Climb to the top of any of Lisbon’s seven hills and you’ll be rewarded with the sight of the Tagus River glistening in the distance. It is the longest river on the Iberian Peninsula, flowing 626 miles (1,007 km) from the Sierra de Albarracín in eastern Spain to empty itself into the Atlantic at Lisbon, and has been the focus of the city since ancient times. The Tagus has shaped Lisbon’s maritime glories in the past, and it continues to shape its future as well.
Great 15th-century adventurers Henry the Navigator and Vasco da Gama sailed the Tagus as they left on explorations across unknown seas, and the Monument to the Discoveries in waterfront Belèm honors their seafaring successes. Lisbon’s favorite landmark, the Belèm Tower, and its neighboring ornate Jerónimos Monastery stand on the banks of the Tagus, built with money raised from Portugal’s colonies. Today, equally beautiful contemporary architecture has become part of the Tagus story; it is crossed by the elegant spines of both the Vasco da Gama Bridge and the 25th of April Bridge and bordered by the innovative architecture of the Parque das Nacoes, with its gleaming high-rises, Oceanarium and marina.
The Tagus is still a revenue earner for Lisbon; it is the busiest port in Europe, with three terminals handling cruise liners and several marinas for smaller crafts. Indeed, the best way to appreciate the beauty of the river and the city it feeds is to take a boat trip along the waterway. There are several hop-on, hop-off services that allow sightseers to develop their own itinerary, and other options include two-hour cruises to get up close with the suspension bridges or romantic evening sails as the sun slips down in the sky.