500 years after Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama found the first sea route from Europe to Asia, his homeland wanted to do put on a series of special events to commemorate his famous voyage. The biggest event of them all was the Expo ’98.
Exactly 500 years to the month that Vasco da Gama arrived in India, Expo ’98 opened in Lisbon. Over the next 132 days, about 11 million visitors came to the event.
It was held at a specially-developed part of Lisbon along the Tagus River. An area that, unlike many Expo venues, has managed to become even better since the end of the event.
What is Park of Nations Lisbon?
Park of Nations Lisbon (or Parque das Nações) is now the name of the area where Expo ’98 was held.
The five-kilometre long stretch along the river had been used from 1942 for docking the hydroplanes that flew to the USA… until jets replaced them. Then it became an unattractive industrial area full of factories and container yards.
As you can imagine, it wasn’t too hard to convince the city and national authorities to knock it all down and start again.
The important thing, though, is that they didn’t just build a site for the Expo. They planned a much longer-term strategy that would rejuvenate the area in the Park of Nations to become a new hub in the city for business, recreation, and housing.
Visiting Park of Nations (Parque das Nações)
For a visitor to Lisbon, Park of Nations (Parque das Nações) has some particular sights that may be of interest – but I would argue that they are more suited to families than people who want to see the culture of the city.
- There’s the Lisbon Oceanarium, a large site with excellent displays of sealife.
- There’s the Pavilhão do Conhecimento, a science museum focused on children.
- You’ll also find the cable car that takes you on an 8-minute ride from one end of the park to another.
- And there’s the Vasco da Gama Tower, the tallest building in Lisbon.
Even though the attractions are of high quality, I don’t think they are particularly authentic Portuguese experiences and I wouldn’t suggest making the effort to go and visit them. But there is a good reason to go to Park of Nations – to see the architecture!
Modern architecture at Park of Nations (Parque das Nações)
The buildings and the public art at Park of Nations (Parque das Nações) creates an open-air gallery full of modern creations. Not only are there the architectural works that were designed for Expo ’98, there are also new buildings that have been created to fit into the landscape.
The theme for Expo ’98 was “The Oceans: a Heritage for the Future” and you’ll notice that many of the original buildings have used that theme in their design.
The Vasco da Gama Tower, for instance, which looks like a old ship’s mast with a crow’s nest on top.
Or, for another example, the twin apartment towers São Gabriel and São Rafael that were named after – and resemble – two of Vasco da Gama’s ships.
Rather than tell you about each of the things to see at Park of Nations, I’m going to leave you with some more of my photos of the architecture. At the bottom of the post, I have a bit more information about how to get to Park of Nations and how to find the architecture and art.
How to get to Park of Nations (Parque das Nações)
The easiest way to get to Park of Nations in Lisbon is with public transport. There are excellent transport links that were put in for Expo ’98. The best way is probably to catch the metro to Orient station. And, on your way, check out some of the amazing Lisbon Metro station art.
Once you’re there, it’s easy enough to just wander around and see the main sights. You will notice some large boards with maps that mark out the key buildings and artworks. I have put a copy of that below, so you can do some advance planning.
If you’re only in Lisbon for a couple of days, I understand that you might have better things to do with your visit. But if you’ve got a bit of spare time or you’re coming back for a second trip, perhaps consider spending a couple of hours at the Park of Nations.
It shows a different modern side to the city and the collection of modern architecture here really is quite incredible.
For cheap private accommodation, there are some lovely guesthouses run by local families. I would recommend either City Lofts Lisbon or the more centrally-located Great Stay Fanqueiros.
If you're interested in something with a bit more style, I would recommend either the Portugal Boutique Hotel or the Lx Boutique Hotel, which has such beautiful design.
And for some real luxury, two of the best hotels in Lisbon are Pousada de Lisboa or the incredible Memmo Príncipe Real.