Exploring Lisbon by Neighbourhood

When we started planning our October 2018 trip to Portugal, we decided to spend a total of 6 nights in Lisbon. Most guidebooks told us we would only need about 3 nights to enjoy what Lisbon had to offer but 6 nights allowed us to explore at a more relaxed pace. As soon as I set my eyes on the sun-drenched Lisbon hills on that early morning flight, I knew we had made the right choice by extending our stay. Those extra nights in Lisbon allowed us to take a few day trips to visit nearby towns such as Cascais, Nazaré, and Obidos. We also spent an extra 2 nights in the fairytale town of Sintra.

Rua Augusta

Baixa/Chiado

After an early morning arrival in Lisbon, we dropped off our luggage at the hotel and went in search of breakfast before starting to explore the city. Baixa/Chiado is the centre of Lisbon where many of the city’s main tourist attractions, restaurants and hotels are located. We chose to stay in this area for easy access to all the sights as well as easy connections to the airport and trains.

The earthquake of 1755 and the subsequent fires and tsunami destroyed many of the buildings in this area. Baixa’s characteristic large plazas and grid system of roads were formed when it was time to rebuild after the destruction.

Rossio Square from Santa Justa Lift

Things to see and do:

  • Rua Augusta Arch – famous arch overlooking Praça do Comércio
  • Praça do Comércio – main square that leads up to the Tejo River
  • Santa Justa Lift – wrought iron elevator with wonderful views of Lisbon from the viewing platform
  • Carmo Convent – ruined 15th century church that is part of the Archaeological museum
  • Rossio Square – large square with beautiful tile work and fountains
  • Praça da Figueira – square with a small market selling cheese, sausage and other Portuguese delicacies
View from the Santa Justa Lift

Tips:

  • Rather than waiting in line for a short elevator ride on the Santa Justa Lift, it is possible to access the viewing deck through a back entrance by the Carmo Convent. The back entrance is located by the Bellalisa Elevador Restaurant.
Local Sagres beer at Topo Chiado

Where to Eat/Drink:

  • Topo Chiado – great place to stop for a beer with an incredible view of the city
  • A Padaria Portuguesa – chain of Portuguese bakeries where you should try the coconut crusted Pão de Deus (God’s bread)

Barrio Alto

Quiet during the day but comes alive at night, Barrio Alto is known for its bars and nightlife. It may not be the best choice for those looking for a peaceful night sleep. We loved heading up the steep hill in the evenings in search of a lively restaurant with great food.

Barrio Alto

Things to see and do:

  • Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara – great place to enjoy the view of the Castel de São Jorge
  • Miradouro de Santa Catarina – viewpoint near the Elevador da Bica (was closed during our visit)
  • Elevador da Bica – cable car from Cais do Sodre up to Barrio Alto
  • Church of Sao Roque – contains one of the world’s most expensive alters

Where to Eat/Drink:

  • Manteigaria – bakery known for some of the best Pasteis de Nata in the city
Enjoying our Pasteis de Nata from Manteigaria

Cais do Sodre

This rejuvenated riverside district in Lisbon was once part of the red-light district where sailors stumbled into brothels after their time at sea. Now it contains trendy bars, restaurants and the Mercado da Ribeira (Time Out Market). We stopped at the market several times during our trip and it was always packed with people enjoying a night out with friends with a glass of wine and good food.

Praca do Municipio

Things to see and do:

  • Mercado da Ribeira (Time Out Market) – food hall where you can try kiosks run by some of the best restaurants in Lisbon
  • Pink Street – centre of nightlife in this district
  • Ribeira das Naus – waterfront promenade where you can relax and enjoy a Pasteis de Nata
Pata Negra Croquettes from the Time Out Market

Tips:

  • You may want to avoid the Time Out Market on Friday and Saturday nights if you don’t want to spend time searching for a seat at a communal table.
  • Cais do Sodre station is also where you can take the train to the beautiful beach town of Cascais.

Alfama/Mouraria

Alfama was the part of Lisbon that I was most looking forward to exploring. It is one of the oldest districts in Lisbon because it remained relatively unscathed by the 1755 earthquake. It is a maze of alleyways and stairs and has a real neighbourhood feel. Although in recent years, locals have been displaced by tourists and short-term rental apartments. Our first full day in Lisbon was spent with the Treasure of Lisboa food tour where we wound our way through the Alfama district tasting the local delicacies as we went.

Nearby Mouraria was also fun to explore, especially in search of local street art and exotic ethnic food.

Miradouro de Santa Luzia

Things to see and do:

  • Miradouro de Santa Luzia – viewpoint with lovely flower-covered trellis and blue azulejos tiles
  • Miradouro das Portas do Sol – viewpoint overlooking Alfama  with the Statue of San Vincent and a tunnel with a fresco painting documenting the history of Lisbon
  • Castel de São Jorge – panoramic views from a hilltop fortress
  • Sé Cathedral – 12th century cathedral

Tips:

  • The tunnel under the Miradouro das Portas do Sol has a clean public bathroom available for a small fee.
  • Wandering through the Alfama district you may see portraits of the local residents hung on the walls along with stories about their life in Alfama.
Portrait of an Alfama local

Where to Eat/Drink:

  • Join the Treasures of Lisboa food tour for incredible food and drink tastings from family run restaurants.
  • Maruto – wine, craft beer and small tasting plates.
  • Cantinho do Aziz – African food including some amazing spicy chicken.
Wine and cheese plate at Maruto

Belem

Although Lisbon is a very walkable city with many of the sights within a short distance of the city centre, Belem is a worthwhile trip out of the centre of the city. Belem has a few of Lisbon’s most famous tourist attractions including the breathtaking Jeronimos Monastery, Belem Tower and Padrão dos Descobrimentos. There was so much to see in Belem that we didn’t have time for the Botanical Gardens or the National Coach Museum. Instead we spent the afternoon walking along the waterfront after enjoying a tasty snack on the patio at Pasteis de Belem. The original Pasteis de Nata recipe was created by the monks at the Jeronimos Monastery and that original recipe is still only known by a select few at the Pasteis de Belem bakery.

Jeronimos Monastery

Although not technically in Belem, LX Factory makes a great stop over on the way back to the centre of Lisbon after a day of sightseeing in Belem. It is a former industrial area which has been converted into trendy restaurants, unique stores and galleries. Plenty of street art to see in this area as well.

LX Factory

Things to see and do:

  • Jeronimos Monastery – former monastery built in the Manueline style. The cloisters are a must see.
  • Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) – massive monument celebrating the Portuguese Age of Exploration
  • Belem Tower – fortified tower on the Tagus River
  • National Coach Museum
  • Jardim Botânico Tropical
  • MAAT Museum
  • LX Factory – former industrial complex with unique shops, art fixtures and restaurants.

Padrão dos Descobrimentos
Belem Tower
Walking along the waterfront near the MAAT Museum

Tips:

  • If there is a huge line to enter the Jeronimos Monastery, it is worth paying an extra 2€ to get a combined ticket at the Museu Nacional de Arqueologia. After visiting the museum, you can skip the line for the Monastery.
  • Although there may be a huge line out the door at Pasteis de Belem Bakery, this is the take-away line and there is a separate line for table service. Follow the signs through each of the rooms to the final room where a host will direct you to a table. Patio seating is also available.
Pasteis de Belem

Where to Eat/Drink:

  • Pasteis de Belem Bakery – bakery famous for the original Pasteis de Nata egg custard pastry
  • Landeau Chocolate (LX Factory) – famous for their chocolate cake
Chocolate cake from Landeau

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