The best independent guide to Lisbon
The best independent guide to Lisbon
The Parque das Nações (Park of Nations) is the striking modern side to historic Lisbon.
The district extends along the north-eastern side of the Tejo Estuary, and was transformed from an industrial wasteland into the showground for Expo ’98. Since the event, the area has undergone a second transformation, becoming a centre for business and corporate Portugal.
This article will provide an introduction to the Parque das Nações and includes a guided tour, tourist information and details of the major sights.
Related articles: Expo 98 – 2 days in Lisbon – Lisbon day trips
Insight: The Parque das Nações offers lots of high-quality family activities, if you are travelling with children of any ages plan to spend one day here.
The Parque das Nações takes half a day to see fully, and is often visited on the third day of a stay in Lisbon. The metro is the best means to travel to the district and is served by Oriente metro station on the red line.
Below is an interactive map for a suggested tour of the Parque das Nações. The route begins at the Oriente metro/train station and takes two hours to follow, but plan for longer to visit the oceanarium or the Ciência Viva.
Main sights along the guided tour: 1) Estação do Oriente 2) Centro Vasco da Gama 3) Iberian lynx statue 4) Casino de Lisboa 5) Pavilhão do Conhecimento 6) Oceanário de Lisboa 7) Cable car south terminal 8) Jardins da Água 9) Garden Garcia de Orta 10) Torre Vasco da Gama
How about a small group tour?
One of the best ways to discover Lisbon and to meet fellow travellers is to join a guided tour. We have worked with Getyourguide.com for the last six years, and some of the best tours of Lisbon include:
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 classy restaurants and stylish bars.
While wandering around the Parque das Nações, it will quickly become apparent that water has a connection to many of the original exhibits and buildings constructed for Expo 98. This is because the theme was “the world’s oceans” and the event coincided with the 500-year anniversary of Vasco da Gama’s sea voyage to India (hence everything in the Parque das Nações is named Vasco da Gama).
Some of the ocean-themed and Vasco da Gama connections are very apparent, while some are much more subtle and include:
• The Oceanário de Lisboa (an oceanarium not an aquarium)
• The Torre de Vasco da Gama, styled like a ship's mast and crow’s nest. The hotel which was constructed later makes this less obvious
• The two apartment blocks representing Vasco da Gama’s Caravel sailing ships. The towers are also named the Torre São Gabriel and Torre São Rafael after the name of the two boats.
• The Jardins da Água, (water gardens) with a refreshing waterfall and fountains
• The Centro Vasco da Gama which supposedly represents a cruise liner…
• The Ponte de Vasco da Gama bridge, which when constructed was Europe’s longest bridge over water
• The exploding water volcano towers (no idea of the connection to the oceans, but entertaining)
The water volcanos, great for a hot summer’s day!
The Parque das Nações is not a common location for a holiday to Lisbon, and is more often associated with businesses travellers. It may not be common, but that does not mean it is not a good area of the city to be based.
There are very good public transport connections around the city, (red metro line and bus 728 to Belem and Baixa) and it is very close to the airport. Contained within the Parque das Nacoes are many modern hotels (4/5 star and business-focused) along with an extensive selection of restaurants.
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
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.
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