there are always lots of taxis waiting to pick up passengers.
The train station at Gare do Oriente
Parque das Nações was the site of the World Fair of 1998 and is still referred to as Expo Park or just Expo by Lisbon residents. The Expo 98 was planned to coincide with Portugal’s celebrations to mark the 500th anniversary of Vasco da Gama's arrival in India, in 1498. This presented the organisers a flexible and varied theme based around the world’s oceans, entitled “The Oceans: A Heritage for the Future”.
Expo Park Lisbon
Expo 98 was regarded as a great success for Portugal, promoting the new industrial might of the small country and even being considered as having helped Portugal to join the Euro single currency. This one confidence was sorely lost after 2007 economic crash.
After the ticket offices closed on Expo 98 many feared that the area would become an expensive disused area as with prior Expo events. The good management and foresight of the organisers has ensured the transformation into a trendy and important business centre of Lisbon.