I have to admit it. We went to the Lisbon Story Center to escape the heat.

Being from Florida, we are used to the heat. What we are not used to is hiking uphill on a cloudless, breeze-less 93° day in a crowded city.

Yeah…we’re wimps.

Which brings us to the sparkling white 30,000 square meter (330,000 square feet) Praça do Comércia at Lisbon’s waterfront at high noon…we’d been exploring town on foot for the morning when we came to see the plaza and the Arco da Rua Augusta.

(Walking a city is a great way to get the lay of the land in a new place and to see the sites. Plus, it’s absolutely free. Added benefit: you burn lots of calories.)

OK. Time for a break. We walked down the shaded, marble breezeway between the pricy restaurants and their outdoor seating areas on the square. Sweet relief!

We ignore the souvenir shops and the “world’s sexiest WC” (I don’t even want to know), but the Lisbon Story Center? We’re always up for a good story! It’s indoors, the greeter says it takes about an hour to do the tour and it’s €6.50 (including a recorded audio tour in the language of your choice)…a good deal.

When you visit Lisbon, do this on your first exploration day. It’s a little hokey with mannequins and not-quite-to-scale ship models posed against photos illustrating the story, but you learn quite a bit of Lisbon’s history in that hour.

When you walk through the spice trader’s ship you can actually smell the spices. When you step into the dark room to watch a presentation about the 1755 earthquake and tsunami that flattened most of the city, you feel a low rumble, you see the chandelier sway…

Just before you stumble out of the center, you get a brief architectural, political, and historical overview of the plaza and of it’s place in the rebuilding of Lisbon after the 18th century devastation.

It’s just enough information to send you back out into the streets feeling that you have a working knowledge from which to explore. You look at the Tagus River flowing to the Atlantic and envision the explorers. You have a better understanding of this ancient city which is constantly reimagining itself, building new amid the old, all of it sharing the same tight quarter.

Hours: Posted hours are 10 am to 7 pm, but you’ll want to check when you arrive in town to be sure they haven’t changed.

Tickets: €6.50 Buy them at the door. The queue isn’t long even though they limit the number of visitors allowed in at one time. Outside vendors will charge €1 or more for the convenience of having a ticket ahead of time. You don’t need it.